HC Deb 03 July 1899 vol 73 cc1365-86

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

Since we passed the Resolution in Committee, authorising the introduction of this Bill, two memoranda have been issued. Since these Military and Naval Loans Bills were first resorted to the process has gone on, growing more rapidly from year to year. At first several years were allowed to elapse between the passing of one such Bill and the bringing in of another, but now this present measure is introduced after all interval of only two years. We are called upon to provide a further sum of £4,000,000, making within three years a sum of £9,450,000 for military works. Nor is that all. We ate informed that this sum of £4,000,000 is not sufficient to carry out the complete scheme of the War Office. There is no such thing as a complete scheme in either the War Office or the Admiralty. The more money they get the more they are sure to require within a Very short In this Schedule "A," winch gives the particulars of the expenditure of the £1,000,000 row asked for, we are told that the complete scheme is estimated to cost £6,900,000. We have had some experience of these Estimates of the War Office, and we know that to round off this complete scheme many more millions will be required. I contend we have entered upon an extremely vicious course of finance in departing from the good sound principle of voting year by year the money required by these services, and confounding the finances of the country by introducing these Loans Bills, which have the result of enormously increasing the expenditure. The Under Secretary for War made a remarkable statement in his speech when he said that the method of proceeding by loan was proposed by the War Office because they found that when they called upon the House for money for military works, criticism in Committee of Supply cut down their estimates enormously, and they consequently did not get all the money they required. What was the Committee of Supply set up for, but for the purpose of criticising and cutting down Estimates?


The hon. Gentleman is under a misunderstanding. The "cutting down" occurred long before the Estimates came before the House.


It took place from a wholesome fear of the criticism of the Committee of Supply, and that is point. The system of introducing Loans Bills was then fallen back upon, because it was found that enormously larger sums of money could by that means be got through the House. That is a strong argument against these Loans Bills, because the whole system of the Committee of Supply has been devised for the purpose of checking the inevitable tendency of all the great spending Departments of the State to swell their Estimates. Human nature is so constituted that if there was not that check the Departments would swell and expand their Estimates until the back of the taxpayer was completely broken by the burden. Under the favouring circumstances of a wave of Imperial expansion which has passed over the country, the War Office and the Admiralty have set up for themselves a wholly peculiar position with reference to the taxpayer of this country. Why should they have the right to depart from the principles which control the civil departments of the State? Why should not the civil departments have a right to come with a Loans Bill and get £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 set apart for them, and spread over two or three years? Under the first head of the items of expenditure is a sum of a round £1,000,000 for defence works. That looks rather suspicious. We are told that all these sums are based upon the most careful and elaborate estimates. It is rather a large demand upon our credulity to tell us that the War Office having carefully surveyed the military necessities of this vast Empire arrived at the conclusion that the sum actually required was £1,000,000—not a penny more nor sixpence less. We are not in- formed where the £1,000,000 is to be spent, nor have we the slightest indication of the purposes for which it is to be used. Many of the leading experts in the House tell us that this money is an absolute waste—just as much thrown away as were the enormous sums that were spent by Lord Palmerston on the defence of Portsmouth and other southern ports. I never pretended to be an expert about the War Office, but some time ago I read columns of letters in The Times from the hon. Member for West Belfast, who poses as a great authority on these matters, and in those letters we were distinctly told that the War Office is a "perfect monument of blundering stupidity." And yet that is the body to which we are asked to entrust a million of money without an atom of information as to how it is to be spent. I am inclined to pin my faith to the hon. Member for York, who said that this money was going to be absolutely wasted, and that the proper use would be to station at those ports which are to be defended by military works a crusier which could defend the port and in case of necessity be useful to sally forth and attack the enemy. I daresay that is a proper view and entitled to consideration. To the next item I have not the slightest opposition—£1,600 for building an enormous barracks at Salisbury Plain to make decent provision for our soldiers. But there are other items in this list to which I take the strongest possible objection. One is for the provision of barracks at Bermuda, Jamaica, and Halifax. I do not see what object there is in erecting fresh barracks and fortifications in these West India Islands. I firmly believe that in a very short time all the West India Islands will go over to the United States. That will be the inevitable result of the war between Spain and the United States, and the passing of Cuba into the system of the United States. You are in vain endeavouring to prop up these colonies by a system of loans. They are bankrupt, but under the United States they will prosper; and when Jamaica and the other islands find that nature has intended that they should be part and parcel of the United States, they will state so, and the people of this country will not be foolish enough to resist their wishes; and if they are foolish enough they will find that this condition of things will arise—that these islands will require you to spill out your money in order to keep them loyal, and that you will end by getting so tired of the process that you will give them over to the United States. There is another reason why I think the people of this country are foolish in pursuing this policy. You are always talking of the Anglo-Saxon race, and a large section of the people of this country are nursing themselves in the delusion that you can succeed in cultivating an alliance with the United States. That is a condition of things that I think is exceedingly unlikely to come off. But supposing it were, do you think you are promoting that state of good feeling by the provision of these fortifications and troops in the West India Islands? Against whom are you providing? Who is likely to touch these West India Islands? What European Power is likely to have the means of attacking them? The thing is absurd. There can be only one power against which you are fortifying these islands, and that is the United States of America. Therefore, from your own point of view, this is a foolish waste of money. As to the item of £130,000 for the erection of barracks at Wei-hai-wei, every possible opportunity ought to be taken to protest against the system, which has advanced by giant strides within the last two years, of getting in the pay of this country regiments and armies—as they are growing to be now—of strange and foreign and unchristian nations. It is an abominable system, and the further it extends the greater will become the monstrous evils to which it will lead. We heard for the first time last year of the African regiment and the Soudanese regiment, whose conduct in war it is impossible to foresee. They will undoubtedly commit atrocities which ought to bring shame to the people of this country. But now, forsooth, not content with having had black regiments and Egyptian regiments and regiments of various other nationalities, we are now to have a yellow army. Human life and suffering are as nothing to them, and they commit the most appalling atrocities without any sense that they are committing atrocities at all. I protest against this Vote upon the grounds which I have stated, and I hope it will not be agreed to.


I confess that I share the dislike of the hon. Gentleman opposite to the system of getting money by Loans Bills instead of putting the expenditure on the Estimates in the usual way, and subjecting it to Parliamentary criticism. The criticism to which it would then be subject is quite different from that to which it is subject when it comes before us in a Loan Bill for a lump sum. In the Estimates each item is brought forward in detail, but when once a Loans Bill has passed there is an end to Parliamentary control over the expenditure. The sum involved here is really very large. The sum of the Bill is £4,000,000, but we are told that that is not the whole of the scheme of the War Office, but that £3,000,000 more will be wanted. In addition to that there is 5½ millions of the 1897 Loans Bill, so that we have a total of over £12,000,000. We can quite understand why the proposal is put into this shape. If it was put in the usual way, Parliament might be unduly curious and unduly troublesome about granting the money. Take the very last item—"Staff and contingencies, £190,000." I thought the staff was provided for in the Estimates. Is this an additional staff? If it is, this is not the right place to charge for it; but it should be on the Estimates. The salaries should be included in the Estimates, and laid before the House, so that the House could have an opportunity of criticising not merely the total amount, but the individual salaries, and, if need be, the power of moving the omission of any individual salary or individual member of the staff. Perhaps we shall have some explanation of that. There are two items I wish to call special attention to. First of all, let me remark as to the West Indian barracks. I think it is highly proper that they should be, rebuilt and improved according to modern requirements, and the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that the only country against which we should have to defend the West India Islands is the United States, is entirely unfounded. We have had to defend them many times before, but never against the United States, and if we had to defend them again it would not be against the United States. As regards Wei-hai-wei, this £130,000 represents a very much larger necessary expenditure than appears on the face of it. This is simply the housing of troops which will cost you perhaps millions, and it represents, in my opinion, a very dangerous departure in English policy—a departure which involves a want of confidence in the Navy to do its business, and a tendency to rely rather upon the War Office than upon the Admiralty for the defence of British possessions, not only here but abroad. If you are going to put down permanently such a large number of soldiers as will cost you £130,000 to house, and that only as a beginning, such a step must give pause to anybody who has the interests of the Empire at heart. I hope my noble friend behind me will explain to the House what is the meaning of the permanent presence in Wei-hai-wei of such a body of troops as will require an expenditure of £130,000 to house them? If, as the hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested, the larger part of those troops are to be Chinese troops, then this £130,000 represents a much larger number of troops than would be the case if they were European troops, because the housing of Chinese troops is much cheaper than any other. Now I come to what I consider is the great blot in the Bill, and that is the first item of £1,000,000 for defence works. The hon. Gentleman opposite is not quite accurate when he says the War Office places this at the exact amount, for it proposes £306,000 more. The proposal of the War Office is for £1,306,000, of which this £1,000,000 is but an instalment. This is for defence works, but what defence works? You have got provision for rifle ranges, staff contingencies, and barracks, and here von ask for this large sum of money without any explanation at all, without any detail, and without any suggestion of the kind of work you are going to provide, and you do not even mention the places where the work is to be carried out, or the character of those places. You simply ask permission for the Government to expend £1,306,000 on defence works. Now what are these defence works to be? It has been suggested by my hon. friend the Under Secretary of State for War—and it is the only suggestion we have had on the subject—that first of all it would be imprudent to state to the House the exact places where the defence works are to be erected, or their exact nature, because it would give information to the enemy and would be injurious to us. Now I absolutely disbelieve in all this secrecy. You do not hesitate to show foreigners every secret in our dockyards, but when you show a man a thing, unless you show him how to make it, and when it is made how to use it, you have not shown him much. It is extremely foolish to affect tins secrecy in respect of defence works, because as soon as you begin to lay your first brick it will be in all the evening newspapers, and all foreign nations will know exactly what you are going to do. It seems to me that, before the Government ask us to allow them to speed this million of money, they ought to give the House some general scheme as to what they are going to do with it, and they ought to give us something like the same details as they have given with regard to the barracks. There are forty or fifty lines of details in regard to the proposed barracks, which are relatively unimportant, but there is not a line of information about the details of this enormous item for defence works. If it be true that a large portion of this money is being spent in setting up forts for the defence of commercial harbours, then I say that is distinctly an item which the House ought not to sanction. I ventured to demonstrate to the House the other day that a raid upon a commercial port by an enemy Was practically impossible, and eat, if possible, would practically do no harm at all. If that be so, how much better it would be to spend this million on another ironclad. The House will observe that it is not the Admiralty which is in a fright, but the War Office. I should like to know w Nether the First Lord of the Admiralty was ever consulted about these defence works? My right hon. friend thinks that is a business which does not belong to the Admiralty, but belongs to the War Office. [Mr. GOSCHEN: "No."] Then I misinterpreted his smile, and I do not know what he smiled at. It does scum to me that the first person you should ask about these defence works is the First Lord of the Admiralty, because it is his primary business to afford us protection by ships and not by bricks and mortar. I do very seriously deprecate this new departure of attempting to defend your maritime ports no longer by ships but by earthworks and garrisons manned by the Army, for it marks a departure from the traditional policy of this country, which is to defend ourselves on the sea. That is where we must fight our battles, and not at any English commercial or naval port. It is at sea where all those great battles have been fought which have decided the safety of the British Empire, and it is at sea where they will have to be fought again. It is absurd, when you claim to have naval supremacy, to go pottering about building earthworks and setting up forts with little tin soldiers to man them in order to defend your commercial ports. If your Navy is not strong enough to defend these ports none of these earthworks will be of any use whatever. But if you are going to use money in this way, then you should justify your action by giving us the names of the places where you are going to spend the money, and give us some idea of the nature of the fortifications which you are going to erect, and let us know whether this money is to be spent upon guns or torpedoes. At any rate, I cannot conceive with what sort of face a Government can come down on the House of Commons, and, without giving any details whatever, ask us straight off for a million of money to spend in what they call defence works. This, to my mind, is the great blot in the Bill, and I do trust that before this discussion ends the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War will really afford the House some information with regard to these naval defence works. I am no enemy to expenditure for naval and military defences, but I would rather see an increase in naval and a decrease in military expenditure, and I am afraid that the nature of this proposal is the other way, and that when the War Office gets this £12,500,000 the argument will go against an increase in the Navy. I very much regret that this Bill was introduced this evening at this late hour, because I am afraid the Debate will suffer, and I am still more sorry that no further information is forthcoming in regard to these defence works.


The hon. Member for East Mayo appears to have misunderstood what I said the other night. I did not say that the £1,000,000 put down for defence works was unwise, but what I complained of was that a sum of £130,000 was going to be spent on Wei-hai-wei, and that the Government had absolutely changed their policy there as far as I could understand it. ("No, no.") The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench says "No," but he has his opinion and I have mine. When the question of the occupation of Wei-hai-wei was first brought before this House I expressed the view that I thought it was a very valuable secondary naval base, and it would have been valuable if we had adheres to the original policy of the Government at the time, which was the maintenance of the integrity of China. But since then the Government have changed their policy, although right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench may deny it, for we have now drifted into the policy of spheres of influence, and that being so I think the possession of Wei-hai-wei will certainly be a great danger to us, because it will not be near our own sphere of influence. As far as the rest of the million of money goes, I think it is a very good expenditure. There are two questions to remember in fortifying places on shore. It is absolutely necessary that your naval arsenals should be adequately fortified and defended so as to allow your fleet to get out into the blue waters to tackle the enemy. In regard to the question of fortifying our commercial ports, I think it is the duty of the fleet to keep the enemy away from your commercial ports, and if we once agree in this House to fortify our commercial ports we shall have a very great power against us, because you will at once create a political power against you. You will not then be able to fortify one commercial port without being consistent and fortifying a great many other commercial ports, and no doubt pressure will be brought to bear on the Government to fortify other ports; and hon. Members of this House, in the interests of their constituents, will say to other hon. Members, "If you will support me in getting my port fortified I will support you to get your port fortified." If you spend a million of money in fortifying commercial ports—where an enemy ought never to come at all if the fleet is properly managed—you will be taking that amount of money from your mobile defences by which the fleet ought to be supported. With regard to Wei-hai-wei, if we are going in for this spheres of influence policy into which we are drifting, we shall have to take over the Yang-tsze province, for it is absolutely absurd to think that we can govern this province from Pekin with the Pekin Government, for when you do away with the constituted authority you will have to set up something in its place, and to do this you will have to occupy that province with a large number of men. That is the reason why I object to the expenditure of this sum of money for Wei-hai-wei, and I shall vote against it whenever it comes before the House. My position at the present moment is rather difficult, because I do not want to vote against the whole Bill, but I do want to vote against this item for Wei-hai-wei, which is put into the Bill. As to the rest of the Bill, the larger proportion is devoted to reforms and improvements which are absolutely necessary. I think the condition of the barracks in this country is simply a scandal to both this and the preceding Government. In the past our soldiers were not properly housed, and they have been put into very insanitary places, and I am very glad that the Government have decided to overhaul this matter, and are going to put these barracks into a state of proper repair, where the men can live decently. The hon. Member for East Mayo spoke of the objection which had been taken to our engaging armies of different colours; but I do not see why he objects to that, for our Empire is so enormous that even if we had conscription we could not properly police it it we had disturbances in our own territories, or if we had some disagreement with foreign nations. Therefore, we must have these coloured armies. My proposal to China was to have a Chinese Army, with a British officer at the head of it, on exactly the same lines that the Maritime Customs now are; that is to say, there should be a British officer at the head, but non-commissioned officers from all nations should manage the army; and I hold that it is not too late yet to do that, if we allow Russia to occupy Manchuria, and I do not see how we can prevent it. As we have got 64 per cent. of the trade of China let us manage the rest of the army. It is not a bit too late to do that now, in my humble opinion, and if we do it we shall get the vested interests of all countries all over China, and then there will be a unanimous opinion, shared by all countries, that the open door will be maintained. With regard to this question of fortifying Wei-hai-wei and other places, I should very much like to know if that mystical body the Council of Defence has been consulted over this matter, as far as the fortifying of Wei-hai-wei and other places is concerned, because I do not believe that any naval or military officer would agree to fortifying commercial harbours. Such expenditure is certainly an absolute waste of money, and there can be no objection on the part of the Government to telling the House what commercial harbours are going to be fortified, and why they are going to be fortified. As far as the West Indies go that is a point of naval base, and we have had to fight for the West Indies against many nations, but if we have a fleet big enough we shall not have to go to war at all. I think the Government ought to let the House know how this money is going to be spent as far as the commercial harbours are concerned, because I think the House will object to voting money for the defence of commercial harbours. I will not occupy the time of the House longer, because I shall have another opportunity later on of opposing, with all the vehemence I can command, this policy in connection with the fortification of Wei-hai-wei.


The noble Lord has made a number of interesting observations, with many of which I find myself in agreement. On the subject of the fortification of Wei-hai-wei and the commercial harbours, the noble Lord says he will give to that the strongest possible opposition, but how is he going to do it? That is one of the most remarkable features of the position in which we stand. Here is a White paper which has been distributed by the Government for the information of the House, and it is headed 'Military Works Bill Account, 1899." It is endorsed "Schedule A.—expenditure on services to be undertaken under the Bill. Schedule B.—complete War Office scheme." It is called Schedule A, just as if it was a schedule to this Bill, as if we had any control over these items. This is issued merely as information munificentia of the War Office to us for our gratification, but we have no control over these items. In these War Office Bills for loans, why should we not follow the same course as is pursued in the case of Navy loans, and put in the schedule of the Bill those items which we see here set out in the White paper. If this were done then the noble Lord could move to strike out the item for Wei-hai-wei or any part of it, or he could move to strike out any other item to which he objected. Now he is helpless in the matter, and cannot do so because the Bill comes before us with only this meagre statement of general figures, and the noble Lord cannot oppose the expenditure on Wei-hai-wei if he wishes to do so. He may move to reduce the amount asked for, but that would not affect the Act; and if he succeeded in reducing the amount it would not follow that Wei-hai-wei would be left out. As far as I can remember the Admiralty system, it gives the particulars of the works for which the money is wanted, and in that way it gives the House the power which it ought to possess. Now, Sir, I think of late years we have launched into this system of loans to an extent which is greatly exaggerated. I admit that there is a great convenience in loans when you can contemplate a uniform, steady, and uninterrupted expenditure of money upon a particular service without being exposed to the freaks and vicissitudes of the Estimates. That is a great advantage, no doubt, over the modern system, whereby the money in repayment of the loan—that is the sinking fund which is formed for the repayment of the money borrowed—is put upon the Estimates, for that brings the whole expenditure within the knowledge of Parliament. This does not give information or control over the details of the scheme—I do not mean the minute details, but the general details of the purposes for which the money is wanted. That, I think, is the main circumstance which strikes me in regard to this Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn pointed out that we had first a loan of £5,500,000, and now we have a loan for £4,000,000; we are also going to have another £3,000,000, and that makes up a total of £12,500,000 within the space of a very few years. We are asked to vote this £4,000,000 before the £5,500,000 has been expended, and the War Office do not exhaust the one before they demand the other. Now if these were continuous services we could understand to a certain extent that they should run into each other; but I think it is a little hungry on the part of the Government that, after having got £5,500,000 in 1897 they should come back to us in 1899 with another large proposal of the same kind, before the former sum has been expended. In this White paper which is before us I should like to ask whether the items which are given will complete the service. For instance, there is the sum of £130,000 for Wei-hai-wei, and I will take that item because it has been mentioned before. Will that sum complete the barracks at Wei-hai-wei? Taking the whole question, it will be seen that at foreign stations and barracks the total sum to be expended is over a million of money, and the money provided in this Bill for this purpose is only £450,000, so that we do not know as to any of these items whether the money before us now proposed to be provided will complete the service. I will not now enter upon a discussion of the policy of Wei-hai-wei, although I share the opinion of the noble Lord opposite in regard to it. It seems to me that Wei-hai-wei, having been somewhat of a puzzle and a mystery from the first, Her Majesty's Government are now trying to give consistency and something like reality to it by spending a little money on it. But I cannot see, and never have been able to see, what advantage it will be. If it is to be a minor naval base, it will only detain ships for the purpose of defending it which ought to be available for employment elsewhere. As to the raising of an army there by drilling a few Chinamen in one of our rival spheres of influence, I think that is one of the most original ideas that has ever been propounded as a serious policy. The other point which has been referred to is the policy of the protection of our commercial ports. But there are commercial ports and commercial ports; there are ports the possession of which or the destruction of which by an enemy's ships would be a damage to the naval and military efficiency of the country. I will take such a port as Liverpool or the Clyde. Obviously they are not naval ports, but they are ports which may be used for the refitting and the building of vessels for the purposes of the Navy; therefore they are almost as valuable as naval ports. But when you come to the mere seaside town, I think the idea of wasting money on such fortifications in seaside towns is not to be contemplated for a moment. I remember some years ago blaming the Admiralty—or those who were responsible for conducting the naval manœuvres under the authority of the Admiralty—for the silly practice of sending ships round the coast of these islands and demanding ransom from the unfortunate towns at which they stopped on their way. I remember that one of the big ironclads found its way to Aberdeen, and the captain immediately sent a polite message ashore demanding £500,000 ransom from the Lord Provost. Now if I had been the Lord Provost I should have answered this captain in two ways. First of all, I should have said, "Our dirty £1 Scotch notes won't do you, the enemy, any good if we give them to you, for we shall at once repudiate them. What you want is sovereigns, and we have not got £500,000 in sovereigns in Aberdeen, or even in the whole of Scotland. Will you be good enough to call some time about the middle of next week, and then I may have got down from the Bank of England enough sovereigns to pay this ransom." My second reply would have been, "My dear captain of the enemy's ship,—You are going to destroy my town if I don't pay you this ransom: will you be good enough to go on and blaze away?" I should advise him to do that be cause every shot that he fired would cost him a great deal more than all the damage it would have done to the town. On the whole I think that the people of Aberdeen and other towns by the seaside may sleep quite comfortably in their beds and not be in the least afraid. I am using that argument quite beside the superior argument of my hon. friend opposite and of the noble Lord, that of course the Navy ought to prevent the possibility of such a thing happening. If the Navy cannot prevent it then no fortifications can. I hope, therefore, that none of this money will be spent on any such purpose as that. But I draw a great distinction between such places as I have been speaking of and places which are either depots for coal or large harbours, and ports where there is a possibility of large shipbuilding and of beneficial assistance being given to our fleet. We must provide against all contingences which might be dangerous to such ports as these. I join with the noble Lord in saying that I am not willing to put any impediment in the way of this money being voted, because a responsible Government approves of it, and I will not stand in the way of anything which is On their responsibility considered necessary for the national defence. I hope, however, that even yet we will be furnished in the schedule to the Bill with the particulars contained in the White Paper. That would enable Parliament to keep control over the expenditure not in a meddling or interfering way with those carrying out that expetaliture—but it would entail that authority, full knowledge, and power of Parliament which I think are essential for control over the expenditure of public money.


I feel it is only due to the right hon. Gentleman that I should rise at once to give such answers as I can to the criticisms which he has passed on this measure. I welcome the general support with which the right bon. Gentleman concluded his speech. We are glad to think that the responsible leader of the Opposition feels bound to support the Government of the day in any claim they make for the necessary defences of the Empire. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech—and referred to the same topic at the end—by suggesting that we might have followed a more convenient form of presenting our scheme to the House, and he suggested that it would have been rather better if we had followed exactly the precedent of the Naval Works Act. Instead of that we have followed the precedent of the Military Works Act of 1897. I have read the Debate on that Act very closely, and I am not aware that any section of opinion in this House found much fault with that method of presenting an absolutely similar scheme. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that under the method we have adopted he has till the information given in the plan of the Naval Works Act, and he has also ample opportunity for criticising the policy of the Government. He himself has disclaimed any idea that it would be possible to watch minutely over the detail of a large scheme of this kind—such as that a barrack in such a place should have been built for a lesser sum, or that a little money was wasted here or there—but he wishes to keep control over our policy. We are asking for four millions, and in respect of the barracks portion of that scheme, we have given in an explanatory schedule the names of all the stations at which we intend to spend money, and we have classified those stations in a series of classes the purpose of which is perfectly evident. The right hon. Gentleman took as an illustration of the kind of inconvenience he anticipated the proposed expenditure of £130,000 upon Wei-hai-wei; and he said that they could not control our policy in that respect, because this particular sum was not in the schedule to the Bill but only in the explanatory schedule; but I venture to think that he or any other Member of the Opposition could move the reduction of the sum we propose to take for barracks by £130,000 in respect of Wai-hai-wei.


We could not do it, because Wei-hai-wei is not mentioned in the Bill. I do not think it would be in order.


As to points of order I am not a very good judge, but I am bound to say that I believe if a Minister in charge of a measure of this kind states in a Parliamentary Paper that he has taken £130,000 for a certain purpose, it would be competent for the right hon. Gentleman to move a reduction of that amount if he disapproved of the purpose for which it was intended. Either he would be unsuccessful in the Division Lobby or he would be successful If he were unsuccessful it would be taken that the majority of the Members of this House approved of our policy. But if he were successful we should either have to abandon our policy with respect to Wei-hai-wei or abandon this bench. I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman has ample control over any question of policy embodied in this scheme. Let me remind the House how much information we do give. In the explanatory memorandum we have given full information as to the total sum we mean to expend on barracks. We have also undertaken in thee Bill to begin no service which cannot be completed for the total sum in the schedule, and we have also undertaken to publish at the beginning of every session, with the Estimates, a statement of the sum which we expect to spend on the different services in the course of the financial year. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman will always be in a position to how what we are doing. The alternative plan of bringing in successive Bills is one to which much inconvenience attaches, and it does not facilitate criticism by the Opposition of the policy of the Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman followed on the lines of attack pursued by those who preceded hint in the Debate, though certainly he did not push the attack with as much conviction as other hon. Members did. He deprecated the frequent use of loans in place of Estimates in this respect, but the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member for King's Lynn went a great deal further and spoke about going back to the good plan of providing for these services out of the Estimates. But that never had been the "good old plan." There have been Loan Bills in 1860, 1872, 1888,1890, and 1897. As regards barracks, that service has been almost entirely met by Loan Bills, because it has been found quite impossible to do so by the alternative plan of Estimates. The idea that we could proceed by Estimates is altogether beside the mark. It may be my own fault that such an idea exists, because, in introducing the resolution on which this Bill is based, I adopted, or attempted to adopt, the plan of debating by reference. Legislation by reference is sufficiently confusing, but Debate by reference is worse, and perhaps I altogether failed to convey my meaning. I referred the right hon. Gentleman to the Report of the Committee on the Army Estimates of 1888–89, and to the speech of my right hon. friend the Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs, in bringing in the Works Bill of 1897. In the Report of that Committee, and in the speech of my right hon. friend, there are arguments to which it is very hard to find a reply in favour of proceeding by loan rather than through the Estimates. Assume for a moment that you are attempting to recast the barrack system of this country by the Estimates. As hon. Members are aware no new service can be begun until the particular Vote for it has passed the House, and the War Office would not be justified in taking any preliminary steps, such as to survey land, until the Vote for that par- ticular service had been passed by this House, perhaps ill the middle of August. That would mean that we should lose all the best buildings months in the year, and we should find ourselves just getting under way as the frost set in. The result would be that each year the programme for that year would be left unfinished, and at the end of their term of office the Government would have to leave to their successors a number of half-completed edifices. It is considerations such as these which have led preceding Governments and tins Government to adopt a plan of loan instead of the plan of Estimates. But the right hon. Gentleman says, "That is all very well, but you are coming to us rather soon. You came in 1897, and you are coming back again in 1899." I endeavoured to point out the other day why we have come back so soon. The reason is that in 1897 and 1898 Parliament sanctioned an increase of 25,000 to the Army, and it was incumbent on us to give them a roof and four walls. The hon. Member for King's Lynn wished to know what was meant by "Staff and contingencies, £190,000." It means pretty well the architect's and clerk of works' bills. I believe in civil life they amount to about 5 per cent. in connection with the mere execution of the work placed in the hands of the architect and clerk of works, and the same applies to military works. Five per cent. on the amount would be £200,000, but we have reduced it by £10,000, because part of the total of £4,000,000 will be spent in the purchase of land. The other main line of criticism has been directed against us in respect of the defence works portion of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that we were not going to spend more money upon watering places. That is not our intention. He was good enough to) say that in respect of the Clyde and the Bristol Channel it might be right to spend a certain sum of money on defence, and also to give confidence to the people of this country. I should really like to repudiate the charge that we have given no information. It has been said by the hon. Member for East Mayo that we have not given an atom of information, and the hon. Member for King's Lynn also said we gave no information. I gave a great deal of information the other day, and I believe that a third of my speech was devoted to indicating the kind of places on which we intend to spend money on defences, and I thought I made it plain. I cannot understand how anyone can come forward now and say that we are going to spend enormous sums on the defence of commercial ports. It is asked how much money will be required in respect of these defence works. In the Act of 1897 we asked for £1,120,000; this year we are asking for £1,000,000. If we include all the money spent for defence purposes on the annual Estimates of the last ten years, and add to them the additional sum of £306,000, which we believe will be necessary in order to make the defence works of the empire a going concern, we arrive at a total of £3,000,000, sanctioned, asked for, or contemplated, in a period that has already lasted for ten years. That is not 1 per cent. on the expenditure on the Army and Navy during that period. How, therefore, can it be contended for one moment that we are abandoning our old policy and going in for building castles on the sea-shore? And of this £3,000,000 for defence works the greater part will go for services the value of which has been recognised by my noble friend the Member for York and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The greater part of it will go to make secure our principal naval bases, our secondary naval bases, our coaling stations, and our strategic harbours. None of our experts have a shadow of doubt as to the value of these services. There are not more than three or four men who doubt that money can be well expended upon them. But obviously they will absorb by far the larger part of the £3,000,000, and will leave only a comparatively small portion for the defence of commercial ports. When it is suggested that we have been pursuing a War Office programme, and have not consulted the First Lord of the Admiralty, I would remind the House that the allocation of these sums was decided first upon local reports which were sent up to the Joint Naval and Military Committee. That Committee submitted a further recommendation to the Committee of Defence of the Cabinet. In this case, the Committee of Defence of the Cabinet referred the question to a conference of experts, and the sailors had as much to say on the matter as the soldiers. As to the nature of these defence works, they are prac- tically earthworks; but the ground must be very carefully levelled in order that the guns may be laid and aimed with absolute accuracy, and the works must be stable in order that the level of the guns may be retained. There is no idea of going back to the brick-and-mortar school. We feel that a great deal is to be gained by leaving the exact location of these defence works shrouded in a little mystery. It is better that people should know that a certain number of our ports are protected, and then they will think twice before trying to make a systematic list of those which are and those which are not protected. Our policy in respect of defences is, with the exception of Wei-hai-wei, practically supported by my noble friend the Member for York and by the Leader of the Opposition, and hardly any criticism has been passed on the barracks portion of the Bill. I hope I have met the criticisms which have been advanced, and that I have explained that the method we have followed is the most convenient, and that it will give the Opposition every opportunity of criticising the policy of the Government.

MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

I venture to express the hope that the First Lord of the Treasury will agree to the adjournment of this Debate. This is one of the most important Bills of the session. We have all fresh in our recollection the speech delivered by the Under Secretary for War, when he introduced this Bill, in which he stated that this Bill was a substantial part of the programme of imperial defence laid before the country by the present Government. It is an essential part of that programme, and it is quite impossible that it can be adequately discussed in one and a half hours at the end of the evening. It has very important military aspects and very important financial aspects, and in the few minutes now at my disposal I would wish to deal with one or two[...] of these financial aspects. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has already called attention to the fact that we are taking part in a very large scheme for the construction of barracks by means of a loan. The Under Secretary for War said it was always the practice, and that it was done in 1860, 1872, 1890 and 1897. True in 1860, under Lord Palmerston's scheme, money was borrowed for large fortifications, but that was a new departure. In 1872 there was a further step in the same direction—one which financial authorities did not approve of; but from 1872 to 1887 no further step was taken until the Imperial Defence Act was brought forward in the latter year, and from that year to this we have had a succession of Bills brought forward for the construction of barracks and other military works by means of borrowed money, thereby relieving the military Estimates of a charge they had previously borne. The Under Secretary for War contends that it is impossible to construct military works out of the Estimates. That is all nonsense. It has been done repeatedly in the past and is still done to a very considerable extent by a much greater military power than this country is. At the present moment India builds all her barracks out of the revenue of the year, and not a single rupee is borrowed for that purpose. If that is possible in a country like India, surely it is possible in the United Kingdom with its vast financial resource's. There is a very strong objection to constructing these barracks by means of loans. If they were constructed under a Vote as in the past, Parliament would retain control over the military and naval financial resources of the year, and it has never shown in the past any reluctance to continue expenditure oil work once authorised. I defy anyone to point out a case of a great military work in which Parliament refused to vote sufficient sums once it was authorised. There is also another objection to this system. The Under Secretary for War tells us that this Bill contains essential military works which are required to be constructed within the next three or four years. But how are they going to be paid for? Under this Bill essential military works required during the next three or four years are to be paid for during the course of the next thirty years, and at a time of great prosperity like the present you are actually going to spread over thirty years payment for work which you say is essential during the next three or four years. In the bogus schedule which has been attached to the Bill you have put in the works to be constructed under this four millions, but you also put in further works which will have to be constructed in order to make this scheme complete. That is throwing a burden which this generation ought to bear or our successors.

It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.