HL Deb 07 May 1906 vol 156 cc932-42

My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War a Question with reference to the prohibition of the sale of spirits at Yeomanry camp canteens. It appears that a year ago an order came down from the War Office, about a month before the Yeomanry training, to the effect that spirits were not to be sold in regimental canteens. This order was appealed against in such a manner that the War Office agreed not to proceed with the enforcement of it, and it was accordingly cancelled, these words being added "without prejudice to action on the part of the War Office at any future time." This year the following order was issued by the War Office to the Southern Command, dated March 26th—; It has been decided that the Imperial Yeomanry, who are subject to the Militia Act, 1882, when out for training, should adhere to the provisions of Paragraph 12 of the Rules for the Management of Garrison and Regimental Institutes, which prohibit the sale of spirituous liquors of any kind in canteens. This order has again been appealed against. I do not know to what extent the War Office has been memorialised with regard to it; but I do know that by the regiment to which I have the honour to belong—;the Warwickshire Yeomanry—;a protest was sent the other day. The Warwickshire Yeomanry protested against it on the ground that it would drive the men out of the camp into the towns. An extremely bureaucratic, but not very consoling, reply was sent to the effect that the order would be insisted upon.

I sincerely hope it is not the intention of the War Office to proceed with the enforcement of this order. Perhaps the noble Earl will forgive me if I say that the War Office are dealing with men recruited from a class who have more leisure, who are accustomed to have more liberty in their own homes and more money to spend than the class from which the Regular Army and the Militia are recruited. They are accustomed to taking spirits in their own homes when they think proper. They are men whose station in life gives them a right to expect that kind of latitude. If this order is insisted upon, and if they find that they cannot get spirits in their own canteens in camp, they will be driven into the towns, which is highly undesirable, or they will smuggle spirits into their tents, which will tend to secret drinking at all hours—;a proceeding which is highly prejudicial to discipline. It is also possible that the Yeomanry camp may be very far distant from the town. I know of one regiment in the Eastern counties whose camp will be a long way from any fully-licensed house, and the men in that regiment will not be able to get any spirits at all. I am not going to say that the effect of being cut off for a fortnight from being able to drink whisky is in itself a hardship which we are not prepared to face, but I do desire most respectfully to protest against men in the Yeomanry being treated in this grandmotherly way. It is really treating them like children and submitting them to petty annoyances which they did not contemplate on joining the force. I sincerely trust that it is not too late for the order to be rescinded this year.

There is another very grave objection to proceeding with the order. It has come down at such a late hour that officers re- sposible for the messing of the Yeomanry have already made arrangements with contractors. If this order, therefore is insisted upon at the present moment, it means that the whole of these contracts will have to be reopened and recast, which will cause a great deal of trouble and annoyance. Not only that. The profit from the sale of spirits in the canteens is much higher than that obtained from the sale of beer, and if the power to sell spirits in camp is withdrawn it will have a very bad effect on the contract. But that is not the principal reason why I am bringing this matter forward. I hold that the tendency on the part of the War Office to be perpetually sending orders of this kind to the Yeomanry produces unnecessary irritation, and will have the effect of preventing men belonging to the class we particularly desire to attract to the Yeomanry from joining that force. I believe I am right in saying that as a whole the Imperial Yeomanry have shown remarkable steadiness while in camp, and that there has been complete absence of crime. I have had the honour to belong to the Yeomanry for a great many years, and I have hardly known among the men—;I will not say anything about the officers, although their conduct has been most exemplary—;any cases of excess whatever. The men have proved themselves in every way fit to be trusted in this matter, and I sincerely hope we shall have a favourable reply from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary.


My Lords, before the noble Earl the Under-Secretary replies to the noble Lord who has just sat down, I should like to be permitted to say a few words in support of the appeal which he has made. I regret the short notice which has been given of this question, but I recognise that that was absolutely unavoidable. I believe I am the only commanding officer of Yeomanry present in your Lordships' House to-day. I cannot for the life of me make out the object of this order. It has clearly been put forward by someone who does not know the Yeomanry; and, if I may venture to say so, if orders like these are going to be issued where does the responsibility of the commanding officer come in? I should have thought that if there was one thing in regard to which you could trust the commanding officer it was the management of his camp in matters of this kind.

My noble friend, in the statement he has made, alluded to the conduct of the men and other matters, in reference to which I thoroughly concur. I have had myself very nearly twenty-five years experience of the Yeomanry. I saw them under the old conditions, when they went into the towns, and I have seen them of late in camps, and no one who has had that experience can fail to bear me out when I say that the difference in the regiments is most extraordinary. I can fully endorse what my noble friend has said as to their conduct. I have never known, since we have been in camp, of a single case of drunkenness in the regiment to which I belong, and I believe that is the case generally. I cannot believe this order has been issued with the idea of preventing drunkenness, because, if so, it really defeats its own object. As my noble friend has pointed out, if these men, who are accustomed to drinking spirituous liquors at home, cannot get them in the canteen they will go into the town, or there will, I am afraid, be a certain amount of secret drinking in the camps. Both alternatives are to be deplored.

I may further say that I have made inquiries from other commanding officers of Yeomanry, and they are all agreed in deprecating this order. We are, I believe, absolutely unanimous in this matter, and although we are, perhaps, weakly represented on this occasion in your Lordships' House, I do earnestly trust that the noble Earl, in the answer which he will give, will be able to assure us that this order will be reconsidered with a view to its withdrawal.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the words which have fallen from Lord Willoughby de Broke and from the noble Marquess. After a good many years service in the Yeomanry I can thoroughly endorse every word which they have said. Speaking for the Yeomen themselves, I cannot conceive of any act on the part of the War Office which could have been more carefully designed than this order to diminish in their own eyes their self-respect. I am sure the noble Earl the Under-Secretary must appreciate the fact that the men who join the Yeomanry can be favourably compared, from a social point of view, with the men who join the Volunteers. Why should these men, who are self-respecting and whose private lives are quite exemplary, be treated like a lot of children during camp? Why should you insinuate that you think they are not sufficiently trustworthy to decide how much liquor they should take?

There is one other point in connection with this to which I should like to draw the noble Earl's attention. When the contract for feeding the Yeomanry is entered into the contractor takes into account the profit he will get from the canteen, and consequently in proportion as the profits are high the men are fed cheaply. The prices charged in the canteens are not higher than those which obtain in public houses in the neighbourhood. If you take away from the contractor the right of making a profit on those liquors in the canteens, he will naturally charge the men higher prices for their food during the training, and the profits which might have been retained in the regiment will be distributed among the public houses in the district. For the sake of the internal economy of the regiment I would suggest to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary that it would be preferable to allow the old arrangement to continue than to insist on this new order.

For the last four or five years we have been told by the War Office that the Yeomanry was a force which they looked upon with respect and consideration, and which they regarded as a very valuable adjunct to the Regular force. I presume that those views are still held by the War Office to-day. I should very much like to hear from the noble Earl I whether the authorities still entertain the same feelings of regard for the efficiency and the military bearing of those who belong to the Yeomanry force. If those views, which are held by Lord Roberts, General Buller, Lord Kitchener, and Sir Ian Hamilton, are still held in the War Office, then surely you ought to do all in your power to maintain the high character of this force. As to this order, I contend that it will do more to deplete the ranks of Yeomanry regiments than any other order which has been issued by the War Office for many years past.


My Lords, the Question raised by the noble Lord is doubtless an important one, but I can assure the House that the Army Council have been fully alive to its importance, and have most carefully considered the question in all its aspects. The Imperial Yeomanry when out for training are subject to the provisions of the Militia Act, and therefore subject, like the Regular Army and Militia, to military law. The Army Council have therefore decided that the Imperial Yeomanry must be subject, generally, to the same rules and regulations as the Regulars and Militia. In virtue of this decision the Imperial Yeomanry are subject to the Rules for Management of Garrison and Regimental Institutes, paragraph 12 of which lays down that—; At home stations the sale of spirituous liquors of any description is prohibited, but at stations abroad commanding officers will use their discretion in this respect. At the same time the Army Council recognise that the Imperial Yeomanry, from the nature of their organisation and composition, may deserve special treatment in this matter, and, therefore, while insisting that they must be generally amenable to military discipline in this as in other respects, the Council have no objection to contractors who cater for the regiments of Imperial Yeomanry supplying with the mid-day meal such class of drink as the Yeomen desire, provided the sanction of the general officer commanding-in-chief is obtained. This is the only relaxation of the general principle the Army Council feel prepared to admit.


My Lords, the Answer of the noble Earl who has just spoken on behalf of His Majesty's Government seems to me to meet very indifferently the strong case which was made by the noble Lord on the Cross Benches in the course of his extremely temperate and well-reasoned speech. I understand that the War Office has issued this prohibition on the ground that while the Yeomanry are out for training they are subject to military law, and that for that reason they must be subject, not only to military law in the general sense, but to every detailed rule and regulation which may be issued by the military authorities in regard to the Regular Army. I must say that that seems to me to be rather a hide-bound manner of regarding the problem, because, as the noble Lord pointed out with so much truth, these Yeomen are drawn from a different social class from that which fills the ranks of other portions of the Army. As the noble Lord the Under-Secretary told us just now, they are differently organised. They have more leisure. They presumably have more loose cash in their pockets, and also, I think it is fair to point out, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bath, that they have an absolutely unblemished record for steadiness and good conduct when out for their annual training Surely that was a reason for brushing on one side the argument that because a certain kind of regulation was good for ordinary regimental institutes, therefore it was also good for the Yeomanry when out for training in camp. I was glad to notice, towards the conclusion of the Under-Secretary's speech, that the Army Council have shown some signs of a desire to relent. I gathered from the noble Earl that at meals, at all events—


Only at one meal, the mid-day meal.


At one meal in the day these gallant soldiers are to be allowed a modicum of these beverages. I hope that on reflection the military authorities will see that this is a matter in which the officers commanding Yeomanry regiments can really be trusted. I should like, before sitting down, to ask the noble Earl a specific Question —;namely, whether before this regulation was issued, the War Office took into their confidence and consulted the colonels of Yeomanry regiments.


My Lords, I should like, as commanding officer of a regiment, to associate myself with what has fallen from the noble Lord on the Cross Benches. I regard this as a most irritating and unnecessary order, and with all respect to the great authority of the Army Council, I fail to understand the attitude which has been taken up. It seems to be presumed that everybody who wears His Majesty's uniform is cast in one mould, and that no possible relaxations are to be made in respect of any particular corps. The great object, I believe, nowadays is to induce men of education and standing to serve His Majesty, whether in the Auxiliary or Regular Forces, but if you are going to treat these men like children in this irritating way, you will be doing everything you possibly can to make their camps disagreeable, and to drive them out of the force. I do think that commanding officers should be treated with a little more confidence and given a little more discretion. The noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, stated that whilst spirituous liquors are not to be allowed at home, commanding officers abroad may supply them at discretion. Why are commanding officers abroad to be allowed to use their discretion whilst it is denied to commanding officers at home? Speaking for my own corps, the men in the ranks are practically of the same class as my officers. By a regulation of the regiment, all my officers go through the ranks. I have a great many men in the ranks who will eventually be officers, and all I can say is that if I had men who could not be trusted in the same camp with a bottle of whisky, they would not remain long in the corps.


My Lords, as one who has been mess president of a regiment, I suppose I ought to express my gratitude to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary for the concession which the Army Council have been pleased to make, but their action only shows their utter and complete ignorance in regard to this question. This concession only adds insult to injury. The noble Earl picked out a regulation which mentions home stations and regimental institutes, and he would have us believe that a Yeomanry training camp is to be compared with a home station or a regimental institute. It is a totally different thing. These troopers who go out for a fortnight, very often at great inconvenience to themselves, are men of standing. I have had doctors serving in my squadron as well as men who kept their own servants at home, and prosperous farmers. Are these men who come out for a fortnight in the year to have applied to them conditions which govern home stations or regimental institutes?

We are told that the Army Council, after careful consideration, have come to the conclusion to make a very gracious concession. The tired Yeoman is to be allowed to have a little whisky with his mid-day meal. What does this mean? The Yeoman drills hard all the morning, he comes back and has his midday meal, and it is a thousand to one he has to go to the stables after. The time at which he wants refreshment is long after the mid-day meal. What possible pretext or justification does the War Office allege for this treatment of the Yeomanry? I noticed the other day that the Secretory of State for War was asked in the other House whether any complaints had reached the War Office as regards the conduct of the Yeomanry during camp, and the Secretary of State answered that no such complaints had reached him. What possible reason is there for this alteration in the whole system of the Yeomanry?

All Parties in politics were disposed, when the Secretary of State said he wanted time to consider the question of Army reform, to give him that time. Are we to regard this abortive rule as the first product of the mind of the Secretary of State when working out his Army scheme? If that is the kind of rule and regulation which is going to begin the reform of the Army, then all I can say is I certainly hope His Majesty s Government will not go any further. I still venture to hope, notwithstanding the extreme ignorance which this rule shows of all the conditions governing the Yeomanry, that the War Office have learned from commanding officers something about the circumstances of that force, and will reconsider their determination to persist in this order.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down seems to think that it is a very extraordinary thing that the Army Council should desire to apply to the Yeomanry the same rules which apply to the Militia and the Regular Army. I confess I cannot see anything extraordinary in that at all. It seems to me that it is very desirable that the same rule should apply to all portions of His Majesty's Forces, and the notion which seems largely to occupy the minds of some of those who have addressed us this evening that there is any intention to make any kind of reflection upon the Yeomanry by applying to them the same rules which are applied to the Regular Army and to the Militia is an entirely erroneous one. I do not understand how it could have arisen.

The noble Lord who has just sat down and others have said that the Secretary of State in another place recognised the good conduct of the Yeomanry. No doubt he did. But nobody is complaining of the conduct of the Yeomanry. These proposals are not made because the Yeomanry have shown themselves unworthy of confidence. They are made upon general principles connected with the military forces at large, and it seems to me to be most unjust and unwise that noble Lords should attempt to make out that the Army Council are treating the Yeomanry with any want of consideration or respect, or in any way implying that their conduct is deserving of reprobation.

The case is absolutely simple and plain. The Army Council think it desirable that regulations of this kind should be applied in a uniform manner to all His Majesty's forces, and it is upon that ground that they have issued the order of which complaint is now made. The noble Duke the Duke of Marlborough, who I do not see now in his place, concluded his speech, if I understood him rightly, by the most extraordinary assertion that I have heard for a long time. The noble Duke indicated that this step had been taken by the Army Council and by His Majesty's Government for the purpose of reducing the strength of the Yeomanry. That really goes a little beyond what is fair argument. All I can say is that I believe the Army Council to be right in applying these rules generally, and I repudiate with all the strength I can any assertion that they are intended in any way to imply want of confidence in, or want of regard for, the Yeomanry force.


My Lords, if I may be permitted to speak again, I should like to tell the noble Lord that I do not think his reply to my Question at all satisfactory, from the point of view of the Yeomanry. If he will take some means of testing the opinion of the Yeomanry he will find that the action of the War Office is exceedingly distasteful to all ranks. We shall take an early opportunity of again raising the question, and shall consider, in the meantime, what we can do to get the Army Council to alter this decision.


Will the noble Earl answer the Question I put to him—;namely, were Yeomanry colonels consulted before this regulation was introduced?


The Question asked by Lord Willoughby de Broke only appeared on the Paper on Saturday, and I have not had much time to inquire into the matter. If the noble Marquess will put his Question down I shall be perfectly prepared to give him a full and complete Answer.

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