HL Deb 20 February 1908 vol 184 cc942-8

, who had given notice— To call attention to the forms which have been issued by the Army Council dealing with entry into the Territorial Force (Army Forms E. 501, E. 501A. E. 502, and E. 502A), and to move for Papers, said: My Lords, I had put this Motion down on Tuesday before I was aware of the fact that the important debate initiated by the noble Duke behind me would be adjourned until this evening, otherwise perhaps I should have chosen a more convenient day. But as the adjourned debate is to be resumed almost immediately, I do not intend to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, and I do not propose to trouble the House with my Motion for Papers. I merely wish to draw attention to these documents with the object of putting to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary two specific questions, which would not have been necessary if the noble Earl's colleagues in another place had given us a little fuller information when a Question was asked upon this subject.

The documents I refer to are the new attestation papers which have been brought into use for the Territorial Army. There are two notice papers and two forms, one set for new enlistments after April 1st, and the other for transfers from the present Volunteers into the new Territorial Force. They differ very considerably from the old form for enlistment in the Volunteers—why I cannot imagine—and they differ, I might almost say, in a most offensive manner. I am sure there is no intention on the part of the War Office to be offensive, but the wording of these documents is most unfortunate In the old form of enlistment for the Volunteers it was thought unnecessary to go into more than general subjects of medical fitness, but there is a list of terrible diseases specified in the new form, enough, I should think, to frighten any recruit from enlisting when it is, as it evidently will have to be, read out to him, and especially when he is given to understand that he will render himself liable to be sent to prison with hard labour if he does not give correct answers to them.

There are other things in this paper which are unkind to the new recruit. Why on earth should the War Office bother its head as to whether a man in the Territorial Army has had his child baptised or not, and it seems to me quite unnecessary to call upon him to go into such extreme details as the date and place of baptism and the name of the officiating minister. It is equally unnecessary that he should be asked to specify whether, when he married, he married a spinster or a widow, for it must be remembered that under 2 per cent. of the Territorial Army can ever qualify for the separation allowance. These things were not considered necessary in the old Volunteer form, and I think it a pity they were inserted in this form. We understand that a Committee is now considering these matters at the War Office, and I sincerely hope that the result will be a simplification of these forms and the withdrawal of the unnecessary, and, to my mind, discouraging provisions.

But there are two points to which I should like the noble Earl to give me specific answers. The first has reference to the oath to be taken by the member of the new Territorial Force. The old oath called upon the Volunteers to— faithfully serve His Majesty in Great Britain for the defence of the same. The new oath calls upon him to serve "honestly and faithfully"—I do not know why the word "honestly" has been put in, but still I do not wish to lay any stress upon that—and faithfully defend His Majesty, and so on, "against all enemies." Why have the words "in Great Britain for the defence of the same" been omitted from the new oath? I know that by the Act passed last year, it is illegal to employ the Territorial Force outside the United Kingdom unless they volunteer specially, under provisions laid down. Why, then, if you were going to make no change in that particular in the conditions of service in the Territorial Army, was it considered necessary to omit those nine words from the new oath? I am sure there is not the least intention to deceive anybody, but, if you are calling upon these men to serve for the defence of the United Kingdom only, why do you not continue to say so?

The second Question I wish to ask is this. A Committee at the War Office is going into these papers to advise the Secretary of State as to whether or not it is necessary to make any changes in them, but we have not been told that the use of these papers is not being continued throughout the length and breadth of the land. These forms were issued three weeks ago—Army Order No. 43, I think, is the exact reference—and, so far as we know, they are being used at the present moment in connection with transfers. I want to know, first, is that the case? If it is, are instructions being issued to General Officers that they are not to use them pending the Report, which I presume will come to hand in a few days, from this special Committee? Without those instructions the forms will be used, as General Officers can take no notice of any statement made in Parliament by the Secretary of State that he is considering amendments in the form. I hope the noble Earl the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us, either that these forms have not been issued, or else that instructions have been given that they are not to be used pending amendments that may be made in them—amendments which, I am certain, will have to be made, to put it on the lowest grounds, in the interests of civility towards the future members of the Territorial Army.


Before the noble Earl replies to the Questions of my noble friend, perhaps he may find it convenient to answer one which I put to him incidentally on Tuesday night, and of which I have since given him private notice. My Question was, whether the refusal of an employer to give a man in his employ leave to attend camp will be accepted as a reasonable excuse for non-attendance, and exempt the man from punishment under Clause 21 of the Act.


My Lords, in reply to the Question put to me by Lord Donough-more, I should like to remind him that these forms will not come into force until 31st March, and that we have plenty of time between this and then to revise them, if necessary. A Committee has been appointed to go into the whole matter. I think the words the noble Earl objected to were "against all enemies."


No; I object to the words "in the United Kingdom" being left out.


I can assure my noble friend that it is not the intention to make these men liable for foreign service. The alteration in the form of the oath has been made from the point of view of convenience. It was considered that such a course would obviate the necessity of re-attesting a man should he desire to volunteer for foreign service. I would again emphasise what I have said, that the alteration in no way affects his freedom from liability for service outside the United Kingdom. With regard to medical inspection, upon which I have heard a considerable amount of criticism, it was laid down quite clearly in a leaflet issued some time ago that no Yeoman or Volunteer transferring into a force of the same arm would be required to undergo a fresh medical examination, which would only be required in the case of men transferring from the foot to the mounted services. In reply to the Question put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Mount Edgcumbe, I have to say that if it is shown that attendance would entail the loss of his employment to a soldier of the Territorial Force, this we consider may be taken as a reasonable excuse such as the Act requires, relieving the man of liability for the fine due for non-attendance. But he should state his case, and receive permission not to attend, before the training begins.


My Lords, I hardly think that the noble Earl's explanation on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Donoughmore will be considered satisfactory. Surely a member of the Volunteer Force who wishes to join the Territorial Army ought to know clearly whether he is signing on for service in the United Kingdom or for further service. Under the wording of the form as it at present stands, it is open to the Government to interpret his attestation as applying, not merely to service in the United Kingdom, but to service abroad. I think the noble Earl would do well to give us a direct answer as to the intentions of the Government with regard to this attestation form. We have a right to ask that this point should not be left in doubt. I troubled your Lordships with a very few words the other night, and I have since been the recipient of a number of communications which have emphasised the view I endeavoured to put forward in the course of a few sentences—namely, that there is very great doubt, hesitation, and anxiety with regard to the whole of this attestation form. The minatory clauses in it have been construed very much against the attesting Volunteer. The arrangement of it is, in itself, both remarkable and hardly ingenuous. The religious qualification and the size and magnitude of a man's foot are put in the same column. The size of a man's foot we understand; what the magnitude is I do not know, not being a bootmaker; and that appears exactly opposite and in the same column as the question whether the man is a Roman Catholic or a member of the Church of England. And, again, at the head of all the important questions is the intimation that if any false answer is given it will lay the man open to imprisonment with hard labour—a most unfortunate form to be placed before a man who is a Volunteer. Those are points of arrangement, and are comparatively minor ones compared to this important point, that the Government should state clearly that this attestation is for service in the United Kingdom, and that any further service on which a member of the Territorial Army may be willing to enter will be made the subject of a further signature and a further attestation.


I think my noble friend has rather unduly emphasised these points. It was quite unnecessary for him to flog a dead horse, for I had already stated, in reply to Lord Donough-more, that we had no intention of using this attestation form for the purpose of rendering these men in any way liable to service abroad. I can guarantee that we will make that quite clear. Many of the details to which reference has been made are now being considered by the War Office Committee, and, where necessary, corrections will be made.


What troubled us on this side of the House was that the noble Earl, in his previous answer, gave us to understand that the words to which my noble friend Lord Donoughmore called attention had been excluded from the present form for convenience, and to leave an open door so that a man who had taken up his service under this attestation form should still be supposed, in some way which was not described, to be available for foreign service. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary shakes his head. Well, will the noble Earl tell us exactly what is intended?


In adopting this form of oath the Army Council have followed the same procedure as in the case of the Imperial Yeomanry. If your Lordships will look at the attestation form of the Imperial Yeomanry, a force which was enlisted for service just as definitely within the United Kingdom as will be the new Territorial Army, you will see that the words "in the United Kingdom" have been omitted. No difficulty was raised about it at the time, and I do not know that there has been any objection. The point of convenience is this, that if, in time to come, a member of the Territorial Army does wish to volunteer for service abroad, it will not be necessary to re-attest him. That, however, does not in the least imply that he is, by this attestation, "roped in" for service abroad, for you have it definitely stated in the Act that he joins the Territorial Army for service in this kingdom.


If there is to be any alteration in the form of attestation, may I ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary to consider making clear the point that the calling out of the Reserves embodies the Territorial Force. At the present moment the Reserves are first called out, then the Militia is embodied, and then the case of the Volunteers is considered.


If the noble Duke will look at 18D. he will see that that is definitely stated.


I do not think the men would gather from that that they must be embodied when the Reserves are called out, but rather that they were possibly liable to be then embodied.