HL Deb 16 November 1908 vol 196 cc810-8

My Lords, I rise to call attention to a recent decision of the Army Council in connection with the permanent staff of the Territorial force. This is a matter of a far-reaching character, and unless some alteration is made in the system I think it will have a very serious effect on the whole position of the Territorial force. I do not propose to go into the whole question of the permanent staff. I think it very probable that representations will be made to the War Office or to the Army Council on this point. But what we have to bear in mind is that the permanent staff generally has been very much reduced from what it was in the old days, and I think that in most cases County Associations have found that it has been reduced very much below what, in their opinion, it ought to be. One of the principal inducements held out originally by the Government in support of their scheme was the extra efficiency there would be in the new Territorial as compared with the old Volunteer; and what seems curious to the civilian mind is that in order to secure this extra efficiency they reduce the permanent staff, on which efficiency so largely depends, very much below what it was before.

One point in connection with the permanent staff is the retirement of the sergeant-instructors by seniority; and, though I do not propose to deal with that point to-night, I should like to draw attention to the fact that whereas in many cases the establishment laid down by the Regulations has not been supplied, and whereas in many cases the senior members of the permanent staff have done very valuable service in raising the force, they are, by the Regulations, to be reduced entirely by seniority. It seems to me a pity that these Regulations, which are admittedly only tentative and which have not yet had the test of experience, should be rigidly insisted upon so far as the civilian side is concerned, while every latitude is given in regard to the military side. I have in mind a case in one battalion in which a strong representation was made that the two senior sergeant-instructors should have an extension of time. This was approved by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, but, when submitted to the Army Council, the proposal was overruled and the two men received summary notice.

But the point to which I wish to call attention to-night is the position in which we are placed when it becomes necessary to get rid of an unsatisfactory member of the permanent staff. We had a case in point, and representation was made by the officer in command of the unit that a certain sergeant-instructor should be re-posted to his regiment. The officer in charge of the record, very naturally, made full inquiry into the matter, and, having satisfied himself, the application was endorsed and eventually forwarded to the Army Council, who over-ruled the opinions of all the intermediate military authorities and refused to sanction the re-posting of this sergeant-instructor to his regiment. The Army Council refused on three grounds. The first was that— As regards the statement by the commanding officer that this non-commissioned officer occasionally takes too much drink, I am to state that if that man had been kept under strict supervision it is possible that disciplinary action might have been taken against him. This ruling suggests a rather grave, and a totally undeserved, censure on the commanding officer in question; but while, no doubt, he made a mistake, I, for one, can thoroughly appreciate the desire to get the man re-posted to his regiment without the publicity and scandal which would follow from taking the course suggested. Moreover, he was supported, as I say, by the intermediate military authorities. With a reduced permanent staff, surely it is not unreasonable for those connected with the County Associations to ask that the permanent staff allotted to them should be men of such a character that they will not require strict supervision to see that they do not take too much to drink. I think that commanding officers have a right to ask that the permanent staff should help them in the supervision of the non-commissioned officers and men in their command. The second ground given for the refusal was— As to the statement that he does not show a good example in the way of obedience to orders, I am to say that the Army Council rely on commanding officers to maintain a proper state of discipline in their units so as to ensure obedience to orders by all under their command. Here is a source of insubordination introduced from outside, and one would have thought that in order to restore discipline the first step would be to get rid of the source of insubordination. The commanding officer, however, is prevented from doing so by the ruling of the Army Council. But the third, and, perhaps the most far-reaching, reason given was that— The Army Council do not consider that a case which can be properly dealt with in the ordinary course of discipline can be satisfactorily met by re-posting to a Line battalion, particularly when, as in the present case, the noncommissioned officer would, on re-posting, become entitled to a higher rate of pay than when on the Permanent Staff. That is a point on which, I think, the future of the Territorial force very largely depends; and I hope it will be made perfectly clear that in allotting men to the permanent staff the conditions of service shall be such that they shall not be worse off than when serving with their own regiments. I do not think it is an exorbitant demand, because it is certain that if this state of things continues there will be dissatisfaction among the permanent staff, and those who know what influence the permanent staff exercise will realise how much chance there is of making the force a success if this dissatisfaction exists.

I should like your Lordships to consider for one moment how the present system works. My noble friend the other night congratulated himself and us on the decentralisation scheme in connection with the Territorial force. But how does this decentralisation work in practice? A commanding officer of a unit applies for the re-posting of one of his permanent staff; after a long correspondence, this proposal is supported and approved by all the intermediate military authorities; yet when it eventually goes up to the Army Council the proposal is completely overruled. One would have thought that, even if the Army Council have no confidence in the commanding officers of the units of the Territorial force, they at any rate would have some confidence in the highly paid military authorities who are placed in command of the various divisions; and it does seem to me an extraordinary thing that in a case like this, where the Army Council cannot have the same intimate knowledge of the facts, they should conceive it to be part of their duty to overrule the decision of everyone of the intermediate military authorities. We heard a good deal at one time about the blending of the civil and military elements in this scheme. We were told that it was a great scheme which employed for a common purpose the broad general knowledge of the civilian and the technical skill of the soldier, and that excellent results would follow. I do not know what the broad general knowledge of the civilian may be; but, if this is the principle that governs the military administration, the less we know of it the better we shall like it. I ask the noble Lord, with all earnestness, seriously to consider the whole position of the permanent staff. While we have nothing to say against military discipline—that, of course, must be maintained—the noble Lord may be certain that if this force is to be a success and to be held together, that result will be achieved more by civilian interest than by military discipline.


My Lords, I will take the points with which the noble Earl dealt in the order in which he raised them. First of all, I will state what has been done with regard to the permanent staff. When the re-organisation took place the numbers of the permanent staff were considerably cut down; and when the new units of the Territorial force were recognised it was announced, and I think fully understood, that they were to have in many cases a smaller number of permanent staff than before. This was arrived at after a good deal of consideration. At first the number fixed was three per unit, the unit in that case being an infantry battalion. This number was in many cases rather too small, and the subject has been since reconsidered. We have had the recommendations of commanding officers forwarded through the military channels, and also the recommendations of general officers commanding-in-chief, and the matter is undergoing reconsideration with a view of meeting, as far as is necessary, the considered demands that have been made.

The result is that we now sanction up to eight permanent staff for a battalion of infantry. We quite recognise that at the present time the conditions are abnormal, that there is a much larger number of recruits at present, and more work for the permanent staff than is likely to occur again. In addition to a maximum of eight permanent staff per battalion of infantry, the general officer commanding may sanction, if he thinks necessary, the attachment of a number of temporary instructors to tide over the abnormal time and help to train the very large number of recruits. Of course, their work would be finished as soon as things again reached normal. When it was decided to reduce the number of the permanent staff the War Office had to consider how best this could be done. We had to look upon it, not only from the point of view of the battalion whose permanent staff was being reduced, but also from the point of view of the permanent staff themselves.

It was decided, after a great deal of consideration, to adopt exactly the same procedure as would have been followed had the men been serving at the time in the Regular Army—that is to say, the men would be retired by seniority. Any other plan would be unfair to the men. This avoided the possibility of perhaps undue favour being shown to one man rather than another, it enabled those who had not put in their full twenty-one years to serve on for the full pension, and it also enabled the Territorial Army to have the services of the youngest men possible, the men freshest from the Colours and most in touch with modern ideas in training and modern developments. For all these reasons it was decided that the retirements should be made by seniority. It was impossible to make an exception in regard to the particular case referred to by the noble Earl, because, if we had, we should have been compelled to make an exception in practically every case. We admit that it was, perhaps, not altogether the most suitable way of dealing with the matter if we looked simply and solely at the point of view of the Territorial force; but we had also to act from the point of view of doing justice to the men of the Regular Army on the permanent staff.

I now come to the other case to which the noble Earl referred. We have called for all the papers, and as soon as they arrive the case will be most carefully considered. Therefore I can say nothing on that matter at the present moment. I agree that the Territorial force should always have a permanent staff which is above suspicion. With the best intentions in the world, however, you cannot be certain that a man will not develop unfortunate tendencies after he has left the Colours. Then comes the question, how are you to deal with such a man. If he has been allowed to get into bad habits, if he has not been checked—and, after all, there is very powerful machinery ready to hand for checking him—it would be rather hard, he having become a much less efficient non-commissioned officer than before, that the Regular Army should be asked to take back, so to speak, a damaged article. On his return, that man would have to carry out the important duties and responsibilities of colour-sergeant of his company, and if he had got into bad habits while away from the Colours the probability is that on his return, he would have a bad effect upon his company. We are most anxious in a case of this sort, which is almost inevitably bound to happen sometimes, that the officer commanding the Territorial unit should take immediate steps, if the man commits a breach of the regulations which justifies it, to have him court-marshalled, or the case should be brought to the notice of the authorities before the mischief is allowed to get worse and to spread. We hope that in future commanding officers of Territorial units whose permanent staff misbehave will at once deal with the cases by the means they have at their disposal.

The noble Earl then mentioned the question of pay. We have discussed the pay of the permanent staff in this House a good many times, and I do not propose to re-open the matter. The pay of the permanent staff of the Territorial Army is lower than the pay of men in the corresponding rank in the colours, and it is so for a certain definite reason. It is considered that the work which a man on the permanent staff of the Territorial Army has to do is less than if he were with his regiment. He is also saved a number of expenses such as, for instance, frequent moves, which, if he is a married man, are a serious matter to him. There are, of course, in the various allowances opportunities of making money in other ways; and, if you take it from that point of view, we consider that the men on the permanent staff are very fairly paid. In the case to which the noble Earl referred, the man on being re-posted to his battalion would, as a matter of fact, have received an increase of pay, and this was considered undesirable in the case of a man who was being re-posted for serious and grave misconduct.


In view of what the noble Lord the Under-Secretary has said, I would point out that, under Paragraph 139 of the Regulations dealing with offences by members of the permanent staff, it is laid down that the powers of the commanding officer as regards any award involving an entry in the conduct sheet can be exercised only by and under the authority of the officer commanding the district. Guided by that, the commanding officer in the present case conceived that under this paragraph he could only report the man to the officer in charge of records, which he did, and this may be one reason why more stringent treatment was not meted out. While we fully recognise that it is impossible to ensure that members of the permanent staff should be always reliable, what we do think is that when they are proved unreliable we should have a chance of getting rid of them. That is the point in this case; and I think, when the facts have been gone into, it will be found that it was not while with the Territorial force that this officer acquired his bad habits. I should like to ask the noble Lord how soon the matter will be settled.


It is for the reasons which the noble Earl has given that the matter is being reconsidered. We hope to be able to announce our decision very shortly. We are only waiting now for the papers to arrive.


Would it not be possible to allow the general officer commanding-in-chief to deal with his own permanent staff? It seems ridiculous to have to refer all these matters to the Army Council.


My Lords I rise merely to say that my experience which is five years as an adjutant and five years as a commanding officer of Auxiliary forces, leads me to this conclusion, that unless it is made easy for a commanding officer to get rid of a member of his permanent staff who does not behave himself, his battalion is bound to deteriorate. If the permanent staff know that a letter must be written to the general officer, and that then a communication must go to the Army Council before they can be got rid of, they will not behave as they would if they knew that the commanding officer could give them very short shrift.


My Lords, I rather gather, from the reply of the noble Lord the Under-Secretary that the placing of difficulties in the way of commanding officers getting rid of incompetent non-commissioned officers was not intended by the Army Council. What is wanted is an assurance from the Government that the Territorial force is to be given a fair chance, and that commanding officers will not be saddled with inefficient members of their staffs whom they cannot get rid of. I have bad some experience in this matter, and know that it is difficult sometimes to get good permanent staff. Regular officers are very glad to get rid of incompetent men from their own battalions, and put them on somebody else who cannot resist them. That is a matter of my own experience, and, therefore, I fully share my noble friend's strong feeling on this subject.

As regards the case of drunkenness, I was very much relieved to hear the noble Lord the Under-Secretary lay it down that the proper procedure was that a non-commissioned officer charged with drunkenness should be at once brought before a Court-martial, when the ordinary military law would take effect. But I do not quite follow the procedure by which that could be done in the Territorial force. I understand that the matter would have to be reported to the officer in charge of the records. How long would it take before a procedure of that kind would have effect, and would every facility be placed in the way of a commanding officer who tried to use this power? It would be a very serious matter it there was any difficulty in bringing a non-commissioned officer, charged with drunkenness, to justice. I would ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary to make inquiry as to whether commanding officers know the wishes of the Army Council in this respect, so that their powers and duties shall be made clear to them. If this discussion does nothing further than clear up this point, it will have proved a very useful discussion.