HL Deb 01 June 1908 vol 189 cc1490-9

rose to call attention to the position of County Associations in connection with the raising of the scientific arms of the Territorial Force. The noble Earl said: My Lords, my reason for placing this notice on the Paper is that during the course of the debate which took place the other night on the initiative of my noble friend Lord Denbigh, those representing the County Associations had no opportunity of expressing an opinion. That debate took the form of an artillery duel between artillery experts on the one side and the Government on the other. Those who listened to that debate, especially noble Lords interested in raising the troops of the Territorial Force, must have heard the speeches of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Earl Roberts, and of the noble Earl Lord Denbigh, with feelings of apprehension, and certainly the answer that was given by the noble Lord who represents the War Office in this House was not very reassuring. But one thing we did learn—namely, that the original scheme as proposed by the Secretary of State for War would be adhered to under any circumstances, and that there was no alternative possible. There have been many debates on this question of the Territorial Force, and one is rather tempted to ask of what use those debates are if it is impossible to make any alteration.

In addition to the condemnation in debate, there was a letter in the Press the other day from Colonel Lonsdale Hale, who joined in the cry against the Territorial Artillery, and said he would undertake to fill any hall in the United Kingdom with military experts opposed to the proposal of His Majesty's Government. Well, I think he might have gone further and undertaken to have filled any hall in the country with military experts opposed to any scheme of military reform that ever has been or could be devised. My noble friend Lord Newton went a good deal further the other day than Lord Roberts, and condemned the whole scheme of the Territorial Army root and branch.


Hear, hear.


The noble Lord expressed an opinion upon the old Volunteers, and I am not sure that his opinion regarding the Volunteers has always been the same. We all know what he wants, and if this scheme fails he will very likely get what he wants. The noble Lord made a comparison between the old Volunteers and the Territorial Force as it at present exists, but I do not think such a comparison was fair, seeing that the time has not yet definitely arrived when the ranks of the Territorial Force have to be filled. There are, as we know, a great many differences under the new system which may or may not prevent a number of old Volunteers from rejoining, but I do not think the progress we have made in the raising of the necessary troops is at all one to cause discouragement.

In the views he expressed the other night, Lord Roberts represented the Regular Artillery. We had at the same time the opinion of Lord Denbigh, who has not only had a good deal of experience as a Regular artilleryman, but is in command of the Honourable Artillery Company, which is often quoted as proof of what Territorial Artillery might be. Against that evidence we had quoted to us the remarks of the Military Correspondent of The Times as a complete answer to the criticisms of Lord Roberts. I venture to say that that was no answer at all. It was merely the expression of another opinion. Lord Roberts has given one opinion, and the Military Correspondent of The Times has given another; and I think nine people out of ten will look upon the opinion of Lord Roberts as far more valuable than that of the Military Correspondent of The Times on matters connected with the Artillery. But, after all, it is expert opinion; and we know very well from our experience of Committees upstairs that when there is a scientific or technical question involved each side brings forward a certain number of expert witnesses. If one side brings forward three the other invariably calls four, and the result usually is that it is one of the expert witnesses who gives the case away.

I regret that Lord Denbigh's proposal to stiffen the Territorial Artillery with a Regular battery in each brigade was not considered. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War said it was perfectly simple, if you could raise two efficient batteries, to raise three. That is not the case. The great difficulty in the way of the Territorial Artillery is the lack of a Regular battery to show them what is wanted, and if you could stiffen these brigades of Territorial Artillery by having in each a Regular battery it would be of enormous advantage to the whole corps. The Regular battery would set a high standard, and there would be great competition among the amateur batteries to get as near as possible to that standard. On the question of the disappearance of certain batteries of Regular Artillery, I confess that I am in rather a difficulty. There has been a heated, and perhaps not very edifying, correspondence in The Times between Mr. Arnold-Forster and The Times Military Correspondent. The charge, I think, was in the first place made by Mr. Arnold-Forster that under the present scheme thirty-three batteries were to be done away with. The retort was that the only man who had abolished a battery of Regular Artillery was Mr. Arnold-Forster, and he replied that that brigade was not lost but had gone before and was really merged into others, and while each side accuses the other of reducing batteries of Artillery, each side claims that under their own system the Artillery has been stronger, both as regards men and efficiency than ever before.

The noble Lord the Under-Secretary stated that under the present system the Regular Artillery would be short by 7,000 men on mobilisation, and that this shortage would be after stripping the thirty-three surplus batteries and returning the guns to store. What I suggest is that an easy method of averting shortage of men on mobilisation is to stiffen and strengthen the Territorial Artillery by a sort of nucleus battery. Lord Roberts, in the course of his remarks the other evening, expressed reluctance to place any difficulties in the way of the Secretary of State. I do not think he need have any fear of that, because as regards the raising of these troops the whole of the difficulties have been placed on the shoulders of the County Associations, due to absolute un-preparedness of administration after two years of incubation, hurry in the formation of the County Associations, and the contradictory orders we are always getting. I really begin to doubt whether the whole of the staff at the War Office are favourable to this scheme. They do not appear to me to do very much to help us out of our difficulties, and I would suggest that it should be clearly understood that with regard to military matters we should be under the general officer commanding in each division and that we of the County Association should be responsible for the civilian side, and we might drop the War Office out of the matter altogether.

I also have to complain of the meagre assistance afforded by the War Office for the instruction of the artillery and engineering branches of the Territorial Force. Surely those who have taken so much trouble to make each county scheme a success should at least get that amount of assistance in the way of instructors necessary to teach the men. In addition to the sergeant-instructors, there is a certain amount of materiel which is absolutely necessary and which ought to be supplied to the various scientific arms at the moment of recognition. We have six batteries to raise. They are all recognised and two are complete, but we have only two guns. I maintain that we should have for each battery that is recognised two guns with four sets of appointments. With regard to the engineering branch, we have three field companies either recognised or ready to be recognised, and they are absolutely without any of the necessary equipment. The same applies to the brigade company of the Army Service corps and the mounted brigade of field ambulance. I think that recognition ought not to be looked upon as an empty compliment, but that we should be given what is really necessary to enable the instructors to teach the men in the scientific branches of the Territorial Force.

There is another point which has exercised my mind. It is not for the County Associations to express any opinion as to what is necessary in regard to the Regular Army. That, of course, is a matter entirely for the military authorities. But there is an idea abroad that the Government intend gradually to reduce the Regular Army and to fill its place with the Territorial Force. The County Associations have put their hands to the difficult task of raising the Territorial Force on the distinct understanding that it was to be a second line army, and quite supplementary to the Regular Army. If there is any question of that force ever taking the place of the Regular Army we ought to be told so at once. We are perfectly willing to supplement the Regular Army but not to supplant it. I would urge my noble friend to do what he can to help us in our present difficulties, and I can assure him that the County Associations to-day, what with the activity of the critics on the one hand and the inaction of the War Office on the other, are in the position of being between the devil and the deep sea.


My Lords, I should like first of all to say that the Army Council owe a great debt of gratitude to Lord Dartmouth for the energy he has thrown into the work of the Staffordshire County Association. We admit that there have been difficulties. As the situation was a new one and as we had little to guide us from the experience of the past, difficulties were inevitable and mistakes were bound to be made; but we have always been ready to rectify them immediately our attention has been called to them. As quickly as the guns are converted—and the conversion was begun very soon after the Act of last year became law—they are being distributed among the batteries of the Territorial Force. The noble Earl referred to the difficulty experienced in finding the means of instructing the men when they had been recruited. Equally difficult has been the question of supplying them at once with permanent staff, and on this matter I would beg for a certain amount of forbearance on the part of the County Associations. The lack of instructors for the batteries is due to the fact that the Artillery of the Regular Army is about to go on its annual training, and the non-commissioned officers intended as instructors cannot at present be withdrawn without destroying a certain part of the year's work, with the result that the batteries would inevitably suffer in efficiency. I can assure the noble Earl that the War Office is really doing its very best to meet the new situation. The noble Earl says the County Associations have been harassed by the number of circulars that have been sent out.


Contradictory circulars.


The different circulars sent by the War Office to the County Associations are not so much contradictory as developments and elaborations of previous instructions, and are due to special cases brought to the notice of the Army Council by County Associations, to which the original rules that had been laid down could not apply. The circulars that have been sent out have invariably been the outcome of Associations writing to us for instructions. The noble Earl expressed the position quite correctly when he said that the general officer commanding is the authority on purely military questions, and that the County Association is the authority on administrative questions. The County Association, of course, is responsible to the War Office for the way in which it spends its money, but otherwise it is free so long as it keeps within the, expenditure and as long as there is nothing questionable in the way in which the funds are administered. For instance, if they spent an inordinate amount on matters which could not be considered of first-rate importance whilst neglecting matters of greater importance, there would come the day of reckoning at the end of the year.

It is the desire of the Army Council to encourage the County Associations to manage their own affairs as much as possible. We do not wish to interfere more than we can possibly help; but while the thing is absolutely in its infancy we have had to send advice and counsel occasionally to the County Associations. I can only say that the Army Council no more like sending out circulars than the County Associations like receiving them, and as soon as the County Associations are fully cognisant of the conditions of their work that sort of thing will cease. In some cases the County Associations resent the letters sent them from the War Office; but, on the other hand, many Associations have returned grateful thanks for the information they have received and which has been of great use to them.

As to the position of the Territorial Force, to which the noble Earl referred, we have always laid down that the Territorial Force is bound to be a Second-Line Army, and that it can never replace the Regular Army as the Force which is required instantly on the outbreak of war. I qualify that only by the statement that there is a clause in the Act which provides that certain members of the Territorial Force, not properly considered as combatant members, may, if they like, take on an engagement to serve with the Regular Army. That applies to such men as doctors. But our view has always been that the combatant arms of the Territorial Force, under peace conditions, cannot be made fit to take their places in the field against trained troops on the outbreak of war without a certain amount of training on mobilisation. Therefore no one, I think, would agree more readily than we should that it is out of the question for the Territorial Army to be regarded as replacing the Regular Army.


I did not mean to press the case of the Staffordshire County Association unduly. It is the one that I happen to know most about, and as it was very likely that the difficulties which had arisen in our case had also arisen in others, I took Staffordshire merely as an illustration. I did not wish to make any complaint against the War Office on account of the number of their letters, because I have had communications at the War Office for sometime now which have not yet been answered. I quite understand the difficulty about the guns, but surely there is no such difficulty in supplying the various scientific arms of the force with the necessary equipment for instruction. Surely those should be supplied immediately the unit is recognised.


My Lords, I think my noble friend may be very well satisfied with having raised this debate, and I am sure all the Associations in the same group with him will be obliged to him for having done so. I think we ought to take note of what the noble Lord the Under-Secretary has just said. It has now been authoritatively laid down as clearly as can be that while in military matters the commanding officers of districts are responsible, for everything connected with administration and financial affairs the Associations are free and unfettered to manage their own affairs without the interference of the clerks or of the staff at the War Office.

We have no complaint whatever to make against the Secretary of State for War or against my noble friend the Under-Secretary. So far as I can speak as a chairman of a County Association, they have done everything they can to assist us, to give us the very best advice, and to take into consideration any suggestions that have been made either formally or informally. But I have not been four months at work with my Association without having formed a very distinct opinion that the very worst friends the Secretary of State for War has got are in his own household. My noble friend, Lord Lucas, said just now that we had asked for information. Yes, for information on practical points; but we have waited for the answers. We have, however, been inundated with circular after circular on matters with which the War Office had nothing to do, if my noble friend's statement is right that we have to work out our own salvation. Early in the development of the Associations the War Office interfered with us with regard to the salaries of our secretaries and secretariat. They had no right whatever to send us a single line about that. It was clearly laid down in the twenty-first Article of Association that when the recommendation of the Secretary had been agreed to we had entire power as to what we were to pay. Eventually the War Office had to give way.

Take another instance—that of the calling in of the clothing. We had several contradictory circulars with regard to that. First we were told that we were to call in the clothing to headquarters; next that we were not to call it in but that it might be valued from the books. Very soon afterwards we received circulars from the military authorities to say we were to call in the clothing, and they knew nothing whatever about the other circular that had reached us, I could mention a dozen cases or more in which circulars have been sent out and then altered or withdrawn. I will give the most recent one. Only the other day the War Office sent out a circular to say that we were not to pay our markers. Our Association directed the commanding officers to go on as before, and said they would certainly be paid. Then down came an order to the commanding officers that they were not to pay the markers. I was asked what was to be done, and I replied, "Telegraph to the officers that they are not to obey it. I will be responsible for the money." Two days afterwards I received a circular from the War Office saying that they had recalled this order and that the markers were to be paid. I mention this to show my noble friend Lord Dartmouth is quite right when he speaks of contradictory circulars. If Mr. Haldane could only keep the War Office quiet, the practical men on the County Associations would be able to get to work. I think that if half of the clerks at the War Office were sent on a voyage round the world for the next six months it would be very much better for the Territorial Army.


May I be allowed to reply to one or two points raised by Lord Heneage? I am extremely sorry if anything I said, in my reply to Lord Dartmouth, could by any possibility be made to convey any reflection whatever upon the War Office staff.


No, no.


Nothing could have been better than the way in which they have worked. Many of them have worked for months together not getting away from the office until late, dealing with an overwhelming mass of detail. As to the contradictory circulars referred to by Lord Heneage, probably the larger proportion of these were sent out because of letters received from the noble Lord himself.


I asked for information. I did not ask for circulars, though I did ask very peremptorily for the withdrawal of a good many of them.


The noble Lord asked for information on many points on which, T admit, information was required. The information was sent to the noble Lord, and then, as other County Associations were in similar difficulties, the information was embodied in a circular and sent all round. It was only in our struggles to satisfy the questions and claims of the different Associations that we had sometimes to alter or recall our previous circulars; but in no instance have we ever made an alteration in any instruction or circular which has not been to the advantage of the County Associations.