HC Deb 14 March 1887 vol 312 cc326-34

(1.) 149,391, Number of Land Forces.

MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid.)

I should like to ask the Government whether there is any serious intention to ask for Votes in Supply to-night? We have been engaged during the whole evening in a very important and interesting discussion on the affairs of the Army, and I cannot think that the Government are serious in asking us to vote this money at 1 o'clock in the morning. I think such a proposal would be altogether unreasonable. There are hon. Members of the House who have given Notices of Amendments for the reduction of the Vote, and who, on the supposition that the Votes would not be taken at this hour, have gone away. I consider that it would be unreasonable to take Votes in the absence of hon. Members who are interested in those Votes, and therefore I think we ought to report Progress.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

I have already pointed out that it is absolutely necessary that we should have the first Vote to-night. Hon. Members will be aware that we must comply with the law; and it was perfectly well understood that it was our intention to ask for the money to-night.


What will be done in connection with the Navy Votes?

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

we do not propose to take the Navy Vote to-night; but it is essential that the first Army Vote should be taken.


I was asked a moment ago by a right hon. Gentleman if Members on these Benches were likely to oppose this Vote; and I am afraid that, without authority, I stated that I considered it as practically agreed that the Vote for the men would not be opposed.


If the right hon. Gentleman will answer a question on this subject, I think it will remove the present difficulty. If we give the Government the first Vote, will they allow us an opportunity for a general discussion hereafter?


There would be no disposition on the part of the Government to deprive hon. Members of the opportunity which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks for; but I may remind him that it has been proposed to refer these Votes to a Select Committee; and I wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman to understand that if any delay should arise, it will not be because the Government desire to prevent the discussion which he is anxious to have.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

Throughout the long discussion which has taken place, there have been very few speeches from these Benches; on the other hand, the debate has been carried on entirely by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have spoken with several hon. Members to-night, who have since left the House in the belief that the Navy, and not the Army, Estimates were coming on. I know it was the intention of several hon. Members on this side of the House to oppose one portion of this Vote—that is to say, the portion of it relating to the Household Brigade. I cannot but think that it would be very injudicious to proceed with the Vote at this very late hour; and that, having regard to the circumstances I have referred to, it should be taken on Thursday next. I suggest that the Government should allow Progress to be reported.


I am very sorry that it is not in my power to accede to the appeal which has been made to me. To-night was set apart for the discussion of the Army Estimates, and Thursday night for the discussion of the Navy Estimates, and it would be an interference with the legitimate discussion which might fairly take place on the Navy Estimates if the debate of this evening, in regard to Army matters, wore carried over until Thursday. I should be charged with not having foreseen the desires of hon. Gentlemen to discuss naval questions. It is essential that these two Votes—namely, the Votes for men and money in the Army—should be taken to-night; it is necessary not only in the interests of discussion and Business in this House, but also in the interests of the Public Service.

MR. PULESTON (Devonport)

After what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, I think we all understand that these Votes should be taken, and taken at once. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War dwelt upon the necessity of having a variety of opinions expressed on any subject coming before the House of Commons, and of having measures such as those that have been before us to-night generally discussed. Well, most of the subjects which have been dealt with to-night could, I think, be very easily discussed in Committee; and the First Lord of the Treasury has foreshadowed the possibility of having them discussed upon a future Vote, or in some other way. But, as I understand it, there is one important measure which has occupied a large portion of the debate to-night, and upon which there has been as strong a consensus of opinion as the Secretary of State for War, during his long and distinguished career, has ever known. I refer to the proposed changes in regard to the Horse Artillery. I take it that we shall not be able to discuss that measure again if it is the fact that the Force, as it at present exists, will be broken up in April. My desire in mentioning the subject now is to ascertain if there is any possibility, in view of all that has been said hero to-night, of the Secretary of State for War enabling the House of Commons to arrive at a conclusion on this subject by putting down the debate for some day prior to that on which the proposed change is to be effected?


["Oh, oh!" and cries of "Divide!"] I am merely standing up for absent Friends, and I should be wrong if I did not. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is in such a great hurry to got these Votes. Probably some money may be wanted; but certainly it cannot be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to get the whole amount. If I may suggest a compromise, I would say that the right hon. Gentleman would effect his purpose, while at the same time allowing us the opportunity for debate which we require, if he takes, say, one-half of the money on account. I think that is a reasonable proposal, and should meet with his acceptance. If he does accept it, the subject may be debated by Friends of mine who usually sit on these Benches, but who have gone away to-night thinking that no Votes would be taken. I object to the Government springing Votes like this upon the House, and attempting to rush them through at this hour of the night. It is not what the country would like or would endorse, nor is it fair to hon. Members who have gone away. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see his way, at any rate, to meet us half-way. If he is not satisfied with what I have suggested, perhaps he will offer us some suggestion of his own which will enable hon. Gentlemen not present on this occasion to speak on this Vote.

COLONEL DUNCAN (Finsbury, Holborn)

I am sure the majority of hon. Members present are anxious to meet the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and to pass these Votes at once. It would be a great gratification to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House if he would give us an assurance that we shall be able to have a further discussion on the question of the reduction of the Horse Artillery before that reduction takes place. With regard to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), I think we should be assured that such a question as this, and questions which interest many other Members—questions connected with the paymasters and quartermasters—should be fully discussed in the House. If an assurance is given to us on that point, I hope hon. Members will consent to allow these two Votes to pass at once.

MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

I desire to express agreement with what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. If these assurances are given to us by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, I am sure there will be no hesitation on the part of the House to agree to these Votes at once. There are many points we wish to discuss, and all we desire is an assurance that opportunities will be afforded us for discussing these matters.


The Government will be extremely glad to give hon. and gallant Gentlemen, and other Members of the House, an opportunity to discuss the points which have been mentioned on succeeding Votes; but we are in this difficulty. We are more or less under a promise to send these matters to a Select Committee. We shall probably sot that Committee to work as soon as possible; and I am sure no Committee investigating a question so large and comprehensive as the Army and Navy Estimates will be able to complete its work in the Session unless it is enabled to commence at once.


If this Committee passes the Vote, it will be beyond the province of a Select Committee to go into the matter.


There will be no difficulty in the world in the Committee going into this question. There will be no reason why it should not examine into expenditure.


we can have a discussion on the Report of the Clothing Vote.


So far as we are concerned, the Government would afford full facilities for discussion. We will take care that the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finsbury (Colonel Duncan) will be taken cognizance of.


I have no doubt that the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury are all that we could desire; but, as a point of Order. I would say it is clear that if these Votes are passed in Committee of the Whole House and are agreed to, as they will be by the House to-morrow on Report, the Votes will be passed by the House, and will be ready for incorporation in the Appropriation Bill, and no Select Committee will be able to abate one jot from that Vote. With regard to the other point, whatever may be the willingness of the Government to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen in any part of the House, it would be absurd to move the reduction of the Clothing Vote because we want to effect a reduction in the Brigade of Guards, or to prevent a reduction in the Horse Artillery. It cannot be done. Any hon. Member rising to Order would be able to stop the thing at once. It would be absurd to move the disallowance of £30,000 in regard to the Brigade of Guards, or £22,000 because we disapproved of certain allowances in the Clothing Vote.


Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the nature of the instructions to be given to the Select Committee on the Army and Navy Estimates?


What, may I ask, would be the value of any examination made by a Select Committee of a Vote already passed not only by the Committee of Ways and Means, but by the House—because the Report of Supply will be taken, I suppose, tomorrow? Such an examination, I contend, would be absolutely valueless. By the time the examination has concluded, goodness knows what change may not have taken place in the policy of the Government, which may make the recommendations of the Committee absolutely valueless for next year. I look upon the inquiry which it is proposed to hold as a mockery. We know that the Committee on Public Accounts discusses matters already debated, and we know that their inquiry is of very little use. I fail to see why the Government cannot allow the postponement of this Vote. Have the Government a reason for refusing it? Surely, if they have a reason, they can tell us what it is. Why do the Government require the whole of this money—why should they not take half of it? If they would do that it would enable us to raise discussions on questions in which we are interested, and the Government would be able to carry on the administration of the Army just as well as if they had the whole amount of the Vote.


I will give the House full particulars as to the appointment of the Committee as soon as I can. Generally, I may say we shall follow the usual precedent in such matters, and allow the Committee to inquire into the whole of the Votes, and report their observations to the House. As to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kenny) opposite, who doubts of our proceeding, all I can say is that the Government are not especially anxious that the Votes should go to a Committee. We are prepared to take full responsibility for proposing the Estimates as they stand; but we conceive we are falling in with the general view of the House in assenting to the proposal for a Committee. We hope, therefore, that the House will assist us to pass the Vote.

COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)

I would suggest for the consideration of the Government that, instead of disbanding the Horse Artil- lery Batteries, they should be allowed to take their turn for dismounted duty to act as Field Batteries.


At this early hour in the morning I must say the Government would do well to postpone the Vote, in order to give us a fair opportunity of discussing it. Could they not take it on some other occasion? Personally, I have endeavoured not to obstruct the Government in any way. I have not spoken on the Supplementary Estimates, because the money we were asked to vote had been expended; but I certainly think that when the regular Estimates are brought in we ought to have a fair opportunity of criticizing them, especially when large Votes like the present are under consideration. Military men in this House are anxious, I know, to discuss these subjects, and we are bound in duty to our constituents to see that the money of the taxpayers is not wasted nor spent without fair discussion.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I should like to know whether now, or at any future time, we shall have an opportunity of placing before hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite certain matters connected with the Army that some of us have been asked to bring under their notice? I myself have had several grievances entrusted to me to bring before the House. I do not wish to make myself obnoxious to the House now, but I do want opportunity of speech.


I will undertake to give the hon. Member an opportunity of stating his views cither in the House or to myself privately.


We are to he asked to-night to vote £4,000,000 or more for the payment of men. When we have voted the men and money, when will opportunity present itself for hon. Members to discuss other questions connected with the Service?


He will be able to raise any point he likes before the Select Committee, and will also be able to do so in the House.


He may not be a Member of the Select Committee.


An hon. Member will not be able, on a future day, to do anything in the way of saving money. It seems to me that to raise subjects in the future will be a perfect farce.

MR. DEASY (Mayo, W.)

I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman can only see his way to the postponement of the consideration of this matter, such postponement will facilitate the passage of the remaining Army Estimates through the House. The Irish Members are in no way to blame for the state of things that prevails at the present time. The Government might have taken this Vote at any time during the past week or 10 days, or the past fortnight; but instead of doing so they have devoted their time and attention to the passage of Rules of Procedure which are altogether objectionable to hon. Gentlemen on these Benches. I will not further refer to that, however. What I want to impress upon hon. Members is that the Government really cannot want this Vote so much to-night. They could put it off until to-morrow or Thursday without the slightest inconvenience; and, that being the case, I would suggest, in the interest of Public Business and as tending to the more rapid discussion of the Army Estimates, that those Members who desire to express their own views and the views of their constituents on this Vote should have the opportunity for discussion which they desire. I may be told that they will have on the Report stage an opportunity of raising whatever objection they may have to certain sums contained in this Vote. But we know very well when the Report stage of these Votes will be taken—at 3 or 1 o'clock in the morning, perhaps, when we have been discussing the Rules of Procedure, or some other subject, for the whole night, and when most of us will have become perfectly disinclined to discuss the subject in the spirit that it deserves to be discussed in. We have no desire to obstruct the Business of the House to-night; but I would suggest that it would be much better for the Government themselves, from their own point of view, that they should accede to the request that has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. If they do accede to this request, they will find that they are promoting the Business of the country.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) £4,522,000. Pay and Allowances.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.

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