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Amby Estimates, 1930

Volume 237: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1930

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1. "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 148,900, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at home and abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions (other than Aden), during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1931."

2. "That a sum, not exceeding £9,500,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army at home and abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions (other than Aden), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

3. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,668,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings, and Lands, including military and civilian staff, and other charges in connection therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

4. "That a sum, not exceeding £910,000, ho granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Miscellaneous Effective Services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

5. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,794,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Rewards, Half-Pay, Retired Pay, Widows' Pensions, and other Non-effective Charges for Officers, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

6. "That a sum, not exceeding £4,353,000, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and Kilmainham Hospital; of Out-Pensions, Rewards for Distinguished Service. Widows' Pensions, and other Non-Effective Charges for Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Men, etc., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

7. "That a sum, not exceeding £236,000 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Superannuation, Compensation, and Additional Allowances, Gratuities, Injury Grants, etc., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

I want to deal with the question of Vote A on page 8 with reference to the Cavalry. I am not satisfied that this number has been reduced enough. The figures given for 1929 are 372 officers and 7,868 other ranks. In 1930 the officers have not been reduced, and the other ranks have been reduced by 94. There has been a fall in the Army of about the same percentage. The point which I wish to stress is that what we call mechanisation is not making the progress that it ought to do. The Secretary of State for War made the remark yesterday that what the previous Secretary of State has said covered the ground, and that they were not prepared to go any faster than they had done. We all know that the state of warfare has changed, and that the time of the horse soldier with the use of the sword and lance which goes with the horse. has passed, and some other form of warfare has come. I recognise that we have to have an armed force, and I want it to be as efficient as possible. I do not want to have redundancy, but we have redundancy in the Cavalry.

We ought to have greater progress in mechanisation. Eighteen months ago we were asked by the former Secretary of State for War to view some mechanical contrivances. We understood from that that some progress was being made, but no progress is being made in fact. The cost of the horse soldier is tremendous. We have 17,000 horses, which equals one horse for every eight soldiers. The Secretary of State suggested that it was stated a hundred years age that those who joined the Army would be furnished with a splendid horse, the best clothing possible, and all the attractions that could induce men to join. There are only two reasons why the horse should be retained. One is to use it as an attraction for recruiting. The changing of the Guard in Whitehall each morning, the riding of the horse soldiers from some barracks lying further back, and the display along the streets are of no use, and can only be for one purpose, and that is to attract men into the Army.

The second use for the horse is to give the officers a mount, but there is no need for that either. With the coming of mechanisation, there is no need for officers to ride about on horses. Horses are merely spectacular, and cause unnecessary expenditure of public money. If we have to have an Army, let it be ad efficient as possible: let us not have it merely for show. In the question of mechanisation, I do not want the Secretary of State to carry on what the former Minister of War said. It is not good enough "or Members on these benches to shelter behind what a former Minister did. I want our War Minister to make better use of the mechanised means of war, and to make it as efficient as possible. He would get a great deal of economy by the disbandment of the cavalry forces.

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is spending £292,400 less on mechanical transport than his predecessor?

I was pointing out that I want mechanical means, and if the Secretary of State is falling off, there is more reason for my remarks.

Before dealing with the subject on which I rise to address the House, I want to ask hon. Members not to be carried away too much by the kind of theory to which we have just listened. There is always a danger after every war to imagine that the conditions of that war are always going to hold. This country has suffered from that after almost every war in the past. We are always inclined to imagine that the conditions of the day must be suited to the last war, and to eliminate the possibility of war of an entirely different character. I only mention that because the reduction in the cavalry of this country has been so enormous, and far greater than any other military power in the world. I would beg the hon. Gentleman to read a little military history, and when he says that the cavalry arm has completely passed, I would remind him of the Palestine campaign. He has only to look at that to see that only recently the cavalry played a very decisive part in winning the brilliant victories of Lord Allenby.

I rise in order to call attention to the extraordinary decision of policy taken by the Secretary of State with regard to the cadet corps. I have the honour to be a member of the Council of the Territorial Army Association of this country, and I do not think that Members of the House generally realise that the administration of the Territorial Army is carried out by numerous members of Territorial Associations in every county of this country, who give their services freely, without any kind of advertisement, and with considerable expense to themselves, and who carry out this administration on behalf of the Government for the assistance of the Secretary of State for War. The Council of the Territorial Army Association is responsible for the administration of the cadet units. It has always been the policy of the Secretary of State for War to consult the Council of the Territorial Army Association before any big changes are made in policy, but the right hon. Gentleman took an extraordinary course in that he has allowed members of the Territorial Associations to learn of his change of policy by reading it for the first time in the newspapers.

I cannot quite connect the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman with the Vote. What we have to consider is the number of men for the Army, whether they are sufficient or insufficient. That is the only point before the House.

I appreciate the point you have raised, but I submit that the cadet corps are very largely instructed by the instructors on the regular establishment, who are the instructors for the various Territorial Units. They come under this Vote—

The hon. and gallant Member can argue that there ought to be more men in the Army or fewer because of the existence or extinction of the cadet corps, but he cannot argue the question of cadet corps in any other way.

I particularly wish not to go outside the scope of this question, and I intend to be very brief. I was under the impression that the question of recruiting for the personnel in the Army might have been considered on this Vote, and the effect that the cadet corps has in fact—

The whole thing is set out in the Vote. The question is as to the number of men.

Unless I am permitted to deal with this subject in respect of the grant made to the Territorial Army Association for the personnel, including the regular soldiers who are instructors of the cadet corps, I must bow to your Ruling and resume my seat—

I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to do that, because other Members will want to do the same.

May I ask your guidance on this point? With regard to Vote A, there are a certain number of instructors lent to the Territorial Army, who carry out training or inspect the training of the boy cadets, and I suggest that they are therefore actually included in doe numbers on Vote A. I therefore ask your guidance as to whether it would not be in order to ask whether, in view of the statement sprung upon the House yesterday that the cadet grant is to be done away with, the numbers of instructors and superintendents of instruction of the cadet corps under Vote A is to be reduced? I would also point out that the cadet corps are at the present time, and have hitherto been given, the use of War Office land for carrying out their training. At times, the cadet corps are even given the loan of Government buildings. [Interruption.] The Financial Secretary asks me whether we are moving a reduction. That is the whole of the complaint. We never knew until yesterday the actual amount which is necessary to give the gratuities to the cadets—

The hon. and gallant Member is asking me a question on a point of Order, and is going on with an argument. No reduction can be moved, as I have already put the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Is it in order from this point of view: There is in these Estimates a certain amount for administrative expenses in respect of cadets. The administrative expenditure of the Territorial Army is affected through officers lent to the Territorial Army from the Regular Forces who come under Vote A, so I suggest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can link up the question of cadets with Vote A.

The only way to do it would be to say that more officers or fewer officers are required it the cadets corps are done away with. There is no other way of doing it.

It involves the duties of officers, because as commanding officer of a Territorial unit, it has been my duty to inspect cadet corps—

It is my point that fewer officers will be necessary. This decision was sprung on the House yesterday, and there is no other opportunity for the House to raise this vital question, of which no notice was given to the Territorial Associations in this country.

The question could be raised on the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War.

Vote 1 deals with pay. If the hon. and gallant Member wishes to deal with questions of pay, it would be in order on that Vote.

I submit that all instructors are on the pay sheets of the Regular Army and I thought that under those circumstances the point might be raised.

The only way to deal with that would be to say that more instructors or fewer are required.

May I submit that in view of the fact that the Army instructors, who are on the permanent staff, have been carrying out these duties, they have been paid somewhat too little in the past?

The hon. and gallant Member must really confine himself to the question of the number, in the Army.

I rise for the purpose of putting some questions as to the progress being made with the mechanisation of the Army, but before I come to that, I must point out that we have had no explanation from the Secretary of State as to the purposes for which we are keeping the 149,000 troops which we are asked to Vote. We ought to be told why we want them and how we are going to use them. I take it that the role of the Army has entirely changed since the Great War; that the danger of a European war does not now menace us and that we want troops for garrison work and police work in our very big Empire. We want troops ready to deal with troubles in India, riots in Egypt and disturbances on the frontier of India. For this purpose we require light mobile forces of all arms. As my hon. and gallant Friend below me said, we must not draw all our lessons from the experiences of the Great War, but recall our experiences in the Boer War and in the Indian frontier wars. We want numbers and equipment sufficient to deal with situations such as we have had before.

The question of mechanisation had not really been mentioned during the Debate until the hon. Member opposite raised it, and I agree with him that we ought to have more information about it. I make out from the Estimates that the cavalry have been increased by two regiments in the mechanised arm in the last two years, and that the second regiment has just been completed. I have asked several times how these mechanised units compare with cavalry regiments in the way of cost, whether the experimental stage of mechanisation is over, and when we are to know how many mechanised units there are to be in the force, and what are to be the numbers in those units. It is quite time we were told some definite facts. We want to know the cost and how we are going to supply these forces with petrol when they are in the field.

That, again, would be out of order. We are not dealing with mechanisation, but with the number of men.

My hon. and gallant Friend said something about it, and I thought I might refer to what he has said, and if I am out of order now I hope that before the Army Estimates are disposed of we shall really get some information on the point. We want to know how many more mechanised units there are to be, and of what use they will he for the operations in which they will have to take part. But if I am not allowed to pursue that subject, I think the question of recruiting will be found to come under Vote A. The Secretary of State spoke yesterday of the debacle in recruiting, and said the position was very far from satisfactory, and that if we could give him any suggestions for dealing with it he would be very glad to consider them. But surely it is the job of the Army Council to tell us what to do and to put suggestions before us. It is a serious matter. There is the question of the numbers in India. I am not referring to the internal situation of India; British troops are not wanted for that, but for the situation on the frontiers of India.

The hon. and gallant Member is going into the question of recruiting, but that does not come under this Vote.

We are not concerned with the numbers of recruits, but with the number of men in the Army.

According to the information given on page 33 of the Estimates, the Royal Horse Artillery is the only unit—

May I appeal to the hon. and gallant Member to speak a little louder? It is very difficult to hear him.

I want to know what progress has been made with the mechanisation of the Royal Horse Artillery. Up to the present they have had horses, but I understand there is a prospect of their being used as mechanised units. Can we also have information as to the men in the anti-aircraft units? Are the men kept in those units the whole time, or are they transferred?

With great respect, I would point out that on page 33 there is a reference to a mechanised antiaircraft unit. The Vote concerns men, and I am asking whether there is a transfer of men between the anti-aircraft units and the other branches of the Royal Artillery, because that raises the question of training.

There is no question of training before us. The question concerns solely the number of men. I am afraid I shall have to repeat that statement very often.

Can we be informed how many men there are in the Horse Artillery units, and whether the same number of men are employed in the units when they are horsed as when they are mechanised? We want to know whether a saving will be effected by mechanising the Horse Artillery. I understand that the whole of Vote A is not under discussion, and that we are dealing only with the question of men, but actually the question of horses comes under Vote A, and as an agricultural Member I should like to know whether I can raise the question of the King's premiums which are allotted for horses—

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is deliberately trying to get out of order, but he must not raise that question now.

8.0 p.m.

I want to say only a few words, and I think I can keep entirely to the question of numbers. A reduction of 1,600 men is shown in Vote A. That may not appear to be a great reduction, but we know that it has followed on a steady diminution in the previous years. The Secretary of State told us yesterday that since 1914 there had been a total reduction of 37,000 men. I am only too glad when we can reduce the numbers and reduce the expenditure of the fighting forces. They are really nothing more than defence forces at the present time, and I am only too glad when we can, with safety to the country, reduce their numbers. The Secretary of State said he had attended all the meetings of the Estimates Committee at the War Office during the passage of the Estimates through theWar Office. Nevertheless, the Financial Secretary would probably tell him that a great deal of work had been done on those Estimates before they come to the stage where they receive final consideration by the Secretary of State. I was very glad to hear the tribute he paid to the military members of the Army Council and the civilian staff at the War Office, because I have assisted in the preparation of Army Esti- mates in past years, and I have always appreciated the way in which the members of the Army Council have sought to cut down numbers and to reduce expenses as far as possible, but always keeping in mind the necessity for the greatest efficiency. They are willing to cut down as much as possible as long as the country is safe.

Yesterday the Secretary of State was twitted by various Members on his own side of the House about the small reductions he had made in men and expenditure. He was told that his reductions amounted only to 1 per cent., and he was derided for so small an effort. As I have just pointed out, the reduction in numbers has been 37,000 since 1914; even in the last five years, since 1925, there has been a reduction of some 12,000 in the fighting strength. There bas been no corresponding reduction on the part of any other first-class country. While we have been making these reductions year by year, every other first-class country has been increasing and not reducing its numbers, and that is why I say emphasis on such a small reduction as 1,600. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), when he introduced the. Army Estimates last year, give the actual figures, and it would be as well if hon. Members who think we are going too slowly would look up those figures and see what has been happening among the other first-class powers. He pointed out that in the four years from 1925 to 1929 the expenditure of the United States of America on their Army had gone up from £51,000,000 to £59,000,000. I am not going into the figures, because we are on the subject of men, but I have thought it right to draw attention to the steady reduction going on here as opposed to the steady increase on the part of every other first-class country. I say to this Government, I hope they will maintain the 8.0 p.m. view the Secretary of State for War took up yesterday, that we will not make further reductions without corresponding reductions by other first-class countries.

I desire to offer a few observations regarding the number of men in the Army, and more particularly with regard to the remarks which have just fallen from the right hon and gallant Gentleman opposite. Surely it is the historic role of the British Army that it is not built up on any competition with any foreign Army at all, from the point of view of numbers. We have, in spite of the great conscript armies built up on the Continent in the last 100 years, always maintained the doctrine that a small, highly-qualified professional Army, devoted to the policing of our Empire overseas, is all that we require, and, as far as the land forces are concerned, we have never engaged in any race of armaments or of any comparative tests with foreign countries. After the experience of the past few years, and the capacity of this country and its number of population, I hope we shall return to that.

I also desire to say a few words with regard to two or three of the establishments on page 11 of the Estimates, Vote A, the Royal Military College, the Staff College, and the School of Military Engineering. Frankly, I do not view with favour the continuance of these establishments in the British Army as I would like to see it constituted. I speak as one who joined the old volunteers when I was 17, and who, at the outbreak of war, was a member of the National Reserve, and was called up with that body and served throughout the War in this country and overseas. We are making a great mistake with regard to the British Army. We have now got a population which is very different from the population of 100 years ago, when the educated section of the community was the small one at the top of the social scale. We have now a population that has opportunities for education extended throughout the whole social range, and in every walk of life men have risen to very high positions from the most humble beginnings. I want to see the time when these institutions for educating officer classes, drawn almost exclusively from one social class, will not be regarded as necessary in the British Army—

I do not think it will be in order on this Vote to develop that matter. All we have to consider on this Vote is the actual number of men in the Army.

I was trying to suggest that one of the ways in which economy in men could be effected was by the abolition of the establishments that are shown on page 11, Vote A. There is the Royal Military College, which accounts for 135 all ranks, the Staff College with 103, and certain other similar establishments. I have every desire to keep within the ruling you have given, and I was going to argue, though if you rule me out of order I will desist, that the proper place for training the soldier is within the ranks of the Army itself, and not in these special institutions which I would desire to see abolished, and thus effect some reduction in personnel.

If the hon. Member confines his argument to reasons for reducing the number of men, he will be in order, but he must keep strictly to that point.

I desire to proceed on those lines. We had in the last War probably the finest Army the world has ever seen, and it proved the absolute fallacy of the suggestion that we are a decadent race, or anything approaching a decadent race. The next two finest armies seen in the world, the one raised by this House and the one raised by a foreign country, were both staffed and officered on the principle I have enunciated. The new model army raised by this House during the Civil War was based on the principle that the proper place to learn the art of soldiering was in the army in the field. After all, the most distinguished soldier in it who ever drew a sword in battle had, so far as we know, never studied military tactics until over 40. Oliver Cromwell, and others who occupy a high place in British history, are standing proof that the proper place for a soldier to learn to understand his business is in the practice of it. The second army, that was based on the same principle, was the great army that defeated the united monarchs of Europe over—

I am sorry. I merely quoted this as an illustration. I hope that one of the effects of the present Government being in office will he that this principle will be carried into effect with all speed. I recognise the care and zeal with which my right hon. Friend has framed these Estimates. He has watched the national interest, and, at the same time, has remained loyal to the principles of this great party in the matter of armaments, and I sincerely hope he will be able, during his term of office, to do something to make this training for the Army, with its consequent reduction of expensive establishments, one of the things that will mark his tenure at the War Office as memorable.

The Ruling of Mr. Speaker and yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, make my task rather difficult. I have the keenest desire to reply to the points raised, but I am very timid about replying, because I know I shall be declared out of order, as were the speakers who preceded me. I will try to deal, as far as I can, with those points raised that were not ruled out, of order.

The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) called attention to the types of men, and objected to the large number of certain arms of the Service, on the ground that these arms of the Service ought to be redundant, because the growth of science in mechanics had been such as to render cavalry absolutely redundant. He called attention to the fact that the number of men in the cavalry was a case in point, because of the extreme number of horses required. I, like himself, am somewhat of a layman, and I have to rely in these things on expert professional advice. I can give him my assurance that it is my desire to see the Army, so long as we have one, as efficient as it can be made, and the policy will be to see that every man in the Service, not only is properly treated, but that he gets every facility for making himself efficient. I will look into the question, but it would be against all the professional advice I have received if I accept his view as to the redundancy of cavalry and the superfluity of horses.

The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) raised in a sense the same question, and I can only say to him that the policy enunciated last night is the policy that mechanism is really in its infancy, that there are no final types, and that we prefer to experiment until we have found real satisfaction before we build. In addition, I want to say that there is a danger of building too many machines, from the point of view of efficiency, for you may be tempted to use them simply because you have them, apart from the question of whether or not they are efficient.

I should like now to refer to the question raised by the right hon. and gallant Member for Paddington South (Commodore King) who was so long at the War Office. The shortage of 1,600 men is not because of any malign influence of the Ministry. It is simply because recruits do not present themselves. It would be idle to deny that there is the curious phenomenon that while men are not willing to join the infantry they are willing to join the Air Force and the Navy. It is for us to fad out what is the reason for this, and hen we have found that out, perhaps we may be able to deal with the matter. Another question asked was with regard to the men in the Royal Artillery. Let me say that the Royal Artillery is a combined corps, and men can be transferred freely to all branches of the corps, including the antiaircraft Service. May I, in parenthesis, say to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that he will find an answer to his question as to reorganisation on page 9, and the following pages in the Estimates, which will give him a clear description of the transfer of forces.

The final question was from the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as to whether the men required for the Royal Military College and Staff College are redundant, and whether, by a different method, we could obviate the necessity for these colleges. He pointed out that we could do without these colleges if men were trained in the Army itself for the position of officers. I am not satisfied that at the present moment we could dispense with these colleges. I made a perfectly plain declaration last night that in my opinion—and it will be the policy of the Ministry so long as I am there—we ought to devote ourselves to finding a method whereby there will be a regular flow of men from the ranks into the commissioned ranks. I think I have dealt with all the points that I can deal with under the Ruling of Mr. Speaker and yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I hope the House will accept my assurance that if there is anything I have not said it is because I did not want to be ruled out of order by Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during Twelve Months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and Air Force; and that Secretary T. Shaw, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Montague, Mr. Ammon, and Mr. Shin-well do prepare and bring it in.