HL Deb 06 April 1905 vol 144 cc592-5

Order of the day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now 3a" (The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I ventured to oppose this Bill on the Second Reading. I am content to say "Not Content." It is no use fighting it any further now, because the Government are so strong in themselves, twenty in number, and have such a docile following, that they can do anything, and in this particular measure they have a splendid reserve in the colonels of Militia who sit in your Lordships' House, who all favour entirely altering the conditions and character of the service to which they belong They expect it will add to their prestige. I hope it will, but I very much doubt it. When I called attention to my main objections to this Bill on the last occasion not having the right to reply I could not deal with the points raised by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, but the noble Earl quite failed to touch the three objections I ventured to urge against this Bill. My first objection to the Bill is that it upsets the foundation of our military system. The noble Earl cannot deny it. That is accepted. In the second place, it will render difficult, if it does not take away, the power of the Crown to compel service for home defence. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs informed us that the Government had been informed by their legal advisers that this Bill would not take that power away. I do not say it will, but I say that if you have an Act giving you power to compulsorily send militiamen to any part of the world, you cannot apply that to Militiamen raised compulsorily. You cannot possibly so treat British subjects and send them to any part of the world compulsorily. My third point was this, that all you want to do by this Bill can be done voluntarily, and has so been done for a hundred years. Militiamen when asked to volunteer for foreign service do so most readily.

We were met on this point by my noble and gallant friend Lord Raglan, a colonel of Militia, who said that this was a most immoral proceeding. I own that for my own part I cannot see anything immoral in asking these men to volunteer for foreign service. I entirely deny the immorality; but, if there is immorality, it is continued in this Bill. For what does the Bill propose? The second clause proposes that the Act shall not apply to any Militiamen who is raised otherwise than by voluntary service, nor, without his consent, to any Militia officer commissioned or to any Militiamen enlisted before the passing of this Act. That means that before you can force these men under this Act to serve anywhere and everywhere you must ask each one individually whether he will or will not continue to serve under these new conditions. If there has been any immorality in asking them hitherto, surely that immorality is continued under this Bill, and my noble friend Lord Raglan, by supporting it has plunged over head and ears—and that in his case is saying a good deal—into the sea of immorality on which it floats.

I would make a suggestion to my noble friend, and one which appears to me, both as regards the Militia and the Volunteers, to meet all that is required. I should be perfectly satisfied with it myself. It would leave things alone. I suggest that the title of the Bill, which is now "Service of Militiamen Bill," should be altered to read "Foreign Service of Militiamen Bill." Let it apply only to foreign service, and let the present service remain exactly as it is. The foundation of your military system would still hold good, and you would get what you wanted. I read in a paper to-day an article headed "The real role of the Volunteer." What, according to this writer, was the real role of the Volunteer? Why, foreign service. That is absurd in view of the doctrine of the blue-water school. I hope after Easter to ask your Lordships to pass a very simple and common-sense Resolution expressing your opinion on the wild, unsustainable theory that you are to trust only to your Navy, and not have any defensive forces at all. When the Volunteers volunteered for service in South Africa my regiment, the London Scottish, sent two companies. I took no part in that and did not go to see them off. Why? Because I thought it was wrong to accept Volunteers actually serving under the existing Volunteer Act for South Africa or anywhere else, thus having in the same force two kinds of Volunteers, the "go and fights" and the "stay at homes." My feeling was that before they were allowed to volunteer for service in South Africa they should resign their position as Volunteers. I have made these few remarks, my Lords, not in a spirit of hostility to the Government in this matter, though a great deal might be said against them for the way in which they are treating the Army, but in order to submit this humble suggestion, which I think would be a common-sense way out of the difficulty.


My Lords, The noble Earl opposite has taken me to task for not having replied fully to his arguments on the occasion on which we discussed this Bill on Second Reading. The first reason why I did not do so was that the greater part of the remarks I had the privilege of addressing to your. Lordships on that occasion were made before the noble Earl delivered his speech.


But you replied.


Yes, I did reply, and I did not deal then with the arguments of the noble Earl because I thought they had been fully dealt with by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and by the colonels of Militia who addressed your Lordships on that occasion. The noble Earl states that we are absolutely doing away with the power of the Crown to compel service for home defence. He argues that whereas we have previously been able to raise men for the Militia by compulsion, we shall not be able to do so in future, because it would be immoral to raise men by compulsion and send them on foreign service. I agree with the noble Earl in that. I do not object to the word "dishonest" being used in that connection. It has been considered necessary in the past to raise men by compulsion for home defence, and if it is necessary to do that in the future it can still be done in spite of this Bill. The noble Earl referred to the use by my noble friend Lord Raglan of the word immoral. We consider that it is not right to enlist men for one purpose when you know you will have to ask them afterwards to serve for another. As regards the section quoted by the noble Earl from the Bill now before the House, and which he mentions as immoral, I would point out that it is merely a provisional arrangement to safeguard the rights of those who are at present in the Militia, and I think it would have been immoral if we had not put it in, if we had calmly passed an Act providing that men who had enlisted under totally different conditions were to be liable in future for foreign service. With regard to the scheme which the noble Earl outlined, I can promise him that it will not be lost sight of, I will bring it to the notice of the Secretary of State for War, but I can give no pledge that it will be introduced into this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 3aand passed, and sent to the Commons.