§ *The EARL OF WEMYSS
rose to move to resolve—" That, in the opinion of this House, any scheme of Army reorganisation that does away the Militia force is contrary to sound policy, destroying as it does the ancient constitutional foundation of our existing military system." He said: My Lords, as I believe this will be the only opportunity which will present itself of calling attention to the very important matter to which this Resolution refers, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to do so even at this late hour. The Militia, so far as we are able to judge from what has passed in your Lordships' House, is about to be abolished. That was the view of the position taken by my noble friend Lord Burghclere in his speech on the Army reorganisation scheme. The same view was taken of it by Lord Spencer; and I got from Lord Donoughmore, the able exponent in your Lordships' House of the views of the War Office, a clear and distinct affirmation of the fact that it is intended to absorb the whole of the Militia force. When the noble Earl the Under-Secretary was speaking, I asked him distinctly whether 46 the intention was to absorb the whole of the Militia. He replied "Yes;" and my noble friend Lord Burghclere seemed so pleased at getting that admission that he kissed his hand to me in thankfulness.
My Lords. this is a very important question and had time permitted I should have gone more fully into it than I feel justified in doing to-night. I should have referred to the history of the Militia, and have endeavoured to show that it is the foundation of our military system, embodying as it does the right of the Crown compulsorily to force men to serve for home defence. But I shall not go into that further than to say this, that the present Act dates from the year 1852, when Lord John Russell brought into the House of Commons a Local Militia Bill. Lord Palmerston took exception to the Militia being localised, and moved to strike out the word "local," and in doing so he struck out the Government as well, for the Government thereupon resigned. The first act of the succeeding Government was the bringing in by Mr. Walpole of the Bill that became the present Act. I should like to call attention to the great services rendered by the Militia to the country at various times. In 1803, 15,000 Militia Volunteers joined the Army; in 1808, the Local Militia was, in addition, established; 20,000 Militiamen volunteered then for the Army for twelve months. In 1812, three strong battalions joined the Army. During the ten years from 1803 to 1813, 100,000 Militiamen passed into the Regular Army. In 1815, Militiamen in great numbers joined the Army and served at Waterloo. In 1854 we had the Crimean War, during which fifty battalions of Militia volunteered for service; ten were sent to the Mediterranean as garrison, thus freeing the Regular troops for service in the Crimea. In all, the Militia sent to the war in South Africa, 1,691 officers and 43,875 men, and we know that every year the Militia gives 14,000 recruits to the Army. Besides that, up till a quite recent date there was the Militia Army Reserve. In this Reserve there were 30,000 men up to last year, when the Reserve was abolished by the late Secretary of State for War. That abolition means this, that if you were engaged in war to-morrow you would have 30,000 men less to count upon to fill the rank 47 of the Army than you had when you entered into the South African War.
I now come to the avowed intention to absorb the Militia force into the Regular Army. I have never heard of such a proposal until it was made by the present Secretary of State for War. Against the view of the right hon. Gentleman I could quote the views of many high authorities, but I will content myself with opinions expressed by Mr. Pitt a hundred years ago, by Lord Palmerston in the fifties, and, finally, by the Duke of Wellington. What did the Duke of Wellington say in his last speech in your Lordships' House with reference to the Militia? He said—I recommend you to adopt this measure (Mr. Walpole's Bill). It will give you a constitutional force. It will not be at first or for some time forward what we could desire, but it will become what we want—an efficient auxiliary to the Regular Army.I am quite content, in defence of the Militia and its continued existence, to cite these authorities. What have we to weigh against them? Nothing, so far as I know, except the authority of the present War Minister. I feel sure that weighed against these in the balance of public opinion Mr. Arnold-Forster's reasons would kick the beam. It is in these circumstances that I venture to ask your Lordships to pass the Resolution which stands in my name.
My Lords, I have received numerous letters approving of this Motion from persons whose opinions cannot fail to have great weight in your Lordships' House. The noble and gallant Lord the ex-Commander-in-Chief, Lord Roberts, writes that he is very sorry he cannot be present, as he has to be at Lancaster to-day. But your Lordships heard the noble and gallant Lord quite recently, and it was evident that his speech was directed strongly against any haste in dealing with this question. He prayed your Lordships to be cautious in dealing with this important force. I have also in my hand a letter from the Duke of Somerset, who regrets that he cannot be present, and says—Instead of destroying the Militia, which is evidently the intention of the Government, the country should see that every effort is made to increase it in numbers and in efficiency.48 Lord Penrhyn writes me a short and pithy letter, in which he expresses regret that he will not be able to record his vote in favour of my Motion against the destruction of the Militia. He adds—I have been brought up to believe that the Militia is the backbone of the Army, and I am still of that opinion.Lord Wolseley also writes regretting that he cannot be here to-day, but condemning in the strongest possible terms what is proposed to be done by His Majesty's Government in regard to the Militia force. Lastly, I have in my hand a letter from Sir Alfred Turner, who was at the head of the Auxiliary Forces at the War Office. He writes—Dear Lord Wemyss,—We ought all to be grateful to you for taking up the defence of Great Britain's old constitutional force against Mr. Arnold-Forster, who clearly means to abolish it if he can, in spite of the really splendid services it did during the war. when, in addition to the numbers who went abroad, the whole of the remainder were embodied for very long periods. If the numbers of the Militia have fallen away, and if its efficiency is not what it should be, the reason is the utter stupidity with which it has been treated by the War Office. It has been sent year after year to unpopular camps and away from its counties, which has been the chief cause of its falling away.The noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition spoke the other day in the highest possible terms of the importance of the Militia, and he added—It is the force which, during the late war, furnished such an enormous number of men to the Army in South Africa. The country would be much staggered if it thought this force was to be shortly destroyed.I think these quotations clearly point to the importance of this force, and to the desirability, instead of destroying it, of making it as efficient as we can.
I know not what course the Government will take with reference to my Motion, nor what course your Lordships will take. So far as the Government are concerned, they do not seem to be quite at one on this subject. We had, on the one hand, an able exposition from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, but, on the other hand, we had a speech from the Leader of the Government in this House, Lord Lansdowne; and I cannot believe that the noble Marquess in his heart desires to do away with a force on which he said he relied, even by compulsory service, in 49 case of emergency. The noble Marquess said—Let me say frankly that the Paper which your Lordships have before you does not represent what can be described as the final conclusion of His Majesty's Government.This Paper is Mr. Arnold-Forster's Memorandum, and the Leader of the Government in this House says that it does not represent what can be described as the final conclusion of His Majesty's Government on many of the subjects to which it has reference, and one of the most important subjects with which it deals is, as your Lordships know, the Militia. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government are going to resist this Motion, which is simply a statement of fact. It is, after all, only a truism. But, if the Government do resist it, I ask your Lordships to take an independent and patriotic line. If your Lordships often did that on questions of principle that come before you, you could govern England, and save our country from many a measure which we would be much better without.
There are two courses open to your Lordships—one is to stand by the old Militia force, which is the foundation and the basis of our military system; the other is to substitute for it, assuming that the Militia is to be done away with, this territorial mongrel begotten by the present Minister of War. I feel, however, that Mr. Arnold-Forster's scheme will only add some fragments to the War Office administrative wreckage that floats and eddies round the base of Lord Herbert's statue in Pall Mall, and on which, with bowed head and sorrowful mien he continuously looks down, and I am bound to say from my experience of the War Office that it is practically the Goodwin Sands of political Army administration. I say "political" because, unfortunately, one always sees that in these matters politics enter largely, and the safety of the politician is on the whole placed before the safety of the nation. Be that as it may, I ask your Lordships to affirm a Resolution which in your heart of hearts I am sure everyone of you must feel to be right. And certain I am that if the Opposition were to propose the abolition of the Militia force, the foundation of our military system, such a proposal would be rejected by your Lordships by a very large 50 majority. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved to resolve, "That, in the opinion of this House, any scheme of Army re-organisation that does away with the Militia force is contrary to Sound policy, destroying as it does the ancient constitutional foundation of our existing military system."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ *EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I rise early in this discussion, because I am anxious to draw attention to a particular part of the subject, on which up to the present there has been absolute and complete silence, in the hope that the noble Earl the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some information upon it. But before I come to that, I wish to say that I entirely adhere to the remarks I made the other day about the Militia, and which the noble Earl near me has quoted. 1 certainly understood from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary that the Government were in favour of a homogeneous plan, and of welding, as he called it, the Militia into the territorial forces.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOE WAR (The Earl of DONOUGHMORE)
I used the word "we." I Meant the Army Council, and not the Government.
§ EARL. SPENCER
Then I ask the noble Earl, Is the Army Council to be considered as a separate and independent body? I should be much surprised to hear that the Board of Admiralty was independent of the Cabinet, and that its particular views on a question of policy might be distinguished from those of the Government. I have a right to complain of the noble Earl putting upon the Army Council the desire to absorb the Militia into the territorial system. Bat what I rise particularly to call attention to is this. In former years I had considerable experience of the very large body of men constituting the Irish Militia. In my first Viceroyalty, I found that the Militia had not been called out for exercise for a considerable number of years on account of Fenian troubles. I rather think that at that time the transfer of the Militia from the Lord-Lieutenant to the War Office had not taken place. At all events, I had a great deal to do with the Irish Militia, and I recommended, and the 51 Cabinet agreed, that they should be called out for exercise.
§ *EARL SPENCER
I do not remember whether or not the transfer had taken Place at that time, but I think they were under the Lord-Lieutenant, and this was just previous to Mr. Cardwell's transfer of their control to the War Office. I may be wrong, but that is immaterial. The Militia were called out, and I had the opportunity of seeing nearly every Militia regiment in Ireland. I took great interest in them, and was struck with the fact that they were a particularly fine body of men. Moreover, they had more officers than the English Militia. In Ulster there were a great many regiments which drew numbers of men from Scotland. These men, who belonged to Ulster, were at work in factories and other places in Scotland, and they invariably came over during their holidays to do their training. That showed, I thought, a spirit which ought to be commended. I am ready to admit that a considerable change may have taken place in regard to the Irish Militia since then, but I am rather inclined from what I have heard to believe that very much the same state of things exists now as existed then. Ireland is in a totally different position with regard to the Auxiliary Forces from either England or Scotland, for there are no Volunteers in Ireland. The only defensive force is the Militia. Therefore, I think it is very important that this point should be considered—namely, what do the Government propose to do with regard to the Irish Militia? I admit that the Militia force is not now in a satisfactory state, but I am strongly opposed to the idea of destroying it. I am much inclined, therefore, to support my noble friend's Motion, but I must not be supposed to endorse all his views on the Militia, especially on the subject of the Militia ballot, of which he is such a persistent advocate.
§ *EARL SPENCER
No, but the noble Earl's name is so bound up with that subject that I wish it to be clearly under- 52 stood that, in supporting my noble friend's Motion now before the House, I do not endorse his views on the subject of the Militia ballot. I rose chiefly, however, for the purpose of calling attention to the case of the Irish Militia, because that is a point on which we have not heard a single word, and 1 think it is an important element in the consideration of this question.
My Lords, I am not prepared to say at this moment whether I can support the Motion of the noble Earl opposite or not. It depends rather upon what the Government have to say to-night or at some future time on the subject. At present it seems to me we are very much in the dark as to what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the Militia. At present their proposals are entirely inchoate. We have not heard any explanation either from the Secretary of State for War or from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary which would lead us to be certain what is the system which it is proposed to introduce in substitution for the present one so far as the Militia is concerned.
Some years ago when I had the honour to serve at the War Office I took a great deal of interest in the Militia, and was chairman of a Committee which took a great deal of evidence upon it; and one conclusion I came to from the evidence we had before us, and it has remained fixed in my mind ever since, was that the Army has got no more useful recruiting agent than the Militia. And for this reason. There are many lads in the country who are bitten with the idea of military service but rather dread tying themselves down for what was in those days eight years with the colours and four years with the Reserve, and the Militia gave them the opportunity of seeing what military service was like. I believe that large numbers of young men went into the Militia with that object in view. I think it must be most discouraging for Militia officers to see lads come into their corps and get trained, and then for the best of them to pass into the Army. I sympathise very much with Militia officers in regard to that, but at the same time I recognise that the Militia is the most successful recruiting agent the Army has had for some considerable time. Therefore, I do trust 53 His Majesty's Government will consider very gravely from that point of view the policy of so changing the Militia service or so reducing its strength as to endanger its recruiting power. The Government may say that the new period of service which they propose to introduce is so short that it will serve in place of the Militia to enable a lad to make up his mind whether or not he cares for military service. I am a little doubtful about that. It seems to me that two years is too long a time, and that the lad will think he has had enough military service after that time, and will not be inclined to join the general-service Army for the nine years. Therefore, I do hope the Government will, before they present their scheme to the country, seriously consider this point.
I understand from the Secretary of State that he is going to consult the Militia colonels during the autumn. I assume, therefore, that the Government scheme, whatever it is, is not complete. I do trust that before they present their complete scheme to the country they will bear in mind the great advantage it is to give these young fellows the opportunity of putting in a few months service to see how they like it. It is suggested in the Secretary of State's speech that there is a portion of the Militia which is redundant, which cannot be fitted into any scheme for the defence of these shores. I should be quite prepared to support the Government, if they think it necessary, in lopping off unnecessary limbs. The illustrious Duke the late Duke of Cambridge said to me once, after a War Office meeting in which he had struggled long against a reduction of numbers—I made the best fight I could, but, of course, if there is not money enough, the numbers must be cut down.He added—I have often submitted to a reduction of numbers, but I have never submitted to a reduction of cadres."His late Royal Highness thought this most important, because while you have the cadres you can fill them up in case of emergency. That is an important point which ought not to be lost sight of, and it was that which was done in the case of the Yeomanry regiments sent to South Africa.
54 The other night I asked the noble Earl the Under-Secretary what length of time he considered the general-service regiments would have to put in abroad, and he replied that he was hopeful that they would not have to serve as long abroad as they do now; but I cannot see how he worked that out on the figures he subsequently give us. As I understand, there are to be about 105 general-service regiments. There are now, I think, seventy-nine on foreign service Our recent experience shows that the demands of the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office go on increasing. The result is a greater demand on the English Army abroad, and I think it most unwise if the War Office authorities are calculating on a considerable reduction of numbers for foreign service. There are at present seventy-nine regiments on foreign service, and there is a proposal to reduce the number of battalions in the general-service regiments to 105. I work out the figures in this way, that regiments will have to put in something like twenty-two or twenty-three years on foreign service out of a tour of service of thirty years, the tour at present being eighteen years abroad and twelve years at home. The Secretary of State for War expressed great interest in the terri-torialisation system and in the history of regiments. Now, I ask what connection can possibly be maintained between a county battalion and its county when that battalion is to be abroad for three-fourths of its tour of service, and is to put in three years of the remaining period at Aldershot? The connection between the county and the regiment, will, I fear, be very much diminished. I deplore that as much as anything in the many intricacies of the scheme that has been presented to us. I think that the interest of a county in its regiment, an interest which has grown up by degrees, but which was enormously increased and intensified by the war, is a most valuable element in arousing enthusiasm for military service; and, therefore, I do hope that the Government and the Secretary of State for War will consider the matter very carefully before they finally decide upon so reducing the number of battalions as to necessitate such a long tour of foreign service as that to which I have referred. 55 The speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, the other night, filled me with the greatest apprehension. I could not detect one note of enthusiasm for this scheme. If that is so, and if I have correctly construed the noble Marquess's attitude, I ask the Government: Is it fair on their supporters in this House and in the other House to present the scheme to us and lead us to suppose that it is a scheme in which the Government believe tie safety of the country rests? I do not think I am exaggerating the case when I say that the noble Marquess either damned the scheme with faint praise, or praised it with faint condemnation. I hesitate to support my noble friend's Motion to-night because I believe the Government must have something more positive to say with regard to a scheme upon which the safety of these shores as well as the Empire at large rests.
My Lords, like my noble friend who has just sat down and the other noble Lords who have addressed the House to-night, I am bound to say I have the same doubt as to what the scheme of His Majesty's Government really is. I have endeavoured to find Out what it is. I asked my noble friend the Leader of the House certain definite Questions, and he said to me, Wait till the debate on Friday next, and in the meantime carefully study the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War." My Lords, I have very carefully studied that Memorandum, and I can assure your Lordships I am no further advanced than I was before. I should have put this down, perhaps, to my want of intelligence, but I find that every other person to whom I have spoken is in the same nebulous state of mind as to what the Government proposals really are. Then I come to what has been said in the course of the military debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House. First of all there was the statement of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary in which he said positively that the entire Militia were to be abolished or welded into a territorial Army, which is an expression I do not understand myself, and I very much doubt if His Majesty's Government understand it. Then the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said he did not 56 think it was going to be done like that; at any rate, commanding officers of Militia were going to be consulted in the autumn. If it has been decided that the Militia are to be abolished, what are commanding officers to be consulted upon in the autumn?
With regard to the position of the Militia, I think noble Lords on the Front Bench will bear me out when I say that I have been a most persistent advocate for the improvement of the Militia for many years. I do not think anyone has clamoured more for reform and efficiency than I have, and I have endeavoured to make myself thoroughly acquainted with the condition of that force. No doubt it will be said that if the Militia is in a bad condition, why object to its abolition? Well, my Lords, I have long believed that the Militia could, by the exercise of a very small amount of what I might call "sympathetic administration," and the expenditure of a certain amount of money, be put into such a position as to be able to be brought thoroughly up to date and to carry out the duties for which hitherto it has perhaps been incompetent. The want of men I put down to the loss of the agricultural population, and I do not believe it is possible to make any very large additions to the numbers in the Militia by anything short of some system of universal service. But I do think this, that you could perfectly well maintain a Militia force of something like the normal establishment at a small expenditure of money and by sympathetic administration.
As to officers, that I am sure is entirely a question of money. There is not a large leisured class in this country prepared to take commissions, but if the War Office would pay a certain retaining fee they would get a fair number of officers. Of course the larger the fee the more officers they would get. I believe that if they gave, say, £100 a year to every Militia officer, they would get a large addition in the number of officers. The position of commanding officers is an extremely difficult one. The commanding officer is of no account at all during the non-training period. If he were given a free hand a different state of things would obtain. For a short time there existed a most excellent body called the Militia Advisory Board. They may not have possessed any very great 57 weight with the authorities at the War Office, but that Board was a channel through which we were able to make our wants known to the Secretary of State for War. That is the great difficulty I have always felt as a commanding officer—the difficulty of making our wants known to the Secretary of State for War. I do not know why the Advisory Board was abolished. It was not extravagant, and I think it did a very great deal of good. It certainly gave the force a greater amount of confidence than it had hitherto possessed in the War Office administration.
Your Lordships may ask, If the Militia is unsatisfactory, why not abolish it? I reply, Because I believe it can, at a very small cost, be made most efficient. The chief point about the Militia, to my mind, is its remarkable cheapness. Even at an additional cost it would be by far the cheapest force serving the Crown. I will put into pounds, shillings, and pence, the cost of the Auxiliary Forces that went to South Africa. Before the war the cost of a Militiaman was £14 a year, the cost of a Yeoman £10 a year, and the cost of a Volunteer £4. I am speaking, of course in round figures. Something more than half the Militia served in the War—some 43,000 rank and file, as units, and some 14,000 as Militia Reserves. That works out that every Militiaman who served in the South African War cost the country £28. I turn to the Volunteers, and I find that only about 20.000, all told, served in the war. That is somewhere about 8 per cent, of the strength. Therefore every Volunteer who went to South Africa had cost the country £50 a year for a considerable time. About 20 per cent. of the Yeomanry went to South Africa, and there, again, the cost of each Yeoman was £50 a year. That was not the only direction in which the Militia proved a cheap force, because the remaining 50 per cent. of the Militia were all embodied in this country. Therefore the Militia showed that they were not only a cheap force, but a force that the country could rely upon.
The noble Earl the mover of the Motion now before the House spoke of the services of the Militia in the past. The Militia have been tried over and over again and found to be absolutely reliable, 58 and their reward is that they are to be abolished. What is to be substituted for this force? We are told that we are to have a new sort of territorial Army. We have had absolutely no figures, no information of any sort as to what this territorial Army is to be, or what it is to cost. We have had nothing but the barest possible generalities. I am informed that it will cost considerably over £10,000.000 to build barracks for this force. So far as I am able to judge, it will mean in any case a large reduction in numbers and an entirely new force which cannot be very much more highly trained than the Militia are now. It is to be enlisted for two years. It is true that they have two years service in Germany, but is the War Office prepared to give their recruits the same training as recruits are given in Germany? If so, I can tell the War Office that they will not have many recruits to train. More than that, it is to consist of small battalions of 500 rank and file, of whom 100 are to be long-service and 400 short-service men. Out of those 400 men, I am prepared to prophesy that at least 250 will be recruits of under one year's service. Wastage you must have, and nothing short of increasing the pay of the Army to a gigantic figure would give you anything but a large mass of recruits about the age of eighteen.
It is imagined that the same class of men who have joined the Militia will go into this territorial Army. My noble friend Lord Harris has expressed doubts on that point. There is another class of men, and a very valuable class, which I regret has disappeared largely from the Militia, but which does still exist in certain corps. I refer to the old civilian Militiamen, the men who never were soldiers, but who went into the Militia because they liked a certain amount of soldiering, and became a most valuable element in the regiment. I do not believe for one moment that that class of man will enlist any more for two years than he is at present prepared to enlist for three years. Therefore you will wipe out that class of man altogether unless he goes into the Volunteers. But in Ireland, as the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, there are no Volunteers, and, therefore, if the Irish Militia is abolished, those men will be 59 lost altogether to the Crown. As to officers, as far as I gather, all the senior officers, myself included, I presume, are to be abolished, and no Militia officer is to exist any longer above the rank of captain.
That will deprive the country of the services of a great number of gentlemen whose services are exceedingly valuable. I refer to those old soldiers who, having served a certain amount of time in the Army, have transferred their services to the Militia. You will completely wipe out from the forces of the Crown that class of officer, and I am also firmly convinced that you will wipe out a great number of other officers who will refuse to go into Militia regiments where they never can be regarded as fit to rise to a position of command. In any case, as far as I can make out, there must be a very large reduction in the number of officers. To each of these proposed new battalions are to be added ten officers who are to do a month or six weeks training every year. I very much doubt whether a very desirable class of officer will join when there is no possibility of rising above the rank of major, and the class of men who now officer your Militia regiments will disappear altogether.
This is a matter on which I feel most strongly. I have the honour to command a Militia regiment, and, perhaps I may be allowed to say, not one of the worst regiments in the service. I have at this time thirty-one out of my thirty-six officers, and 960 out of my 1,000 men. I should have had more than my thousand men had not my recruiting been interfered with. I and my family have served in that regiment for 240 years; it has been commanded by a member of my family for more than one hundred years. But, putting sentiment on one side, I should be willing that that regiment should be swept away if it was incapable of being brought up to date, or if something better was going to be substituted for it. I do not, however, believe that those conditions exist.
This remarkable proposition has been sprung upon us very suddenly at 60 the end of a long session. The remarkable thing about it is that it is quite at variance with the earlier speeches which were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. One of the very early speeches he made after taking office was at Liverpool, in the course of which he particularly alluded to the Militia as a force which wanted assistance and sympathetic management, and a force which should be looked after. His way of doing that is like curing toothache by cutting off a person's head. I trust that His Majesty's Government will defer these drastic changes, at all events, until those of us who sit on this side of the House and usually support His Majesty's Government have had a chance of hearing what their actual suggestions really are. The Militia has never failed the country in a time of need, and I ask the Government to think twice and even thrice before they attempt to tamper with it.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I have been asked a number of Questions this evening extending very widely over many parts of the scheme which has been outlined by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State in another place, and I do not know that I should be in order in referring to all of them, more especially to those which were raised by my noble friend Lord Harris. He asked two Questions in particular, both with reference to the foreign-service Army. I am sorry that in the few sentences in which I attempted to reply to him on the last occasion on which your Lordships discussed this subject I did not make the matter clear, but if, at any time in the near future the noble Lord will give me five minutes I can explain the matter fully and, I hope, satisfactorily to him.
I shall be happy to hear what the noble Earl has to say privately; but we are accustomed to wander rather wide in our discussions, and I cannot see why the noble Earl cannot now give me an Answer to my Question.
* THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
The Motion before us protests against the abolition of the Militia, and I think I should be detaining your Lordships at too great length if I entered into those other subjects now. I do not wish to 61 complain, but I think I have a right to say that the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the Militia has been misunderstood. I think that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War made perfectly plain in his speech in another place his exact attitude in respect to this question. I know it would not be in order for me to quote from that speech, but I am perfectly in order in referring to the Memorandum which has been circulated to your Lordships. There are some three or four paragraphs on pages 11 and 12 dealing with this question. My right hon. friend says most distinctly that no sweeping change in the general position of the Militia force, or in the strength of its units, is at present contemplated; and your Lordships must be perfectly aware that nothing in the nature of large organic changes can be carried out until the Estimates for next year have been presented to Parliament. At the same time we do regard the position of the Militia at the present moment as serious. I do not for a moment depreciate what the Militia have done in the past, but the Report of the Royal Commission recently presented to your Lordships' House shows how very serious the position of the Militia now is. The Commission stated in their Report that the average strength of 104,000 yielded only 82,000 Militiamen fit as regards age to take the field. In Continental armies (the Commission pointed out) men are not taken before the age of twenty, and if we adopted that age as the lowest for field service, and deducted the men who had not reached that age, the effective total was reduced to 69,000 men, out of an establishment of 130,000. The Commission also stated that the evidence which they had received satisfied them that the drill and training at present undergone by the Militia force was insufficient to fit its units, at short notice, to meet trained troops in the field.
There have been no classes held for several years to which Militia officers could go. You close the classes to them, and then tell them they are untrained.
* THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I think the noble Earl will find a great many other reasons in the evidence given 62 before the Commission. The reason I have quoted is not the sole reason. I am not claiming too much when I say that the evil is an organic one more than accidental, as the noble Lord seems to suggest. Indeed, there is no more convincing proof of the bad condition in which the Militia find themselves at the present moment than is to be found in the speeches of the noble Lord himself. I read very carefully this afternoon the speech which the noble Lord made on the occasion of the debate raised by my noble friend Lord Newton, in which he advocated compulsory service, and 1 find complete corroboration of almost everything I have just quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission. The position is a very serious one. The chief evils, as we believe, arise from the fact that the Militia competes with the Line for recruits, a competition which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not very much deprecate because he thinks it is a very useful thing to have the Militia as a feeder for the Line. But I venture to say that a Militia at £1,800,000 supplying 19,000 recruits for the Line, though perhaps an excellent thing, is a luxury which we ought to try and cheapen if we can.
Again, we are confronted with the fact that the Volunteers compete with the Militia for recruits. Militia colonels are complaining to us that a great many officers and men find their way into the Volunteers instead of, as they did in former times, into the Militia. We also recognise as an evil the want of trained officers and non-commissioned officers. My noble friend Lord Raglan suggested that we could get a large number of officers for the Militia if we give them a retaining fee of £100 per annum. If we did that I cannot imagine any officers going into the Army as subalterns at £120. We are also confronted with the fact that the Militia are in no way organised for war. It is necessary to find some alleviation for this state of affairs. The Army Council have decided that it is necessary to at once raise the physical standard of the Militia to the level of the Line. We also feel that we should be doing wrong if we attempted to continue in existence or unamalgamated, if I may use the phrase, certain units which are at the present moment absolutely redundant; but we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that 63 these expedients may only prove to be palliatives, and that some large organic change may be found to be necessary. But it has never been suggested that in any organic change which may be made it will be necessary absolutely to abolish the Militia. For that reason I can assure the noble Earl that I have no objection to the Motion.
The question of the Irish Militia has been raised in the course of the debate. That is a very important question, and I can assure the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition that it will be kept in view in connection with the consideration of the whole scheme. As to the point raised by Lord Raglan with reference to the future position of commanding officers, he will, of course, remember that it was suggested in the evidence before the Norfolk Commission that the position of the commanding officer is at present very unsatisfactory. He has no power to command except while the regiment is out training. It has been suggested that commanding officers should be allowed to give attention to their regiments all the year round. which would not separate them very much from the position of commanding officers of one of the home-service battalions if the recommendations of my right hon. friend are carried out.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
My Lords, I am unwilling to trouble your Lordships with any remarks at this late hour, but as I had the honour of initiating a debate a week or so ago on the Army scheme, and as I have been particularly invited into this discussion by the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, I hope your Lordships will allow me for a few minutes to address you on this subject. My noble friend, in inviting me to take part in this debate, said that on a previous occasion I had at a point in my speech kissed my hand to him. I do not remember, my Lords, that I ever took such a liberty with my noble friend; but I must admit that I never hear him address this House in his strenuous and vigorous fashion without wishing to take off my hat to him. I have only risen to endeavour to elucidate the rather hazy condition in which, if I may say so, the Under-Secretary has left the question, and to elicit from the Government some definite statement as to what really are their opinions with re- 64 gard, not to the abolition of the Militia, but to the absorption and amalgamation of the Militia.
The Under-Secretary told us just now that we had entirely misunderstood the Secretary of State as to his attitude with regard to the Militia. I would venture to draw my noble friend's attention to the Secretary of State's Memorandum which has been circulated in this House. We find in it the deliberate statement of the Secretary of State to this effect—There will be an improvement in the Militia, and, if public opinion will allow, the amalgamation of the Militia with the Line for the purpose of forming a true territorial Army.I think it is quite clear, from the speech of the Secretary of State for War and from this document, what is in the mind of the Secretary of State with regard to the future of the Militia. I do not think the Under-Secretary will deny that the plan of the Secretary of State is to create a territorial Army. Having accepted the theory of the blue water school, the Secretary of State proposes that the Army shall be smaller than hitherto, but we hope it is to be more efficient; and in endeavouring to form that Army the Secretary of State proposes to absorb, I think. thirty-three battalions of the Militia, and to abolish the remaining Militia battalions in order that he may effect a certain economy. What that economy is was referred to just now by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary. It is the £1,800,000 a year, which is the present cost of maintaining 91,000 members of the Militia force in order, as he put it, to give to the Regular Army 19,000 recruits per annum. The noble Earl insinuated that that was a very large sum to pay for these recruits.
If the Secretary of State proposes to absorb these thirty-three Militia battalions, and to abolish the rest, it is quite obvious that, in accepting this Motion, the Under-Secretary of State is not carrying out the plan of his chief, nor the plan which he himself was good enough to give to your Lordships the other night, and which he strangely said proceeded from the Army Council and not from the Cabinet. I do not speak with any experience of these high offices; but, in the case of the Admiralty, it would seem 65 a most extraordinary doctrine if the Lords of the Admiralty were to initiate a policy of a far-reaching nature and of vital importance to the very existence of this country, and then, when it came before Parliament, we were to be told by His Majesty's Government that it was not they who were responsible for it, but the Admiralty Board. That is a doctrine which has never before been placed before your Lordships or the country.
I venture to say, with all respect to His Majesty's Government, that the official acceptance of my noble friend's Motion is the last phase in the decline and fall of that great scheme of Army reorganisation which appeared before the country with such a flourish of trumpets a short time ago. When I last spoke, the noble Marquess, with great good nature, twitted me because I had said that the basis of this plan was the acceptance of the doctrine of the blue water school. The Government having accepted this Resolution, I hope I shall not offend the literary susceptibilities of the noble Marquess when I say that the scheme of the Government is now many fathoms deep below the blue water, and is likely to remain there, and I do not think in any effective form it will float on that blue water again.
The noble Earl the Under-Secretary told us the other night that the amalgamation of the Militia and its absorption with the Line was part of the Army scheme. Shortly afterwards the Leader of your Lordships' House told us that this was not the final scheme of the Government, Then, I ask, with all respect, what on earth was this Memorandum circulated to Parliament for? We do not want to hear from His Majesty's Government what they are not agreed upon. We want to hear from them what they are agreed upon. Yet by the confession of the noble Marquess, and the position in which that scheme is now placed, it is obvious that it represents what the Government are not agreed upon, and in no sense what they are agreed upon. I should like to know how the noble Marquess explains that position. The noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition said he would support my noble friend if he went to a division. Luckily for us we are not to have a division. For myself, I am bound to say I feel some difficulty in giving an un- 66 qualified assent to the Motion now before the House. At the same time, I fully associate myself with what has been said with regard to the past services of the Militia, and the way in which they behaved from Waterloo to the Crimea, and more recently in South Africa. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Raglan, would tell us that our proper territorial Army is the constitutional force, the Militia.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
It is obvious that the territorial Army will be mainly composed of the Militia. We know that at present recruiting for the Militia is not what we desire it to be, and it does not follow that in the future more recruits will be forthcoming. It is quite possible that recruiting will he more difficult. You will have a small territorial Army mainly composed of the Militia, and when Your recruiting falls off, what will happen? Why, those noble Lords who favour conscription will come forward and point to the depletion of your only territorial force, and when some scare occurs, they will at once urge, that the Ballot Act should be put in force; thus will come in the thin end of the wedge of conscription. I, for my part, being an opponent of conscription, do not wish to see such a result. By the admission of the noble Earl. the Under-Secretary, it is obvious that the Militia force will have to be strengthened and improved, and if you strengthen and improve it, it may be that you will have to alter its constitutional position, especially as regards service abroad. I think it would be very difficult to constitute the territorial Army largely of the Militia without imposing the obligation to serve abroad. You will thereby alter the whole constitution of the Militia force, and if you tie yourselves down to an abstract proposal like the one now before the House, you will find it difficult to explain your position when the difficulty arises.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The Earl of SELBORNE)
My Lords, I trust you will allow me to say a few words in reply to my noble friend. I desire to speak in a double capacity—as 67 First Lord of the Admiralty and therefore a responsible member of His Majesty's Government, and also as a Militia officer. First of all, may I say a word for myself as a Militia officer? I have served twenty-five years in the Militia, and although my active career in that force is closed, I have still the great honour to be hon. colonel of the regiment in which I served, and my attachment to the Militia is not less than that of my noble friend. Lord Raglan, who has addressed the House with such consummate knowledge of the subject. Having made quite clear what my personal attitude towards the Militia is, I feel bound to say, as Lord Raglan would say, that the condition of the Militia at the present moment is profoundly unsatisfactory. I must allow myself a little licence on this occasion. I do say, with a full sense of my responsibility, that the condition to which the Militia has been brought has been the work of the War Office and nobody else—not the particular War Office existing at the present moment, not the War Office of any one Government, but the War Office as I have known it throughout my Militia service of twenty-five years. The Militia is what the War Office have made it, and the War Office alone is responsible for all its failures and shortcomings.
In the whole of my service, with the exception of one or two officers I could name, I have never found, be it Liberal Government or Conservative Government in power, any sympathy at the War Office for the Militia except from the civilians. The military officials at the War Office knew nothing about the Militia; the conditions of service in the Militia were so different from those to which they had been accustomed that they never seemed able to exercise their imagination; they never seemed to realise that there could be a force whose conditions were different from those of the Regular Army, or that any force other than Regular soldiers could be of any value. They regarded the Militia as if it never could be anything else than a recruiting ground for the Line. I do think that successive military administrators at the War Office have, in all their dealings with the Auxiliary Forces, been most short-sighted. They have been unable to raise their 68 eyes beyond the immediate needs, as it seems to me, of the Regular Army, and they have grudged for the Auxiliary Forces any money that they could get for the Regulars.
Now, my Lords, that is the past. What about the future? The Army Council have devised a scheme which has the complete acquiescence and cordial approval of the Government, and for which the Government are absolutely responsible. It is the division of the, Army into a general-service Army and a home-service Army. What part in that reorganisation is the Militia to play? That is the question. Nobody can doubt that that part must be played in the home-service Army, and, whatever particular method of adaptation to the home-service Army you may favour for the Militia, the changes that must come will be drastic. My noble friend who spoke last put his finger on the most drastic change of all, and one which, speaking as an individual Member of your Lordships' House, seems to me to lie at the root of the whole question. Whether the scheme described in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War or any other scheme is adopted, the Militia of the future in the home-Army must be a force bound to serve abroad in a defined case of national emergency—a voluntarily raised, not a compulsorily raised, force.
The days have gone by, I hope, for enlisting men for home service and expecting them to volunteer in time of war for foreign service. That has been done time after time, century after century almost, and I think it is full time that that fraud should cease. The Militia always have been required for foreign service in great wars and always will be. The question is how to adapt them for the home-service Army. The Army Council have adopted a wise attitude, and one for which the Government wholly accept responsiblity. They have said—We are dealing with a force of immense historical antiquity, as old an institution as exists in this country, except perhaps Parliament, the Church, and the Monarchy. It is a force that has done national service in war after war, and in emergency after emergency, and we cannot deal with such a force as that hastily.69 They have, in fact, adopted the advice which the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition and the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Lord Roberts gave the other night; they have not acted hastily. They have put the conditions before the Militia force and before Parliament and the whole country, and they have said, "These are the conditions—We must have a home Army; the Militia must be in the home Army." And they might have added that the Militia must be available for foreign service; how are you going to adapt the Militia to these conditions? They adumbrated a plan of their own, a plan which, if successful, would give a very valuable body of men and officers, and their contention is that it does not amount to an abolition of the Militia. They admit, of course, that the career which has been such a pleasure to my noble friend and to myself, to rise through one's regiment as a county gentleman to command it—they admit that that will be closed. Up to the rank of major thee say the career would still be open, and they believe that in time of war there would be full employment in the battalions that will have to be improvised for those senior Militia officers for whom permanent employment had not been found in time of peace. Therefore, the view that this is really the abolition of the Militia force is not the view that the Army Council admit, and those who want fairly to discuss this question must remember that that is the point of view of the Army Council. Not only do they say it is not proposed to abolish the Militia, but they say that the Militia is necessary to make the territorial Army what they hope to see it. They say they cannot with a few Line regiments spread the territorial organisation over the country. They want the historical and territorial prestige of the Militia to help them in striking even deeper and fuller the roots of the territorial system.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
How mane battalions of the Militia do the Army Council propose to abolish? They propose, I understand, to amalgamate thirty-three battalions. How many do they propose to abolish?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I frankly admit I cannot tell you. A large number 70 would disappear as units. The Army Council say that whatever they do they will have to amalgamate many of the existing units, because they have fallen below the numbers necessary to enable them to maintain them as separate units. Whichever plan they adopt they will have to do a great deal of amalgamation. The Army Council say to the Militia, "Can you show us any better plan which, for the same money, will give us an equally valuable force of Militia, or which, for less money, will give us a larger force of Militia, adequately trained for the needs of the country"? That is the problem which they put before the Militia and the country, and there is no shirking of responsibility on the part of the Government. It is with their full and entire sanction that the Army Council have come forward and taken the public into their confidence. That is the problem which we have all got to discuss. It is not and never can be a Party question. It is a national question. How, without losing any of the great historical value of the Militia, are we to weld that force into the new home Army so as to get the fullest possible value for our money, and supply the country with the largest possible number of men?—that is the problem before us, and the contributions we have had to-night from noble Lords, and which we shall have more of in the future, are of the greatest assistance in elucidating this problem.
§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I gathered from the speech of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary that the Government accept my Resolution declaring that it would be contrary to sound police to get rid of the Militia, which is the foundation of our military system. While defending the Government from any intention of abolishing the Militia, or of absorbing the whole of it, he spoke of organic changes that will have to be made. What I wish to ask the noble Earl is this—Will Parliament have an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon those organic changes before they are made? I venture to think that anything which makes an organic change in the Militia force ought to be brought before Parliament in the early part of 71 the session, so that Parliament and the public may have full opportunity of expressing their opinion upon it.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
The noble Lord will realise that it is impossible to make any important organic change in any part of the Army without having authority in the Estimates. We cannot do anything in connection with this part of the scheme until next year's Estimates.
§ On Question, resolved in the affirmative.