HL Deb 30 March 1911 vol 7 cc809-16

*LORD VIVIAN rose to call attention to War Office Letter No. 9, General No. 2243 (A.G. 2A), dated August 31, 1910, in which it was stated that the question of the organisation of the Permanent Staff of the Territorial Force was under consideration, and pending the issue of further instructions, all vacancies for sergeant-instructors occurring in all arms of the Territorial Force would be filled by non-commissioned officers on the Home Establishment holding the rank of sergeant, such appointments to be made for two years with a possible extension to a maximum of five years; and to ask the Secretary of State for War whether any representations have been made by officers commanding Yeomanry regiments as to the increased difficulties in recruiting these appointments would entail, and the advisability of reverting to the former practice of appointing sergeant-majors from Cavalry regiments for an indefinite period should this now be the regulation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I happen to be the first member of your Lordships' House to address a Question to the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War, who has to-day taken his seat in this House, I hope it will not be considered out of place if I offer him my congratulations upon his elevation. The noble Viscount has rendered great services to the country, not the least of which has been the great part he has played in the creation of the Territorial Force. These new appointments will, I feel sure, affect the strength of the Territorial Force very considerably, and will affect it at a time when those who have its interests at heart find it difficult not only to increase but to maintain its strength. I shall confine myself in my remarks to the manner in which I believe they will affect the Yeomanry, because I happen to hold a commission in the Yeomanry, and having served in the Regulars I feel that I can speak with a certain amount of practical experience behind me.

The three evils to be feared are a scarcity of recruits, the disinclination on the part of time-expired men to re-engage, and the increased amount of work and worry accruing to commanding and squadron officers. As regards the scarcity of recruits, the practice in the past, as probably most of your Lordships know, has been for a sergeant-major to be appointed. He has come down to the recruiting area and by degrees has got to know most of the families, and he has either then and there been able to get recruits or has been able to mark down the men who, at some future day, will make useful recruits for the Yeomanry. The whole idea of recruiting has been to do it in this way, and to carry on a continuous and methodical nursing of the recruiting area. Under these new appointments these new sergeants will come down for two years, with a possible extension for another three years. At the end of their second year, they may possibly know the recruiting area, and they may be useful to us provided they get the extension. But we are going to have all the trouble over again upon the next appointments, for the new man coming in at the end of five years will have to begin all over again.

As regards the disinclination of time-expired men to re-engage, I feel that this will grow, because, after all, the methods used in the Regulars are entirely different from the methods used in the Yeomanry. An immense amount of tact is required to bring out the best qualities of the Yeomanry. I very much doubt whether these new sergeants will show the requisite tact. We have very often found it was not the case with the old sergeant-majors, but I am afraid that these new sergeants will not show it, although possibly some may. As regards the additional work and worry accruing to commanding and squadron officers, I have had personal experience of that in my own regiment. But what I wish to point out is that although we have had bad cases under the old régime, owing to the frequent changes they are likely to occur much more frequently. I really do not know why this change was advocated, and I should like to ask the Secretary of State for War whether any complaints were received from commanding officers. I may possibly get the answer "No." But still I would very much like the Secretary of State for War to state whether the War Office ever consulted commanding officers before this change was made. Surely in a change like this it is only right to consult commanding officers, whose opinions are worth having on recruiting, which is a most essential point.

I do not know whether this scheme has been brought in on the ground of reduction of expense. I do not see where the reduction of expense comes in, but possibly the Secretary of State may be able to tell me. Reduction of expense may come in here, that very likely you will have fewer members of the Territorial Force to pay because you will drive your men out and will not get recruits. In conclusion, let me say that to maintain a strong and efficient Territorial Force entails hard work combined with tact, and also, as I said before, a continuous method of nursing the recruiting area is absolutely essential; and to carry this scheme out successfully it should be the duty of every commanding officer to see that he is surrounded by the very best men that he can find to form his Permanent Staff, and if they are not fully competent to carry out their duties the matter can always be inquired into by the General officers. It is because I believe that these new appointments will not answer these requirements that I have ventured to draw your Lordships' attention to this matter, and to put the question to the Secretary of State for War.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has referred to myself in terms of kindly courtesy, for which I thank him. Nevertheless, I am reluctant to intrude myself at this early stage on your Lordships' notice even for a moment. I cannot help myself, however, because my noble friend who sits by my side (Lord Lucas) no longer occupies the position of Under-Secretary of State for War, and the duty of responding, therefore, falls upon me.

The noble Lord has referred to the changes which have been made on the recommendation of the Committee which has recently sat. The changes arise out of the altered conditions of the Yeomanry regiments. To begin with, a good deal of the administration which used to be done by the regimental authorities is now done by the Associations. The system has changed. In the second place, we found venerable institutions in the shape of sergeant-majors who had been there for a very long time. Some of them were admirable; all of them were beloved by the regiments to which they were attached; but some of them, at all events, were of an age and a physical configuration that did not lend itself to efficient Yeomanry training. Therefore, a Committee was appointed on which the noble Earl opposite, Lord Scarbrough, and others connected with the Territorial Force and in particular with the Yeomanry sat, and a careful investigation was made of the whole question. We were not dealing with the Yeomanry only, but, of course, with the entire Territorial Forces, and the Yeomanry necessarily came into it. After much consideration, the Committee recommended that for the greater efficiency of the Force it was desirable that in the future there should be younger and more active men, more abreast with the latest developments of training Infantry, and otherwise more fitted to take a really active part in the work of a squadron.

I of course recognise the value of some of those old sergeant-majors in getting recruits and generally in promoting good feeling, but in the Yeomanry you are not at the point where you have the greatest difficulty in getting recruits. The Committee were not apprehensive on that point, but they were clear about this, that a system of appointments under which a man should go on practically for the rest of his natural life as sergeant-major in a Yeomanry regiment was not a good one. They therefore recommended that there should be a minimum term of two years, capable of being extended to five years. There should be the same kind of change of tour and duty as there is in the Regulars.

A non-commissioned officer under the old system was being paid less than the Regular non-commissioned officer. The Committee laid it down that in the interests of efficiency it is desirable that a non-commissioned officer who goes to the Territorial Force, whether Yeomanry or not, should be paid exactly the same rate as a Regular sergeant is paid. The result will be, we hope, to get a more efficient class of non-commissioned officer.

The noble Lord has asked whether we consulted Yeomanry commanding officers. We did. Of course, there is a difference of opinion in this matter. Some of the Brigade commanding officers came to the War Office and talked the matter over with my noble friend. Except for that visit I think we have only had complaint in the case of one commanding officer. This is a matter on which, naturally, there is a great deal of diversity of opinion. People's instincts in a matter of this kind are rather conservative. They are apt to think because somebody has been very useful that nobody can be found to do his work. We took the view, following the recommendation of the Committee, that there was an evil to be redressed, that the way the Committee proposed to deal with it was the proper way, and that at least the new system should have a careful trial. It was impossible to remain under the old state of things. We have got a new system, and we will see how it works. We hope it is right; but at all events what we are doing is in conformity with the best advice and the most skilled opinions we can obtain.


My Lords, I wish to say how much we on these Benches congratulate the House upon the accession of the noble Viscount to our discussions. I only rise to put this one point to the noble Viscount on this particular question. He said that the two years system had been adopted, with a possible extension to five years. Now, the only point which from my experience I think very valuable would be that we should have some feeling of security that if the commanding officer desired the extension and there was no real reason against it, the two years would be extended to five years. I think the constant passage to and fro of men of the particular rank involved would be undesirable from the point of view of the efficiency of a regiment. Of course, a break after two years is an advantage, because it would give an opportunity of removing the man if he was not doing good work. But may we take it that the commanding officer will be consulted, and that if he reports well it will be the exception and not the rule that the man will be removed?


My Lords, I regret extremely that on this the first occasion on which the noble Viscount has risen in this House to respond on behalf of his Department it should he my fate to in any sense criticise his reply, and the more so as I am generally in accord with my noble friend. But I think he is aware that I hold strong views with regard to this particular matter, and I feel bound to support the noble Lord opposite, and to urge that as soon as possible, for I believe it will come, there should be a reconsideration of what I believe is a most important matter with regard to the efficiency of the Yeomanry. I cannot help feeling at the back of my mind—I hope it is not so—that the real reason for this change may be a certain reduction with regard to the Estimates. [VISCOUNT HALDANE dissented.] That is not so. I am very glad to know that. But as far as I am personally concerned I am bound to say that I prefer, on broad grounds, the ancient institutions of which my noble friend has spoken, the old sergeant-majors, to the two years gentlemen we are going to have in the future. Those sergeant-majors—and this is my personal experience after a good many years of Volunteer service—were most admirable men, and, permanently appointed to finish their term of service with the particular Volunteer regiment, they looked upon that regiment as their own, and the men in that regiment looked upon the sergeant-major as a sort of heavy father. It seems to me years a particular sergeant would hardly have become acquainted with his regiment at all, and at the end of five years, if there was an extension, he would be only just becoming acquainted with the men. After all, a Territorial regiment is very different from a Regular regiment. A Territorial regiment is only together for fifteen days in the year, and for the remainder of the year the men are dotted about in various parts of the locality. It is therefore extremely difficult for any sergeant-instructor to get to know his men in a short time. There is one other matter which I would like to put to your Lordships, and to the noble Viscount particularly—that is, the matter of pay. Under the old system a sergeant-major instructor, as I understand it, received pay to the amount of 6s. 6d, with quarters found. The new man, I understand, will now get 5s. 6½d, with no quarters found.


What is his lodging allowance?


He receives lodging allowance, but the old sergeant-major got quarters found and 6s 6d. All I wish to say is that this may be a real hardship to a sergeant who has to come very often to headquarters, which may be in a large town where rents are very often 10s. a week. His position is not nearly so good as the position of the old sergeant-major used to be. I do not know whether I can ask my noble friend to consider the situation with a view to something being done to assist the man in that particular regard. There is only one other point on which I feel rather strongly. I do not believe that under this two years' system you will get the Colonels of Regular regiments to send their best sergeants to Yeomanry regiments. I feel strongly, at any rate so far as General officers and Brigade majors and general sergeant-instructors are concerned, that as we have not the same opportunities for drill and instruction as the Regular forces have, we should have the very best we can possibly get, and unless you get that state of things I do not think you will ever secure thorough efficiency in the Territorial service.


May I add one word to what has fallen from my noble friend Lord Willingdon? I could give a case of a sergeant of Yeomanry whose rent exceeds his lodging allowance, with extras, by something like 4s. per week.


My Lords, the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War mentioned my name in connection with the Committee which sat on this question, and to a certain extent I feel my responsibility in the matter. I sympathise with the noble Lord who has raised this question. I do not think it was wise to interfere with the existing system as regards the Yeomanry. Undoubtedly the Infantry had a grievance. They claimed that as regards scattered battalions they had not a sufficient number of Permanent Staff. Their grievance was insufficient numbers and inadequate pay. It is true that the grievance as regards inadequate pay applies to all branches alike, but that as to insufficient numbers only applied to the Infantry as far as I understand. The position with regard to the Yeomanry was very little discussed on the Committee The discussion centred round the Infantry and their two grievances, and in getting rid of these it appears another grievance has been created; but I assume the new system will have to be tried. The proportion, as I understand it, is to be two sergeant-majors and three sergeants to every Yemanry regiment. I urge that the new system, as far as the Yeomanry is concerned, should be carefully watched from the point of view of any interference with recruiting.

I have two small practical points to bring to the noble Viscount's notice. One is that you will now have connected with each Yeomanry regiment men of different ranks—two sergeant-majors and three sergeants. They are paid on a different scale, and yet they have to keep up practically the same social position for recruiting purposes. How are you going to adjust that? It seems to me they are both doing exactly the same duty. They may even be in the same towns. Therefore they ought to be paid alike, because the cost of living will be exactly the same whether they are sergeants or sergeant-majors. The second point is this. You allow an extension after two years to sergeants on the application of the commanding officer of the Yeomanry, who is sure to do his utmost to retain a good man. Is the sergeant himself prepared to accept that? Presumably he is an excellent man, an efficient man, or else the extension would not be asked for. Is it fair that he should lose the chance of promotion in his own regiment by being kept for five years in a Territorial corps? I would suggest that if a sergeant is given an extension of three years after his two years' service he should be automatically promoted to the rank of sergeant-major; otherwise, that man, at the end of five years, goes back to his regiment with very small chances indeed of ever getting promotion. Those are two points which I hope Lord Haldane will consider when the new system has got into working order.