HL Deb 13 July 1908 vol 192 cc329-40

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War the Questions standing in my name on the Paper, viz.: (1) When will the Special Reserve units draw their complement of short rifles, and will those be of the latest pattern and thoroughly serviceable in every way. (2) Now that the Special Reserve units form part of the First Line, will they be clothed and equipped in exactly the same way as Regular soldiers, and, if so, when? (3) In a Special Reserve Unit there are only six colour-sergeants allowed on the permanent staff. These draw the same rates of pay as were drawn by colour-sergeants of the Militia permanent staff, whereas now the two other colour-sergeants who are only attached to the Special Reserve unit draw Army rates, that is, 6d. a day more for similar or even less work; should they not all draw Army rates? (4) There is at present no married establishment laid down for Special Reserve units, but it is laid down that when the Reserves are called out they come under exactly the same conditions of pay, etc., as the Regular Army. This presumably includes separation allowance; if so, do all private soldiers of the Special Reserve unit when called out draw separation allowance? (5) How can a Special Reserve unit hope to keep up their establishment when a recruit who joins the Regular Army from the Special Reserve draws the same bounty on completing three months drill on enlistment as he would on completing six months? Would it not be fairer to the Special Reserve to compel him to do six months drill on enlistment and one training with his own Special Reserve unit before joining the Regular Army? (6) What immediate steps are to be taken to fill up the junior ranks of the officers? of the Special Reserve?

I am led to put these Questions in order that those regiments which have ceased to exist as Militia but have recently become units of the Special Reserve may have fuller information as to their immediate future than they now possess. I do not wish to introduce any thing of a controversial nature, but I am sure my noble friend must realise that the abolition by His Majesty's Government of that old constitutional force the Militia and the sweeping away of its past traditions cannot and is not likely to be easily forgotten, either by the officers of that force or by the rank and file. For that reason I trust that the claim of these officers and men, considering the loyal way that they have responded to the new obligations demanded of them, that better treatment should be meted out to them than has been accorded to the Militia for many years past, more especially as regards their clothing, pay, and equipment, will receive the consideration of His Majesty's Government. At the present time there is a universal fear that money is likely to be extorted for territorial purposes at the expense, not only of the Special Reserve, but also of the Regular Army; and this must be my excuse for putting to my noble friend so many Questions relative to the Special Reserve.

The great uncertainty which at present prevails cannot but have a most disastrous effect on a new force about to come into being. Therefore I am confident that the noble Lord will be glad to have this opportunity of publicly stating what steps His Majesty's Government propose to adopt in order to create an efficient reserve to the Regular Army in time of war by means of the Special Reserve. I fully recognise, as do all commanding officers of Militia that when the new regulations with regard to the Special Reserve were issued by the Army Council the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War most readily considered there presentations that were put before him by Militia commanding officers. Notably, the proposal that the commanding officer of the Special Reserve was only to command his unit for the three weeks annual training, the line major to have supreme command for the rest of the time; and also the proposal that the Militia officers, whatever their rank, were to be junior to the officers attached to the unit from the line. Such gross injustices as those would, to my mind, have tended to mar to a considerable extent the successful formation of the Special Reserve, and I am very glad to think that they have been rectified.

I think it must be recognised that if, as was asserted by His Majesty's Government, the abolition of the Militia was justified in order to find, by means of the Special Reserve, an effective reserve to the Regular battalions in time of war, it is essential that those Reserve battalions should be absolutely complete in every way as regards arms, equipment, and clothing, but I regret to think that at the present time nothing has been done in this respect. That is, at least, my experience, and I speak as a commanding officer of a Special Reserve battalion. The only thing that has been done up to date is to reduce the permanent staff of the Special Reserve battalions. The most difficult problem that has to be faced in connection with the Special Reserve at the present time is that of finding suitable officers to fill up the lower ranks, for in this respect the regiments are at a very low ebb, and, through no fault of their own, are considerably below their proper establishment. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord will be able to enlighten the House on these specific points, and prove to the satisfaction of the Special Reserve that it will in time become a real reserve of the Regular Army; then I consider that nothing but good will accrue thereby, and I shall feel at any rate that in putting these questions I shall not have taken up the time of your Lordship's house unnecessarily.


My Lords, before I answer the Questions on the Paper, perhaps I may be allowed to inform the noble Viscount, in reply to his remarks, that it is the intention of the Army Council to recognise the Special Reserve as a part of the Regular Army. As your Lordships know, the Special Reserve has always been spoken of as part of the First Line of the Army, and it is our desire so to regard it, and to assimilate, as far as possible, the conditions of the Special Reserve to those of the Regular Army in respect of equipment, clothing, and in other ways. It is not possible to carry out the whole of that at once. We hope that by next year's training the whole of the Infantry of the Special Reserve will be equipped with the short rifle similar to that in use at present by the Regulars.

With regard to clothing and equipment, the intention is that the clothing and equipment shall, as far as possible, be exactly the same as that of the corresponding arm in the Regulars. We cannot fix the actual date by which the equipment and the clothing will be supplied, because we have at the present time large stocks of Militia clothing which will have to be worked off before the issue of the new supply takes place. Your Lordships will hardly, I think, expect, and I do not think the Government could sanction, the complete re-equipment of; these men, which would entail the absolute waste of a great many thousand pounds' worth of stock. It is only a temporary measure, and we hope as soon as possible, compatible with that, we shall be able to equip the Special Reserve in every way like the Regulars.

There will be certain changes. I have a long list here of the articles of clothing which are issued at the present moment to the Regulars and which are to be issued to the Special Reserve. The two are identical, except that the Regular draws a pair of canvas shoes which are not issued to the Special Reservist and the Special Reservist wears a frock instead of a tunic. The scales of clothing are not the same, of course, but will be in proportion to the amount of time the Special Reservist serves. As to the third question, the reason why you have six colour-sergeants, who are spoken of as posted men, on one rate of pay, and two colour-sergeants, or attached men, on a higher rate of pay is this. The six posted colour-sergeants represent the men who were the permanent staff of the old Militia battalion, and the two attached men represent the two non-commissioned officers who used to be at the depot. These two categories of non-commissioned officers, whilst they are engaged in the Special Reserve, are doing the same kind of work though at different rates of pay, and the reason is this. The posted men receive an appointment which is in its nature permanent. They enlist under normal conditions for twelve years. If the colour-sergeant wishes to marry, either he is found quarters or he gets the lodging allowance. On the other hand, the attached men hold their appointments for two years only, though the period may be extended to three. They are liable to be called out at any time during those two or three years, and as to the question of drawing the lodging allowance as married men, they have to submit to the same rules as the permanent staff of the battalion, and, as your Lordships are aware, only 50 per cent, of the sergeants are allowed to be on the married strength. Therefore there are certain differences, all of which tend to increase the expenditure of the attached men, and for that reason they have been given a slightly higher rate of pay.

Then, with regard to the fourth question, when the Special Reserve is embodied all married men in the Special Reserve will draw the separation allowance. As to the fifth question, I take it that the noble Viscount does not consider it as likely that a very large number of men who join the Special Reserve intend to remain in the Special Reserve, but that they are simply joining it on their way to the Regular Army. For that reason he proposes that the men should be compelled to remain a certain period in the Special Reserve. It is very difficult to say what proportion of men are going to remain in the Special Reserve, and what proportion of them are using the Special Reserve as a stepping shone into the Regular Army. We are doing the best we can, but it has been found impossible to make any calculation in order to see what number of men intend to stay. The question is being watched very closely, and we mean to take the necessary measures to ensure that the Special Reserve shall be a real force containing men of the Militia class as opposed to men using it simply in order to enter the Regular Army. One hopes that the terms of the Special Reserve do not present any great terrors to the Militia class, and one is, perhaps, justified in hoping that from the large number of them who have transferred from the Militia into the Special Reserve.


Can the noble Lord give the numbers?


Yes. Up to 1st July the figures were: Artillery—transferred from Militia to Special Reserve, 2,885; recruits, 1,585; joined the Regular Army, fifty-three. Infantry—transferred from Militia to Special Reserve, 18,274; I recruits, 9,198; joined the Regular Army, 1,057; Then there is the final question as to the officers. The new scheme for the training of the officers of the Special Reserve is being set to work at once, and already at the Universities the new course has begun. It will, however, take considerable time and will not be in normal working order for some years to come. We hope that in the training of 1910, some of the first of this new class of Special Reserve officers will be undergoing training. It is just possible that we may have a few next year in the units that train late in the year. I quite admit that that leaves a very serious gap to be filled up before the scheme is in working order. We have not lost sight of that, and though I cannot give the noble Viscount the details to-night we shall very shortly be able to announce what steps we propose to take in order to maintain the supply of junior officers for the Special Reserve battalions.


My Lords, there are one or two points arising out of the noble Lord's answer on which I should like to ask for information. First of all there is the question of equipment. I very much regret, judging from the reply which has been given by the noble Lord, that the Special Reserve, like the Militia, is not going to receive anything like the equipment of the Regular Army. The noble Lord did not give us any information with regard to the Engineer units. When may they hope to be equipped with the new short rifle? They are a very important part, considering that they provide several units for the Expeditionary Army.

The noble Lord's answer with regard to equipment was very significant in regard to what it contained and also what it did not contain. The Special Reserve are in future to be dressed exactly the same as the Militia in that they are not to receive a tunic. I can assure your Lordships, with very considerable knowledge of the subject, that nothing so affects the men, especially when called up on embodiment, as the fact that they are not provided with the full dress tunic; and in many garrisons I have known a large number of men purchase tunics out of their exiguous pay. When these changes were first introduced we were assured that the Special Reserve were to receive exactly the same treatment as the Regular Army, but it is evident from what has fallen from the noble Lord that that is not going to be the case. Are these men to have any full dress headdress or not? The only men who received full dress headdress in the Militia were those who wore the helmet. The regiments that wore the busby did not receive the full dress headdress. The noble Lord has given us no information with regard to that.

Then there was the noble Lord's statement with regard to the shoes. Why should not the men of the Special Reserve receive a pair of shoes? Why should they be the only men who have nothing whatever to change into in wet weather? They will, I suppose, do the same sort of training, and it is exceedingly hard that one pair of boots should have to last them six months. The same remark as to the purely unnecessary differences which are being drawn between the two forces applies to the colour-sergeants. Nothing leads to greater heartburning than for men of the same rank doing the same work to receive different rates of pay. If this is the way they are going about it, the War Office are going the wrong way to encourage the permanent staff of the Special Reserve. It seems to me that a very grave mistake is being made in reducing the permanent staff of the Special Reserve, because you are greatly reducing your recruiting staff, and you will thereby to an equal, if not to a greater extent reduce the number of recruits. There is an idea—it is an entirely fallacious idea—in the War Office that there is a sort of annual crop of recruits who will come in whatever you do. That is not the case. Recruiting has to be very carefully done. A very large number of agents are required, and, if you reduce the number of agents, you ipso facto reduce the number of recruits forthcoming. The noble Lord gave us the number of men who had transferred from the Militia to the new Special Reserve. But he did not give us what, to my mind, is much more important—the number of men who have taken their discharge or elected to remain and complete their service with the Militia.

The statement of Lord Lucas respecting the officers of the Special Reserve is a most serious one, for he has acknowledged that for two years there will be practically no officers to enter the new Special Reserve. Those of your Lordships who have had experience of the Militia know the extreme difficulty which the commanding officer has had in keeping up the number of officers in his battalion. Twenty-four Militia units have been disbanded, and therefore twenty-four recruiting officers for the officers' ranks of the Militia have disappeared in the commanding officers of those disbanded units. I ventured last year to point out in your Lordships' House that the question of obtaining officers for the Special Reserve was one of the utmost importance and difficulty, and I added that, in my opinion, the War Office were taking on this great work in a light-hearted manner and with no conception of its difficulty. I appeal to those of your Lordships who have had experience of the trouble in obtaining officers for Militia regiments whether that was not one of the most difficult and thankless tasks one could possibly undertake. When it was my privilege to command a Militia regiment I used to spend a large part of my time in writing to eligible young men inviting them to take up my commissions in the Militia. I have written to as many as between forty and fifty young men between one training and another, and I thought myself very fortunate if I obtained four or five; and when I was not writing asking young men to join I was writing, with tears in my eyes, asking the then officers not to leave. The War Office have taken no action to grapple with this enormous difficulty. To do anything at all commensurate with the importance of this work there ought to be a large Department in the War Office attending to nothing else. I hope the noble Lord the Under-Secretary will be able to reassure us a little more on this point.


My Lords, I am bound to admit that what my noble friend Lord Hardinge said at the beginning of his speech is fully justified, and that all the requests which have been put before the War Office by Militia commanding officers during the last few months have been very courteously received. I am very grateful to the War Office for their action in that matter. I can only say that I wish the same spirit which dictated that attitude had dictated also the framework of the measure under which the Special Reserve was established. Some of us did our very best at the time that the Bill was passing through Parliament to mitigate parts of it which we considered would press unduly on the Militia. We were, no doubt, in part successful, but we were not wholly successful; and I ventured to say at that time that, unless His Majesty's Government were able to reassure opinion in the Militia, they ran a very great risk of the existing men in that force not transferring to the Special Reserve.

The noble Lord the Under-Secretary has given us a few figures to-night as to the numbers that have transferred. I think it is, perhaps, rather early to press him in the matter, because I apprehend that a large number of Militia battalions have not yet held the training at which their fate is to be decided. That rather vitiates the figures; but I think Lord Raglan is justified in putting it to the noble Lord that it is quite as important for us to know what men have refused to transfer as to know the number who have transferred. We want to know what percentage of serving Militiamen have agreed to transfer to the Special Reserve. That is, I think, very important. As regards equipment, I am not quite sure that we fully understood what the noble Lord the Under-Secretary had to say to us. I understand that the Militia, at any rate the Infantry Militia, are to receive the new rifle very shortly. Did the noble Lord say next year?


Before the next training.


That, no doubt, is very satisfactory. I understand that the Special Reservist is to be equipped in a precisely similar manner to the Regular soldier, with certain exceptions. It is important for us to know what those exceptions exactly are. I understand that he is not to have a pair of shoes. That is, if I may say so, rather a pettifogging economy, because when a man comes in after a heavy march or a hard day's drill it is a great relief to him to be able to take off his boots and put on canvas shoes, and I cannot believe that the expense would be very great. They used to have canvas shoes. I believe that was one of the benefits conferred on the Militia by my noble friend Lord Midleton, but that has now been abolished. It is a small point, but I should like to ask the noble Lord the Undersecretary to note it and see whether something cannot be done. Then the Special Reservist does not receive the full dress tunic. The noble Lord did not mention the headdress. No doubt the noble Lord will on a future occasion tell us precisely how the question of the headdress is to stand.

I turn to the last, and, to my mind, most important question put to the noble Lord by Viscount Hardinge—namely, what immediate steps are to be taken to fill up the junior ranks of the officers of the Special Reserve. The noble Lord said the matter was under consideration. He will forgive my saying that that is an observation which we very often hear from the Treasury Bench, and which I am afraid we have been taught rather to regret when we hear it, because when a thing is said to be under consideration it means that a very long time is to elapse before anything is done. Let me remind the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of the opening words of his speech. He spoke of the Special Reserve as a very serious force which was henceforth to be treated as part of the Regular Army. The very erroneous idea which used to prevail years ago that Militiamen were playing at soldiers has passed away, and we are now told that this force is a very serious part of the Regular Army.

Let the noble Lord look at the Army List and see the vacancies in the ranks of the junior officers in this important branch of the Army. It is a perfect scandal, and it constitutes a danger to the country. If this is to be a real force you must contemplate having to use it. We Are thank God! at peace with all the world, but we must conceive a state of things in which we might not be at peace. What are you going to do with the Special Reserve in the event of war being suddenly declared? They cannot be used without officers, and it is for the Government to find a way to fill up those vacancies. It is all very well for them to have a scheme for the future, but what we want is the officers now. We want them next week, or the week after, and if the Government cannot find a better way, I would earnestly urge them not to delay but to do it on the old lines until something better can be devised. I admit that the old way of nominating officers to the Militia was not perfect, but it was better than nothing at all; and until the Government have time to develop their own scheme let us have the privilege of recommending names to the proper authority, so that these depleted ranks of junior officers may be filled.


With your Lordships' leave I will answer two or three of the Supplementary Questions which have been put to me. The latest Returns show that whilst over 20,000 men have joined the Special Reserve, almost exactly 5,000 have decided to remain as Militiamen, and just under 6,000 have taken their discharge. As to the question of clothing, I do not think I made myself quite clear. It is the intention of the Army Council thoroughly to clothe and equip the Special Reserve in the same way as the corresponding arm of the Regulars. That will not take place immediately, because there are these large stocks of Militia clothing which have to be worked off. The intention is to supply similar clothing, and this will be carried out as soon as possible.