HC Deb 23 February 1903 vol 118 cc487-9
*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can arrange to give to the House any annual opportunity, in Supply or otherwise, of discussing such matters connected with the co-ordination of Imperial Defence as between the two Departments primarily charged with it as are not at present the subject of any Vote; for example, the dwindling of the garrison of so important a coaling station of the Fleet as Thursday Island.


We cannot, I think, question the motive of the right hon. Baronet's Question, and I have some hesitation in answering it in the affirmative. There are two reasons. First of all, there are technical difficulties in the way, for the discussion, to all intents and purposes, would be a discussion in Supply not relevant to the particular Vote; but that reason might be got over if we were quite clear as to the question of policy. But my hesitation on the question of policy arises because the right hon. Gentleman proposes, in effect, that there should be an annual debate on the strategic position of the British Empire and the various ways in which we ought to distribute our Army in view of a possible combination against us. I am not sure that a debate of that kind in the House is really very useful. It is not merely the right hon. Gentleman who will have to exercise the right of giving his views on all these rather delicate national questions, but he would force the Government to make a reply. If the reply was a complete reply, which would suit all sections of the House, the Government would be compelled, I am afraid, to go into details which I do not think it is much to our advantage that we should discuss in the House. If we, on the other hand, were to be content with a fragmentary reply, it might be urged that we were glossing over the difficulty, and I do not know that the general gain would be great. As at present advised, I am not ready to assent to the request of the right hon. Gentleman.


asked if, when the re-organisation was complete, Papers would be laid setting forth the nature of the new Committee of Defence.


Order. order.! That does not arise out of the Question.