HL Deb 08 July 1915 vol 19 cc347-50

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government what steps the War Office propose to take to remedy the injustice done to officers and men of the Territorial Force, who may have been transferred to other battalions; and further, whether the War Office will take steps to make it known officially that those who enlist in the Territorial Force of their county will be secured in future against any transfer to the Territorial regiments of other counties.

It will be within your recollection that a very interesting debate took place last week on the initiative of Lord Dartmouth with regard to this subject, and my noble friend's speech in raising the question on that occasion held the sympathy very largely of the House, including that of the members of the Front Ministerial Bench. The purport of Lord Dartmouth's speech, I may remind the House, was the extraordinary action of some authorities of the War Office with regard to the Territorial Force. It had become known that there was going on, or about to commence, the transfer of officers and men belonging to the Territorial Force of one county to battalions in another county with which they had no connection. Whether the transfers had actually taken place or not in any cases I am unable to say, but I was present that week at a Territorial council meeting which was attended by the commanding officers of the different battalions, and they were all fearful as to the results of this order which had come to their knowledge.

Since that debate my noble friend Lord Derby has written a letter to the Press, in which he appears to me to come in conflict with the answer which was given on Thursday last by my noble friend Lord Newton. Whether that is so or not, we shall hear from Lord Newton's reply to-day. But in his letter the noble Earl states that this order was either still-born or has been withdrawn. That letter taken by itself would, of course, be sufficient evidence, coming from my noble friend Lord Derby, to any one sitting in this House; but a letter like that is not generally printed in the provincial newspapers, and where it is it appears along with a lot of other letters which are not read and is hidden by them. If this mischievous and mistaken order has been withdrawn, the fact ought to be given the greatest possible publicity; because I do not hesitate to say that tile falling off in recruiting for Territorial regiments, to which Lord Derby alluded in his speech last Thursday but for which lie did not give any reason, was to a large extent owing to the report which had got about that men who enlisted in one county were liable to be transferred to regiments of other counties with which they were in no way connected. It is very easy to set a report going whether it is true or not. We are told that if a lie gets live minutes start, it is very hard to catch up; but where you have a statement founded upon very little fact but where there is some fact, it is impossible to deny it unless you have official authority for doing so. At the present moment we have only Lord Derby's letter to the Press stating that this obnoxious order has been withdrawn. I desire to ask two things. First, whether those men, if any, who have been transferred will be given an opportunity of returning to their own battalions; and, secondly, what steps the War Office intend to take to make public the fact that this order no longer prevails.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will not take it amiss if I suggest to him with great respect that the wording of his Question is liable to lend an exaggerated importance to this question. He speaks of the "injustice" to which certain officers and men have been subjected, and speaks also of the compensation which is due to them. May I remind my noble friend that these officers and men, much to their credit, entered into this engagement of their own accord and voluntarily. But I should like to add this, that if my noble friend can adduce any particular instance of injustice I am absolutely certain that the War Office will be prepared thoroughly to investigate the grievance. When the debate took place the other day I recited what my noble friend terms "the obnoxious order," and read it out to the House. My noble friend will probably be much relieved to hear that the "obnoxious" portion of that Army Form has now been removed. Instructions have been issued stating that it will now no longer be necessary for those who join the Territorial Force and undertake the Imperial Service obli- gation to agree to the liability also to be transferred, if required, to another corps; and the commands at home have been told to issue without delay the necessary instructions to all concerned. I trust that this will satisfy my noble friend and allay his fears. I can only repeat what I stated the other day, that anything which has taken place in the nature of amalgamation has been of a purely temporary character and that the system will be abandoned as soon as sufficient reinforcements are available.