HL Deb 14 December 1908 vol 198 cc1102-8

rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War: (1) The number and headquarters of the division organised for Home Defence; (2) the composition of the said divisions; (3) the number of each arm composing each division; (4) the armament of each division; (5) the number of youths under twenty years of age in each division, specifying the branch of the Service to which they belong; (6) within what period of time, after the order given, could the respective divisions be embodied, complete and ready in all respects for field service; (7) if all the divisions are not fully organised, specify those that are in all respects complete, and when the other divisions will be ready; (8) how many Territorials in each division have enlisted for one year only.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence while I say a few words with reference to the Questions standing in my name on the Paper. I think it would be well that, in asking them, I should recall your Lordships' action in the last few years on the question of Home Defence. I will take you back to 1883. In that year a very important Resolution was passed regarding the Militia. I need not tell your Lordships that the Militia was the foundation-stone of our military system, that everything circled round it as long as it existed, and that it rested on the principle that the Crown had an absolute right to call upon its subjects to stand forward in defence of hearth and home. That power existed in the Militia ballot. The Resolution which your Lordships passed in 1883 ran as follows— That, having regard to the present defective military organisation and to the great importance of the Militia force, it is essential that the Militia be forthwith recruited up to the established strength, and that the Militia Reserve should, as intended by its originator, and as regulated by the Militia Committee of 1877, be borne in excess of the Militia establishment. That was the Resolution which your Lordships passed. But how did you pass it? Was it accepted by the front benches? So far from being accepted, it was resisted by them to the utmost and was carried by the independent action of the House of Lords in the teeth of the opposition of the two front benches. And why was it objected to by the front benches? It was objected to by them because it savoured of compulsion. Indeed, it was an understood thing that the only way in which this could be brought about was by enforcing the existing law, which rested on the question of compulsion.

Recently there has been secured a new advocate of the principle of compulsion—Lord Rosebery, speaking in Scotland the other day, went in for compulsion in a new form. He advocated what is called the Swiss military system. I, for one, very much object to the Swiss military system. I do not think we want it. If we were a Continental Power with nothing but a line of colour on the map to mark our boundaries, we should be compelled to have a system similar to that of our neighbours; but, happily for us, we have what Cromwell called "our ditch." I maintain that that makes all the difference, and that, having that, the system of the Militia ballot was the soundest and best adapted to our needs. At any rate, it was a system, which satisfied all statesmen from Pitt down to Palmerston and all soldiers from Wellington to Wolseley. It is said that the ballot is unfair. How is it unfair? If those who take that line were condemned to be shot, would they object; to decimation? I rather think not. And that is what the ballot is—alleviation of the burden of universal service. I think it is the right system, for this country.

After that Resolution, did the Government act? No; they muddled through the Boer War, and in 1904, finding a difficulty in getting Reserves for the Army, began to tamper with the Militia. Foreign service in regard to the Militia was voluntary, and the Government proceeded to tamper with this. Again your Lordships came to the rescue and passed a Resolution, this time unanimously, to the following effect— That, in the opinion of this House, any scheme of Army organisation that does away with the Militia force is contrary to sound policy, destroying, as it does, the ancient constitutional foundation of our existing military system. That was the answer which your Lordships gave to the action of the Government in tampering with the Militia and altering its terms of service. With this Resolution both front benches concurred. Well, what action did the Government take? About a year or two afterwards the Government tore up our military system root and branch and gave us, instead, the Territorial Army, the Militia being practically destroyed. I have kept my tongue very silent regarding the Territorial Army, and when it was before your Lordships I took no part in the debates; but I entered my protest on the Journals of this House against the Territorial system, and two other noble Lords, Lords Cathcart and Musketry added their names to that protest. And what is the defensive Home Army you have now got?

I see Lord Roberts in his place. The noble and gallant Field Marshal the other night, with extraordinary moral courage, put before the House the present state of our defence. He showed that in its present state, when only two-thirds grown, the Territorial Army is entirely worthless, and that, even if it had its full strength of 300,000 men, it would be absolutely worthless for the duties it might have to perform. Even if it were a full grown force, the men you could put into the field, making allowances for the requirements of Ireland and for garrisoning seaport fortified towns and other necessary duties, would not be more than from 40,000 to 60,000 men. Lord Wolseley, when he spoke on this matter, said he would never be satisfied as to the defence of this country until we had 150,000 of the best troops, not "Terriers," not Yeomen, not Volunteers. That was Lord Wolseley's estimate. While Lord Roberts declared the other day that we required 1,000,000 men for the proper defence of the country and to meet other necessary requirements.

As regards the force we might have to meet, I may mention that since tie debate ill your Lordships' House I have had a conversation with a friend of mine, a general in the Army, and be told me that some years ago he had a talk at some manœuvres abroad with a distinguished general of the foreign army. He asked: "Have you any plan for the invasion of England?" "Yes," replied the foreign general "we have at least twenty." "Well, of those twenty plans, which do you think the best?" my friend asked. The reply was— I think the best plan is that we should send 300,000 men, 100,000 in each army, and that they should go to three different parts of the country with the certainty that one of them would land, and if that army did land it would get to London. Therefore I maintain that Lord Roberts is more than justified in all he said as to our defenceless state and as to the necessity that exists for a much larger Army. The Secretary of State for War, who is now nominally satisfied with 300,000 men, began by praying—he is always on his knees—that the country would give him 900,000 men for his scheme. As a matter of fact, we are in a very pitiful state as regards home defence. It is no exaggeration to say that Britannia is left naked and unarmed, with the possibility at any moment of having to fight for hearth, home, and Empire against a steel-clad knight.

Is there any way of getting out of our present position? I think there is. Consider what you might have got in the way of men if you had had the moral courage to follow the recommendations in the Report of the Duke of Norfolk's Committee in favour of compulsion for home defence and impose the then existing law of the Militia ballot. My proposal was that the ballot should be applied once in a man's life at the age of twenty, unless he was serving as a Volunteer or in some other form, and not again except in the event of some great national emergency. Then he was to be trained for six months during the first year, and, after that, only for ten days or a week in the year. Sir Joseph Whitworth, that great m[...]cha[...]i[...]ian and employer of labour, told me in 1851 he would give considerably more wages to a trained than he would to an untrained man. I asked why, and he replied that trained men had learnt obedience and to act in combination, and were, therefore, worth more. Consequently, I maintain that the application of the ballot end military training would be a benefit to working men, and weigh lightly upon the nation. If the Government had had the moral courage to adopt the Militia ballot and not annually suspend it, they would have got a total of 1,240,000 Militia, Yeomanry, Volunteers and emeriti Volunteers of fighting age. This, as Lord Lansdowne will recollect, I suggested to him at the time of the Boer War, and the experiment of calling out the men who had served in his regiment and retired occurred to Colonel Cunningham, commanding a battalion in the nor h-west of England, and they turned out 5,000 strong without extra cost. That, I think, would satisfy Lord Roberts.

It may be asked, How can this now be done? There is only one way, and that is by acting as I suggested, in the few words I spoke in the debate on Lord Roberts' Motion that, instead of opposing it, the two front benches should shake hands across the Table and endeavour to come to some agreement in regard to what ought to be done, and support each other in the doing of it. If the two front benches were patriotic enough thus to take this question of home defence, which is the most vital question affecting this country, out of the domain of Party politics—the curse from which the nation suffers—and agree to stand by each other continuously, coute qui coute, in pursuing whatever course they might decide to be necessary, all would be well.

Two years ago I addressed a meeting in the Market Hall at Haddington, where I advocated, just as I have done to-night, compulsion for the Militia, and there was not a whisper of dissent. The meeting passed a Resolution declaring that it was essential that our land forces should always be in such a state that no nation would ever dream of attempting—and that is the question—to make a hostile landing on our shores. The Resolution ended by approving of the adoption of compulsory service in the Militia in the modified form which I have suggested and expressing the opinion that a matter so vital as Home Defence should never be made a Party question. I am surprised that such a sentiment as that receives no approval from your Lordships, for that is the only way in which you can make the nation safe and the Empire secure.

I now come to the Questions on the Paper. I have nothing to say upon them particularly, but I will say, generally, that I hope my noble friend the Under-Secretary will not give the usual stereotyped reply—namely, that it is contrary to public policy and to the public interest that an answer should be given. I am only asking for information which every foreign attache in this country knows better than you do yourselves, and which every foreign country also knows. I hope, therefore, we shall not have the stereotyped answer from my noble friend to-night, but that he will give us a clear and distinct reply, even though it should take the gilt off the Territorial gingerbread and we should thus know the value of our Army.


My Lords, the Answers to the Questions put by the noble Earl are as follow. There are twenty divisions organised for home defence, six of them Regular and fourteen Territorial. Of the Regular divisions two have their headquarters at Aldershot, one at Bulford, one at Woolwich, one at Curragh, and one at Cork. The numbers of all arms composing each Regular division are 601 officers and 18,962 of other ranks, making a total of 19,563; and in each Territorial division there are 589 officers and 16,438 of other ranks, making a total of 17,027. The armament of the Regular divisions is: Infantry and cavalry, the short M.L.E. rifle; Horse Artillery, 13-pounder q.f.; Field Artillery, 18-pounder q.f.; field howitzer, 5-inch b.l. howitzer; heavy batteries, 60-pounder b.l.; and in the Territorial divisions the infantry are armed with long M.L.E. rifles, but the issue of a converted long M.L.E. rifle will begin shortly; the cavalry are armed with long M.L.E. rifles, but the issue of a short M.L.E. rifle will begin shortly; the Horse Artillery have Impounder converted guns; the Field Artillery, 15-pounder converted; the field howitzer, 5-inch b.l. howitzer; and the heavy batteries, 4.7-inch q.f. Youths under twenty years of age number in the Regular Army, 36,476; in the Special Reserve, 16,244; and in the Territorial Force, 62,221. With reference to the sixth Question it is not considered advisable to make public the mobilisation arrangements of the Military forces. As to the seventh Question, the six divisions of the Regular Army are fully organised for home defence and the organisation of eleven of the fourteen Territorial Force divisions is complete, the exceptions being the North Midland, the East Anglian, and the 2nd London. The numbers of Territorials shown in unit returns as having enlisted for one year in divisions and divisional troops only up to 1st October, 1908, are: Highland, 6,553; Lowland, 5,795; West Lancashire, 6,549; East Lancashire, 6,344; Welsh, 5,582; Northumbrian, 6,462; West Riding, 5,147; North Midland, 5,752; South Midland, 5,512; Wessex, 7,371; East Anglian, 6,472; Home Counties, 5,947; 1st London, 5,024; 2nd London, 5,172; making a total of 83,682 out of rather more than 200,000.