§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of the Earl of Onslow for Papers regarding the Army.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend. I fully agree with what he said about the shortage of men. The shortage of 10,000 men in the Regular Army cannot but be regarded, I think, as a very serious matter. When we know that the Territorial Army is also 3,000 men shorter than it was last year the matter becomes of rather great importance. My noble friend wanted to know, and I think he asked the noble Earl opposite, what were the main causes of this shortage in recruiting last year. I might save the noble Earl the trouble of replying and answer my noble friend myself, because I think the answer is to be found on page 5, in paragraph 2 of the Blue-book "The General Annual Report on the British Army for the Year ending 30th September, 1929." The first item in the second paragraph, which deals with factors affecting recruiting, is—Expectations of a large increase in the unemployment benefit.Other reasons are given as well, but I think that is most likely to be the principal cause of shortage. I must say that I believe that is one of the bad effects which the recent legislation of this Government will have.
I should like now also to bear out what my noble friend said about the Officers 955 Training Corps. Like him, I talk to boys at public schools about the Officers Training Corps, and I cannot think that the conditions are altogether satisfactory. From what I have heard, I am inclined to think that sometimes the work is—I do not like to say such a thing—really a little too hard, especially in the hot weather in the summer, if it happens to be very hot in the month of August when they go to camp. At other times, I have talked to boys who, instead of treating the Officers Training Corps as a serious military force, appear to treat it rather as a joke. That is all right up to a point, but if it is carried too far I do not think it is a very good thing. One objection to the camp—and I should like the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) to take notice of this if he will—is that it is always in the first week of the holidays. I think, possibly, if it were held in the last week of the term that it would be more popular with the boys, but I quite understand that the War Office probably are not free agents. They might have to get the permission of the headmasters, which might be difficult to obtain. That is all I want to say on those matters.
There are, however, two points about which I desire information, and of which I have given the noble Earl private notice. I hope he will be able to enlighten me upon them. First of all, I should very much like to know—and a good many noble Lords would like to know—details about the new curriculum of the Royal Military College. I do not know anything in detail, but I hear that the riding has been reduced by 50 per cent., the drill has been reduced by 50 per cent., physical training by the same amount, and musketry has been abolished altogether. In place of these things there are a great many more lectures, I fancy on subjects like history and political economy. In fact, the whole trend is to make the Royal Military College more like a University. I am not saying this is wrong. One gets out of date in these things, but to my mind it is rather a revolutionary proceeding. I should very much like to know from the noble Earl if he will tell me what induced the General Staff to make this radical change in the curriculum at the College, and for what purpose it is done. It may be all very well to make the Royal Military College less of a military institution and 956 more of a University, but I hope very much that it does not mean that discipline is going to be relaxed, because when boys go to Sandhurst at about the age of seventeen and a-half to nineteen that is the very time at which they mostly want discipline. I do not think it would be at all a good thing if they were allowed too much freedom. The old military discipline, after all, turned out exceedingly fine officers, and it would not be a good thing if it were to be relaxed now in any serious degree.
The second point that I should like information about is this: On what system does the War Office go in ordering battalions of foot guards on foreign service? As your Lordships may know, during the last thirty-five years battalions of foot guards have from time to time been sent on foreign service. There was one time when there was supposed to be a brigade of three battalions always at Gibraltar. It is some time ago, and I think that was interrupted by the South African War. After that, the experiment was tried, which has gone on ever since, of sending a brigade to Aldershot, I think with very good results. Then, about 1906, a battalion of Coldstream Guards went to Egypt. They were relieved three or four years later by a battalion of Scots Guards, and after the War a brigade was sent to Constantinople. That was under special circumstances, and when they left Constantinople, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was detained at Gibraltar, where it did service for one year. Since then the system seems to have lapsed, and three or four years later the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards was sent to Shanghai. That again was a special purpose. Last year the Welsh Guards were sent to Cairo, and I hear they are going to be relieved in October by the 1st Battalion of the Grenadiers.
I do not say that is a bad thing; I think it is a very good thing; and I am quite sure that the majority of the officers and men of the Brigade of Guards like going abroad and seeing foreign countries. I think it is good for the brigade to see foreign garrisons and see troops of the line and other arms, and know their difficulties. I also think it is a good thing for those other troops to see these magnificent troops of His 957 Majesty with their smartness of turn-out and drill, and their glorious record, second to none in the world, whom otherwise they might never see except in pictures. I think it is a very good thing; but I want to know on what system the War Office are working. Are we to understand that in futurs there is always to be a battalion of foot guards on duty in foreign stations? I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time any further, and I shall be much obliged if the noble Earl can give me an answer to the points I have raised.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to a number of subjects, and I will do my best to answer him on all questions of fact. He will, of course, realise that on questions of policy I cannot at the moment tell him very much, because, owing to the tragic happening that has already been referred to in your Lordships' House today, the debate on the Army Estimates that was to have taken place yesterday in the House of Commons has been postponed until, I think, Monday. The Secretary of State will then naturally make his pronouncement on general questions of Army policy according to the conclusions to which he has come during his nine months' period of office.
The first question to which the noble Earl refers in his Notice is the diminution in strength of the British Army. There are two points upon that. The first is that establishments have been reduced by 1,600. The reason for those reductions are really fourfold. The first is due to reductions of administrative services owing to the recall of the Army from the Rhine. It is found possible to administer them much more cheaply and with fewer services in this country than abroad. The second is the completion of the disbandment of horsed-transport companies—the Royal Army Service Corps. The third is the diminution of the additional number of troops that were needed on account of troops that were employed in China, and the fourth is the automatic reduction that goes on from year to year as a result of the continuous revision of Army establishments which the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, will be acquainted with. As regards strength—and I take it that is the point of the noble Earl—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes. Actually at the present moment the Army, including the Army in India, is short of its establishment by 10,000 men.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes. No less than 6,000 of that shortage is in the infantry units at home. This question of recruiting is always a very difficult one to discuss and to give any specific reasons for. This question was alluded to the other day with reference to the Territorial Army and one noble Lord—I think it was Lord Templemore—seemed to imply, I think, that the reduction had taken place in recruiting since this Government came into office.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Well, I think somebody else did. As a matter of fact it really is almost impossible to say why recruiting is sometimes good and sometimes bad. The noble Lord, Lord Templemore, has made one suggestion, that it is due to unemployment insurance.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes, it is, but whether that is true or not I would not like to say. It has been suggested as a possible reason.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
It has been suggested that it may be, but there have been periods of good recruiting and periods of bad recruiting before, and certainly as far as I can see from the figures recruiting was no better before the passage of this Act than after, so probably you may say that it is possible to put too much stress on that point.
The other point that the noble Earl has raised is as to the policy of the Government in regard to the mechanisation of the Army. The noble Earl has asked whether the primary object of mechanisation is efficiency or economy. I think I can answer that question. The primary object of mechanisation is the efficiency of the Army.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Of course the fact that to a certain extent it sometimes leads to economy will naturally affect the pace at which it will be possible to adopt mechanisation in particular cases. At the present moment we have steps taken—I think the noble Lord has already referred to this—for the completion of the mechanisation of the 12th Lancers. Experiments have been proceeding during the past three years designed to ascertain the equipment which is most suitable for military needs, and the organisation and tactics best suited, because obviously it would mean otherwise going in for a very large-scale adoption of mechanisation before we know exactly what is needed. Those experiments are being carried on at the present moment, not only in research establishments and on special testing grounds, but actually with troops in the field. Those experiments are being continued.
The next point to which I think the noble Earl referred was the Officers Training Corps. The present position of the Officers Training Corps is that its strength on October 1, 1929, was 39,878, as compared with 38,929, an increase of nearly 1,000. During the year ended December 31, 1929, the number of officers supplied by the Officers Training Corps was 1,052 as compared with 1,026 in 1928. There were 406 who went to the Regular Army, ninety-five to the Supplementary Reserve, and the remaining 551 to the Territorial Army. As to the future policy in regard to this Corps, I cannot anticipate the speech of my right hon. friend when he introduces his Estimates on Monday.
Another point the noble Earl referred to was the question of Woolwich and Sandhurst, and whether the establishment of cadets at Sandhurst and Woolwich is full. I think the noble Earl is probably aware that there is not a fixed establishment for either Woolwich or Sandhurst. The number of vacancies thrown open to competition is decided on the occasion of each entrance examination, having regard to various considerations including the probable number of vacancies in the establishment of officers of the Regular Army which the incoming batch of cadets will be required to fill. At present there are 195 cadets at Woolwich and 523 at Sandhurst, as compared with 225 at Woolwich and 480 at Sandhurst last year. 960 You will see that there is a decrease at Woolwich and an increase at Sandhurst and the aggregate is slightly in favour of this year. There are thirteen more this year. Of these, 185 from Woolwich and 389 from Sandhurst will be going into the British Army compared with 217 and 401 respectively a year ago.
Regarding the new course and curriculum at Sandhurst to which Lord Templemore referred, the object of the new syllabus at Sandhurst is, as he said, to increase the general education that is given. That aim is really, I think, in accordance with the suggestion that was put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in favour of an increased number of University entrants into the Army. The idea—and I understand it is favoured by many soldiers—is to have a greater number of men in the Army with a good general education. That is the idea behind this new syllabus at Sandhurst. As the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, said, parts of the technical military instruction such as musketry courses—I think he referred also to riding—have been either abolished or decreased and arrangements have been made for young officers to receive this technical instruction later on when they join their units or at extra-regimental courses. Time has also been saved by reducing the number of end-of-term examinations, and by some reduction in drill periods. In order to make better use of the instructional personnel the old company system has been retained only for administration and discipline. I think that touches on another point to which the noble Earl alluded. The officers have been put according to the subjects of instruction under chief instructors in charge of groups. Those really are the main features of the alteration in the course at Sandhurst.
There is one other point to which the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, referred, and that is the employment of Guards battalions abroad. At present the position is that we have more battalions abroad than we have at home. It is necessary, therefore, to keep some home service battalions on duty in the Mediterranean and in Egypt, and it was considered reasonable—and I think the noble Lord agreed—that the Guards battalions should take their turn. With regard to the future, it is difficult to say what will happen, because it really depends on the 961 future of our commitments abroad and how far it is going to be necessary to maintain the existing balance of more battalions abroad than we have at home. I am afraid that this is really all the information that I can give the noble Lord on that point. I have tried to answer all the questions that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, put to me on all points of fact. On questions of policy my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War will be making his annual statement on Monday, and I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will excuse any lack of information on policy in my remarks.
My Lords, I am not quite clear from the reply of the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, as to the conditions with regard to the establishments at Woolwich and Sandhurst. The noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, told us that the figures of the establishments at both the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Military College were moveable. One has always understood that. The authorities state that there will be so many vacancies for gentlemen cadets as each term comes round. What I fancy the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, wanted to ascertain was whether those moveable establishments are filled up. In other words, do you get enough gentlemen cadets of the standard that is laid down for entrance? That, I think, is what one wants to know.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The question really is whether we are up to our demands. I think it has to be admitted that the applicants for Commissions have not lately been entirely up to our hopes. I cannot go further than that. There is a certain shortage at the moment of officers' establishments. I think the shortage is round about 200 for the whole Army, and it is at the moment not met from the cadets' establishments at Woolwich and Sandhurst.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for the various answers that he has given to my Questions. On the subject of recruiting, it seems to me that the most interesting part of the reply was really given by my noble friend behind me when he quoted from the Annual Report on the Army, which says that, among the factors affecting recruiting, one is the expectation 962 of a large increase in unemployment benefit. It is rather alarming, I think, when we find an official document, issued by command of the Army Council, admitting that, in consequence of recent action of the Government, people are refraining from taking employment that is open to them in the Army. I think that this is an admission of which it is almost impossible to exaggerate the seriousness. I can only congratulate your Lordships' House on the wisdom which it showed in insisting that the recent Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill should be temporary in character. An opportunity will be available for revising that measure, if it has brought about the unfortunate result which the Government seem to attribute to it. We are told also that the falling off is due in fact to an increase in employment in certain industrial districts. It would be interesting to know where those industrial districts are, but I will not pursue the point further.
I was very glad to hear what the noble Earl was able to tell us about mechanisation, and I welcome his assurance that efficiency in the Army is the first consideration. That is a very satisfactory reply. Of course, mechanisation does lead to great economy in due course. Possibly the first outlay may cost a little more, but in the long run I think the noble Earl will find that mechanisation leads to economy as well as efficiency. I was glad to hear what the noble Earl told us about the continuation of experiments with mechanised vehicles, equipment and so forth.
When I came to the last two Questions that I had to ask, I think the noble Earl was a little short of information. He was not able to tell me whether I was right or wrong in regard to the feeling in public schools about the Officers Training Corps. He said that more would be said on this subject in the debate on the Estimates in another place. Of course we know that debates on these matters take place elsewhere, but, as has been pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and admitted by the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, we are entitled to ask Ministers, especially Ministers who directly represent Departments, for information on the subject of their Departments, regardless of what may be done in another place. I think that is the in- 963 alienable right of your Lordships' House, and has been admitted by all Parties. In answer to my Question whether any alteration is contemplated in regard to the Officers Training Corps, I only gathered that some alteration is contemplated and that it will be announced by the Secretary of State on Monday.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I did not mean to imply anything. I only said that the matter would be dealt with on Monday, in so far as it was going to be dealt with.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Anyhow we shall be told on Monday what is going to be done in regard to the Officers Training Corps and, when we hear what it is, we shall perhaps have an opportunity of discussing the matter in your Lordships' House. What the noble Earl told us about the establishments in the Royal Military College and the Royal Military Academy was not, I think, very satisfactory. The only satisfactory element in his reply was that it elicited a speech from my noble friend Lord Mersey. I think this is the first time that the noble Viscount has addressed your Lordships' House, and on such an occasion your Lordships invariably extend a word of congratulation to a member of the House who makes his maiden speech. It was a very valuable speech and it obtained an answer to my question which shows that all is not well at the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Military College, and that there is a disappointing shortage in the numbers of cadets coming forward. I 964 hope that the Government will take every step they can to increase the number of people who join the Army. Perhaps they will consider the humble suggestion that I ventured to put forward earlier in this debate.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Templemore, the noble Earl said that the object of the change in the curriculum was to assimilate education at Sandhurst to that of the Universities and to give it a more general character. I did not actually say that I thought it was desirable to assimilate the Royal Military College to the Universities. I am not quite sure that it is, because the officers who join the Army through Sandhurst join at an earlier age than those who join through the Universities. I am doubtful whether we should be well advised in having all the officers trained in the same way on University lines. I think that in all probability we require a certain number of junior officers trained on the lines on which they have hitherto been trained at Sandhurst. That is a personal opinion which arises out of the reply of the noble Earl. I do not think I have any more to say, except to thank the noble Earl for what he has told us. It was very interesting. I do not think that he wishes to lay any Papers, and, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I will withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past six o'clock.