§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON rose to call attention to recent reductions in the British Army and to the reductions proposed in the British force in India by Lord Inchcape's Committee, and to ask the Secretary of State for War if he can make any statement on the subject.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I make no apology for asking your Lordships' attention to the question of the great reduction that has taken place in the Regular Army and also to the reduction which, under the proposals of Lord Inchcape's Committee, are shortly to be considered—I hope they have not been already decided upon—with regard to the British troops in India. Many members of this House remember to what an extent Parliament was occupied in the early 'nineties with the question of the strength of the Army and the absolute necessity for bringing the force up to some standard which would accord with what was to be demanded of it. The effect of those debates was very stimulating on successive Governments, and I am bold enough to say that but for the attitude of Parliament and the Government towards the Army during those years our position when war was declared in 1914 would have been such that we could not have maintained the very limited forces we were able to put into the field over the period which bridged the difficult months before Lord Kitchener's Army was ready to fight.
§ However much we should like to feel that the great outbreak of war in 1914 should absolve us for many years to coma from any danger, nobody who looks at the present state of Europe will come to the conclusion that this country can afford to allow its military forces to decline to a much lower level than that at which they had been kept for ten 619 years before the war. I do not want to introduce extraneous matters, but I am certain that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he were in his place, would be the first to recognise that however wise our foreign policy may be—and the present Government have pursued a most equitable and sedative course in foreign policy—we have no right, with so many nations in Europe who have tasted blood and seem anxious for disquiet rather than for setting aside troubles, to go to sleep in this matter. What was the state of our Army in 1914?—and it must be remembered that the figures I am going to give were not regarded as satisfactory in that day. I remember a debate in 1912 which occupied your Lordships' House for many hours, in which it was pointed out that the establishments then were not full and that it was absolutely necessary for the Government to take an exceptional course in order to fill them—especially in regard to munitions—in view of impending peril. The language used was language of restraint, and but for one speech, to which I do not propose to allude, I believe steps would have been taken then which would have greatly facilitated Lord Kitchener's course when he was called to the War Office two years later. In 1914 the Army consisted of 168,500 Regulars. The Army Reserve, thanks to the three years system inaugurated by the late Field-Marshal Earl Roberts about ten years before (the results of which were still felt in a greatly increased Reserve after it had been abandoned) was 147,000, and the Special Reserve, known as the Militia and liable for foreign service, was 63,000. The total, therefore, was 378,000, no inconsiderable number for a nation which did not call itself a military nation. These 378,000 men were above and beyond the 76,000 white troops in India.
§ How do we stand to-day? Instead of 168,000 Regulars we have 147,000 men with the Colours, a reduction of 21,000. Instead of 147,000 Reserves we have 84,000 men, a reduction of 63,000. And the Special Reserve has melted away; it does not exist. Therefore, the total of our available forces to-day is 231,000 men against 378,000 in 1914, a reduction of nearly 150,000 men, which, put into other language, would have meant the loss of the Channel ports, probably the loss 620 of the war. In the present state of Europe we cannot view that reduction with equanimity. I go further and say that however we may regard it, we cannot regard it as a Departmental matter, to be settled by the exigencies of finance and without regard to the general needs of the Empire.
§ When we apply that last criticism to the white troops in India your Lordships will feel that I have some reason for occupying your time to-night. What has happened in India? India had 76,000 white troops in 1914, and they were, as they have always been, the backbone of Indian defence. Between 1914 and 1922 that establishment was reduced to 68,000 men, a reduction of 8,000 men. Last autumn the then Government, as I think wisely, prevailed on Lord Inchcape to make a pilgrimage to India in order to examine the whole subject of Indian finance which had led to deficits on Indian Budgets of, I think, £70,000,000 sterling in three years. It was none too early. I do not believe that there is anybody in this House who does not feel a full measure of gratitude to Lord Inchcape for the services which ho and his colleagues have performed both to British and to Indian finance by the unsparing zeal and great knowledge devoted to reductions, which, in my opinion, should have been carried out by the late Government.
§ But I cannot help regretting that in so technical a matter as the Army the late Government did not attach to Lord Inchcape's Committee someone who, from past experience of War Office and Army finance, could have acted as an expert adviser to him, so to speak, in dealing with so technical a question as the Indian Army. If the noble Lord were here I should like to ask him—for he is perhaps the most experienced administrator in the shipping world—what he would feel if the ablest member, in other matters, of your Lordships' House were appointed to examine and cut down by ten or twenty per cent. the expenditure of one of the great companies which he controls, without assistance from a single human being with shipping knowledge, or calling evidence from various experienced persons. Such a thing would never be contemplated for a moment. I have to complain also that the Report of Lord Inchape's Committee has not been circulated to Parliament, although it can 621 be obtained by purchase, so that members as a body have no cognisance of it.
§ If I go for a moment into details it is because I have a suggestion to make which I think would have obviated to a large extent the reductions which Lord Inch-cape proposed. The state of expenditure on the Indian Army called loudly for interposition in some form. The white troops in India cost £5,000,000 a year before the war, without counting the administrative services. To-day, they cost £11,000,000, and on that extra expenditure has hinged one of the main difficulties with which the Indian Government have had to contend. This was one of the main drawbacks to agreement in the new Assembly, for expenditure on the Army was more obvious than any other item which could be reduced and should be reduced. Nothing is easier. It does not need a man of Lord Inchcape's experience to say: Cut down so many troops and you will have so much less expenditure. Anybody can do that. Many of your Lordships find the expenditure on your estates excessive. You can, if you like, cut down timber to the tune of £1,000 or £3,000 in a year, and thus reduce expenditure. But this is not economy; it is the sacrifice of capital, and what is needed in regard to the Army, both in India and in this country, is an endeavour to get a sovereign's worth for every pound which is spent.
§ The Inchcape Committee did admirable work in attacking the staffs. The General Headquarters Staff in India in 1914 numbered 98. The four commands were formed between 1914 and 1922, largely to reduce the demand on Army Headquarters. None the less the Army Headquarters Staff, which numbered 98 in 1914, had swollen to 166 in 1922. The other staffs had risen from 203 to 278, although they are the staffs of an Army largely decreased in numbers. Lord Inchcape's Committee have now proposed that every Infantry battalion should be reduced by 140 or 150 men, that three Cavalry regiments should be sent home, and a brigade of Field Artillery and, I think, of Horse Artillery, should also be dispensed with. In other words, the Army, which numbered 76,000 before the war, was reduced to 68,000 in 1922, and is now, so far as I can see, to be reduced to under 60,000, at a time when all the circumstances of India make it desirable that we should keep a full, efficient and 622 rapidly reinforcible Army. Everybody knows that the frontier may cause trouble in India at any time. Equally, everybody knows that, owing to the better arming of our opponents, losses will be on an unprecedented scale as compared with previous operations, and I do not think it is saying too much in this House to add that, given trouble on the frontier, there is more danger of internal trouble than there was in 1914. Consequently, I look upon this reduction as a matter of the highest danger, and I deprecate particularly the reduction by 140 or 150 men of the Infantry battalions.
§ The Inchcape Committee state that there is a peace establishment of 1,020 and a war establishment of 840. Why should the peace establishment be in excess of the war establishment,? It should be reduced to the strength of the war establishment. That is just the point upon which I think a man who had been accustomed to the mobilisation of troops would have been able to assist Lord Inchcape. Why is the war establishment below the peace establishment? There are always a number of sick in India and you base on your war establishment the whole of your hospitals in the field, the whole of your followers, and the whole of your supplies. Out of 50,000 Infantry you cannot expect to have more than 40,000 on the front at a given moment, and you naturally make your arrangements on the basis of 40,000, keeping those who are sick at the base, with a small nucleus for immediate reinforcement. Under the new arrangement only 800 men out of 840 will go to the front, and there is no possibility of reinforcing them from home under seven or eight weeks. In a European war a regiment which has been eight weeks in the field without reinforcement would be reduced to a skeleton. We cannot tell what will be the exact losses in any frontier operations or in larger operations, but depend upon it, they will be such that long before the extra drafts arrive two regiments will have to be knocked together to do the work of one.
§ I look upon this as a most dangerous proposal, and I do not believe that it is necessary. What is going to be gained by it? A million of money annually, which is no despicable sum. But this very subject was under the consideration of the Committee appointed by your Lordships' House last year. I know I shall be told 623 that all these reductions have been considered and assented to by the Commander-in-Chief in India. I speak with the utmost respect of Lord Rawlinson's opinion, but I take leave to say that in the course of thirty years' experience of the War Office and the India Office I have never found an opinion given by one soldier which was not disavowed as soon as he left office by the man who took his place. I could produce evidence enough to keep your Lordships for two or three hours of vital questions on which we have had advice from one distinguished soldier which has not been ratified by his successor, but I think it is quite enough to say—and I ask for the assent of the House to this proposition—that so important a question should not be decided on the opinion of any one soldier, however eminent.
§ The Joint Committee on Indian Affairs, appointed by this House and the House of Commons last year, took this subject into special consideration. They came to the conclusion that a large reduction might be made in the cost of the Indian Army by reconsideration of pay. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that the cost of the private soldier, and indeed most other ranks, is now very nearly treble what it was in 1914. In 1914 it came to £76 per man. It is now £200 per man, to take the ordinary soldier, and in some cases the difference is much higher. These great additions were made when Mr. Winston Churchill was Secretary of State, shortly after the war, at a time when every public office was vieing with its neighbour to see how largely it could spend the country's money. Unfortunately, Mr. Winston Churchill, although in other respects a most admirable Secretary of State, did not inherit from his father those economic doctrines of which, my noble friend sitting near me will remember, a great deal was heard some years ago. I believe that plunge has put a staggering difficulty upon his successors, and a staggering deficit on the Indian Revenues, and I have no doubt whatever, from the opinion given to me by many commanding officers, whom I have taken the trouble to consult, that the private soldier at present receives pay out of all proportion to the rise in prices which has taken place since his pay was altered before.
Your Lordships must remember that Mr. Churchill was dealing with a different
state of facts than exists at present. You probably know that if you are going to keep the greater part of the Army abroad in unhealthy climates it is so unpopular a service that you have to pay men more highly to come in, and so long as Mesopotamia and Palestine and other destinations were kept full the difficulties of filling up the ranks were excessive. But that has come to an end. The Joint Committee had the advantage of examining my noble friend Lord Peel, and they came to this conclusion, which they presented to your Lordships—
The Committee understand that the increase in pay was deemed necessary by the War Office on account of the increase granted in this country at that time——and was adopted by the home Government under abnormal conditions without any formal consultation either with the India Office or with the Authorities in India. The Government of India had no alternative but to accept it, although there was already a serious deficiency in the revenue as compared with expenditure.
I think that presentment, by twenty-one Members of the two Houses, deserved more attention from the Secretary of State for India than it apparently received. It is not a chance expression of opinion. I do not know anything which can be less justified, in the extraordinary proceedings which followed the war, than a charge of this kind, which has been a trap and a trouble to Indian Viceroys and the new Indian Assemblies, and which has been put upon India, to use the considered language of the Committee, "without any formal consultation either with the India Office or with the Authorities in India."
§ I feel very deeply that this proceeding should never be repeated, and that we have a right to ask the Secretary of State whether we may not be allowed to go back upon it. It is a well-known fact—I had to deal with Army finance for twelve years while I was at the War Office—that pay may be altered by warrant with regard to any fresh entrants to the Army, and with regard to anyone in a rank to which he has not at the time been promoted. In other words, if it were not so, a private having entered at 2s. a day, or now at a much higher rate, would have the right to claim that the pay given to a Field-Marshal should not be altered until he had left the Army. To delay in meeting this question is impossible. Over 30,000 men have entered the Army since and 625 there have been five to ten thousand promotions made. Yet my noble friend came to the Committee, and the attention of the Secretary of State for War was called to the matter, and every effort was made to ask them to deal in time with the question, which means £4,500,000 out of the £6,000.000 increase under which the Indian Army is labouring. I believe that the £1,000,000 a year which Lord Inchcape was forced to consider, as the sole means of meeting the necessary deficit, or one of the means, could have been provided by putting in force an operation which was already belated.
§ I do not want to read from this Report, but it is obvious that Lord Inchcape's Committee believed that the Government would deal with the matter, because in their conclusion on the military side they carefully avoided saying anything with regard to possible increases of pay. I hope that before the debate ends Lord Peel will tell us why it is that no attention has been paid to so important a provision. I particularly appeal to the Secretary of State for India. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever noticed that the Secretary of State for War, who is the natural protector of this country with regard to Army finance, has had a very difficult position, because for years past no Secretary of State for War has been allowed adequate time, or much more than a few months, in which to learn the duties of his office. Lord Lansdowne took office in 1895, and between then and the time when Lord Haldane vacated office, namely seventeen years, there were four Secretaries of State. In the eleven years which followed there have been eleven. General Seely took office till 1914. Mr. Asquith followed when General Seely resigned. Lord Kitchener was appointed for the war, and on his death Mr. Asquith took office again. Mr. Asquith handed it over to Mr. Lloyd George, who in turn handed it over to my noble friend, and when my noble friend went to Paris he handed it to Lord Milner, who at the end of the war had had enough of the War Office and of Government generally, and handed over that office to Mr. Churchill. Mr. Churchill was wanted at the Colonial Office, and he handed over to Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, who again went about his business 626 after November last, and my noble friend, obsessed by every other kind of policy, was brought in.
§ These changes, I venture, to tell your Lordships, are highly detrimental to the efficiency, and fatal to the economy of the Army, and I mention them because I think the line of least resistance has been taken in these events—the cutting down of troops who are necessary, and who should not be dispensed with, instead of economising and bringing us back nearer to the state of facts when we had for £28,000,000 half as many troops again as we now have for £61,000,000. This is not a departmental question. It cannot be settled by the ipse dixit of any one administrator or any one soldier, however eminent. I ask the Secretary of State for War whether these changes have been submitted to the Army Council and have the Army Council given a considered judgment upon them. I ask the Secretary of State for India whether, before they are carried out, he will undertake that the Imperial Defence Committee is consulted, and that the Imperial Defence Committee will advise the Cabinet whether or not we can afford to dispense with a strength in India which successive administrators have felt was necessary to the safety of the country.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, the Question which the noble Earl has raised is one of extreme importance, and is particularly opportune at the present time. I shall confine the very few remarks I shall make entirely to the Army in India, though I should like to follow the noble Earl on the much wider field over which he has ranged. We have for some time been whittling away our military force in India, and it is very difficult at the present moment to form an exact opinion as to how we stand. The noble Earl has made that clear, and has shown how very serious has been the reduction of our white troops in India. We began by destroying a number of fine Cavalry regiments, to which exception was taken in this House at the time. After a number of other snippets at the military forces we now come to the recommendations of the noble Lord who went to India, and who wielded the axe with very great vigour—and not with quite sufficient discrimination, in my humble opinion.
From the vague and much too rosy speech of the Under-Secretary of State 627 for India in another place the other day it was very difficult to glean any light upon the subject. We were not told whether the latest reductions recommended by Lord Inchcape's Committee had been finally approved or not. The reduction of rank and file in English battalions is, of course, a very uneconomic form of reduction, because you maintain expensive machines and you do not keep them doing the full work of which they are capable. In addition to that, there are the large reductions of the three British Cavalry regiments and a brigade division of Artillery, and possibly a Horse Artillery battery, to which the Noble Earl has referred. I agree with him that if these reductions are carried out it will be a most serious matter for the safety and security of our great Dependency of India.
Some years ago, when Lord Kitchener was planning his great redistribution of the military forces in India, which involved the reduction of a large number of the smaller stations, and the concentration of the bulk of our forces on or near to the North-West Frontier, he sent me a most interesting memorandum, which was very closely argued, and the gist of which was that, owing to the efficiency of the Police, of the great great railway systems, and of the telegraph systems, internal defence had now become a matter of secondary importance. Whatever might have been said in those days, that certainly does not apply at the present moment. The Indian Police have shown admirable loyalty in very difficult circumstances; but the force is growing less efficient, and it must deteriorate still more. The efficiency of the Indian Police, like that of the native Army in India, depends almost entirely upon the personal characteristics of its British officers, and the most experienced officers of the Police are now passing away from India. Out of 270 officials whose retirement has now been sanctioned 65 are Police officers. The Under-Secretary of State said that he had 600 fine applicants for this force, but what he did not say was that out of more than 2,500 officers retired, by reduction, from the Indian Army, only six, I believe, were willing to serve in the Police Force, and they were not considered quite suitable for that force. Therefore his applicants, on whom he 628 prided himself, must have been young men, who had no knowledge whatever of present conditions of the service in India, and who, when they went to India, would be of little use for five or seven years.
Nearly every Legislative Council in India has shown marked hostility to the Police Force, and that reacts upon the Police Force throughout India. In the Punjab, which is the most troubled Province of India at the present moment, and is at all times a storm centre, there has lately been a sudden reduction of 4,000 Police in obedience to the wishes of the Legislative Council and against the advice of the Inspector-General. I understand that now the authorities are busily at work trying to recruit those men again, or to get hold of others. Wholesale discharges on a scale like that must shake the confidence of the whole force throughout India, and must tend to make it unpopular. And there is a very curious tendency, which I am sure your Lordships must have noticed in all the late troubled years. It has been more and more necessary to employ troops on what are purely police duties—duties which, in other days, the police showed themselves perfectly capable of performing. That is an unfortunate thing on all accounts, but it does point to an increasing need of troops in India.
At Amritsar, when the Moslems and Hindus were engaged in one of their customary conflicts, both parties asked that troops might be sent to restore order. The little British garrison at Malapuram having been withdrawn, the Moplahs were easily persuaded that British rule had ended, and proceeded to act accordingly. The Moplah rebellion, which was discussed, if not planned, in London some time before it actually broke out, was the direct result of unchecked agitation among a most fanatical people. We have had many previous experiences of the same kind. That rebellion could easily have been prevented by police measures taken in time, but it was only possible to put it down by employing a large number of troops, at very great expense, and with the loss of thousands of Indian lives. The moral of that is that Regular troops are required in India now more than ever, and that it is most undesirable that tens of millions of Indians should never see a British soldier, as now happens.
629 The large total reduction of Cavalry is, I believe, a very grave mistake. Cavalry is by far the most effective force for dealing quickly, and for dealing mercifully, with risings of all kinds. And where roads are non-existent it may be quite impossible to use armoured cars which are sometimes a good substitute for Cavalry It is also now quite clear that however useful aircraft are for some purposes they cannot be used except in most exceptional cases in dealing with civil disturbances. I beg your Lordships to remember that the internal defence and the external defence of India must be considered together. You cannot separate them because they act and react upon each other. The Afghans would never have invaded India in 1919 if they had not fondly believed that the rebellion in the Punjab and elsewhere would cut the railways and so cripple the action of our forces on the frontier. And that very nearly happened.
I most strongly support all that the noble Earl has said, and I hope that the noble Viscount will give in full all the information for which the noble Earl has pressed. I hope he will also tell us whether the reductions were considered in the first instance by the Imperial General Staff and it would be very useful if he would let the House know how many troops, British and Indian, will remain to the several Provinces after the Field Army of India has been mobilised. I think it would be useful also if he would tell us whether the wireless system in India is now complete and efficient. I can assure my noble friend that any information of that kind which he can give will be most welcome to many of us who know India and who have been regarding the present reductions with absolute dismay. I hope that the noble Viscount will also give the undertaking for which I understood the noble Earl to ask, that the whole question of the defence of India will be reconsidered by the Committee of Imperial Defence in the light of the changed conditions with which we are now faced. If he would give that undertaking I think it would go far to allay a great deal of the very grave anxiety which is now undoubtedly felt.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, the noble Earl who asked the Question and the noble Lord who has just sat down started from a common theme—the inadequacy 630 of the present white Army in India, if reduced, to the circumstances of the times. That is a very important question and one that cannot be neglected. But it is not to be disposed of by saying that the numbers are less (and will be still lower) than they were some years ago under the old system. The white Army in India has, no doubt, been there since the date of the Mutiny partly to preserve internal order. It was also organised for another purpose. Lord Kitchener reorganised the Indian Army for another purpose—to cope with the possibility of a Russian invasion. That has entirely gone and, consequently, the standard of that Army, its dispositions and its numbers have had to come under review. The noble Earl who introduced this Question referred to the Report of Lord Inchcape's Committee and to this extent was sympathetic with it, that he said, in effect: "We must all recognise the urgent need for economy in India. If you do not have economy you will have increased unrest. If you satisfy people in India on the head of economy there will be somewhat less fear of your having internal disturbance to deal with."
Then the noble Earl went on to develop the remedies for this situation. He had a main remedy and he had a subsidiary remedy. I will touch upon the subsidiary remedy, as I understand it, first. He asked: "Why cut down the numbers of the troops you have when you might get your million of economy very easily by a reduction in their cost?" And I think he took the reduction of cost in the form of a possible reduction of pay. Speaking for myself, and as one not without experience of this matter, I am unable to say whether you could get the troops you now have in India if you reduced the terms of pay. I am talking of the white troops. Your Lordships must remember what is the character of the British Army in India. It is an Army that is raised here It serves a certain number of years with the Colours, and then comes back to the Reserve. There are certain battalions which are there and which, in course of time, having completed their term of service, return to this country. The soldiers in these battalions have to be raised on the same footing as the soldiers here, and they have to receive certain allowances while they are in India because of the distance, the difficulties of the task, and their separation from their wives and families.
631 It has never been an easy thing to make sure of your recruiting for the British Army. The noble Earl and I have had a fairly long experience of that difficulty, and we both know that it is a very uncertain matter how many men you will get by offering certain terms. At the present time I believe that it is not very easy to get recruits in this country, and if you reduce the terms of pay below what they are at the present time I for one do not feel that I am in a position to predict that you will get either 68,000 or 60,000 or any other given number for your Services in the white Army in India. Therefore I should not assent to that sub-proposal without a great deal more knowledge than I possess and without a very great deal of consultation with the Adjutant-General in this country, whose business it is to raise these troops and to know on what terms he has a prospect of getting them.. Therefore I think that your Lordships can offer no useful opinion on the question as to whether on reduced terms you could get the soldiers you want for India, and I pass to the larger and wider proposition of the noble Earl.
The noble Earl said: "You are reducing the Army and reducing it on a very large scale." The noble Lord who followed him emphasised that whittling away, as he called it, and the danger of the situation. The question of the size of the Army you must keep in India is one which has to be determined by situations which vary with circumstances. As I said before, the Russian menace has passed and that has affected the position to some extent, but, of course, you have to keep a considerable Army there to provide for the possibility of internal disturbance. That may in time cease to be a necessity, but it is still a necessity to some extent. What is the size of the Army that you require? The noble Earl says that he consulted many commanding officers upon this subject and that the opinion of those commanding officers varied. It is quite true that Lord Rawlinson, the present Commander-in-Chief in India, has assented to a reduction based on the principle which was laid down by Lord Inchcape's Committee. But I think that Committee did no more than this. They drew attention to certain very expensive aspects of the Indian Army, and they said: "We think that there is room for economy here." But 632 they left it to the Government of India and the Commander-in-Chief, as indeed they were bound to do, to say whether these economies could be carried out.
When Lord Reading and Lord Rawlinson agree that certain economies can be carried out and pronounce on the shape in which they can be effected, much importance is to be attached to the pronouncement, because, so far as the Commander-in-Chief makes that pronouncement, he must be taken to have made it after considering the military situation and the kind of Army which is requisite. It is of no use saying that there are divergent opinions among commanding officers on a question like that. In these modern days we do not work by taking the opinions of isolated officers, asking what they think and comparing one opinion with another. That was the old condition of things which gave us a great loss in efficiency. In India, as in this country, matters are now worked out by a General Staff which does not vary in the same way as individuals vary. It goes on altering its position from time to time, but only after substantial periods of working upon a common problem. That was the method which every great military nation in Europe had adopted before the war and which we had adopted seven years before that war took place. It enabled us to investigate these problems upon a basis of continuity which cannot otherwise be obtained, and with an aggregate of military knowledge brought to bear which cannot be attained in any other fashion. Presumably that has been done in India.
I do not know, because I am not informed, what steps the Commander-in-Chief and the Governor-General took before they consented to accept the reduction, but I presume that they made the sort of inquiry that would be made here as to the purpose for which the Army was wanted, as to the number of troops which would be required to fulfil that purpose, and as to the character and quality of the troops which would be required. If that was done, and it was the outcome of a scientific investigation of that kind, then I for my part attach much more importance to it than to the opinion of this or that isolated officer who, as the noble Earl said, may differ from some other isolated officer who forms 633 another opinion. We have had too much in the Army in this country of things going on according to individual opinion.
The noble Earl spoke of the number of successive Secretaries of State that there had been at the War Office. It is an excellent tiling to be for a long time at the War Office—at least, I think so—but it is not the only thing. You have to fall back upon your skilled advisers of the General Staff—a great and continuous organisation which works out problems in consultation with the Committee of Imperial Defence. In that way the Army, Navy and Air Force come together to some extent under a common roof, and I hope they will do so still more in the future. But the outcome of all this is that the real opinion which governs is the opinion of the General Staff which has worked the matter out. The General Staff is not, as some people think, a mere particular body created for war. There is an Imperial General Staff—or there used to be, and I think it still exists—and the General Staff in India is just a branch of the parent tree. Those who serve on it have been trained here. One of the first and most prominent in this connection was Field-Marshal Lord Haig who went out to India, I think in 1909, as Chief of the General Staff there, and worked out a good deal of the preliminary material upon which the reforms were based. Since that time he has been succeeded by people who have been trained in his traditions, and who know the organisation which he went there to put into operation. That is an organisation which belongs to the Imperial General Staff of this country, a General Staff which is considering these matters all over the Empire in different forms, and which affords a continuity in policy that would not otherwise be attained.
Therefore, if the noble Earl opposite and the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India say: "We indeed attach great importance to the recommendations of Lord Inchcape's Committee, but we did not commit ourselves to those recommendations without consulting the General Staff, and the General Staff, through the Commander-in-Chief, and the Governor-General have assented to them," then I for one shall attach very much importance to that pronouncement. 634 It is not a case, as I have said, in which these things can be done, or are done to-day, in a hurry. The system has become completely revolutionised from what it was twenty years ago. These are matters which are studied in a fashion in which they never were studied before, and they are studied under the œgis of the Committee of Imperial Defence which pronounces on the broad questions which arise, and which contains within itself, or can contain within itself at any moment, representatives of the Foreign Office, of the India Office, of the Colonial Office and of all the various Departments which are concerned with the probability of war. When you get to internal matters then the Commander-in-Chief and his Staff in India become the important people to tell you what the reserve forces are which you require to bring into, operation.
No doubt there are very grave questions which do arise. Aircraft in India has been mentioned in the course of the discussion. I do not yet know whether aircraft are as efficient a means of dealing with border tribes as are troops of another kind, possibly Cavalry and, anyhow, Infantry. I will say why. Aircraft drop bombs, and naturally drop them on the villages where there are nests of rebels. They go there, and they drop the bombs, and on whom do they fall? Not upon the fighting men, but upon their wives and children. If there is anything which the inhabitants of Northern India have distinguished themselves for it is this, that with exceptions—such exceptions as there were in the Mutiny, and such an exception as there was the other day—they have been chivalrous as regards the wives and children of their opponents. When they have committed outrages they have been outrages against men, generally policemen or soldiers; but if you begin to bomb them then you attack their wives and children, and you cannot expect them to pay the same regard to the wives and children of your own people as has been the case hitherto.
I am speaking here at an immense distance from India, and with very little direct information on the subject, but I am not speaking merely on my own impression of the subject, and I should wish in future to be more satisfied than I am at present that aircraft, though they may be useful, should be the main 635 way of resisting these frontier aggressions. That I have mentioned only because it is an instance of the difficult kind of question you have to take account of in dealing with the military problem for internal India. But that problem is one which obviously comes more within the competence of the Indian General Staff, who are better acquainted with the conditions, than that of anybody here. I have referred to it as an illustration of how much we have to depend upon the opinion of those in India. They may make mistakes. They have made them in the past, and I dare say they will make them again. But I think they are less likely to make blunders than we are in laying down policies, because we have not the knowledge of the circumstances and not the acquaintance with the military conditions in India which are required before you can form a judgment. Therefore, I await with interest what is to be said by the two noble Lords opposite who represent the two Departments concerned, and I shall hope to hear that their policy is, for better or for worse, to place reliance upon the only people whom it seems to me can give them reliable advice.
§ LORD INCHCAPE
My Lords, the noble Earl has mentioned my name in connection with the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. In what I shall say I shall detain your Lordships only a few minutes. In 1913–14 the expenditure on military service in India was 29,84,41,000 rupees; in 1922–3 the estimate was 71,37,82,000 rupees, but owing to the troops in India being fewer than expected, the actual expenditure for that year was less than the estimate. Practically all the recommendations of the Committee have been concurred in by the Viceroy, the Governor of India, the Commander-in-Chief, and the Army Council. Except one or two recommendations in connection with military expenditure which are under the consideration of the War Office, I think the whole of the recommendations of this Committee will be carried out in toto.
In my humble judgment, it will be a fatal blunder to overrule the Government of India. During the last five years the expenditure in that country has exceeded the revenue by no less than 100 crore of rupees, the consequence being that they 636 have had to borrow every year in order to balance their Budget. By the economies recommended by my Committee and the doubling of the Salt Tax India will just scrape through in the year 1923–24. The Commander-in-Chief, Lord Rawlinson, is perfectly satisfied that internal safety and external defence will be secured by the Army he proposes to maintain, and in my opinion, judging from what I saw in India during the five or six months I was there, it will be a great misfortune, almost a disaster, to impose on India a larger military expenditure than that which those who are responsible for the safety of the country consider necessary. I am a great believer in the man on the spot, and I hope the Government here will support the Viceroy of India and the Commander-in-Chief.
§ THE SECKETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (THE EARL OF DERBY)
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl most sincerely for having put this Question on the Order Paper. It is especially gratifying to me to be able to give him an answer, because it was under his auspices that I first served my apprenticeship in the War Office. I have pleasant memories of that period. The debate has taken a slightly different turn from that which I had anticipated, and has been devoted more to the question of the reduction of the Army in India than to the actual state of the Army at home. I must leave that question to be dealt with by my noble friend the Secretary of State for India, but I would say one thing with regard to the reduction of troops in India, and that is that noble Lords must take into account the change that has taken place on the mechanical side of warfare. The noble and learned Viscount spoke about aeroplanes and their power in war. I am in agreement with him to a large extent. There is no doubt that for reconnaissance purposes aeroplanes must have a great superiority over Cavalry. In addition, you have armoured cars, which military authorities in India and at home have assured me are of the utmost advantage and mean an enormous saving in the number of men. You have also mechanical transport instead of horse and ox-drawn transport, and, therefore, although you may have a reduction of men, it does not follow that there is an equal reduction in the general efficiency of the Army. That is a fact that must be borne in mind.
637 Lord Inchcape's Committee has made proposals for certain reductions, and those proposals are under consideration by the India Office and the War Office at the present moment. A number of the reductions will take place, but there is one reduction that I can tell the noble Earl will not take place. It will be some satisfaction, if not to him, at all events to the regiments concerned, to know that there will be no question of abolishing any of the three Cavalry regiments. I may also tell him, and he knows me well enough to understand that I should not say it unless I really meant it, that under no consideration would I as representing the War Office assent to any reduction unless I was fortified by the opinion of the General Staff that such reduction could safely be made. There I do agree with the noble and learned Viscount. The General Staff ought to be, and must be, the authority to which the Secretary of State for War, the Government and the country, must turn for military advice. The noble and learned Viscount said that when one soldier went out of office another soldier came in and generally disagreed with his predecessor. I have known that happen with politicians. When you give the authority of a body of military officers and it is said, "Those are not the right officers; I could find somebody who will disagree with them," I hope this country will always accept the advice of the General Staff as being the only military advice which the country ought to accept, whether it be in England or in India.
I view with great grief the reduction that has had to take place in the Army—the scrapping of Cavalry regiments, the scrapping of old and distinguished line regiments; the great reduction in the Artillery. They are all subjects for sincere regret. But you have to cut your coat according to your cloth, and it must be remembered that you cannot have these cries for economy and at the same time keep the Army up to the strength and size that you had before the war. The duty imposed upon me is to cut the coat according to the cloth, but to be quite certain that the coat is sufficient to cover the wearer; in other words, that the Army is sufficient for the work that may be imposed upon it. I am sorry that the Army should have to be reduced, but reduced it must be We have to try to get in our Army, organised to the highest 638 pitch, the smallest number of men actually under arms with the maximum power of expansion in time of war. That means a big Reserve, and I freely admit that the two things I view as being most dangerous at the present moment in our military situation are the reduction in the number of men in the Reserve—that in time will gradually be made good—and the loss of the Reserve battalions. I should like to have substituted for them, had finances allowed, the old Militia battalions. Apparently, the noble and learned Viscount does not agree with me; we must agree to differ. We have to provide an Army sufficiently large to garrison our various ports all over the world, and provide drafts for them; and at the same time provide a small mobile force, an Expeditionary Force, which can be rapidly mobilised and sent abroad. Our Army has never been formed, and I do not think that it ever will be formed, to provide in peace time for a great European conflagration. We must try to have a nucleus so that we can extend it in time of war, if a war ever occurs again. In time of peace it would be folly to attempt to keep up any such Army as foreign nations maintain.
Your Lordships may be interested to see what reductions have taken place since the conclusion of the war. I will refer to Vote A, which gives the numbers of officers and men. The reduction in Vote A Estimates was, at the conclusion of the war, 1,975,000; in 1921, 184,000; and in 1922–23, 126,000; and there will be a reduction—I will not give the exact figures because, as I have said, a certain amount of discussion is proceeding between ourselves and the India Office—in the present year. The establishment of the Army outside India in 1914 was 186,000 all ranks. To-day it is 160,000. At the moment a point has been reached beyond which it is quite impossible to make any further reduction in the Army. In my opinion and in the opinion of the Government we have got down to the bone, and no further reduction of any substantial amount can be made so as still to leave the Army able to do that which the country expects of it. The Geddes axe fell on the Army with a recommendation for a reduction of 50,000 officers and men. The figures upon which the recommendation was based were overstated 639 by 14,000, but in the endeavour to carry out the Geddes Report the number of officers and men reduced was 32,000, and there the reduction must cease.
I am very glad that this Question has been put, because it gives me an opportunity of saying, so far as any Government can say it, that finality has been reached. Nothing is more disturbing to the Army than not to know where it stands, and always to feel that any day a further axe may be produced and a further reduction made. Parents are loth to send their sons to be officers because they fear that there may be no future before them. I want them to feel assured, as the result of what I am now saying, that, so far as this Government, at all events, is concerned, there will be no further reduction, and the same excellent future in the Army, or perhaps a better future, is open to their sons as before the war.
The noble Earl spoke of economies in the reduction of pay. Do not let him for one moment think that this point has escaped the consideration of the War Office and of His Majesty's Government. The noble Viscount rather doubts whether we can make a reduction of pay and still get recruits. This will always be a question that can be decided only by results, but in my opinion there is not the least doubt that we can make a very substantial reduction in the pay of all ranks and still get those whom we require. The present rate of pay was undoubtedly fixed at a panic height, and I believe that a reduction which will still give to officer and man a wage which will not only be comparable to but proportionately greater than the sort of wage paid in civil life can be made, and a large reduction of expenditure effected in that direction. That point, however, is under consideration at the present moment. I wish to say that in no circumstances will such reduction affect any men who are in the Army now, so long as they are in the positions which they at present occupy.
If I may, I should like to qualify further my remarks about reductions of strength, because one is always rather afraid of being taken too literally I ought to have said that no reduction will take place in what I call the fighting Armies, but I do believe that reductions can and 640 should take place in a number of the ancillary services; so that in that regard reductions may take place, though not of a very large and very drastic character. I do not want to bind myself, however, not to make reductions in these directions if I find they can be made without diminishing the efficiency of the Army. In conclusion, I should like to repeat what I said before, that there will be no reduction in what I call the fighting Army, and if there is any question of reduction in India, it can only be agreed to, so far as I am concerned, if I have the full authority of the Chief of the General Staff for believing that I can agree without the safety of the British Empire being in any way imperilled.
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl one question. I gather that he stated that the pay of the men will not be diminished. I should like to know if the pay of officers is to be reduced, because there is a very strong feeling among those entering and serving in the Army that their pay may be reduced at any time. May I assume that the noble Earl referred to officers as well as men?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
The whole question is under consideration, but the noble Lord knows that next year there is some question of reducing the bonus that was given for the cost of living. According to the index figure of the year, that bonus is liable to reduction next year in the case of officers.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I beg to congratulate my noble friend Lord Midleton on having given an opportunity to my noble friend the Secretary of State for War of making such a very important statement as he has made this afternoon. Your Lordships have heard every word that he has said and you know how full of information his speech has been. I particularly want to underline three statements which my noble friend made, and which I am quite sure will give your Lordships the greatest possible satisfaction. The first statement was that he would never consent to the settlement of such an important question as the strength of the British Army in India except on the advice of the Imperial General Staff. The second statement was that he was not prepared to accept 641 responsibility for any further reduction of the fighting strength of the British Army. He guarded himself as to his freedom to accept reductions in certain of the non-combatant services.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I must just qualify that for a moment. I do not want there to be any mistake. The question of the reductions in India is sub judice at the present moment, and consequently there may be reductions to which, if the General Staff advise them, I may agree.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I did not mean at that moment to refer to Indian reductions. I thought I had dealt with that point in saying that my noble friend would rot consent to any reductions in India except on the advice of the Imperial General Staff. I was referring to the strength of the British Army outside India, and he has told us that he has got down to the very bone, and that he is not prepared to accept responsibility for any further reduction of the, fighting men. Indeed, I am not surprised at that statement, when we consider the great reductions that have taken place—I do not say wrongly, because I agree with my noble friend that after such a war as we have had, and with such a load of taxation as this country is bearing, we are obliged to take risks, just as the Duke of Wellington took risks after the end of the Napoleonic struggle. But when it is considered that the Imperial obligalion and the responsibilities of the Army are not less to-day than they were before the great war, but are greater, it is indeed extraordinary how that little Army manages to fulfil, and with wonderful efficiency, such a vast responsibility. We cannot, however, conceal from ourselves that we are taking a risk, and I do not suppose that anyone in this country is more conscious of the fact than is my noble friend and his military advisers.
With regard to the reduction of the Army in India, Lord Inchcape, I believe, came into the House after Lord Midleton had begun his speech, and I gather from what he said that he did not quite understand what my noble friend was contending. My noble friend did not propose to impose upon the Government of India any military expenditure which they did not themselves think to be necessary. Nor did he want to cut down 642 by one lakh of rupees the economies recommended by Lord Inchcape. Lord Midleton's point—and on this we hope to hear something from the Secretary of State for India—was that the reduction of expenditure on the Army should not have been in numbers but in pay, and from what my noble friend the Secretary of State for War has said, it does seem quite possible that economy might in the future be realised in the direction of pay rather than in the direction of numbers.
On that matter of pay, again I want to express, if I may, my very great relief and satisfaction that the Secretary of State for War took the line which I felt quite sure he would take, that in no circumstances whatever should faith be broken with the serving soldier, and that whatever reduction in pay might be necessary in the Army—and this would apply to the Navy and Air Force—that reduction would not be retrospective, but would only affect the prospects of men subsequently entering the Service. There have been rumours of a different decision, and I think the case would have been perfectly impossible of defence. Therefore, it is a great relief that the matter, once for all, is set at rest by the words of my noble friend. Of course, my noble friend the Secretary of State for India may say that we want a double economy—that we could do with fewer troops, and that if we pay less we get a double economy.
In that connection comes the greater importance of the main contention of my noble friend Lord Midleton, and of Viscount Haldane opposite, and the admission of ray noble friend the Secretary of State for War. This question of the number of troops required in India can no longer be settled by the obiter dictum of any Minister or of any soldier, nor can it, I venture to say, be settled only by the Government of India in conjunction with that branch of the Imperial General Staff stationed in India. I do most earnestly support the view of my noble friend, and what I understand to be the opinion of my noble friend opposite, that this is a matter in the first instance for the Imperial General Staff as a whole, and after that for the Imperial Committee of Defence, and that the final decision of the Cabinet can only come after the Imperial General Staff has spoken and the Committee of Imperial Defence has considered the question. 643 With those decisions my noble friend and public opinion will be abundantly satisfied. We would not be satisfied if we thought for one moment that the Cabinet had neglected to consult those great authorities, for I think it can fairly be claimed now that the Committee of Imperial Defence is a great authority.
It has behind it the traditions of more than twenty years' work. Nobody knows better than my noble friend opposite what wonderful work that Committee did which bore fruit in the great war. I am sure that the present Government have not allowed the industry or responsibility of that Committee to lapse. Surely this question of the Defence of India is, of all questions, one which can be remitted to that Committee for final decision. On that point we should like a further explanation from my noble friend the Secretary of State for India, and, if I may remind him, I think my noble friend is also entitled to some little explanation of why that matter of the reduction of pay, to which the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament drew attention last year, has apparently up to now been neglected; because if what my noble friend and the Committee advised had been done, there would have been material to the hands of Lord Inchcape when he went to India, on which he might have worked, and it might not have been necessary to make the recommendations which he has made as to the strength of battalion's, etc. If my noble friend the Secretary of State for India is able to supplement the speech of the Secretary for War with matter anything like so satisfactory as that we have already heard, Lord Midleton will be abundantly satisfied with the debate that he has raised, and public opinion will think he has done us all a great service.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, on reading the Question of the noble Earl I did not think that he was going to deal in so much detail as he has done with Indian reductions, but rather with general Army questions. Indeed, on the whole question of the proposed reductions in the Indian Army I think he will excuse me from making a full statement to-night, because I am really unable to do it. He will understand that as these matters are under consideration by His Majesty's Government it would be impossible for 644 me to deal with proposals not yet sanctioned. I was going to say, too, and apart from that conclusive reason, that I have another degree of unwillingness, and it is this, that this Question of the reduction of the Army in India is obviously, as the noble Earl pointed out in his speech, not merely an Army question but one which involves a great number of other considerations. It involves a full survey of the whole situation in India, and I should like, first of all, to deny the suggestion—I think it was made by the noble Earl—that there were dangerous reasons in the general situation in India why there should be no big reduction, because I think I can show that the situation is far more satisfactory than is indicated by those few phrases.
This question is mixed up with, and is part of, a great general policy of reduction throughout the whole of the Indian Services, and it would be entirely out of perspective if it were dealt with as a single question, apart from the reductions in all other public Services in India, and apart also from a full survey of the prospects of a more peaceful condition in India, not only internally but also on the frontier, and connected also with the question of possible, and, I hope, probable, peace with Turkey.
The only point, then, that I think I can definitely answer of those which have been put before me by these noble Lords is this. I cannot, of course, at this stage say what are the opinions of the Viceroy or the Commander-in-Chief in India. That would be an improper thing for me to do while these matters are still under consideration, but I will say that I think you have in India at the present time two generals of the very greatest distinction and capacity to give you advice on these questions. Anybody who is acquainted with the record of Lord Rawlinson knows how distinguished and capable a soldier he is. You also have as Chief of the General Staff in India General Jacob, an old Indian soldier, and, I believe I am right in saying, the Indian soldier who earned the greatest distinction in the war, a man who knows India from top to bottom, and whose advice is to be taken above a hundred stray opinions of other generals and gentlemen who may be consulted. And let me add that the opinions of these two men—with, of course, the Viceroy and the Government—are the opinions of those who are responsible 645 for carrying out any changes that may be made, and who are responsible for the peace of India. Is it likely that these men, who have the primary responsibility for seeing that peace is preserved in that great sub-continent, will propose any ill-considered changes? I could not dream of suggesting, either to the Government or to this House, any military changes which the great military authorities and the Staff in India thought would present any danger to the peace of India.
There is only one other point in the speech of the noble Earl that I should like to answer, although I think the point was answered by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. The noble Earl (Lord Midleton) suggested that when you are considering any question of the reduction of troops the simple way to do the thing is by reducing the pay of the British soldier, although almost immediately afterwards one of these two noble Earls—I cannot remember which—said: "Ah, but you must not reduce the pay of any serving British soldier, because that would be a breach of contract." Of course, it is a breach of contract. It is, therefore, by no means an easy way of dealing with the question, because, as has already been stated in the debate, the question of the revision of pay will come up next year, and nothing can be done till next year because these men have entered the Army on a certain contract, which cannot be broken.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
When the noble Viscount says that nothing can be done, I would point out that 30,000 men have entered the Service since the recommendation of the Committee, and that everything could have been done in their case.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
No, nothing could be done, because these men have entered the Army on certain conditions. It is quit" true that the noble Earl can, if he desires and thinks it wise, recommend that there should be a change in the pay of men entering the Army next year. Yes, but they do not go immediately to India, and before they reach India it is obvious that some time will have elapsed. And therefore it is quite clear that that will not be of any assistance to the financial condition of India at present.
646 There is one more criticism of the noble Earl to which, in passing, I may allude. The noble Earl said: "are you reducing establishments? That is a most expensive way of reducing the Army"—the suggestion being, I suppose, that you should reduce cadres. I would point out to the noble Earl that there is one great advantage in reducing establishments and not cadres—and I am sure my noble friend will support me in this—and that is that it is much easier to fill up and increase establishments of existing units than to create other units, because if you abolish units you have to re-create them. The only other point I would mention is that when noble Lords are dealing with the Army in India I wish they would bear in mind that it is paid for by the Indian taxpayer, and that moneys are voted by an Assembly in that country. I hope, therefore, they will always remember the risk or danger of suggesting the imposition of any charges upon the people of that country which they think are either unnecessary or not in the interests of India.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I rise to thank the noble Earl the Secretary of Stale for War for the most reassuring statement which he has made, and I take note of his undertaking that all these questions relating to India will be reviewed by the Imperial General Staff before the Cabinet decides upon them. I did not like to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Inchcape, but may I say, with regard to the over-ruling of the Government of India, that I entirely agree; with what he feels in that respect? That was the reason why I pressed upon the noble Viscount last year that he should take up this question of pay, and that they should have it before them in view of the economies which were coming very shortly. That might have obviated other and, as I think, less eligible kinds of economy. I still regret that he did not use his strong position to get that question taken up last July, instead of in the present year.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The reason why I did not take it up was because I could not, owing to the fact that a definite contract had been entered into with these men.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
There cannot be a contract with men who have not entered the Army. If His Majesty 647 chooses to say: "I offer a different form of pay to these men from that received by those who are in India already," he is quite at liberty to do so.