HL Deb 10 June 1907 vol 175 cc1032-41

rose to call attention to the Answers given by the Under-Secretary for War to Questions addressed to him on Monday, 29th April last, regarding the "hoped for" "speculative" Territorial Army, and further, to give the Answers to the Questions to which the Under-Secretary failed to reply.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the glamour of grandiloquence and miles of tall talk about national armies resting on patriotism and self-sacrifice seem to a certain extent to have mesmerised the common sense of the nation, assuming that the present majority in another place represents the common sense of the nation. The Bill which is described as a Bill for the reorganisation of the Army, would be more properly described as a Bill for the disorganisation of the Army. This guillotine Bill, which is passing through the House of Commons at a very rapid rate, empowers the Secretary of State for War to dynamite absolutely and blow into the thinnest air the foundation upon which our military system rests and has rested from all time, and to substitute for it a foundation resting on "hope" and "speculation"—to which Mr. Haldane has recently added a brick on which is stamped the word "optimism."

About five weeks ago I put a few Questions to my noble friend Lord Portsmouth with a view of gauging what the value would be of this new mongrel force. My noble friend responded, as I expected, with that courtesy which he shows to everyone; but, as regards the information which he gave me, I was in that state of beatitude that is supposed to attach to those who expect nothing. I expected nothing from my noble friend, and therefore I was in no way disappointed. But getting no information, I felt that it was necessary to give the further notice which stands in my name on the Paper to-day. Now, although my noble friend gave me no information, he met some of the Questions by a reference to the County Associations. I hope your Lordships will remark that. These County Associations, which are not yet formed, are apparently to be kopjes or shelter trenches to the Government, because when asked Questions as to what will ho the effect of this or that, the Answer is, "We cannot tell; that will depend on what the County Associations do." On other points my noble, friend referred me to the clauses of the Bill, but on the very important Question as to readiness he displayed a diplomatic silence and gave me no answer at all.

I do not propose to repeat the eight Questions which I put to my noble friend, but to summarise them, and I think he will admit that the summary which I shall submit is a truthful representation of those Questions. I will put them under four heads—First, the question of age; secondly, the question of training; thirdly, the fitness after training of the troops to do what is expected of them; and, lastly, the question of readiness. With regard to the question of age, my noble friend referred me, as I have said, to the County Associations; they were to be responsible for the age. I wanted to know how many of the 300,000 men would be left if you deducted all the lads under twenty, and my noble friend said I had taken a very high figure. I absolutely dispute that. This is no new question. It was discussed by the yard, by the mile if you choose, in 1871, on Mr. Cardwell's Bill, and again in 1875. In the latter year I moved a Resolution in the House of Commons, but the forms of the House did not allow of its being put to the vote, to this effect— That no youth under twenty years of age should be reckoned an effective soldier and borne as such on the Army Estimates; and this House is further of opinion that the number of youths under twenty years of age enlisting and serving in each arm of the Service should be annually and separately stated in the Estimates. In 1871, the House of Commons unanimously resolved that no youth under twenty should be allowed to serve over seas.

What did we hear from my noble friend the other day? He stated that with the help, not of their military advisers, but of their medical advisers, the Army Council were thinking of altering the age for Foreign Service When I moved my Resolution in the House of Commons in 1875, I produced evidence from the medical officers at Netley that in their opinion youths under twenty years of age were fit for home duties only; and Sir William Ferguson, the distinguished surgeon of the day, when asked what was the right age, said he did not think there was much wrong in twenty-one. In this connection it must be remembered that there is no foreign nation which has a soldier under twenty years of age.

Now I want to get at the number of men who would be left if all under twenty were excluded. In 1875 the question was very narrowly gone into, with this result—that in a body of 50,000 men those under twenty numbered 12,000; what are called casualties would account for a further 7,000, which brings the total to 19,000; so that, of a force of 50,000 men, 19,000 were below twenty years of age or could not be counted. The Territorial Army is to consist of 300,000 men. Therefore if you multiply the figures I have given by six you arrive at this conclusion, that of the men in the Territorial Army 114,000 cannot be counted. Therefore you will have 186,000 men instead of 300,000. And what are. these 186,000 men to do? They are to garrison all the ports of the United Kingdom that required to be garrisoned plus volunteer for service over sea, and defend our homes and country from foreign invaders. In his letter to Sir John Burgoyne the Duke of Wellington put the garrison at each of these places at 10,000, with the exception of Milford Haven, which would require 5,000. Including Cork, this takes away 65,000 men, leaving 121,000. The Duke of Wellington in the same letter stated that half of your force would have to go to Ireland. That would reduce the number to 60,500, and that would be the whole Territorial Force available for field-service in Great Britain.

Then, as to training, under Clauses 14 and 16 of the Government Bill, which, I believe, have not been altered in the House of Commons, the. Territorial soldier may be drilled for one, two, three, or four weeks in the course of a month, as is thought desirable; but—and here comes the great blot on the Bill—a territorial soldier is not to be made really effective until the force is mobilised in case of an emergency arising. But the enemy will then be in this country. Does my noble friend delude himself into the belief that notice will be given, and that it will be treacherous on the part of any foreign country to come without giving due notice? I have in my hand an extract from a book that has recently been published, entitled "The Writing on the Wall," and in this book there is a quotation from Sir Frederick Maurice, who says that he only knows one case—in 1870—where overt war had been preceded by a declaration of war. Therefore, my noble friend's belief that due notice would be given falls to the ground.

Then as to the question of fitness. Who can say this new Army will be fit to meet a foreign army consisting of older and more fully trained men? Military authorities declare that every infantry soldier requires eighteen months training and every cavalry soldier two years, but this Territorial Army is to be trained after the enemy has landed on our shores, or, at any rate, after a declaration of war, if there is a declaration.

Then, when will this Army be ready? When I put this Question the other day my noble friend's reply was, on the one hand, that that would be a matter for the County Associations, and, on the other hand, that he could not diplomatically disclose, say, when the force would be ready; but there is no secret of any kind in the matter. Every foreign military attaché in London knows all about it. My noble friend shakes his head. I am sorry he is so incredulous.


If the information is so publicly known why does the noble Earl wish us to give it?


I am very sorry I did not hear the noble Earl's interruption. I understand my noble friend to suggest that I am wrong when I say that this is known to everybody except the English people. It is certainly known to all the foreign military attaches. That cannot be denied. It appears to me that on all grounds you will not have in this Territorial Army a satisfactory exchange for that which you are blowing up. The Secretary of State for War served on the Explosives Committee, and I suppose he learnt blowing up there; at any rate, he is applying dynamite to our present military system. The whole scheme rests entirely on hope, speculation, and optimism. I could quote no end of letters I have received on the subject, but I will confine myself to three military authorities. The first is Lord Roberts, who says that while the Army is forming we shall be in a state of extreme danger. Lord Wolseley telegraphed some time ago that he looked upon the Bill as an insane Bill, and more recently he writes— At one time it was supposed that we were endowed with that uncommon attribute, common sense, but no man of any nation reading this proposed Army scheme would ever suppose that we could lay claim to that rarest of virtues. Mr. Haldane's proposals have nothing that can recommend them to any one who wishes England to provide itself with an Army suitable to our position at home, and our scattered Empire in many distant provinces. I hope I may not live long enough to see these Army reformers' proposals given any trial. In that I myself most cordially concur. What was Lord Wolseley's view when he was examined before the Duke of Norfolk's Commission? Would he be satisfied with these half-trained men? No; he said he wanted 150,000 of our best troops for home defence. The other authority I will quote is also a very important one. The present military adviser of the Secretary of State is, I believe, General Lyttelton. General Lyttelton's successor in that very onerous and responsible post is to be Sir William Nicholson, who is admitted to be one of our ablest soldiers. Sir William Nicholson is quoted in the Nation as saying that Mr. Haldane's scheme of a Territorial Army is nothing but a dream and a vision. Unfortunately, Sir William will not take over the office until April next.

Now the question that occurs to me, seeing that the Bill is denounced by nearly all soldiers and all practical sensible men, is, what will your Lordships do with it when it comes up to this House? It will soon be here—by help of the guillotine. I venture to think that there is only one thing you can and ought to do with it —read it a second time, and then, in Committee, take the Militia out of the Bill. Do not, my Lords, forget what you did in 1904. Your Lordships in that year passed a Resolution, on my Motion, to the following effect— That, in the opinion of this House, any scheme of Army reorganisation that does away with the Militia Force is contrary to sound policy, destroying as it does the ancient constitutional foundation of our military system. And by whom was that Resolution supported? By Lord Spencer and by the whole of the occupants of the Front Bench opposite. It was carried unanimously. Lord Burghclere shakes his head. Does he object?


I was sitting with my noble friends on the Front Opposition Bench then, and I did not agree.


But you did not object to the Motion being carried—it matters not where you sit. Therefore, I maintain that I am justified in saying that the Resolution was carried unanimously, and if your Lordships do not stand by that Resolution you will be stultifying yourselves and prove yourselves of no value as a Second Chamber and House of revision. By excluding the Militia from the Bill you will retain the old constitutional force and the power of imposing compulsory service for home defence, which is the foundation of our military system. After all, why do you not take what exists at this moment on the Table and which everyone of you knows to be right? There is, I am glad to see, one Member in another place who had the courage of his opinions and who spoke out like a man in favour of ballot for the Militia. I refer to Lord Morpeth. Why are there not more Lord Morpeths? I venture to think that in this matter one Party is afraid of the other, and the result is that the nation suffers; unquestionably that is so.

In my opinion we present a most pitiable and. contemptible spectacle to foreign nations, every one of whose citizens have to serve in the national army. We are the only nation in the world that allows its military system to lie on the Table. All other nations enforce their military systems. The Pigmies, I am sure, enforce theirs. Lord Wolseley says he hopes he may not live long enough to see these army reformers' proposals given any trial. I also trust it will not be done in my time. Years ago the Duke of Cambridge said to me— You are not talking so much about Army matters now. Why is that? I replied that I was waiting for the disaster, and I added— After the disaster you will do these things, but at present you will not. The outlook is very gloomy. But in the surrounding gloom there came a gleam of light and hope from the Front Opposition Bench when I ventured to bring this matter before your Lordships some five weeks ago. The noble Marquess Lord Salisbury then took a rational view on the subject of the Militia, which he did not wish to see done away with.


Hear, hear.


The noble Marquess then said that the remarks he made were spoken in a patriotic sense, and he did not look upon this Bill in any other than a patriotic sense. Those remarks were responded to in the same spirit by the noble Earl who represents the War Office. Now words are all very well, but we want deeds, and I would suggest that the noble Marquess should make an advance to the Earl of Portsmouth with the view of treating the question on non-Party lines, and promising the support of his Party if the Government would bring in, in the most modified form possible, compulsion for home defence. One word in conclusion concerning myself. I am now a very old man. From 1871 onwards I have urged compulsory service for home defence. If the Volunteers would only do what I did, temporarily resign their commissions, the Government Bill would fall to the ground, and Ministers would be obliged to do their duty alike by the nation and themselves. My warnings on this subject come from the bottom of my heart. I know that my words are true, and I know that all who hear me must, in their inner consciences, acknowledge their truth. I thank your Lordships for allowing me to give utterance to them, even if they are the last words I am ever to speak in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I am sure one thing will be felt by every Member of your Lordships' House, and that is that it was necessary for the noble Earl to inform us that he is a very old man, for he addressed us with his usual youthful vigour and eloquence. I am, however, placed in a difficulty by the time and the occasion chosen by my noble friend for bringing forward this matter.


I postponed it at your request.


I did not ask my noble friend to postpone it till now.


You asked, me to postpone it till after Whitsuntide


I think it would be more in order to debate this matter when the Bill to which the noble Earl referred comes before us. It is impossible for me to go into this matter in detail at present; but I hope to be associated with the Bill when it comes up to this House, and I will then endeavour to explain it in every detail, and I assure your Lordships that it is my intention to consider it in an absolutely non-Party sense.

My noble friend has not done what his notice of Motion suggested that it was his intention to do. I doubted on seeing his Motion whether I would have to trouble your Lordships with a speech because it indicated that my noble friend was prepared to answer the questions which he had not considered as satisfactorily answered on a previous occasion. His notice has suggested to my noble friend near him this quotation— As I walked by myself, I talked to myself And myself replied unto me. The questions myself then put to myself, With their answers, I send them to thee. Put them to thyself, and if unto thyself The answers the same they be, Think well with thyself and beware of thyself, Or so much the worse for thee. Much of the detail on which my noble friend commented is intentionally left out of the Bill because it was felt that it was better to leave it to be worked out in administration under the best advice of the Army Council. Much has been said about training, and I agree as to its importance, but it is undesirable, as has been shown by experience, to put into a Bill dealing with a Volunteer army—I will not consider compulsory service now, it is not within the region of practical politics—it is not desirable to put into such a Bill a hard-and-fast rule as to training; there must be an elastic system. Your Lordships will remember what happened in 1902 in regard to a proposal for compulsory camps. It would be unwise for Parliament to go into such details. I adhere to the view I expressed in regard to the proposed six months training when war was imminent, and it is a view that is shared by distinguished authorities. It is inconceivable that a civilised Power would attack another at a time when the relations between them were perfectly friendly; I do not think that we could provide against contingencies of that kind. I have been asked, "Do we expect that the Territorial Force will be fit to meet picked Continental troops?" and I reply, "No, we do not expect that; we rely on the Navy as the first line of defence, and we look to the Territorial Army to protect the, country against raids. When it is said that if we lose command of the sea the country might be inundated with Continental troops, all I can say is that, if we lose command of the sea, it is hardly necessary to consider the further question, for an ememy would have the means of bringing us to terms.


The House has unanimously passed a Resolution declaring that, irrespective of the Navy, it is desirable that the country should at all times be in such a state of defence on land that no nation would ever dream of making in any form a hostile landing on our shores.


I am expressing the, deliberate opinion of the Committee of Imperial Defence—a skilled and expert opinion—that it is impossible to consider the question of defence apart from the Navy.


In what way does the noble Earl consider the proposed Territorial Army will be superior to our means of defence by the Militia and Volunteers.


A reply to that question would involve a Second Reading speech, and it had better be reserved for the discussion upon the Bill.


I forgot to mention what could be done under the existing law. I sent round a circular which every one of your Lordships received, and which I should like to have added as a footnote to what I have said. It was to this effect, that without an additional Id. cost, you could have an efficient force of 1,250,000 men, exclusive of Regulars. I wish to give notice that if and when the Bill comes before the House, and I being then alive, I will without comment move an instruction to the Committee that it is desirable to alter the Bill in accordance with the Resolution I have referred to, and that the Militia should be maintained.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.