HL Deb 02 March 1908 vol 185 cc305-9

rose to ask the Undersecretary of State for War if he could state the nature of the replies which had been returned by the Lords-Lieutenant to the suggestion of the War Office that a special church parade should be held on Sunday, 5th April, for the purpose of invoking a blessing upon the Territorial Force. The noble Lord said: My Lords, although I personally have the most profound distrust of the present Secretary of State for War, and have, indeed, far less confidence in him than in any Member of His Majesty's Administration, I have always experienced a feeling of reluctant admiration for the way in which he has succeeded in making a large portion of his countrymen believe that he is effecting a vast military revolution, whereas any calm and impartial person like myself, who considers the subject, must realise that all he has done is to form the Yeomanry and Volunteers into brigades and divisions and change their name into that of the Territorial Force.

But this by no means exhausts the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman, because, by reason of continually advertising and dilating upon the surpassing excellence of that Territorial Force, and by continually talking about reservoirs, a nation in arms, and all the rest of it, he has managed to effect most serious and dangerous reductions in the Regular Army, and has almost succeeded in escaping observation in doing so, except on the part of my noble friend Lord Midleton and of his successor at the War Office. But, perhaps, the greatest achievement of all—it is an unsurpassable feat in its way—is that, having got his Act passed, he has actually managed to throw the burden of administering it on to his political opponents. I have often expressed the opinion that there is not much to choose between various Secretaries of State for War; but on this occasion I feel bound to make somewhat of an exception, because I am quite convinced that neither Lord Midleton nor Mr. Arnold-Forster would have succeeded in inducing their political opponents to undertake the work they proposed.

That reminds me, by the way, that the Liberal Party has completely dissociated itself from this great work. The Liberal Party ostentatiously declined to have anything to do with it, and the only really effective part which that Party has taken in promoting this vast military revolution was to operate the closure whenever an opportunity occurred in another place. Not content with having secured, or at all events, nominally secured, the support of almost everybody in this country, from the highest in the land downwards, the right hon. Gentleman is now occupied in an attempt to obtain celestial support as well. I have in my hand an Army Order which lately came under my observation—


It is not an Army Order.


In which the President and members of the various County Associations and the officers and men of the Territorial Force are invited to attend a special church parade; and in some cases, I believe, they have actually been directed to attend. The object of this church parade is three-fold. In the first place, it is to be held with the object of expressing gratitude for the past services of the Yeomanry and of the Volunteers; its second object is to invoke a blessing upon the new Territorial Force; its third object is to offer prayers for peace. Well, my Lords, with the last of these objects I heartily associate myself. Peace is a most desirable thing at any time, but it is obviously much more desirable at a time when the Secretary of State for War has seriously decreased the fighting efficiency of the country. I have no particular fault to find with the proposal that the Volunteers and the Yeomanry should be thanked for their past services. The only suggestion I have to make is that there appears to be a somewhat remarkable omission. I observe no mention of the Militia with regard to this expression of thanks, and I commend this as an additional grievance to my noble friend behind me, the Duke of Bedford. But possibly this was an intended omission, to penalise my noble friend for the recalcitrant action he adopted with regard to the proposal in reference to the Militia.

I admit there is something to be said in favour of rendering thanks for past services; but when it comes to asking a blessing upon a Force which has hardly come into existence, and which is really the result of an extremely contentious Act, only passed through Parliament by closure and means of that kind, it is a somewhat dubious proposal. Providence, we have been assured, is on the side of the big battalions. Well, whatever the Territorial Force may be, it certainly will not be big. Last session I endeavoured, without any success, to extract from my noble friend opposite—in whom, by the way, I feel much more confidence than in his chief—a statement as to the ultimate strength of this Force, and I remember complaining, not altogether without reason, that my noble friend could not tell me within half a million what the size of that Force would be. But now, having made further investigations, I have discovered what is to be the total number of this Force. I believe the exact figure aimed at is 315,000. There are something like 44,500,000 inhabitants in these islands, and of them 315,000 are to form the Territorial Force, or, in other words, the nation in arms. If you divide 44,500,000 by 315,000, the nation in arms amounts to between one-one hundred and forty-first or one-one hundred and forty-second part of the entire population of these islands.

There is another objection which occurs to me. On this occasion the Secretary of State for War appears to be taking a somewhat mean advantage of his colleagues. This is the first occasion in our history, so far as I know, on which a Minister has taken upon himself to invoke a blessing on his own Act. Even my noble friend opposite, the noble Earl who represents agriculture, although we know he is convinced that he is the most beneficial of modern statesmen, has never yet called upon the agricultural community to attend a thanksgiving service for the legislation for which he is responsible; and so far I note the assistance of Heaven has not yet been invoked on behalf of the crusade against this House, nor is it likely to be invoked with regard to the Scottish measures. All I have to say, my Lords, in conclusion, is this, that were I to take any part in these supplications, my own prayer would take the form of a petition that we might be delivered before long from the present Secretary of State for War, and might be granted someone who had a more correct conception of our military necessities. But my own view in the matter is unimportant. What I want to know is the opinion of the Lords-Lieutenant. So far as I have been able to gather, they are all unfriendly, and I await with interest the reply of my noble friend to the Question I have placed on the Paper.


My noble friend is in error in thinking there has been any Army Order on this matter. It has merely been a question of a letter; and, so far, only thirty-two replies, out of a possible ninety-three, have been received. In sixteen cases it is thought undesirable and premature; and in six cases it is thought impracticable owing to lack of Sunday train service. Eight counties have merely acknowledged, and the proposal has been viewed favourably in the two counties. I should like to inform the noble Lord that the suggested church parade is a purely voluntary one. No Order will be issued from the War Office on the subject. Although 5th April was proposed as a suitable date, the parade, if considered desirable by Associations and the commanding officers of units, may be held at such times and places as the various local conditions render advisable. The suggestion is that of the Chaplain-General, but is a suggestion merely. Complete liberty is left to the Associations as to whether they will adopt it.


I should like to ask where the Advisory Committee will parade on this occasion, and whether in those counties in which the parade is held any steps will be taken to prevent a counter-demonstration on the part of the disbanded units.


As I have not the honour of being a member of the Advisory Committee, I am not concerned; but I will forward my noble friend's Question to the proper quarter.