HL Deb 21 July 1915 vol 19 cc550-9

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will grant a Return stating the number of married men enrolled in His Majesty's Army since the outbreak of war in August last, and the amount of the separation allowances paid to wives and other dependants of these men. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that when the National Registration Bill was before the House on Second Reading reference was made by the noble Marquess who was in charge of that Bill to the large number of married men enlisted, and I took the opportunity during the debate of saying a few words in relation to the costliness of this system, or lack of system, and I suggested that it would be of value if the noble Marquess could see his way to grant a Return such as I now ask for so that we might have the figures in front of us. The noble Marquess was unable to give any definite pledge, but he was sympathetic and promised that he would inquire as to whether such a Return could be granted; and I gleaned from his observations that anything that he could possibly do would be done to ensure such a Return being presented.

I have taken this opportunity of calling attention to the urgency of facing this matter in view of the enormous cost to the country of the haphazard system under which men have hitherto been enlisted. There are two facts that stand out clearly in connection with the enlistment of the Army. One is that the number of married men enrolled is altogether out of proportion to the total numbers. That is not to be wondered at, because the inducements—I think I might say the enticements—are such that one would think the scheme has been specially devised to induce married men to join the Colours. At all events, the numbers are altogether out of proportion to what should be a fair percentage of married men in an Army of 3,000,000. The other point—and I do not wish to disparage in any way the spirit that has prevailed in the country towards recruiting—is this, that there is a considerable number of single men who are shirking their duty and not responding to their country's call. Many of them are in the habit of using the expression that they are "waiting to be fetched." I am not going to dilate on that to-day; that is not my purpose. I am going to deal entirely, or as nearly so as I can, with the question of the cost of the particular system which we have in vogue.

We have already called up 3,000,000 men, and of this number as many as 1,000,000 are married; and if we consider for a moment what this large percentage of married men costs we shall realise its seriousness upon our financial resources. It is estimated—I cannot vouch for the figure; I am using it speculatively, but I feel safe in doing so as the noble Marquess himself mentioned the same figure—that there are 1,000,000 women in receipt of separation allowances, and I compute that the average per woman is £1 a week. If that figure is correct it means that we are paying out week by week £1,000,000 for separation allowances alone. Now, these separation allowances are conceived on a generous scale, but I should be the last to attack the scale or to suggest that it is too generous; but it is well to remember what the scale is. A woman receives 12s. 6d. a week; the first child receives an allowance of 5s. a week, the second child 3s. 6d. a week, and any further children there may be 2s. a week. I ought to say this, that upon any system known or practised on the Continent, 400,000 married men would be about the number in an Army of 3,000,000; whereas 33 per cent. of our Army of 3,000,000 consists of married men. It will be easily seen that if my figures are right, and if we are in excess in married men to the extent of 600,000, the result is that we are paying out in separation allowances £600,000 a week that ought not to be going out in this direction. That works out at something over £30,000,000 a year in this one particular.

I used the word "enticement" just now. I said that the conditions were such that there was an absolute enticement for married men to join the Colours, and I repeat what I said the other day that if anybody were to disinterestedly examine the principles upon which our Army has been enlisted since the war and were invited to give his opinion as to what was the ultimate object of the system he would undoubtedly say that it was conceived to attract married men to the Colours. The wives in the majority of cases are very much better off with the husband serving than they were when he was following his civilian pursuits. I will trespass upon the indulgence of the House for a minute or two while I give one or two illustrations in support of what I have said. I know that practically every one of your Lordships must have within your knowledge cases of men who have gone to the Front, married men with large families, whose wives have since been in receipt of very much larger financial resources than before. I know one or two cases in my own employment in Buckinghamshire. There is one man who had been a soldier and had been through the South African War and was now called up as a Reservist. He is close upon 17 years of age, and has seven children. He was working as a gardeners' labourer at the wages current in our neighbourhood—namely, 18s. a week, with cottage and garden ground. But his wife, by reason of the fact that she has seven children, receives about 31s. a week from the State and still has the benefit of the cottage. I am not complaining of that. I am only pointing out the fearful cost it is to the country to enlist married men beyond the proper proportion when there are plenty of single men who could have been enlisted.

There is a letter in The Times this morning which I would commend to the attention of those who have not already read it. It is a very striking letter headed "Waste," and is signed "A Liverpool Clergyman." He says this— From all quarters come statements of gross waste in war expenditure. Lord St. Aldwyn was right when he said on Friday last, 'We want a Committee with motive power behind it.' But the wickedest waste of all at this solemn crisis in our national life is our waste of married men under the present— He puts in some very strong adjectives which I leave out— system of obtaining men for our Armies. I do not know how many maintenance papers I have filled up and signed for widows with children during the past few months. Take one or two examples from last week. A young woman of twenty-five with three children; husband killed somewhere in France. Another of thirty with five children. Another of twenty-seven with three children. The father of a lad in my Bible class is lying dangerously ill (four wounds) with hardly a hope of recovery. This man, thirty-eight years old, will leave a widow and six children—only this lad working. Multiply this in one small corner throughout Britain, and see what it means. This is merely a typical expression of what is going on throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Beyond that I am sorry to have to suggest that married men are not merely being taken but are being taken medically unfit, and their age as well as their fitness is being disregarded. We had the limitation up to forty years of age, about which I will say a word or two in a moment; but I have a case here which cannot be questioned because the facts came out at a coroner's inquest. It was an inquest held on a man who joined quite lately the Army Service Corps and proceeded to Aldershot to take up his duties. He committed suicide a short time afterwards, and at the coroner's inquiry these very interesting facts came out bearing upon the question I am putting before your Lordships. He was forty-six years of age; he was consumptive; he had attended Brompton Hospital before he joined; he was mentally deficient although not certifiable, and he had seven children. I will not trouble your Lordships by quoting the case in full, although I have it here; but that is the gist of the matter. I think we might ask the War Office representative to give us some information, not now but at some other time, in regard to this interesting case. If it is possible for this sort of case to occur under the present recruiting system, I do not know where we shall end up. After observing this case in the Press I noticed with some concern an announcement in all the newspapers that those men who had been rejected at an earlier date as being unfit were requested to re-present themselves so that they might be examined once more.

Such a proportion of married men as I have given would only be justifiable were we at the end of our resources. Were we absolutely fighting at the last gasp it might be necessary to put every one in the line irrespective of age and so on. But the iniquity is that the Government opened with this system and have pursued it all along the line. As far as I can see at the moment there is no particular hope that any other system is going to be adopted, although the cost of the present system is highly extravagant; and, as I hope I have succeeded in showing, when you have paid the first cost yon are not at the end of it. There are the Non-effective Votes of the future, which will have to bear heavy charges for pensions, grants, and allowances to the widows and dependants of these married men. I noticed that in the interesting address which Mr. Harold Cox delivered last week at a meeting where Lord St. Aldwyn also spoke he gave figures anticipating what would be the financial situation in the future, and he suggested, in this particular alone, that there would be a permanent charge of no less than £20,000,000 a year on the Non-effective Votes to discharge this liability. I think he understated it; I think it will be more. Probably he was speaking of the numbers enlisted up to the present time, but those numbers will go on augmenting; consequently the liability will increase also. But apart from that, a mere monetary compensation will not assuage the unnecessary suffering that the Government have, I say deliberately, caused by this system. We shall have with us an enormous number of widows and fatherless children who will remain as a record of what I can only term this perverse folly.

Now a word as to the alternative that might have been adopted. We have available in the country between the fighting ages of nineteen and forty about 8,000,000 men. We have already called up 3,000,000 of those, and that leaves 5,000,000 uncalled. Were we to proceed on some system such as that on which Continental Armies are recruited we should call up at first, of course, the youngest, and we should go on by stages of nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, and so on up to the age of twenty-five, and beyond, of course. But from nineteen to twenty-five the percentage of married men would be very small indeed, not more than six per cent. Once you get past the age of twenty-five and come to twenty-six and twenty-seven the percentage of married men increases very rapidly, and at twenty-seven the numbers more or less balance. I noticed that in Lord Kitchener's last appeal for men—I think 300,000 was the number he called for—the age was expanded; it was previously thirty-eight, and it was expanded at the wrong end—it was increased to forty. That was, I think, a most unwarranted step to take, especially when we consider that of every 1,000 men between the ages of thirty-eight and forty recruited there would be as many as 835 married. I think it is a pits that Lord Kitchener could not have learned something from the systems adopted on the Continent, which work on the basis I have already described—the young being taken first, and the rest being called un subsequently age by age.

The most important thing now is, What hope is there of amendment of this pernicious system? The only hopeful thing that we are told to rely on is the National Registration Act, and that I presume is to be more or less the sheet anchor of the future situation. Lord Lansdowne himself invited my attention to a speech made by Lord Kitchener at the Guildhall as to the effect which the Registration Act would have on recruitment in the future. I have looked up that speech again—I read it at the time—and I have found the particular passage to which the noble Marquess referred me. Lord Kitchener said— Steps will be taken to approach with a view to enlistment all possible candidates for the Army, unmarried men to be preferred before married men as far as may be. But it is evident to all of us that recruiting must and will continue to go on on a large scale. I do not suppose there is anybody sanguine enough to suggest that we are approaching the limits of our requirements. If anybody holds that view he has only to study Ministers' speeches to have it dismissed from his mind.

We have had a series of important speeches made by Ministers in the last few weeks. Lord Kitchener whenever he speaks always makes it clear that he wants more men and yet more men. He has never misled the country upon that, and hitherto he has succeeded in getting what he asked for, and I hope he will continue to do so in the future. But we hail a speech from the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, of a rather discouraging character. I am quoting this speech to prove that, in view of the seriousness of the statements made, it is a self-evident proposition that we must go on augmenting our lighting forces. Lord Curzon told us— The situation is one of grave anxiety, and it is not unfair even to speak of this country as being in grave peril. Mr. Walter Long, whom I have never heard accused of making exaggerated or intemperate statements, endorsed Lord Curzon's speech, and when speaking on the Registration Bill in another place used these words— We were never faced with a graver situation. Our enemies are beating at our door; they are threatening our gates. And the present Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, said in the country during a speech— I say plainly that if we do not do more in the future than we have done in the past we are going to be beaten. Doing "more in the future" means, above all things, more men; it means more munitions, but that is being dealt with.

Now how are the additional men to be obtained? Apparently at the moment we are to continue to rely on the spirit of the country and on men springing up from the earth, as it were, at the bidding of Lord Kitchener. I pointed out the other day that the Registration Act will not give you one additional man on different terms from those now prevailing. Lord Kitchener suggested that the information obtained under the Registration Act would be a useful indication as to whether a man was married or single; but I presume that since the outbreak of the war the recruiting officer has had the power to ask the recruit whether he was married or single. Every man who enrolled ought to have stated—and I expect he did—whether he was single or married. So that the Registration Act will not achieve anything more than has already been in existence since the beginning of the war. Therefore unless you adopt some different system of recruitment this extravagance—I hope I shall not be considered to be using too strong language if I describe it as this "Rake's Progress"—will continue; and the costly consequence of course will be, if the Army is augmented on the same system, that the separation allowances, which are already £1,000,000 a week, will rapidly grow into £2,000,000 a week.

The Prime Minister made a statement last night in the House of Commons on the daily expenditure. We received information some little while ago that the daily expenditure was £3,000,000, and that that rate was not to be exceeded. But already we find that it has been exceeded. During July the £3,000,000 had gone up to £3,100,000 a day; and there is not the shadow of a doubt that before the end of the year we shall be nearer an expenditure of £4,000,000 a day than £3,000,000. Therefore it behoves us to ask ourselves a question, the question which Lord Cromer put last night when making his interesting speech in connection with public expenditure, Can we afford it? Lord St. Aldwyn pointed out that the victory will fall to the side which shows the most staying power, and that is going to be the critical thing. There is a general view in the popular mind to the effect that we are so immensely rich, much richer than our enemies, that our pocket is bound to last longest. I would like to see that idea dissipated as much as possible, because it is not at all sure that that will prove to be the fact in the long run unless we take pains to conserve our expenditure and insist upon all those who have the power of spending doing the same. I believe that since the war began Germany has been getting far more value for her money than we have. I believe that for every £1 which Germany spends it takes us an expenditure of £3 to get an equivalent value. That is my belief, and I have discussed this with people who are fairly in touch with conditions and they assure me that that is a very fair computation. For every £3,000,000 that we spend Germany is not called upon to spend more than £1,000,000. That is a very serious situation, if it be true. But this we do know, that there is no squandering of money going on in Germany, for the very best of reasons—they cannot afford it; and we know that they have had the benefit of the preparation of a system extending over a period of from twenty to thirty or forty years, and that system has been built up with the most scrupulous regard to economy. Therefore it is as well for us to be seized of the fact that them is no wasteful squandering of money in Germany if we consider that our pocket is going to outlast theirs; it will not if we are spending in a much greater ratio than they are.

We had an important debate last evening and on a previous occasion [July 6] on the need for economy in relation to civil expenditure, and a Committee has been appointed which I hope will do good work. I agree with what Lord St. Aldwyn said the other day. He could not understand why such a Committee had not been appointed at the beginning of the war and several millions of money thereby saved. Still, this Committee only contemplates, as I judge from the speech of Lord Midleton, effecting an economy of from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 in Civil Service expenditure per year. Lord Midleton, who introduced the subject to the House on July 6, stated that figure; he thought there might be a saving of from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000. Well, that is insignificant compared with what can be saved on war expenditure. That is where the money is being poured out like water. The Government said the other day that it was impossible to interfere with naval and military expenditure during the war. That is true. To an extent it would be perfectly impossible to set up an independent Committee to go round to the War Office or the Admiralty and say, "You must not spend this," and "you must not spend that." We could not carry on the war under those conditions. But there is no reason in the world why these two great fighting Departments should not have forced upon them the knowledge that our resources are not inexhaustible, and that we can only hope to carry on by their being conserved to the utmost degree.

The reason I have asked this Question is that here to our hands is one of the easiest and most available means of diminishing expenditure—namely, by leaving off recruiting married men at the rate of one in three. If we do that, we shall diminish the daily and weekly expenditure; and further than that, we shall save ourselves from the recurring consequence that would be with us for many years to come in the shape of large grants to meet the Non-effective Services. I hope the Return for which I have asked will be granted. It would be very unfortunate were I to be told that it would be inconvenient, or that under the present pressure it would upset matters to prepare this Return. I have not a shadow of doubt that if I were to be told that, it would be misunderstood in the country where there is a great deal of interest in this question, and it would be suspected that it was inconvenient in more ways than one. However, I will not dilate on that, because the noble Lord who will reply to my Question will no doubt be able to give at all events some information so that we can realise the position with regard to this matter.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has put this Question will, I hope, excuse me if I decline to-day to enter upon the question of unfit men who have been recruited. That is a totally different subject from the one embodied in his Question, and it might well afford an opportunity for another discussion. But in answer to the Question upon the Paper, I regret to inform the noble Lord that the War Office are not prepared to give him the Return for which he asks. On the other hand, I am prepared to give approximate figures which I think ought to satisfy him in almost every respect.

The number of married men at present drawing separation allowances is approximately in the Regular Army 606,000, and in the Territorial Force 237,000—making a total approximately of 843,000. These figures include men who were in the Regular Army and the Territorial Force at the time of mobilisation. The aggregate cost of the separation allowances paid to wives and children of married men since mobilisation is approximately £25,000,000, but this figure does not include separation allowances paid to dependants other than wives and children; and this amount, I feel bound to state, is nearly certain to increase. The figures that I have given show that the noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport) has indulged, if I may say so without offence, in a certain amount of exaggeration. There are not, according to the figures I have supplied to the House, 1,000,000 married men in the Army; and the cost of the separation allowances only amounts to 50 per cent. of what the noble Lord believed it to be. I am not going to quarrel with the admirable sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. I seem to recognise sentiments which I have myself uttered before now, here and elsewhere. At the same time I am quite sure that the War Office would welcome any suggestion coming from the noble Lord by which, to use his own expression, unmarried men might be enticed into the Army. When the noble Lord was making his speech as to the obvious inconvenience of the present system I confess that it appeared to me, and appears now, that the answer to him is a perfectly simple and a very short one. Under the voluntary system in a time of emergency you have to recruit men how, when, and where you can. That is my answer to him as regards men. As regards cost, in the House of Commons and throughout the country there was a determination expressed that the dependants of soldiers should be treated with generosity; and in view of this, it appears to me that the figures are less alarming and less unsatisfactory than the noble Lord would lead the House to believe.