THE VOLUNTEER DEBATE.
TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE result of the debate in the House of Commons on the question whether the Government shall be allowed to reduce and maim the Volunteer Force can only be described as profoundly unsatisfactory. The essential object was to obtain a binding pledge from the Govern- ment that they would not while the House was prorogued sanction any measure (whatever its nominal intentions) which would have the practical result of reducing the Volunteer Force, or, to use one of Mr. Arnold-Forster's euphemisms, would cut away the " redundancy " from which he considers the Volunteers now suffer. Unfortu- nately, no such pledge was obtained, and therefore, unless some further step is taken to secure the safety of the Volunteers, Mr. Arnold-Forster, as soon as the House rises, will be at liberty to diminish the numbers of our civilian soldiers. It is true that a, great deal of doubt and anxiety as to the policy of the Government was expressed on their own side of the House, and that, in spite of the strenuous whipping, the Ministerial majority fell to 26. All this, however, is of little or no avail in view of the fact that the Government did obtain a majority without giving any assurance that the policy of reducing the Volunteers announced eighteen months ago by Mr. Arnold- Forster has been finally withdrawn. We would urge, then, all, either inside or outside Parliament., who care for the future of the force to make yet another effort to obtain from the Government a distinct declaration that our Volunteer system shall be left alone for at least another year, and that nothing shall be done which can lead to a reduction in numbers till Parliament has again been consulted. It surely cannot be impossible to devise a scheme of words binding the Government which the House of Commons will sanction. If no other course can be devised, would it not be possible to make a Motion for the adjournment of the House the instrument for obtain- ing such a pledge ?
Though we greatly regret that the Opposition leaders did not make a direct appeal to the Prime Minister, and strive to obtain from him a promise that the Government as a, whole would refuse to sanction any reduction of the Volunteers, we gladly admit that the speeches made by Members on both sides of the House in defence of the Volunteers were all that could be desired. Mr. McCrae, who moved the reduction of the Vote, put the essential points with great good sense, while Sir Howard Vincent, Mr. Spencer, Colonel Denny, Mr. C. Rol:Amuse, Major Seely, and Sir Gilbert Parker were equally emphatic, and from various points of view came to the same conclusion,—namely, that the policy of the Government, if carried out, would destroy the Volunteer Force. Major Seely made an excellent point when he insisted that the Government's excuse for reducing the force—namely, that they would thereby secure greater efficiency—was a sham excuse. The only possible way, he said, to get efficiency in the Volunteer Force was for the whole Ministerial Bench to say : "We want every man to serve." Here we most heartily agree with Major Seely. The Government by their policy will never secure efficiency. They may send the majority of Volunteers about their business, and they may keep a small number of persons who will be Volunteers in name, but in reality imitation Regulars of a poor and . attenuated description, but this will not have secured efficiency. If they want a really efficient Volunteer Force—a force, that is, which may do great service in national emergencies, whether at home or abroad—they must encourage every man they can to become a Volunteer. As we have again and again insisted in these columns, what we want is quantity, not that sham quality which the War Office is trying to set up as a standard. Even if the Government could secure one hundred thousand Volunteers who were really efficient according to the Regular standard, we say frankly that we would infinitely prefer four hundred thousand Volunteers of the kind who are serving to-day. The reason is plain, and was well put by Sir John Ardagh before the Auxiliaries Royal Com- mission. To the one hundred thousand "efficient" Volunteers no additions could be made. With them we should be at the end of our resources. On the other hand, the four hundred thousand Volunteers of the present type could in a couple of months—nay, in a month—be rendered quite as efficient as what we may call for a moment the Arnold-Forster type of Volunteer. Instead of reducing, we want to expand the Volunteers till every man between eighteen and fifty who desires to serve his country can without an undue sacrifice of time, be either an active Volunteer or a member of a Volunteer Reserve.
Though, on the whole, the result of the debate has been so deeply disappointing, there are one or two circumstances in regard to the controversy that has arisen over the present Government's treatment of the Volunteers which must be regarded as eminently satisfactory. The first of these is the fact that so large a number of influential Liberals showed themselves specially active in championing the cause of the Volunteers. It is, indeed, not too much to say that the Liberal party are now committed to a sympathetic and appreciative policy in regard to the force whenever they come into office. This is a great point gained. There is always a danger when Liberals take office lest they should become too "official,"—too much in the bands of the permanent administrative staff. There is a tendency when a Liberal statesman takes Cabinet office for him to say to himself : "People think that because I am a Liberal I am a fanatic, and care nothing for tradition and experience. I will show them that a Liberal can be as prudent and as conservative, in the true sense, as any Tory." The result of such resolves is too often, and especially at the War Office, to make the Liberal Secretary of State adopt what for want of a better term we may call the Major- General's point of view,—to lean too much on the advice of the Regular official soldiers, and to be afraid of doing anything which is not recommended by "my military advisers." The strong expression of Liberal opinion in Thursday's debate will, we hope, obviate this danger, and make it certain that the next War Minister will bring an open and sympathetic mind to the question of the Volunteers, and free himself from the dread of being called a madman or a fanatic if he determines to solve the problem of the Auxiliaries for him- self, and does not stand in terror of the " Regular " view in regard to Volunteers and Militia. Another fact which is equally satisfactory is that so many Unionist Members, in spite of the party pressure applied to them, determined to maintain an independent attitude, and did not refuse to co-operate with the Liberals in pressing the Govern- ment to pledge themselves not• to apply Mr. Arnold- Forster's policy of reduction. If the Unionists who voted against the Government rather than allow the Volunteers to be injured survive the wreck of the party, as we hope they may, they may be relied on to give assistance in placing the Volunteers at last on a secure basis. Yet another satis- factory fact is the refusal of a considerable portion of the Unionist Press to endorse the Government policy. The Standard, for example, which has won the gratitude of all Volunteers by the able way in which it supports their interests, spoke out on Friday with the utmost candour in regard to Mr. Arnold-Forster's policy.
All these facts show that the ground is being well prepared for a complete abandonment of the present policy, and for replacing it by one which will enlarge instead of narrowing the Volunteer Force, and will enable every man between eighteen and fifty who desires to do so to enter and remain in the force. The controversy, indeed, has done good by making the nation study and understand the Volunteer problem and come to a very definite decision in regard to it, —namely, that the Volunteers are not, as the present Government plainly believe at heart, redundant and a necessary evil, to whom the maxim, "The fewer the better," applies, but instead a most valuable force for home defence, and one which affords a reservoir from which in a great national emergency a large contingent can be drawn for oversea service. In view of these considerations, we would appeal to all Volunteers—officers and men—who, harried and worried as they are, may be tempted to leave the force,' to stand steady for another year, and refuse to be treated as redundant. If they will do that, they may be sure that public opinion at the General Election will declare itself with no uncertain sound in favour of a maximum, not a minimum, force of civilian soldiers.