HL Deb 05 May 1913 vol 14 cc377-9

VISCOUNT MIDLETON rose to call attention to the refusal of the War Office to allow the Marlborough College Contingent Officers Training Corps to take part in Empire Day celebrations, and to ask whether in the interests of the recruiting of the Territorial Force the Secretary of State for War will not reconsider his decision that none of His Majesty's Forces may take part in such celebrations.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, there seems to he some doubt as to the effect of the Secretary of State's decision with regard to members of His Majesty's. Forces taking part in celebrations which are not entirely of a military character. I put this Question down with a view of trying to obtain from the Government some statement which will clear the ground, having in view the large number of celebrations which are not strictly of a military character but which are essential for the popularising of the Auxiliary Forces. The position as it stands at present is this. Hitherto there has been no exact rule, and the commanding officer has, I believe, been allowed in almost every case to select the occasions on which he may order a Church Parade or any other celebration of the kind, at which, as everybody knows, in the Territorial Force attendance is not obligatory, and therefore it does not take the same position as the order for a parade given by a Regular officer, which parade every man under his command is forced to attend. Recently the Secretary of State announced in another place that the Army Council saw objection to these parades being called for the celebration of Empire Day. Empire Day, he pointed out, was an occasion for civilian rather than for military display, and he thought that to unite a parade of a military Force with the jubilation of a number of school children was not advantageous and to some extent involved the dignity of the Force. But the decision at which he arrived may, I am afraid, cut away from some of the most interesting occasions on which the Territorial Force parades.

In my own neighbourhood there is a proposal to hold a Church Parade on the day following Empire Day, at which not merely the Territorials but the National Reserve and the Officers Training Corps will be represented; at which many thousands of people will be present; which is highly calculated to raise a good spirit with regard to the Auxiliary Forces, and which is looked upon by the officers who have asked their corps to take part in it as an admirable means of stimulating recruiting. I can quite understand the position which the Secretary of State has taken up. He desires military displays to be reserved for the King's Birthday, and wishes Empire Day to he celebrated in a civilian fashion. The question is whether that is a decision which can be in all cases maintained. For the purpose of this discussion I entirely accept it. But what I would like to ask the noble Earl who will reply to me on behalf of the War Office is this. Can he not clear the ground for those who have already gone to considerable labour and expense and make it clear that ordinary Church Parades which are not strictly military but which greatly increase the military character and popularity of the Territorial Force will not be interfered with by a decision which, as I understand, was only intended to govern Empire Day as in contradistinction to the King's Birthday?


My Lords, the noble Viscount would, I am sure, be one of the last to expect me to go beyond the terms of the Question of which he has given notice, and which refers only to the celebration of Empire' Day and not to those other occasions of which he has spoken. I hope, therefore, he will excuse me if I confine myself to the strict terms of the Question on the Paper. Empire Day celebrations in this country are occasions for civilian rejoicing and are not military in character, and the Army Council are strongly of opinion that the day is not suited for military displays, which should be reserved for the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday. If members of Officers Training Corps desire to take part in Empire Day celebrations it is proper, therefore, for them to do so in their civilian character rather than as soldiers. The Army Council, while naturally anxious to stimulate recruiting for the Territorial Force in every possible way, adhere to their view with regard to these contingents not taking part in Empire Day celebrations for the reasons stated. But nothing which I have said should in any way be taken as applying to those Church Parades which have been common in the past, and which, I hope, will be largely attended in the future and be as successful as I believe they have been in years gone by.


My Lords, I should like to put a question to the noble Earl. In the Liverpool area we propose to have marches out of the various corps for the purpose of securing recruits. We had intended that they should take place on Empire Day, not in connection with any particular celebration, but because that is a day on which there would be a good many people about whom we hoped to attract to the ranks. Are we to understand that marches out are prohibited, and, if they are not prohibited, is there any reason why we should not hold them on Empire Day?


I do not think that there is anything in the reply which I have just given which indicates that the Army Council would look with an unfavourable eye on a purely military proceeding such as that to which the noble Earl has referred.