§ LORD AMPTHILL had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government—
- 1. What has delayed the reconstitution of the Militia;
- 2. What financial provision has been made for the same;
- 3. When the appointment of commanding officers and permanent staff will be made;
- 4. When the Militia will be open to recruiting;
- 5. Whether any official announcement as to the manner in which the Militia will be reconstituted may shortly be expected.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the Questions which stand in my name I need only say that the information for which I ask was promised long ago, and that the fulfilment of that promise is long overdue. The information is being anxiously and impatiently awaited by a large number of people not only among those who are directly concerned with the Militia, but also among those who recognise that without the old constitutional force it will be impossible for us in the future to maintain a Regular Army on a voluntary basis. I beg to ask the Questions.
My Lords, the noble Lord very courteously informed me that he had no intention of making a lengthy speech upon the subject, but that his object in putting down these five specific points was to endeavour to elicit some authoritative information. I thank him for the courtesy with which he gave me notice of his intention. I think that he is using a rather strong word when he speaks of having received a promise that this information would be given some time ago. To the best of my recollection it was the expression of a strong hope, and not a definite promise. Though I will endeavour not to evade any of the points he has put down, I am afraid I am not in a position to give any very definite information in reply to his Questions.
The noble Lord first asks: "What has delayed the reconstitution of the Militia?" The answer to that is that it is impossible to reconstitute the Militia until the size and composition of the peace strength and the war strength of the Regular Army 280 have finally been settled. In the last debate, on the Territorial Army and Militia Bill, in August of last year, some difference of opinion was expressed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, and the noble Lord who has asked these Questions as to what precisely the functions of the Militia should be. At any rate, I think one may say that its primary function is to provide the necessary units and personnel, and in particular that necessary for completing to establishment the technical arms, required by the Expeditionary Force on mobilisation, and to make good the wastage which would be incurred during the first months of a war. The Militia, I think, must be regarded as strictly complementary to the first line of the Regular Army. The description given by the noble Lord was, I think, that the Militia had "always been the ante-chamber of the Regular Army," and it must be apparent that until the final plans for the architecture of the whole building have been completed it would not be possible to design the ante-chamber without running the risk of getting it out of proportion to the whole building. That is the cause of the delay and the answer to the first point.
The second Question is: "What financial provision has been made for the Militia?" To that it is possible to give the quite definite answer that a provisional sum of £1,000,000 has been included in the current year's Estimates, so that the reconstitution of the Militia can be started as soon as circumstances permit. The third Question is: "When will the appointment of commanding officers and permanent staff be made?" To that I am afraid it is not possible to say much more than I did in answer to the first point. It is obvious that it must await decision as to the position and establishment of the Militia itself, and those questions are awaiting the final decisions in regard to the Regular Army. I except, of course, those appointments which are already covered by the infantry depot staffs.
The fourth point is as to when recruiting will be open for the Militia. I should hesitate to give any exact date. I am aware that this has been an expression of strong hope on more than one occasion, dating over a certain length of time, but it is hoped—I am afraid I must again use the same word—that recruiting will be open for some branches of the Militia at any rate during the present financial year. 281 The fifth Question is really a resume of the preceding four, and enquires when an official announcement as to the manner in which the Militia will be reconstituted may be expected. I am afraid that with the best will in the world it is not possible to name a date.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
If the noble Lord will excuse me for interrupting him, the Question is not "when," but "whether" any official announcement may be expected.
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I think I may say that there certainly will be an announcement, but I cannot hold out any prospect to the noble Lord of its being made at an early date. I hope I have made it clear that the delay, which one must admit, does not proceed from any indifference on the part of the War Office to the functions of the Militia, or to the glorious record which it had during the war, or to the functions which it performed, but is solely due to the difficulty of arriving at finality as to the Regular Army at a time when, owing to economical conditions and other circumstances, it is a matter of the greatest difficulty to reach anything approaching finality on the primary decision upon which the reconstitution of the Militia must rest. I am sorry I am not able to give the noble Lord a more definite answer, but I have tried not to evade the five points he has put down.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I listened with some relief to the statement of the noble Lord opposite, but with a certain amount of misgiving also, because he seems to treat it as an open question whether, to some extent, what the noble Lord calls the old constitutional force may be restored. I think it would be a disaster to attempt to restore the old constitutional force and I will tell the House why. It has become an anachronism. It was a second line Army, but it could not call itself an Army. It had no transport; it had no administrative service; it had no medical service; it could not mobilise; it could not take the field. Its real use was to furnish drafts for the battalions of the Expeditionary Force, and its drawback was that there was no power to call upon the Militia to send drafts into that Expeditionary Force. It was a purely voluntary organisation, and sometimes it was very difficult to get militiamen to join.
282 If the noble Lord will ask trained officers who had to do with the mobilisation of the Expeditionary Force they will all tell him, or a great majority will tell him, the same thing. If we had not abolished the Militia organisation, if we had left it where it was, if we had relied on the old constitutional force, we could not have mobilised for months on the Continent. We could not possibly have had any part of the Expeditionary Force in Flanders within a fortnight, nor could we have replaced the casualties at the, battle of the Marne which gave Lord French, in effect, a new Army to bring against the Germans, who, through not understanding the effect of the new Special Reserve, thought his Army was broken up, and that they were dealing only with scattered remnants instead of with battalions which had been filled up from the new sources of the Special Reserve. To go back to an organisation in which the Militia stood outside the first Regular line and could not be called upon to fill it up is to go back to disaster from the point of view of mobilisation and strength. I cannot conceive anything worse.
I should like to have heard something that would have given me some comfort—that these things had been really seriously considered. There are grave problems in front of us. We do not know what contingency may emerge in the future, and all we can do is to prepare such a nucleus Army as can be expanded for these various contingencies. That requires an immense amount of consideration. A great deal too little consideration is being given to it. Take the Air Force. The Air Force is very important. It is expensive, but it is necessary. I am far from satisfied that Cavalry are necessary in the same way, and Cavalry eat up a great deal of money. I would like to substitute for the expense of the Cavalry a provision which would put the Air Force on a better footing than it has to-day. In the same way, we must keep tanks, for they have taken the place of Cavalry in a large measure.
I should like an assurance which I could believe that these things are being scrutinised and gone into in the minute, way they used to be; that the objects for which we might go into war may be defined, and close consideration given to the means to which we shall have to resort if we are to attain those objects. That is work which can only be done by a highly competent General 283 Staff, and I am not sure that in the Army or in the Navy the importance of—
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Yes, clear thinking is vital, and it is because the noble Lord does not give himself the pains to think clearly that he sets up the idea of restoring the old constitutional force. You may call it Special Reserve or Militia, as you like. I do not like it; it is a confusion of names, which leads to a confusion of ideas, but as it has been done I suppose we cannot go back upon it. I hope the announcement for which the noble Lord has asked will be a long time in coming. I did not gather that any definite time was suggested by the noble Lord who replied, but before any such grave step is taken, which may mean ruin to our mobilisation arrangements, these things should be considered in a way in which they are not considered in popular debates such as we have had this afternoon.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, no one proposes to reconstitute the Militia as it was twenty years ago, and I cannot imagine why the noble and learned Viscount should set up that bogey for the mere purpose of knocking it down. I have always agreed with him in thinking that the Militia is to act as a draft for the line troops, but I have never understood why that should preclude the possibility of sending out a battalion as a unit when it could be done conveniently and with advantage, and as, in fact, it was done during the late war. The main function of the Militia is, of course, to act as a reserve for the Regular Army. Being in entire accord with the noble and learned Viscount, I have never been able to understand what he must allow me to call his constantly ungracious attitude towards the Militia. He has never said a good word in their favour. It is true that when he was at the War Office there were many shortcomings in the force, but may I say, as an old Militia man, that they were entirely due to the neglect of the War Office. They never gave the Militia a chance; they never took any interest in it except as a means of recruitment for the line. The position is quite different now, and when we urge the reconstruction of the Militia I understand it to be as a reserve for the Regular Army.
When you come to the name I have always thought it was very inconsistent with clear thinking and the historical 284 philosophy of the noble and learned Viscount that he should destroy the name of many centuries in order to put on a new label which nobody understood. The force can fulfil its functions as a reserve for the Army just as well if you call it the Militia as if you call it the Special Reserve, and I should have thought that one so imbued with the sense of historical tradition and the value of continuity as the noble and learned Viscount would have appreciated more than he does how the force resented being suddenly deprived of the name of which they were so proud and called by an emtirely different one. I suspect human nature came into play, and that the opposition to his scheme arose, to a great extent, from this wholly unnecessary change of the name.
I have one question to ask the noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Government. He told us quite clearly that the date of the reconstitution of the Militia as a reserve for the Regular Army depends on the decision as to the exact constitution and strength of the Regular Army itself. Can he give us any kind of indication as to when finality will be reached in that matter? I cordially agree with Lord Haldane that never in the whole history of the British Army has there been more occasion for the clearest thinking and the best staff work in order to use our comparatively restricted means to the best advantage in the organisation of our future fighting force. Four years have passed since the Armistice. The commitments of the Army throughout the world are gradually decreasing, and we are approaching more nearly to normal conditions. Therefore, I had hoped— although the last thing I recommend is any hasty decision or undue interruption of that study which the situation so obviously demands—that during the course of this financial year we might have learnt where we stood.
The noble Lord, in his reply to the fourth Question of my noble friend, used the expression "certain branches of the Militia." Can he say whether that includes the engineers?
My Lords, I am not able to give any further particulars in answer to that Question of the noble Lord. My noble friend, Lord Haldane, spoke as though I had said something to indicate the character of the reconstitution. I was not aware that I went into that question 285 at all; I did not intend to do so. I was not asked that question, and I had no intention at all of saying anything which should prejudge a very important point. I can only say that the very important considerations mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount will receive the fullest consideration. In reply to the Question asked me by the noble Earl, I must point out that it is only fairly recently that the results of the investigation into the whole of the Services by the Geddes Committee have been able to be fully considered, and that it is possible, therefore, that the final decisions, which, some little time ago, might have been in doubt, may be taken at an earlier date than if that investigation had not been pursued, but I am afraid I am not able to give him any assurance as to the exact date, or even as to an early date.