HL Deb 07 April 1910 vol 5 cc623-8

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether the War Office are able to give any information with regard to Army Form E 624, containing the terms of an agreement seeking to subject officers and men of the Territorial Force to liability to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom in the event of national emergency.

I shall not occupy the attention of the House for more than a few moments in calling attention to the terms of this agreement. Certain conditions are attached to the agreement, but the point to which I wish to draw attention is that these conditions and the very nature of the agreement involve a certain amount of pressure, because the Territorial officer or man who signs on for foreign service in time of national emergency is to be awarded a badge, which will, of course, distinguish him from the other officers and men in the regiment. The question has already been mooted of having service squadrons, so to speak, which I feel sure would be extremely unpopular, at any rate in Yeomanry regiments. I have privately tested the opinion of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men with regard to the wearing of these badges and the whole question of voluntary liability for foreign service, and I can assure the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War that if he carries out this agreement and if men are to be awarded badges for saying they will come forward in time of national emergency to serve abroad, it will be an exceedingly unpopular move.

I submit, moreover, that it is not neces- sary. If you wish to draw upon your home Army for foreign service, it is hardly necessary to make the arrangements now. Should the emergency arise, all those anxious to serve abroad could easily enlist to do so at the proper time. Is it desirable that you should now call upon the men of a force enlisted for home defence to volunteer for foreign service? Your Territorial Force must be either for home defence or not for home defence. If it is not for home defence, then we had better say so at once. We cannot possibly have it both ways. We ought to tell the nation that, after all, we cannot allocate the force solely to home defence, but are compelled to draw upon it for foreign service. But if the force is for home defence, let us keep it for that purpose. The opinion of the War Minister himself is that 350,000 men will be sufficient for home defence. Others do not think so. But he has not got 350,000 men. He has only got 270,000, and these 270,000 men are to be further drawn upon and to be asked to serve outside the United Kingdom. Some may wish to do so. Others—and it would be very hard on those men—may be just as patriotic and just as willing to serve abroad, but for private reasons and reasons of necessity may not be able to comply with this agreement. If you do this with your Territorial Army, you are trying to rob Peter to pay Paul, and you will have the appearance of counting your men twice over.

I venture to suggest, with great respect, that the Territorial Force at present is not large enough, and that it is very undesirable, not only in the manner in which it is proposed to do it but in any case, to try and suck away from that home defence Army any appreciable number of men for other purposes outside the United Kingdom. Supposing a certain number of officers and men respond to this invitation. how does the noble Lord propose to fill up the gaps? I daresay he will tell us that he has a Reserve for the Territorial Army. I do not propose to enter at length into that question now, because it ought to be a subject for a separate debate, but it is an extremely interesting proposal. I do not know how far it has matured, but one thing about it we do know—that according to the terms of the Reserve force the duties of a Territorial Reservist are to be exactly the same as those of a member of the Territorial Force with the exception that he is not to come out to camp and do any training. This seems to me to be rather a formidable differentiation. I beg to put the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, I will give the noble Lord the best answer I can to his Question. One is always faced with a certain amount of difficulty in answering an interrogation like this, because both question and answer are hypothetical. To endeavour to give a definite answer as to what will arise when you do not know what the situation is going to be is always difficult, but I think I can explain our general attitude in this matter.

As to liability for foreign service, the point which the noble Lord raises now might well have been raised nearly three years ago, at the time when the Territorial Forces Act was passing through this House, because all that the recent Army Order and the form to which the noble Lord calls attention do is simply to put in force what is already in the Act. Section 13 of the Act lays down, after saying that the area and service of the Territorial Force is the United Kingdom, that— It shall be lawful for His Majesty to accept the offer of any part of the Territorial Force to subject themselves to liability to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom. What we are doing with regard to this is simply putting that section of the Act into force. You have, I agree, to look at the question of how far you can use your Territorial Force for service abroad primarily from the standpoint of the question of home defence. The Territorial Force is primarily a home defence force, and although a certain number of men accept liability to serve abroad I think you have to give the Government of the day, whoever they may be, credit for not employing these men for service abroad if their services are required at home for the purposes of home defence.

With the present organisation of the Regular Army, when you have got the Special Reserve to maintain the Expeditionary Force in the field it is very hard to conceive any circumstances in which you would want units, or parts of units, of the Territorial Force to go out to augment your force abroad during the early stages of a war. We have had quoted in this connection the analogy of the volunteer companies which went out in the early period of the South African war. In general organisation we have advanced a good way beyond that stage; and the fact that you have now the Special Reserve and that you have now organised a larger Expeditionary Force makes it difficult to conceive that you could in any circumstances require to augment your Expeditionary Force during the early stages of a campaign. But if we are engaged in a big war, the position at sea as the war goes on is bound to become more defined and our liability to or our security from the possibility of raids or invasions is bound to become clear, and I can quite conceive the position under which, after the war has gone on for some months, the Government of the day should be able to say that our position at sea was sufficiently commanding for them to be able to weaken our home defences in order to augment the military forces abroad. It is to meet that position, which conceivably might arise in the later stages of a war, that we are desirous of having men of the Territorial Force to call upon.

In a great national emergency of that kind the strong presumption is, of course, that the Territorial Force would have been embodied at once on the outbreak of the war and would have undergone a long training on embodiment. Therefore these men would have done their training on embodiment before the question arose of sending them abroad. As to the question of weakening the Territorial Force by sending members of it abroad, I do not see, as I have said, how we can send them abroad in the early stages of a war; but during the progress of the war you would have called out your Reservists, the men who were recruits at the time of embodiment would have received several months training, new men would be coming in a number of whom would be ex-Territorials, and I should think it would be pretty certain that all the units of the Territorial Force would be well over establishment and would be able to spare men without weakening themselves below the standard necessary for efficiency.

Then as to the position of the man himself who is asked to undertake this obligation. I quite agree with the noble Lord that it is very important to prevent any sort of pressure being put on these men. The noble Lord suggested that you would avoid putting pressure upon them if you waited till the emergency arose and then asked them to volunteer. My opinion is that the pressure which would then be put upon a member of the Territorial Force and the stigma which would attach to him if when a war was going on he refused to serve abroad would be much greater than under our present system, safeguarded by the instructions given to commanding officers that they shall not certify any offer until they have fully explained to the man that the offer is purely voluntary on his part and made quite sure that no pressure of any kind has been put upon him. Then the noble Lord instanced the badge as one means of putting pressure on these men. The badge cuts both ways. In some cases it is quite possible that it may be considered that a man who does not wear a badge is a fit subject for opprobrium; but I know of one regiment in the Territorial Force the members of which are quite willing to come forward and volunteer, but they will not wear the badge. Therefore, if the badge is an unpopular thing in itself, as in some cases it may prove to be, I do not think it is likely to be used as a weapon against the man who does not undertake this liability.


My Lords, I do not think your Lordships can have been taken in by what seemed to me the rather sorry subterfuge to which the noble Lord resorted. The noble Lord said that the War Office were merely putting the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act into force, but as I understand the Act that is not the case. As I read that Act, it merely says that it does not forbid a man to serve abroad if he pleases. That is a purely negative provision and demands no present action. That is the sense in which everybody understood it when the Act was passed, and I do not think the noble Lord has any right to say that this complaint should have been raised at that time. If anyone had a notion that those words would have been used in this way, there would have been a good deal of protest. The action now being taken by the War Office amounts to a direct invitation to the men to engage in advance for foreign service. That is entirely different from saying that the King, in spite of anything in the Act, may accept the services of those who choose to volunteer when an emergency has actually arisen.


My Lords, it is very encouraging to hear the optimistic view of the noble Lord as to the military potentialities of the future. Everything is perfectly admirable—on paper. He tells us that there is an admirable force, but it is a force on paper, and that there is an admirable force of Reserves, also on paper. I have only risen for the purpose of suggesting that it would be much better for the War Office to concentrate their efforts upon filling up the ranks of the Territorial Force before embarking on distinctions of this kind. The noble Lord assumes that there will be an unlimited number of trained soldiers in this country who would be prepared to go anywhere should an emergency arise. That may possibly be the case. But we have to look at the facts, and to realise that the Territorial Force from whom all these things are expected is at this moment 30,000 or 40,000 below its establishment; and I venture to suggest that the most practical thing to do would be to fill up the force to its proper figure before making these distinctions between the classes of men who form it.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.