§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, the object of this Bill, as its preamble states, is "to make provision for the maintenance of such forces of the Crown as may be required to meet exigencies arising before the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty." The Military Service Acts expire at the ratification of peace, or rather on the date officially declared to be the end of the war, which must by Statute be as nearly as may be at that time. At that date all men who come under the operation of those Acts, or who enlisted for the duration of the war—and this embraces, of course, the great bulk of the 170 men—would be entitled to their discharge. In view of the imminence of peace it is therefore obviously necessary, both for the defence of the Empire and for the discipline of the troops themselves, to make our future arrangements as soon as possible. The Bill before us retains in the Colours such forces as may be necessary for the transition period, when war is merging into peace; and this Bill must be looked upon as a provisional measure, and must not in any way be confused with the arrangements that may be necessary for the establishment of an after-the-war Army.
This Bill in itself does not state the numbers, nor does it define the precise period for which the men to whom it applies will be retained. It gives power to the "competent authority" to decide that any man, or class of men, to whom the Bill applies may be retained for a further period of service with the Colours, but not longer than April 30, 1920. At that date, if the men were still with the Colours, they must be discharged with all convenient speed, but in no case at a later date than three months after April 30, 1920. The "competent authority" may retain these men, or part of them, for a shorter period, and at the expiration of that shorter period they are again entitled to immediate discharge. April 30, 1920, therefore must be looked upon as a maximum period, and the Bill is drawn in this way because it is hoped that it will not be necessary to retain this large force with the Colours, under the operation of the Bill, until so late a period as April 30, 1920.
In the Bill the "competent authority" is defined as the Admiralty, the Army Council, or the Air Council. The men to whom the Bill applies must be in actual service at the end of the war, and their term of service must expire either at the end of the war or before April 30, 1920. "Actual service" is defined in the Bill to mean Army service in the case of the Regulars, or embodied service in the case of the Territorials. There are two exceptions to this general statement, one stated in the Bill and the other not stated in the Bill. Officers, as your Lordships may have noticed, are not included in the Bill, and the reason is a very simple one. Their conditions of service are governed by Royal Warrant and not by Act of Parliament. Again, there is a surplus of officers; in fact, more officers are ready to remain with the Colours than are really 171 necessary for the size of this Army. The second exception is stated in the Bill—that is to say, soldiers of the Regular Forces serving on a pre-war attestation are exempted from the provisions of the Bill, "pre-war attestation" meaning, of course, the usual seven years with the Colours and five years with the Reserve.
The question has been raised why these Regular soldiers should obtain this measure of exemption while civilians, who have been taken from then civilian occupations and have served as long as two or three years with the Colours, are retained. One has, of course, great sympathy with the civilian soldier who is anxious to return to his pre-war occupation; but with regard to these soldiers whose service is expiring and who are excepted from the Bill, your Lordships will remember that most of them represent that Army, or rather the remnant of that Army, which sustained the full shock of the German hosts, flushed with the violation of Belgian neutrality—that Army which turned so fiercely on their pursuers at the Battle of the Marne and shattered the whole conception of the German General Staff of the fighting qualities of a retreating Army. I hope your Lordships will feel that they have "done their bit," and have earned their release.
There is another omission—shall I call it?—from the Bill, to which I should like to draw attention. Immediately on the signing of the Armistice no more civilians were called up under the Military Service Acts. Your Lordships will notice, therefore, that no provision is made, and no power is taken under the Bill, for calling up boys of eighteen who otherwise would have been due for service as they arrived at that age from November 11 last. May I say one word on the policy which excepted these boys? That is a point to which sufficient attention has not been paid by those who criticise this Bill on the ground that it is setting up a permanent system of compulsory service; because it is quite obvious that, if that had been so, you could not have omitted the boys who were coming of age and were ripening for military service. The reason they were omitted was that it was hoped that this Army, or at any rate a large portion of it, might not have long to be retained with the Colours, and as these boys would take some time to train they might perhaps be hardly trained before their services were required no longer. I need not add that it is very necessary to 172 have trained men on the Rhine and in the other portion of the Army of Occupation.
I now come to Clause 2, which deals with transfers. Since 1915 transfers in the Regular Army—and in the Regular Army, of course, I include the New Armies—have been governed by Section 1 of the Army (Transfer) Act of 1915. This Act is limited for the period of the war. Thus when this Bill comes into effect—and its effect is from the end of the war—no new transfer can take place under that Act. This subsection provides that soldiers who have been transferred under that Act cannot claim the rights of re-transfer while this measure lasts, but must be retained in the corps to which they have been transferred. The section which applies to the transfer of Territorials has, on the face of it, rather a wider application, but, as a matter of fact, transfers among Territorials are effected by Orders and Regulations under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Acts and do not depend upon the direct action of these Acts themselves.
Subsection (3) is an important and interesting subsection. It extends the provisions of the Army (Suspension of Sentences) Acts, 1915–16. These Acts operated wholly in favour of the soldier. They permitted the military authorities to avoid sending a man to prison who might have committed an offence in a state of extreme fatigue or under sudden panic, and who might redeem his character if he were given a chance by the suspension of his sentence. If he subsequently misbehaved, the sentence might be put into execution, but if he retrieved himself by gallantry and good conduct his sentence could be, and was, altogether remitted. The general experience has been that men who have been treated in this way have recovered their good positions and have earned the total remission of their sentences. The Acts of 1915–16 were somewhat narrow in their application. They applied only to cases of penal servitude or imprisonment and to cases occurring overseas. This Bill removes the requirement of active service; it extends the power of suspension to sentences passed at home, and applies to the sentence of military detention as well as to cases of imprisonment and penal servitude.
Clause 3, subsection (2)—I have already dealt with the interpretations—deals with 173 the Military Service (Conventions with Allied States) Act of 1917. This Convention between the Allies gave the choice to men of military age who were the subjects of one Ally resident in the country of another Ally either to return to their own country or to enlist in the Army of the country where they resided. The men so enlisted are exempted from the provisions of this Bill. I should like to draw your. Lordships' attention to this general remark connected with the Bill. It refers not so much to the present as to the end of the war, and it retains with the Colours those men who are in actual service at that precise moment. It does not interfere in any way with the process of demobilisation which at the present time is proceeding.
Let me say one word upon the processes of demobilisation. There have been two systems in force, one proceeding on the industrial and the other on the service principle. After the Armistice, men were demobilised not according to their length of service but according to their value in industrial life. This system was undoubtedly the more beneficial of the two from the point of view of the country itself. "Pivotal" men and men engaged in essential industries returned to their own country and proceeded to rebuild the machinery of trade and manufacture, and to provide new berths for the men returning from service in constantly expanding industries. I think there can be no doubt that as between the two systems it is most unfortunate that the first system should not have been adhered to. It was unhappily the case, however, that this first system was very difficult and complex to work. The selection, for instance, of the "pivotal" man caused some difficulty. The definition was not very clearly made out, and it did not—and this is the most important thing—appeal to the sense of justice of the average serving soldier. Many of the men who were last taken from industrial life, at a time when towards the end of the war the military necessities were absolutely paramount, would, of course, be the most useful men in promoting a return to industrial life, while the men who had borne the whole burden and heat of the day could not understand why those men who had served for the eleventh hour should be the first to be released. As the result of these difficulties the second system was set on foot.
174 The second system was based, not upon industrial needs, but upon length of service. It was decided that all men who had not been called up—and I lay stress on the words "had not been called up"—before January 1, 1916, should be retained, while all those who had been called up at a previous date to that should be demobilised. I ought to add that the industrial system or the industrial priorities were, and have been, observed as far as possible consistent with military necessities in the demobilisation of the men who were called up before January, 1916. To this general rule as it appears in the Army Order there are certain exceptions—there are some compassionate cases; men over thirty-seven years of age, and men who have over three wound stripes. The reason for the fixing of that date was that it would provide the 900,000 men which was fixed as the number to be retained in the Army of Occupation with the Colours. This system was simple, was easily understood, and it has worked well and given general satisfaction.
During these months, therefore, demobilisation has been going on at a rate which is now faster, now slower. Your Lordships have no doubt followed the figures published week after week as to the numbers of men and officers who have been daily and weekly discharged. No doubt you will be interested to have the latest figures, which give 70,729 officers and 2,264,199 other ranks; while 47,000 officers and 550,000 men of other ranks still remain to be demobilised. Demobilisation is not, of course, running at so rapid a rate as it was. The average rate has slowed down from about 38,000 to 12,500 per day as regards men, but it has increased in the case of officers by about 200 per day. The cause of this slowing down is due to the fact that the bulk of the men at home and in France have been dealt with, and that the flow from other countries has slowed down owing to difficulties of transport. Those who are still retained in the Army at home and in France have to perform duties in connection with remounts, cars, demobilisation machinery, and dispersal stations, but they are being demobilised as rapidly as possible. The troubles in Egypt have delayed the flow of men from Egypt. There remains, then, these numbers still to be demobilised. This will allow us to retain about 960,000 men, which in the opinion of the Government, after very long and careful consideration, was fixed as the 175 number it was necessary to retain in the Army of Occupation owing to the disturbed state of Europe and the great interests which require protection. I do not wish to weary you with figures. I have all the figures here, and if any noble Lord wishes to have them I shall be quite ready to give them in detail.
I should like to make one observation about these figures. The Army of Occupation has oaten been confused with the Army of the Rhine. The term "Army of Occupation" includes all soldiers wherever stationed with the Colours—Forces at home, in Ireland, on the Rhine, in France and other theatres, and British troops in India. The actual Army on the Rhine consists of ten divisions, and, with its line of communication troops, amounts to 264,000 men. It may be interesting to note that these ten divisions of the Army of Occupation on the Rhine have, so far as the Infantry is concerned, been organised as far as possible on a territorial basis. There is, for instance, a Lancashire division, a Highland division and a Lowland division, and the country has generally been grouped for these ten divisions. Another interesting point in connection with these ten divisions is that out of ninety battalions of Infantry no less than sixty-nine are young battalions, composed of men about nineteen years of age. Only twenty-one, therefore, of these battalions are composed of older men. Whatever may be the feeling of the older men who may not wish, naturally, to be retained in military service, there is no doubt about the feelings of these young battalions, or what are called "boy battalions." Whatever the feelings of their parents may be, there is no doubt, from all reports, that they are enjoying their sojourn on the Rhine.
I do not know whether it is necessary—perhaps it is not—for me to go into the details of the expenditure of this Army. But I should like to call attention to one particular point, and that is the large amount provided for in the Estimates for 1919–20 for the Army and Air Force—the stupendous sum of £506,000,000. More than half is accounted for by terminal and non-recurring charges which have become necessary for the winding up of the war. One more point. A large number of these troops—about 120,000 in France and Belgium—are engaged in the work of salvage, which is recovering an immense 176 amount of equipment of every kind left behind by the Germans. This no doubt will be sold as time goes on, and will constitute a large deduction from the general cost of the Army.
I notice that there is on the Paper a Motion for rejection standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Buckmaster). I do not know on what particular ground the noble and learned Lord wishes to reject this Bill—whether it is on the ground of some alleged breach of pledge given at the General Election. I understood that the noble and learned Lord was rather a latitudinarian in the matter of pledges; it may therefore be that he wishes to reject this Bill upon other grounds. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with any quotations as to statements made at the Election—perhaps that is rather a matter for another place—but I should like to read one statement among many made by the Prime Minister on this subject. He said—Whether you will require conscription in the future in any shape or form depends, not upon the opinion which I express here on this platform, or which any other political leader expresses upon any other platform. It will depend entirely upon the terms of peace.I think that no definite pledge as to any abolition of conscription can be extracted from that statement of the Prime Minister, or front any other statement that he made upon that subject. There was no doubt a great deal of criticism, as we all know, at the Election on the question of conscription, but I think that it was directed far more to the establishment of a permanent system of conscription than to any necessary methods which the Government might have to take in order to gather in the fruits of the war.
There has also been very severe criticism—though limited from the point of the number of those making it—in another place, but there again I think the criticism was not so much directed to the present measure as to a fear that this Bill was in itself an earnest and a first step towards a general system of conscription. This Bill, as appears in every portion of it, must be looked upon as a provisional measure, and in no way and in no sense as a permanent one. The chief point raised in this criticism has been whether it would not have been possible to obtain these troops by some other system than conscription, and whether you could not have relied upon the voluntary system for them, I 177 put it to your Lordships that when you have to obtain so large a number of men (even if you could have got them by a voluntary system), it would have been impossible to build up those men into so big an Army as was required at a time when demobilisation was going on of the existing Army all over the world. The difficulty of constructing and putting together the present Army under the present system of demobilisation has been enormous, and if you had had super-added to that the duty of building up an Army of the same size, and training it at the same time, it would have been far beyond any military resources which we could have commanded. War-weariness and the desire to get home would have made it impossible, without that Army melting away altogether, to have presented the alternative to the soldier and given him the free choice either of saying that he would go home or of staying in the Army of Occupation. Indeed the efforts that have been made, and that have been considerably prolonged, to obtain the men for a voluntary Army show how impossible it would have been to have obtained this large Army by any voluntary system. Moreover, the first use that must be made of the new Army that is being secured by the voluntary system must be to relieve the Territorials in India and other forces of the Army of Occupation which are in our permanent garrisons.
May I say one word about what is being clone, and has been done, under the system of voluntary enlistment in order to deal with this point? First of all, you have the enlistments for what may be called the permanent after-the-war Army on the long or normal engagement—seven years with the Colours and five years with the Reserve—which is open to men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five in the case of untrained men, and up to thirty years of age in the case of ex-soldiers. Between the dates of January 15 and March 29, 11,877 were enlisted from civil life, the average for the last five weeks being 1,348. If these numbers are maintained, the total enlisted at the end of the year will reach the outside limits that can be taken without producing unsound recruiting conditions. Prior to the war the annual requirements were something like 33,000, and if you took more than, say, double that number this year—assuming, of course, that your establishment is no more than the pre-war establishment—you would have not only 178 to close down recruiting probably in the next year, which would have a bad effect, but it would be impossible at the end of the seven years, when these men were due to go into the Reserve, to replace them for the Army of that time. Moreover, it is obvious that untrained recruits are of no use for the Army of Occupation, and this business of building up the two systems at the same time would have produced difficulties which it is almost impossible to contemplate. Again, these enlistments on the seven and five years basis are not what is wanted for the Army of Occupation. What you want for the Army of Occupation are, if you can get them, men enlisted for the shorter period; otherwise the system would be an extremely wasteful one.
What, then, has been done under the system of shorter enlistments since the Armistice? I do not want to enumerate all the efforts that have been made; I want to allude only to two or three of the schemes which have been put forward for obtaining men under different conditions of service. Serving soldiers may re-enlist for periods of two, three, and four years, if they are of A and B1 medical class and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and they get, according to the period for which they re-enlist, a bounty varying from £20 to £50. I must call your Lordships' attention to this, as bearing on its usefulness immediately for the Army of Occupation, that they will get (and very naturally) a period of furlough varying but running up to four months before they come back to the Colours for their periods of training. Besides these men, serving soldiers who are demobilisible—that is to say, the men who entered before January, 1916—can volunteer for one year's extra service if they wish. Only 6,000 men have been obtained under the one year system from the Army of the Rhine. These two separate systems of recruiting to which. I have alluded are open to serving members of overseas forces. Then there is the question of the men of long service extending their period of service. Again, this recruiting is open to men in Class Z of the Army Reserve; that means soldiers and disembodied men of the Territorial Forces—roughly speaking, men who have been demobilised. They may re-enlist for two, three, or four years if between the ages of eighteen and thirty-seven. These conditions of service have been circulated in innumerable leaflets, and every effort has been made to bring them to the notice 179 both of the serving and of the demobilised soldier. What has been the result of all these efforts? After all these efforts there have been obtained as new recruits and re-enlisted men only some 70,000, showing that the gap between the men that you require for the Army of Occupation and the men you can obtain by voluntary service is immense. And you have not got all these men, because a great many of them are already on furlough and will not be ready for some time to come to be organised into units and sent to take the place of Armies of Occupation or garrisons abroad.
I have further figures, with which I do not wish to trouble the House, as to the pay, because it may be contended that, if you offered more pay, you could get more men. I was only going to give one set of figures to your Lordships which may be interesting, and those are as to the emoluments, including pay, clothing, food and lodging, of a private of the Infantry of the Line with the Army of the Rhine. He gets an equivalent of 50s. a week, or £130 a year, and if he is married and has two children he gets the equivalent of 81s. a week or £211 a year; and, of course, correspondingly greater amounts for corporals and sergeants. Therefore, I do not think it will be contended that those emoluments of the soldier, including, of course, his pay and other conditions, compare badly with what he would be getting in civilian life.
I have shown, therefore, that if these large numbers are necessary—and they have been found to be necessary after very prolonged investigation into the circumstances of the case—it is absolutely necessary to get them by the voluntary system, and that if you do not pass a measure of this kind, when the peace is signed and the end of the war comes you will have no power of retaining that very large Army in different theatres where they are now engaged as Armies of Occupation. If, therefore, the measure was refused it would lead to the complete disbandment of the Army when the declaration of peace comes, and it is hardly necessary to point out what would be the effect on the enemy as regards the keeping of those peace conditions if such a terrible eventuality were to take place.
Unfortunately, as in the financial, so in the military sphere, war does not at once merge into peace. There is a No 180 Man's-Land which has to be crossed, a river of tribulation before you can tread the Elysian fields of peace. The nation has laboured mightily; it has arisen victorious from the long travail of this giant contest: let us not in one moment, perhaps by inaction or by a relaxation of necessary vigilance, imperil the garnering of that great harvest which at so stupendous a sacrifice we have sown and have reaped. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move, "That the Bill be read 2a this day six months." The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that whatever disagreement your Lordships may feel with some of the statements that I may think it necessary to make in the course of making the Motion which stands in my name, there will be no disagreement with my feeling that this Bill has been explained by the noble Viscount with most unusual ability and skill. So far as it is possible to make its provisions plain, I am sure you will agree that he has succeeded. I wish I could add that, as far as I am concerned, he had succeeded in making them acceptable. But in truth it seems to me that the noble Viscount in introducing this Bill leas treated it rather as a matter of course, and has not recognised that a measure of this description not only runs counter to the long tradition of this country, but that it is hostile to the feelings and opinions sincerely entertained by a very large body of the people at home.
§ The noble Viscount said that he was unaware upon what ground my objection to the Bill was based, and I can at least remove certain of the objections that he suggested. In the first place, I certainly do not intend to base any arguments upon the fact, the undoubted and indisputable fact, that the introduction of this Bill is in direct and flat defiance of promises made by responsible members of the Government at the General Election. It is unnecessary to trouble your Lordships with the consideration of that matter, for the simple reason that the justification given by the Secretary of State for War when these objections were urged was that those responsible Ministers of the Crown, when they made these promises, did not, in fact, know what they were talking about.181
§ But in truth the objection is irrelevant, as the noble Viscount was kind enough to say. I hold latitudinarian views on this matter. I think that if a promise is made at an Election to do something that is wrong, the offence lies in making the promise and not in breaking it. So also I think that if a Government found that in the interests of national safety they are bound to do something which at an Election they thought they would never be called upon to do, they are compelled to take the course which they believe to be the only one by which the national safety can be safeguarded. It might be that under different conditions their course would be to appeal again to the country; I do not suggest that in the present case such a course is open. And therefore I will not say I make no complaint, but I certainly do not rest any criticism of this measure upon the fact that, its introduction does suggest an indifference to electoral promises which I hope is not common in our political history.
§ Nor do I object merely upon the ground that this is a measure for compulsory service. I have always taken the view that the question of compulsory military service is one of expediency and not one of principle; and I never hesitated when the first. Military Service Bill was introduced to give it my support, because it seemed to me it was only fair that when more men were needed there should be some attempt made to distribute and equalise the burden which was assumed with such pathetic eagerness by those men who in the early stages of the war came forward in numbers to place their lives between this country and the foe. I therefore have no objection to the Bill upon that ground.
§ The real objection to the measure is this—that it can only be justified upon the ground of strong and compelling circumstances; and I must say that there was little that I heard from the noble Viscount—except, indeed, the last few sentences in the latter part of his speech—to show that any such strong and compelling circumstances had arisen. For what is this measure? In order to ascertain its scope it is necessary to read it side by side with the Army (Annual) Bill which will be before your Lordships' consideration later, and you find that this is a Bill that places in the hands, not of His Majesty's Government, not in the power of the Crown, but in that of a "competent authority"— 182 head, it may be, of the War Office, or of the Navy, or of the Air Service—to direct that men shall be compelled to remain with the Colours up to a total limit of 2,650,000; and all we know is that it has been suggested that the total number who will be required for the Army will be 900,000, while for the other Services I do not think the numbers have been specified.
§ I suggest that in order to justify such a proposal it is necessary, in far greater elaboration and detail than the noble Viscount has given us, to show for what purpose these forces are required, and why it is that some other provision than this extraordinary and extensive provision is not made at the present time. I know it is said, "We are still at war, and you must treat everything exactly as though the war were still on foot." That argument does not appeal to me. It is perfectly true that technically we are at war; but does anybody doubt that if the terms of peace were signed to-morrow the position would remain absolutely unchanged? Is there anything that would be altered in our naval or in our military or in our air preparations by the mere fact that peace was signed? The German ships are in our harbours; the German guns are in our country towns; the German aeroplanes are in our parks. Since November 11 I have seen no reference to one act of hostility between the Forces. There has been no shot fired and no group of men gathered in menace and danger for the last five months. For all practical purposes the war ended on November 11; although I agree that it is easy to say that no war ends until the terms of peace have been signed.
§ This Bill proceeds upon the footing, not only that the last five months may be ignored, but that when peace has been declared some great and unusual emergency will demand the presence and occupation of a vast body of troops—put at the limit by the Secretary of State for War of 900,000 men—for the purpose of safeguarding our interests at home and abroad. What I think the noble Viscount ought to have shown us was for what purpose are they to be used. We have had some information upon this matter given to us by the Secretary of State himself. In the first place, he said that none of these men were to be used for Russia—183
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Let me read what he said—There is not the slightest truth…that we want this Bill for conscription for keeping 900,000 men with the Colours because of Russia…If there was not a single British soldier in Russia, or if it was possible by a gesture to withdraw every single British soldier from Russia, or if there were no such place as Russia, I should still be standing here introducing this Bill…Russia has nothing whatever to do with this Bill, and this Bill has nothing whatever to do with Russia.It seems to me perfectly impossible to use language more plain and emphatic than this. That there is a force in Russia which will be subject to this Bill, if it is not removed before the termination of hostilities. I agree. But that is a comparatively small and unimportant matter.
I want to point out, as far as the position in Russia is concerned, that the Secretary of State for War has done his best to satisfy us that the condition of Russia has nothing whatever to do with the need for the introduction of this Bill. Is it then the necessity for garrisoning the vast number of places abroad which we have under our control? It does not seem to me that it is. The Secretary of State for War said—Our policy is to create with all possible speed a volunteer army for the garrisons of our Empire. No one has ever dreamed of using conscription for such a purpose. No one has ever dreamed of taking men by conscription of the ballot and sending them off to distant tropical stations in all parts of the world for long periods of foreign garrison duty.Then what is it that is at the back of the Bill? As far as I can understand it was disclosed by a statement—not made by the noble Viscount, who, possibly knowing how tiresome and fatiguing figures are, did not give us all the figures upon this point—but as far as I can understand the original need for this Bill was to support an Army on the Rhine which, when this Bill was introduced, was fixed at a figure of 420,000 men, and still remains, I think, at a figure of about 340,000.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
May I correct that statement? The 264,000 includes the men on the lines of communication and the Army of the Rhine. The 120,000 are not technically on the lines of communication, but are engaged in salvage work in France and Belgium.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble Viscount will forgive me if I say that, though I accept that absolutely as the present view, when this matter was formerly discussed that was not the view put forward. According to my recollection, the 120,000 men were on the lines of communication. At any rate you have an Army which amounts to something like 420,000 men in France, and the idea and purpose of it are these. The men are required because, when terms of peace have been arranged, they are to be there to form a part of a vast Army of Occupation for the purpose of enforcing those terms. The thing that struck me when I heard this—and I have never yet heard an explanation of the objection which rose at once to my mind—was this. Why was it that, when this Bill was introduced and in all the discussions that have taken place upon it from first to last, I have never found any reference to our Navy? Why cannot our Navy help us to secure and obtain the enforcement of the terms of peace? Our battleships could occupy the German ports in twenty-four hours; they could re-impose the blockade at a moment's notice, and could bring a pressure to bear upon Germany (if it were needed) far more terrible, far more intense, than you could enforce by a large Army of Occupation on their frontiers.
But if, indeed, this Army is required for that purpose, is there anybody who thinks for a moment that the term of twelve months which the Bill creates is the term during which the necessity will exist? The terms of peace are not going to be concluded in twelve months. Whatever will happen when terms of peace are declared will exist twelve months after, and so far as I can see for further periods of twelve months after that. So far as this Bill depends for its necessity upon our providing an Army of Occupation to secure the enforcement of the terms of peace, I myself have been wholly unsatisfied that any such necessity has ever been made out; and I must say when you realise that included in this Bill there is provision for an Air Force which is to be supplied at a cost of £67,000,000—more than the Navy cost before the war—and that that is further to be protected by the expenditure of £140,000,000 upon the Navy, making a total expenditure upon the Army, Navy, and Air Force for the ensuing twelve months of a sum which not only greatly exceeds the total amount of income avail 185 able in this country before the war for all purposes, but is within a measurable distance of the total National Debt at that moment—it is not surprising that people are anxious to receive some greater and better satisfaction as to the urgent need in the nation's interest, not for a Bill, but for this Bill, which provides on the face of it power to secure a standing force of 2,650,000 men.
My Lords, I find myself quite unable to accept the view that any such necessity has been made out. I have no doubt that it will be said that if the need is not there the power will not be used. Still at the moment we know it is contemplated that the power should be used to the extent of 900,000 men, and I should like to know what security there is that it will not be used for any further purpose. The competent military authority, in whose hands alone under this Bill there rests the power of determining what Army is to be created, is a man of great capacity, a man of most restless and versatile energy and unconquerable will, and of the most vivid and most illimitable and elusive vision of any politician of recent time. It is into his hands that you commit the control of this vast measure; and if we are to be told, as it is possible we may be, that we have overlooked the fact that the War Cabinet or some other Government body will have the final word, I can only say, in answer, that we have seen the inefficiency of that control hitherto, and we have found already, when dealing with a matter only second in importance to this measure—namely, the matter of finance—that that control is nothing but a sham. It is not surprising, therefore, that we feel a little uneasy when we not only see this Bill departing from old well-established form and precedent in the manner in which the power is created, but when we find the Bill giving such vast authority into the hands of people defined under the pleasant phrase of "competent authority."
I could not help being struck by something which the noble Viscount said at the end of his speech about the inability to raise an Army by voluntary methods. If a sufficient force cannot be raised upon a voluntary basis, it is plain that this nation must be supported by other means. But does the noble Viscount realise what it means, that of your vast Army of 900,000 men you are only going to have a mere handful who are serving willingly? My 186 Lords, we entered this war with a great purpose. The purpose was to substitute justice for violence, and to give to all the troubled nations of the world something in the nature of a permanent peace. That permanent peace cannot be made merely by the numbers of the men that you include in these measures. It can only be established and made secure by the fairness and justice of the terms themselves. Nothing else can guarantee the future safety and security of Europe.
I have never pretended to friendly feelings for the present Government. I have not attempted to assume approval that I did not feel. I think that this Government were returned to power in an hour when England had lost her reason, and I believe that their action has gone a long way to weaken the one thing in which we must have faith if we are to be able to survive the troubles which lie ahead—I mean the soundness of our Parliamentary institution. In the introduction of this Bill the Government, I am certain, do not conceal from themselves that they are acting in a way that causes immense dissatisfaction and discontent in the country. It is of no use promising that the Bill will not endure. It was promised in the first instance that it should not be introduced. And the Bill is, as your Lordships know, a Bill which runs counter to the fixed and firm traditions of this country, which has always been opposed, in all the changing scenes of its political history, to the constitution of a vast standing Army, and those traditions date back centuries to the time when England first set the seal of her dominion on the sea.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I had not contemplated taking part in this debate, but the manner and tone in which the noble and learned Lord opposite has addressed your Lordships seem to me to suggest and almost to compel some reply from this Bench. I own that when the noble and learned Lord addresses us I sometimes feel as if the Judge was seated upon the Bench, and a number of cowering criminals were awaiting at his hands the sentence of doom. It does not need the majesty of the Law Courts or the impressive paraphernalia of the Bench to enable the noble and learned Lord to produce that impression. The severity of his accents, the moral fervour of his tone, can always be implicitly counted upon, 187 and are not wanting this afternoon in one of the least effective eases in which they have ever been employed. I do not believe that the case which the noble and learned Lord has endeavoured to make this afternoon found any responsible echo in any quarter of your Lordships' House. I believe he was speaking for a small and insignificant minority, consisting of little more than himself; and, great as is the weight which we attach to anything coming from him, I find my withers entirely unwrung by anything which he has said.
What is the substance of what the noble and learned Lord has said? We had from my noble friend behind me a singularly clear and business-like exposition of this Bill, and, I think, a quite adequate statement of the reasons for which it is required. The noble Viscount ended up his remarks by saying that this Army was to be maintained for the objects and in the manner described, in order to reap the harvest which has been sown at such a sacrifice of blood and tears. That is a general statement which we all know to be true, and I should have thought that it would be unnecessary to analyse it; but the noble and learned Lord is not satisfied, and in the remarks to which we have just listened he said that no necessity had been made out to his satisfaction. "For what purpose," he asks, "are these forces needed? What are the strong and compelling conditions which cause this Army to be required? "I wonder if in a few sentences I can satisfy him. It is easy to say that an Army of 900,000 men—amounting almost to a million—is a great and prodigious force, and that small islands like these, even with our world-wide Empire, cannot at the termination of the war require the continuance of any such armed strength. I think that when the noble and learned Lord said that the war ended on November 11 last he spoke in terms of confidence which I, at any rate, would hesitate to employ.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am not dealing with the mere technical question of whether the conclusion of an Armistice was tantamount to the cessation of the war. Technically speaking, we are at war now; practically speaking, we are not. But is the noble and learned Lord so sure that the war ended on November 11 last? Is he so sure that conditions of war may not be revived? I am not, my Lords.
188 If I look to the future of Europe I see clouds hanging over the horizon. I see clouds that might at any moment burst upon us in a form not essentially dissimilar from that which we have seen and suffered during the last five years. And to tell me that no justification for the maintenance of this Force can be found because the war is at an end and is not likely to be resumed, is to tell me something which, from what I know, I am unable to believe.
But putting that on one side and assuming that my criticism on the point is ill-founded or pessimistic, let us see exactly to what purposes this Army of 900,000 men is to be devoted. Some of the figures were given by the noble Viscount who sits behind me. For instance, there is the Army of the Rhine—264,000 in number. Does anybody in this House seriously contend that that Army is not required? Would anybody here propose to withdraw a single regiment, a single platoon, of that Army, which is your only guarantee, absolutely your only guarantee, for getting your terms?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble and learned Lord says, "What about the Fleet?" There are a great many parts of Europe not accessible to His Majesty's Navy. I am under the impression that it was Shakespeare who once thought that Bohemia had a seaport, but I hope the noble and learned Lord does not share that geographical illusion. There are, at any rate, a good many parts of the world, where trouble is likely to occur during the next few months, which are not accessible to His Majesty's Fleet.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
If the noble and learned Lord thinks that trouble is likely to break out in Germany and that it can be composed by the entrance of His Majesty's Fleet into the ports of the Baltic and the Northern Ocean, without an Army of Occupation, he holds a view which will be shared by no military or naval critic. The Navy would not suffice. But how unreal the point is. You are objecting to service. Apparently, however, the noble and learned Lord is willing that 189 the sailor should be called upon to continue his service in order to enforce terms upon Germany, but, merely because a man has the misfortune to be a soldier, and a conscribed soldier, he is to be free from bearing his share in the national effort. I have stated the strength of the Army on the Rhine. I, at any rate, would not be responsible for diminishing it by a single man.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Then there is the garrison of this country—176,000 in number. There is the Salvage Corps in France, the numbers of which were given by my noble friend—namely, 120,000—engaged in collecting, for the purposes of disposal and business-like sale, all the immense amount of stock that has been accumulated in that country. There are also the garrisons of India and Aden. The: noble and learned Lord seems to think that we could dispense with the 70,000 or 80,000 British soldiers who have been kept there hitherto and who are required to be kept now in those countries. There are the garrisons in the Middle East, in the Caucasus, in Syria, and in Palestine.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am glad to hear the noble Earl mention Mesopotamia. As every noble Lord knows, Mesopotamia has been recovered from the Turks and conquered, and is now being administered and restored to a prosperity such as it has not known for centuries by the fostering hand of British officers and the British Army. Among the decisions of the Peace Conference there is none which I regret more than one which was reported the other day, to send a roving Commission to the Eastern parts of the world in order to compose the rival ambitions of different States and Powers in the Middle East. That Commission will, to my mind, be more disposed to unsettle than to settle, and, observing the effect it will have until it has reported—which, viewing the immense range of country that it has to cover, is not likely to be for many months—it is essential to maintain our garrisons. We cannot, at a moment like this, strip Mesopotamia of its garrison. We cannot, leave Palestine Syria— 190 the fate of which is still undecided—without the Force that conquered them and now holds them, and it is absolutely certain that for the next year all the Forces that are now there will have to be maintained intact. There are at the present moment 30,000 troops in Mesopotamia, and, in the conditions which I have described, it would be quite impossible to reduce the number. So much for the Middle East. There is the garrison of Ireland. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord would like to withdraw it. If he will propose to His Majesty's Government a policy which will enable us to withdraw the 40,000 troops in Ireland and successfully to administer that country, he will confer upon us the greatest favour that even he has ever rendered to public life.
There is a small force in Northern Russia. The numbers were given by my noble friend as 20,000. We hope to withdraw them. We shall withdraw them at the earliest opportunity. There is still a force of 10,000 in Italy, and that also will be withdrawn. If you add together the whole of the figures which I have given to your Lordships, the total is 860,000 men, and from this you have to deduct 268,000 who are really non-combatants, because they are employed on dispersal centres, transport, care of remounts, etc. So that really for the purposes of keeping the Empire safe and holding what we have taken after the war, and what we are bound, at any rate for the time being, to hold in order to secure the adequate fulfilment of the provisions of the Peace Treaty when that is concluded, we are retaining an Army that does not exceed 650,000 men.
The noble and learned Lord went on to say that, whether the numbers be great or small, he has no confidence in us. And why? Because there is a certain statesman of illimitable powers, of enormous capacity, and almost incomprehensible resources of danger at the War Office; and really in describing the Secretary of State for War the noble and learned Lord employed, and almost exhausted, a vocabulary not less fertile than that of his victim. Apparently the danger consists in the fact that there is a Cabinet incapable of keeping Mr. Winston Churchill in order. The noble and learned Lord, with myself, was a member of a Cabinet of which that illustrious statesman was a Member. I cannot recall that he exerted himself particularly in the task of keeping in order 191 this unruly member; but whether that was so or not, I utterly decline to admit that all virtue went out of that Cabinet, and all capacity for administrative or executive authority disappeared from us, when the noble and learned Lord left our midst. I think the Cabinet can look after themselves, and that the noble and learned Lord need not be particularly afraid that they will be led astray by one whom the noble and learned Lord himself was unable to keep in order.
What does the noble and learned Lord really think we are after? Why should it be to the interests of any Party, or Government, or individual, to keep up a conscript Army in this country longer than is required? We all of us know perfectly well the common sentiment against conscription. Most of us share it. I, perhaps, do not feel quite as strongly as most, because I have always been in favour of it. But we know that the feeling generally in this country is against conscription, and would naturally be, particularly after an Election when so many speeches were made, so many undertakings given (which would be expected of any Party or Government) to revert as far as possible to normal pre-war conditions. What is it that prevents us from doing so? The noble and learned Lord thinks there is some maleficent purpose about it. Is it not conceivable that we may have the interests of the country at heart? Is it not just possible that we may feel that only by keeping these men can we reap what the soldiers have won for us? That is the simple fact of the case. And so far from believing that either in the Army or in the country is there any feeling against the position we have been compelled to assume on the matter, I believe on the contrary that if we had acted in any other way we should have been held up to general condemnation.
Pray do not suppose for a moment that there is any particular desire on the part of His Majesty's Government, or any member of it, to send British troops here, there, or anywhere. But I have been struck by this fact. During the past four or five months, since the Armistice was concluded, Europe has been and still remains in a very troubled state. There are many rival ambitions which it is difficult to compose; there are many struggling States whose future is not yet assured; there are many hopes and many 192 promises which still remain to be fulfilled. Believe me, my Lords, that cannot be done without some display of military force; and, surprising as it may be to the noble and learned Lord and some of his friends, it is remarkable that in almost every corner of Europe where these doubts and difficulties occur it is for British troops that the demand is always made.
At the present moment you have a position of affairs in Vienna of a very serious description. Rebellion has broken out in Hungary, and Budapest is at this juncture in the hands of a so-called Bolshevik Government. Vienna, in its apprehension of a similar fate, turns to whom? To us—"If you will only send 10,000 British troops we can guarantee that the situation will be saved. "Why British troops? Because "they are troops we can trust; they have no interest to serve; no territory to seize. They know how to behave." If it is a question of the future of Fiume, disputed between the Italians and the Yugo-Slavs, what is the first request that is made? It is a request to send a battalion of British troops, because then "we are certain nothing wrong will take place." If it is a question of the occupation of Montenegro, claimed by Serbia, and still in the hands of the Peace Conference, what is the first suggestion that is made? A request comes to the British Government to occupy Montenegro as "in your hands we are safe." These are casual illustrations that come to my mind as I am speaking, and I could give out of the history of the last four or five months numbers of occasions on which this has occurred.
I do not say that we respond to these invitations with avidity. We are often unable to do so, but, believe me, the ability to respond to them when the occasion is proved is a source of moral strength to ourselves, and it is a guarantee of the peace of the world that you desire to re-establish. I apologise for having intervened in this debate, but I hope in the few words I have used I have given your Lordships reason to think that there is substantial justification for the particular increase of men asked for by His Majesty's Government; and I believe that if this debate were read, as so few of our debates are, outside, the general sense of the public would be not with the noble and learned Lord but with the noble Viscount who has introduced this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I have listened with attention to the speech of the noble Earl, and I am bound to say that if some of the arguments he has used were the only arguments for this Bill my sympathies would be entirely with my noble and learned friend, with whom, on some points. I ant compelled to differ. The argument of the noble Earl was based upon the great value of the British Army, as we have it, not for any purposes which definitely came to an end with the conclusion of the peace terms, or the maintenance of the peace terms when they were attained. He held out a vista of flings that might happen, and happen without limit in point of time, for which we should have to maintain an Army such as we have at the present time. If that had been the object of this Bill I should have held a different attitude towards it from what I do now. I am in favour of this Bill because of its time limit—a year hence. I think everything ought to be accomplished within that period, and if it is not we may have a great deal to say when the time comes. In the view of the noble Earl there was no time limit fixed.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am most loth to interrupt. Surely the whole of my argument was directed to prove the necessities which exist now, and are likely to exist for the next twelve months.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
And for a great deal longer. The noble Earl pointed out all sorts of trouble which might arise in the Near, and even in the Far, East. We were to be the guarantors of the world. I have protested ever since I have been in Parliament against the opinion that we were to be called upon to keep up an immense naval force and an immense military force, for the simple reason that we cannot do it. For that reason I was against the noble Earl in his campaign for compulsory service and his advocacy of Lord Roberts's Rill. I considered that the voluntary system, with the splendid quality of troops it gave us—you saw it in the Expeditionary Force, and you could not have got them from any compulsory short service—that this small efficient Army, with our Navy, was the weapon of this country. The sort of Army we have now is not the one I look upon with any favour. But although that is so, and although I agree with the noble Earl in his general conclusion, there is yet another point on which I think he said 194 something which he might have said more convincingly, at least to my mind. Why is it that we cannot rely upon sea-power to bring this war to an end? I have another reason which is not that of the noble Earl opposite, nor does it let me agree with my noble and learned friend. The instrument and the only effective instrument of sea-power is the blockade. Until we get rid of the blockade I, for my part, see little chance of things settling down in Russia and Germany. If you can feed the people—if, in other words, you can relax the blockade—and restore them to normal conditions, then only it appears to me can there be a reasonable probability of the disturbances in Government which are now taking place coming to an end. To overcome Bolshevism you must make it possible for the lot of the people to be improved.
Why do I agree with this Bill? I agree with it—and I agree very emphatically with it—because I think that it is absolutely necessary. The terms of peace, after all, are at present nothing more than the Armistice which has been obtained by force of arms. The terms of peace are not yet agreed. I think that they will be agreed, but nothing can so make them likely not to be agreed to as the absence of military force. We got the Armistice by force of arms, and I do not like to contemplate what would be the attitude of the Central Powers, which are watching us with the closest attention, if they saw a failure of this measure and the disappearance of our Army. It. is for that reason—because I think this Bill is a necessity—that I support it. About its technical details I do not think there is much to be said. The competent authority in this case is the Army Council, and you must leave it to that body which is cord rolled by the Minister who is responsible to Parliament. Parliament itself in the ultimate result has the power.
What is important is that you have a prospect under this Bill of keeping up the Army. It was suggested—I do not think that it was very strongly suggested—by my noble and learned friend that you could keep up this Army without compulsory service. I believe that to be a wholly and totally mistaken idea. If this Bill does not become an Act the Army that you have got will very quickly disappear. It is a common delusion to think that if men are given sufficient inducements 195 they will re-enlist. I have had bitter experience of that. Before 1906 there were those who held that view, and they passed an Act altering the terms of military service under which the soldier was to enlist only for three years with the Colours, and to be able to re-engage for as much of the remaining nine years as might be required. We had to pay the most extravagant terms to get even a sufficiency of men to reengage; the state of things was appalling. There were in those days 156 Battalions of the line. They had shrunk down, some of them, to a very low figure indeed—500 and 600 men. It was my painful duty to reduce eight of those Battalions because it was simply a farce trying to keep up more than 148. We could not from voluntary service and even with this bounty keep up a strength of 148 Battalions. I remember well Sir Charles Douglas, one of the most competent men of business the War Office contained, saying to me, "I cannot, whatever means are put into my power, raise another Division, and I cannot keep 148 Battalions up to strength. You cannot do it on a voluntary system only, because you have a certain very limited stream, and immediately after war that stream shrinks down until it becomes little more than a trickle."
I have no doubt at all from the experience of those days that unless the present terms of compulsory service are kept you will find your Army disappear. Suppose that all you wanted was the Army of the Rhine—roughly a quarter of a million men. You have not the smallest chance of obtaining anything approaching that under any system of voluntary recruiting. I listened to the terms which the noble Viscount opposite detailed to us. Those are the terms upon which the War Office is endeavouring to re-engage men. They are promises which make the mouths water of those who were accustomed to the old condition of things. We should have treated them in those days as utterly extravagant terms, and they are certainly terms which the nation would not listen to except under the greatest stress. Yet what have they succeeded in getting? 70,000 troops and 6,000 men engaged in armaments. Unless therefore this Bill passes the Army will melt away. I have no doubt at all about that.
If that is so, we come back to this question, whether the Army is necessary. To my mind the peace terms—the terms of the Armistice and the peace negotiations 196 as they are going on now—make it necessary that there should be an Army of something like this strength. I should be apprehensive of a change of attitude on the part of the Powers with whom we are negotiating if, in the making of peace, we did not have this Army. Those Powers have to submit to the Armistice terms which were the result of victory of the Armies of General Foch and Sir Douglas Haig. Under these circumstances, and speaking for myself, I am quite unable to take the risk of contributing to anything which would make it likely that those Armies would disappear. Therefore I am glad that my noble and learned friend, who acts wisely in these matters, is not pursuing his Motion to a Division. For the rest, I entirely agree in the criticism which be made of the circumstances under which the Bill comes to us. It was surely within the capability of men of good sense to see, when the Armistice terms were arranged and a General Election was taking place, that if those Armistice terms were to be translated into peace terms a considerable time must be taken up. The consideration of the peace terms, it must have been known, would take a good while, and that in the meantime an Army of maintenance would be required. The Government also must have known that what was necessary would involve compulsion. They knew, too, that their negotiations were likely to take some considerable time. One knows something of the attitude of the people of this country towards compulsion in normal times, and I think that the Government would have been wise to have said a little more than the one sentence which the noble Viscount was able to produce as some warning of what might have to be done.
The whole of the trouble we have had arises through the people having been led to expect that compulsion was at end. They have been led to expect something which could not be brought about. War is a tremendous and a serious thing, and it brings consequences in its train that you cannot conceive. It would have been infinitely better, and it would have been right and practicable, to have said that this Bill was a Bill which must be looked forward to at least as probable; and because that has not been said we have got all this trouble. But that is no reason for objecting to the Bill. I myself think the Bill a military necessity, and for that reason, if there were a Division, I should vote for it.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I have but little to add to what has been stated in the course of the debate. The noble Earl who leads the House spoke of the small following which my noble and learned friend behind me is likely to possess or to claim upon such a question as this. That statement is in one sense accurate, but not, I think, in all senses. It is quite possible that in dwelling on the particular point on which he laid emphasis—namely, what he conceived to be the extravagant number of men asked for in this Bill, and still more in the Army (Annual) Bill which is to follow (the vast number of 2,600,000 men)—my noble and learned friend may not attract great sympathy in this House, or indeed; in some respects, in the country. But on the general question which was alluded to by the noble and learned Viscount who last sat down—namely, that of the extreme disturbance of mind produced in the country by the continuance of the system of conscription for a period considerably beyond that which they believed and were led to expect—I venture to think that my noble friend has a very large following, if not in this House, at any rate in the country.
It is worth while for those who study this question to look back at what happened at the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916, when compulsory service first became necessary and the necessity was pressed in Parliament. Some noble Lords will, I am sure, recall the extreme difficulty which the Coalition Government of that day found in placing the matter before the country and in working their measure through Parliament. At one time it was touch and go whether the whole Labour Party of that time, including many of those who were most staunch all through the war in supporting the national cause and in recognising the necessity of complete and ultimate victory, would not finally decline to admit the necessity for introducing compulsory service. There are certain principles ingrained in the British people against which it is useless to argue, which in their expression may sometimes appear exaggerated, or even unreasonable, but which, when they are contravened, demand the closest and most delicate care by those statesmen who have to undertake the task. Of such is the ingrained dread of priestcraft which for so many years prevented statesmen of all parties from mitigating the terms of the Coronation Declaration made by the 198 Sovereign and so offensive to many of his loyal subjects. Of such also is the ingrained mistrust of the system of compulsory service in this country, dating, as the noble and learned Viscount behind me stated, from the historical dread entertained through so many centuries of the existence of a standing Army here. And it is that dread which has been at the bottom of the opposition to this Bill, which, though apparently so feeble in both Houses of Parliament, yet exists, as I am certain the Government will recognise, in no small degree throughout the country.
I was interested to notice, when the noble Earl who leads the House observed, "Who would suppose that the Government could be suspected of being likely to persevere with a system of conscription in peace time, for it was well known that no Government would dream of proposing such a thing?" that the noble Earl's observation did not raise a single cheer in any quarter of the House. I think that if your Lordships' House was full, and a vote was taken, it would probably be found that a very large majority of your Lordships would be in favour of some system of conscription. How a vote in another place would go I have no means of knowing, but I cannot follow the noble Earl the Leader of the House in dismissing this fear as one which is entertained without any reason by the Labour Party and by a great mass of people throughout the country, simply because, to the best of my belief, there is a powerful element in the country who would be glad to see a system, not of military training, but of compulsory service forming part of our ordinary law.
My noble and learned friend considers that the provision to be made by this Bill far exceeds the necessities of the case. He did not dwell on the tremendous figure of cost which has to be regretfully faced, nor did he dwell on the not less serious element of the abstraction from labour of so vast a number of able-bodied men, many of them skilled men, at a time when every ounce of labour is needed for the reconstruction of our industrial system. But my noble and learned friend laid stress on the neglect, as he considered it, to utilise our sea power sufficiently for the present necessities. It may be that, as the noble and learned Viscount (Lord Haldane) said, it would be difficult at this moment to apply our sea power to put 199 necessary pressure upon Germany on the ground—as I think he desired to state—that it was too formidable a weapon, working through the blockade, to apply at this moment. But I confess that I have never understood, and I have never heard an explanation given, why in the early days of the Armistice more use was not made of the Fleet and less of the Army.
Why, at the early moments on the conclusion of the Armistice, when it was necessary to put severe pressure upon Germany and the blockade was being actually maintained in its utmost rigour—why at that time it was considered necessary to send so large a contingent of troops to the Rhine and not to use the Fleet at the German ports, is a matter which I have never understood. I think the omission to do this is regrettable for this reason, that sending so large a force to the German frontier and beyond seemed to imply a lasting obligation on our part to take an equal share with the Continental Powers—our Allies—in maintaining order on the Continent of Europe. I ask, For how long is that obligation upon us to be presumed to last? It is, of course, an entirely new obligation due to the fact that, by the paramount necessities of the case, we were compelled to put every man in that we possibly could, and to play, so far as our population and the necessary needs of war industries permitted, an equal part on the Continent of Europe with our Allies and with the United States. The country was proud, of course, to undertake that duty because it was necessary for Europe to be free. But we are entitled to ask now, For how long is that obligation to be presumed to rest upon us?
It is thoroughly germane to the present Bill to ask that question; because I am convinced that the mistrust with which this measure is looked upon in many quarters is largely based on the belief that it cannot be regarded as a final measure. The noble Earl who leads the House informed us that he had based all his arguments on the foundation of this necessity ceasing by April 30 next year. The final discharge of the men, if I remember rightly, is three months later—in July, 1920. A great many people doubt whether that expectation is likely to be fulfilled; and if it is not going to be fulfilled, or likely not to be fulfilled, they would greatly prefer to be told so now, and not to 200 be told in the early part of next year that the "fruits of victory"—which appears to be the fashionable phrase—have still to be garnered in, and that a year or two years more may be required for the purposes of that harvest, with the concomitant necessity of maintaining a compulsorily raised Army
There is a feeling—and His Majesty's Government ought to recognise it—that the truth about the situation and the probabilities of time future has been doled out in somewhat too small doses, not merely during the General Election, but habitually; and the country would greatly prefer to be told what the worst possibilities of the case may be presumed to be rather than to be gratified with the most sanguine expectations which His Majesty's advisers are able to entertain at the present moment. That is one matter which I think disturbs the public mind at this moment—namely, the probability, as people suppose it, that even this is not really likely to be the conclusion of compulsory service. It is also felt, as I believe, that the longer you continue your compulsory system the worse your chances of returning to a simple system of voluntary enlistment.
May it not be that, if during the next twelve months your Army is largely composed of men who would greatly prefer to leave it if they could, recruiting will tend to go back rather than to go forward? As those men become demobilised they will be surely the precise opposite to good recruiting sergeants. May they not at any rate tend to discourage enlistment generally? It may be that it is altogether impossible now to provide the necessary force by voluntary enlistment. I agree that this very possibly is so. I am not quite certain that if at the moment of the Armistice an appeal had been made for a year's more service you might not have secured an adequate force without the necessity of continuing compulsion. That is one of the things which obviously can never be proved either way. But I ant sorry that the attempt was not made straight off instead of being deferred, as I think it was, for something like three months, when the chances obviously were becoming less.
I have nothing to say about the disposition of the forces, except this, that when the noble Earl who leads the House mentioned the necessity of still keeping a force in Mesopotamia, to which he obviously 201 obtained the agreement of all your Lordships, I am sorry he did not mention that a very large proportion of the forces occupying Mesopotamia were. Indian troops, instead of giving, as he did, the impression that the force was entirely British. That is, of course, merely by the way.
In conclusion, I agree with the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down in supposing that my noble and learned friend will not desire to divide the House on this occasion. It is clear that an attempt to reject a measure of this kind, whether successful or unsuccessful—and of course in this case it would be unsuccessful—would be likely to be misinterpreted outside the House. Therefore I could not advise my noble and learned friend so to act. His design in placing this Motion on the Paper was, no doubt, to make it quite clear that he does protest strongly against the main provisions of the Bill, and in so protesting I have no doubt that he represents a larger body of opinion outside than would appear here if he were to divide the House upon it.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I think the Government are to be congratulated on having observed a principle both in this Bill and in the Army Estimates which hitherto has been more honoured in the breach chat in the observance. I refer to the principle that your military strength and organisation should be based not upon a certain form of enlistment, or upon what, sum of money is provided, but upon the necessities of the case. Before the war we had an Expeditionary Force of 160,000 men. Nobody knew why that number was chosen. We had a Territorial Army of fourteen Divisions, nobody knew why. It might just as well have been thirteen or fifteen. One reason was that with a certain sum of money provided and a certain form of enlistment called the voluntary system, those were the maximum numbers that we could expect to maintain. Nobody admitted that truth, because it was really the fact that the Army was to all intents and purposes, I won't say little better than a sham, hut entirely inadequate for the purposes of War.
The noble and learned Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill said something about conscription—about the immense unpopularity of conscription in this form or of compulsory service in any form which 202 I think is perfectly true. But it does not follow that, because a thing is unpopular, it is necessarily unnecessary. He appears to regard it with almost superstitious hatred as a kind of device of the Evil One, used by Germany in the present war for her own nefarious purposes. As a matter of fact, conscription is nothing of the kind. It is a form of service absolutely inevitable under modern world conditions. So long as there is the slightest chance of war, nations will put into the field the whole of their able-bodied manhood, and if they will do that you cannot prevent, them taking the precaution of training that manhood in time of peace.
The noble and learned Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill is at least to be congratulated upon having improved on the arguments used in another place, in that he based his objection on the international situation and not merely on a general objection to conscription as such. I was very interested to hear the noble and learned Lord's objections on that ground, because we should all like to know a little more about the international situation, and he omitted to tell us anything about it. I think a good many of us have been trying to find out what the international situation is, and we know nothing, and as far as I can make out the Government know very little about it. It is possible that the European statesmen settling the affairs of the world in Paris know something, but if so, our diplomacy has not become sufficiently open to let us know what is going on. If the noble and learned Lord had told us that the number of 900,000 which we proposed to keep up was altogether too great in order to deal with the situation, and if he had described exactly what the situation was, and what he thought the dangers were, his argument would have been a good deal more convincing; but as a matter of fact we. do not know anything about these dangers, and if we did the only people who could possibly know what was necessary to provide against them are the expert advisers of the Government.
The noble and learned Lord was evidently prepared to see our present Army fall to pieces altogether on a given date a few weeks or months hence. He has offered us no alternative whatever. He said the number of 900,000 was too great. Perhaps he will inform us how many men we do want. If ten divisions on the Rhine are too many, how many divisions do we 203 want? Nor has he told us that voluntary service will provide a sufficient number of divisions. He has told us that in order to justify such a measure as this you must have very strong and compelling reasons. The noble Earl, the Leader of the House, has given us what, I think, will be generally agreed as being very strong and compelling reasons. But there is one point which the noble and learned Lord has ignored altogether. He has ignored what will happen if Germany refuses to sign the peace terms. He apparently thinks that the Navy can compel Germany to observe the peace terms and to pay indemnities but as the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, has shown us, it is impossible for our battleships to steam up the Rhine, and we have certain obligations to our Allies which the noble and learned Lord appears to ignore.
I confess I am very surprised that the noble and learned Lord should have used this argument, because it is always surprising to find that those who are always most fervent in the cause of humanity, and who regard anything in the nature of oppression and repression with horror, advocate means of bringing Germany to terms which are peculiarly abhorrent, for the first effect of a blockade is always felt by the women and children of the country upon which it is imposed. Of course, it is always possible to impose terms by a blockade provided you can depend upon getting an ordinary stable Government in Germany. But you cannot. It is quite possible that the Government of Germany may become Bolshevik—we heard only yesterday that the Government of Bavaria had become Bolshevik—and in that case she will do exactly as Russia has done. The Government and Government troops will commandeer all the foodstuffs and the rest of the country will be starved, and your blockade will have no effect whatever on the Government. There is one other point which the noble and learned Lord made. He said, "You do not want these numbers to garrison your Empire." I was very surprised by this argument also, because I should have thought—
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I admit you do not want these numbers to garrison the Empire. But I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord should apparently not have contemplated our 204 obligations to the various smaller nations of the world, especially the Armenians. Although these Forces are not required to garrison our Empire they are required to garrison distant parts of the earth, and there are various subject races in Syria, Armenia, and Mesopotamia, which are entirely dependent on the garrisons of those countries. The noble and learned Lord used certain arguments which were used in another place by Labour Members. He said that this measure was absolutely out of touch with modern democratic sentiment. That was said in another place. It was pointed out that it was an anachronism in view of the new era we had all been promised and that it was inconsistent with such ideas as that of the League of Nations. I have not been able to discover what connection there is, under present conditions, between this idea of the League of Nations and reduced armaments. It appears to me that if you are to establish the League of Nations you want much larger armies than you have ever had before. That is generally admitted.
I think it is conceded by everybody—we are really not on controversial ground on this matter—that no settlement of Europe is possible as long as there is the blood-stained Government in Russia, which is nothing but a blot on civilisation and a disgrace to humanity. The first thing you have to do, before you can establish the League of Nations, is to make all nations think alike. The only way by which you can bring about this idea at all is by meeting the situation in Russia. But the noble and learned Lord does not contemplate sending a single soldier, whether compulsorily enrolled or voluntarily enrolled, to suppress Lenin and Trotsky. I do not know what method would be employed by those most fervid in advocating these ideals—whether they would try to humour the wild beast or whisper soft nothings in the ears of those who are oppressing the people of Russia. I would also point out to the noble and learned Lord that we have obligations in respect of smaller nations, which have always been regarded as the peculiar property of the Liberal Party, such as Poland, Bohemia and Jugo-Slavia. I do not know how we could protect them unless we sent troops for the purpose.
I have always been somewhat sceptical about this ideal of the League of Nations and the various democratic phrases such 205 as the "self-determination of peoples," "making the world safe for democracy" and so on, not because I do not admire them—in fact, I admire them so intensely that I think they are too grand and too noble and too beautiful—but because I felt fairly certain that those who were most anxious, or at any rate professed to be most anxious, to bring that about were not willing to lit a finger in order to do so. I must say that events have justified that opinion. It seems to me that a good many of those people who advocate these ideals are quite prepared to leave these smaller nations which I have already mentioned, in the middle of a world engulfed in anarchy, between the dangers of Bolshevism on the one side and the danger of [...] on the other. I suppose it is due to that old illusion of which we heard a good deal before the war that "Force is no argument." I should have thought that after the experience of the last five years there would be few people to be found to repeat that phrase.
There is one attitude of mind against which all. reasoning is impossible, and that is the attitude of mind which believes that all these difficulties, all these problems, can be solved, not by military strength, not by showing that you are determined to employ force in order to attain what you are absolutely convinced are the principles of justice and right, but which believes that these principles can be established by phrases and by formulas; and it does seem to me that the opposition to this Bill is primarily the result of that attitude of mind.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, the three noble Lords who have addressed the House from the Front Bench on this [the Opposition] side made something of a grievance that conscription had not been mentioned at the Election by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. It appeared almost as if these noble Lords had felt that they themselves and their Party had backed conscription, an unpopular policy, and that the Coalition had gained votes by objecting to it. That is hardly the case. What I think actually happened at the Election was that the country distrusted the policy of what I may perhaps call the "Wee Frees," the "unrationed" Radicals, because they did not feel that that Party was prepared to reap the fruits of victory. That, as I understand it, is why the country voted 206 for the Coalition. Whether conscription was necessary or not, they voted for the Coalition in order that the victory which we had won in the field should be also won in the Peace Conference. It is obviously quite impossible that you should win that victory in the Peace Conference unless you have an Army and a Fleet behind you with which to carry out your decision.
It has been said, "Why don't you do this with the Navy?" My noble friend who has just sat down dealt with that question to a large extent. I would point out that the Navy failed to win the surrender of the German Fleet until our Armies were beginning to move forward. It was the result. of our victories on land and the strength of the Army moving forward which compelled the Germans to hand over that Fleet, because they knew that if they did not do so they would either find the Armies of the Allies at their ports or the British Fleet waiting outside. Quite obviously if our Armies had not gone forward it is possible the Germans would not have handed over their Fleet, and nobody is mad enought to suggest attacking an armed harbour in order to get out the Fleet which is inside.
The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition remarked that we had undertaken the obligation to maintain law and order on the Continent, and then proceeded to say that this was an entirely new obligation. Several of us—I in my humble way tried before the war to show the noble Marquess that that was not the case, and pointed out that we were responsible, in the same way as other countries, for the maintenance of the neutrality of Belgium. If the noble Marquess now says that he wishes this country no longer to undertake that responsibility, then I can understand the remark that the obligation is a new one. Personally, I thought it an old one, and an obligation that was sealed by treaty. He went on to ask how long this undertaking was to last; "how long shall we be responsible for the maintenance of order"? Surely we are responsible for that undertaking as long as we remain in the Alliance, or as long as we remain a part of the League of Nations. As I understand the League of Nations, it will be a League which will compel the maintenance of law and order throughout the world. It will insist that every member of the League is to find sufficient force to see that order is maintained, and so long as we remain a member of that League so 207 long shall we have the responsibility of finding the necessary force to see that order is maintained.
It may be asked why should we have this Army of 900,000 men, and is there any hope of it being reduced? The noble Duke and also the Leader of the House have already dealt with the point why these 900,000 men are required, and I think no member of this House will question the number as being too great. Several of us would be much more inclined to ask whether it is large enough. Many of us have for some months felt some anxiety in regard to the troops in North Russia, and some of us have also been none too happy in regard to the conditions in Egypt and India. I have a letter from a friend of mine in Trans-Caucasia, which shows only too clearly how inadequate are our forces there for carrying out the policy of law and order, which we have known so long as the Pax Britannica. Is there any hope of this force becoming less? I think unquestionably there is, because as we manage to get law and order established it will require smaller forces to maintain it. It will obviously require less forces in Palestine, Mesopotamia, and on the borders of Persia, and we hope it will require less forces in the Army of the Rhine. And why in the Army of the Rhine? For this reason. Although we shall require an Army to see that the terms of peace are carried out by our enemies, we intend as one of the first items on the peace programme, as I understand it, to see that Germany and our other enemies are compelled to reduce their Army to a figure which we think is adequate, and no more than adequate. At the present Germany has, I believe, the last two or three year classes of troops still mobilised; therefore they have actually a larger Army than in pre-war days. It may be that recently they have demobilised more troops, but I think I am correct in saving that their Army is larger now than before the war began. When we have compelled that Army to be demobilised, and have taken away rifles, and guns, and the other equipment necessary for war, we shall be able to see that our terms are obeyed by Germany without having to keep a large Army to enforce them.
I want to say a few words about this Bill. If the Government had shown more courage I believe they would have found 208 less opposition to the Bill. I do not know whether the noble Viscount has heard this, but if he will make inquiries he will find that it is true. One of the causes which tended to unrest in the military camps in England was the stopping of the recruiting of boys of eighteen years old. I happened to be born on November 11, and were I twenty years younger than I am I should have escaped being conscripted under the Military Service Acts. But my noble friend opposite, who may be a year or two older, might have been called up two or three years ago, against his will, sent to France against his will, compelled to fight in France against his will, and retained there in the Army by this Bill also against his will. I, on the other hand, being a little younger than himself, would escape conscription altogether.
It is said that with the increase of volunteers in the Army and with the smaller numbers we shall require this time next year, it is not worth while calling up boys of eighteen years old. I do not agree with that statement, and I will tell your Lordships why. You can train a lad in four months to become a sufficiently good recruit to join an established battalion. You still have a number of old soldier battalions in France, and it would have been perfectly possible to call up lads of eighteen years, give them a four months' training, and send them to join these battalions. You require, roughly, about 400,000 men in France. It is not a question as between compulsory service and voluntary service. It is merely a question as to what that Army should consist of. Is it to consist of men of thirty years of age skilled in their trades, who would have been of great value if they were released and sent home, and of men who were perhaps the owners of a single business, whose wives have a bard struggle to keep that single business going? Or is it to consist of these eighteen year-old lads, such as we saw in Hyde Park recently, admirably trained and obviously as healthy as boys can be; boys who have benefited enormously by the military training they have received, and who would be withdrawn from the labour market without anything like the same loss which is caused when you keep skilled men in the Army as at present? Quite obviously, from the point of view of the trade of this country, it would have been better to send out these boys of eighteen rather than detain men of an older age in the Army.
209 There is no question that the move would have been popular. It is obviously unfair that a. man, or a lad, because he happens to be of a certain age before a certain date, should be conscripted to the Army, and somebody who is a few days younger should not be conscripted at all. It would have been popular in the Army and outside, because employers of labour and trade unionists would have been glad to see those who had done their bit in France allowed to come back; it would obviously have been popular with wives and families if the older men had been released. I do not, however, propose to move an Amendment in this sense, unless I see some possibility of support from His Majesty's Government. And for two reasons. The first is that you have the power to conscript men under the Military Service Acts at present in force, and all you would do by putting Amendments into this Act would be to continue the power of conscription between the time of the ratification of peace and April 30 next year. In my view that time is going to be extremely short, because personally I am one of those who believe that it will be many months before peace is ratified, and I am very doubtful whether there is much advantage in this Bill. I think that the ratification of peace and the determination of this Bill will be very much the same thing. The second reason is that I do not believe any good purpose can be served by moving an Amendment in this House which is certain, with the Government majority, to be rejected in the other House.
I would like, however, to ask one or two questions. What is meant in Clause 1, line 5, by the "competent authority"? Under the definition the "competent authority" is said to be the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty. The question arises whether they will have the power to delegate their authority to say a junior officer in charge of a detachment, who might thus be able to exercise this power instead of the Army Council or the Head of the Navy. My second question is whether this authority will be exercised in regard to individual men or in regard to classes of men. You may have Major X saving, "Sergeant-Major Brown shall be retained in the Army because he happens to be valuable to me." Or does this clause merely mean that the Army Council shall retain in the Army men who were below the age of thirty-five or thirty-four, or whatever the age is, as the number is reduced.
210 I propose to put clown two Amendments for the next stage of this Bill. I was rather surprised that none of the noble Lords who have spoken rather in opposition to this Bill have drawn attention to these particular points, because I have not the faintest doubt in my own mind that both of them tend towards the unpopularity of voluntary service. The first is this. Your Lordships will observe that in Clause 1 the power to keep men in the Army will not apply to men of the Regular Forces serving on a pre-war attestation, but will apply to Special Reservists and Territorials who are serving on a pre-war attestation. Only the other day the Secretary of State for War made an admirable speech in regard to the Territorial Force. I speak with some feeling on this subject. Under a scheme which was produced by Lord Haldane I happened to have been what I call a double-barrelled man—that is to say, a Regular officer and also a Territorial—so I counted as two in regard to numbers. It happened that I ceased to be a Territorial when the war began, because I thought, quite rightly, that I should probably see very little of the war if I remained a Territorial. The Territorial battalion to which I belonged was sent out to India in September, 1914, and it is there now. It has been there four and a-half years, and it is by no means the only battalion sent out under similar conditions. It is quite obvious that if you are going to make exceptions to this Bill, the Territorial Army and the Special Reserve have every right to be excepted just as has the Regular soldier. I can realise the difficulty of bringing the Territorials home through the Red Sea in the hot weather, and therefore I suggest that we should except from the operation of this clause both men of the Regular and of the Territorial Forces, but that the proper authorities shall have the power to make an Order and lay it. on the Table of both Houses of Parliament, and if they show by that Order that it is necessary to keep these Territorials for a further period abroad, and if neither House objects to that, the Order shall be allowed to have effect, and the Territorials shall be kept abroad for the further period. If the necessity should arise the competent authority will thereby have the power to retain these men, but they will have to show that there is a necessity for so doing. Therefore, instead of having a mere verbal statement, like those which we constantly have, we shall have the matter put upon a 211 proper footing. I hope and believe that I shall get the support of noble Lords in this matter.
There is yet another Amendment which I intend to move. Personally I do not think that voluntary service is either the best or the only way of raising an Army. But I do believe in giving voluntary service every chance. What has tended to prevent recruiting for the post-war Army more than anything else is that the War Office have kept the power to transfer a man from one regiment to another without his consent. Men join their county regiment, and if they are transferred from their Territorial battalion without their consent they are very much annoyed. Sometimes they are transferred backwards and forwards, and they greatly object to that. But they especially object to be transferred from their own county regiment. Of course, when the war was at its height this could not easily be avoided. A certain number of men who went into the Artillery and the Engineers and other services were Class A men, and when we got extremely short of Class A men these men had to be transferred without their consent to Infantry regiments, and they were replaced in their old regiments by men of a lower category but who nevertheless were quite fit to do what was required. Moreover, when some battalions had heavy casualties it became almost impossible to send reinforcements from the same county regiments, and therefore a whole mass of recruits had to be sent to make good the gaps in battalions. At that time such a thing was unavoidable. But that time has passed now, and I think that all transfers from one corps to another without a man's consent should cease.
§ EARL STANHOPE
From the passing of this Bill. Obviously there must be a certain number of transfers, and there may be cases, possibly in India and elsewhere, where a battalion has such a low establishment that it may have to become part of other establishments, or its members put into different regiments. Therefore we may not be able entirely to abolish the power of transfer from one regiment to another, but I think that, as far as it is possible to do so, transfers should cease. In this particular case I am going to propose that both in regard to subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 2 transfers shall 212 cease as from the passing of this Bill. It may be possible that the noble Viscount may require some modification of it, and that, of course, the House will be ready to agree to.
I desire to emphasise that the power to transfer men who are joining the Army voluntarily at this time from the regiment they have chosen to another regiment is doing more to injure recruiting than anything else. I can give your Lordships an illustration. There is a certain body of men which I know, in which a lieutenant-colonel and 240 men have all expressed a desire to go out to British Columbia to take up land. It is obvious that if you had approached those men and had said, "We intend to hold you together and to keep you in one battalion; we do not propose to transfer you to any other battalion without your own consent," a very large number of them would probably have taken on for further service on the Rhine or elsewhere. I am sure the comradeship of the trenches which is still so strong in the regiments now being disbanded would have enabled the Government to get more recruits if they would abolish that system of transfer which at present exists.
I very warmly support this Bill. I am quite convinced that compulsion is necessary; whether this Bill is necessary or not is another matter. It entirely depends on how far you have optimistic views as to the early conclusion of peace. But at any rate I quite understand that His Majesty's Government cannot gamble on peace being long delayed, and that is not a question for any one of us. I therefore fully agree that they are right in bringing forward a Bill of this character.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think perhaps a word ought to be addressed to your Lordships from amongst those with whom I sit before this debate closes. I should first like to congratulate your Lordships upon the speech which has just been delivered by my noble friend, because he brought to the discussion an intimate knowledge of the subject and an attention to details which—although I do not say so by way of criticism—was perhaps absent from some of the speeches even of the eminent members of your Lordships' House who preceded him. I earnestly hope that the Government have taken due note of all that my noble friend 213 has just said. There are many topics there which deserve their most careful consideration.
Turning to the man part of this debate I confess I reecho the advice which was delivered by the Leader of the Opposition to the noble and learned Lord who was to have moved the rejection of this Bill that he should not proceed to a Division. I really think that the noble and learned Lord is almost alone in his opposition to this Bill in your Lordships' House. I do not think, if I may say so respectfully, that he can even reckon the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, as a wholehearted supporter, for I observe that in his speech the noble Marquess did not really sustain the argument of the noble and learned Lord. The noble Marquess no doubt criticised the Bill, but he seemed to recognise that it was inevitable. I go, of course, a great deal further than that, but at any rate that is a considerable concession.
The noble Marquess said that voluntary enlistment might have done if it had been started in proper time, but he recognised that it would not do now. He thought that the Navy might have been effective if we had not had an Army of Occupation at all, but now that we have got an Army of Occupation I presume he recognises, as all other noble Lords do, that the Navy would not be sufficient the refore we are really in the presence of an all but unanimous feeling that His Majesty's Government ought to be supported in this Bill.
The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition recorded—I do not know whether with satisfaction or not—the phenomenon which he said he had observed that it was no good arguing with the people of this country about conscription. I am not going to advocate conscription as a permanent policy; it is a matter which requires very great consideration. But I do not agree with the noble Marquess that you must despair of convincing the people of this country of anything which is really for the public good. That is not the way to approach them. Whatever is necessary for the safety and honour of our country we must attempt to convince them of it, and it is but a futile method of public life to enter upon a controversy of that kind by saying that it is no good to argue with the people about it.
I must admit that I think this Bill would have had an easier passage but for certain 214 indiscretions which were committed during the General Election. I do not want to press too far the quotations which have been made, but undoubtedly for some reason or other those who were responsible for the management of that Election front the point of view of the Coalition seemed rather to have lost their nerve at a particular point in the Election and begun to pledge themselves to all sorts of things which I think now they probably rather regret. The truth was that the country was overwhelmingly in favour of the Coalition, and for the reason which has been stated by one of my noble friends to-night: they wanted a Government which could not only win the war but which could conclude a favourable peace, and they were determined to be united behind that Government. And all that the Cabinet had to do was to stand forward and offer to make a favourable peace, and no pledges of any kind were necessary and if they had made no pledges, or hinted at no pledges—because it did not really amount to a pledge; it would not be fair to the Government to say that they were pledged against Conscription—they would have been on far stronger ground now.
I believe that this Bill is absolutely necessary for the reasons which were stated by the noble Viscount the Under-Secretary of State at the beginning of this debate and by the noble Earl who leads the House. But I should be glad, I admit, that any possible mitigation of its hardships could be favourably considered. It is from that point of view that I specially recommend to the consideration of the Government the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down. These grievances which are felt, and felt acutely, by the Territorial Force, ought to be met if they can be met. I do not pronounce any definite opinion until we have had the opportunity of seeing my noble friend's Amendment and discussing it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was anxious that the noble Viscount should know how much we felt in these matters. And let me say that he knows quite well—because we have already bad the opportunity of debating it in this House—how deeply all your Lordships feel the hard case of the Territorial troops in India. I might incidentally mention that India is not the only place where these hard cases occur. 215 I should very much like, if the noble Viscount replies, that he should tell us, if he can, something about the troops in Mesopotamia. How soon may it be expected that the white troops in Mesopotamia will be relieved, especially those who are Territorials? I know that it is a mixed force there, largely composed of native Indian troops, and it may be that the Government intend to relieve the white troops as soon as possible. If that were so I think it would be a source of great satisfaction in many quarters.
I have very little more to say, but I should like if I may to impress upon the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, the gravity of the warning which was delivered an hour ago by the Leader of the House—let him not think that the war has necessarily come to an end. The Government has said that. That concludes the question. Surely even the noble and learned Lord himself cannot any longer contend that it would be anything but folly to disarm this country in the face of a warning such as that delivered by the responsible Leader of your lordships' House. I feel sure that there really is nothing left to say because everything else sinks into insignificance beside that warning. Anybody who listened to the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland would have realised the hopelessness of doing without a striking military force at such a moment as this. My noble friend is, of course, an expert in these matters. He speaks from an intimate knowledge, from the closest study of strategical considerations extending over many years, and he tells us—what hardly requires to be told—that the Fleet without a military force would be powerless to enforce the views and interests of this country in case of emergency. I do not mean to say that it will be necessary to use that force, but you must have it; and, indeed, it is the existence of the force which is the greatest security against any difficulty.
Supposing the noble and learned Lord had proceeded to a Division. Let me suppose (what is absolutely impossible) that your Lordships had supported him. Would he be satisfied with that result? Would he not have been absolutely certain that it would have produced a feeling of satisfaction amongst the politicians and the soldiers of the Central Powers? Would he not realise at once that he could not have done anything which would be more 216 certain to produce a revival of their hopes, of their strength, and of their efforts? It is obvious, of course, that it would so happen. Therefore it never could be that your Lordships would reject this Bill. It never could be that the noble and learned Lord would have gone to a Division, not merely because he knows he would have been defeated but because in his heart, I am convinced, he would not wish to win. Consequently your Lordships have but one course—namely, to do what you have done throughout this war, to support the Government in those necessary military measures which are in the interests of the country, and to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I do not think that at this hour you would wish me to go into the general considerations which have been so interestingly discussed by noble Lords or to deal with some of those points dealt with by the noble Duke. I think I shall be more interpreting the wishes of your Lordships if I reply to the specific points so clearly raised by my noble friend Lord Stanhope. There were, I think, four points, and I will say two or three words upon them if I may, because it may save time later. The noble Lord discussed very thoroughly the question of the calling up of the eighteen-year-old boys who had come to the conscription age since November 11. I have stated the reasons, rather shortly perhaps, which the Government gave for not calling up those boys. The noble Earl knows very well that this can be done at any time under the Military Service Acts.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Whether an Amendment of that kind would be in order or not I am not saying, but it is clear that there would be no need for any Amendment to this Bill if the boys were called up, because they would at the time when this Bill comes into operation be in actual service and be retained under its provisions. The next point with which the noble Earl dealt was, who is the competent authority and how far can that authority be delegated to junior officers? He took the case of how far that applies to individuals as well as to classes. It might apply to individuals in this case, and in this case only I think, that when certain classes were ordered for demobilisation there might be particular 217 individuals in certain theatres who for the moment could not be spared and sent home forthwith, as is indicated in the words of the Bill. That duty would not be delegated, as my noble friend suggests, to a subaltern in charge of a draft, as I think his phrase was. In no case would the duty be delegated to anyone below the rank of General Officer, which would prevent any of the small indignities to which the noble Earl refers.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My noble friend will see that there might be instances where at the moment it would be impossible immediately to demobilise members of a particular class who had been ordered for general demobilisation.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There would be no general rule at all. It would be only in specific and carefully-guarded cases, and the interests of particular individuals would be well looked after. A further point was that the noble Earl was not satisfied with those of pre-war attestation only being excepted from the Bill. He wanted to except Territorials, and alluded to the case of the Territorials who had been in India from the beginning of the war. That is a case with which I am sure everybody must sympathise, and the Army Council has expressed its views very strongly on that subject. It was my duty only a few weeks ago not only to express the thanks of the Army Council for the work done by those Territorials but to undertake that when the new Army is formed one of their first duties will be to release, after the hot weather, the Territorials in India. An Amendment such as my noble friend suggests would, however, be quite inoperative. Take the case of the Territorials called up after 1916. There are very few of these because, as my noble friend knows, very few enlisted On the Territorial attestation after January, 1916. But how could you exempt them? You could not give special leave to exempt that small class as against the other men called up about that time; because you would be thus giving them a special privilege which I am sure the noble Earl will not ask to be given to them.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Amendment would be with regard to the men serving in the Army prior to August 4, 1914.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
They would be released under the Army Order of January 29. It is clear that all those who joined up till 1916 are to be demobilised, and are now being rapidly demobilised under the Army Order; consequently no Amendment is necessary. The only reason why the Territorials are left in India is on account of the physical impossibility of removing them, not that the Army Council do not want to demobilise them or have no right to do so.
The fourth point of the noble Earl was as to transfers. I asked my noble friend especially whether he referred to transfers taking place before this Act had come into operation—that is to say, at present; or to those which might be affected after the Act came into operation. I do not think there is any necessity for such an Amendment, because what happens is that this Transfer Act, as I think I explained, comes to an end when peace is declared, or when the war is declared to come to an end, and after that no more transfers can take place.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
That is what you can do under the Act. I asked the noble Earl if he wanted transfers to cease now, and he said, "No."
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It is not a question of the passing of the Act, but when it comes into effect. I do not know whether he draws a distinction between the passing of the Act and its coining into effect.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
An Amendment would be wholly unnecessary if it dealt with the date as from the Ac coming into effect, because no more transfers could then take place. If, however, he asks this definite question, whether transfers shall cease to take place when this Bill becomes an Act, and before it comes into effect, I am compelled to give him a negative answer, because, with the reconstitution and demobilisation going on at the present 219 moment, and other difficulties, it is impossible to form these new units without some amount of transfer. I am sorry to give the noble Earl an answer of this kind, but I think it would be very difficult to move an Amendment to this Bill which would have that particular effect. That is the best reply which I can give to the four points.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.