HL Deb 05 March 1914 vol 15 cc398-406

The EARL OF DENBIGH rose to call attention to the desirability of effecting some alteration in the present constitution of the Territorial Department of the War Office whereby, through the appointment of a permanent Secretariat or otherwise, greater continuity of representation might be ensured.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I desire to call attention to the question of the organisation of the War Office for dealing with the Territorial Force. The Territorial Force now comes under the Department of the Civil Member of the Army Council, and the Civil Member is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and, of course, goes out of office on any change of Parties. The Civil Member also deals with the War Department, Lands, and Non-effective Votes, and by the nature of his appointment he is not able to give undivided attention to the Territorial Force or to represent continuity of policy and of administration. He is presumed to be personally accessible to the Territorial Force, but, as a matter of fact, I do not know that he is very widely known outside. Then the Director-General of the Territorial Force is, of course, a military officer. His appointment is for four years, and he then acquires, no doubt, much valuable information of the Territorial Force which he takes away with him. Consequently there is no particular continuity there. The Director-General has two Assistant Directors, who are appointed for the same term—namely, four years. One of these two Assistant Directors is on the Unattached List of the Territorial Force, and is only nominally an Assistant Director since his appointment, work, and pay are always purely honorary. He is an officer of the Territorial Force on the Retired List, and is supposed to represent the views of the Territorial Force. Then the Territorial Associations are responsible for the administration, recruitment, etc., of the Territorial Force, and the Force is administered from the Territorial Department at the War Office, with the exception of finance; but the Territorial Reserve and the National Reserve and the Cadet Forces come under the Department of the Adjutant-General. I therefore wish to point out that there is no particular continuity of representation for the Territorial Force, and that even the Department responsible for it has no particular voice in connection with two branches for which the Associations are responsible. It is understood that the Director-General of the Territorial Force cannot go to the Secretary of State direct, but through the medium of the Adjutant-General or the Civil Member of the Army Council, and that, my Lords, is the really important part of the whole case.

There is a strong argument in favour of a Territorial Department with a permanent Secretariat, as in the case of the War Office itself and of the Finance Branch, the suggestion being that it is desirable that there should be greater continuity in the system of representation of the Territorial Force. At the time when the War Office was reorganised the Territorial Force, of course, was not in existence. The suggestion I put forward is that it is desirable that the authorities should consider whether some new appointment might not be created in the nature of a Permanent Secretary to the Civil Member and Assistant Director, and possibly the present honorary Assistant Directorship might be abolished and the Department rearranged in such a way as to cause no increased cost. I do not expect any definite reply to-day from the noble Lord who responds for the War Office; but this question is one which has excited a considerable amount of interest amongst many who are concerned in the administration of the Territorial Force, and I ask for it the careful consideration of the War Office.


My Lords, may I be permitted to say a few words in support of the noble Earl's suggestion. When the War Office was reorganised in 1904 in accordance with the recommendations of a small Committee, on which I had the honour to serve, the Territorial Force, as we now understand it, had not come into being. We had only to deal with the administrative needs of the Militia and Volunteers of those days, which were on a totally different footing from that of our present Home Defence Force. Had we had to deal with the Associations which now exist and which must be regarded as the mainsprings of the whole machinery of the Territorial Force, I am quite sure that we should have given most careful consideration with a view to devising some measures which would have secured that continuity of representation to which the noble Earl has referred. In devising administrative machinery one has to try and steer between two extremes. On the one hand, there is the danger—a danger one must always try to avoid—of the paralysing effect of bureaucratic routine. On the other hand, there is the danger of making a Department in which there are too many or too frequent changes of personnel, or the members of which may not have quite enough authority for their work, or their time may be too much taken up with other matters. Those things may lead to just that want of continuity and of knowledge to which the noble Earl has referred.

I suppose that the greatest optimist among us would admit that all is not quite well at present with the Territorial Force. I believe that the time has come to give serious consideration to what can be done to place the Force on a better footing both as regards numbers and efficiency, but this is not the time to allude to a great question of that kind. The point to which the noble Earl has drawn attention may in some ways be directly accountable for some of the deficiencies in this Force of which we are all aware. I therefore earnestly hope that we shall be told this evening that serious consideration will be given to the proposal of the noble Earl. It may well be that only some small change or readjustment such as he proposes would meet the difficulty, but I do think that a strong case has been made out for something in the direction which he has indicated being done.


My Lords, I shall, of course, make it my business to see that the point of view which the noble Earl has put forward is placed before the Secretary of State for War, and that the views which he expressed as a prominent member of a County Association and a prominent commanding officer in the Territorial Force receive their full consideration at the War Office. It is impossible for me to speak, and I know you will not expect me to speak, with any authority on this question, but I should like to inform your Lordships of one or two small changes that have been made, and perhaps I may say a word about some of the results. I notice that the noble Earl treats the Civil Member of the Army Council as a being who is not in any way really fit to carry out the important duties with which he is entrusted. As things are at present, he is the mouthpiece on the Army Council of the Territorial Force. Under the division of labours which were laid down so clearly by the Committee of which Lord Sydenham was a member, the whole scheme of that reorganisation seemed to preclude having an especial representative for a body like the Territorial Force. It was interesting to hear what Lord Sydenham said, because I should have thought it was hardly in keeping with the general tenor of the Report of the Esher Committee. However, that is a question outside the mark. The Civil Member has these very important duties to perform, and I must say that the other duties which are ascribed to him in the Army List are certainly not of so serious a nature as to prevent him devoting practically the whole of his time to the Territorial Force. There is absolutely nothing in the working of the system to prevent the Territorial Force being just as well represented on the Army Council as under any other system you can suggest; in fact, I did not gather that the noble Earl, in the suggestions he made, asked for any better representation than that.


I did not mean for one moment to convey the idea that the Civil Member was not an efficient representative. What I was asking for was better continuity, because it might easily arise owing to the exigencies of Party politics that the Civil Member might go out of office perhaps at the very time when the Assistant Director was also going out. If there were a permanent Secretariat it would enable the work to be carried on with continuity.


The amount of continuity you get in the Territorial Branch is no more and no less than you get in all the other branches of the War Office. The military appointments are always held for a stated term of years; the political offices are held during the term of office of a Government, and there only remain the civilian staff. The Finance Branch is entirely staffed by civilians, and the only way in which you could have permanent representation of that kind—that is to say, a number of permanent officials who remain for a number of years—would be by having your branch staffed in all its more important posts by civilians; and that, I take it, is not a contention which the noble Earl would particularly wish to put forward. I gather that he does not object to the fact that the Territorial Department is staffed largely by soldiers at the present moment; and as long as it continues to be staffed by soldiers you are bound to have these people changing places. But any one acquainted with the working of a big Department would say at once that the fact that the head of the Department or a number of subordinates in the Department changed did not in the least necessarily change the amount of continuity that went on in the Department. It has its own methods of working and its own system, and there is always a majority of people in it at any one moment who have been there a considerable time, and that is the thing that guarantees continuity.

A step has been taken which goes in a certain direction along the lines suggested by the noble Earl, in the fact that there has been recently appointed to the Territorial Force Branch a civilian with the rank of Assistant Principal, who is really in charge of the majority of questions in which there is correspondence with Associations. That is to say, the greater part of the administrative questions—Territorial Force property, rifle ranges, general questions affecting the organisation of County Associations—will come under him. Finance comes partly under him as well; also advice upon Territorial Force and Territorial Force Reserve questions involving finance and involving all legal matters and all regulations. That practically covers most of the questions which arise and are the subject of correspondence between County Associations and the War Office, so that on all those points you will get the kind of continuity for which the noble Earl asks.

Then with regard to the other points mentioned. The organisation of the National Reserve and the Cadet Corps took place during the time when I was at the War Office, and I quite agree with the noble Earl that there is a great deal to be said for putting it in the Territorial Force Branch; logically, I think that is where the Cadets ought to be. The Territorial Force Branch at the time of the organisation of the National Reserve and the Cadet Corps had its hands so full of other matters that in order to get the work done the National Reserve and the Cadet Corps were placed in the Adjutant-General's Branch; and the success that has attended those two movements has, I think, been the principal reason for leaving them in the hands of the branch which has administered them so well. But I will see that the attention of the Secretary of State is drawn to these points.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl was well advised in binging forward this matter, and I quite realise that the noble Lord opposite was in rather a difficulty in replying. First of all, because he has no connection with the War Office now; and, beyond that, I do not think he had an easy case to defend. I sympathise with what fell from Lord Sydenham. When the noble Viscount who is now Lord Chancellor originally brought forward the present arrangement and said that the Civil Member would be responsible for the Auxiliary Forces, I ventured then to criticise it and to express the opinion that it would not be a very fortunate arrangement. I recollect that the idea mainly followed from the fact that the Under-Secretary had for a long period of years been treated as tutelary representative of the Auxiliary Forces. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who knew the War Office as well as any man ever did, said this was not because the Undersecretary had any particular qualification for that office, but because he happened to be a free and more or less idle official, and not being, like the Secretary of State, overburdened with work, or, like the Financial Secretary, having a special Department, he was just the one spare man who could be given an odd job, and the Auxiliary Forces were the odd job which fell to him.

But the Under-Secretary had in those days two advantages which he has not got now. In the first place, he was a member of this House, and he was, therefore, in the very place where most questions were raised by the very large number of members of this House who had special information and knowledge of the Auxiliary Forces. But, in addition to the circumstance that he was a member of this House, for a long term of years, perhaps by chance to some extent, the Under-Secretary happened to be an officer who had served for a considerable period in the Auxiliary Forces— men like Lord Harris, Earl Brownlow, Lord Raglan, and, afterwards, Mr. George Wyndham. For a long period of years it was almost an exception not to have in the War Office an Under-Secretary who was experienced in Auxiliary Force matters by his own service. That is not the case with the present Under-Secretary, who also has the disadvantage that he does not sit in this House, a disadvantage which I am certain no one feels more than the noble Marquess the Leader of this House.

I do not think the present arrangement is a sound one. If you are to get out of the Territorial Force the work that is now expected of it, and to undertake the whole organisation of the Force within the purview of the War Office, you really require a military representative on the Army Council—either a military representative who is a regular soldier, or some one who is able to attend to the work of the Auxiliary Forces, as Lord Sydenham said, permanently. To have a man possibly without any military experience coming to the Army Council and trying to represent there the needs of a Force when he cannot speak with authority on a single point as regards their equipment or their preparedness, is really to make it almost impossible to obtain for them that which is their right. I have myself on one or two occasions been asked in the course of the last few years to go to the War Office to meet the Secretary of State, and I have been struck by the fact that in each case he was surrounded by officers who on any single point must speak with more authority than the Under-Secretary of State, merely because of his lack of technical knowledge. We are all familiar with the position in which the head of an Office is when he has to weigh opinions and make a decision upon them, but that is a very different thing from making a man who is not an expert a member of a Council on which there are a number of experts, any one of whom could state the case with more effect than he could hope to do. I do not want to elaborate that at this moment, but I think the system might have worked for some little time if the old custom of appointing as Under-Secretaries men who happened to have experience and authority as leaders of the Auxiliary Forces had been continued. But that has now been done away with. I think the last shred of justification for the present arrangement has gone with it; and I would urge the noble Lord to report to the Secretary of State—that is all we can do in our present enfeebled condition—that there is sufficient ground for reconsidering the position of the Army Council.


My Lords, as reference has been made to the principle upon which the present arrangements were constituted I think it right to say a few words, because in my opinion there is a great deal of misapprehension about this matter. It is not the fact that the Territorial Force is a separate department, separately organised and administered. The equipment of the Territorial Force comes from the Quartermaster-General's Department, and is managed there; there is not a separate department of the Territorial Force under the Civil Member. Again, the finance, which is the main business of the County Associations, is worked through the Finance Department, where the element of permanence exists and where there is great experience.

To set up something like a permanent civil branch to administer the Territorial Force would have very striking results. When the Force was constituted there was a fierce outcry. People did not know what we were planning, and they cried out against the notion of a "county council" Army. There is nothing that the Territorial Force hates so much as being put under civilians. What they want to do is to deal with soldiers; and because their finance is dealt with in connection with the Finance Department and because their equipment and so on is dealt with in connection with the Quartermaster-General's Department, it is possible to do that. They prefer to see military people, to see officers and to deal with them, and if you asked even the Associations whether they wanted to deal with permanent civilians at the War Office, the majority of them would tell you that that was the very thing they did not want to do. So long as they get their arrangements met, what they want is to manage their own affairs and to communicate with those who are officers. That is why it was thought not only wise but necessary to put the Territorial Force upon the same footing as any other military department of the War Office. The Territorials themselves loathe the very notion of being put under civilians, and if we had done anything of the sort at the time we should have had very great difficulties to face.

It may well be that it is a fortunate circumstance when the Civil Member has had large experience of the Territorial Force. My noble friend who has just spoken had that experience when he was at the War Office, and no doubt found it to be useful. But it is a delusion to suppose that the Territorial Force has no one to speak for it at the War Office. For the reasons I have given, the Quartermaster-General is interested in it; the Finance Member is interested in it; and the Secretary of State is coming constantly in contact with it. From the fact that its affairs are managed by the Military Department and that it has no separate organisation of its own, the Territorial Force, so far as headquarters are concerned, has a comparatively small staff which does contain a certain amount of permanent members who can conduct the business. No doubt there is a great deal to be said if you can always find some one of great experience of the Territorial Force who is able to fill the position of Undersecretary, but that is not always possible. Meanwhile, I doubt whether you can make any very great change with advantage; and I do not think the grievances which have been spoken of to-night really exist.