HL Deb 28 November 1906 vol 166 cc2-22

rose to call attention to the Report of Sir Edward Ward's Committee on the Civil Employment of Ex-soldiers and Sailors issued last July which affirmed "the necessity of making the soldier, during his service, better fitted to cope with the difficulties of civil life than he is at present," and recommended (in substantial accord with a previous Report on the same subject by Sir George Chesney's Committee in 1895) among other things— That every soldier, should be required to learn some description of technical work during his military career. That classes for instruction in motor-driving, etc., should be started as far as possible, and that opportunities should be afforded to the ex-soldier of acquiring instruction in other subjects such as shorthand and typewriting, correspondence, book-keeping, platelaying, trenching, saddlery, telegraphy, electric wiring, farm-work and ploughing, the slaughtering of cattle, etc., etc. That arrangements be made with the technical institutes in the various cities and towns where soldiers are quartered, for the tuition of the men in various trades and crafts. That arrangements should be made to give ex-soldiers facilities for emigration, and for obtaining while serving, a short course of training in work which is likely to be of use to them as emigrants; to ask what steps are being taken to carry these recommendations into effect; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in venturing to trouble the House again with my views on the civilian training of soldiers I hope your Lordships will allow me to be egotistical enough to express the satisfaction I feel that every word I have said on this subject in your Lordships' House has been more than justified by the Report of Sir Edward Ward's Committee, and it will be impossible in the future for my arguments to be put aside by the good-humoured banter with which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition used to meet them in times gone by. This Report goes further than I have ever ventured to go, for it would apply compulsion to the civilian training of soldiers. In paragraph 51 the Report says— We are strongly of opinion that every soldier should be taught some description of technical work during his military career. We recognise the difficulty of carrying out this suggestion, but we recommend that, when opportunities have been offered, every soldier should be required to obtain a knowledge of at least one subject. I am very glad that compulsion has been suggested in this Report, and I hope the Secretary of State will see that it is applied. I am confident that it would act beneficially to the Army in two ways. In the first place, it would increase the efficiency of the instruction which is given to the soldier; and, in the second place, it would very materially affect the class of recruit, which is a most important matter.

I have had a great deal of conversation lately with those who have at heart the employment of ex-soldiers, and they unanimously agree that one of the difficulties they have to contend with in getting employment for these men is that, as regards a large number of them, they are, and have been from the first, idlers. They are persons who have entered the Army with the view of getting a livelihood with the least possible trouble, and if you ask them to do any hard work they decline to do it. These are not the men we want in the British Army; we should, if possible, weed them out. We know that there is a most regrettable number of desertions and a considerable amount of malingering in the Army. But if you said to recruits who wished to enlist that they would be compelled to learn a trade while in the Army it would be found that the persons who would make the best soldiers— namely, those who are willing to do hard work—would be extremely' anxious to join in order to obtain the advantage of being taught a trade; and at the same time the idlers who go into the Army with the view of doing as little as they possibly can would naturally be choked off. The Report appears to me to be in all respects admirable. The question arises, What is going to be done with it? I am rather afraid that it will come to nothing. Ten years ago there was a Report of a larger Committee which also recommended the civilian training of soldiers, but of that nothing whatever has come. Yet, my Lords, during those ten years the Army has been organised, reorganised, and disorganised, and every single detail of military equipment and training has been fully and eagerly considered in this House. But I have found it absolutely impossible to obtain from any noble Lord any expression of opinion with regard to the civilian training of soldiers. No noble Lord has approached within a thousand miles of this subject, unless he has been an official of the War Office who has been obliged to answer my question. I see with considerable misgiving that the present Secretary of State is following the example of previous War Ministers.

This Report has been out since July, and yet the Secretary of State, in the abundance of good advice he is always giving to the soldier, has never once said a single syllable about this Report. I observe in the Press, however, that instructions have been sent to general officers commanding districts with a view to securing that they shall provide some sort of technical training for soldiers who are about to join the Reserve. I should like to know what those instructions are, and why all soldiers are not to be taught, but only those who are about to quit the colours. I should like to know, also, what sort of response the general officers commanding have made to that circular, and what they propose to do.

The Report acknowledges the difficulties that are inherent in this subject. The general officers commanding are perfectly certain to make the most of those difficulties. There are two reasons why they are opposed to this particular reform. One is that they do not consider it their duty to do anything except make a man an efficient soldier. But there is another and a much deeper reason than that, and it is, from their point of view, a perfectly good and patriotic reason. They believe that anybody who wishes to teach the soldier a trade while he is with the colours is a traitor to the sacred cause of conscription. They do not want volunteer service to succeed, and anything that is likely to make voluntary service a success they look upon with suspicion and dislike. They will fight in every way against this reform; they will fight it as they have in the past by sham experiments, by experiments maneuvered in such a way that they were bound to fail from the very beginning, like the notorious Woolwich experiment, which entirely hoodwinked the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne when he was at the War Office.

I find that that kind of tactics have already begun. The officers in the British Army are saying that you cannot teach the soldier a trade because the trade unions do not like it. It seems to me to be a most remarkable thing that British officers should go about suggesting that they cannot teach the soldier a trade because they are intimidated by trade unions. That any British officer should take up that line of argument seems to show that the officers generally are not particularly anxious that the experiment should be tried. But, as the objection is taken, I went to Mr. Crooks, the Member for Woolwich, and asked him whether it was true that the trade unions objected. He replied, "Nothing of the kind. What the trade unions object to is not teaching the soldier a trade, but the amount of preferential treatment now given to ex-soldiers." Therefore, so far as trade unions are concerned, that argument seems to me to fall entirely to the ground.

Nothing whatever in this direction has been done officially since 1895 except, I think, the Woolwich experiment, which was a mere farce. Everything that has been done since 1895, and before 1895, has been by voluntary effort, and I am very glad to acknowledge that Major Harkness, of the Royal Marine Artillery, has done good work in teaching his men, and the result has been that his men have no difficulty at all in getting employment. I think I have some claim to ask your Lordships to come to my assistance in this matter. I have never spared any pains in bringing it before your Lordships, and I do hope you will look into this matter, and that after this strong Report I shall get some little support in pressing upon the authorities that this reform should be carried through.

The merits of this reform are not at all difficult to understand. They lie on the surface. It is the only way in which you can hope really to popularise the British Army. We must all acknowledge that it is a very cruel thing to discharge men from the Army without giving them a good prospect of employment. The service method of doing that is to give the ex-soldier preferential employment. That system has been tried for thirty years and has been found wanting. It is not sufficient. We must supplement it in some way or other, and the suggestion in this Report is that we should supplement it by making the soldier fit for employment on his own merits, so that it will not be necessary that he should have a preferential claim in the future. Hitherto I have been absolutely alone in this House in pleading for this reform. I had hoped that to-day my right hon. friend the Bishop of Bath and Wells would have been here to support me, but I am sorry to say that by the doctor's orders he is kept away. However, I believe that my noble and gallant friend Lord Cheylesmore, who is in the House and was a member of Sir Edward Ward's Committee, will give me his support in pressing upon the Secretary of State the absolute necessity of carrying into effect the recommendations of this Committee. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers respecting the civil employment of ex-soldiers and sailors."—(The Lord Monkswell.)


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down mentioned me by name as having been a member of this Committee, and I hope I may claim your Lordships' indulgence while I say a few words on the subject. The Committee was a very representative one. I was, however, the only Member of your Lordships' House who sat upon it. The Committee was composed of several officers of the Recruiting Department of the War Office, and the Paymaster-in-Chief represented the Admiralty. There also sat on the Committee Sir Frederick Harrison, the general manager of the London and North Western Railway, and Sir George Livesey, chairman of the South Metropolitan Gas Company.

It is quite possible that but few of your Lordships were aware that this Committee was sitting, and probably very few noble Lords have read our Report. Those of you who have read the Report will, I am sure, feel that we made a most exhaustive inquiry. We collected evidence from members of every Government Department, from the London County Council, from the City of Westminster, from the General Post Office, from the police in various counties, and from a great many large employers of labour; and there was an almost unanimous consensus of opinion that the conduct of the ex-soldier and sailor as regards sobriety, attention to duty, and punctuality compared most favourably with that of the civilian. On the other hand, there was an almost universal consensus of opinion that the ex-soldier and sailor were very seriously handicapped in the matter of skilled labour, and it was for that reason that the Committee submitted the recommendation which appears in the Notice standing in the name of Lord Monkswell on your Lordships' Paper to-day.

It came to our notice that the ex-sailor was able to obtain labour very much more easily than the ex-soldier. He is no doubt a more handy man. We have often heard of appeals to the patriotism of the great employers of labour to engage ex-soldiers and sailors, and we were most agreeably surprised on the Committee at the number of these men employed by the great railway companies, by the London County Council, and by the City of Westminster and other bodies in situations that were suited to their ability. But, with regard to skilled labour, it is, of course, much more difficult to get employers to engage these men, because the unskilled worker often does a great deal of harm to the material used, and if the work is done in groups he retards the work of the group. There is also the fact that serious opposition is offered on the part of trade unions to preferential treatment of soldiers.

I think the noble Lord who has brought this matter to the notice of your Lordships to day has been perhaps a little too severe on commanding officers. I am absolutely certain that it is not true to say that the universal feeling among commanding officers is in favour of conscription. Speaking for myself, I am strongly against conscription. I do not think it is necessary. The Committee were quite certain that there would be objection raised to their recommendation by commanding officers of battalions; and I have no doubt that while I was commanding a battalion I should have pointed out that a great many difficulties would have arisen if men were to be taught a trade during their time of service. But I have a suggestion which I think will get over the difficulty, and I hope it will be considered by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War.

As your Lordships are aware, the soldier serves a certain number of years with the Colours and is then transferred to the Reserve. While a man is serving in the "A" Reserve he is at any time liable to come up for service without any further Act of Parliament. I would suggest that in the last year of a man's service with the Colours he should commence to learn some trade, and that during the first year he is in the Reserve he might be taught that trade. This would mean a little extra expense, but I think the result obtained would be commensurate with the expenditure; and for three very good reasons. First, it would, in my opinion, give an impetus to recruiting; secondly, it would enable the ex-soldier to compete on favourable terms with the civilian; and, thirdly, it would tend to reduce the number of unemployed, who are increasing year by year. Unfortunately there are at the present time some 20,000 men relegated annually from service with the Colours to the Reserve, and there is no doubt that a very large proportion of these men are unable to find in the first year that they are turned on the world any employment, consequently they become unemployed and eventually chargeable to the rates.

I would venture to ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary to take my suggestion into consideration. I think it might be a valuable one, and might meat the difficulties raised by commanding officers. I would also appeal to the noble Earl not to be oblivious of the rest of the recommendations made by this Committee. If my memory serves me aright, we made some thirty recommendations, of which only four are enumerated on the Paper. I hope that the noble Karl will do all he can to prevent this Report meeting with the same fate as that which has befallen the Reports of previous Committees, whose recommendations have been relegated to the pigeon holes of the War Office.


My Lords, I wish to say a forwards on this important subject before the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War replies. I certainly think your Lordships and the Army are very much indebted to my noble friend below me, not only for bringing forward this subject to-day, but also for the persistence with which he has brought it to the notice of successive Secretaries of State. It is almost impossible to imagine that my noble friend who represents the War Office can give us other than a very sympathetic reply upon the question, because this Committee was appointed by the War Office itself. It had at its head one of the ablest officials at the War Office, Sir Edward Ward, and it pointed out the only means by which a better class of men can be attracted to the Army. Unless you can promise men that after they leave the ranks they will be able to find employment and subsistence, it is idle to hope that men of a better class will join.

We are not leading the way in this matter; we are lagging behind other nations. I remember going some years ago into a cavalry barrack at Vienna, and I was there told that the troopers made or repaired every article of their clothing themselves. I should like to know why that system has not been adopted here. The soldier who leaves the Army at the ago of thirty, after twelve years service, is very heavily handicapped in his attempt to get civil employment when he has to compete with men who have learnt some kind of trade between the ages of eighteen and twenty. What the Report says I think everyone of your Lordships will endorse— The State, having received from its soldiers and sailors good and diligent service during the best years of their lives, removes them from its employment on the completion of the contract, and leaves them to face, unaided and unequipped, the competition of the labour market. I do not think that can possibly be denied, and it is such an evil that I hope the present War Office will take into consideration the recommendations of this Committee, and endeavor to afford greater facilities for teaching the men trades.

The Report divides itself naturally into three divisions. The first division relates to the consolidation of existing agencies. There are, of course, a great number of agencies, and it recommends that these should be united and coordinated, and that each of the subordinate agencies should be fully represented on the Central Committee. That will not only give greater status and weight to the position of the Central Committee, but will prevent overlapping. The second division relates to the number of places which may be found for soldiers who have left the colours. That, of course, opens up a very wide question; and while some Government Departments —the Post Office and the police force— do a great deal, I think the other Departments ought to take a lesson from the great employers of labour throughout the country—from the railway companies, the London County Council, the Fire Brigade, and other bodies—and endeavor to give a preference to ex-soldiers in any employment at their disposal.

The last division relates to the point to which my noble friend below me has called your Lordships' attention—namely, the means there are of employing soldiers who are now serving in the ranks. My noble friend must make a distinction in this matter. The Royal Engineers are themselves skilled artisans when they enlist, or they become so during their service. Then there come the Cavalry and Artillery. I believe that in the case of both of these the men, having to look after their guns and horses as well as their equipment, would not have time to learn a trade. But that is not so in the case of the Infantry. The infantryman, as opposed to the cavalryman and artilleryman, has the whole of his afternoon to himself, and the opportunity of that leisure should be taken to teach him some useful trade. Every battalion has a tailors' shop, a shoemakers' shop, and a cooks' shop, and in each of these there are about eight men per company regularly employed. But there is no reason why, instead of eight, there should not be eighty. I mention this because great stress in the Report is laid on the value of men being able to cook and to act as tailors and shoemakers. Painting, glazing, and gardening could also be readily taught; and there is a recommendation in the Report to the effect that on the large stations you ought to be able to provide motor cars and teach the men at small expense the machinery and the mode of driving. This recommendation is a valuable one in view of the spread of the automobile industry in these days. This matters less to cavalrymen, because, when he retires from service, he generally becomes a groom or stableman, or is in some way connected with the saddlery trade for which he is equipped by his experience in the Army.

The other great recommendation in this Report is that Reserve men should be encouraged to emigrate. Your Lordships passed a very valuable measure last session in the Reserve Forces Act. By that Act every man who goes out to a foreign country as a Reserve man can be called upon in time of war, and it is to their great credit that the Reserve men who were in the Colonies did not shirk their duty during the South African war, but came up when called upon. Men ought to be assisted to emigrate and if they were taught a trade the necessary £10 could be advanced to them and could be secured on their pay. We ought to devote some attention to the establishment of carpenter's shops in all battalions, for nothing is more likely to be useful to the soldier in after life than a knowledge of carpentry, joinery, and turnery. I hope my noble friend will take this matter into consideration, and see whether without great expense carpenter's shops could not be established in all battalions of infantry.

There is another point which certainly ought to be considered by the authorities. The police force have regulations which almost preclude ex-soldiers from joining at all, because they do not take men after the age of twenty-five. Why should not the term for military men, in the case of the Metropolitan and City police, be enlarged as in the case of the Scottish police? The Scottish police will take men up to thirty, and I think if the age limit in connection with the Metropolitan police was increased to thirty or thirty-two years a large number of useful recruits would be forthcoming. I gladly support my noble friend, and I hope that steps will be taken to carry the recommendations of the Committee into effect.


My Lords, I quite concur with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Monkswell, but at the same time I cannot agree with the suggestion that general officers are reluctant to promote this movement. I remember perfectly well that when I was in the Quartermaster-General's Department in India forty-five years ago workshops were established by the then Commander-in-Chief, Lord Strathnairn, and were found to be of great use. I do not see why this training should not be utilised when the men return to this country. I trust, however, that if it is carried out the code of honour which existed in those days will not obtain now. It was a sort of code of honour then amongst the soldiers that whatever was earned in the workshop was to be spent in the canteen. At the present time the Army is much less given to liquor than it was in those days, and therefore this is not very likely to happen now. I think it is the duty of all to do everything possible for the soldier; and with reference to the noble Lord's remarks about conscription I wish to say that I am not an advocate of conscription, but I hold that the first duty of every man is to his country.


My Lords, with reference to what the noble Lord who raised this question to-day said about the reluctance to appoint ex-soldiers to subordinate appointments, I think it right to mention that during the period I filled the place now occupied by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack 90 per cent. of the appointments to subordinate positions in the Law Courts were given to old soldiers.


My Lords, I was not aware that this matter was to be discussed to-day, but as I take a great interest in the question I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a few words upon it. The noble Lord who initiated this debate will, I think, find that since the publication of the Report of Sir Edward Ward's Committee there has been a great deal more interest taken in the question than formerly. I think the Report is most interesting reading, and for my part I agreed with every word which the noble Lord said on the subject. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to refer to the recommendation of the Committee that a central bureau should be established which should be in touch with both the Army and Navy. The Navy is represented, so far as looking after the interests of retired sailors is concerned, only by the Navy Employment Agency, which has done most admirable work for many years past and has achieved that work at a very small expenditure. I think it was recommended by the Committee that. a sum of £14,000 should be apportioned between the Army and Navy, £10,000 for the Army and £4,000 for the Navy. I do not believe the Navy Employment Agency want so much. I submit that the circumstances of the two services are different. The work which is suitable for the soldier and the sailor is different, too, and therefore I suggest that it would be better in the interests of the naval service that it should have a separate bureau. I support as strongly as I can the policy recommended by the noble Lord who has introduced this subject to your Lordships' notice this afternoon.


My Lords, I am sure, speaking on behalf of the War Office, that we are very glad that this debate has taken place. I think my noble friend Lord Haversham, though he was stating what was perfectly accurate, was a little unfair when he made a comparison between this country and foreign countries, because conscription, which we consider unsuitable to this country, makes it very much easier for the military authorities abroad to deal with this question. This is certainly a very difficult matter, and I do not think it would be wise to use in reference to it, particularly in regard to private soldiers, the language of compulsion. I will come to that later. I think my best course will be to first explain to your Lordships what the War Office have already done.

We have not allowed the very interesting Report of Sir E. Ward's Committee to remain in the pigeon-hole, but have, so far as time permitted, taken the most practical steps to give effect to its recommendations. I should like to make some reference, at the outset, to an interesting article on the employment of ex-soldiers in the Morning Post, a newspaper of great authority, weight, and reputation on military matters, in which it was stated that— A beginning having been made after much agitation and protracted delays to employ ex-soldier clerks in Record and other Staff offices, the whole scheme is threatened by the new proposal to establish a special corps of clerks for the General Staff, who will supersede the ex-soldier clerks. On reading that statement I made careful inquiries at the War Office, as the result of which I found that the proposal to establish a special corps of clerks for the General Staff is, at present, in abeyance, but even if such a corps were established, its employment would be restricted to the General Staff offices, and it would not, therefore, interfere with the present scheme of appointing ex-soldier clerks to Record and other military offices. Practically all the clerks to the General Staff at present are not ex-soldiers, but serving soldiers, and the proposed corps of clerks would be selected from serving soldiers. The creation of this corps would, therefore, be a thing apart, and could scarcely have any effect upon the employment of ex-soldiers as clerks in other Army offices.

In answer to the Questions put to me by Lord Monkswell, I may state that a circular letter has been sent from the War Office to general officers commanding at home and abroad, pointing out the great necessity of taking such action as would ensure the technical training of soldiers during colour service. In this letter the difficulties that have hampered previous efforts in this direction are carefully gone through in order to show the general officers commanding what they have to avoid in future.

From time to time attempts have been made to give some kind of technical instruction to soldiers, but hitherto, I am sorry to say, without any marked success. This lack of success seems to have arisen from various causes. In the first place, the trade selected has frequently been one which required an apprenticeship, and it was therefore unsuited to the serving soldier, whose military career is in itself a long apprenticeship to the business of a soldier. Secondly, the selection of a special trade has been rather haphazard, and in many cases there has been an erroneous selection of the special trades. Officers commanding have been instructed that in regard to this matter the laws of supply and demand must be carefully and constantly studied, and that the soldiers ought to be instructed in those trades for which the circumstances of the time supply the largest openings.

During service with the colours the soldier, as a rule, thinks but little of his future career, and hitherto steps have not been taken to turn his mind towards it, or to stimulate him to efforts for self-improvement by bringing to his notice the employments open to the well-behaved and well-educated man who has prepared himself for them by good conduct and education. Therefore, in the circular letter the general officers commanding are asked to co-operate as fully as is possible in an experiment which is fully described in it. In the first place, it is pointed out that every effort should be made to interest the men in their future prospects. They should be warned that service in the Army is not a guarantee of civil employment, and that on completion of their term of service they will have to shift for themselves. We have asked that they shall be told that the agencies for the employment of ex-soldiers have to deal with so many cases of men with no special qualifications that they cannot find employment for all even of those who have good characters. In short, that everything should be done to make them realise the difficulties which they will have to face, and to render them willing to sacrifice the time and money required for learning a technical trade.

The circular letter goes on to say that the various trades should meanwhile be considered in detail, and it should be ascertained to what extent and at what cost instruction in each could be provided in the particular command. We have suggested that the preliminary arrangements might best be carried out by a committee of officers interested in the subject of technical education in each command, who would not only suggest methods of instruction, but get into touch with the technical institutes of the various cities and towns where soldiers were quartered. The information obtained and the arrangements made in this way would be communicated to the men, who would be given the opportunity of attending a course of instruction in any available trade which they selected. On completion of the course a certificate would be given in each man showing the degree of proficiency he had attained. We have also impressed upon the proposed committee of each command that no trade should be included in the list unless it were such a trade as could be conveniently and profitably taught in the particular district, and that the instruction in any particular trade should be given only to such a number of men as would be likely to find employment in it. We have gone on to say that as far as possible the technical training should be given to any man who might desire it, but preference should be given to men in their last two years of the colour service. The training should not be confined to men who had borne good characters, but on the contrary it should be made known generally that the course was open, as far as possible, to all men willing and able to avail themselves of it. We propose to make some contribution towards the initial cost. The amount and character of the contribution are at present under consideration. It is our intention that the men themselves should bear a portion of the expenses of their own training, their contribution varying according to the trade selected, which it is hoped will prevent men taking up the course lightheartedly, and throwing it over before they have obtained enough knowledge to give them any material benefit, a danger which previous experiments have shown to be serious.

I do not wish to press unduly any comparison between the Army and Navy, because in the Navy there are practically no short service men, but experiments for the same object on a smaller scale are being made for the benefit of naval men at more than one station. These experiments have received no financial aid from the Government, but they are so far meeting with considerable success. For instance, there is a school of instruction at the Royal Marino Artillery barracks at Eastney, at which instruction is given in boot making and repairs, painting and glazing, general blacksmith's work, motoring, and electric wiring. We have further decided to appoint a standing committee of the War Office, with Sir E. Ward as chairman, to advise from time to time on the general question, and to assist the committees which it is proposed to form in the various commands with such information as they might require. Part of the functions of this committee at headquarters will be to keep in touch with outside civilian committees which have kindred objects in view.


Are there to be any outside members?


No, they are all members of the War Office. What I had in my mind when I spoke of outside committees was the committee which has been formed by the Automobile Club with a view to helping forward the training and employment of ex-soldiers for motor work. The circular letter referred to is the only document relating to the question, apart from the Report of the Committee which has been presented to Parliament, and this I shall be very glad to let the noble Lord have in full.


Will it be published as a Parliamentary document?


We did not intend to publish it, but I shall be quite willing to let the noble Lord have it.


I think it would be a good thing if it wore published as a Parliamentary Paper.


We have no objection.


My Lords, I think it is clear, from the interesting statement of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, that His Majesty's Government have seriously taken up this question. One cannot help reflecting, in reading this Report, upon the fact that had the recommendations of previous Committees been carried out we should not be in the unsatisfactory position we are to-day; and I sincerely hope that the efforts which His Majesty's Government are now initiating will bear considerably more fruit than has been yielded by past efforts in the same direction. As regards Government Departments, some of them, as the noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor has shown, have been of very great assistance to the War Office in this matter, but others have not been so anxious to help. I hope that the continual worrying which I know was applied to them in my time at the War Office, and which it is evident will be continued, will bear better fruit as the time goes on.

I welcome the statement of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary that replies have been received from general officers commanding favourable to some such experiment as that which we are now concerned with. My experience in this matter has been certainly in the direction of that of the noble Lord who initiated this discussion. I am not now talking politics, but my experience at the War Office has been that in many matters soldiers display a Toryism which is entirely out of date in politics now-a-days, and it is exceedingly difficult to get them to take up new things. They are very suspicious of innovations, and certainly the impression left on my mind was that the commanding officer, not from love of conscription, but really from the fact that he did not at once see clearly how he was going to find time for these experiments, was not favourable to a system such as that outlined by the noble Earl.

I have taken considerable comfort from what the noble Earl has told us this afternoon, and especially from the statement contained in the Report to the effect that many large employers of labour are well satisfied with the ex-soldier and in some cases prefer him to the ordinary civilian for certain employment. There is no doubt that a great obstacle in the way of ex-soldiers obtaining employment lies in the suspicion which many civilians have of military characters. They do not understand the parchment which the soldier produces, and they do not always find that it truly reflects the character of the man. A case—I sincerely hope it was an exceptional case—came to my personal notice. It was that of a man who returned from India, after seventeen years service, with most exemplary characters. I remember the words of one of them— I recommend this man for a position of trust. He was designated as a sober, honest man, and in every way fitted for an important position such as a clerkship. I was perfectly delighted with this character and sent it off to an official at the head of another Department and asked him to find the man employment. My friend went through the defaulters' sheet and found that this man had been twice sent to jail for stealing his companions' property and that he had been several times drunk. Can your Lordships believe that two of the characters which that man brought in his hand to me were signed by the very officers who had signed the defaulters' sheet? I am sure these officers had no intention to deceive. Their feeling was a benevolent feeling. They no doubt said to themselves, "Oh, let us give the poor chap a chance when he returns to civil life." Yet this man might have been placed in a position of trust and might have let down his employer very considerably, with the result that there would be a black mark against all ex-soldiers in that man's mind for the rest of his life. I am glad to see in the appendix to this Report a very much fuller form of character suggested. I welcome this, and I am sure the noble Earl's efforts will be in the direction of making it a real and valuable character. I hope he will use his influence on his friends at the War Office to see that these characters are really accurate, and are not simply, so to speak, tickets which it is hoped will be valuable for future employment. No greater service could be done to the Army than to get it into the public mind that the characters with which the men are furnished can be absolutely relied upon. I would again thank the noble Earl for the very full reply he has given, and I sincerely hope that nothing but good may result from the efforts that he and his colleagues are making upon this subject.


My Lords, I think it is only right that I should state what the view of the Admiralty is with regard to the interesting subject to which my noble friend Lord Monkswell has called attention. We are very sensible of the services which my noble friend has rendered to this particular cause, and we entirely sympathise with all that has been said as to the desirability of finding employment for old soldiers and sailors. We do not think at the Admiralty that it is desirable to join in an amalgamation of societies for the benefit of old soldiers and sailors, because the case of the old sailor is very different from that of the old soldier. The long service of the sailor and his particular form of employment make him almost necessarily a mechanic or artificer, so that it is much easier for him to find employment in civil life than the ordinary soldier. I would like to utter a word of caution with regard to what my noble friend Lord Portsmouth said about the length of service of sailors. Under our new system the number of short-service men is being undoubtedly increased. Men who serve a comparatively short time are continued in what is known as the Royal Fleet Reserve, and care is taken that great attention should be paid to the finding of employment for the men in that Reserve. There are several associations which devote themselves to this object. Besides the Navy Employment Society, to which my noble friend Lord Glasgow referred, there is the Marine Society, presided over by the Earl of Romney, which does a great deal of good work in finding employment in the mercantile marine for sailors who have left the Navy. Then I think sufficient notice has not been taken of how much has been done by officers of the Royal Navy and Marines in the way of encouraging motor schools at Eastney, on Whale Island, and at the Naval Barracks at Portsmouth, where men about to take their discharges obtain instruction in motor driving and all the working of motor cars. This experiment has been attended by very great success, and some of the men trained in these schools have got very good places with private employers. I consider that the greatest credit is due to the officers who, with the assistance of their friends, have started the schools. We are, of course, very anxious to co-operate with the sister service in finding employment, but we do not think it is desirable, either from the point of view of the Army or of the Navy, to amalgamate all the associations, owing to the great differences between the two classes of men.


My Lords, I am extremely well satisfied with this debate. It is the first time that any noble Lord has risen in his place to say one single word in favour of my suggestions, and I am glad to find that no less than seven noble Lords on this occasion have supported me besides the noble Earl. I am extremely obliged to my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for his support on this occasion, but I should have been more pleased if he had said one single word on behalf of this reform during the time he sat on the Front Opposition Bench. I have been accused of exaggeration in saying that commanding officers are in favour of conscription. I am very much afraid that a good many of them are. At the same time I am delighted to find that Lord Cheylesmore and Lord Galloway hold the opposite view, and I hope I have exaggerated the importance that is attached to conscription by the great majority of officers. It is true, however, that when I have brought these Motions forward on previous occasions the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has certainly given me to understand that there was great difficulty in getting commanding officers to fall in with our views on this subject. There was one part of my noble friend Lord Portsmouth's speech which was to me disappointing. I think enormous stress ought to be laid on compulsion in this matter. The noble Earl says the War Office are not going to employ compulsion. It seems to me that that does away with a great deal of the good that might be accomplished. If you do not oblige a soldier to learn a trade idlers will continue to enter the Army just as before; but if you make the teaching of a trade compulsory you will get a better class of men in the Army, and you will keep a lot of men out who ought never to be enlisted. The noble Earl says, quite rightly, that the men ought to be made to pay a certain portion of the expenses of their teaching; but I think there ought to be certain other trades not so expensive which the men should be obliged to work in, and the whole cost of which should be borne by the country. It seems to me that there ought to be a distinction between trades in respect of which the men should have to pay and other trades. I hope the noble Earl will agree to the publication of the letter which has been issued by the War Office to the general officers commanding.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.