§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
rose to move the following Resolution:—"That this House, having three years ago successfully opposed the absorption of the Militia into the Regular Army, is now of opinion that the proposed amalgamation of the Militia and Volunteers in a 'speculative' so-called 'national army' is a wrongful ignoring of the good service rendered by the Militia in the past, and of its capabilities in the future, while it would fail to secure a reliable force for home defence."
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would ask your kind indulgence while I endeavour, as shortly as I can, to give the reasons for the Motion which I have placed on the Paper, and which I hope will be satisfactory to your Lordships. I do not intend to go into the general questions raised by the Army Bill, nor to consider whether it is, or is not, desirable in the interests of the nation, seeing the state of armaments abroad, where millions of men can, in a few hours, be made ready for war, that we should reduce the strength of our Regular Army. That is a moot point on which persons can form their own opinion. I have a strong one myself, which is that it is not advisable in present circumstances to do so.
It is more particularly to the Militia that I wish to call your Lordships' 1213 attention. We know that the Secretary of State for War proposes, with the fairy's wand of an Act of Parliament, to transform the whole of the Auxiliary Forces into what he calls a Territorial Army. The Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers—three single gentlemen—are to be rolled into one. I think it would be well for your Lordships to consider on what the present Auxiliary Forces rest, what is their base, and then compare that with the base on which this Territorial Army is supposed to rest. What is the base upon which the Militia rests? It is compulsion and nothing less. That is the foundation of our military system for home defence.
Last year the Secretary of State for War, in one of his speeches in the country, said that he intended to give the nation an Army on purely British principles. I ventured in your Lordships' House at the time to traverse the soundness of that view, and to show that purely British principles were absolutely the converse of what the right. hon. gentleman intended. For the whole gist and soul of the British military system is compulsion for home defence. You cannot get out of that. I very much doubt whether there is any such principle, or any principle you can trust, in regard to the Territorial Army. The Government are about to destroy a force resting upon compulsion, upon every man being bound, if called upon by the King, to serve his country, and we are to be left merely with the hope of the author of the scheme that the people of this country will sacrifice themselves by taking to military duties in preference to football, cricket, and other games. They now go in untold thousands to see men in the mud playing football with their heads, but they give no thought to the defence of their country. Will this Bill, without compulsion, induce them to change? I very much doubt it. Therefore, you are getting rid of a system which is sound in every way, and establishing in its place one which has no foundation of any sort whatever.
Such being the case, I have put down this Motion, which in the first place refers to what the House did three years ago. Your Lordships then prevented the absorption of the Militia in the Regular Army. The present proposal is for the absorption of the Militia in a nondescript 1214 Territorial Army. My Motion next refers to the good service rendered by the Militia in the past. I need not dwell upon that, for it is written on every page of our history. Nor need I dwell on the capabilities of the Militia in the future if properly worked, for those capabilities are untold. I now come to the point—Why is the Militia to be got rid of? What is the reason? On what principle do you do it? Mr. Haldane says it is moribund and anæmic. I admit that. But why is it moribund? Why is it anæmic? Because you do not give it its due. It is entitled by law to a certain amount of food in the shape of flesh and blood. But it is not given that food. You have not the courage to exercise the power you have of filling the Militia. You keep it starved, and then complain that it is anæmic. The Secretary of State for War himself would become anæmic and moribund if he did not get his daily food. If the existing law were enforced all your military problems would fall by the way, and the country would be made invulnerable.
Having got rid of the Militia and substituted this other force for it, what do you get? Do you get a reliable force? You certainly do not. When the Secretary of State first went about the country explaining his ideas, he asked for 700,000 or 900,000 Volunteers, but now he is satisfied with a mixed lot of only 300,000 men. I do not know why. But I dare any one to say that with the training proposed the Territorial Army will be fit to contend with the picked troops it might have to meet in battle. Then the idea that an enemy would give us six months notice before commencing hostilities is ridiculous. They will come like a bolt from the blue. Read Kuropatkin's account of the battles in Manchuria. He states that Port Arthur was not sufficiently garrisoned. Why? Because the Russian Blue Water School believed in the impregnability of their fleet. And what happened? That fleet was sent to the bottom without a declaration of war of any sort or kind, and the officers and men of that fleet, when the ships were being sunk, were on shore socially enjoying themselves. If we have a big war it will be on that principle.
This scheme is absolutely condemned. And by whom? By its author. For Mr. 1215 Haldane himself said it was speculative. There is no speculation about getting rid of what you have. That is a certainty. But what is to take its place is an absolute speculation. In making that statement I am only quoting the words of the Secretary of State for War himself. I venture to think that the questions at issue are too serious to be left in this way to speculation. You cannot speculate with certain things—at least you ought not—least of all should you speculate with the defence of this country. The stakes are too high to permit of any game of Speculation, For what are the stakes? The stakes are neither more nor less than hearth, home, and Empire, and I hope, if the Bill comes up to this House, that your Lordships will decline to enter into a speculative enterprise when those are the stakes that have to be played for.
I noticed in the newspapers the other day that Lord Beauchamp, in discussing Lord Avebury's pet subject, Sunday trading, said there was a time when he himself was very anxious, as far as possible, to suppress Sunday trading. He said—I was then acting and speaking with the courage of ignorance.But as he got more information he became wiser, and was not so keen for suppressing Sunday trading. What strikes me is that to get rid of our old constitutional Militia, to tear up by the roots our military system, is more than courageous—it is audacious, but it is the audacity of moral cowardice, for it is done simply to avoid compulsion. If the country were asked they would gladly submit to the ballot, but the Secretary of State is afraid to ask them.
Your Lordships some years ago passed a sensible Resolution to the effect that, putting the Navy aside, this country should be so strong at home in land defence that no nation would ever in any form attempt a hostile landing on our shores. I suggest that your Lordships should bear that wise Resolution, which was passed unanimously, well in mind, and whenever a Bill of any kind dealing with home defence comes before you, test it by that Resolution. As regards this Bill, if it is carried in its present form, including the Militia, my conviction is that the country will be in a state of chronic alarm, knowing that 1216 it has no means of meeting any attempt that might be made against it.
I have received a wire from my military adviser. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War is always talking of his military advisers: therefore why should I not quote mine? My military adviser is Lord Wolseley, and I will back him against the military advisers of the Government any day. What does Lord Wolseley say? He wires from Rome that he is in hearty agreement with my views and looks upon this territorial Army as nothing but insanity. I have nothing more to say, but to move the Motion which stands in my name.
§ Moved "That this House, having three years ago successfully opposed the absorption of the Militia into the Regular Army, is now of opinion that the proposed amalgamation of the Militia and Volunteers in a 'speculative,' so called, 'national Army' is a wrongful ignoring of the good service rendered by the Militia in the past and of its capabilities in the future, while it would fail to secure a reliable force for home defence."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ *THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate for the purpose of asking His Majesty's Government for some information concerning their intentions towards the Militia force, and also for the purpose of conveying to them the feeling of that force, so far as I know it, in regard to some of the proposals which have already been made. The Militia is so closely connected with the Regular Army that you cannot touch the one without affecting the other. Our military history shows that since the re-organisation of the Militia by Mr. Pitt the force has never failed the country in the hour of need. It is an accepted fact that without the support of the Militia the Regular Army could never have brought to a satisfactory conclusion any of our great campaigns.
In our recent campaign in South Africa the Militia was our only military force which was able to provide complete units of itself for active service, and that after having sent many of its best officers and men to the Line. All the 124 infantry Militia battalions of the United Kingdom were embodied, and thirty-two 1217 units of artillery, and two regiments of engineers. For every Militia battalion embodied at home a Line battalion is liberated for service abroad. There served in South Africa sixty-one battalions of infantry, and, in the Mediterranean and Egypt, nine battalions. In addition to these, nine companies of garrison artillery, and three and a half companies of engineers served abroad. The number of officers and men of the Militia who served in South Africa, in Egypt, and in the dependencies abroad exceeds a total of 100,000. In addition, the Regular forces employed in South Africa must have drawn by transfers fully 50,000 men from the Militia. The Militia probably supplied in all not less than 120,000 men for the purposes of the war, a contribution far in excess of that made by the Yeomanry, Volunteers, and over-sea Colonial contingents together.
It is the case, I know not why, that both at home and abroad, both in peace and in war, the Militia is judged not by its best battalions, but by its worst. There are good battalions now at home, but it is always of the battalions greatly below their strength that we hear. Some battalions deprived by the Line of their best officers and men, may have been a cause of anxiety to general officers in South Africa. It is, I believe, the general impression that the Militia did little in South Africa, except cause anxiety to general officers on lines of communication. As the Militia is now being weighed in the balance, and seems likely to be condemned as wanting for the purposes of war, I hope your Lordships will allow me to mention some of their services in action during the South African War. In his address at Kroonstad, on the departure of the 3rd battalion, The Buffs, for St. Helena, General Sir W.G. Knox, K.C.B., said—You have acquitted yourselves nobly, and I cannot recall one single instance in which you have failed me. Wherever I expected an attack and knew the 3rd Buffs were there, I always felt perfectly safe, and never had one moment's anxiety.Sir A. Hunter said of this battalion that it was like a seasoned Line battalion. General Sir Charles Knox, in reference to the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), said that—The esprit de corps and the admirable system which prevails in the battalion leaves 1218 nothing to be desired, and might well serve as an example to many Line battalions I could name.The battalion had formed part of a force under General Sir Charles Knox, and had marched nearly 700 miles in three months with much fighting. The 3rd Battalion King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) with a few Mounted Infantry, formed the garrison of the Zand River. They were attacked by about 800 of the enemy with two pompoms and a field gun on 14th January, 1900, and signally defeated their assailants. Lord Kitchener issued orders thanking the regiment for their gallant conduct. The 6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers joined General Settle's column and took part in a fight at Luck off on 28th November, 1900, when the enemy's position was cleared by this Militia Battalion at the point of the bayonet in such a manner as to occasion the following appearing in the General's orders—The final assault, which contributed to the rout of the Boers, was highly creditable to the Battalion;the record adding—It fell to the lot of few Militia units to take part in an engagement of this character, and the skilful and intelligent manner in which the Battalion carried out the attack showed what Militiamen can do when given the opportunity.The Militia, in common with all other forces, met with disaster. The 4th Derby Militia was compelled to surrender at Rhenoster. They were attacked by a superior force of the enemy supported by rive guns. They were without any artillery support. They fought on till their commanding officer was killed, and they had lost 140 men killed and wounded. The Times history of the war says—They made a brave fight, though it was hopeless from the first.With regard to the 4th Battalion the Cameronian (Scottish Rifles), Major General Paget, in his Report, commented on their steadiness and pluck at Lieukop under a heavy shell fire, enough to shake the nerves of any but the best troops. The 4th Battalion the Prince of Wales's (North Staffordshire Regiment) successfully defended Fraserburg. General French complimented the garrison for their successful resistance, and thanked the troops for their splendid behaviour. This battalion subsequently occupied 1219 eighty miles of blockhouses, and before leaving for home General French addressed the Battalion and accorded all ranks high praise for their arduous and self-sacrificing labours throughout the campaign. A subaltern of the 4th Battalion King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) with thirty men, on 23rd February, 1901, successfully held Fish River bridge and station for four hours against an attack made by 250 of the enemy until the armoured train came to their assistance. Lord Kitchener telegraphed his congratulations—Gallantly maintaining the defence, and continuously refusing to surrender.Corporal Cummings, of the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots, with a small piquet, successfully maintained his position against fifty Boers on 12th January, 1901. Lance-Corporal McKinnon and six men of the same regiment were attacked by 100 Boers when holding a small post near Hallfontein, but drove the enemy off. Both these men were specially commended for gallantry in the field by the General Officer commanding communications, Orange River Colony Kroonstad, in his Divisional Orders.
There are many more favourable mentions of the Militia in action; 226 Militia Officers were mentioned in despatches, and 245 non-commissioned officers and men. His Majesty's Government have spent a year in passing in review the military forces of the country, and appraising the value of each for the purposes of war. In spite of the facts that I have just mentioned, in spite of the lessons of military history which prove the supreme value of the Militia in time of war, they have concluded not to reorganise and restore, but to disorganise and destroy, the force. I hope that His Majesty's Government may be able to tell us the reasons which led to that decision.
The Militia is the only force we have which can, on the declaration of war, carry out the expansion of the Regular Army at home and abroad by organised units. This most important duty the Militia has always efficiently discharged in the past. By abolishing the Militia, His Majesty's Government not only reject as valueless the finding of the Royal Commission on the South African War as to the imperative need for organised expansion outside the limits of the Regular 1220 Army. They do much more than that. They decide to destroy the only force which has never failed to supply that organised expansion outside the Regular Army on the necessity of which the Royal Commission insists. It is true that the Secretary of State for War hopes at some distant time the new territorial force may number some 800,000 or 900,000 men, and will take the field abroad in complete divisions for the expansion of the Regular Army. All that we know for certain about the territorial force is that it has no existence at present, and, when it does appear, it is to be confined by Act or Parliament to the United Kingdom.
Nothing which by any stretch of the imagination could be called an Army can be evolved for many years out of the chaos which will be created by the proposed scheme, and then only if the present Government and successive Governments are prepared to spend enormous sums of money on all the equipment, the subsidiary services, the adjuncts and the highly trained officers essential for an Army. No training is to be given to the territorial force until war has been declared. It would therefore be many months before any organised unit could be used to expand the Regular Army, and in the meantime a great part of that Army is tied down to its garrison duties both at home and abroad and cannot be employed in the actual theatre of war. Can the Government say why it is, in their opinion, advisable to deprive the Regular Army of all means of expansion until six months after war has been declared?
The natural results of the South African War upon the Militia was the depletion of all its ranks. No effort has been made on the part of successive military administrations to assist the Militia to recover from the drain made upon its resources by its enormous contribution to the South African War. Militia officers are fully aware of the deficiency of the force as at present organised. But they are agreed upon the remedies necessary to raise the whole force to a uniform standard of efficiency. We know precisely what is wanted, from the representation of the force upon the Army Council down to the bounty to be given to the recruit on first enlistment. None of the reforms which we advocate entail serious additional expense. None require the sanction of 1221 Parliament, save, the addition of a clause to the Militia Act of 1882 making the Militia available for foreign service on embodiment, a condition which we believe the Militia is prepared to accept, provided that the Act of 1882 remains otherwise unchanged. I do not propose at present to enter upon the reorganisation of the Militia, but I can assure your Lordships that we know exactly the measure which would restore power and vitality to the force.
The Militia is our oldest military organisation. The long continuity of its existence is a proof that it is a form of service congenial to the people of this country. Once destroyed, it can never be restored as a system. It affords a sure and solid foundation ready for the work of construction. His Majesty's Government reject construction on a solid foundation. They prefer to drop the substance which they have, in order to catch at the phantom forces of a speculative Army. All the Auxiliary Forces are to be amalgamated, and then called the territorial force. This force is to be a purely civilian force, administered on Volunteer lines, and will be the present Volunteer force under a new name. Inasmuch as there are no Volunteers in Ireland, the Irish Militia must be separated from what has hitherto been the Militia of the United Kingdom and become a separate force. As far as I understand, the Irish Militia is to be enlisted for foreign service and made liable for drafting to the line.
The Militia in Great Britain is asked to change its conditions of service from that of a paid military force serving under the Army Act to that of a civilian force conducted on Volunteer lines, to be paid only for a week or a fortnight if a camp should happen to be held. There is to be no preliminary recruit training. Company drill and musketry practice is to be carried on throughout the year out of the men's spare time. The question is, Will the Militia Officers and men be able to accept these changed conditions of service? How can the men accept them? The Militia is recruited from among the working and labouring classes. A labouring man may possibly get every alternate Saturday afternoon to himself. Is it reasonable to expect that man to give up his few hours of fortnightly holiday in order to attend company drill, or possibly 1222 to travel, at considerable expense to himself, across his county to get to a rifle range? Not only will he receive no pay, and be out of pocket for travelling expenses, but he will lose the chance of profitable employment on that afternoon. An annual training of four weeks is a very different affair. Then the Militiaman gets his food, his daily pay, and his training bounty. He takes away with him useful clothing, such as boots, shirts, and socks. In addition, he receives his non-training bounty during the winter months. He is expected to give all that up for the sake of 1s. a day for a week or a fortnight, and to sacrifice all his spare time as well. Is a working man justified in playing the patriot at such a sacrifice to himself and to his family? I have heard it stated repeatedly of late that men cannot afford to come out for four consecutive weeks training. This is certainly not the case when the common-sense rule is applied of training during the slack season of the local industry. It is not true, in my experience, to say that the depletion in numbers of the Militia is due to the four weeks of training, or that working men cannot afford to serve in the Militia. They only cannot afford to do so when. as now proposed, they are expected to serve without pay.
It is equally impossible for Militia officers to serve on Volunteer lines. Possibly, in a Militia battalion, a quarter of the officers may be resident in the county. The rest are non-resident. Many of these may be connected with the county, or have friends in it, and be very glad indeed to return there for a month in each year. But how can officers, who are non-resident in the county, be expected to travel down at their own expense to the country villages for afternoon drills, or to go to remote rifle ranges and probably find that no men turn up for practice? In the event of men not appearing for drill or musketry, is any penalty to be inflicted? If a penalty is to be inflicted I cannot conceive any man's being so foolish as to enlist in the new force. On the other hand, if no penalty can be inflicted, then at once you arrive at a go-as-you-please, do-as-yon-like state of affairs, which reduces military training to an absolute farce. Your Lordships will, I think, allow, on account of the reasons I have given, that service in the 1223 new territorial force is impossible alike for Militia officers and men.
I may inform your Lordships that since His Majesty's Government have announced their plans for the amalgamation of all the Auxiliary Forces, I have asked my brother Militia commanding officers the question, Do you consider it possible for the unit under your command to accept the conditions of service proposed by the Secretary of State for War? Those are the conditions I have just explained to your Lordships. One hundred and four have answered "No," and three have answered "Yes," and from fourteen I have had no replies. It is not a case of will not; it is a case of cannot. You are asking the impossible. You cannot convert a paid military force, recruited from among the labouring classes, into an unpaid civilian force, for the simple reason that workingmen cannot afford to serve not only without pay but at some expense to themselves. Soldiers in the Army and men in the Militia come from much the same class, but men in that class have different outlooks on life. Some prefer Regular soldiering and some prefer Militia soldiering. This is the class of men who in the past have won and maintained our Empire. They may be rather a rough lot. I have known some very rough diamonds among them. But they have a splendid fighting record, and our country has good reason to be grateful to them. The abolition of the Militia deprives the labouring classes, to whom we owe all our great military achievements, of a form of military service, outside the Regular Army, fitted to their condition of life.
But the Militiaman is to disappear. For the future we are to create a new force for the accommodation of a superior class of men, who have never been the back bone of British Armies. It is all very well to talk of converting Militia cadres into Volunteer battalions, whatever that may mean, or of turning the Irish Militia into drafting bodies for the Regular Army. But none of these changes are possible with the men now serving, except they are ready, which is most improbable, to change a bargain which suits them, and of which they cannot be deprived, for one which does not. At present a Militiaman receives about £7 a year. His Majesty's Government offer him 7s. a year in exchange. 1224 He will not accept. Militiamen now serving will not change their existing form of service. They will continue it till their time expires. Militia officers, as far as possible, will serve on with their men. But it will not be for long. I apprehend that within four years of cessation of enlistment for the Militia the force will die out, but during these four years it will be a drifting derelict, an impediment to reconstruction, useless, for service, and consequently most costly to the country.
The Militia has always been, and is now, the main feeder of the Line. In 1902 more than 18,000 men joined the Army from the Militia, but with the diminishing numbers of the Militia the number of transfers fell in 1905 to rather more than 12,000. About 20,000 recruits are required annually for the Line. Thus more than half the requisite supply comes at present from the Militia. If the Militia is abolished, it is certain that the Line will be, even in time of peace, unequal to their Imperial garrison duties.
As far as I understand, His Majesty's Government attempt to meet the recruiting difficulty for the Line due to the abolition of the Militia as follows. They intend to raise some seventy-four nucleus battalions, which will form a short-service, a very short-service, Regular Army. These men will not be Militiamen, but will belong to the infantry of the Line. The evolution of these nucleus battalions is most interesting. In time of peace these nucleus battalions will not be real military units, but only amorphous bodies inhabiting depots. On mobilisation these bodies, I do not know how else to describe them, will become the home and asylum for all the boys too young for foreign service, all the Reservists and men who are medically unfit, and all recruits. To this crowd will be added officers from the Reserve of officers. Finally the whole of this mass of unsound and unseasoned humanity will hatch out into seventy-four new Line battalions, designed by His Majesty's Government to be the Reserve, the support, and the backbone of the British infantry in the field. These seventy-four battalions can, at most, be but what are known in the Service as rag-bag battalions. But it is from those rag-bag battalions that in time of war the very first drafts for the regiments at the front will have to be 1225 furnished. The period of training in this new Home Service Army will be six months, and the age of enlistment seventeen. Thus a boy will be discharged from the new Home Service Army into the Regular Reserve at the age of seventeen-and-a-half. He will train for two weeks each year, I presume at the depot, because to send these short-service Reservists to train with any regiment at home would mean a great expense in travelling.
Not the least remarkable feature of this new Reserve is the fact that none of the men will ever have served with a regiment until they join one on active service. The depot is only a machine for shaping the raw material, not for fitting it in its place in the fighting line. They will go on service without ever having had any battalion training at all. Now, is it the opinion of the military advisers of His Majesty's Government that a regiment reinforced by some 600 or 700 of such short-service Reservists could possibly be fitted to remain in the first fighting line?
These nucleus battalions are designed to serve a double purpose, which is perfectly impossible of accomplishment. The reason for enlisting seventeen-year old boys is to pass them into the Line in place of recruits now obtained from the Militia. But if you send these boys into the Line, then what happens to your Reserve? Clearly you have turned all your Reserves into serving soldiers. If yon stop them going into the Line, then how are you going to get those recruits for the Line which you have lost owing to the abolition of the Militia? I hope His Majesty's Government may be able to suppply the solution of this puzzle. Except they can do so they must admit that they have no Reserve for the Line.
These nucleus battalions will have none of the attractions of a regiment. Men will never serve with the same comrades. They will never serve under the same officers or non-commissioned officers. They will be liable to be drafted abroad whenever the Reserve is called out. I cannot conceive any more absolutely unattractive form of soldiering. Indeed, it seems to me so very unattractive that except very generous terms are offered none but the conscripts of hunger will accept. No doubt if a man were actually starving he would say sooner than starve, "I will go and do six months in the 1226 barracks, and chance the rest." If you have neither the wit to attract, nor the power to compel, you must rely on hunger, and that is the great principle of recruiting from the gutter upon which His Majesty's Government rely for raising these new nucleus battalions, who are to be the support and reserve of the Regular Army. Militiamen now serving will certainly not transfer to these nucleus battalions. They have everything to lose and nothing to gain by so doing. Men are asked to leave their regiments and accept the liability for foreign service and for drafting, which they hate. I beg to ask if His Majesty's Government propose to begin recruiting for these short-service battalions at once, or whether they mean to postpone doing so till the existing Militia has died out; also if they mean to offer any bounty or special terms to serving Militiamen to transfer to the new short-service Army.
Now, in the all-important problem of recruiting, some very interesting experiments have recently been made, from which all those, who, like myself, do all we can to support the voluntary principle, hoped for the very best results. The first experiment was due to civilian initiative, and was undertaken by Mr. Strachey, of the Spectator newspaper. He and others formed a company of 100 men, who agreed to train under Army conditions, and at Army rates of pay, for six months. Only one of the 100 men who first joined that company meant to go into the Army. Since their six months training, twenty-eight of these men offered to join the Army, and twenty six were accepted. The lesson in recruiting from that experiment is that if men have a chance of giving military training a trial a certain number will join the Army who would never otherwise have done so. The Militia affords men an opportunity of making a trial of soldiering. If they join the Militia for the six months preliminary drill, they know that after the end of the battalion training, when they have seen what soldiering is like, they can either transfer to the Regular Army or remain in the Militia, or buy their discharge for a sovereign. Many men join the Militia to see if they like soldiering or not. If they are well treated and made comfortable, many will pass on to the Regular Army.
1227 At the present time experimental recruit training for six months is being carried out in the Militia. These experiments have proved the greatest success, and have suggested to the Government the idea of applying them to the short-service Army, where they are bound to prove a failure, because the Regular Army is not the Militia, and the conditions are wholly different. The battalion under my command is among those selected for this trial. I have now 170 recruits, who assembled in November, and who will go on training until the middle of June, that is, six months of recruits' training and one month of battalion training. I am confident that 70 per cent. of these recruits will pass on to the Line. Very few, however, would have enlisted straight into the Line. The plunge into unknown conditions of life, from which escape is difficult, is too great for any men, except they are impelled by dire necessity. They need a stepping stone, and this is supplied by the Militia. To make this system of recruiting a success, the men must assemble in the barracks of their own county and be made reasonably comfortable. This is the plan of recruiting for the Regular Army through the Militia without the aid of cold and starvation. No doubt it may be said that if you send seventy per cent. of your recruits to the Line, what is going to happen to the Militia? We believe if complete control of its own recruiting arrangements was restored once more to the Militia, together with the assistance which the force formerly derived from the Lords-Lieutenant and the Deputy-Lieutenants—all of them being Militia Officers, but placed by the War Office, for the last thirty years, on the dormant list—that then we should find sufficient recruits, both for the Militia and for the Line.
The Militia, however, is to be abolished, so good-bye to all the assistance and support it has given to the Regular Army in the past, and would give again in the future, in increased measure, if it were properly reorganised. Lords-Lieutenant and Deputy-Lieutenants are to be transferred from the defunct Militia to the new force. The Militia was a rural and a territorial force, but the new force will be urban and municipal. I trust that Lords-Lieutenant and Deputy-Lieutenants may prove of great assistance to the new 1228 force, but all their influence, which might have been used for the benefit of the Regular Army by recruiting through the Militia, will be lost to the Army, because the new territorial force is to be a purely civilian force, composed of a different class of men from those who enlist in the Army.
It is significant that the scheme of the Government is warmly approved by those who advocate conscription. They regard it as the certain prelude to some form of compulsory service. After all, if you abolish the Militia, and thereby render the supply of recruits to the Army inadequate, if you amalgamate the Yeomanry and Volunteers under conditions which are not acceptable to many members of those forces, and consequently entail reduction of their numbers, you will have achieved the complete breakdown of the voluntary system both for the Regular Army and for the Auxiliary Forces. This is exactly the end which advocates of conscription desire to accomplish. They certainly never thought that His Majesty's present Government would do it for them, and at the same time establish a territorial organisation which lends itself readily to the inception of an obligatory system.
I venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should give the Militia control of their own recruiting, and leave them outside the speculative force, as determined by their own Memorandum dated 30th July of last year. This, my Lords, I believe to be the only hope of maintaining the Regular Army by voluntary enlistment. In conclusion, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government if they will not issue a Memorandum explanatory of their proposals in reference to the Militia Force. I can assure them that at present the statements made regarding the changes in the Militia are so vague, so contradictory, and so impossible, that the Militia Force is quite at a loss to understand their meaning.
My Lords, I have always in this House regarded discussions affecting the Army and Navy as too vital to the Empire to be treated on the basis of Party politics, because, no matter what our political convictions on other questions may be, we are deeply 1229 conscious of the fact that upon the statesmanlike solution of naval and military matters depends the security and consequent well-being of our country, and that a false step or injurious action might result in such disastrous consequences that it is the imperative duty of each and every one of us to endeavour to prevent the possibility of such consequences arising. It is with that purpose and with that feeling that I wish to address your Lordships on the important Motion brought forward by my noble friend Lord Wemyss, and not with any desire to disparage the efforts of the Secretary of State in his honest endeavour to solve this problem of national defence on economic lines; and I think the desire of Mr. Haldane to increase our efficiency and at the same time reduce our expenditure is probably the wish of most of your Lordships. But I would like to ask, How is it that Mr. Haldane proposes to effect that economy? How is it that he finds himself able to tell the people of this country that he will provide them with a cheaper Army on the one hand and a more efficient Army on the other. The answer to those two questions depends upon the answer to a third—namely, What are the essentials of an efficient Army? I am aware that in this House there are on both sides many noble Lords who have special and first-hand knowledge of military matters. Speaking for myself, as one not entirely ignorant of military matters, I have no hesitation in saying that the essentials of an efficient Army are that it should be able to take the field at short notice, as well disciplined, as well drilled, and as well equipped as any force that could be brought against it.
The National Army proposed by the Secretary of State for War, in the unfortunate event of its services for home defence ever being seriously required, will be called upon, not only to meet, but to beat the best troops that the Continental Armies could put in the field against it, and the National Army will require to do this after six months preparation, assuming that we shall always have that time for the purpose. But why should we assume it? With due deference to Mr. Haldane, I should like to ask him what does he expect the Continental Armies to do during that time? Does he suppose for one moment that they are 1230 going to wait until we are ready to receive them? Do we not know that the whole basis of the plan of campaign of our Continential rivals is to catch us unprepared? May we not rest assured that they would so time their operations that our National Army would have nothing like six months to prepare themselves for war? In any case, you cannot make a soldier in six months, but you can lose a country in that time.
One of the most potent lessons we learnt in the South African War was the hostile feeling shown to this country by the other countries of Europe. We are supposed to be on good terms with all the other European countries at the present time, and we hope that France will continue so for all time; but we should take a lesson from that circumstance. It seems to me we are all inclined to forget that lesson. The secret of Mr. Haldane's economy appears to be, in short, contained in two proposals—first, that an educated Army is cheap, and that we never require an Army in time of peace; secondly, that we can always educate an Army in six months, and that we will always have six months in which to educate that Army. I dispute both those propositions, and I consider that no scheme based on those propositions for home defence should have the sanction of the thinking people of this country. Of course, you can get a cheaper Army if yon reduce the Line and extinguish the Militia. You naturally get a cheaper Army because you have a smaller Army, and that Army will get smaller and cheaper as years go by, for with the extinction of the Militia will cease the constant flow of recruits from the Militia to the Line. But why abolish the Militia? If it has hitherto been regarded as the ugly duckling of the Service I fail to see what good can accrue from plucking that unfortunate fowl of its few remaining feathers, when with careful attention it might be transformed into a swan.
The present scheme is utterly in conflict with the suggestions put forward by the Committee of commanding officers of the Auxiliary Forces who sat at the War Office last summer under the presidency of Lord Esher. My noble friend the Duke of Bedford and myself, as report senting the Militia on that advisory Committee, looked to the Secretary of State for War to resuscitate the Militia 1231 and not to bury it. We were justified in doing so when we remember the speech which Mr. Haldane made in the House of Commons last year, when he attributed the unsatisfactory state of the Militia to the fact that no definite functions had been assigned to it, and said that he would see that in future the force was not bled white in order to supply the Line with its fighting strength in time of war. Even now I hope to receive from my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War some assurance that this question of the Militia is not to be ruthlessly determined before that force has had an opportunity of showing that it can take part in the scheme of home defence if properly treated. I should like to ask the noble Earl if he can give us—and I am sure the House would like to hear it—some definite information as to the ground upon which Mr. Haldane changed his view as to the claims of the Militia. Let us remember the great services that have been rendered to the country by the Militia in the past; let us remember that those services have been performed in spite of the obstacles that have always stood in the way of the proper development of this force. If the Militia had sympathetic treatment, proper recruiting facilities and equipment, and the support of the patriotic feeling of the counties from which they are recruited, and the commanding officers were given opportunities of real control, I believe they would develop a force of fighting men which might be led against the best Continental troops.
To conceive a remedy we should appreciate the disease, and the disease which has permeated the Militia in the past is lack of esprit de corps, which is essential to all military bodies. The men composing the Militia are as capable of it and as anxious for it as any other body of men, but in the past they have been deprived of the possibilities of ever acquiring it. In order to provide this it follows that the Militia commanding officer should be given real and full control. At the present time, for eleven months in the year he is absolutely a nonentity. It is most essential, therefore, that the commanding officer should, especially as regards the recruiting of his battalion, have full and real control.
1232 The present system of recruiting nominally for the Militia, but really for the Line, in order that the recruiting sergeants should receive double bounties, is, in my opinion, a pernicious and dishonest system, and it should be abolished. It is open to such abuses that it is surprising it has been tolerated so long. I would suggest that no man should be allowed to be transferred from the Militia to the Line without the consent of his commanding officer. That consent would never be unreasonably refused where the commanding officer thought that the recruit had legitimately gone into the Militia, and then. having acquired a liking for military service, wished to be transferred to the Line, and not for the purpose of putting double bounties into the pocket of the recuiting sergeant, and possibly some part into his own. It should not be forgotten that the bounties come out of the pockets of the British taxpayer. As a further safeguard I would make any transfer conditional on this, that the man so recruited should, before being transferred, have undergone at least one training with his Militia battalion. This would be advantageous to both services, for the Line battalion would get a better man and the Militia battalion would not have the blood drained from its veins without having derived proper benefit from it. It is on these lines that I suggest reforms for the Militia should be instituted. I do not believe in destroying existing institutions when they can be adapted to modern requirements.
Up to date no serious attempt has ever been made to put the Militia on a thoroughly sound military basis. It is time the attempt was made. Until that has been done and the Militia have been found wanting, then and not till then should we endeavour to construct some other force to take its place. It appears to me that the Secretary of State is endeavouring to get the people of this country to take a step in the dark. For whither is he leading us? Unless we know, and until we know, I say most emphatically we should decline to follow him. This country's greatness must not be hazarded on the throw of the dice, however skilful the player, and when the people of this country realise, as I believe they will, that the security of our land is being imperilled by this War Office speculation, 1233 I feel confident they will have nothing to do with it.
*THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Earl of PORTS-MOUTH)
My Lords, before I attempt to make any general reply to the various points that have been raised by my noble friends Lord Wemyss and Lord Hardinge, perhaps I may be permitted to reply somewhat categorically to the specific questions which have been addressed to me by my noble friend the Duke of Bedford. Some of the questions he has put in the course of his speech, and others he has communicated to me privately; and I think it would be for the convenience of all who are interested in military matters, especially having regard to the fact that we are on the eve of adjourning for the Easter holidays, that I should answer these points now, so that noble Lords and the country may have this definite information before them.
My noble friend the Duke of Bedford, who is deservedly popular among Militiamen of whom he is largely the representative in your Lordships' House, asks what is the compensating advantage for depriving the Regular Army by the abolition of the Militia of all means of expansion on the outbreak of war. In reply to that question, I should like to point out that the proposed reforms regarding the force in no way deprives the Regular Army of any means of expansion it possessed in the past. The aim of those interested in the Militia in late years has not been to make it a source of expansion but a support to the Regular Army. Our proposals, on the contrary, aim at organising for every two battalions of the Line a third or nucleus battalion through which men recruited on a non-regular basis will pass to a special Reserve which will be quite apart from and in addition to the ordinary Regular Reserve force. He then inquires whether it is proposed to begin recruiting for the nucleus battalions at once, or to postpone doing so until the existing Militia has died out. My answer to that question is that recruiting will be begun for the nucleus battalions as soon as the Bill now before Parliament passes into law. Then I am asked whether it is proposed to offer men any bounty to transfer from the Militia to the nucleus battalion. In reply I have 1234 to say that it is proposed to offer bounties to Militiamen who desire to join the nucleus battalions. I am next asked what would be the pay of Militiamen if they joined the nucleus battalions. The pay of such Militiamen will be at Army rates when at drill or training, plus annual bounties. I am not able at present to state what the amount of the annual bounty will be. That is a question which will be considered in Committee in another place.
The noble Duke asks whether the Militia Act of 1882 is to be repealed. The Bill does not contemplate a repeal of the Militia Act of 1882. Until transferred to the county associations, under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill, the Militia will continue to serve under that Act. Then I am asked how the transfers to the nucleus battalions and to the Territorial Army are to be carried out. Militiamen will not be transferred to the nucleus battalions but can enlist into them if they so wish. Militia units will be incorporated with the Territorial branch of the National Army by Order in Council.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
No, certainly not. I am asked how it is proposed that drills and musketry outside the training should be carried out by the Militia. Drills and musketry at convenient periods during the year are believed to be possible and advantageous, as evidenced by the high state of efficiency attained under the old Militia system. I would also remind the noble Duke that the Yeomanry now train under this system. If it is found impossible and unworkable in the case of certain units of the Territorial force, the noble Duke will see that power is given, by Clause 13 of the Bill, to institute preliminary drills.
The next question is whether the men would be paid for afternoon drills. The Bill does not contemplate payment, other than legitimate out-of-pocket expenses, for drills proscribed, other than during actual training. The next point is whether the expenses of officers travelling to and fro to their county regiments would be paid. This 1235 is a matter for the consideration of the Army Council, in conference with the associations when formed. The general idea is to encourage gentlemen to serve with the Territorial force of their own county. What is to happen, I am next asked, to the Militia permanent staff—a very important question. A permanent staff suited to all the requirements of units of the Territorial force will be transferred with the units.
The question is asked, How would the identity of a Militia battalion be preserved when it had changed from a Militia battalion into an entirely new form of force? What were formerly Militia regiments are now merely battalions of Regular regiments, but it is assumed that when such battalions are transferred to county associations they will resume their old Militia regimental names and revive their ancient county traditions. In reply to the question, Will all Militiamen now serving be allowed to serve on to the expiration of their term, I have to say that the existing contracts of Militiamen will be strictly observed. Then I am asked whether men refusing to accept the new terms will be disbanded. It is not contemplated to disband any Militia unit. The interests of individual soldiers serving in the Militia who may not accept the new conditions of service will be carefully safeguarded.
As to whether it is legally possible for the Government to break its contract with the Militiamen now serving, that appears to be so; but the Government have no intention of breaking any contracts with Militiamen enlisted under existing regulations. As to the Irish Militia, they will for the present serve under the provisions of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill which relate to the Reserve. These are, of course, points of importance although points of detail, and I shall be very glad to give my noble friend any further specific details which he desires.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
Will the noble Earl allow me to ask whence he gets these questions? No such questions were asked by the noble Duke; yet the noble Earl seems to have a regular catechism in his hand to which he is giving replies.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Perhaps I may be allowed the peculiar distinction of being more in the confi- 1236 dence of the noble Duke than the noble Lord. The catechism from which I have been quoting is a Paper adressed to me and signed by the noble Duke, who desired that I should take this opportunity of dealing with the questions so that the information might go out to the country.
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
Might I make a simple explanation on that point? I asked the noble Earl whether the Government would issue a memorandum explanatory of their intentions, and he requested me to give him the list of questions I should like to have answered in that memorandum in the event of its being possible to issue it.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Owing to the fact that the Secretary of State spent most of last night in the House of Commons, I have not had the opportunity of conferring with him, and I cannot, without conferring with him, undertake to issue the memorandum which the noble Duke has asked for. But in the meantime I was very glad to give him, to the best of my ability, the information asked for in his list of questions
With regard to the Motion of Lord Wemyss, there is no occasion for him to be in a hurry. In due course the Bill will come up from another place, and your Lordships will have every opportunity for discussing it most fully. My noble friend, in referring to a debate in 1904 upon a memorandum which Mr. Arnold-Forster had issued, which several noble Lords thought fore-shadowed the abolition of the Militia, claimed that anything that made an organic change in the Militia force ought to be brought before Parliament in the early part of the session so that there might be full opportunity of discussing it. That is exactly what His Majesty's Government have done. They have introduced their proposals as early as possible. The Bill will be given the earliest possible place for Second Reading after Easter and pressed forward with all speed in the House of Commons, and in the event of its passing through the House of Commons, there will be complete and absolute opportunity of discussing it in your Lordships' House.
I find myself placed in a somewhat difficult position, because in the interests of the Militia force I should be very sorry 1237 prematurely to commit myself to any views until an opportunity had been given in the proper way to those who represent that force to make their criticisms when the Bill comes before the House of Commons in Committee. I must correct the view which Lord Wemyss apparently holds that His Majesty's Government do not appreciate the great services of the Militia; but those services have been performed abroad, and not at home. The Militia, as it has existed in recent times, has been a force which has been constantly the support of the Regular Army in great wars abroad, in the Peninsular, in the Crimea and in the South African Wars. If the Militia are to serve in nucleus battalions they are only carrying on the traditions of the Militia, as they have existed in modern times.
No one is more anxious to respect the traditions of the Militia than the Secretary for War. It is practically impossible that the present state of the Militia should continue. The last Return showed that the deficiency in it amounted to 37,500 men. The Militia representatives at the conferences of last year regarded the system of drafting from the Militia to the Regular Army as destructive of the Militia. While wishing to be fair to that force, the Government were compelled to consider the general interest of the Army, and the first interest was the maintenance of a really efficient fighting force. We have to find such a force, with an extra Reserve for wastage during the first six months of a campaign.
Some noble Lords have rather unfairly spoken as if the Government were relying on the Territorial Army as the sole support of the Regular Army. At the present moment it is not proposed to touch the Regular Reserve, but in the conference at the War Office it was found that there was a fundamental difference between the views of the Militia representatives and those of the Regular Army. The Militia representatives insisted that the Militia should have the right to go out in battalion units. Even if the Army Council were willing to make some compromise upon chat point, the Militia representatives would never agree that the Regulars should have the right to bleed them white by drafting. To put it 1238 plainly, the Regular Army cannot afford to lose the right of drafting.
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
I do not think the Regular Army has the right of drafting under the Militia Act of 1882. You wish to establish that right; you have not got it at present.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
About 12,000 men each year join the Regular Army from the Militia. We cannot afford not to have the advantage of the Militia as a recruiting agency in that respect in peace time or as a source of drafts during war. Therefore in proposing to constitute seventy-four nucleus battalions the Government hope that they will prove a reserve to the fighting force in addition to the Regular Reserve.
Will the noble Earl say why the Secretary of State changed his position? In the beginning of last year he said the Militia were not to be bled white in order to find the fighting strength for Line battalions in time of war, and then he suddenly modified his view.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
The Secretary of State for War was obliged to modify his view, because the representatives of the Militia would not modify their views as to drafting. It was impossible to have had three Lines—first, the Regular Army, with the Regular Reserve; secondly, the Militia, from which there was to be no drafting into the Regulars; and, finally, the Volunteers. That would have been an impossible arrangement financially. The second Line would have competed financially against the first Line. Perhaps I may be allowed to mention the conditions of service for Reservists. The Government propose to give to non-Regular or special Reservists a really serious form of drill, though it will be on a non-Regular basis. I am not referring to the special section of the Territorial Army, but to that part of the Militia which will go to the Regular side of our forces and become men of the nucleus battalions.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
The non-Regular or special Reservists will be liable to service at home and abroad for six years, and they will be liable to be called out on mobilisation of the striking force. If under nineteen years of age, a man will be given forty-nine days recruit training, and fifteen days musketry training on enlistment, and he will get the remaining four months preliminary training on completing his nineteenth year. He will get the fifteen days annual training and six days of extra musketry training in alternate years. But if the recruit is nineteen years old on joining, he will get the full six months of preliminary training on enlistment. When a younger man reaches the age of eighteen, he may, if he wishes and has attained the required standard, elect to enlist in the Regular Army. If he has not done so on reaching the age of nineteen, he will be called on for four months training, at the end of which he will be available when the Reserves are called out to join the striking force. In peace, the special Reservist will not be allowed to enlist in the Regular Army after attaining nineteen years. A man enlisting into the Special Reserve at ninetee or upwards will be given six months training on enlistment. The objection to allowing men under that age to complete their six months training on enlistment is that extra cost is involved in giving such a period of training to those whose intention may be to join the Regulars. The further training is therefore deferred until they reach nineteen, after which they will not be permitted to enlist into the Regular Army.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
First of all, there is the non-Regular or special Reservist. He is the man who joins the Regular side of our forces, and is subject to the Army Act. Then there is the special section Reservist who belongs to the Territorial Army and whose liability has to be renewed every year.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
It is on the non-regular basis I have given to 1240 you. But I am told we shall not get recruits for these nucleus battalions. Why not? The facts go far to show that among the various sources from which the Militia is at present recruited there is very little objection to their making themselves liable for foreign service abroad, as individuals. Before the South African War over 29,000 Militiamen were found willing to accept the liability of being drafted for service abroad. It must be borne in mind, too, that although there are regiments which are largely associated with counties with which they have associations, there has been, and is, a very large portion of the Militia which has none of those associations. I do not think we have any evidence to show that the natural conditions of civil life, and so forth, need prevent our forming the nucleus battalions.
The consideration of the Bill must turn very much on details, and I would ask your Lordships to look on these questions not from the standpoint of any one section, whether the Militia, Yeomanry, or Volunteers, but to have regard to the fact that the value of the Army proposals must be gauged by the military requirements of the Empire. While considering as far as possible the conditions of the Volunteer forces and Militia, whose services we all deeply recognise, the paramount consideration with the Government must be to see that we have a really effective military system which will prove active and powerful in time of emergency or war.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I must apologise for venturing to address the House, not upon the subjects on which I have hitherto had the honour of speaking, but upon a military subject. I believe your Lordships will excuse me when I say that this is the first time in my life with, perhaps, one exception twenty years ago, that I have ever delivered a speech on military matters in either House of Parliament. I desire, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of all those who sit with me on this bench, to re-echo the words which fell from Lord Hardinge when he said that we do not approach this subject in any Party spirit. We recognise, in the first place, that the interests concerned with this 1241 subject are too momentous to be fitly treated in a Party spirit, and we assure the Government that this evening and hereafter, when more definite proposals may be submitted to us, we shall approach them from the point of view of desiring to assist the Government as far as we can to produce a good Army scheme for the country.
It is for those reasons that we find ourselves unable to support my noble friend Lord Wemyss if he asks your Lordships to divide on his Motion, but I do not anticipate that he will do so. He has undoubtedly conferred a great service by eliciting this debate. He has produced a most notable speech from my noble friend the Duke of Bedford, who represents the Militia so worthily in your Lordships' House; and he has also produced interesting, if rather complicated, information from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary. We recognise that this is not the first attempt which has been made to introduce far-reaching reforms into the military forces of this country, and therefore we do not find fault with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that he has also tried his hand. Sometimes I regret that successive Secretaries of State should have thought it necessary always to make far-reaching proposals. It is not their fault, because the public drives them on to do it. But sometimes, and indeed, recently, I have thought that it would not be a bad rule if no Secretary of State were allowed to make more than a twenty minutes speech on his proposals. That, I think, would probably confine them to reasonable dimensions.
The noble Earl the Under-Secretary has given us to-night some very elaborate information. He will, I am sure, forgive me if I say on my own behalf, and also, I believe on behalf of every other noble Lord in this House, that we were not able accurately to follow it. The one thing that struck me was that it was not entirely consistent with the information given by the Secretary of State in another place. I do not mean to say that they were contradictory, but the additions of the Under-Secretary were so voluminous as to change considerably the character of the information which 1242 was given by the Secretary of State. My observation has special regard to the conditions of service of the men in the nucleus battalions. The Army Bill is not before your Lordships' House, and I do not intend to discuss it in detail; but I am sure if I did it would serve a very useful purpose, because there are vaguenesses in that Bill and lacunæ in its provisions which, if it is to be taken by itself, make it difficult to arrive at any accurate conclusion as to what the proposals really amount to.
I invite the noble Earl the Under-Secretary and his colleagues to consider whether they cannot produce something more formal than the interesting observations to which we have just listened. If these additional details were reduced to writing and presented in a Parliamentary Paper it would add greatly to our convenience, and I think Parliament is entitled to this. Sooner or later it must be done. Neither in this House nor in another place will it be possible for the members to discuss the advantages of the Government's scheme unless we are in possession, in an official and formal manner, in writing, of the precise terms of service which the Government intend should apply to these forces that are to take the place of the Militia—I say take the place of the Militia because I noticed that the Under-Secretary spoke quite frankly of abolishing the Militia. Let there be no mistake about that. In another place the Secretary of State, I am given to understand, rather circulated round the point, but the Under-Secretary used the word "abolish," and abolished, of course, the Militia is to be. What is to take the place of the Militia? That is the important question for the country.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I am not aware that I did, but if I used the word "abolish" as applied to the Militia I never used it in the sense implied by the noble Marquess. I did not say the force would be abolished.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think it very much matters in what sense the noble Earl used the word. The word "abolish" is one of those clear words which it is impossible 1243 to misinterpret. It is the intention of the Government to abolish the Militia. What is it that it is proposed to put in its place? Not, I think, the territorial force. I gather from the noble Earl that he does not consider the territorial force as representing the Militia. The territorial force is really the present Volunteer force, a little improved, perhaps, in some directions, but the Volunteer force to all intents and purposes as we know it to-day. Therefore, when we consider what is to take the place of the Militia, we have to look alone at these new nucleus battalions.
What are the characteristics of the new nucleus battalions? Will they give the country the same numbers as the Militia do at the present moment? The numbers they will give to the country, of course, are rather problematical. It depends, in the first place, on the conditions of service offered to the proposed recruits. Upon that the Under-Secretary was necessarily rather vague. I understand that they are not to be paid at the same rate as Army Reservists are at this moment. They are not to receive 6d. a day all the year round, but something less. The popularity of these nucleus battalions will depend on the amount of the bounty. If it is the same as the bounty which is now paid to the Militia, then. at any rate so far as pay is concerned, the Government may have some ground for expecting that the men will transfer their services. But if the bounty is less than they receive at present, I can tell the noble Earl that he will not get the Militiamen to transfer; and if the scheme depends upon nucleus battalions to be recruited from the present Militia, and the men are to receive a less bounty than they receive at present the men will not be forthcoming, and the whole scheme must fall to the ground.
But supposing the Secretary of State gets the men, will he get as many men as the Militia at present produce? Not at all. I understand that he will get about one half. I am speaking of the Infantry of the Militia. If I remember aright they number at the present moment 80,000 men. His nucleus battalions when they are mobilised will amount to only 40,000 men, and therefore, instead of having a reinforcing body of 80,000 men for the Regular Army, he will have a 1244 reinforcing body of only 40,000. That, taken by itself, is not an improvement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My arithmetic may be faulty, but I understand that these nucleus battalions are to muster from 550 to 600 men apiece. Well, seventy-four times 550 works out at roughly 40,000.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If that be so, it only shows how the public have failed to understand the proposals of the Secretary of State, and it brings me back to the point that I was upon just now. It seems to me urgently necessary that these proposals should be circulated in a White Paper to both Houses of Parliament.
Then I come to the question, not of numbers, but of the training of the nucleus battalions. The noble Earl gave us a good deal of information, for which we were very much obliged to him and which we hope to be able to study at leisure, upon the subject of the conditions of training of these nucleus battalions. I do not pretend to have followed him altogether, but I understand that, in the case at any rate of some of the men of the nucleus battalions, they will have a certain preliminary drill on joining, and then in a year or two afterwards they will be called up for four months further drill, and later may be called upon to undergo still further training of some length. In point of fact, there will be in the mind of every man who proposes to join this force a complete vagueness and mistiness as to what is expected of him and the same vagueness and mistiness will extend to employers.
Before it is too late I would ask His Majesty's Government to bear in mind that simplicity is essential if you intend to get the recruits. The one thing that 1245 men of that class dislike, the one thing that inevitably repels them, is any complication, because they do not understand it and they always expect a trap. I remember one of the devices which various Secretaries of State have produced for the sake of perfecting His Majesty's Service. One device was called the special service contingent. That was a form of Militia Reserve. Men were to receive a little extra bounty and were to be available when called upon to join the Regular Army. The scheme was issued in one of those interminable War Office memoranda, and we were called upon to explain the conditions which were proposed to the men of our battalion. We did our best, but when the men realised that it was a long and complicated document they all with one accord—and I believe it was the same in the other battalions throughout the country—refused to have anything to do with it. And so, if the conditions of service are anything like what I gathered from the noble Earl just now, I would beg His Majesty's Government, in the interests of the country, to reconsider all that part of their scheme. Whatever they propose, let it be simple, and if it be simple he can rely on this—that all of us will do our best to help the Government.
I notice that since the Secretary of State spoke in another place the annual training of the nucleus battalions appears to have been a good deal elaborated. When the Secretary of State spoke in another place there was to be fifteen days'training—a totally inadequate period—but, according to the Under-Secretary, it may be extended to months. I do not find any fault with the Government for that change. I expect they would have found that fifteen days' annual training would not have produced a force adequate to the necessities of the case. But what I would venture to submit to the Government is this, that if that training were given to the Militia the effect would be the same and the abolition of the Militia would be avoided.
What is the reason for the abolition of the Militia? The noble Earl gave us a good deal of information on that point. He said that the War Office had consulted the Militia officers, and those officers had refused to agree to certain drafting pro- 1246 posals which the Government desired, and that in consequence of that refusal the Militia were to be abolished. I cannot say that I admire that method of producing a policy. Why cannot the Government stand on their own legs? Why cannot they think out their policy and defend it on its merits? You never hear a member of the present Government speak in Parliament without sheltering himself behind his professional advisers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord is a brilliant exception. I certainly think that I have read of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in another place defending their proposals on the ground that the Board of Admiralty or the War Office and the Army Council agreed with what they were submitting. Now we have a further example of the same practice. According to the Under-Secretary the policy of the Government with regard to the Militia apparently depends upon the fact that certain communications passed between the Government and Militia commanding officers, and, as a result of these communications, the Government found it necessary to abolish the Militia. As that argument has been used, let me examine for a moment the reason which the Government allege caused them to resolve upon this drastic policy. The noble Lord says that the Militia commanding officers would not agree to the drafting proposals of the Government. It seems that the difference of opinion lay in this, that the Militia commanding officers who were consulted—I was not one of them, but I make no complaint on that head—said that their battalions must serve as units in the field or not at all, and that the Government wanted to break up the battalions and send driblets of men out of them to join battalions of the Line. I am not surprised to learn that my brother commanding officers 1247 desired that their battalions should serve in the field as units rather than as drafts; and I fail to understand why the Government should have entered an absolute non possumus.
In this very measure which is submitted to Parliament, and certainly in the speeches which support it, it is suggested that the territorial force should serve in complete units in the field, and I would also say that it might be not only proper but necessary to send complete units of Militia abroad in time of war. Any one who has read the accounts of the Japanese war, and realised how whole battalions were wiped out in a single action, will recognise that it may be necessary to send out complete battalions and not only drafts. But there are units and units. Is it necessary to conclude, because Militia officers think that the Army in the field should be reinforced by units of Militia, that that unit is necessarily the unit of the battalion? Why do not the Government consider reinforcing by companies? I would like to press that upon the Government. The difference between the two proposals appears to be that the Government favour drafts consisting of men only. In my proposal the drafts would consist of men with their officers, and I say that my proposal is much the better of the two.
If your Lordships will forgive one other item of autobiography, I remember, after the fighting which ended at Magersfontein, meeting one of the most distinguished battalions which had taken part in that fighting—the Northumberland Fusiliers—and finding them in a most remarkable situation. They were 900 strong because they had received their drafts, but they had not got an officer per company. That is the system which finds favour with the Government—a system under which the reinforcing is done by men only, and not by men with officers. The result was that you had this magnificent battalion of 900 strong with not an officer per company. What happened? The battalion asked for two Militia officers to go and help them—two of those despised Militia officers who are supposed not to be fit to take the field. Two of my officers served with that battalion with absolute 1248 satisfaction for several months. I mention that story merely to impress upon your Lordships that this idea of drafts without officers is a mistake. You want officers more than men, and if you have officers at all they should be the officers to whom the men belong, because they are much more likely to work well under them than under officers they have never seen before. Therefore, if the objection of the Government to maintaining the Militia depends upon this difficulty of units I would beg them to reconsider their scheme.
There is one other test which I should like to apply to the Government's proposals. It is this: How, after the Government have finally dealt with His Majesty's Army in all its branches, will they stand with regard to the supply of officers for the Regular Army? There is nothing so important as that, and the reason is obvious. It does not take very long, comparatively speaking, to train a man, but it does take an enormous time adequately to train an officer, and, therefore, when you come to active service Regular officers are worth their weight in gold. After His Majesty's Government have worked their will on the Army, how will it be off for Regular officers? In the first place, they have destroyed ten Regular battalions with their officers. At one fell swoop the Government have abolished 670 of these priceless officers. The same principle which prevailed with them then is continued now. All the adjutants serving in the Militia and in the Volunteers are to be abolished. That is a very large number. They are all Regular officers and highly trained. No doubt for the moment they are attached to the Auxiliary Forces, but they are available in time of war to take their place in the fighting line. But on go the Government, like a Car of Juggernaut, crushing out the Regular officers as they proceed. Next, they have destroyed all the Regular officers at the depot; four officers per depot disappear under the scheme. And, finally, there are the quartermasters. They are not combatant officers, but they are experts whom it would be impossible to replace; yet all the Militia quartermasters are to disappear under the scheme.
1249 There is a set-off, of course. There are the new Regular officers attached to the nucleus battalions, but if your Lordships will take the Army List and strike a balance between the destruction to be wrought by the Government policy and the new proposals, you will see that His Majesty's Service will be worse off by at least 1,000 officers. That appears to me to be a test of the Government scheme, and, if it be true, the fact carries condemnation with it. I am very far from saying that that part of the proposals of the Government is essential to their scheme. Very likely not. I make these observations in no hostile spirit, but I would impress upon the Government that before the Bill reaches your Lordships' House there should be a modification of their scheme in this respect.
I believe that if the Government had gone the other way to work they would have produced a better scheme. For example, in the matter of officers they might have come to Parliament and proposed that a large contingent of the officers of Militia should be furnished by Regular officers attached to them from the Line. That would have been, I believe, a very useful proposal, and it would have had the effect of increasing very substantially the total establishment of Regular officers in His Majesty's service. It would also have had the effect of improving the character of the training of the Militia. But the Government have preferred to try and start a totally new scheme—a new kind of Volunteers. I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will accept these observations of mine in the spirit in which they are given, and that they will not destroy the Militia, with all its great traditions and all the great interest which in every part of the country is paid to its welfare, but preserve it as an integral part of His Majesty's forces.
§ *LORD ABINGER
My Lords, as one who has not before exercised the privilege of addressing your Lordships I would claim your attention for a few moments. I desire to associate myself most fully with all that has fallen from my noble friends the Duke of Bedford and Viscount Hardinge. I speak, not from the point 1250 of view of a Militia commanding officer, but from the point of view of one who has served for a considerable number of years in the Militia. There is in your Lordships' House a considerable body of experts on Militia questions, many of whom are also experts as regards county organisation. The Army scheme of the Secretary of State for War is one in which county organisation plays a large part, and it seems to me a matter for regret that Mr. Haldane has not seen his way more fully to discuss the matter with those noble Lords, whose advice, of course, would have been perfectly disinterested on the subject.
The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, in his most interesting speech yesterday afternoon, mentioned that the intentions of Governments were not interesting, but that the effect produced by their actions was. Let me say that, so far as the Militia is concerned, the force has almost lost interest in the intentions of successive Secretaries of State. We were interested witnesses of the subtle attempt to encompass our abolition towards the end of the life of the late Government. That attempt did not succeed, and I subsequently road that Mr. Haldane said it was not intended to abolish the Militia. But this evening we have had from the noble Earl the Under-Secretary words which led me and my brother Militia officers to think that the abolition of the Militia is intended. We think that this abolition is unnecessary, and we ask His Majesty's Government to hold their hand and to keep the old constitutional force outside the new scheme.
In spite of every hardship in the past the Militia force has done its best, and has always done its duty. Several instances have been given this evening of good work done by the Militia in South Africa. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary seemed to think that all the services of the Militia were abroad, and not at home. Does he forget the large number of Militia which garrisoned this country during the South African war, and thereby set free Line battalions? I wonder how the duties of the garrison towns would have been carried on if it had not been for the large number of Militia regiments who took the place of the Regulars. The woes of the Militia 1251 are matter of common knowledge, not only to every Member of your Lordships' House, but even to the Secretary of State himself. Mr. Haldane admitted that the Militia heretofore had been the hewers of wood and the drawers of water to the Regular Army, but even these menial offices are now to be taken away from them and the force is to be abolished. Let me say at once that we do not regard our abolition at all in the light of a reward for services rendered. To commingle Volunteers and Militia is, in my opinion, absolutely impossible. The two forces are totally distinct. Under their existing organisations they can, if the conditions are ameliorated, work harmoniously, but they cannot be commingled.
I thank your Lordships for allowing me this opportunity of entering my protest against a scheme which I consider as distasteful to the Auxiliary Forces as a whole as it is dangerous to the military efficiency of the country. There is only one force which has benefited at all by the war in South Africa—the Yeomanry. If you would only treat the Militia with a tithe of the attention which the Yeomanry has received in recent years, you would not now be deploring the state of the old constitutional force. In conclusion, I again ask His Majesty's Government to hold their hand and to keep the Militia outside the scheme of the Secretary of State for War.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I am reminded of the old adage, Ne sutor ultra crepidam. It is, perhaps, a little bit rash of me to attempt for a short time to leave my own bench and cobble at my colleague's, but throughout this debate the idea apparently has been running through the minds of many of the speakers that we were in danger from sudden attack, and that we should have no time to get together our forces and to train and make them useful in the field; and no allusion whatever has been made to the other line of defence for which I am responsible.
Well, my Lords, without stretching the blue-water theory to too great an extent, I think that if the First Line of defence is not going to prevent a sudden and unexpected descent upon our shores the state of this country is bad indeed. In 1252 my own opinion, the time required to prepare and train our men will be amply secured by the action of our Fleet at sea. That is a view which I think I may claim is not a Party one. It is accepted on the other side of the House as well as upon this side, and I think we ought not to forget it in such a debate as this.
After all, it is impossible to enter into a debate on defence without considering what the defence services of this country are. We can never be expected to put into the field at once a force such as foreign countries can command; but we have the security of being surrounded by water, and to that water I believe we can trust for our safety, or, at any rate, for the time that is necessary for our preparation. The Noble Earl who raised this debate, and the two Noble Lords who spoke for the Militia took very different positions. The Noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, hopes by keeping the Militia in existence to have a hold on the chance of conscription.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The noble Earl hopes, by means of the obsolescent ballot, to keep the Militia in existence and so have a hold on the chance of conscription; but the noble Duke and the noble Viscount who followed him entirely repudiated any idea of conscription and based their arguments on voluntary enlistment. The course of the Government is a perfectly clear one and it has been very clearly stated. I think everybody will agree that at the present moment the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers are not in a condition to meet the armies of foreign countries in the field. That is the conclusion at which the Commission presided over by my noble friend Lord Elgin and the Norfolk Commission arrived.
That being the case, the Government, when they came into office, had to deal with the position as it was brought before them. My right hon. friend gave a great deal of time to this subject, and he came to see that it was impossible to continue to organise the Army on three lines; that it should be simplified and organized in two lines. That was the basis of the 1253 proposition which he put before the country. He proposed that a strong striking force should be instituted, and I would like again to refer to this fact—that in the course of this debate no attention has been paid to that fighting force. I believe that the proposals of my right hon. friend, when carried into effect, will put the country in certainly as strong aposition as it ever has been to place a homogeneous strong force into the field at once to meet any emergency, and not only to do that, but to keep it in the field by its arrangement for reserves during the first six months.
The noble Marquess was very hard on my right hon. friend and on my noble friend the Under-Secretary owing to the talk about abolishing the Militia. I think the Militia, as it was constituted, has abolished itself. The Militia of the present day is not at all the Militia that was intended, and such as the noble Duke and the noble Viscount referred to to-night. The greater part of the Militia at the present moment is not territorial at all.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The men are recruited largely from the great centres of population and not from the country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am very familiar with this subject. We are not allowed to recruit except within the territorial boundary.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
It is equally true that the people who are recruited are very largely inhabitants of large industrial places.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
They are territorial, no doubt, but territorial in a totally different sense from that in which the Militia found itself in old days and under its old system of organisation. The plan proposed by the Secretary of State for War is to take this portion of the Militia which comes from the great centres of population and to make them part of the Regular Army; and then to set up throughout the country a secondary Territorial Army on the basis of the old Militia organization. It is a new scheme. Noble Lords opposite have been responsible for two or three new schemes in recent years, and I do not think that any of them showed much prospect of a happy up growth. No new scheme can be proved to be successful until it has been worked out. All I can say on that point is that the greatest possible attention has been given to the working out of this scheme, and the general opinion of civilians and soldiers is that it is a scheme that has good prospect of success.
The noble Marquess referred to the question of officers. That question is a very important and interesting one, and the Government are giving it careful consideration. I think the noble Marquess altogether exaggerated the danger of the abolition of those officers. It is the intention of the Government that the services of the reserve of officers shall be retained. At this moment at the War Office a Committee, presided over by Sir Edward Ward, is going thoroughly into the question, and I can assure the noble Marquess that it is one to which the Government are keenly alive. With regard to the inducement to men to give their services, a bounty is to be given on enlistment, and I believe it will be sufficient to induce them to enlist. The men are to be trained for six months, and they will be called out from time to time for training. The pay for the whole of the Territorial Army at large is to be the same as that of the Regular soldier, and the men are to be paid for every day that they are at work.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I am afraid I am not sufficiently acquainted with the details to answer that Question.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Judging from the speech of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary they would not be paid on the days occupied in musketry.
§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I do not think I made any mention of that particular point in connection with the Territorial Force, because it has not yet been decided.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I do not think myself that this subject is one that we can with any great use go into in very considerable detail on such a Motion as that brought forward by the noble Earl. The Bill will come before this House in due course, and your Lordships will have power to examine it in every detail. It is true to say that the future must answer for itself, but we believe, so far as we have been able to give attention to these subjects, that we have a good chance of making a success of the proposals.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I do not desire at this hour to detain your Lordships at any length. Indeed, I should not have troubled you with any remarks but for one or two observations that fell from the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, upon which I wish very briefly to comment. I admire the optimism with which he regards this scheme, but personally, not knowing so much about it and not being favoured with the secrets of the Cabinet, I am somewhat sceptical, and the more so as the Government have taken the very dangerous course of making their reductions before ascertaining whether their scheme is likely to be a success. I gather that they have not 1256 even circularised a single Militia regiment to see whether they are likely to fall in with the new conditions. I cannot help thinking that that is a very dangerous course to pursue, and, though I naturally hope that the prophecies of noble Lords opposite may be realised, I should be veryglad to see them put on the brake and retard their reductions pending evidence that their scheme has some promise of success.
I was a little disappointed with the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I expected him to be much more indiscreet. Your Lordships remember the debate yesterday afternoon on a totally different subject. In that debate we had an important speech from the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council full of caution, which was followed by a speech from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack which was charmingly indiscreet, and which has been received with delight owing to its indiscretion by friends of mine in Ireland. I certainly hoped that the First Lord would follow that precedent, but he did not. He made one or two remarks, however, which require clearing up. First of all, he combatted the remark of a noble friend of mine with reference to the feared loss of officers by saying that they were not going to lose any of those officers. I quite agree that you are not going to lose the service of Captain Jones or Lieutenant Smith, but you are going to abolish a large number of posts for officers in the Army, and to avoid supernumeraries you will have to stop the intake of officers for several years. Therefore two or three years hence the forces of the Crown will be poorer by very nearly 1,000 officers.
I know this is a subject in which the First Lord of the Admiralty takes a great personal interest. I have a lively recollection of having had bricks thrown at my head on this very subject by him when I was representing the War Office in your Lordships' House. I therefore hope some pause will be taken, 1257 before the Government commit themselves further, to see whether some of these posts for officers cannot be saved. The noble Lord referred with pride to the striking force, and seemed to make some complaint that it had not be alluded to before in the debate. I do not think his complaint was quite fair, because I doubt very much whether a reference to the striking force would have been in order in this debate, in view of the Motion standing on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl. I hope that the striking force will be of value, though I doubt very much whether t will be ready to strike at a few moments' notice.
The third point in the speech of the First Lord to which I wish to allude was his reference to the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers not being fit now to meet the beat Continental troops. Of course they are not. But does the noble Lord seriously think that anything the Government are going to substitute will be able to meet foreign troops? Are these special Reservists to be so fit? I doubt it very much. Yet they are coming very near to the first Line of the nation. They will be certainly a great deal less efficient than many troops now in the first Line, and I question whether, great as the evil is, the Government are seriously attempting to provide a remedy.
Though this debate has been somewhat confined, owing to the difficulty of saying anything without referring to proposals before the other House of Parliament, I think we shall all agree that a very useful purpose has been served, and that we are indebted to noble Lords opposite who have tried to give us information. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary read his Answers very rapidly, and it was impossible for us to follow them all. I hope, therefore, he will give the information to us in the form of a Parliamentary Paper. If he can give us a complete skeleton of the scheme which the Gov- 1258 ernment intend to place before Parliament, and its cost, it will be of great assistance to Members of both Houses. I hope we may have ample time to study the various points.
§ Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.