§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to-the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I wish to call attention to a statement made in an interview by the Chancellor of the Exchequer "which appears in a periodical published this month. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appears to have stated that we only went to war for the sake of Belgium, and that we had nothing to gain by the War. I understood that the Prime Minister had stated that it was nothing of the kind. These two statements are as mischievous as they are erroneous. I would have liked to ask the Prime Minister whether he assented to-the statement which was made by his colleague. The Prime Minister stated that in this War we were fighting for this country as much as for Belgium or any other country. The question about which I wish to address the House is the question of the uniform of a particular corps. It does not matter particularly what corps it is, but a concrete case is perhaps more useful. So I put a question on the Paper asking if a uniform had been sanctioned for the City of London National Guard. The right hon. Gentleman informed me that 625 uniformity of dress is permissible among members of any corps, provided it is distinguishable from that worn by the Regular and Territorial Forces. The right hon. Gentleman informed mc that a uniform has been sanctioned by the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps, but he takes all the authority out of that statement by merely remarking that it is permissible—that is to say, anybody may wear anything that he likes, but the War Office do not recognise it. That I take to be the real meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's reply. We have in the City of London National Guard some 2,000 men. Surely it is a good thing that those men are willing, at the end of their day's work in the City, to go and qualify by drill to form fours and perform other difficult operations of that sort, and to spend their Sunday in tramping over Hampstead Heath, and also to march the whole length of the City, as we all have done!
Surely it is a good thing which ought to be encouraged, and not left in a state of doubt as to whether the War Office approves of them or regards them as a kind of necessary nuisance, who may provide themselves with a kind of uniform or not as they themselves may like without any encouragement or sanction from the War Office! I do not know even whether the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps is authorised by the War Office to sanction a uniform, and I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will answer that. My remarks are entirely friendly to this regiment. When I put the question before my object was somewhat misunderstood. I take the opportunity of saying that it is entirely friendly. The authorities of the regiment have been most kind and attentive to all of us, and indeed the colonel of the regiment is deserving of recognition because, to his infinite credit, he gave three recruits a whole hour of his own attention himself. But when it comes to this question of uniform, and when I go to the quartermaster to see what is the authority for the uniform, the worthy man is naturally astonished to find a private coming and asking for the information, and when I pursue the matter further, and get the paper, I find that it is signed by an official tailor.
That is not enough for me. I would like some other authority, not that I wish to disparage tailors at all, but I should naturally expect to see an authority signed by some other person. I do not think that it is a very fortunate thing that in 626 this paper they describe the badge of rank on the sleeve as an Austrian knot. You might as well call one of our bands a German band as to describe as an Austrian knot a badge for a British regiment. But this is printed on the paper signed by the official tailor, and I have to accept that as the only authority which I find when I make inquiries in the proper quarter. Then, on Sunday, I find the Optimist National Corps going through various military evolutions in Hertfordshire, wearing a khaki uniform, and a red brassard on the arm. It may be that the brassard was worn in this case because when khaki is worn it is necessary to distinguish the wearer from members of the Territorial and Regular Forces. Why it should be necessary heaven only knows. I should have thought that the more we all look as if we are all trying to do what we can at a time like this, the better. I saw them wearing a brassard, and in the uniform which is described, whether rightly or wrongly, as that for the City of London National Guard, there is a fashion plate, if I may so describe it, of a man in this uniform also wearing a brassard.
When I look at the regulations in the "Volunteer Training Corps' Gazette" I find it states that the wearing of a brassard is compulsory with the uniform. I cannot understand this. A brassard is a substitute for a uniform, a very inconvenient and ineffectual substitute, that can be easily discarded and very easily put on, and it is exactly the kind of a distinguishing feature which is considered insufficient for troops whether for Home defence or any other purpose in the, I am happy to think, very remote event of the invasion of the country. But under the existing rules, which I have no doubt are as official as anything connected with the matter can be, because they are published as earning from the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps and are published in the "Volunteer Training Corps' Gazette," it is distinctly stated that the wearing of this brassard is compulsory with the uniform.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
Is that in the-same letter of the master tailor from which the hon. Member has been quoting?
§ Sir J. D. REES
No, I have left the master tailor. I had to mention him because he is exceeding important in a matter of uniform, and the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I could not leave him out. The definite point I 627 was dealing with was that he was the sole authority whom I could track. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend was indulging in a little pleasantry.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Because if he had been he could have seen it expressly stated that the order requiring the wearing of the brassard was officially noted as coming from the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps and was published in the "Volunteer Training Corps' Gazette." It is stated that the following are the official rules issued by the Central Association, and that it should be noted by officials of all corps that in some cases additions are made to previous paragraphs, and it says:—It will be noted Unit the wearing of a brassard is compulsory with the uniform.Why is a brassard to be worn with the uniform? Is this uniform properly sanctioned? If so, in Heaven's name, why proclaim that a brassard should be worn to show that it is not a uniform, and that the wearer is only masquerading in what he is not entitled to wear? My right hon. Friend laughs, but it is no laughing matter for the 2,000 men who are extremely anxious and many of whom, if the age limit were altered, would be found, and would be only too glad to go, fighting anywhere they might be sent as soon as they were qualified. But it is extremely discouraging to find that there is this doubt as to who is sanctioning the uniform, and whether the uniform has been sanctioned, and whether when it is sanctioned it is a uniform at all, and whether the War Office does not disclaim its character by coupling with the wearing of it the wearing of that most ineffectual substitute the brassard.
The right hon. Gentleman will allow that the Volunteer corps are good things or are not. When the original Volunteer corps were brought up, nobody thought anything of anybody who was not a Regular soldier. Now we are on a totally different tack. Surely one of the things which we hope for as a result of this War is that every man who can will be trained to drill and trained to the use of a Service rifle. If the right hon. Gentleman and his staff are going to discourage this movement, I am sure that it will be for good reasons, but let there be no half-and-half business. Let him say plainly whether these corps are welcome, and if so, why 628 this matter of uniform is left in this extremely doubtful position. One more question. Would it not be advisable to insist on all members of affiliated and approved corps wearing uniforms on all occasions? I should have thought that it would have been an excellent thing that men working in the City should be there in their uniform ready to go off to their drill in the afternoon. Would it not be an encouragement to all the clerks and young men working under them to follow their example when they see the heads of the firm, or whoever they are, doing their level best in the crisis through which we are passing? I must say that I should have thought that it would have been a very good thing. I hope that I have made my points in such a manner that the hon. Gentleman will at least answer them. There may be some very good or, as I think, some very bad reason for not doing so, but the questions are there, and I would ask him to let me have an answer.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
I also wish to raise a point on this subject of Volunteer corps. It is with reference to a letter of the 19th November, written by Sir Reginald Brade, I think, to Lord Desborough. There are two clauses of that letter as to which there is a great deal of searching of hearts in the Volunteer corps, because a good many people think that they imply veiled conscription. The words complained of in Clause 1 are—if specially called upon to do so.and in Clause 7 the words complained of are—It will be open to an Army recruiting officer to visit the corps at any time, and recruit any members found eligible for service with the Regular Army whose presence in the corps is not accounted for by some good and sufficient reason.I may give an instance of a case in Hammersmith which may be affected by these two clauses. There is a firm who carry on business which is quite personal to themselves. The head of the firm is an old gentleman who, according to his means, has subscribed very generously indeed to the National Fund. He has four sons. Three of them have joined the Colours, volunteered and gone, either as privates or as officers, into the Army. The fourth is left behind to look after the business. He is twenty-five years old, is married, and has got one child. He is perfectly fit and able to go into the Army, but, if he goes, the whole of that business goes by the board. They have got twelve families dependent upon them. I submit 629 that that family has certainly done quite enough, and that that fourth son ought not to be called on to go into the Regular Army while there are thousands of slackers still about who have not volunteered for the front. I know that the official answer of the War Office will be that they want to have some control over these Volunteer corps and must put in some words to guard themselves, but I say that either we ought to have conscription or we ought not. If we have conscription, then no one can complain, but a good many people are complaining that when the War Office makes a regulation of this kind by which it might suddenly compel a young fellow of twenty-five, who is fit and able to do so, to go, then this is practically veiled conscription. I believe that there are thousands who would join this Volunteer Training Corps but for the uncertainty which exists with regard to these two sentences. I saw Lord Des-borough on the subject this afternoon, and he admits that they are certainly not clear, and I believe that representations have been made to the War Office to try and Set something which is rather more clear than what we have at the present time.
There have been hints given by one or two officials—but it seems to me extraordinary that a hint should be given to these men—that, being in the Volunteer corps, they can get out of it, if they are specially called upon to go. The majority of these corps take the greatest care and trouble to advertise that they do not want men who can serve in the Regular armed forces at the front. In the corps with which I have the honour to be associated at present I frankly advise them to be in no hurry, but to improve themselves in drill and to wait. I think we should have a definite answer from the Under-Secretary of State, in order to see whether he can say anything which will clear away the doubt which at present exists in the minds of thousands of those very willing people who want to serve their country in some shape or other, but yet cannot join the Regular Forces for reasons good and sufficient to their own consciences. Personally, I have never asked a man about such a matter, and I should think it impertinence on my part to approach anyone on the subject of his joining the Regular Army. There are a great many men eligible for the Army who, for reasons good to themselves, cannot join in the fighting line; yet they want to make themselves efficient so as to be of service in 630 case of invasion. They do not want to be hanged as franc-tireurs, and, if they are to die, they would prefer to be shot in the ordinary way. I do not want to be shot, but I should certainly prefer that to being hanged ignominously. A mere brassard on the arm would not be recognised by any German regiment, nor should we recognise any brassard if we found it in Germany.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The two hon. Gentlemen opposite to me have put some very interesting and useful questions relating to points the solution of which is not quite so simple as they may imagine or as they may wish to think it. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) began by asking me whether I would put myself in communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ascertain whether he was correctly reported in his description of the causes of this War or of the grounds on which we find ourselves in war. I need hardly remind my hon. Friend, with his encyclopedic knowledge—
§ Mr. TENNANT
That is my observation of the hon. Gentleman. He is as perfectly well aware as anybody else of what; the causes are for which we are at war, and I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has never said a word which would conflict with the universal belief as to what those cruses were. If he was reported as stated, I cannot help thinking that the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers was an erroneous one. The hon. Gentleman called my attention to the question of the uniform of one of the Volunteer Training Corps. Perhaps I should say, at the outset, that I should be the last person in this House or outside to say one word in derogation of the admirable principles which have dictated the policy, from the first, of those joining these corps; or, the contrary, with patriotism and self-abnegation, they give up their time for the purpose of training; and I should like them to think that the War Office are most anxious to say nothing which would in any way give umbrage to those who are making these efforts. But I still maintain what I said at Question time, that a uniform is permissible. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether it was authorised. It is not authorised by the War Office. Power is given to the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps to authorise a uniform for any particular corps, provided it does not conflict with the rules laid 631 down in the letter which has been quoted by the hon. Gentleman in this House, and in the regulations signed G.R.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I may infer, as did the hon. Member for Nottingham, when I intervened, that the hon. Member for Hammersmith is indulging in a pleasantry. I am rather surprised to hear from the hon. Member that in the regulations it is asserted or laid down, that the brassard must be worn with the uniform. That is news to me. I am not doubting for one moment that the hon. Gentleman states what he thinks to be correct, but I am amazed to hear it, because, as I understood, the brassard was devised to be more a substitution for a uniform than the accompaniment of a uniform. But it seems I am wrong as to the order laid down by the Central Association, of which Lord Desborough is the President. I must ask the two hon. Gentlemen not to hold me responsible, or the War Office responsible, for the orders issued by the Central Association. We are not responsible for those orders so long as they do not conflict with the War Office regulations signed by Sir Reginald Brade. We must not be held to be responsible for all the details of the orders which are issued by the Central Association. The hon. Gentleman will see the reasonableness of that. As to our having or not having authorised the particular uniform, I would point out that it is highly desirable that the War Office should not make itself responsible for every type of uniform in connection with these Volunteer corps, for what would be the result? At once we would have thousands of men most patriotic and wishing to join these associations, pointing out that the War Office had authorised various uniforms and paid for them, and why not pay for theirs. The War Office has as much now as it possibly can do, without undertaking further difficult duties.
§ Sir J. D. REES
That is not the case which I put. I never suggested that the War Office should take this responsibility.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. Gentleman did not say we were to take the responsibility, but he did suggest that we should make some respresentations.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Exactly; but I am projecting my mind further—it is a very short step indeed—and I maintain, and hon. Gentlemen will agree with me, that we could not give any sort of special authorisation in regard to uniforms. The hon. Gentleman may not think so, and he is, of course, entitled to his own opinion. He asked me what the War Office thought of these Volunteers. They have never shown any desire to say anything disparaging as to their military value, but I know that there are some general officers and field-marshals who do not consider their military value to be so high as I myself hope to see it made. I do not think I can say more than that. The hon. Gentleman asked me to consider the two sentences to which he referred in the letter to Sir Reginald Brade, and he laid stress upon the desiribility of either having conscription or not. I should like to lay stress on the desirability of not having it. But I really do not find that there is anything in this letter which discloses the germs of conscription. I consider that what it does mean is that the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps should have their attention called to men who ought to be serving with the Colours, but not such cases as the hon. Member for Hammersmith was careful enough to give, where there is good and sufficient reason why the person concerned should remain at home to look after important business, on which a large number of people depend for their livelihood.
The cases to which the Central Association have had their attention drawn are those of persons who have joined the Volunteer corps, but who are really persons that should join the Colours. Lord Desborough's Central Association have given to the War Office their word that they will utilise their powers in that direction, and, where there is good and sufficient reason, a man will not be asked to join the Army. The case which the hon. Member for Hammersmith brought to the notice of the House seems to me to disclose eminently good reasons for the man in not joining the Colours. He has already sent other members of his family to join the Colours, besides which there is a considerable number of persons of both sexes, I imagine, who are dependent upon that business being carried on. That seems to me ample reason for the man not being required to join the Colours.
In cases where good and sufficient reasons are not shown a man ought not 633 to be allowed to take the lesser obligation, when he ought to fulfil the greater obligation of serving with the Colours. The hon. Gentleman asked what power we have. We can only use the power of persuasion, but, at all events, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need have any alarm that these passages to which he refers in the document contain anything in the nature of conscription. I should like to relieve the House of any apprehension they may have on that subject by informing them that all the possible powers of persuasion are being used. I would add how greatly we appreciate the great self-sacrifice of the men who are joining these corps.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the question of the Volunteers wearing uniform before they attend drill.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I confess I think my hon. Friend is labouring under a misapprehension. As I have said, it is very undesirable that we should provide an easier job, as it were, for men than fighting for their country.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I quite admit that, but we do not want people going about the country, or in London, in various uniforms as if they were serving as soldiers when, in point of fact, they are not. Therefore, to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests, and to allow those Volunteers to be dressed in uniforms at all times of the day, would, to my mind, be a mistake. The clause in the letter to which I have referred, "No uniform is to be worn except when necessary for training," is one which I commend to the House.
§ Colonel YATE
Is there any special reason why officers in the corps and company should not be allowed to wear some special badge of rank to show that they are officers? And is there any reason why the corps should not be organised into brigades under the County Territorial Associations and under the orders of the Lord Lieutenant of the county? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me if there is any special reason to militate against that, as I think the country would like to know?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think the only reason which operated in the minds of those who drew up this document was that it is undesirable to make these Volunteer corps too similar to the Regular service, and 634 that the uniform ought to be different and the names ought to be different and the badges.
§ Mr. TENNANT
It was felt to be undesirable to have too great similarity, and therefore those clauses were inserted in the letter.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
I am sure we ought all to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his very full and complete answer to the question, and particularly those of us who have joined the corps. In the case of a London volunteer I think the right hon. Gentleman has not quite appreciated one of the difficulties. In this particular corps most companies drill in the day time, so that it is absolutely impossible for the members who wear ordinary clothes to change into uniform. I think we ought all to be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and to the War Office for the amount of sympathy which they have extended to our poor efforts. We would like to do anything in our power since we are debarred by age from joining any forces for active service, and we gladly snatched at this as a means of doing something. It seems to me that the uniform might be made sufficiently distinctive so that it would be clear that nobody was trying to masquerade as a soldier upon active service. The prohibition of the wearing of a uniform presents a difficulty, since it is considered desirable that uniform should be worn at the drills. That difficulty is partly created on one side and partly on the other, and militates very much against the drill being carried on. I again thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very sympathetic reference he has made to this corps.
§ Mr. R. GWYNNE
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will induce the War Office not to adhere too stringently to all the terms in the original letter. It seems to me that the main object which the War Office tried to achieve, namely, to prevent Volunteer corps being used as a screen behind which people could excuse themselves from recruiting has now been attained. Practically all the corps can be said to consist of men who are over the age 635 limit for recruiting purposes, and therefore I think the War Office might remove some of the other restrictions, such as not allowing any distinctive badge, or the men to wear uniform within a few hours of the time of drilling. I think the great thing is to encourage the spirit in which the corps has been formed and not to allow the feeling to spread that the War Office is merely tolerating and does not want to encourage these corps. If the movement is worth having at all it is worth 636 encouraging. Although I think everybody connected with it knows that the War Office only wanted to safeguard themselves against the corps being used as a screen, yet, having achieved that object I hope the right hon. Gentleman will get some of the minor terms of the letter modified, and by doing so he would give great satisfaction to the corps.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one minutes before Seven o'clock.