HC Deb 29 January 1897 vol 45 cc848-74

Considered in Committee:—



moved:— That it is expedient to authorise the issue, out of the Consolidated Fund, of any sums not exceeding in the whole £5,458,000, for the expenses of certain Military Works and other Military Services, and to authorise the Treasury to borrow by means of terminable annuities, payable out of moneys to be provided by Parliament for Army Services, and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund, such sums as may be required for the purpose of providing money for the issue of the above-mentioned sum of £5,458,000 out of the Consolidated Fund, or the repayment to that Fund of all or any part of the sum so issued, and also to authorise the application of the Surplus of Income above Expenditure for the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1897, towards paying any sums authorised to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund for Military Works. He said: I rise to renew the Motion made in this House in June last. On that occasion I briefly explained to the House the reasons which, in the judgment of the Government, made it necessary to ask Parliament to undertake certain urgent military services by loan. The House may, perhaps, desire that I should justify the proposal to proceed in this manner rather than through the medium of the annual Estimates, and it is desirable, for the benefit of those who may not have the past history of this matter in their recollection, to remind the Committee that the services proposed to be undertaken are such as it has been customary for the last 50 years to undertake out of capital moneys and not out of annual Estimates. ["Hear, hear!"] In 1854–6, at the time of the Crimean War, a sum of £860,000 was spent on building large camps for the extra soldiers then under arms. In 1860 Lord Palmerston and succeeding Ministers applied to Parliament for loans amounting to a sum of £7,460,000 in respect of forts and other defences round the coast. In 1872, Lord Cardwell carried out the Localisation of the Forces by an Act, under which £3,500,000 of capital money had been spent. In 1888, Mr. Stanhope, by the Imperial Defence Act, obtained £2,600,000 for the fortification of our Military Ports and Coaling Stations. In 1890 a sum of £4,100,000 was granted for the reconstruction of barracks, in consequence of the representatives before Lord Randolph Churchill's Committee that the condition of some of our barracks was a disgrace to the British nation. This last loan, I should mention, differed from those which preceded it, in that it was repayable, and is being repaid, by annual instalments charged on the Army Estimates. It is in pursuance of the policy accepted by Parliament in relation to the loans of 1888 and 1890 that we are now forced to come to Parliament again. There was no pretence at the time—as any reference to Mr. Stanhope's statement will show—that the loans then granted represented a final or complete treatment of the services for which provision was asked. On the contrary, Mr. Stanhope, in introducing the Bill of 1888, spoke as follows:— It will be fully understood that the scheme now submitted does not pretend to be an exhaustive one, or to complete all the defences which the Military Authorities think necessary and desire to see carried out. What it does aim at is to carry out in the next three years, or in other words, as quickly as possible, all the most urgent of these defences. He said: I rise to renew the Motion asked for by the Military Authorities amounted to £9,000,000; Lord Randolph Churchill's Committee vouched for the necessity of the service; and the amount voted by the House of Commons in 1890 was £4,100,000. We are thus brought face to face with the difficulty which we are asking Parliament to enable us to meet. Loans have been granted for the more urgent fortifications which could be carried out in three years, and for the barracks which it was estimated could be erected in five years. Those loans are now exhausted, and we are obliged to come to Parliament again. In the face of the above-named precedents, I do not know whether any question will be raised as to the course we propose to take of proceeding by loan. The advantages of this course are so overwhelming that if is not astonishing that Parliament has sanctioned it again and again. It is obvious in all matters connected with fortification or the renewal of barracks, that it is unwise and uneconomical to proceed haphazard. A recognised scheme must be drawn out. ["Hear, hear! "] Contracts must be entered into, and work proceeded with regularly from month to month. This is exceedingly difficult under annual Estimates. Money may be available in one year, and not in another, which causes postponement and delay. Even when money is available, no contract can be made for a fresh work till the Vote is passed by Parliament—an event frequently delayed till the best building months of the year are gone. When money has been voted and the building-commenced, a long frost in the winter may upset all calculations, and perhaps reduce the expenditure in the financial year by one-third, which money returns to the Exchequer, and the funds have, in the following financial year, to be re-voted, this course possibly necessitating fresh taxation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose provision for this service in the preceding year has been torn from him by the ruthless clutches of the National Debt Commissioners. [Laughter.] If we proceed by loan, all these inconveniences are avoided. Moreover, I submit that this process opens the most convenient channel for Parliamentary criticism. A scheme can be put forward as a whole; it can be discussed, modified, or rejected. Whatever is approved can then be carried out in the promptest and most economical manner. The Resolution to which we ask the Committee to assent is to the expenditure of £5,458,000. Of this sum £1,120,000, or about one quarter, relates to services in which the Navy has an equal interest, with the Army, if not a primary interest. I do not refer to the cost of guns or ammunition, which, being of a less permanent nature than the works, will be provided on annual Estimates. We have four classes of ports for which defence has been authorised by Parliament in the past. We have military ports, and naval bases at home of the type of Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Cork. We have to defend mercantile harbours, such as the Clyde, Forth, Dublin, Belfast, and the Bristol Channel. We have Gibraltar, Malta, and other fortresses abroad; and we have coaling stations in every part of the globe, which though fortified and manned by the Army, are maintained for the service of the Navy. The additions which are now proposed to the defence of these ports are due to two main causes. The first of these being the provision of works for medium and quick-firing armament, which has not hitherto been supplied, and the defences against torpedo-boat attack at our naval bases which has been strongly urged by the Admiralty. The second is that the large Admiralty works contemplated at Gibraltar have made it necessary further to strengthen the armament at that fortress, while the development of foreign power in the seas to the east of the Cape, make it incumbent on us to secure our ports in those seas against, such an attack as could be made upon them. ["Hear, hear!"] So far we are asking Parliament for nothing except to make good a policy which it has already sanctioned. But we have been obliged, under urgent pressure from the Admiralty, to consider the fortification of four harbours at home, to enable trading ships to find protection on reaching our shores in the event of war, and to enable Her Majesty's fleet to act with greater freedom and activity in the Atlantic. These four harbours selected for their naval tactical character are Berehaven, Lough Swilly, Falmouth, and Scilly. Now, before I justify these proposals, I ought to make it clear to the Committee how these questions, which involve more than one of our two great services, are dealt with. Any question of defence or of combined attack which arises at the Admiralty or the War Office is referred for consideration to the Joint Naval and Military Committee on Defence, on which the Senior Naval Lords and two other Naval Members represent the Admiralty, while the Army is represented by the Adjutant General, the Inspector General of Fortifications, and the Inspector General of Ordnance. Their conclusions are considered by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, who cither decide the question or, if its importance warrants it, as in the present instance, bring it before the Cabinet Committee, presided over by the Lord President of the Council, at which the Commander-in-Chief and the Senior Naval Lord are present. This system has worked with great harmony and smoothness, and the House, may rest assured that the proposals now submitted are founded on the best expert opinion, reviewed not only in principle, but in detail by the Cabinet Committee. The addition of quick-firing guns to the defences, and the further provision necessary against torpedo attack were put forward after exhaustive inquiry by the Joint Naval and Military Committee in 1892 and 1894, and the Government included them in this Bill when it was proposed to introduce it last year, because they felt that, with due consideration to the safety of the ports affected, they could no longer be delayed. [" Hear, hear!"] With, regard to the mercantile strategic ports named above, the Naval and Military Committee were unanimous in attaching a just importance to the defence of these strategic naval positions. They reported in these words:— Berehaven and Lough Swilly are natural harbours admirably situated as strategic harbours on the verge of the open ocean. If defended they would not only afford a very considerable safeguard to our trade and commerce, but would enable Her Majesty's Fleet and ships to act with greater freedom and activity, confident in the existence of a coal supply at the very points where it would be wanted by vessels covering our trade and acting against hostile squadrons in the Atlantic. With the resources of these ports available, our ships would be able to chase further and would he placed at an advantage as to coal endurance compared with the ships of any nation to which we may be opposed. It is certain that the waters to the south and west of Ireland will receive much attention from an enemy seeking to injure our trade. Berehaven would save 180 miles of coal distance to Her Majesty's vessels cruising in the Atlantic. Lough Swilly is a most important point, especially for the American trade, which would in case of war pass round to the north of Ireland. Falmouth is required for a dispatch station. The Scilly Isles, connected as they are by telegraph with England, form a most important signal station. With a coal supply available at this spot, a fleet covering the channel could he kept coaled up ready at all times to chase in full strength. Nothing that could be said from this Bench would add anything to the combined and deliberate opinions of our Naval Advisers on these points, but I would beg the Committee to notice that the sum it is proposed to vote to complete the defence of these ports and coaling stations all over the world will not in all absorb more than the price of a, single ironclad or than that of any two of the great Atlantic liners, which for the Jack of a single one of these protected harbours might become a prey to an enemy's cruiser on the outbreak of war. ["Hear, hear!"] The second heading of the Schedule, and pecuniarily the largest, is that for barracks and completion of large camps, on which we ask Parliament for £2,989,000. I do not propose to detain the Committee long on this head, because the question is one which is familiar to the House and to the country. In 1880 £9,000,000 were pressed upon us by the Military Authorities to meet the necessary amendments of barrack accommodation, and £4,100,000 was voted as immediately urgent. If I am asked to state why £9,000,000 were required, the answer is that for the first two-thirds of this century the housing of the troops was greatly neglected, that there has been a, great advance of sanitary science in the last few years, and a general rise of the standard of accommodation for all classes of the population. ["Hear, hear!"] Moreover, there is a continuous and healthy pressure from this House that the Army, for the benefit of recruiting and for the credit of the country should be properly housed. ["Hear, hear!"] The sum now' proposed is necessary, first, to complete the replacing of wornout and unsanitary wooden huts at Aldershot, the Curragh, Colchester, and Shorncliffe. These were originally built to last 20 years, and although those erected at the time of the Crimean War were dealt with in 1890, those erected between 1855 and 1875 have far outrun their span of existence, and are most costly to maintain in repair. Next we have to provide for the increased garrisons at fortresses and coaling stations abroad, which have been pressed upon us by the Colonial Defence Committee or by the increases of garrison under successive Governments. We have also to build a cavalry barrack in Ireland, in place of Island Bridge Barracks, from which the troops have had to be withdrawn owing to typhoid fever; we have a Military hospital to build in London; we have to replace the barracks destroyed by fire at Winchester; and we propose to erect a large number of married quarters at various stations, in order to obviate the inconveniences which fall on a class on whom Military service often presses hardly. The details of the proposed expenditure under the head of Barracks will, as in 1890, be laid before the House in a schedule. So far I have been dealing with undertakings for which we have already received the authority of the House. I come now to the last head of the Loan—£1,149,000, the main items of which represent proposals of a, novel character. To these proposals I beg the special attention of the Committee. We have, however, in the first instance, to complete the arrangements for mobilisation for the defence of London, for which sums have been taken in the annual Estimates. The principle on which our troops will be employed for defence in case of invasion was drawn out ten years ago by the most eminent soldiers of the day, and was then approved by the Government. The points at which the various army corps will be stationed for the immediate attack of an invading force have been clearly laid down. But it has been held that, apart from the Mobile Army and the recognised garrisons, London must be surrounded by defensive positions strongly held and fortified with artillery, as a second line of defence. ["Hear, hear!"] By this means alone can, the field army be given absolute freedom of movement, and have the security that a light column striking at London from some other point of the coast will meet with determined resistance. ["Hear, hear!"] These positions therefore have, after an exhaustive survey, been selected by trained officers, and approved by the Commander in Chief and Adjutant General. Since 1888, by successive votes of Parliament, 13 of these centres have been acquired; storehouses have been erected on several of them, and works commenced. The scheme, therefore, is in full working, and the expenditure hitherto has been about £68,000. A further sum of £96,000 is required mainly to complete the storehouses and the access to the works. The objects attained will be recognised by every Member of the House. Sites have been chosen deliberately instead of hurriedly; concentration at these sites has been worked out; the storehouses will contain the ammunition and entrenching tools assigned to the lines of entrenchments to be manned, and we shall thus carry further the decentralisation of stores. Ten years ago the stores were all concentrated at Woolwich; and it was estimated that it would have then taken six weeks to distribute the stores in the event of war. In addition to the more easy and expeditious distribution of stores, we shall moreover have the very large forces assigned to these positions so placed as to be available within a few hours, to be drawn forward to support the field army in any place where additional numbers are required. ["Hear, hear!"] Even at a distance of nearly a century it may be worth quoting the opinion given by the Emperor Napoleon as to the value of fortified positions, especially in the case of the less highly trained troops:— At the time of great national disasters Empires frequently stand in need of soldiers; but men are never wanting for internal defence, if a place be provided where their energies can be brought into action. 50,000 National guards, with 3,000 gunners, will defend a fortified capital against an army of 300,000 men. The same 60,000 in the open field, if they are not experienced soldiers, commanded by skilled officers, will be thrown into confusion by a few thousand horse. The last, but not the least pressing of our requirements which I have to bring forward is the provision for the training of the troops by means of ranges and of manœuvres. ["Hear, hear!"] The question of ranges in this densely populated country is becoming yearly more difficult. [" Hear, hear!"] We have to find means for Corps of the Regular Army, of Militia, and of Volunteers, to shoot every year. We could not of course undertake to provide ranges in every county or for isolated companies. But our proposal is to expend a sum of £500,000 in setting up ranges at various centres throughout the country—with, it is hoped, camping grounds attached to them—at which it will be the duty of the General Officer Commanding to see that every description of troops has the opportunity of firing during the year. [" Hear, hear!"] I am sure the Committee will agree that that is the only way in which we can meet this great national dilemma in regard to the provision of ranges. ["Hear, hear!"] I cannot, of course, indicate localities, but I can assure the House that cheapness and ease of access will be the primary considerations. The Military Authorities have also pressed upon the Government a further step which, subject to the assent of Parliament, we propose to take without delay. The difficulty experienced in training the troops owing to the absence of manœuvres was brought before the House last year. We have in all 400,000 infantry, cavalry, and mobile artillery in this country. In case of war a General would have to handle at least 100,000 men. But there is no ground at present in this country where a General can learn the tactical command of more than 10,000 men. We are therefore asking our Generals to go into action, each with one, of his arms tied behind his back—["hear, hear!"]—and the fact that the House of Commons did not sec its way last year to pass the Military manœuvres Bill has rendered it more necessary that we should take steps to rescue our troops from their present hampered position as regards effective manœuvring. [" Hear, hear!"] Representations on this subject have been showered upon us by the Military Authorities. Lord Wolseley, the Commander in Chief, writes to the Secretary of State for War:— The regiments drill well and march past admirably, but neither the Generals, the Staff, nor the regimental officers are as well instructed in the practical side of a soldier's training as they should be. Our best officers know the theory well, but are sadly in want of experience in practising what they have learned from books. That experience they cannot obtain under existing circumstances in England, and I can see no prospect of their being as efficient as the nation expects them to be until they are annually given an opportunity of learning their work practically over a sufficiently wide extent of country. I think it my duty to impress on your Lordship, once more, the urgent necessity of purchasing a large and sufficient manœuvring area for the instruction of the home Army in the art and method of war. Lord Roberts, than whom there is no officer who has had greater experience in India, and who is now Commander of the Forces in Ireland, writes in a similar strain of the absolute necessity for instructing the troops in manœuvring. Sir Evelyn Wood, Quartermaster General, writes of the difficulty at present of training the Transport Service, which is not the least important of the services of the Army. He says that extended manœuvres are absolutely necessary if transport is to be trained. The Duke of Connaught, who commanded the manœuvres this year at Aldershot, reported to the War Office that the space available at Aldershot in August was such that manœuvres were impossible, and that only tactical instruction could be given. Finally, I quote the opinion of General Luck, Inspector-General of Cavalry, who has had immense experience in the handling of cavalry, which no man in Europe or Asia understands better than he. General Luck says:— Nowhere in the United Kingdom where Cavalry are quartered is it possible to even drill a Cavalry division; to manœuvre one is quite out of the question. At Aldershot and the Curragh there is barely room to drill a weak Brigade; no room to manœuvre one. At none of the other stations is there even room to practise a Regiment so as to fit it to take part in a Brigade. To send a large force of Cavalry on a campaign under inexperienced officers would be simply courting disaster. Lord Lansdowne, with these opinions before him, felt that it was quite impossible to take the responsibility of ignoring these demands. We feel the necessity of holding from time to time such large manœuvres as those for which we asked for a Bill last year. But we hold, beyond this, that we ought at all times to be able to manœuvre our cavalry, and to give a reasonable force of infantry an opportunity of training. Having regard to the fact that at Aldershot and in the neighbourhood the value of land since our occupation of it has gone up four or five-fold, and that we cannot purchase land round there at anything like a reasonable price, we have been obliged to seek some manœuvring ground in some other quarter. For this purpose my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary (Mr. Powell-Williams) early in the autumn entered into negotiations for the purchase of a tract of land with a considerable number of landowners, with a view of obtaining a provisional agreement in case the step proposed should be approved by Parliament. We have commenced to enter on those agreements, and we have every hope that, as a considerable number of them are concluded already, we shall be able to purchase a tract of land amounting to 40,000 acres, or about 60 square miles, on Salisbury Plain—[Cheers]—a proceeding which will, at a cost of less than £450,000—not more, that is the extreme amount required—give us a manœuvring ground three times the size of any available at Aldershot. This site is pronounced by the military authorities to be admirably fitted for military purposes; it will give us a good rifle range, and may also enable us to do our artillery shooting-there instead of at the present distant ranges. As regards price, if it be thought that we are asking for a large sum, I should like to remind the Committee that the State of Wurtemburg alone about two years ago spent a larger sum in providing a manœuvring ground for cavalry. We should, therefore, be making a good bargain for the nation, and I think it would certainly be an extraordinary thing if the British nation should refuse its troops the training which was pronounced necessary by all the military advisers simply because of this sum which we now ask for. I have desired to make it clear that the expenditure we ask for is of a permanent character. The fortifications which we propose to put up will be at places which always remain undefended; the barracks which we should substitute for these wooden huts ought to last for a hundred years; the land which we propose to buy will be a permanent and probably an increasingly valuable investment; and the sum which the Committee ask for for the whole loan will be repayable within 30 years. Therefore, we have not lightly entered upon this expenditure. There has been no time when the co-operation between Army and Navy has been closer than it is at the present moment. The heads of the two services are being constantly brought together, and the proposals, so far as they connect the two services, have the common consent of both. The Committee should remember that although large sums were voted for the Navy last year, we ought not to let our zeal thoroughly to equip the service on which we primarily depend prevent us from doing what is necessary to enable the Army to fulfil its functions. After all, an army besides its duties has its rights; every soldier who joins the service has the right to be housed fairly, and in a sanitary way—[hear, hear!"]—and every soldier has the right to get such training as will give him a fair chance with the soldiers of most foreign countries, and to know that he goes into action under Generals qualified to lead him. ["Hear, hear!"] We have asked for this expenditure because we think if is a sound and economical way of carrying on the work. I cannot conceive a worse economy than that we should vote 21 millions every year for the Navy, and not render impregnable the coaling stations on which the Navy depends for its utility, and in the same way I suppose we could not do a worse service to the country than to ask them to vote 18 millions for the Army and deprive our troops of the training which all foreign countries and every British officer considers necessary. Under those circumstances, having explained our motives, and having assured the Committee that we are asking for the minimum sum which is considered necessary for military efficiency and national safety, I can only say that I look with confidence to receiving a verdict of the House of Commons in our favour. [Cheers.] He moved the resolution authorising the expenditure of the money necessary for the purposes of the Bill.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester. Forest of Dean)

said he should support the Resolution as a friendly critic. He felt regret that the Government were not able to proceed with the Military manœuvres Bill of last year, and thought that, considering the importance of the interests involved, they were not quite stern enough in their desire to carry it. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought the present expenditure ought to have been entered upon as soon as it was considered necessary. He dared say that many of his hon. Friends on that side of the House might differ from him in regard to the present Bill, but he doubted whether they would sec their way to oppose it as a whole. As to the proposal to proceed by way of loan, there was, of course, a great controversy as to this system applying to the Navy, but he thought there had never been any difference of opinion in regard to measures such as the present. There could be no doubt that fortifications, barracks, and coaling stations had been so dealt with on former occasions, and there could be no ground for a new departure on this occasion. He wished that for all proposals of this kind, for which the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was responsible, they could have an even stronger statement from the Government. He had noticed in Parliament this Session, and in speeches during the recess, signs that the authority of the Committee of the Cabinet presided over by the Duke of Devonshire was increasing, and was stronger than it was this time last year. It then seemed doubtful whether it had the authority it was desirable it should possess. The statement of the Under Secretary for War involved considerations of policy larger than the mere figures of some of the items. The first of the heads under which the right hon. Gentleman divided his speech concerned works which, although technically military, were, in fact, naval works for the benefit of the fleet in its maritime defence of the British Islands and the Empire. He himself shared with the former First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) the opinion that we should follow the example of foreign countries by taking out of the hands of the Army, which did not manage them properly, stations intended for naval purposes. The Army should not have the management of what was intended for the Navy. The example of almost all the military Powers of the world was against us on this point. An American gentleman, who had recently made a careful survey of the coast defences and coaling stations of the various Powers, had reported that our arrangements were primeval and antiquated. The naval stations of the other Powers were under the control of their navies, and this gentleman thought it a much wiser plan than ours. It was shown last year how the Army and Navy had thrown backwards and forwards, like battledore and shuttlecock, the garrisoning of the naval bases of the country. All these bases should be under the control of the Navy, as was the case in Italy, Prance, and Germany. The second head of the Under Secretary's statement covered the question of barracks. It was a question as to which past experience should make the House careful and prudent. He did not complain of the expenditure or its amount. But where barracks were built sometimes had an undue effect cm the disposition of forces. The localisation of our forces often depended on considerations which, when trace I out, came to the accident of where barracks had been built under former loans. Therefore the policy of barrack loans should be carefully watched, that they might not continue the evil system former barrack loans involved them in. The building of cavalry barracks in town had been fatal to the efficiency of cavalry, and they should follow the example of Belgium by stationing them where they could perfect themselves in their duties. The Under Secretary seemed to think the proposal in connection with forts for the defence of London was a novelty. His chief reason for supporting the Vote of £96,000 asked for for this purpose was that it was not a novelty. The forts were begun under the last Government but one, and continued under the last Government, It was an extraordinary thing, considering the hundreds of thousands of Londoners who at least once a week walked about the hills where the forts were, that they should be unaware of their erection, but the policy of erecting the forts had never been discussed by the House of Commons. He did not believe a single word was ever said in the House of Commons on the point. On the panic argument alone the small expenditure the forts involved was worth incurring, for undoubtedly, if we got into a serious war the Admiralty would have to send the fleet about in a way that neither the public nor the Press would understand, and pressure would be brought upon them at a time when they would be unable to tell the public the reasons for what they were doing. The public would be more likely to keep their heads under dangerous circumstances of the kind if they thought there was something between them and invasion other than a fleet which might not be in the Channel at all. The defence of the country against invasion must always be, under any circumstances, a protecting fleet, and if the Channel should be clear in the sense of the seas being clear of the British fleet—not in the sense that it was a certain distance off attacking the enemy's fleet—than, he was bound to say he did not believe any military defence would save the capital from invasion. He agreed that it would be an improvement in our military system if the Volunteers were formed into brigade divisions and were placed under the command of men who thoroughly understood their work. One ground of objection that might be taken by some hon. Members to the Government proposal was that the cost of our military system of defence was enormous with an inadequate result, and that a great deal more might be done with the money. That was a point, however, that might be discussed more satisfactorily when the Army Estimates were under consideration. He, however, did not think that this particular Bill was open to attack upon that ground, and as he believed that most of the proposals it contained were sound he should be prepared to support the Measure.

SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

said that he most heartily joined the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down in his appreciation of the clearness and frankness of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War. He was quite certain that there could be no misapprehension with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It was most unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman's speech should have been delivered at an hour when the House was nearly empty, because if the House had been full it would have facilitated the Debate and would have saved any hon. Member from entertaining any misapprehension in reference to the subject. With regard to the acquisition of land for ranges and military manœuvres it was clear that if we desired to have an efficient Army we must have the means of training, not only our soldiers, but also the generals who were to command them. The advance that had been made in recent years in the range of our weapons rendered it absolutely necessary that we should acquire land for the purpose of shooting ranges, and therefore he could not understand any persons raising objections to the purchase of the necessary land by the Government, unless they belonged to that class who objected to our having any army at all. He should be surprised if any arguments were put forward against that part of the Bill. With regard to the barracks which it was proposed to build, he did not think that the carrying out of the works should be intrusted to the Royal Engineers, who, able and cultivated men as they were, had not the experience necessary to enable them to properly construct such buildings. Indeed, the consensus of military opinion, rightly or wrongly, was that the Royal Engineers were the last in whose hands the carrying out of the arrangements and the spending of the money should be placed. Next in importance came the question of mobilisation in the neighbourhood of London. He thought that if it were necessary to spend this sum of £200,000 as a sort of soothing syrup to the nerves of the people of London to induce them to believe that if the money were expended they would be secure from attack, the expenditure might be justified. In his view, however, the scheme could not be regarded as forming any part of the general system of defence upon which we should have to rely. His right hon. Friend was most particular in emphasising the fact that in other matters the Naval and Military authorities were agreed. Under the present Administration a great advance was being made towards unification of policy of the Naval and Military authorities, and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had preceded him that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was beginning to show signs of life. They could not separate the question of defending London from the naval question—they could not do it. They could not have troops coming over from Boulogne without raising the question of transport, and that raised the naval question, before a foreign army could be placed on these shores. Therefore he should like to ask his right hon. Friend whether he had full and entire consent of the Committee of the Cabinet. They must have the whole subject and the numerous questions involved approached in a practical spirit, and practical conclusions come to before they could say whether invasion was a bugbear or whether it was not. He should not labour that point any more, but he should say they had wasted money enormously in the past from having no fixed principle whatever. They came down one night and passed votes for the Navy, altogether disregarding other factors; and then on another night they voted money for the Army, as if no Navy existed. They were now trying to improve on that, and he hoped they would get rid of those mixed and confused notions, which cost so much and which landed then in a sea of difficulties. When he looked at the military question he looked at it from the point of view of military operations carried on over sea; and the first thing they had to see to was the efficiency of the British Army in connection with sea transport. If they were going to incur a large expenditure for the purpose of training their army, he did not see why they should not kill two birds with one stone, and give their soldiers transport training. He should have thought they could have got land, less costly than land near London, on the coast of Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, where the land was much less valuable than land in England. What he contemplated was organising a brigade every year, and landing it on some of these coasts, the land to be acquired by the State; then, after the training in transport and other duties, bringing the brigade back again. He doubted whether the difference of cost would be very much, and he questioned whether the saving in land would not go a long way towards the cost of the sea transport. That very question of sea transport they could not get away from. It appeared in this matter they were still very much in the old rut. They looked on the Army and the Navy as abstract quantities, and until the Committee of the Cabinet came to be masters of the position and exercised that influence which they ought to exercise on the Admiralty and the War Office they could not say that they had arrived at a better state of things. One more point he wished to refer to—the amount demanded for fortifications by the Admiralty. He believed that if the Admiralty were responsible for the naval bases they would find that the naval bases could be secured from attack by a less amount being expended on fortifications than the military authorities thought necessary. They had the authority of the Defence Committee to say that the Navy undertook to secure all possessions abroad from organised invasion from the sea. That being so, all we had to protect our naval bases and coal stations against was predatory attack of a limited character. He was most anxious to know what increased garrisons this contemplated Vote would involve. He remembered hearing a Debate in the House of Lords when the programme was put forward, as a result of Lord Carnarvon's Commission, and the Duke of Cambridge then warned the country that they should be cautious as to what they did in regard to enormous fortifications, for, he said, they were making no provision respecting garrisons. He asked his right hon. Friend to say distinctly whether the £1,200,000 would be spent on fortifications, and what his estimate was of the increase of garrisons. If an increase of garrisons was intended, that meant an increase of the Army, and an increase of that portion of the Army which he believed was too big already—namely, that portion that was to sit down and wait until it was attacked. Every pound spent upon garrisons must be taken from the striking force of the Army, the part which had to go abroad to fight. He trusted the Measure would pass speedily through the House, but confessed that, while he approved generally of the Bill, he, should feel it his duty to vole against the proposals in regard to the fortification of London.


viewed the proposals of the Government with considerable alarm, and thought such far-reaching suggestions as those laid before them somewhat suddenly might have been printed so that they could have considered them and been able to take a more intelligent part in the discussion than they could under present circumstances. When he read in the Queen's Speech:— Your consent will be asked to provisions which, in the judgment of the military authorities, are required for adding to the efficiency of the military defences of the Empire, he did not anticipate that those provisions would be introduced at so early a period of the Session, and he did not expect anything so bad as the reality proved to be. They were asked for 5½ millions sterling, one million of which was to be spent on making certain of the most remote harbours in the United Kingdom impregnable—that was the word used by the right hon. Gentleman—three millions on barracks, and 1¼ million on proposals which the right hon. Gentleman very properly described as novel. He objected to each one of those proposals. [Ironical cheers.] They were told there were only two men in favour of economy, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Leader of the Opposition was not present—[Ministerial cheers]—indeed there was no one on the front Opposition Bench—[renewed cheers]—to give any guidance to those who sat around him. He was sorry to say, too, that the Opposition Benches generally were comparatively tenantless—[Ministerial cheers]—and that the Irish Benches were absolutely deserted the whole time the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. He was glad, however, to see present one of the two economists, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Ministerial cheers]—and he hoped they would hear a word or two from him. He objected to the effort to make the remote harbours impregnable. Hundreds of years ago martello towers were erected in remote parts to make the country impregnable. The attempt did not succeed. If the attempt to make the coast, impregnable did not succeed, the Government would merely say, "We must make another effort." He wished the proposals of the Government had not been so large. For instance, they asked for no less a sum than three millions for barracks. It had been said that they had their duties as well as rights in respect to the soldier, and he sympathised with the remark, and thought they ought to make the soldier as comfortable as possible in his quarters. ["Hear, hear!"] But what he objected to was that the proposals were not put before the House on a more moderate scale. Had the Government come for a more moderate sum each year for barracks he should not have objected; but to ask for £3,000,000 at one stroke for the purpose seemed to him to be an extravagant demand. And what was worse was that, notwithstanding the large increase of expenditure, they had no security whatever of effectiveness. But the most novel and startling of all the proposals submitted was that referring to the fortifications of London. They had heard of 13 strong places to be erected round the Metropolis. To him the proposal was a startling one, and he should like to have some information as to where these fortifications were to be built.


I explained, on the line of hills round London. I am afraid I cannot make my meaning clearer to the hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.]


said that was not very definite. The line of hills round London embraced a circle of 120 miles; but what he wanted to know was where on those hills the 13 fortified places were to be erected. Was that the way the Government were going to expend money for the defence of the sea-coast? [Laughter.] Then it was proposed to spend half a million for rifle ranges although nut a word of explanation had been vouchsafed to the House why the expenditure was necessary. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh, but many hon. Members on his side of the House, and the public outside, would demand further explanation than had been given on the point. Another half million was to be spent on providing training grounds for the troops, and it appeared that little heed had been taken of the fear expressed by the people last year when the Military Manœuvres Bill was before Parliament, lest the country was going to be turned into a vast camping-ground for military purposes. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] Again hon. Gentlemen opposite laughed, but the Bill was not passed. ["Hear, hear!"] The objection he wished to make was that this proposed expenditure was on too great a scale. For years they had been spending large sums on increasing the Navy, and many hon. Members had been induced to vote for this expenditure on the ground that by doing so they would save in that on the Army. He confessed that he was disappointed with the tone that had been taken by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean on this point. The right hon. Gentleman had always supported proposals for strengthening the Navy, but he had always thought that the right hon. Gentleman did so on the ground that the Army was much too costly, and that they might save on the Army a very large portion, at least, of the extra sums spent on the Navy. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] The expenditure on the Navy was now £21,000,000 a year, instead of £12,000,000 twenty years ago. Now, the Government having wrung some money out of the country for the Navy, turned round in the other direction to get more for the Army; contending, not withstanding all that had been spent extra on the Navy, and the vast sums already spent on the Army that the country was still defenceless. At the present moment the amount expended on the Army was about £20,000,000 a year, and yet they had only a little army of 100,000 men—[Ministerial cries of "No, no!"]—he meant only an effective army of that number. France spent £25,000,000 on her army, but for that expenditure she secured an effective army of 600,000 men, with a practical reserve of over 2,000,000 men. He repeated that no security was given that, even if this large increase was granted, the country would have a thoroughly effective force. If judicious economy had been exercised the large sum granted for the Army last year might have been made to go much further than it had done, and in no administrative work of the Government was the hand of economy needed more than in that of the Army. ["Hear, hear!"] In 1860 the total Vote for the Army was £14,750,000, and the force was 5,000 more than at present. It seemed to him, therefore, that the more they spent on the Army the less effective it became. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] He looked with suspicion on such serious proposals of increased expenditure at so early a stage of the Session, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would adopt a suggestion which had been made and provide hon. Members with a paper giving adequate information, and would give them an opportunity of considering it, before launching definitely on this increased expenditure. ["Hear, hear!"]

GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverford west)

said that in the matter of the proposed fortifications round London the Government were either going to do too much or too little. If they were going to build a few blockhouses round London they would lead the people to believe that there were fortifications on which they could depend. The experience of Paris did not commend itself as an example to be followed. He was very much afraid that they would be placing their dependence on these fortifications, and considering them rather than increasing the efficiency of their active forces. It seemed to him much more important to increase the efficiency of their Army than to devote themselves to fortifications. With regard to the proposal as to barracks, he must say he thought it was high time they did spend some money on them. The hon. Gentleman opposite complained that they were going to spend £3,000,000 at one time upon barracks, but he would point out that that was because they had been neglecting to spend money for so many years past. They had now to meet the neglect of all those years. He could not help thinking it was very desirable that they should purchase and own a ground for manœuvring. It was one of the great objections to Aldershot that after three or four years had been spent at that station everyone knew the ground and there was nothing fresh about it. If that was so, was there not the same danger if they purchased and had one fixed ground for training. While it was desirable to have a ground of their own for training, was it not important that their troops should go over new ground every year, and that they should be trained on ground which was unknown to them. He was thoroughly with the Under Secretary in the matter of decentralisation. He had seen great confusion arise simply because instead of decentralisation, instead of the officer commanding the troops being able to make his own arrangements for his stores, separate and independent bodies dealt with those stores. Let them have decentralisation and their Army would be much more efficient.


said it seemed to him that this money was requested on the assumption that forts were required for London. He held that the insular position of Great Britain rendered Great Britain practically invulnerable. Provided they could hold the seas, provided they could smash any fleet in the Channel or elsewhere with their fleet, there need be no fear of invasion. Then there was this point. No nation, he cared not what nation it was, could invade this country for the simple reason they had not got transport enough to carry the troops. Granted that their fleet was smashed up in the Channel what was their position? There was no need to invade the country at all. All the enemy had got to do was to block their ports and they would be "end up" in six weeks. They would be brought down to their knees by starvation. Grant that London was invested. He asked in all seriousness how long could they feed the population? He should have liked to see the Under Secretary bringing in something more practical. He quite agreed with the necessity of fortifications, but there was something far and away beyond that. Where were their national storehouses of food to feed their soldiers and their millions of inhabitants? They were beginning at the wrong end of the stick. He cared not for the money so long as it was for the safety of the Empire, but he held that a nation would go down if it could not feed its population and defend itself. He would have liked to see the advisers of the Under Secretary lay down a plan of large storehouses from which in case of invasion, they could feed the population. If they could not feed the population what was the use of their forts? There would be no fear of invasion so long as we kept up a strong Navy and ample Naval reserves, though if it should come to pass that the nation generally had to take to soldiering, each man would shoulder his rifle and certainly make as good a soldier as the French conscript. But the weakness of Great Britain was that she could not supply national food for two months. What, then, was the use of spending all this money for forts around London? He did not object to spending money for necessary military works and barracks; he did not object to fortification of our coaling stations; indeed, he had advanced this in the House, and still thought that in the want of fortifications for our coaling stations was a source of weakness. But the military advisers of the Department were shortsighted in paying attention only to the southern coasts of England and Ireland. Why neglect the west coast of Scotland? Why not fortify some of those natural harbours we had—for instance at Mull, where a whole fleet could be hidden? Did not history tell of the not unsuccessful exploits of Paul Jones? As he had said before he said again—he knew no Party in this matter. ["Hear, hear!"] He had no objection to spending money to maintain the greatness of the Empire—he was a Radical Imperialist. ["Hear, hear!"] But the problem he commended to the consideration of the Department was how to provide national storehouses, how to feed our population in the event of a great war. ["Hear, hear!"]


as a practical soldier, realised the value of the announcement made by the Under Secretary and the grasp the right hon. Gentleman had shown of the requirements of the Army. Whether it be on his own initiative or as the mouthpiece of the Defence Committee, every practical soldier would be indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. ["Hear, hear!"] In his criticism of some of the details the hon. Member (Mr. Lough) seemed to have forgotten that new weapons had been invented that would carry three or four miles, and if the hon. Gentleman had any doubt of the range, let him spend his summer holiday two miles from these new weapons. As to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about martello towers, he should be aware that these were never intended for more than the prevention of the landing of a small foreign force, and no more intended to make a coast impregnable than the military canal through Romney Marsh was intended to make New Romney impregnable. He was glad to find it was intended to use a large portion of Salisbury Plain for the manœuvring of troops. Undoubtedly it would be better to manœuvre on fresh ground each year, but the objections and difficulties in doing this were well known. They must get what they could, and though it might become well known, a space of 40 miles square would be a useful ground.


explained that he spoke of 40 square miles, not 40 miles square.


said the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth wished to have money spent in embarking troops, but in his experience this did not require much training. It would be well if it were possible to train troops not to suffer from sea-sickness. The hon. Member for Gateshead had dwelt upon what no doubt was the great difficulty in defending London, the finding of food for the population. If London were completely encircled and the port closed by a fleet, London would be starved, perhaps in a fortnight, being such a large place. But he would point out that there was a strategical possibility of the invasion of this country. There might be a fleet or combination of fleets sufficiently strong not to hold the whole of the seas, but to block the two ends of the British Channel. With a fleet at each end the waterway would be free, and an army could pass from France into England and an invasion might take place, while the rest of the sea might be sufficiently open for large convoys of provisions to come in which would enable this country to struggle against the invaders for a few weeks. The result of that struggle, he believed, would be that the foreigner would be hurled back across the seas. He thought, with regard to the item for barracks, that the words which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, should be considered by everybody. He did not know that there was any other Member in the House who had such a wonderful and intimate knowledge of the details of the army and navy, and of foreign armies and the larger principle of organisation. The right hon. Baronet had pointed out that this money, which was to be devoted to the defence of London and the building of barracks, should be expended in a systematic way. They had got no organisation at the present time. Surely it could not be that in this country they had got no organiser of sufficient capacity to work out a scheme to which they could look forward in the future. They could not perhaps, find all the money for carrying out the scheme immediately, but they could have the details and principles of it and work up to it. With regard to the spending of money on the fortification of London, the Under Secretary said that he looked upon it as part of a large scheme of decentralisation. He seemed to look upon it as a system of building some fortified camps round London which were going to be centres of organisation, and therefore, decentralisation of the present system. It seemed to him, however, not so much decentralisation as extension of the centralisation which existed at the present time. Whatever it be, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would look carefully into the question and see whether the money to be devoted to the defence of London and the building of barracks could not be spent in a systematic way. The problem of organisation was a difficult and complicated one to face, but there must be military advisers of the Crown who could work out a real system to which they could look forward in the future. If the money was spent with regard to such a scheme as that, he could only say that any objection which he had to this small amount of money being spent on the defence of London—he believed insufficient because it would only repel a very small invasion—would be instantly removed.


while congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his statement thought it would have been much better had it been published and placed in the hands of hon. Members sometime before the discussion came on. He complained that the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers had not paid sufficient attention to the West Coast of Scotland, which was in need of more adequate protection. An enemy's ships at the present time could very easily make an entrance through the North West Coast of Scotland. At present there was nothing to prevent an enemy's ships from gaining access to the Pentland Firth, and steps ought to be taken to strengthen the ports on the north west side of Scotland, so that they might be available for naval purposes. He was glad that provision was to be made for the erection of better quarters for our soldiers than wooden huts. Too many of the existing huts were insanitary, rotten, and worm-eaten. It was also well that there should be an improvement in married soldiers' quarters. He approved of the proposed expenditure on rifle ranges. Ranges for the new Lee-Metford rifle were wanted all over the country. If there were only a few such ranges, the cost of conveying men to the places where the ranges were situated would in the long run cost more than the £500,000 now asked for. The item of the proposed expenditure which was open to criticism, was the sum allocated to the defence of London. It was too small for effective purposes, and, instead of their present plan, the Military Authorities might just as well surround London with a number of ginger beer bottles filled with powder. To expend only £96,000 on the defence of London would be simply playing with the question. Effective defences would cost eight or nine millions. To prepare defences for London similar to those that existed round Paris at the time of the German siege would be of very little use.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.