HL Deb 27 June 1904 vol 136 cc1176-215

rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Militia and Volunteers. He said: My Lords, from some observations which fell the other day from the Under-Secretary of State for War, I rather gather that he would consider a discussion upon this subject in opportune, if not premature. I am quite unable to accept this view myself, because the Government have already made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of accepting the main recommendation of this Commission, and that is quite sufficient for my purpose. I do not think that anyone, of however complacent a disposition he may be, can read the Report of this Commission without feelings of uneasiness. It shows that the Militia and Volunteers are in an unsatisfactory condition; it shows that that august and mysterious body, of which we hear so much and know so little, namely, the Defence Committee, had at all events some months ago no clear idea as to the purpose for which the Militia and Volunteers were intended, although I have no doubt this has been rectified since the accession to that Committee of Sir George Clarke; and, in addition to that, it shows that the naval and military authorities were in a pronounced disagreement with regard to the extremely important question whether an invasion of this country was a feasible operation or not. Heaven forbid that I should step in and say which of these authorities was in the right, but I cannot help making this remark, that if the Admiralty views are correct, if the people who, I believe, call themselves the "blue water school" are correct in their conclusions, then it is perfectly obvious to me, at all events, that the Militia and Volunteers are purely unnecessary bodies, and the sooner we get rid of them the better. And it appears to me that the "blue water school" have a distinct grievance at this moment against the Japanese. Japan, after all, is an island Power, like ourselves, and yet, in defiance of the notions of the "blue water school," they presume to maintain a large Army and actually to use that large Army for the purpose of defending their own country.

With regard to the Commission itself, I think it will be admitted that the Commissioners did not meet with much encouragement when they started upon their labours. The Commissioners, with a laudable desire to go to the root of the matter, began by asking for certain definite information from the War Office. This information was supplied by the War Office, but it did not turn out to be of a very valuable nature, because the Commissioners were subsequently informed that the information which had been given them was all wrong. They then proceeded to ask for information from the Admiralty, and they met with a flat refusal from the Admiralty to give any information whatever. They then applied to that august and mysterious body to which I have just alluded, the Defence Committee, and were told in polite language to mind their own business and not to inquire into things which they did not understand.

With regard to the refusal of the Admiralty to supply information, there are two explanations which occur to me. One is that the Admiralty thought that it would be inconsistent with, and prejudicial to, the public interest that any information should be given. I can hardly believe myself that this was the real explanation, because, as I have maintained before in this. House, official secrets practically do not exist, and if any Government, say that of Germany or France, had decided upon an invasion of this country, it is highly improbable that they would make their preparations in consequence of some admissions which were extracted from witnesses before a Royal Commission. Therefore, I think we may at once dismiss this explanation, more especially as I will give the Ad- miralty credit for knowing everything that goes on in foreign countries, just as foreign countries know all about our military and naval preparations. The other explanation, which appears to me to be the only possible one, is that the Admiralty, and apparently the Defence Committee, perceived that the Commissioners were endeavouring to obtain information which went beyond their terms of reference. We have heard a good deal in the criticisms upon this Report with regard to the iniquity of the Commissioners in having exceeded the terms of reference; and, bearing in mind these various criticisms, I do not think it is altogether uncharitable to assume that this excessive regard for the terms of reference was due to the perhaps not unnatural hope that the Commissioners would not recommend any very drastic remedies; and I cannot help feeling that if, instead of proposing the drastic remedy which they have suggested, the Commissioners had reported that upon the whole the Militia and Volunteers were in an admirable condition and only required a little more sympathy and consideration, they would have been warmly thanked for their laborious and patriotic labours. To my mind the most satisfactory result of the Commission is that these Commissioners were not, if I may use the expression, "choked off" in this way, but proceeded to go to the root of the matter, and they made a drastic, and, possibly, to some persons, a startling proposal. Well, what is their reward? The Report of the Commissioners is received with a universal chorus of shrieks and howls on the part of almost every representative person in the country, and the first person to give a good resounding kick to the Commissioners was no less a personage than the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister in the other House, anxious to be the first to deal the Commissioners a blow, announced, in reply to a Question— Of course, we do not accept the recommendation of the Commission. Pray, why "of course? What grounds are there for sweeping at once out of sight the recommendations of these men, who, I have every reason to believe, embarked upon their labours in a perfectly independent and impartial spirit, and arrived at their conclusion solely as the result of the evidence which was given before them? I am not going to discuss the personality of the Commission. At the same time I am not going to admit that Sir Ralph H. Knox and the two recalcitrant Volunteer colonels were the sole embodiment of military wisdom on that Commission. Let us put the personality of the Commissioners out of sight altogether. Let us assume, if you like, that persons like Lord Grenfell and Sir Coleridge Grove, and other persons who took part in the South African War, are persons altogether unworthy of attention. Let us put them oat of sight altogether, and merely consider the evidence. I do not know whether many people have taken the trouble to read the evidence, but I have read it myself, and I am bound to say that I should have thought it would have been very difficult for the Commissioners to make any sort of recommendation which was opposed to the one they have made.

It is a delusion, an impression at all events, that the persons who look upon compulsory service in this country as a necessity are merely a few military men and a few imbeciles like myself. Well, if anyone will take the trouble to read the evidence, he will see that not only have the highest military authorities in the land, such persons as Lord Wolseley, General Sir T. Kelly-Kenny, and others expressed these opinions, but the same opinions were expressed by any number of other persons, who represent practically most classes of society—persons who are employers of labour, Volunteer colonels, Militia colonels, Members of Parliament, and one noble Lord who recently occupied an official position in this House, Lord Raglan, who only a short time ago was "Under-Secretary of State for War, whose views I submit cannot altogether be ignored, and who, I hope, will give us the benefit of them this afternoon.

You cannot, I maintain, at once sweep away this recommendation by saying that it is un-English, or that it was not included in the terms of reference. Possibly not. Suppose, for instance, that your house is in bad repair, and you call in an architect, and the architect says, "By an expenditure of a considerable sum of money I can put your house in order, but if you will take my advice you will pull it down and build a new one in its place"—that is practically what the recommendation of the noble Duke and his colleagues amounts to. The fact is, the evidence before this Commission has only confirmed opinions which have been held by many people for some time past, namely, that the so-called voluntary system has practically broken down. This may sound a strong expression to use, but I think I can give a few instances in recent years upon which it would be difficult to deny that the voluntary system has broken down. The first instance that occurs to me—I have some hesitation in alluding to it, because it always makes my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs so angry when I do so—was the statement which the noble Marquess made in my hearing in this House, that there were 92,000 men in the British Army incapable of taking the field. Shortly after that the Government and the country realised that owing to the whole of our Regular Forces being absorbed by the war this country was left in such a defenceless position that they were obliged to obtain the services of time-expired men by paying them extravagant bounties, in order to give the country some vague sense of security. Another instance is that after some months of warfare we were obliged to ask the Colonies to come to our assistance. A further instance was the case that we were eventually obliged to offer five shillings a day to men who, to put it mildly, were imperfectly trained; and I think another instance—an irrefutable instance—is that it is found practically impossible at the present day to get Volunteers to go into camp for one week in the course of two years.

I should have thought the fact of the voluntary system having broken down must have forced itself upon my noble friend, the Lord Privy Seal (the Marquess of Salisbury), who is a colonel of a Militia regiment, because I read in a newspaper the other day that he was offering half-a-crown a head to people who would bring him recruits, as if they were plovers' eggs or something to eat. I think the cases I have quoted are sufficient to establish the fact that it would be a very bold man who would assert that the voluntary system has not very nearly broken down. It always strikes me that we add very much to our difficulties by refusing to call things by their proper names. We are always casting up the whites of our eyes and thanking Providence that we are not like poor benighted foreigners who compel their citizens to render military service to the State. I may be an extremely peculiar person, but, personally, I cannot see anything whatever to admire in the voluntary system at all. What is the voluntary system, as a matter of fact, but an elaborate system of substitution. The Chinese, if I am not mistaken, have a habit, when they are condemned to death, of finding persons who are ready to undergo that penalty in their place, This may have practical merits, but it is not generally looked upon as a patriotic proceeding. I maintain that the term "voluntary" Army and "voluntary" Navy is a misleading term. Our Army is not really a voluntary Army, neither is our Navy a voluntary Navy. Our Army is a professional Army and our Navy a professional Navy, and we are obliged to have a professional Army and a professional Navy, because it is clearly not only a matter of convenience, but a matter of necessity. Nobody proposes that mea should be compulsorily taken in this country for the purposes of garrisoning colonies and out-of-the-way places.

I admit at once that it is a necessity that our Regular Army and Navy should be built upon what I will call, if you like, the voluntary system, but when you come to the question of home defence, why on earth should there be any option in the matter at all? It is a duty which, as I say, is enforced by every civilised country. Hitherto the impression has prevailed that the defence of this country I can be, and should be, entrusted to a limited class, and I admit that until a serious emergency has arisen this system his served its purpose more or less. But observe a slight change of opinion with regard to this matter. I observe, for instance, that the Prime Minister, not long ago, expressed the opinion that the defence of this country was the duty of the community at large, and we see other; evidence of this view. In pecting officers, when they inspect Militia and Volunteers, dwell sometimes in rather trembling accents on the desirability of every man learning in some form or other to defend his country. Members of Parliament and other public men go occasionally about the country and say that every man ought to have a rifle and slouch hat. I observe they often lay great stress on the slouch hat; and I have heard the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, in this House say that we ought to imitate the example of Switzerland.

I have no doubt we shall hear before this debate is concluded, perhaps from noble Lords opposite, that all the Auxiliary Forces require is more sympathy and consideration. Well, I should like to ask your Lordships, as practical men, what is the use of this moral suasion? You might just as well suppose that if you had got a system of voluntary taxation, you would induce the community to undertake their part of the expense. I submit that this Government, and every other Government, have done nothing else but appeal to the patriotic impulses of individuals; they have appealed to their patriotism and they have appealed to their pockets. And what is the result? I do not think I am exaggerating? when I say that there is not more than one able-bodied man in nine who discharges any kind of military duty in defence of his country. The patriotism of many citizens of this country consists of singing songs about being absent-minded beggars, or being soldiers or sailors of the King — the thing which they have the very least idea of becoming themselves.

Look at the arguments which are addressed to the limited class which at present takes the whole burden of defence upon its shoulders. When it is clearly shown that the system is not what it ought to be, those who undertake the duty are addressed in this sort of way. The Government says to them:" You have been kind enough to undertake this duty; it is very good of you, but we intend to make you do a great deal more; and mark the terrible thing which will happen if you decline to receive our advances — other people, who at present do nothing, will be obliged to do their share of the duty." It is very much as if a man had ten horses in his stable, and only made use of one, and when the work continued to increase, he still continued to use only one horse, and was rather surprised that it did not come up to his requirements. After all, what is a Volunteer? A Volunteer is a citizen like anybody else; neither better off, nor stronger, nor richer. He does not get any advantages from being a Volunteer except the right to wear a uniform, which is possibly not always becoming. If he is an employer he is penalised; if he is an employee he loses his wages; and I do not think I can bring the absurdity of the position more clearly to your Lordships than by quoting a case which I came across in a paper not long ago. It is the case of a man who was a Volunteer, and his commanding officer asked for his committal to gaol. It was said that the man was ordered to pay 35s., which the regiment had forfeited through his non-attendance at drill and inefficiency, and that, though a single man and in work, he had failed to pay anything. An order for his imprisonment for twenty-eight days was made. Therefore, whereas you penalise yourself directly and indirectly, you also run the risk of being sent to gaol because you do work which other people refuse to do, and if ever the so-called voluntary system is reformed, I trust the case of this martyr will be borne in mind.

I could multiply instances of a similar character, but out of respect to your patience I will not do so. But I do not think that anybody can read this Report without seeing that at all events the Volunteer force has broken down under what is known as the intolerable strain, the intolerable strain being partly represented by the one week's camp which they are expected to do in the course of two years. I think it is clear from the Report and from what was said in this House the other day that a good many Volunteers will have to go. If they have got to go, they will have to be, I presume, replaced somewhere, and after the Report of the noble Duke and his colleagues I do not see, however much you may fight against the idea now, how compulsion can ultimately be avoided. I know perfectly I well what my noble friend the Under-Secretary will say to me in his reply. I have not the least doubt he will begin by saying it is un-English. Then he will make out that he does not want men and would not know what to do with them if he had them, and he will say that the voluntary system must be given another chance, and that, until disaster convinces it, the public will never accede to anything so unpopular.

Well, with regard to this question of unpopularity, I am rather doubtful myself as to whether the idea of its excessive unpopularity is really well-founded. Nobody yet in a responsible position has ever asked the country its opinion on the subject. I have always thought it was one of the blots on a great career that at a time when this country was prepared to make some sacrifices in order to secure military efficiency, Lord Salisbury stated that he understood that numbers of men were flocking from this country to foreign countries in order to avoid having to do a few months Militia service. All I can say is that if there are such persons in this country we should be very well rid of them; but still, if they were liable to duty of that kind and returned without fulfilling it, they are persons I should like to deal severely with. I can supply one argument which may convince His Majesty's Government that this proposal is not so absolutely unpopular as they imagine. I presume that if this Government or any Government had the courage to enforce, or to suggest the enforcement of this principle, at all events it would not be made retrospective. Well, what does that mean? It means that the people who would be subject to compulsory training would be young people who had not attained the age of twenty-one, and who had not yet got votes. Therefore, there is less cause for alarm than appears to be imagined. If you were to take the ordinary voter who has a son and say to him that when his son reached the age of twenty-one years he was to be compelled to do some military service, I think most fathers would be glad to hear it.

Although I have spoken at some length, I have merely touched the fringe of the subject. I hope this is by no means the last occasion on which it will be debated in your Lordships' House. I have not pointed out the advantages, whether direct or indirect, of universal personal service. I have not pointed out, as I might have done, that the adoption of this principle would free our Regular Army and Navy for their proper task. I have not urged, as I might have done with even more force, that if this principle were adopted it would lay finally and once for all that spectre of invasion upon which experts have been divided. I have not urged that the precise form recommended by the Commissioners should be adopted. I have only endeavoured to show—imperfectly, I am afraid—that this principle must not be at once set aside as impracticable, and that it really does deserve the serious consideration of the country. I cannot conclude without expressing the view that those people who consider the position of this country and our ever-increasing responsibilities and liabilities, which seem to increase steadily year by year, must occasionally, at all events, feel some doubt as to whether our hand-to-mouth methods are sufficient for our present requirements.

It is the fashion to speak of Mr. Cobden as a discredited prophet, but to my mind he was not far wrong when he prophesied that if this country continued to carry on what is now called an Imperial policy, Englishmen would hive to submit to the sacrifices which are imposed upon other civilised nations. I am aware that those persons who believe in the system of "muddling through," which, after all, is only a rude way of describing the voluntary system, will always console themselves or will be consoled with the reflection that there are twenty-five miles of sea separating this from any other country. That is the argument which is always brought to bear when we make these suggestions, but personally I do not believe that the sea has anything to do with it. I believe that the reason why we refuse to adopt the precautions adopted by other countries is to be explained by the simple fact that for a hundred years this country has not been engaged in a life-and-death struggle. No one can maintain that the Crimean War was a war of this character. Neither will anyone say that that description applies to the Indian Mutiny; and, great as were our sacrifices during the late war, it hardly came within the category of a life- and-death struggle. When I consider the airy indifference with which we treat the lessons of history and our stubborn determination not to look facts in the face, I confess I have doubts whether we are not paving the way for some irreparable disaster.


My Lords, before making any remarks on this subject, I will read, as a text, a few extracts from the Report of the Duke of Norfolk's Commission. Referring to the present condition of the Militia, the Commissioners say, in Paragraph 29— The evidence which we have received satisfies us that the drill and training at present undergone by this force is insufficient to fit its units at short notice to oppose trained troops in the field. And in Paragraph 33 they say— We are forced to the conclusion that the Militia, in its existing condition, is unfit to take the field for the defence of this country. We think, however, that its defects arise from causes beyond the control of its officers and men. So much for the opinion of the Commissioners on the efficiency of the Militia. With regard to the Volunteers, the opinion they give is very much the same. They say— Taking the force as a whole, neither the musketry nor tactical training of the rank and file would enable it to face with prospect of success the troops of a Continental army And in Paragraph 49 the Commissioners say— We are agreed in the conclusion that the Volunteer Force, in view of the unequal military education of the officers, the limited training of the men, and the defects of equipment and organisation, is not qualified to take the field against a Regular army. I venture to think those words are about the most serious that have ever been given to a country. We have for the very first time within our memory had a Commission which has gone into the question of the fitness of the Auxiliary Forces for the task for which nominally we keep them, and that Commission has made this Report.

The Report divides itself practically into two parts, the Report on the condition of the Militia and the Report on the condition of the Volunteers; and with your Lordships' permission I will, in as few words as possible, give my own opinion with regard to the condition of those forces. According to the Report, the Militia are short of officers, noncommissioned officers and men, and neither officers, non-commissioned officers, nor men are properly trained. That is a very serious thing, but it is no more than every one of us who have had any interior acquaintance with the force have been saying for many years. I will take, first of all, the question of providing officers. We are told constantly that the upper classes do not do their duty by coming forward to officer the Auxiliary Forces. I should like to point out that we have most successfully in this country legislated out of existence the class which used to officer the Auxiliary Forces. You cannot spend fifty years doing your best to obliterate agriculture and then turn round to the country gentleman and say, "Why do you not officer the Auxiliary Forces?"

I now come to the question of the non-commissioned officers. We know what the permanent staff is. It is few in numbers, somewhat aged, and in many cases the men are by no means the picked representatives of the Regular regiments from which they come. With regard to non-commissioned officers not on the permanent staff, everybody connected with the Militia knows that from causes entirely beyond their control they are useless. They have to work with the men during the non-training period. They very often work during that period under a private in their own company; their position is an exceedingly difficult one, and nothing that you can do will alter the fact that they have to earn their living in civilian life alongside the men in their own company. Now I come to the men in the Militia. We all know that the men are very short, that the greater part of them are either little boys or somewhat elderly men, and that the men who were the backbone of the Militia in times past— men between the ages of twenty and thirty years—have almost altogether disappeared from the force. There, again, you cannot successfully reduce your agricultural population, as we have done, without losing the men who provided your agricultural regiments with recruits.

It is easy to say that more pay will get you more men. Within reason no doubt that is so, but I would like to ask, with regard to pay, is the country prepared to give such pay as will honestly compete with the pay for skilled labour in civil life? I will take the case of the regiment which I have the honour to command. In that regiment I should think there are very few men who earn less than 5s. a day, and some who earn as much as £5 a week. No pay that the taxpayer of this country is prepared to give will compete with that class of labour. A certain number of those men will come out because they like soldiering and because they have the esprit militaire in them, but those are only a small proportion of the total population of this country. Suppose again, we say we are prepared to pay these men sufficient to compete with the labour market. In the first place, are you going to give them 5s. a day during the training? I do not think it is good that men should have 5s. a day during training. Many of these men are very young, and a had of the working classes of seventeen or eighteen years of age is no more to be trusted with unlimited pocket money than one of your Lordships' sons. I think it would be disastrous if the pay were raised to any great extent during the training. If you are to give the men bounties which will make it worth their while to join the Militia, you will have to give them enough to live on during the non-training period, and you will thereby create a class of loafer who would be most undesirable to the country. The most important thing for a working man is continuity of employment. If he is serving in the Militia he must lose that continuity of employment, and the difficulty you will always have to encounter is that there is only a certain number of men who are therefore prepared to join the Militia.

I will now turn for a moment to the proposals which have been put forward by the Royal Commission for the improvement of the Militia force. They propose nothing which will give us more officers, nothing which will give us more non-commissioned officers or better non-commissioned officers, and nothing which will give us more men. The only proposal they make is for an increased training which will give us more efficiency. I do not see that those proposals, although they may benefit the few Militiamen who may remain, are likely to add at all largely to the numbers or eventually to the efficiency of the force. Now I come to the Volunteers. The same thing happens in the Volunteers. We have very few officers and very few non-commissioned officers, and neither the officers nor the non-commissioned officers are trained. Many of the regiments are short of men.

I was very much struck, when reading the most interesting but somewhat voluminous Blue-book containing the evidence, by one fact, that everybody agrees that the discipline of the Volunteers is excellent. I do not wonder at general officers who inspect them saying their discipline is excellent. The moment you are being inspected on parade by a general officer is not the moment when you show bad discipline. The officers commanding the regiments are in many cases old soldiers, and there, again, men do not as a rule select a commanding officer as the person to whom they will show any ebullition of feeling. I think everybody who looks at things impartially will say that it is impossible to have discipline, as I understand discipline, in a force raised and trained as the Volunteer Force is. I do not wish to be misunderstood in this matter, but I do not believe any Volunteer Force has any discipline at all in the way I understand military discipline. Good feeling is very excellent so far as it goes. In every one of your Lordships' households there is discipline, but that discipline is the result of good feeling. If your Lordships were to serve, we will say, cold meat and pickles for several nights in succession in the steward's room, that discipline would disappear and your staff would leave. That is how I look at the Volunteers. As long as they are asked to do what pleases them they do it, but when you ask them to do what they do not want to do, they absolutely decline.

I would refer your Lordships in support of that statement to what occurred in the year 1900, when this country was entirely denuded of Regular troops and a very large proportion of the Militia had been sent abroad. There was very considerable uneasiness in the country at that time, and the Volunteer Force was asked to come out and train for a month. They said they could not, but that a proportion of them would come out and train for a fortnight. A certain number did, receiving pay, separation allowances, and everything just as a Regular soldier would. I spent several months of that year on Salisbury Plain. A Volunteer brigade came down in purple and gold, consisting of 3,000 or 4,000 men, to train for a fortnight. They had four or five wet days, and 90 per cent, of the men went home. That is an absolute fact. I am obliged to think, however much I may respect the patriotism of the officers and the patriotism of very many of the men, that a force raised as the Volunteer Force is, and trained as that force is, is not one that we ought to reply upon for any offensive or defensive action. The Commission reports that the Volunteer Force is in that indifferent condition, and it says that practically we are not able to ask any more from the Volunteers; that they do as much as ever they can now, and if anything more is asked from them it will merely result in the force being disbanded.

I should like just to say one word with regard to the Commission itself. Like my noble friend below me, Lord Newton, I do not propose to go into the question of the composition of the Committee, but I will say this, that to the very best of my belief not one single gentleman on that Commission had ever pinned himself to any form of compulsory service. I believe they all approached the question with a perfectly open mind, and that they were convinced solely and only on the evidence. I venture to think that anyone who reads the evidence carefully will be similarly convinced. My noble friend below me has already alluded to what will be the reply of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, and has said that he will assure us that it is un-English, and that is usually supposed to wipe away all argument in its favour. If there is one thing more than another in this world which is English it is this, for this was the one country in the world which invented compulsory service. In every other country the one object was to keep arms away from the people, but in this country the one effort of Parliament was to put arms into the hands of the people. Parliament has been for many hundreds of years legislating on this subject. It not only interfered with the business of individuals, but it interfered very largely with their pleasures. As I have said, this is the country which invented compulsory service, and no one has ever contended that it is not in the right of the Sovereign to claim the services of every able-bodied man in this country for the purpose of defence.

I believe our Regular Army was the first national army founded. Every other army was a mercenary army, largely composed of foreigners. Up to the end of the 18th century you practically had conscription, but it was confined to the pauper and criminal classes. Therefore, to say that compulsion for military service is un-English is to say what is not the fact. If the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty was in his place to-day, he would, I am sure, readily admit that the Admiralty are never prepared to surrender their right of pressing men for the Fleet. In fact, I think I have heard that statement made in this House, and men were pressed for the Navy within the memory of persons still living. The elder Sir Colin Campbell, who was a general officer during the Peninsular War, was taken by the press-gang as he was coming out of Sadler's Wells Theatre; but, being a Scotsman, and an intelligent man, he had his commission in his pocket, and on producing it was released.

It is said that the country would not stand compulsory service. I believe that the working men of this country, certainly the middle-aged working men, would be strongly in favour of it. The middle-aged working man has always been pushed out of his employment by the younger man, and I think he would be exceedingly glad if those younger men were taken away and made to do a certain amount of soldiering. I think if I was going to fight a working-class constituency as a candidate for Parliament, I should carry the constituency by putting that point to the working men in a forcible manner. It seems to me that the lessons of the late war have been utterly forgotten. All sorts of legends and traditions have grown up in connec- tion with that war. There is one extraordinary tradition which is placed in the forefront of all discussion on this subject, namely, that such is the immense patriotism of the British people that when there is a cry for soldiers they flock to arms at once.

Well, my Lords, is that the case? I do not find that there was such an amazing rush of people anxious and willing to die for their country in South Africa as is commonly stated. We sent a large number of troops to the front; some 450,000 men actually served in the South African War. Of that number 50,000 were raised in South Africa, so I will exclude them. Of the remaining 400,000, 265,000 were Regular troops, 60,000 were Militiamen, about 20,000 were Volunteers, and about 2,000 or 3,000 were Yeomen. The number of civilians who joined was infinitesimal. Some 8,000 civilians went out with the first lot of Yeomanry, many of them, I believe, old soldiers and ex-Volunteers and Militiamen; therefore, except the 5s. a day men, there was no great rush of gallant, patriotic souls to take up the burden. All that happened was this, that those who had done much before did more in the war, and that Militiamen and Volunteers, who had taken on their shoulders all the burden of home defence, volunteered also for foreign service. That was what happened in the late war, and I think the lesson is one which the Press of this country certainly has never seen fit to take any notice of whatever.

Some considerable amount of ridicule has been heaped upon the Royal Commission because they say invasion is either possible or impossible. It seems to me that that is the crux of the whole question. Invasion is either possible or it is impossible. If it is impossible, with my noble friend I say disband your Yeomanry, your Militia, and your Volunteers to-morrow; but if invasion is possible, then we have the very clearest evidence laid before us by an impartial Commission which went very carefully into the whole question, that the Auxiliary Forces we rely upon to repulse that invasion are absolutely unable to perform the work expected of them.


My Lords, I have listened with considerable interest to the two speeches which have just been delivered, and as I have the honour to command a battalion of Militia, and have held that position for some seven years, you may imagine that I have the welfare of the old constitutional force deeply at heart, all the more so, because I feel that if unhappily this country should be involved in war with one or more foreign Powers, the defence of these shores would in a large measure depend on our Auxiliary Forces. The remarks made by my noble friend Lord Newton with reference to universal service are remarks in which I am afraid I cannot concur. I do not think the country is ready for universal service. It has been sprung upon us with more suddenness than even the great fiscal policy propounded last year, and I cannot believe that the electors will put themselves under the obligation to serve for two or three years, or whatever it is, at great inconvenience to themselves, or that they will stand such an upheaval of our everyday life.

I have read the Report of the Commission with some care, especially those paragraphs which have reference to the Militia Force, and on the whole I agree most distinctly with the recommendations which the Commission put forward in Clause 4 (a), and in Schedule A on page 17. I consider those are the first steps which the War Office should take in putting the Militia on a proper footing. I believe this would increase its efficiency and strength and improve it in every way. Lord Raglan has pointed out that the numbers of the Militia have very greatly decreased in the last few years. The reason for that is that the force has been for many years alternately despised, robbed of its best men, and, finally, reduced almost to a shadow. Your Lordships will remember in former years how the term Militiaman was almost a term of rebuke, and even at the present day, as stated by a colonel who gave evidence before the Commission— Young men who join the Militia are looked down upon when they go to the depot, and are called half soldiers, with the result that they go straight through to the Line. When I say the Militia has been robbed its best men I again refer your Lord- ships to evidence of the Commission, when another Colonel stated— The great idea of everybody at the depot is get the Militiamen to enlist in the Line, and very often they give them a very hot time, although lots of people deny it. The evidence of another colonel was to the effect that— The object of the Army is to get recruits out of the Militia. Besides this every Militia officer knows that at the end of every training a recruiting sergeant is sent down, and he invariably carries off the best of that year's recruits. Another reason is that during the war Militia regiments were asked to make up the drafts which were sent out to the Line regiments. This they did, and when the time came for the Militia regiments to themselves go out they were in this position, that some of their best men had been already taken out of their ranks.

When I say that the Militia has been reduced to a shadow, I mean by that that some regiments are taken year after year to Salisbury Plain and to Aldershot, very often at a time of the year which does not suit the particular locality from which they come. I am glad this has been recognised now by the War Office, and it is also recommended by the Duke of Norfolk's Commission that battalions should not train away from their own area more than once in every three years. In spite of all these difficulties I think it will be acknowledged on all hands that the Militia came through the late war with a certain amount of credit, and can claim some part of the glory of our victorious Army.

I should like to draw attention to a subject which has been alluded to in the recommendations of the Commission—I refer to the Militia depots. I should like to see every battalion of Militia have its own depot apart from the district depot. I should like to see it under the command either of the colonel of the battalion or possibly a field officer. It should have its permanent staff to itself, and a captain and possibly a subaltern as well. It should train its recruits for six months, the period recommended in the Report of the Commission, and the men should be trained all the year round. I think this would be a distinct advantage, and during the winter months many men would avail themselves of the opportunity of training at the depots in their own particular area instead of at the regimental depots. The Militia depot would still be under the command of the officer commanding that district. I think the expense of this would be comparatively small, and it would be a means of increasing the efficiency and popularity of battalions in their own recruiting areas.

There are many rumours afloat as to what is to be the fate of the Militia according to the new programme of the War Office. There is a rumour that many regiments are to be abolished, that some are to be amalgamated, and there is another, a rumour that the War Office is going to increase the strength of the battalions and also increase the number of Militia regiments, There is a further rumour that brigades are going to be formed. If the last two rumours are correct, I only hope the increase in Militia regiments will be in the direction of increasing the field artillery and engineers. If the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary for War could enlighten us on that point, it would ease the minds of many now serving in Militia regiments. I rejoice in the fact that the Royal Commission has brought forward so many of our grievances, the chief among them being the recruiting question, the time and place of training, and the depletion of our ranks. I trust the labours of the Royal Commission will not be lost, but that His Majesty's Government will adopt the proposals embodied in Clause 4 and Schedule A of this Report.


My Lords, as one of those who are firmly convinced of the necessity of compulsory service in some form or other for the safety of the country, I hope I may be allowed to offer a few remarks on this subject. I associate myself most fully with what fell from the noble Lord who opened this discussion, and also with the views expressed by the noble Lord who followed him. There is one point, however, which Lord Newton mentioned which I think deserves a little more atten- tion, and that is, that by the adoption of compulsory service the Navy would be put in a better position to carry out its proper functions. The noble Lord pointed out that in the year 1900 this country was almost totally denuded of Regular troops, a great portion of the Militia, and a considerable number of Volunteers. We were at that time engaged with an enemy who, fortunately for ourselves, was confined absolutely to its own country. But supposing we had been fighting a country which was also a sea Power, the danger then would have been very much increased, and it is very doubtful whether great pressure would not then have been put on the Navy to be used more in the nature of a coast defence than in the performance of its proper duties as an attacking force to attack the enemy's Navy. That, my Lords, I believe to be the principal reason why compulsory service is necessary for this country— namely, in order that the Navy may be absolutely free to perform its proper functions.

There is no doubt a very strong feeling against compulsory service in the country at the present moment. This is the only country in Europe where it does not exist. In most other countries it exists in a very severe form, and no doubt there is very great objection to it. On the other hand, there is one country which has a form of Militia service which is not objected to in any way. I refer to Switzerland. There every man has to go through a training in the Militia. It is not looked upon as any grievance whatever. They were able during the war in 1870 to maintain their frontier, and, in consequence of the excellent system which they have, they have never been in any danger of having their territory invaded even by their much stronger neighbours. I hope I may be allowed to congratulate the noble Duke at the head of the Commission on having the courage to put forward a proposition which at present, whatever it may be later on, is looked upon with great disfavour by the country.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this discussion and the noble Lord who followed him have given your Lordships what I might call a detailed outline of the speech I am supposed to be about to deliver, and were they happily possessed of the gift of prophecy, and were I about to use the term un-English and the various other phrases they have prescribed for me, it might be unnecessary for me to address your Lordships at the present moment; but as, unfortunately, my noble friends have not been as accurate in their prophecies as to what I propose to say as I should have wished, I find it necessary to address your Lordships for a short while. And perhaps I may be allowed to say that it would be most unfortunate for their case if the noble Lords' prophecies as to the future of the Volunteer Force were as empty as their prophecies with regard to my speech.

The speech of Lord Bathurst will have reminded your Lordships that there are, after all, two parts to this Report, two very distinct and very important parts. The noble Lord who started this discussion excluded the first part altogether and confined his remarks to the second part of the Report, which he characterised as the main recommendation of the Commission. It seems to me that the Commission regarded the two parts of the Report as being of equal importance. They did not say so in so many words, but both parts of the Report refer to different sides of the subject. The detailed recommendations with which my noble friend Lord Bathurst has already dealt, were calculated, in the opinion of the Commissioners, to bring the Militia and the Volunteers up to the necessary standard should it be intended to use Regular troops in association with them for the purpose of home defence, and the last part of the Report was solely put forward as an alternative should it be intended to denude the country of regular troops. It is not a fair description of the last part of the Report to say that it consists of the main recommendation of the Commission.

My noble friend, Lord Bathurst, has dealt with the first, and, if one calculates the number of pages comprised in it, the larger part of the Report, and has touched upon certain rumours which appear to have been afloat of late. I am not at all inclined to trust rumours, particularly about the War Office, and I hope my noble friend is of the same frame of mind. Your Lordships, I am sure, will remember that these recommendations have only been published three weeks. They were what we particularly wanted from the Commission. We have already gone into them in very great detail, and I do not mind going so far as to announce to your Lordships that we have ascertained that they would involve a considerable increase in the Estimates. It would, however, obviously be unreasonable that three weeks after the publication of this Report I should make a detailed statement as to how much of it we cannot carry out. It must be remembered that, whatever may be the future of the Auxiliary Forces, they must be regarded not as separate units, but as part of one homogeneous whole—namely, as part of the military forces of the Crown.

Coming to the second part of the Report, the first point in order which was touched upon by my noble friend. Lord Newton, was a point which he has already elaborated in the course of a correspondence in the public Press. He expressed the opinion that on the evidence it was impossible for the Commission to recommend anything but compulsory service for this country. I think I have some right to complain of the attitude that the noble Lord has taken up in this matter. He has already started a campaign in favour of this in the country, and I have here a copy of a letter which he sent to The Times, in which he states at far greater length than he did this afternoon the reasons that support him in the opinion he has given us, and he quotes no less than twenty-one witnesses who gave evidence before the Royal Commission as having been in favour of compulsory service.


I could have quoted a great many more if necessary.


I am going to try to show that the noble Lord quoted too many as it was. I have analysed the evidence of the witnesses he quoted, and I find that of the twenty-one witnesses referred to, thirteen declared themselves in favour of compulsion, two wanted either compulsory service or the ballot, and six were in favour of the ballot. Compulsion and the ballot are almost contradictory proposals, and I say that on the authority of the greatest advocate there is in favour of the ballot, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, the Earl of Wemyss; for I find in the evidence he gave before the Commission that he said— The Militia ballot is quite distinct from conscription. After all, the two things involve totally different principles. Under compulsion all are compelled to carry out a certain service. The ballot has been described by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as a combination of the pressgang and the roulette table. I do not know that I accept that as an entirely comprehensive definition; but, at any rate, the ballot compels certain people to perform obligations that it does not compel others to perform. It is not, therefore, quite fair to maintain that those who are in favour of the one system are thereby in favour of the other. One of the witnesses mentioned by the noble Lord in his letter to The Times expressly said that. My noble friend quotes Lord Methuen as being an advocate of compulsory service, but I find in his evidence that the noble and gallant Lord is all in favour of the ballot, and declared against compulsory service because he is of opinion that the people of this country do not want it and will not stand it. I have not, of course, had the opportunity of reading every word of the evidence, but I see that my friend Colonel O'Callaghan-Westropp, who was a member of the Commission and heard; every word of the evidence, gives us a comprehensive testimony on this point. In his Report he states— Scarcely any of our witnesses suggested that the entire male population ought to be swept into the ranks of the home defence Army. I think that comment from a member of the Commission who was present at all the sittings considerably weakens the crusade my noble friend has already started in favour of compulsory service.


He signed the Majority Report.


Bat he presented a Minority Report, and the statement I have just quoted was taken from it. The next point touched upon by the noble Lord was as to whether conscription would be popular My noble friend admits it would not be popular, and I think he rather glories in the fact. Undoubtedly, in his evidence before the Commission the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, Lord Wemyss, did glory in the fact that conscription would; not be popular. He almost suggested that the people with whom it was not popular did not know what was good for them. The noble Lord who initiated this discussion is in a very strong position. He is here as an independent Member of your Lordships' House, having no constituents to bother him, and being totally irresponsible to everybody. That naturally places the noble Lord in a very strong position as regards popular feeling in this country. But the Government are not in that position. The Government have to consider popular opinion, and I find, on looking into the details of the noble Lord's private life, that he at one time recognised that fact. I have had some very interesting reading lately. I have been perusing the election addresses that the noble Lord issued while he was a candidate for a seat in the other House, and I find absolutely no mention of conscription for which the noble Lord is now so extremely keen.


I was not prepared for so much interest in my past career, but as the noble Lord evinces so much interest in it I should like to point out that I ceased to be a Member of Parliament long before the Boer War; and before the Boer War I never heard of anybody outside a lunatic asylum who said that compulsion was necessary.


The noble Lord in the course of his speech said that during the last hundred years we have not been engaged in a life and death struggle, and, therefore, I really do not see how the occurrence of the Boer War can possibly have stimulated the noble Lord's opinion in the direction of the possibility of invasion. The noble Lord will recognise that the Government have to pay some attention to popular opinion in this matter; but, of course, that is not such an important point as the point whether conscription is necessary for home defence. The noble Lord mentioned a body of opinion that he called the "blue water school." I was unable from the noble Lord's description to recognise the opinions of any school that I have ever heard of up to the present. I would ask your Lordships to consider what are the main principles of our defence problem as it is at present. Think, my Lords, what our military problem is. The most important thing we have to think of is sending an Army across the sea to defend our outlying frontiers to reinforce India; and I was glad that my noble friend admitted it was impossible to contemplate doing that by a conscript Army. To carry out the duties which the existence of the Empire lays upon us we are at the present moment keeping up an extremely large standing Army. I do not think it is always realised that at the present moment, including the Indian Army, we have 450,000 men under arms, whereas France and Germany have each, I believe, only some 600,000 men under arms.

The Marquess of RIPON

Does that include the native Indian Army?


Yes. The second thing from a purely, military point of view that we have to consider is provision against raids, trusting to the Navy to secure us from serious overwhelming invasion. The noble Duke on the Cross Benches has stated that our whole national existence is based on what I think he called the maintenance of sea supremacy, and we heartily adhere to that view. I consider that that is the main keynote to our defence problem. I know that there are two stock replies to that theory. There is first the reply that the Fleet might be decoyed away. I think there is rather too much tendency in this matter to characterise the Fleet as if it were one solitary, single unit. It is quite true that the Channel Fleet might be decoyed away, but that does not empty the North Sea and the Channel of all British ships; there would still remain a number of coast defence ships and a very large number of cruisers and torpedo boat destroyers, and the experience of only the past few days has demonstrated the extreme havoc that a small squadron of daring cruisers can play amongst a body of transports crossing a narrow channel. Even assuming, however, that the Fleet is decoyed away, and a foreign Army landed on our shores, what would happen? There is the danger that at any minute a powerful Fleet may come back and cut its communications. Your Lordships all know the remark that has been attributed to Moltke, that he could see hundreds of ways of getting into England and not one single way of getting out. I think that was a wise remark, and the wisdom of it remains obvious up to this day. The second reply to this theory is that our Fleet might be sunk, and we might completely lose command of the sea. That eventuality, of course, is possible, but I venture to think that if that did happen the only thing we could possibly do would be to make peace, for our food supply would be gone. There is a stock reply to that argument also: it is that food is not contraband of war. But my answer to that is that a few weeks ago the Russian Government declared food to be contraband of war during war with an island Power, and I cannot believe that any Power that had been so fortunate as to sink our Fleet would refrain from declaring food contraband of war.

Assuming, therefore, that we retain the supremacy of the sea, we have to provide against sudden raids. What is the real state of affairs as regards the Auxiliary Forces at this moment? We have two difficulties. First there is the difficulty of getting men, but there is also the far greater difficulty of making these men efficient when you have got them. After all, that can be read between the lines of almost every page of the Blue-books that have been published on the subject. I believe that a remedy for that state of affairs can be found, but I do not believe that it lies in conscription. There are two things that I think the advocates of conscription for home defence should remember. First of all, it must not be forgotten that we need an Army to go abroad—a voluntary Army; and before we finally make up our minds to have conscription we must absolutely assure ourselves that it will not interfere with our getting recruits for that voluntary Army. There is another thing which must not be forgotten, and it is this. The idea seems to be prevalent that if we adopted conscription for home defence to-morrow the Army Estimates would be reduced by about half. I believe that to be an entire fallacy. Not only would the Estimates not come down a half, but they would not be reduced at all. Your Lordships must not forget that you would have to pay your conscripts. I do not myself think that the country, if it stood conscription at all, would allow you for five minutes to force men to serve for nothing.

But there is this other question that arises. You would have to provide machinery for training the men that you would get by compulsory service. The officers employed could not be casual men who just came out for a few weeks for the purpose. They must be the most highly skilled and highly paid officers you can get, and encouraged to make their profession thoroughly scientific. You would have to provide, in addition to your Regular Army, officers to adequately train 380,000 recruits, which is the number that it is estimated would be forthcoming as part of your new home-service Army every year. The noble Duke who has just spoken is the chairman of a League known as the National Service League, and I was reading the other day a précis of the evidence they gave before the Royal Commission. They assume that there will be a saving of £3,000,000 on the present Army Estimates if the scheme they advocate is adopted. They assume that the adoption of their scheme would lead to a reduction of 30,000 in the Regular Army, and they put the reduction in the Estimates at £100 a man, which they call a very low estimate. At the present moment a private in the infantry costs the country £50 14s. 3d. per annum, or, if he is drawing service pay, £58 6s. 4d. I merely mention that to show how easy it is to make mistakes on this head.

What is it that is really responsible for a great deal of the force at the back of the arguments in favour of compulsory service? This is what Colonel O'Callaghan-Westropp in his Report says— The question of compulsory military training has been before us de die in diem. A part from its undoubted military advantages, the strongest recommendations which were urged were its moral, physical, and educational advantages to the nation at large. I go further, my Lords, and say that I believe that three-fourths of the evidence in favour of conscription is given under a desire to see an improvement in the physical state of our people. Public opinion has been moved recently in regard to that question in various ways. Your Lordships will remember the Report of the Commission on Physical Education in Scotland. Not only has public opinion in this country been moved; public opinion on the Continent also has been roused to a consideration of the deterioration of the national physique owing to the growing habit of living more and more in towns. Sweden, as your Lordships are well aware, has a very highly developed system of physical education, and France, during the last six years, has made enormous progress in that direction. I can assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government are every bit as earnest in favour of reforms in this direction as the Governments to which I have referred.

I had the opportunity only this afternoon of discussing this subject with the noble Marquess the President of the Board of Education. Lord Londonderry informed me that a Committee is at this moment considering the whole subject, and that he anticipates receiving their Report in a very short time. The noble Marquess himself is most eager to see improvements in this branch of the subject, which is under his charge. He is most eager to further it in every possible way, but he is as convinced as other members of the Government are that this desire for physical exercises should be encouraged from the educational standpoint and not from the military standpoint. We are already getting very great advantages from the progress made of late years in this direction, and we anticipate even greater progress in the future. We hope to see these benefits conferred on all without having to urge the adoption of such principles as are advocated by the Royal Commission and by my noble friend Lord Newton, principles the adoption of which we believe to be entirely unnecessary and not called for by the necessities of the case.


My Lords, I think there will be a general agreement that the debate initiated by my noble friend opposite has been of an interesting and instructive character. Your Lordships' House always listens with pleasure to the noble Lord who called attention to this subject, particularly because, while complaining as he does that people will not call things by their proper names, lie calls things of which he disapproves by names which, though they cannot be described as otherwise than proper, yet are in the highest degree pointed and trenchant. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War called attention to a singular omission in the speech of my noble friend, who devoted the whole of his observations to that part of the recommendation in the Report of the Royal Commission which deals with compulsory service, and made no allusion whatever to the other exceedingly important positive recommendations which the Report contains. Those recommendations have been dealt with in the speech of the noble Lord opposite (Earl Bathurst), and I need not describe them in any detail. But the noble Lord who initiated this discussion made merry over what he called exhibitions of sympathy which were in his opinion useless for improving the condition of the Auxiliary Forces. I would point out that those recommendations are not mere exhibitions of sympathy. They are of a highly technical and practical character, and before we look elsewhere we should certainly desire to feel certain that those recommendations had failed to achieve the object which they were intended to advance. In the two Schedules A and B of the main Report, dealing with the Militia and the Volunteers, there are in the first case no less than sixteen positive recom- mendations, and in the case of the Volunteers twenty-eight positive recommendations. In addition to these we have the separate Report, alluded to by the noble Lord opposite, of Colonel O'Callaghan-Westropp. That Report seems to me to be of the most interesting and weighty character. This gentleman, who has had a long and important experience as commanding officer of Militia, not merely knows what he wants, but is able to express his wishes in the most admirable English, and it is from no disrespect to the Commission as a whole that I confess that to me, as a civilian reading this Report, no part exceeded in interest those special recommendations made by Colonel O'Callaghan-Westropp.

Lord Newton was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, who, I hope, will allow me to express the pleasure we all feel at seeing him once more in renewed health and addressing the House with no less vigour than that which he employed when sitting on the Front Bench not so very long ago. I trust he will allow me to congratulate him on having made an excellent speech, which did deal with the facts of the case, although there were points in it to which I think exception might be taken. It seemed to me ho was in error in concluding from what he considered a want of national enthusiasm among those who might have been expected to volunteer for service in South Africa—which I confess I did not know myself existed— that there might be a similar lukewarmness in case of invasion. The two things are incompatible for the purposes of comparison. You might as well attempt to compare the resistance that was offered by the French when their country was invaded in 1870–1871 by the Germans to the unwillingness with which they volunteered for service in Tonquin.

There was one comparison of interest made by the Duke of Wellington. He alluded to the practice in Switzerland, and seemed, I think, to indicate that those are the lines on which we might proceed, although that is not the view of those who drew up the Report. I would remind the noble Duke that the conditions existing in Switzerland differ very largely from those in this country. If we had no Army for foreign service I think it is very possible that, in our insular position, we might do well enough with a citizen Army of the Swiss type, but I do not believe it would be possible to combine an Army of that type with our regular foreign-service Army of a purely professional character. When my noble friend, Lord Newton, drew, as he did a distinction between a voluntary and a professional Army, I confess I did not know what meaning to attach to his words.

I pass to the remarks which were made by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, and I feel that the House is not entitled to complain that he did not let us a little more freely into the secrets of the War Office. We should have been glad, no doubt, to hear what are the general propositions of the Secretary of State for War with regard to the reorganisation of the Army and the defence of the country, but we frankly admit we did not expect to hear them from the mouth of the Under-Secretary on this occasion. But, in stating this, I make this reservation, that our contentment with this state of things depends upon the hope, which I trust will not prove an illusory one, that sooner or later during the progress of the present session we shall have that statement from the highest authority, because there has been, as we all know, no considerable degree of delay and postponement in this matter. If we could get an assurance from the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, that that statement will be made before the close of the session, it would be certainly a matter of great satisfaction to us all.

I say without hesitation that we on this side of the House listened with the utmost satisfaction to the noble Earl's very clear statement of the problem of defence as presented to this country. The problem of defence presents itself to my noble friend Lord Newton in an entirely different light from that which I venture to think it does to the bulk of his fellow-countrymen, because he regards the fact that we are in an insular position as un-important and irrelevant to the situation. The noble Lord never makes a speech without saying something original, but that, I venture to think, is nearly the most original observation I have heard, not only from him, but from anyone. The noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, dealt so fully and fairly with the naval problem that I do not propose to say anything about it. It is, of course, the fact that if we definitely lost command of the sea our 350,000 one-year trained men would not be very much use against the 500,000 or 600,000 two or three-year trained men who could be poured into this country by some great European Power. As the noble Earl very truly said, if we definitely lose command of the sea, make terms we must on any conditions our enemy is willing to grant.

But that is not the way in which the problem presents itself to us. I entirely agree that the problem which the Defence Committee has to meet represents the possibility of a raid during the temporary absence of some part of the Fleet, and with that subject the noble Earl dealt, as I think, with great fulness. In conclusion he made an interesting statement, to which I personally attach great importance, as to the possibility of meeting the undoubted demand in this country for improved physical training by methods which, though they may be somewhat military in character, should be rather educational than military in spirit. I listened with great interest to what the noble Earl said as to his conversation with the President of the Board of Education on this subject, and I hope the time will not be very long before we have some definite assurance that something is being seriously done in the matter.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, I was anxious not to intervene in this debate, because I and those who sat with me on the Commission devoted considerable time to this very difficult problem, and we felt that whereas it was very natural that the noble Lord should bring this matter before your Lordships' House, it was hardly for us to come down here and go over the ground again, and try by speeches to force our opinions upon the House. But I rise to explain one point referred to by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary. The noble Earl suggested that the right way to look at the Report of the Commission was in its putting forward of two alternatives. One alternative dealt with certain practical suggestions to be adopted at once, and which, if adopted, would make the Auxiliary Forces able to undertake duty in the case of invasion, provided always that they had a large body of Regular troops with them. Another alternative referred to the method which could only be achieved by compulsion, but which would not be needed unless the Regular Forces were away from the country at that period. If I were to allow that statement to pass unchallenged it might be thought that the Commissioners regarded the Report as presenting two alternatives. That was not what we intended to convey.

The task committed to the Commission was to report to the Crown what changes were required to make the Auxiliary Forces adequate for their work, and we found that we were confronted with two difficulties. The first was what would make the forces adequate, and the second what it was possible to achieve, looking at the present organisation of the Auxiliary Forces. What we reported on in what the noble Earl called the first part of the Report was as to the utmost we thought it possible to extract from the Militia and the Volunteers on their present organisation and in their surrounding circumstances. Having done that, we were bound, in justice to the questions put to us, to state that even if the suggestions were carried out those forces would still not be adequate. We did state that if supported by Regular troops, we believed that they would be efficient and valuable auxiliaries; but even then it was not certain that they would be competent to do the work they had to do in the absence of the Regular Forces. Within the limits imposed upon these forces by their organisation nothing could be done which would bring them up to the level of efficiency required.

This was an important consideration, which weighed strongly with us from two points of view. In the first place the Committee of Defence had told us, in answer to an inquiry, that we must bear in mind the fact that probably the Auxiliary Forces, if called upon, would be called upon to serve when the Regular Forces were out of the country. Though that statement was given to the Commissioners, we had a much more practical reason in our minds for believing this to be the case than any statement that could be made. This was the remembrance of how quite recently during the Boer War the country had been denuded of its Regular Army. That was the very serious problem before us; and bearing in mind the statements of Ministers of the Crown in both Houses of Parliament. and receiving that reiterated assertion from the Committee of Defence, that the adequacy on which we had to report was an adequacy not of auxiliaries, but of troops to defend the country when the Regular troops were away, we felt bound to state the conclusion to which we came very reluctantly, but with a very firm conviction, that it would not be possible, on the present organisation, to bring the Militia and the Volunteers to the point adequately to defend the country, and we could suggest no means unless compulsion were brought to bear for its solution. All the members of the Commission were unanimous on the point that some form of compulsion was necessary. No question of the physique of the rising generation entered into our consideration. I cannot help expressing my conviction, my Lords, that if you trust to the present military organisation for home defence you will be leaning on a prop which will fail when the day of trial comes.


My Lords, we have been asked whether we might hope, by an early date, to present the proposals of the Secretary of State for War for dealing with this problem. I am unable to tell your Lordships when those proposals will be forthcoming, but we have every hope that they may be in the hands of the public before long, and then, of course, they will be subject to be dealt with in your Lordships' House in any manner your Lordships may think fit. I am anxious to make it as clear as I can to the House, that if it be the case that we have been unable to agree with the Royal Commission in all its conclusions, we are very far indeed from treating their Report with anything but that respect to which it is entitled, and still further from casting upon it, as was suggested, something like contempt or ridicule. But, my Lords, we do think we have a right to ask Parliament to give us time to consider those most important proposals. I am almost inclined to remind your Lordships of our experience during the last two or three years and of the necessity in which we have found ourselves to reconsider some military proposals which were, I believe, unanimously demanded at the time by the country, which we could not abstain from making, but which, on more mature examinations, we were obliged to modify in many important respects.

The Report of this Commission has been only a few weeks in our hands. It certainly cannot be represented as a unanimous Report. I think there are half-a-dozen different documents in the Blue-book, and many of the proposals— some at any rate—seem to us of a very doubtful character.


I did not say the Report was unanimous. What I said was that all the members of the Commission were unanimous on the point that some form of compulsion was necessary.


I can assure the noble Duke that my observation was not directed at him, but I wished to establish the fact that we had before us a considerable number of Reports which, from the mere fact of their being separate Reports, obviously disclosed a certain divergence of opinion. With regard to the suggestion, supported by a majority of the Commission, that compulsory service should be introduced, I do not think we have misapprehended what the Commission in its main Report, "has recommended to us, and I think my noble friend beside me correctly represented to your Lordships the real purport of their recommendations. They are summarised in the 67th paragraph of the Report, which is to this effect, that if the Militia and the Volunteer Forces are to continue to be, as they have hitherto been, Auxiliary Forces, for the purpose of resisting, in conjunction with the Regular Army, the forces of an invader, the changes set forth in Section IV. of this Report will prepare them for that duty. With regard to the further recommendation that compulsion in some form or another should be resorted to, we must bear in mind that that recommendation was made upon a two-fold hypothesis—in the first place, on the assumption that the country was denuded of Regular troops, and, in the next place, that the Government had come to the conclusion that invasion, as distinguished from a mere raid, was within the bounds of possibility. Those are two very extensive hypotheses, and they are not the class of problem which in our estimation had been referred to the Commission. If the reference to the Commission was obscure we greatly regret it, but we certainly understood that they were invited to report rather on the question of the measures which were necessary in order to maintain the popularity and the efficiency of the Auxiliary Forces than upon those much deeper and more complicated problems which have been touched upon during the debate and in parts of the Report.

I am bound to say, reading the Report, that it does seem to me that there was something almost pathetic in the way the Commission endeavoured to obtain enlightenment. They appealed first to the War Office for certain information, and they were afterwards told that that information was not to be accepted as wholly authoritative; they then appealed piteously to the Admiralty, and still failing to obtain what they required, they turned in despair to the Committee presided over by the noble Duke on the Cross Benches, and were gently informed—I have no doubt with absolute propriety—that the Royal Commission was poaching on the domain of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and that they must be content to make their recommendations upon certain more or less bald assumptions which were afforded to it for its information.


Had we understood that the word "adequacy" meant "popularity" we should not have prosecuted our inquiry.


To my mind the reasonable interpretation was that the conditions of service should be such as to attract a sufficient number of men to the colours. Whilst I regret that there has been any misunderstanding in that respect, I associate myself with noble Lords who have expressed their high appreciation of the manner in which the Commission dealt with a number of other points—those, namely, which relate to the efficiency and popularity of the Auxiliary Forces. Those recommendations are under the examination of the Secretary of State; and I am able to say that, far from desiring to sweep them on one side or treat them with anything but respect, they are regarded as proposals of a very practical and valuable character, and that they will be accepted, at any rate, as the basis for consideration. But the fifty-four specific recommendations cover an immense extent of ground, and there is scarcely one of them which does not between the lines spell expenditure. I need not say it is impossible for us to accept en bloc and without a great deal more examination than we have been able to give them a series of proposals of such a kind.

Your Lordships may, however, safely assume that the Report of the noble Duke's Commission will do a great deal to secure for the Auxiliary Forces an amount of consideration which we have certainly of late desired to give them, but which I am bound to confess it seems to me they have not sufficiently received for many years past. Reference has been made to the events of the South African War. To my mind one of the most valuable lessons which this country has learnt from that war is that we must take our Auxiliary Forces much more seriously than we have been in the habit of doing. They have been in past years admitted to our table, but they have been admitted below the salt. I am tempted in support of what I have said to quote a somewhat interesting statement which is referred to in the body of the Report, and which was made by Colonel Le Roy Lewis, a gallant officer who has had considerable experience in the War Office on the military side. He told the Commission that— In the Adjutant-General's department for the last ten years there has never been a proposal for fresh expenditure included in his schedule to be made on behalf of the Auxiliary Forces except, I may say, some of the most trifling nature, and those were invariably in order to help the organisation of the Regular Forces.… The official head, the soldier who really controls these things and who ought to initiate them, will never do so if he has got to consider both Regular and Auxiliary problems together. That not incorrectly represents a condition of things which prevailed not very long ago. But I believe that that state of things has entirely passed away, and that we may look forward to seeing these Auxiliary Forces to which we have owed so much given the place in our military system to which they are entitled. Our policy is to treat them as an integral part of the Army, relying on them largely for purposes of home defence, to spare no pains to increase their efficiency, and, if it be necessary, to diminish those portions of them only which can be clearly shown to be redundant and incompetent. That is our policy, and it is that which we believe to be best calculated to advance the interests of the Auxiliary Forces.


My Lords, I do not rise to prolong this debate for more than a few minutes. When I came down to the House I had it in contemplation to make some observations on compulsory service, but the able statement of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary so completely represented my views upon that subject that, being a somewhat old Parliamentary hand, I know that nothing would be more foolish than that I should attempt to repeat with less force and certainly with less authority that which he has said so well. Neither do I desire to make any complaint against the Government because they have not gone into the details of Militia and Volunteer organisation at the present moment. Of course, they could not have done so. It would not have been advantageous to the public or to the House, and certainly it would have been unfair to the Secretary of State for War, to have anticipated the statement he is to make. But it is with regard to the date of that statement that I want a little more information. My noble friend is always cautious; he was rather more cautious than usual in what he said upon that point. I do not ask or expect him to say that the statement is to be made upon a particular day next week or the week after. What I think we have a right to know is whether a full statement will be made during the present session. That gives plenty of time for the consideration of the matter. The question is one which ought not to be hung up for another six months. There can be no legitimate reason why the statement should not be made before Parliament separates, and my noble friend and His Majesty's Government must not think that the Opposition or the public will be satisfied unless a full statement is made at no distant date.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.