rose "to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War, whether in view of the assurance given by the Secretary of State to the effect that no further reduction of the infantry of the line, either by the destruction of units or by the reduction of the strength or establishment of existing units, is in contemplation, he can now state what is the shortage below establishment of the infantry units on the British establishment, what measures are being taken to make good that shortage, and 54 whether it is proposed, when the shortage has been made good, to increase, the present establishment of 720 rank and file."
The noble Viscount said: I am sure my noble friend who represents the War Office in this House will understand that I am not making reference to anything connected with the Territorial Army and will understand the object therefore of the Question which appears in my name. With regard to the Special Reserve, to which I have the honour to belong, and as to the future of which I am therefore deeply anxious, perhaps the noble Lord will not mind my saying that his responses to some of my questions the other day were not altogether reassuring, more especially with reference to what he stated, that His Majesty's Government hoped to supply the new short rifle before the next training. I think it would have been far more satisfactory if he had stated that it was the intention of His Majesty's Government that the Special Reserve should be armed with the new rifle almost at once, for I think it must be patent to anyone who has any knowledge of military matters, that now that the Special Reserve are to be the real Reserve of the Regular Army it is absolutely essential that they should not only be taught the mechanism of this weapon but actually shoot with it. There is another point to which I wish to draw the noble Lord's attention. Referring the other day to the shortage in the Special Reserve, he threw out a hint implying, though perhaps unintentionally so, that he attributed the shortage in the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment to the lack of encouragement given by the colonel of the regiment, my noble friend the Duke of Bedford. That was what we were led to believe; whilst as regards another battalion, the commanding officer, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had, by the enthusiasm he had shown, been able to get many more men to join the Special Reserve. If the noble Lord did mean that it was an unfortunate remark to make, because the two battalions are on entirely different lines. The 3rd Battalion is simply for drafting purposes, whilst the 4th 55 Battalion is to work as a unit by itself. I trust, therefore, that in answer to my Question the noble Lord will be able to make the statement that he did not intend to imply that which would be most uncalled for and unfair to the Duke of Bedford.
In answer, first of all, to the Question which the noble Lord has on the Paper, the figures on 1st July were as follows: The establishment of non-commissioned officers, and men of the Infantry of the Regular Army was 85,901, but the strength on that date was 83,802; that is a deficit of 2,099. At the present moment we are to some extent suffering shortage owing to the Indian drafts. The strength of the Infantry suffers greatly owing to drafts going out all through the winter and the spring, and the Infantry is at its lowest then and afterwards recruits up until the drafts begin again. We hope to see that deficit very considerably reduced in a few months time. As to the second point of the Question, we do not propose to take any special steps. Recruiting is good this year, and we hope that this deficit will be wiped off before long. As to the last part of the Question I can only refer the noble Lord to the Answer that was given by the Secretary of State in the other house. It was to the effect that when the shortage had been made good he would consider the question of increasing the establishment of the Home Battalions from the present number 720. As to the rifles for the Special Reserve, what I intended to convey was that it was decided that the Special Reserve shall be armed with the short rifle and that it was hoped that this rifle would be in the hands of the whole of the Special Reserve in time for next year's training.
There was one point I omitted as regards the filling-up of the lower ranks of the Special Reserve, on which 1 think the noble Lord could give us further information.
What is going to be done is this. The new system for providing the persons for the Special Reserve will be in full force by June of next year. As your Lordships know, the officers of the Special Reserve, if they do not choose to pass any form of examination before they go in, will be required to do a year's attachment with a unit of the Regular Army. There are two examinations they may pass, both of which exempt them for a certain time. The first examination for Certificate A will take place in the middle of December this year, and the first examination for Certificate B, about the middle of June next year. Any officer who joins the Special Reserve before the middle of December who has not had a chance of going in for either certificate will be exempted from eight months of his course. He will only have to do four months attachment, and he can do that any time either winter or summer, and if he wishes to do so he can, at the time the Special Reserve is training, leave his course and go out with the Reserve. After the middle of December, when he will have had a chance of doing so, if ho has passed for Certificate A, he will only have to do four months attachment. If he does not pass for Certificate A. hi will have to do eight months' attachment under the same conditions. After the middle of June of next year, after the scheme is in working order, and any officer who joins will have had a chance of getting both certificates, if he has not got those two certificates he will have to do a full year. As regards the other Question, I am sorry if anything I said about these two battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment, commanded by the noble Duke and the noble Marquess should be considered an imputation. I brought the case forward simply to show how impossible it was to make any prophecies Here were two battalions in neighbouring counties; one had transferred 70 per cent, to the Special Reserve and one had transferred 40 per cent. When there were such startling variations in two neighbouring countries and two neighbouring battalions of the same regiment, I said it was quite impossible to attempt to forecast, as some speakers were doing, what the strength of the Special Reserve was going to be.