HL Deb 29 April 1907 vol 173 cc482-6

My Lords, I venture respectfully to put to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War the Questions standing in my name on the Notice Paper, namely—

  1. 1. What is the earliest age at which a recruit will be accepted for the Territorial Army;
  2. 2. Will any youth under twenty be reckoned as effective;
  3. 3. If so, what proportion of the 300,000 men composing the Territorial Army will be below twenty years of age;
  4. 4. What in the way of drill is the least that can be yearly required of a soldier in the Territorial Army;
  5. 5. Will this amount of drill render him reliable and fit to meet picked Continental troops;
  6. 6. If not, what further amount of drill will he be compelled to undergo, and when;
  7. 7. When will the hoped for Territorial Army be in a position to be mobilised;
  8. 8. Within how many hours or days after the order to mobilise has been 483 received will it locally be ready to take the field equipped in all respects for war, including sufficient guns up-to-date.


My Lords, in reply to the catechism of the noble Earl, I propose to take Questions 1 and 2 together, and my Answer is that this is a matter which will have to be discussed in the county associations when they are formed. The military authorities would like soldiers to be not less than nineteen years of age even for home defence. At present the age is seventeen. The noble Lord has, in his Question, taken the high standard of twenty years. It is true that that has been the standard in the past for service abroad, but I may inform the noble Lord that the Army Council are now, with their medical advisers, considering whether the standard in the Regular Army for service abroad could not be made nineteen instead of twenty. Question 3 is obviously one I cannot answer, because it must depend on the results of Questions 1 and 2, and, as I have said, Questions 1 and 2 are not yet settled. As regards Question 4, I must refer my noble friend to Clauses 14 and 16 of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill. But I must add that the present provision of those clauses is liable, and intentionally, in the drafting, made liable to modification in Committee; and, further-more; that the details of the Order in Council provided for in Clause 14 have not yet been fully determined upon. Those are matters which will be considered fully when the Bill is in Committee in another place. My Answer to Question 5 is that it is not contemplated, and never has been contemplated, that troops with this amount of training would be either fit or expected to meet, unaided, as my noble friend presumes, picked Continental troops.


May I ask what amount of training they will have to fit them to meet such troops?


That is a very argumentative Question; but if my noble friend will put it in the form of a Motion I will give him what information I can. As regards Question 6, further drill and training for at least six months will be undergone after embodiment after mobilisation is ordered. My Answer to Question 7 is when the county associations have been formed and a sufficient number of existing units of the Auxiliary Forces have been transferred.


When as to time is that likely to be?


That depends on the progress of the Bill in Parliament. As regards Question 8, I am afraid that is a question I cannot deal with. It cannot be definitely stated, as details have not yet been fully elaborated, but I would remind my noble friend that, even if these facts and figures were available, questions of mobilisation have always been regarded as strictly confidential. I venture to say it would be extremely doubtful whether any public advantage could ever be gained by making questions of that kind public.


I shall, on a proper occasion, call attention to the Answers of the noble Earl to my Questions. I would like to hear from the noble Earl the reason why at one time the Secretary of State for War said he would require 700,000 or 900,000 Volunteers to form his Territorial Army, and now, when the Bill is introduced, he is satisfied with a force of 300,000 men composed of Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers.


I am quite unable, off-hand, to make any Answer to that Question.


My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War for the reply he has given to my noble friend, but I am sure he will permit me to make just one observation. On a previous occasion I ventured to ask the noble Earl, as representing the War Office in this House, whether the Government would not consent to give us a little more information in the form of a Memorandum as to how they proposed that the new scheme should work, and I was met by the noble Earl in the most friendly spirit. He was kind enough matter of fact, shortly after that a to say across the floor of the House that he would do what he could, and, as a Memorandum was issued, and the noble Earl kindly sent me an advance copy. I am encouraged by my success, if it was my success, on a previous occasion to make another suggestion on the same lines.

In reply to Question 4 the noble Earl said that the amount of drill which would be accorded to the Territorial Force would be determined by an Order in Council. It would not be regular for us to discuss in any detail the provisions of a Bill before the other House of Parliament, but one may say, generally, that a great deal in that Bill is reserved for provision by regulations or by Order in Council; so much so, indeed, that it is almost impossible to realise what the detailed effect of the measure will be unless we are privileged to see the kind of Orders in Council which the noble Earl and the Army Council would advise His Majesty to issue. Now will they not, at any rate before your Lordships are called upon to discuss the Bill, prepare the kind of regulations and the kind of Orders in Council they propose afterwards to issue, in order that we may be informed of the sort of force they contemplate. I do not for a moment suggest that they should bind themselves absolutely, but so much is left to be afterwards filled in that without some such device as I have suggested Parliament never will be in possession of the proposals of the Government.

The matter of drill is, of course, vital, for it is no use having an Army unless it has some modicum of drill; and, as far as we can see, the drill of the Territorial Force is so small as to be utterly insufficient. What we want to know, therefore, is precisely how the country will stand after the proposals of the Government have been agreed to—what kind of force the country will really have to rely upon; and I do not think it is too much that we should press the Government to take the country into their confidence in the matter. Neither in this House nor in another place have the proposals of the Government been met in anything like a party spirit, and we are entitled, per contra, to a little confidence from the Government, and to be told what is intended. I do not ask for a reply at this moment, but I hope the noble Earl will represent to the Army Council that some such information ought to be placed before Parliament in order that we may see how the scheme will work.

The noble Earl said that a large part of the training which the Government consider necessary for the Territorial Force would be given after the declaration of war and when the force is mobilised. Everybody sees how perilous a proposal that is. How can we be sure that the enemy will wait six months in order that the Territorial Force should be properly trained before they make an attack on our shores? Of course, if the noble Earl and his colleagues have private information which assures them that no enemy would dream of attacking us for six months, that would reassure the country; but without that none of us can feel any confidence that this six months training after declaration of war meets the requirements of the country. That illustrates how necessary it is for the Government to take us into their confidence.


I quite appreciate the friendly spirit in which the noble Marquess has urged his point, and I wish to assure him that the Secretary for War and myself realise that the question of the Army is not treated as a party matter; and, in dealing with it, we intend to proceed on the same lines. I cannot, of course, pledge myself in any way, but I shall be glad to convey the views of the noble Marquess to the Army Council. I can assure him that I appreciate most fully, as I am sure the whole of the members of the Army Council do, the grave question which he has raised as to the importance, if possible, of meeting the matter of drill before actual declaration of war.


I wish to give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of calling attention to the Under-Secretary for War's speech, and will endeavour to give the Answers to my Questions which my noble friend has declined to give.

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