HL Deb 14 March 1911 vol 7 cc480-8

THE DUKE OF BEDFORD rose to call attention to the facts—

  1. 1. That the number of Regular Infantry officers required for the Expeditionary Force, exclusive of Staff, is 2,461;
  2. 2. That the number of Regular officers required for the four battalions at home is 112, and that the number of Regular Infantry officers shown in the Army List for January last as not seconded is 1,998.

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for War if the total deficiency of Regular Infantry officers for the Expeditionary Force is 575. exclusive of Staff, that is a deficiency of seven officers per battalion, equivalent to one quarter of the total complement of Regular officers per battalion, and necessitating the depletion of the four home battalions by every Regular officer belonging to them.

To ask the number of Regular. Infantry officers required for Staff duties with the Regular Infantry and the Regular Mounted Infantry of the Expeditionary Force in addition to the 2,461.

To ask if the fact of four Infantry battalions being left at home after the departure of the Expeditionary Force means an addition of three battalions to the seventy-five scheduled for the Expeditionary Force by Table I of Army Memorandum dated 8th April, 1907.

To ask if the deficiency in Divisional Cavalry for the infantry Divisions with the Expeditionary Force is to be met by the employment of Regular Mounted Infantry.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, in the Questions which I have on the Paper I call your attention to some figures supplied to me by the Under-Secretary of State for War. These numbers show that there will be a considerable shortage of Regular Infantry officers on mobilisation both for the Expeditionary Force and for the four Infantry battalions remaining at home on the departure of the Expeditionary Force. They prove the correctness of the statement which I made a short time ago but as to the accuracy of which the Under-Secretary of State for War then demurred. I cannot expect your Lordships to attach much importance to the figures which I use in discussing Army matters if I allow the Under-Secretary of State for War to disregard them without attempting to explain how or why my calculations are wrong. The question is a very simple one. Will there or will there not be a sufficient number of Regular Infantry officers on mobilisation for the requirements of the Expeditionary Force and for the four home battalions? I lay stress upon the point of Regular Infantry officers, because I am not in the least concerned to know the total number of officers now available for service abroad in the Officers Training Corps, in the Special Reserve, or in the Reserve of Officers, because none of these are in any sense fit for First Line duty at short notice.

The figures on the Paper show that 2,461 Regular Infantry officers are required for the Expeditionary Force exclusive of Staff, and also 112 officers for the four home battalions. There were on January 1 last 1,998 Regular Infantry officers not seconded. Seconded officers represent officers employed by the Colonial Office, or serving with the Egyptian Army, or on the Staff of the Regular and Territorial Army at home, or with the Special Reserve; in short, all officers not available for regimental duty. The total required is 2,573. There are available 1,998. This shows a deficit of 575. But it also means that there would not he a single Regular officer with the four home battalions. This, of course, would be impossible, and no doubt the deficit would be divided between the Expeditionary Force and the four home battalions. The average deficit is seven officers per battalion, or one quarter of the total complement of officers for an Infantry battalion, which is twenty-eight. Now if our Infantry battalions are called upon to take the field with one quarter of their complement of officers deficient and with far more Reservists, some of whom have been absent from the Colours ten, twelve, or thirteen years, than serving soldiers in the ranks, and if battalions thus organised should fail in the hour of need, it is not their fault, but the fault of those responsible for such an organisation.

Two of the chief reasons for the deficiency of Regular Infantry officers are: First, that there are at present in round numbers 600 Regular Infantry officers required for the Special Reserve. I pointed out when the Special Reserve was first created that, however advantageous this transfer might be for the new force, the Special Reserve, it would be a disastrous drain on the resources of the Line. Secondly, owing to the deficiency in the Regular Cavalry for the Expeditionary Force it has been decided to use Mounted Infantry to act as Divisional Cavalry for the six Infantry Divisions. But the numbers of Regular Infantry are not equal to this demand. At present the shortage shows itself chiefly in officers, but in two years' time, when the Reserve has dropped by 30,000 men, the deficiency will be shown both in officers and men.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to make one general observation on what the noble Duke has just said. It is generally known to be part of our military system, as of all military systems, that on mobilisation the peace establishment has to be brought up to the war establishment. I do not know whether we have dropped into the habit of considering the matter as if it only applied to men, but, of course, it does, and always will, apply to officers as well. The war establishment of officers required is always different from the peace establishment. There are always a certain number of officers to be found on mobilisation for various duties for which they are not required in peace time, so that if you take the number of officers serving with the Colours in peace time and compare them with what would be required for war, there is, of course, a deficit. The regular way in which that has been met has hitherto been, I believe, to use the Reserve of Officers—a body which is now a considerable size. We have that: source to draw upon, and we also have the officers of the Special Reserve. Those two categories together would supply us with a considerable number of officers, and on them undoubtedly, to a more or less degree, we shall draw when the time comes for mobilisation.

This is the second series of questions which the noble Duke has asked dealing with this subject, and I confess that they do put us in some difficulty with regard to answering them. I have always disliked having to refuse information to this House, and I hope I have never done so except when information has been asked for with regard to our position on mobilisation. I have gone into the matter carefully as to what has been the proceeding of this Government and of previous Governments, and I can say with absolute certainty that we have gone a great deal further than previous Governments in supplying information as to actual procedure on mobilisation. We have discussed this question before in your Lordships' House when the noble Viscount, Lord Hardinge, raised it, and on that occasion I fortified my refusal to give the information asked for by quoting cases where the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and Lord Donoughmore had also refused to give what I may call mobilisation details. I was further fortified by the refusals that Lord Midleton gave when he was in the House of Commons. From a careful examination of the precedents of what has been given and what has been refused, broadly speaking, anything in the nature of detailed information as to mobilisation organisation or arrangements has invariably been refused. But information has occasionally been given as to our general capacity to mobilise. Those are the lines on which I am perfectly prepared to proceed now.

The Questions which the noble Duke asks fall under the first of those categories. They go in considerable detail into our military organisation. I frankly admit, with regard to the answering of these Questions, that from my previous experience in discussions with the noble Duke, the noble Duke is far too formidable a controversialist for me to contemplate with any pleasure the idea of embarking on a discussion with him on this question, when I am bound to fight with, to a more or less extent, one of my hands tied behind my back, because I cannot, without revealing the whole of our mobilisation proposals, explain the position on which he is asking for information. In those circumstances I am simply following the precedent that has been set by, I think, all Governments in this matter, in saying that I am very sorry that I cannot give him the answers.

But, if the House wishes it, I am quite prepared to give a statement as to our general position and our general capacity to mobilise the Expeditionary Force and to maintain troops adequate for home defence. I would suggest, if the House wishes for information on that point something of the following nature. There was a Command Paper No. 3,366 laid before Parliament in April, 1907. It was a Memorandum by the Secretary of State for War, with tables showing the war establishment, the composition of the field force and other particulars. That was issued in connection with the Territorial Reserve Forces Bill, which was being brought in during that Session of Parliament; it is the Paper which is probably known to a good many of your Lordships as the Wyndham Return, it having been the result of Questions asked by Mr. George Wyndham in the other House in this Paper we did give the war establishments of the proposed Expeditionary Force giving the total officers and men by arms and those war establishments we are perfectly prepared to bring up to date. The composition of the Expeditionary Force has been modified in certain comparatively small details, and we are prepared to show in that form what is the present establishment of the Expeditionary Force.

Later, about June, 1909, there was laid on the Table of your Lordships' House another Paper, Cd. 4611. That was a Memorandum by the Army Council on the then state of the military forces in the United Kingdom, and the Paper contained tables of comparison. It gave the figures, first, of officers serving in the United Kingdom who were liable for service abroad; it also gave the number of men who were liable by their terms of enlistment and available by age and service for service abroad, and also one or two other tables. We would be prepared also, having given what our requirements are for the Expeditionary Force, to bring such tables in that last Command Paper as are germane to the subject up to date, with the object of showing your Lordships what our resources are from which we can mobilise the Expeditionary Force. In all those cases the figures are given by what I may call the gross total for each arm in officers and men, and I hope that in the circumstances your Lordships will accept that. I regret very much to have to be compelled to refuse the information for which the noble Duke has asked, but I can assure the House that I have taken particular pains in this matter, not only to take the opinion of the Army Council upon it, but also to consider very carefully what have been the precedents.


My Lords, I do not quite gather from the noble Lord to which of my Questions he thinks it is not in the public interest to reply. The answer to all the Questions is contained in Army Returns that we already have. There is no doubt about the deficiency of officers, because the noble Lord gave me the figures himself; and there is no doubt about the number of Infantry battalions to go abroad, because that appears in Table 1 of the Army Memorandum of April 8. The only Question not answered is whether the noble Lord is going to employ Mounted Infantry instead of Divisional Cavalry for these Infantry Divisions.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Under-Secretary has taken credit to the Government that they have been extremely liberal in the amount of information they have given us on this subject. I think that is perfectly true. We have no reason to complain of the statistical information which they have given us, but the noble Lord rather thinks that we are pressing him for answers to questions which in the public interest ought not to be answered. I quite feel that he has a right to great consideration from all of us, but I think the noble Lord hardly sees the effect of his argument. Having given these statistics and these tables, he backs them up by large general statements to which I called attention on a recent occasion, and when we try to find whether those statements are made good by the tables, the noble Lord refuses to be drawn into a discussion on the deductions from those tables as compared with his own statements.

The noble Duke pointed out that the figures in his first two Questions are mere facts which any foreign officer can make good for himself. There are the tables—and I thank the noble Lord for saying he will bring them up to date—and there are the Estimates, in which the strength of officers and men and the Reserve of Officers is duly shown. The deduction can be made without the slightest difficulty by any man who has these public documents in his hand. What we mind is this. The noble Lord made a statement across the Table a few moments ago to the effect that it is quite true the war establishment of officers is in excess of the peace establishment, and that you will always have to draw a certain number of officers on mobilisation who are not wanted for duties in time of peace. But he says that for that purpose we have the Reserve of Officers and the Special Reserve to draw upon. The noble Lord only the other night drew rather largely on our credulity as to our power to defend ourselves at home after the Expeditionary Force has gone, and in doing so especially alluded to and counted the battalions of the Special Reserve. The Special Reserve is 1,000 officers under its strength at present; and what the noble Lord has told us to-night amounts to this, that in order to mobilise the Expeditionary Force he has to draw on the officers of the Special Reserve, who are 1,000 under their strength. That is a most serious position. I really think that when we come to close quarters with this question we must ask the noble Lord to be ready to tell us how he proposes to mobilise the vast mass of troops which would be left at home after the Expeditionary Force had been sent abroad.

The noble Lord in his speeches is always drawing comparisons, is always speaking of the advance which has been made, and of the position now as compared with five years ago. I wish we could sweep away that altogether. I am ready to make good the position five years ago, and I will, if the noble Lord wishes it, put on paper figures showing not the establishments but the strength as it was five years ago, allowing, of course, for the Reserve which was then coming into being but which had not actually accrued at the moment, and he will find that our position then bears most favourable comparison with our present position. But that is not the question before your Lordships.

The point is whether, the Secretary of State having stated to Parliament and to the country over and over again that certain forces are in his opinion necessary in order to defend the country after the Expeditionary Force has gone abroad, those forces have really been brought into being. We do not expect him to make bricks without straw, but I do believe that the whole of the officer question requires to be taken up ab initio. You have reached the limit at which you must pay more for your officers if you wish to get them; you must offer more inducements than hitherto. I do not think it is fair to ask us to be content when we know that the figures shown in the official documents do not bear out the desire of the Government on mobilisation, and to tell us that if we draw the deductions which can be drawn from these figures we are trenching on what is to the advantage of the country. Therefore I hope the noble Lord will not take it amiss if, after he has published these figures, he is asked to put in parallel columns how many troops he has left at home fully officered and fit to take the field. We may then be able to put before the country what the state of our forces is after the Expeditionary has left these islands.

House adjourned at Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.