HL Deb 28 July 1905 vol 150 cc775-80

in asking the Under-Secretary of State for War, "how soon any, and what, steps will be taken to remedy the shortage of officers in the Volunteer force; and for what I purpose the medical examination of members of the Volunteer force has been instituted, seeing that such men have already been admitted to the force by reason of their fitness; and further, what grant he proposes to make towards the development of Volunteer transport," said: I will state very briefly to your Lordships my reasons for asking this Question. For some few years past the Volunteers have been in a state of great uncertainty as to what was to be done with them by the War Office, and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to ask for some statement from the Under-Secretary of State, especially in view of the constant resignation in large numbers of officers of the Volunteer force. I say nothing on this occasion about the resignations of I the rank and file. That is the first part of the Question.

In the second part of the Question I ask for some information as to the reasons for the medical examination, instituted quite recently, of the men in the Volunteer force. I have seen something of the way in which this examination has been carried out, having recently been out for the annual training, and I can assure the noble Earl that the staff at our disposal, at any rate in my own case, is utterly inadequate to carry out such a medical examination of the men as would enable a satisfactory conclusion to be arrived at. I want to know from the Under-Secretary of State why this medical inspection has been instituted. It has produced something like consternation throughout the Volunteer force, and I should be glad if the noble Earl would give a definite Answer on the point. As some of your Lordships know, I have been intimately connected with the raising of a certain Volunteer regiment for service abroad, so that I know a. little about what is required of men in respect of physique, and I know what men should look like and be like for serving abroad. But I will not detain your Lordships by enlarging upon this question, though it really deserves to be dealt with at greater length than is possible to-night. I think the Question is a Very important one, and I invite the noble Earl to give it a definite Answer.

The last part of the Question is in reference to Volunteer transport. At the present time, Volunteer transport is absolutely inadequate to any requirements except those of a standing camp, and even then it is not sufficient, and, in the present condition of the allowances at the disposal of officers commanding regiments and brigades, it would be absolutely impossible adequately to equip a brigade or other large body for mobilisation. I will not detain your Lordships longer, and I hope the Under-Secretary will not regard my Questions as unreasonable.


I should like to ask a Question which is, I think, germane to the issue raised by the noble Earl opposite, and that is, what percentage of the men in the Volunteer force who have been examined have been passed.


I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite is aware that we have asked for these returns to be furnished to us by October 31st. I need hardly say, therefore, that the returns are not yet in otherwise I should have been glad to answer the Question. If it meets his convenience I will let him know immediately we get the information.


I only asked the Question because I was speaking to a Volunteer the other day, and he told me that in his corps nine out of ten men had not been passed.


The noble Lord will understand that as we have not yet got the returns in I am not in a position to give any figures. As regards the first part of the Question addressed to me by the Earl of Albemarle, I am afraid I have very little to add to what I said on Tuesday last in the debate raised by the noble Lord opposite. As regards the general question, we have certain proposals under consideration which I hope may mature into something that will help us to solve the general difficulty of providing officers for the Auxiliary Forces.

I would like, if your Lordships will allow me, to mention one point which I am afraid I did not make quite clear in the debate of Tuesday last. It does not affect the main question as to the necessity of a power of expansion in His Majesty's forces, as to which I know we are all agreed. But as regards the actual position of the officering of the Volunteers, I think the position is not quite so serious at the present moment as might appear at first sight, and for this reason. We have a large deficiency of officers, but at the same time we have a large deficiency of men. We have amply sufficient officers at the present moment to officer the men that we now have. I have worked out the approximate percentage, and I find that we have 74 per cent, of our establishment of men whilst we have 77 per cent, of our establishment of officers, or, deducting officers seconded, we have 71 per cent, of our establishment of officers, so that the discrepancy between the number of officers and the number of men is not so great. Your Lordships are aware that we consider that the 241,500 men that we have are considerably in advance of the requirements of the general staff. Of course, if a reduction to an establishment of 200,000 takes place, with the number of officers we now have we would have a considerably greater number— I do not say than we would require, but than would be necessary for the ordinary proportion of one to thirty, so that we should have a balance of officers in our favour for staff purposes, for purposes of transport, and for other very important miscellaneous requirements.


they spread throughout the force?


I do not deny that there are certain regiments which are very short of officers. I am merely pointing out the total number that we have. With reference to the medical examination, the noble Earl asks why it has been necessary to have a special medical examination now, in view of the fact that every Volunteer in the force has been inspected as a recruit. I think that is the noble Earl's point. I would point out that we are now examining for a different purpose from that for which the recruit is examined when he enters the force. When he enters the force he is examined with a view to ascertaining his fitness for service at home as a Volunteer The examination outlined in the Circular which has been laid on the Table of your Lordships' House is for the purpose of ascertaining something different, though of course the greater includes the less. It includes the conditions laid down by the recently-issued Appendix 13 to the Volunteer Regulations, which is now the standard required for every recruit who enters the Volunteer force, and there are further qualifications of health necessary, which are enumerated in the Circular, which would not have been ascertained on the original attestation of the Volunteer when he first entered the force. That is the reason for our asking for this further examination with a view to ascertaining the information, and with the motives which I have already explained to your Lordships in answer to the Question of the noble Earl opposite.

As regards the grant for the development of Volunteer transport, I would refer the noble Earl to the Memorandum on the Army Estimates presented to Parliament by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War at the commencement of the session. My right hon. friend has there made it clear that he wishes to make a grant for Volunteer transport as soon as the funds in his hands permit him to do so. I am afraid I cannot give any definite pledge as to what amount we should be able to allot for this purpose until we know how much we have at our disposal. But I can assure the noble Earl that we do recognise the very great necessity for the development of transport for the Volunteer force, and, as is shown in this document, it is one of the first objects to which my right hon. friend hopes to be able to allot funds.


I am afraid the consolation offered to us by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State that the shortage of officers in the Volunteer force may be practically disregarded because of the deficiency of men is rather in the nature of Job's comfort.


It was not given in the way of consolation.


Should the time of emergency or crisis arise, plenty of men would come forward. The rank and file can be trained in a few weeks to be of some service, and in six months to be of great service, but it takes much longer to train an officer. You must have plenty of officers to lead your men; therefore, it is necessary to have a good supply of officers even if you have not the men at present.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Eight o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.