HL Deb 05 August 1914 vol 17 cc398-405

*LORD DENMAN had the following Notice on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. What course they propose to take with regard to offers of military aid from the oversea Dominions.
  2. 399
  3. 2. Whether they contemplate an expansion of the Territorial Force or the raising of citizen forces of a similar character in view of contingencies that may shortly arise.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel sure that your Lordships will agree that these are very important Questions, and I make no apology for detaining the House for a few minutes in asking them. One of the few satisfactory features of the grave crisis with which we are faced has been the spontaneous offer of aid from the oversea Dominions. I propose to recapitulate briefly what those offers have been.

Canada, I understand, has offered considerable contingents from her military forces. Australia has placed at the disposal of the Admiralty her fleet consisting of one battle cruiser, three light cruisers, three destroyers, two submarines, and other minor craft; and these vessels are of the latest type, armed with modern guns, and manned in about equal proportions of British and Australian seamen. Owing to considerations of time and distance they are not likely, I take it, to be able to serve in European waters, but they will be extremely valuable in safeguarding British interests in the Southern Pacific. The fact that there is this fleet in being has released during the last few months several British ships and many hundreds of British seamen for service in the North Sea, and this country is under an obligation to Australia on that account. I understand that the Admiralty has accepted the offer, and that the Australian fleet several days ago passed under the control of the Admiralty. Then Australia has offered 20,000 men of her military forces to serve anywhere, and I understand that the Commonwealth Government have signified their willingness to pay for the maintenance of these men so long as they are embodied. New Zealand has her battle cruiser in the North Sea, and I understand—I speak subject to correction—that she has offered a contingent of 10,000 men under conditions somewhat similar to those which apply in the case of the Australian offer of 20,000 men. These are splendid contributions to the Forces of the Empire, and I am sure that they have evoked feelings of the warmest gratitude throughout this country.

I ask the Government whether these offers have been accepted, and I sincerely hope that they will be able to tell me that that is so, or that the offers will be accepted very shortly, because time is of great importance in this matter; or at all events, if the offers have not actually been accepted, that there should be an intimation that it will be a good thing to mobilise immediately the forces which have been offered. I can give several reasons why these offers to mobilise should be accepted. I pass over at once what I may call the sentimental reason—that it would damp the ardour of these young countries were they deterred from assisting—and come at once to the practical reasons, which are chiefly these. These Australian and New Zealand forces are raised for home defence purposes; they cannot, therefore, be used, as they stand, overseas. Therefore the Governments of the Commonwealth and of the Dominion of New Zealand respectively will be obliged, I take it, to call for volunteers in order to mobilise the contingents which they have offered to the Home Government. I have no doubt that these volunteers will be forthcoming, and possibly even larger numbers were the grave danger that threatens the Empire to become still graver than it is at the present time. To illustrate the feeling that animates the Australian forces, I may perhaps mention that there is a party of Australian Cadets in this country at the present time, stalwart lads about 18 years of age, and I understand that they have all asked permission to join the Territorial Forces here—that at all events shows the spirit which animates these Australian Cadets. I repeat my belief that any number of volunteers would be forthcoming from the oversea Dominions of Australasia. But owing to these forces in the first instance being voluntary forces, and owing to the fact that in Australia they will have to travel very great distances, it will be two or three weeks at least before it would be possible for them to be mobilised.

Then it may be asked, Where could these forces, if they were mobilised at once, be used? I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that they could be used, as soon as it was possible for them to mobilise, to reinforce our garrisons in Egypt and India. I take it that there would be no harm in reinforcing our garrisons in India at the present time; and it would have this advantage, that it would bring these troops some three or four weeks nearer to the scene of war, and they could then possibly be sent on to the scene of war or could take the place of the regular troops in Egypt or in India who were required for service elsewhere. From what I know of the Australian forces they would much sooner go actually where fighting is than do the rather humdrum work of garrison duty, but I know them well enough to say that they would be perfectly willing and ready to serve wherever the Imperial Government might decide.

I desire to say one word as to the constitution and quality of the Australian forces. They amount in member to close upon 90,000. There are about 29 Light Horse regiments and 28 Field batteries. During the last three years I have had frequent opportunities of seeing them in the field. I have lived with them in camp, and I know something of their constitution, and how very serviceable they are. The Australian offer, I gather, leaves the composition to the discretion of the Home Government; and knowing these forces as I do I would suggest to the Government—if they accept the offer, as I hope they will—that they should accept a rather larger proportion of Light Horse and of the Field Artillery than would usually be the case in a force of this number. I make that suggestion because it is comparatively easy to improvise Infantry forces, but mounted troops and Field Artillery take many months to bring up to adequate pitch for use in a European war. With regard to the Australian Light Horse, I can safely say that there are no finer Irregular mounted troops anywhere. With regard to the Artillery, it would be difficult to distinguish between our own Regular batteries and the Regular Field batteries in Australia. There are, I believe, about six of these. The others are well horsed, well manned, and well equipped. I would make a similar suggestion with regard to the new Zealand forces, although I do not actually know their composition—namely, that if the New Zealand offer is accepted a larger proportion of mounted troops and of Artillery should be asked for by the Government than would usually be the case in a force of that number.

Now I come to the second part of my Question, Whether His Majesty's Government contemplate an expansion of the Territorial Force or the raising of citizen forces of a similar character in view of contingencies that may shortly arise. I take it that the forces which we have at our disposal at present are: the Expeditionary Force, the Special Reserve, and the Territorial Force. I do not wish, on an occasion like the present, to give an opinion—though I may, perhaps, do so one of these days in this House—as to whether the Expeditionary Force should or should not be sent to Belgium or France. I do not propose to touch upon that to-day, but I do say that circumstances may arise which may necessitate the sending of that Force to France or to Belgium. I think any member of the Government will admit that that in at all events a possibility which has to be faced. If the Expeditionary Force is used for service abroad, I take it that the Special Reserve will be earmarked to make good the casualties and wastage to the Expeditionary Force. Then we have the Territorial Force. I do not wish to say a word in disparagement of that Force. I have always admired the manner in which they have carried out their duties under somewhat discouraging circumstances. But I do say, considering the deities which they will be called upon to perform—not only the safeguarding of these shores, but undertaking imperial obligations elsewhere—that they are not numerically strong enough for that purpose. And it is on that account that I ask the Government whether they can tell me if they propose an expansion of the Territorial Force or the raising of a new Citizen Force.

At the present time there are thousands of men all over the country willing tee volunteer. There are already different bodies, like the National Reserve and organisations of that kind, advantage of which could be taken. What is also certain is that many amateur organisations of a similar kind will spring up all over the country; there will be overlapping and confusion, and the result will not be so satisfactory as if the Government were to take the matter in hand at once and either largely extend the Territorial Force or raise an entirely new Citizen Force. I am not sure, if they were to raise an entirely new organisation quite independent of the War Office or independent of the Territorial Force, that they would not do something to meet the present emergency. I do not pretend that troops raised in that way would be as good as Regulars or Territorials, but at all events they would be very valuable in supplementing the Territorial Force. It seems to me that time is the very essence of this question. Every day and every hour is of value, and we should lose no time in making such preparations as we can while time is still left to us.


My Lords, with reference to the second part of the question put by my noble friend, may I say that experience has shown that the scheme for the Territorial Force has been a success in regard to the quality of the men that have been raised; they have come from the cream and flower of the population. We regret that the numbers have been inadequate. Why is that so? It is, I submit, because in the original framing of the scheme due regard was not had to facilities for recruiting. The demand on rural populations in the agricultural counties has been excessive, while larger numbers might easily have been raised in the main centres of population, in the industrial counties of the North. In the county of Sussex, with which I am connected by residence, we must do our best; and undoubtedly patriotism will be great in the crisis through which we are now, unhappily, passing. Meanwhile I would submit that there should be no "red tape" in this matter. If it is found that numbers can be raised far beyond the establishment in certain parts of the country, I trust that their services will be accepted without any impediment or objection being raised on the ground that the number offering is beyond the establishment.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Denman said with perfect justice that the Questions he has put to His Majesty's Government are important ones. I venture to say that no one could more suitably have put the Questions than my noble friend, who has so recently returned from a successful Governor-Generalship in Australia. I had the pleasure only a few months ago of being his guest at Melbourne, and I heard how keen an interest he had taken during his stay in Australia in the formation of a Citizen Force in that country. While in Melbourne I saw a march-past before me of some 20,000 Cadets. During my tour round the Empire I visited four of His Majesty's Dominions, and I was, I will not say surprised, but delighted to hear everywhere cordial expressions of loyalty to His Majesty and of devotion to the Empire; and nowhere were those expressions more marked than amongst the members of the Labour Party in Australia.


Hear, hear.


The splendid offers of military support which we are receiving from the Dominions are the most welcome of all proofs that the expressions of loyalty that I heard during my tour round the Empire were not mere lip service, but expressions of genuine and heartfelt devotion to the Empire. My noble friend said with truth that it is important not to damp the enthusiasm at present existing in the Dominions by any refusal of the aid that they have offered. It was only a few minutes ago that I knew I had to reply to my noble friend this afternoon, and I am therefore unable to follow him in the very interesting details which he gave of the Australian forces. With regard to the practical suggestions which he made, I can only undertake to bring them to the notice of the authorities. In reply to my noble friend's first Question I desire to say, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that they have received with the greatest satisfaction the generous offers from the Dominions of the support of expeditionary forces and other armed assistance. Those offers have come from New Zealand, from Australia, from Canada, and now from South Africa, and although there is no immediate necessity for the acceptance of such offers, His Majesty's Government will not hesitate to avail themselves of the patriotism of the Dominions when necessary; and all steps are being taken in the Dominions to prepare for such an eventuality. The offer of the Commonwealth Government of Australia to place its Navy at the disposal of His Majesty's Government has been accepted with deep gratitude. With regard to the noble Lord's second Question, I will inform the authorities of what he has stated, but I am instructed to say that there is nothing in the present circumstances which demands such a step.


My Lords, I rise only for the purpose of expressing my entire concurrence with what has been said by the noble Lord opposite as to our appreciation of the generous offers of support which His Majesty's Government have received from the oversea Dominions. These offers have moved our people greatly. They are a proof that the British Empire is not a paper Empire, but a great reality, and that from all parts of the Empire we may depend upon that co-operation to which we certainly look from the people of these islands. With regard to the extent to which assistance of this kind can be accepted by His Majesty's Government and with regard to the occasion on which it might be accepted, those, of course, are matters of which the Government alone can be the judges. We must be content to learn from the noble Lord that at the proper moment His Majesty's Government will not hesitate to avail themselves of the offers of assistance thus made to them.