§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
rose to call attention to the question of home defence and of compulsory service in the Militia within the United Kingdom. The noble Earl said: My Lords, on the Front Bench to the right of the Woolsack there always sit some distinguished Members of your Lordship's House who form part of the Government of the day. Now, what, my Lords, would you say was the most important duty that falls to the Government? I hold that their most important duty is the defence of the Empire at large, and the safety of our hearths and homes in this country. I put some questions on Friday night to my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War to endeavour to ascertain whether or not this duty is attended to by His Majesty's 100 Government, and the answer I got was anything but satisfactory, though I am bound to say it was the answer I had every reason to expect.
We have, I believe, eight so-called commands—that is to say, military districts—in England, Scotland, and Ireland. These commands ought to be ready at a moment's notice to take the field. I asked how long it would take before they could be ready. The answer I received was that it would be contrary to the public interest that this information should be given. I think that if it had been said that it was contrary to the interests of the War Office it would have been more to the purpose than to say that it was contrary to public interest, because, as regards the publication of the information I asked for, it is known to every Military Attaché in London. They know every man you have got, every gun you have got; and of your guns how many are serviceable? I am afraid I shall have to show that they are very few. This information, as I say, is known to every foreign representative in London and to foreigners abroad. Therefore, I think the reason it was withheld was that it would not be to the credit of the War Office that the truth should be known. On the other hand, if the answer was what it ought to be, that we get something for the £29,000,000 which we pay, and that our forces would be ready at twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours notice to mobilise, it is a thing which, instead of hiding, the Government should publish broadcast, for it would be a great element of safety and peace. Therefore, whichever way you take it—that it would be contrary to public interest to know what is known everywhere, or that the War Office dare not speak the truth —my noble friend's answer is equally unsatisfactory.
I said on Friday night that I should endeavour to-day, as I had this matter to bring before the House, to get some information on the question. As regards foreign mobilisation, your Lordships have only to look at the St. James's Gazette of to-night, and you will find a complete analysis of French and German mobilisation. In German the whole Army can be mobilised in three days; in France it can be mobilised equally quickly; but what is not mentioned in this article is the state of Switzerland, 101 which is the most important of all. In Switzerland within from twenty-four to fourty-eight hours they can mobilise the whole of their forces to meet the enemy, and in forty-eight hours they can mobilise what they call their land-sturm. Now, my Lords, what can we do? I will road an extract from a letter I have received. The writer says—To talk of mobilising our Army is rubbish. There is no Army; that is to say, there are no corps and no divisions except on paper. The minimum allowance for any one Army corps is eighty-four guns, and we have not sixty guns up-to-date in the whole country.Is that or is that not true? I am afraid it is true. We now understand why my noble friend did not answer the Question put to him. To talk of mobilisation is a farce and an absurdity. You have not got the guns up to date, and, at the outset, even with the moans you have, the time that would be taken to bring these corps together would be a fortnight or three weeks. Therefore, it is evident that my question could not be answered, because there are no means of mobilisation and the forces are absolutely without the necessary equipment.
I have always taken the greatest interest in this question of home defence. My soul has been in travail over the state of things for the last fifty years, and it seems to me as bad now as ever. When it was proposed that Volunteers should come forward I rushed forward with many thousand others, because we felt the necessity so strongly. Time went on, and nothing more was done. You traded on the Volunteers. In 1871 I wrote a letter to The Times to say that if nothing more was done, and if the Government did not put in force the law of the land, the best thing the Volunteers could do would be to resign. I waited on, and in 1900 I resigned my commission, because I would not be a party to a sham, for I think we are a sham in the present state of the Volunteers. Those who know the Duke of Norfolk, who presided over the recent Commission, are well aware that his opinion is that the present state of things is not reliable.
That being the case, is anything being done at the present time? Yes. Further inquiries are being made. A new Commission has been issued by the War Office, a Commission large enough for general concealment. I think there are 102 twenty-three members. What is it they are going to inquire into? They are going to inquire into the question of the creation of a territorial Army. I should have thought the inquiries by Lord Elgin's Commission and by the Duke of Norfolk's Commission would have been sufficient; but not so. The War Office want more than that. Of the twenty-three members who constitute this new Commission, Colonel Lord Esher is at the head. I do not know who is at the bottom, but Lord Roberts is somewhere in the middle. And this Commission is to inquire about a territorial Army. I do not wish to enter into the question of a striking Army. I only hope that when you talk of a striking Army you do not intend that we Englishmen should go to the Continent and fight the nations in arms there. If you speak of a striking Army for India, it will not be by only an Army from England that you will hold India against Russia, but by the loyalty of the people of India to our Government and by the fighting races in that country. Remember what happened at the time of the Munity. Then it was not England that saved India; it was Lord Lawrence, by the organisation of the Sikhs. You must in the same way rely now on the native races.
This Commission is to invent a territorial Army for this country. Why, my Lords, you have that Army now. What is the Militia? Is not that England's territorial Army? Has it not been so from time immemorial? Is it not so now? If you give it life and carry out the existing law, the Militia is the territorial Army of this country. You tried, indeed, to get rid of it two years ago and failed. Having tried to get rid of it by absorbing the Militia into the regular Army, you then tried to change its constitution, and whereas the Militia was raised for Home Defence only, and might go abroad voluntarily, you tried immediately before the dissolution to change its constitution absolutely, so that when a man was once in the Militia he could be ordered to go anywhere. That was a great revolution, from which we have been saved as yet, and the Government in that were supported by colonels of Militia regiments.
But, my Lords, you now have this force, and instead of trying to absorb it and alter its constitution, it would be better to give it its full powers. The existing 103 law should be put into operation. I would rather quote other words than my own on this matter. What was said on this subject in the year 1902? This—Hit the nail on the head. Modified compulsory service at home and voluntary service abroad—such a scheme is the solution of all our difficulty. First of all, it solves the problem of recruiting. It also solves the question of expense. It is cheaper; it enables you to train the Militia and Volunteers, and bring them up to whatever state of efficiency you please.That was what this gentleman said, and I think that any man who has studied this question will agree with that. In that sentence lies the whole military question, and if you only have the courage and manliness to propose it, the whole difficulty is solved in a way that every statesman from Pitt to Palmerston, and every soldier from Wellington to Wolseley, has believed to be sound. The speaker I have quoted went on, however, to say—I realise that any system of compulsory service is now absolutely out of the question.That was in 1902. In March this year a very distinguished Member of your Lordship's House, still more distinguished as Foreign Minister, to whom we cannot give too much praise, Lord Lansdowne; speaking in a Militia debate, said—I have often ventured to tell your Lordships that in my opinion compulsory service was net likely to be regarded with favour in this country, and I for one shall base my hopes on the attempts of the Government to solve this Militia problem without having recourse to compulsion in any shape or form.This, I thought at the time, was a remarkable speech coming from a noble Lord whom, when Secretary of State for War, I heard say that the power of ballot for the Militia was a power with which he would not readily part; and further it came more strangely from a noble Lord who, when Minister for War, laid on the Table of the House a Bill for improving and bringing up to date ballot for the Militia. It is true he left that Bill derelict, but, nevertheless, that was a strange assertion coming from Lord Lansdowne.
I would like to ask on what authority these two legislators I have quoted based their assertion that the nation would not agree to any form of compulsion. Have they ever asked the nation? Have they ever made a speech declaring it necessary 104 and had it negatived, at any public meeting or anywhere else? No, my Lords. They gratuitously libel the patriotism of the people by this statement on their part. I am going to make a statement to the contrary, and it rests on facts which cannot be controverted. I will take only three instances, though I have spoken on the subject in the country hundreds of times. The Shaftesbury Park Estate, near London, is one the whole of the houses on which were built, not out of the rates, but by working men themselves——
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I do not want to interrupt my noble friend, but the Shaftesbury Park Estate was part of an estate belonging to the Artisan Industrial Dwellings Company; the houses were built by a company of which I happened to be a director.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
At any rate when I was addressing these working men I preached the doctrine that it was the duty of every Englishman to stand forth, if necessary compulsorily, in defence of his country. I will not trouble your Lordships with what I said, but the substance of it was this, that if any Government would have the patriotism and the courage to stand forth and say that in their opinion this was necessary to make the country safe from invasion, there was no doubt that it would be accepted. My statement was greeted with universal cheering. That was the view of working men in 1875. In 1892 I sent round a list of questions to Lords - Lieutenant, county authorities, urban authorities, provosts and chief magistrates. Some 400 circulars were sent out, and these two questions were asked—(1) Are you satisfied with the present state of things from the military point of view? (2) Do you think that the people in this country would accept, in a modified form, compulsory service for home defence? To the first question 75 per 105 cent, answered "No," and to the latter two to one answered "Yes."
I now come to the third instance, which gives a contradiction to the libel upon our race. I thought I would test it in the best way one could, and in the month of October I addressed a meeting in the market town of Haddington, the constituency of the present Secretary of State for War, and that meeting unanimously passed the following Resolution—That, this meeting approves of compulsory service in the Army in the modified form suggested by Lord Wemyss, and is further of opinion that a matter so vital as home defence should never be made a Party question.At that meeting, which was presided over by a Colonel of Volunteers, a letter was read from the Lord-Lieutenant, in which he said—I agree that we must look principally to the Militia, which must be a real territorial Army. Although I am opposed to compulsory service in the Regular Army, I think the old system of ballot should be resorted to for the Militia, in which men should serve for some three years.The reading of that letter was received with applause by Mr. Haldane's constituents. I therefore venture to think I have proved my case, which is that if the people of this country are patriotically appealed to they will answer the appeal, and that to say the contrary without any grounds except a foolish belief, a wrongful belief, is a libel, a cowardly, base libel on the people of this country. I stand to this, and defy contradiction. I now wish to say a word or two upon the "Blue-water" school. We know full well that Mr. Balfour, when occupying the position of self-constituted head of our Defence Committee, plunged head over heels into the blue water, and I am sorry to see that Mr. Haldane has done the same thing. They are both swimming about in blue water. Your Lordships last year took a more rational and sensible view of this question. Here is the Resolution which your Lordships then passed, which I think is the really sound common-sense view of the question—It would he a danger to the realm and limit the power of the Navy as an offensive force in war to trust to it alone for home defence, and inasmuch as it is admitted that the Navy cannot guarantee us against so-called hostile raids, it is most needful that our land defence should at all times He such that no 106 nation would ever attempt in any form a hostile landing on our shores.That is the state in which we ought to be, and that is the state in which, as Lord Portmouth knows, we are not. It was this feeling which led your Lordships last year to pass that Resolution.
What is needed on the part of the War Office is this. In the first place trust, and not distrust, in the patriotism of the people. This stood you in good stead in 1859, when you summoned the Volunteers, whose loyalty you are still trading upon, looking to their being a striking force somehow abroad. They did not fail you then, nor did the patriotism of the people fail you in the late war in South Africa. I am not complaining of this Government in particular. They have not had time to do anything except to take a plunge into the blue water. Every Government since I have taken an interest in this subject, some fifty or sixty years, has been in fault in distrusting the people of the country. The existing law of compulsory service for home defence should be enforced. I do not think it is necessary that the present ballot, which takes in men from eighteen to forty-five, should be acted up to. All that I proposed in addressing the meeting at Haddington, and all that I propose now, is that when a boy reaches the age of nineteen he should take the chance once in his life of ballot for the Militia.
Do not count on time for preparation. Mr. Haldane seems inclined to take half-trained men, and believes he will have time to train them. Whoever comes here will come without a declaration of war. The enemy will come like a thief in the night, and you will have no time of any sort or kind for preparation. Do not trust to miniature rifle clubs, which may be all very well in their way. Teaching every boy in this country to hit a bullseye will not save you from the troops who will come in the night. Do not rely upon half-trained men. Rather than that, invite the volunteers who have served, who have been efficient, and who are under forty, to come forward as a reserve to be called upon to appear annually without uniform at the inspection of the regiment most convenient to them. That is better than the half-trained men whom Lord Roberts proposes. I asked the Colonel of my regiment to find out how many men would be able to turn up in 107 that way. He said that 6,860 men had passed through the ranks of the London Scottish alone since 1859. I believe you would get a force of 500,000 men if need be, men who had all passed as fully trained men and earned the capitation grant.
Then I say, leave nothing to chance. You cannot leave the safety of the nation to chance. You must guard it in every possible way. Have ample guns up to date. You have not more than sixty guns up to date at this moment, whereas a German Army corps has eighty-nine. Your supply of long-shooting guns, which are essential, is very far from what it ought to be. You should render raids and invasion alike impossible through your land defences, thus freeing the Navy, and for every warship built by Germany build two, and maintain the Empire. Armaments should be taken out of the arena of party, like diplomacy. Sir Edward Grey, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is following in the footsteps of that excellent Foreign Minister, his predecessor. What are diplomatists without an armed backing? They are nothing but blank cartridges, and the diplomatist who has a strong backing, like Sir Edward Grey at the present moment in the Turco-Egyptian crisis, will carry the day. Therefore, I say that both sides of the House ought to unite in agreeing as to what is necessary, and, having agreed, support each other in the policy of armament as well as diplomacy.
Lastly, when thoroughly prepared and impregnable on land, seek to bring about international disarmament. You cannot do that now. Germany would laugh in your face, for they know what your state is at the War Office When you are strong at home you can with good faith approach foreign countries and ask them to enter into an agreement for disarmament, but not until you are in that position dare you face them. I should like all Governments to remember this, that they are but the trustees, the temporary, responsible trustees, of this great Empire, and that it is their first duty to keep the defences of the Empire in such a state that no nation would ever dream of a hostile landing.
My Lords, I rise to say a few words on a matter 108 connected with the selection of the Committee referred to by the noble Earl who has just sat down. I wish to call attention to the way in which the Yeomanry force has been treated in the appointment of that Committee, and to say that there is not a single acting colonel of an English Yeomanry regiment appointed upon it. Considering the number of Yeomanry regiments there are in England, I think it is somewhat invidious that both the colonels of Yeomanry regiments in Scotland, for whom I have every respect, should be appointed on the Committee, whilst no English Yeomanry Colonel is included. I contend that this is not treating the Yeomanry force in England in the manner they deserve. I am not raising this question in any personal sense. I think your Lordships will realise that it is not quite the way to treat fifty-six English and Welsh Yeomanry regiments to appoint two acting colonels from Scotland on this Committee and none from England.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I do not know how far the noble Viscount who has just sat down was in order in making that appeal to me, but it is not my wish to stand upon any strict question of order. All I can say in reply to my noble friend is that I am unable to give him an answer at the-present moment, but I will see that the views ho has put forward are carefully considered in the proper quarter. We certainly do not wish to do, or seem to do, any injustice to any branch of the service.
With regard to the speech of the noble Earl, I am afraid I must maintain the attitude which I assumed on Friday. I cannot be drawn into giving your Lordships or my noble friend any figures of mobilisation, and, not knowing beforehand what figures the noble Lord intended to give, I am not prepared to refute them in detail. But on hearing on Friday from the lips of my noble friend the announcement that he intended to give to your Lordships the information which I had withheld, I took the first opportunity of consulting our military advisers at the War Office, and for the satisfaction of the public I wish to say that we have a mobilisation scheme under which it is hoped that we can mobilise as quickly as can any continental nation.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Further than that, my Lords, schemes have been prepared for the defence of all defended ports, which it is confidently anticipated will be in a position to resist any sudden attack made upon them. I should like to add that these schemes have been drawn up with the full concurrence of the Admiralty, and that the two services are entirely in accord as to the measures which should be taken for the defence of the country. As regards the question of compulsory service in the Militia within the United Kingdom, the propositions which the noble Lord has brought before the House with his accustomed energy and ability are not unfamiliar to your Lordships. My noble friend has repeatedly brought up this question of the Militia Ballot. In 1899, the noble Marquess opposite, Lord Lansdowne, introduced a Militia Ballot Bill which was designed to make the machinery for enforcing the Act in case of necessity more workable; the Second Reading was not, however, proceeded with. In 1903, the Duke of Devonshire informed my noble friend that it was not the intention of the Government to proceed with his Militia Ballot Bill. Since that time, no serious allusion has been made to the prospect of any Bill relating to the Ballot being brought forward, from either side of the House, and I ought to state that it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce any Bill of such a character.
I was glad to have the opportunity, which was afforded to mo on a previous occasion by my noble friend Lord Hardinge, to assure the House that it is the wish and intention of His Majesty's Government to raise both the status and the position of the Militia. We are anxious to give them the character, by any future measures which we are considering, but which I am not in a position at present to state to the House, of a highly organised military force, believing as we do that the Militia, as was proved by the South African War, is the force which is best adapted as a support to the Regular Army, not merely for services at home, but abroad.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I will come to that point. At the same time, I would wish to repeat what I have said on a previous occasion, that we are fully alive to the necessity of maintaining in the Militia their own separate traditions and esprit de corps. We do not desire that they should be absorbed in the Regular Army, but we are anxious that they should, both by their organisation and training, be prepared to take the field in self-contained units.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I mean by conscription what your Lordships and the majority of the people in the country mean.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
Perhaps I may explain that I am opposed to conscription to any extent for the Army. I am opposed to conscription for the Militia, if that conscription means that you are to order them, like the Army, abroad. I hold that conscription should take the form of ballot for the Militia, the old constitutional force of the country.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I think I fairly stated the case when I said that the noble Earl is opposed to inscription. But, be that as it may, His Majesty's Government believes that this proposal of the Militia Ballot is open to objections quite as practical as conscription, plus, if I may be allowed to say so, the additional inconvenience which would arise from the uncertainty to our labouring population, as well as to employers of labour, as to who would and who would not be liable. Any attempt to enforce the ballot in time of peace would, in our opinion, have the effect of a capricious interference with the industrial life of the country.
My noble friend in his Notice has associated the Militia especially with the question of home defence. I am not 111 disposed to look to the Militia for home defence, as I am to the other Auxiliary Forces. The noble Earl has, this afternoon, attacked what I suppose, for purposes of brevity I may call the "blue-water school." Now, I wish to dissociate myself entirel'y from what I may call the views of the "blue-water extremists." I wish to repudiate as such what I may describe as the "dinghy theory." I do wish, however, most emphatically to affirm the principle upon which rests, in my mind, the only intelligent basis for national defence—that the Navy is, as it always has been, the natural guardian, and the first and only reliable defence for the United Kingdom againstoversea invasion. So long as our present relative naval strength is maintained—that is to say, our relative strength as compared with the naval forces of other countries—there is no need for other provision against this form of danger. This principle has become the property of responsible advisers of the Crown of both political parties. It formed the basis of a most interesting, speech to which my noble friend incidentally referred, from the late Prime Minister in the House of Commons. The principle of that speech has been accepted by His Majesty's Government——
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
The principle of that speech has been accepted by His Majesty's Government, and, as my noble friend, I think, will remember, has been re-affirmed in most cogent language by the Secretary of State for War in another place. To assume the position that we do not and cannot rely upon the Navy, and that we must strive, as was suggested by the speech of my noble friend, after an impossible compromise between naval and military defence is, to my mind, hopelessly to confuse national policy. Our naval expenditure is, and must be, a very heavy one; if it is only to be partly effective in securing us against invasion, if that is the idea which is to be instilled into the public mind, I believe that the only practical result will be that the taxpayers will refuse to sanction a heavy naval expenditure, which we maintain is necessary to our national safety, but can only be defended on the ground of its affording, 112 not only protection to our commerce on the high seas and to the scattered members of the Empire against invasion, but also to guard our shores at home. Oversea invasion has never been, and never will be, carried out in face of a Navy exercising control at sea, and it is vital to our existence that we should be prepared to assist this control. The greater includes the less, and in discharging its primary duty, our Navy will necessarily accomplish the smaller task of defending our shores against invasion.
It is a matter of recent history that the extravagant expenditure upon fortifications which was incurred under Lord Palmerston's policy, much of which expenditure is now absolutely wasted because the guns and forts are perfectly obsolete or in the wrong place, did distract the public mind from the importance of our Navy, and did necessitate our having to remedy the condition of our Navy by great efforts and by large expenditure. The Navy Estimates had dropped far below those of the Army, and it was only in the Estimates of 1895–96 that the expenditure of the Navy rose to that of the Army. I should like to recall your Lordship's attention to the action of Parliament during, within modern history, the most anxious years of our national life. It is a curious thing to note that in 1786, when our Navy was not either actually or relatively so strong as it is now, but when the nation knew what war implied, in spite of an agitation to expend large sums of money upon fortifications, in spite of our having recently confronted a combination of four powers—France, America, Spain and Holland—in addition to the menace of a combination of Northern States, the House of Commons at that time declined to support heavy demands for military expenditure against oversea invasion, even though these demands were urged by Mr. Pitt himself. I must decline to admit, as a risk which is so reasonably probable as to be worth our considering, any invasion of these islands, so long as we have the command of the sea, and I wish to reaffirm the memorable words of the Duke of Devonshire at the Guildhall on December 3rd, 1896, that—The maintenance of sea supremacy has been assumed as the basis of the system of Imperial Defence against attack from over the sea.113 If it is contended that we ought to provide against the possibility of what happened in South Africa—namely, that some foreign power or powers could do as we did, pour troops into this island in a continuous stream as we did into South Africa, unmolested and undisturbed from the sea; if that is to be guarded against as not only a possible but a probable contingency, it is perfectly obvious that the people of this country must be prepared to accept a similar military system such as prevails on the Continent. We must be prepared to accept the direct and the indirect cost of becoming a nation in arms. I do not myself believe that that is a sacrifice which this country is prepared to make, and I think it would be very wrong to ask the country to make it, because I believe it would be a perfectly unnecessary sacrifice. Nor is there one particle of evidence from the history of this country that our Army has ever been or ever could be our weapon against invasion.
The history of that Army is a splendid one—I think I may say one which is unparalleled in the history of the world. It has conquered for us an Empire greater than that of Rome. But everyone of its long and brilliant series of operations has been carried on beyond our naval frontier. If it has fought with vigour and confidence in very part of the world it has done so because it has known that behind it stood the Navy, which is the real defensive force of the nation. I must reaffirm the principle that we must look to the Navy and not to the Army to secure us against invasion. At the same time, my Lords, the Army Council are fully alive to the danger which was referred to by my noble friend. We feel that raids, though not probable, ought to be fully considered and amply provided against.
Now, I should like to analyse what is meant by a raid. What would be the, conditions under which a raid could be I made by a foreign Power to the best advantage, and what is the sort of raid which it would be worth their while to make? It is, according to the opinion of our military advisers, most probable that the raider would have to sacrifice the whole of a raiding force. This country is densely intersected by well-equipped railways, which, on the alarm being given, would be able to bring 114 forces together against the raider. We have heard a great deal about supposed raids upon undefended places, such as Brighton and Hastings. Suppose a successful raid took place on places of that kind. Considerable local inconvenience might be caused: possibly some loot might be carried off; but the exploit would be merely that of the buccaneer. No serious damage would have been inflicted upon this country as a fighting power. In fact, an outrage of that kind would create such an intensity of feeling as to evoke a martial spirit where such had not existed before, if an enemy is to make a raid, I think we must presume, having regard to the fact that he will have to run a very serious risk of losing his raiding force, that he will attack some port where during a short period he might hope to render very serious damage to the national resources of the country. Of course, if an enemy were in undisturbed possession for a few hours of, say, the dockyard at Portsmouth or at Elswick, on the Tyne, very serious damage would be done to the fighting efficiency of the country.
I shall not, of course—it would not be consistent with the public service—make public any details, but I should like to assure my noble friend that experiments have been recently made with a view to ascertaining how long it would take to land a force of 10,000 men, with their guns, unopposed. The result of those experiments has been to show that it would be impossible to land any force of that kind without interruption, provided that the Channel Fleet was within touch of our shores. Let us take, however, the most favourable circumstances for a raid. Daring a war it is inconceivable that the Channel Fleet would be out of touch with these shores; let us suppose, therefore, that either Portsmouth or the Tyne were raided by some foreign Power during a time of profound peace when there was no cloud over international relations; that they could make all their preparations in private, and that our agents abroad had not the slightest suspicion that anything exceptional was taking place. Let us suppose that on some fine summer morning, with the Channel Fleet at the extremity of its orbit, a hostile force was suddenly to appear off Portsmouth or the Tyne. Under circumstances of that kind—the 115 most favourable for a raid—we should still have several hours to summon the naval war ships that we now keep by policy at the home ports requiring only to raise steam to be fit for action, and we should still have several hours to reinforce our garrisons. I do not wish to throw over the eyes of the public any bandage of false security, but surely, my Lords, unreasonable pessimism leads to nothing practical and only obstructs the support which is needed for reasonable and moderate schemes. The sea is no impassable barrier, but in war it is surely reasonable probabilities, and not every improbable possibility, which have to be taken into consideration.
I do not know why my noble friend has, as it were, coupled the Militia specially with home defence, considering the numerous cases in which it has rendered distinguished services abroad. I look to the Militia much more as a support and adjunct to the Regular Army for service over-sea in times of great national emergency. I look to the Volunteers as the main resource for our home defence. I should like to see—and we are considering the matter very fully —a scheme worked out for utilising the Volunteers for coast defence against raids, not in a vague, indefinite, and general way, but in accordance with a plan by which the coast within a certain distance of those places of which, perhaps, Portsmouth and the Tyne are typical, and of which others exist, such as Barrow, Liverpool and Pembroke Dock, and whore an enemy in possession for a few hours could strike at the fighting efficiency of the nation, could be protected by the Volunteers.
In these places on Saturday afternoons the Volunteers should practice with the heavy guns in the coast forts, so as to be perfectly familiar and ready to handle them at any time. I attach great importance to the utilisation of the Volunteers for coast defence not only as a sedentary force, but as organised mobile bodies capable of being moved rapidly to any threatened point. Above all, if some such scheme were evolved, and I believe it is practicable, owing to our large and highly efficient railway systems, you will have given to the Volunters a part in our national life, with definite objects at which to aim. The Volunteers are a highly intelligent class of men, and they 116 will take pride in the knowledge that they are an integral part of the national strength, and are trusted with specific duties of an important nature.
To sum up, I think we can reasonably look to the Navy for defence against invasion. To protect ourselves against raids where raids would touch the power of the nation we must, I think, rely upon the local fortifications, assisted possibly in some cases by submarines, and upon an organisation which would bring into play the resources of our railway system and the intelligence, activity, and fighting efficiency of the Volunteers.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Earl who initiated this debate, in a, speech of a somewhat discoursive but extremely vigorous nature, expressed opinions which we have frequently heard in this House before. My noble friend who replied for the Government has done so in a very elaborate written or printed treatise, which deals largely with questions, of high Imperial strategy, but which I venture to think has very little to do with the Notice on the Paper, which really concerns the Militia. It is not so long ago that we had a debate upon the Militia and upon the parlous condition in which that force now finds itself, a condition upon which I submit the speech we have just listened to throws remarkably little light. If any further facts were needed to prove the parlous condition in which the Militia now is, I might quote the case of my noble friend whom I see sitting upon the Front Opposition Bench, Lord Salisbury, who is, or was a short time ago, a colonel of a Militia regiment, and who offered 2s. 6d. a head for recruits just as though they were plovers' eggs or some delicacy of that description.
With regard to what has fallen from the noble Lord who represents the Government, I submit that my noble friend Lord Wemyss has received no answer at all. The noble Earl devoted a considerable portion of his reply principally to exposing the weakness of the Militia ballot, with which my noble friend Lord Wemyss is so closely associated. So far as I know, although I am always particularly anxious to agree with my noble friend Lord Wemyss whenever it is possible, he is practically the only person in this country that I am 117 acquainted with who is in favour of the Militia ballot. It is altogether an antiquated and exploded idea, and therefore it was quite unnecessary on the part of Lord Portsmouth to assure the House that the Government had no intention of bringing in a Bill introducing this principle.
The real reply to the complaints about the Militia and to the general unsatisfactory state of the Auxiliary Forces, is the appointment of that Committee which has been already alluded to this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Galway, and it is perfectly marvellous, to my mind, to notice the sort of superstitious veneration which appears to be felt by innumerable people in this country with regard to these eternal Committees and Commissions. I am disposed to believe that if we were told that a foreign army had landed in this country, and if the Minister representing the War Office were to come down to this House and announce that a Committee had been appointed with the noble Viscount Lord Esher at the head of it to study the question, that would reassure a vast number of persons in this country. For my part, I confess that I have ceased to feel any confidence at all in these repeated Committees and Commissions, and were I to imitate the somewhat uncourtly language of the present Prime Minister, I should be inclined to exclaim, with regard to all these Committees and Commissions, "Enough of this foolery."
If the Committee referred to this afternoon were composed of really sound people—and by that I mean sound according to my own ideas—I might entertain some faint hope that something useful would result from it; but I observe with pain and surprise that it is an extremely unsatisfactory Committee, because there are persons upon it who are what I can only denominate fanatical supporters of the voluntary system. I observe, for instance, that my friend Sir Howard Vincent is a Member of this Committee. Well, Sir Howard Vincent's weakness is that he thinks the country, and the whole British Empire so far as that goes, exists for the benefit of the Volunteers, and more especially for that particular battalion which he used to command.
118 I observe that there are also upon this Committee Members of this House, personal friends of my own, with whose views I regret to say I am not at all in sympathy, and whom also, I am afraid, I must look upon as unsound persons. But there is one person upon it who is more dangerous and more pernicious than any-else body living in this country, and that is the editor of the Spectator, Mr. Strachey, who is responsible for the preposterous and absurd doctrine that all that we require in this country is a large number of persons with broad-brimmed hats, with rifles hanging up on pegs, which rifles they are going to take down at the necessary moment and shoot the invaders, and then return to their ordinary vocations. To me the appearance of these names upon a Committee is of sinister import, and I am afraid that very little substantial benefit is likely to accrue from it.
I should like to know what there is to inquire about. If you wish to know what the Auxiliary Forces want, even I can tell you that. There is hardly anybody in this country who can read and write who cannot tell you what the Auxiliary Forces want. I could put it in blunt language in one sentence. What the Auxiliary Forces want is quite reasonable; they want more money, and they want to do the same amount of work and no more than they are doing at present. Everyone who has had official experience knows that this is perfectly true, and I do not see that they are to be blamed for it, considering that the vast majority of the able-bodied men in this country do nothing whatever. If you want to know what ought to be done you have got it in black and white. For two years the Norfolk Commission sat examining into the condition of the Auxiliary Forces, and you have got their Report upon record. I am almost sick of referring to this Report, but I think I must even once more trouble the House with what they actually said, because in my humble opinion this is the only Commission and the only Report which ever has been or will be of any permanent value to this country.
The Norfolk Commission reported that if we wanted, as we professed we wanted, a home defence army, capable, in the absence of the whole or the greater portion of the Regular forces, of protecting the country against invasion, it could 119 only be raised and maintained on the principle that it is the duty of every citizen of military age and sound physique to be trained for the national defence and to take part in it should emergency.arise. In that you have all that you will ever find out, and, so long as you ignore this finding, all your Commissions will do you no good whatever. The only result will be that you will add to the mass of literature on the subject, and you may possibly send up your Estimates, but the the long and the short of it will be that we shall find ourselves in precisely the same position as we are in at the present moment.
My Lord, I only rise to point out that the splendid deeds performed by our Army, which the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War so justly praised, could not have been done without the assistance of the Merchant Service; but, though the Merchant Service is a most important auxiliary force, it has been absolutely neglected.
THE EARL OF DUNDONALD
My Lords, the country is indebted to the noble Earl for the persistent way in which he has brought before your Lordships the inadequate state of the defences of this country. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War has told us that expert opinion is against the possibility of any largely successful raid on the shores of this country. May I recall your Lordships' recollection to instances where expert opinion has been wrong, instances which have occurred within the last five years? How many men were considered necessary by expert opinion for the defeat of the Boers? How many men did expert opinion state could be successfully moved on the line of railway into Manchuria? I had the honour, my Lords, of commanding the Natal Volunteers in driving the Boers out of Natal. As we came to homestead after homestead that had been devastated, with the little relics of the home torn into fragments, I heard the Natal men say, "When we go back home after this war is over we shall have compulsory service in Natal." Compulsory service is instituted now in Natal, and in place of the 600 or 700 Volunteers which Natal could find for the South African War, she can now 120 put her hand upon several thousand armed men. Natal learnt her lesson and applied it. I do not think it is necessary for this country to go as far as Natal in instituting compulsory service, but I do consider that she would be wise in compulsorily training the youth of the country to military discipline and to a knowledge of the rifle, so that if occasion required they might flock to the colours with, at all events, a certain knowledge of the duties of the soldier.
I consider myself that our insular position will always give us time for a certain measure of preparation. There have been, or rather there are, two schools of thought in this country which have prevented adequate military defence. One school of thought is composed of those who believe that it is impossible to make a soldier without long and continuous training. The other school of thought is opposed to all military service whatsoever, as it considers that it leads people in the direction of militarism. These two schools of thought have prevented this country being freed from all danger of aggression; but has not the time now come when a third school of thought should arise which realises that an Empire can be but a paper Empire unless it is de fended by an armed and organised manhood, a school of thought which should insist upon the Government organising the people, not in the direction of militarism, but in the direction of common sense, organising them so that the manhood of the nation can be utilised in a cheap and efficient manner.
Whatever form of military service may be instituted in this country the one great difficulty that any Government will experience is in the provision of leaders. Leaders cannot be improvised, and it is curious to note in this connection that this country possesses a larger leisured class who have not to earn their daily bread than any other nation in the world. I trust that the Government, if leaders sufficient for our Auxiliary forces do not present themselves, will institute a little compulsion in the direction of the ballot on those gentlemen who are possessed of sufficient means so that if these were killed in action their families at all events would not be dependent upon the rates for their support.
It is six and a half years since what is called the black week of December, 1899. 121 Is the country adequately defended yet? Have those years been utilised to the best advantage? We may not get another six and a half years in which to muddle and waste our time. The present Government has a great chance of creating a citizen Army on cheap and efficient lines. From what I hear I believe that the present Secretary of State for War is inclined in the direction which I have indicated. I trust this is so. If it is, and if the Government support him and we do defend our Empire with its armed manhood, I am sure this Government will deserve the thanks and the confidence of the country.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, after the very full, and, if I may say so, very interesting, description of our naval and military position which was given by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, and of the method which he conceives should be pursued, and which I humbly agree should be pursued, in dealing with it, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes on the present occasion. I merely rise to express my agreement for what it is worth, with the opinions which the noble Earl put forward, and to wish him success in carrying them to practical conclusions. We are getting quite accustomed to the sort of debate that we have had this afternoon. There are a great many schools of thought in connection with the idea of compulsory service, and we have had speeches from representatives of three of those schools this afternoon. One cannot help being struck by the considerable manner in which the various schools of thought disagree among themselves. The noble Earl who initiated this discussion is in favour of a particular form of compulsory service—ballot for the Militia alone—and I think I gathered from a chance remark he made last year in the course of a similar debate that he would like to see the Volunteers abolished altogether. My noble friend Lord Newton, who took the noble Earl Lord Wemyss to task for standing alone in the opinion he holds, seems to glory in a similar isolation himself.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
The noble Lord, if I may use the phrase without any intention of being offensive, is a "whole hogger" in the matter of compulsory service. The noble and gallant Earl who has just sat down occupies, I think, a midway position, a position in which I know he finds support in certain uninfluential quarters. He favours, not whole hoggism, not ballot for the Militia alone, but some compulsion being exerted upon the youth of the country. I say at once that I have no sympathy with the believers in any of these schools of thought; and I think we should none of us be called upon to regard the question of compulsory service too seriously until there is at any rate some sort of agreement amongst the various Members of your Lordships' House and those interested in the question outside upon the main tenets of the policy.
I only rose to refer to two points in the speech of the noble Earl who initiated this discussion. The noble Earl is continually urging upon us that we have no right to say that putting in force the ballot in this country would be unpopular, because we have never tried it. To that I answer that our ancestors tried it and found it extremely unpopular. In the middle of the eighteenth century the Ballot Act was passed and put into force, and there were riots all over the country at once. So serious did those riots become that history relates that two men were hanged at York for what was called obstructing the Ballot Act. My sympathy is entirely with those two men, and although I do not think that I could pledge myself to go so far in resisting the Ballot Act if the noble Earl and his colleagues put it forward tomorrow, I think I can safely say that I should make great efforts to encourage somebody else to get himself hanged in the same cause.
Another claim which is made by the noble Earl, and which has been made before on several occasions, I should like to refer to for one moment. He claims that the Motion, part of which he read, which was accepted by your Lordships last year, pledged the House to a decision contrary to the policy laid down by my right hon. friend the late Prime Minister last year, and upon which His Majesty's present advisers have set their seal. He 123 claims, in fact, that it is a rebuff of the blue-water school as moderate men understand it. The Resolution of last year was very cleverly drawn. I read it, I might almost say, hundreds of times in the hope of being able to find even one word which would perhaps haveencouraged us to ask your Lordships not to accept it, but after a very careful perusal I could find not one single word which was contrary to what we believe to be the true principles of our naval and military position. It was upon that basis that His Majesty's Government last year recommended its acceptance to the House. I presume it was on that basis that noble Lords who then sat on this side of the House offered no objection to it, and it is in that spirit I claim your Lordships should always regard it.