§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I rejoice that the exigencies of public business have given the House the chance of discussing a subject which, I know, has excited very widespread interest among all Gentlemen concerned in Imperial defence on both sides of the House; and, while I am glad that the House should have an opportunity of expressing its views on the subject, I am glad also from my own point of view that I am able to supplement the very brief statement which I made at a public meeting about three weeks ago—a statement necessarily incomplete, but which, incomplete as it was, is the only statement which, I think, has as yet been made to the public on this subject As the blouse is aware, there has been for many years in 1579 existence a Defence Committee of the Cabinet, and I may perhaps commence my observations by explaining in what respects the present Defence Committee differs from that which it has replaced. In the first place, it differs from it as regards the subjects with which it deals. The general practice of the old Defence Committee was to take up the points referred to it from time to time by the Cabinet. There might be a question, perhaps, between the War Office or the Admiralty and the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon which some discussion outside those two Departments was desirable, or it might be that some question of Imperial defence which had risen for the moment above the horizon had attracted the attention of the Cabinet and was referred by it to the Defence Committee. In that capacity the old Defence Committee did, I think, extremely good work, and was a great improvement upon the state of things which existed before it was called into being. But the new Defence Committee is much more ambitious—at all events, at this early stage I have no right to use any other word—in its scope. The idea the Government had in establishing it is not to take up from time to time questions referred to it by the Cabinet, but to make it its duty to survey as a whole the strategical military needs of the Empire, to deal with the complicated questions which are all essential elements in that general problem, and to revise from time to time their own previous decisions, so that the Cabinet shall always be informed and always have at its disposal information upon these important points. They should not be left to the crisis of the moment, but when there is no special stress or strain the Government and its advisers should devote themselves to the consideration of these broad and all-important issues.
So much for the change of subject, scope, and design between the new Defence Committee and the old. It only remains for me to describe in what the constitution of the new Committee differs from the constitution of the old one. The old Defence Committee was, in the strictest and narrowest sense of the word, a Committee of the Cabinet; and like all ordinary Committees of the Cabinet, it kept no record, and it admitted to its council no outsiders. Of course, that 1580 does not mean that the old Defence Committee did not ask the opinion of naval and military experts which the Government had at their disposal. It only means that those experts came to the Committee, not as members, but as witnesses. They came, they were asked questions, they were cross-examined, and they gave their opinions, and those opinions were considered by the Cabinet Committee, and the Cabinet Committee formed its judgment, like other Cabinet Committees, and conveyed that to the Cabinet as a whole. There are obvious disadvantages in that course. In the first place, it is of the essence both of Cabinets and Cabinet Committees, in the narrower sense of the word, that they keep no records. There are great objections to that procedure when you are dealing with the particular class of subject with which the Defence Committee is en trusted. In the first place, even during the continuance of a single Administration, it may well happen that the conditions of the problem change, and that they have to be reconsidered by the Defence Committee, and by the Cabinet which it advises; and it is an enormous additional labour that the whole matter has to be gone into again, and taken up in the midst of its responsible and multifarious duties by the Cabinet. The members themselves, or some of them, may well have got rusty in the details of the problem on which they made up their minds before, and only remember the outline of their decision. If this new plan bears all the fruit which I hope it will bear the conclusions of the Defence Committee will be embodied not merely in resolutions, but in reasoned documents in which the whole ground upon which those conclusions have been arrived at will be set out for the information, in the first place, of the Cabinet of the time; and in the second place of the same Administration at a later period, for revision if need be; and last, if not least, for the information of their successors in office.
There are a great many things in which there is discontinuity between successive Administrations in this House, chosen, as they commonly are, upon different sides of the House. But there is one point on which there ought to be no discontinuity, and that is the military and naval policy of the Empire. There may be differences, 1581 of opinion. There have been, indeed, in my own experience, most important differences of opinion, not between the members of that Bench and members of this Bench, but between the First Naval Lord at one time and the First Naval Lord at another time, between two successive Boards of Admiralty, two successive Commanders-in-Chief, two successive sets of experts belonging to either Department. It is most important that when these differences of opinion show themselves, the grounds on which the former decision was arrived at should be there in a simple, easily intelligible, easily accessible form. Then there will be the data which will enable those who take up for the second time or the third time the reconsideration of these old problems to cover without trouble the ground already traversed and, if changes are necessary, to make them with the minimum of trouble, friction, waste of time, and inconvenience. When we remember how very hard-worked under modern conditions both Ministers and heads of Departments are, I think even the mere saving of time, let alone the increased clearness with which these grounds will be apprehended if they are put on record, is of the utmost importance. Of course the decision arrived at next week or the week after next binds nobody. It expresses the opinion of this Committee at the moment, and does not bind even them not to reconsider their decision if new facts come up. It does not bind the Cabinet of whom they are only the advisers; still less does it bind their successors in office. They will approach the consideration or reconsideration of these great problems absolutely unhampered. But, whilst they are unhampered by the decisions of their predecessors, they will be fully informed of the grounds upon which those decisions have been arrived at. That is the first great difference between the new Defence Committee and the old Defence Committee. The Committee will keep records, and the records will not consist of bare resolutions, saying so many men are required for this or that purpose, so many ships are necessary for this or that need. We shall have something much more than that, namely, the full-blooded and detailed account of the reasons on which the conclusions 1582 come to are based. The second difference is as to the actual constitution of the Committee. It differs fundamentally from anything that can be described as a Cabinet Committee which, as far as my experience goes, has ever existed in the past.
I think it is all the more important that I should explain to the House the constitution of the Committee which we have provisionally, at all events, determined upon, because I think that something which I said at Liverpool may have created some misconception in the public mind on the subject. Or view is this—that there must be a fixed nucleus in this Committee. If you do not have that, you do not have continuity. If every time a topic is to come up you re-create your Committee, there is evidently not that continuity of consideration which I am sure is all-important if really valuable conclusions are to be arrived at. That is the first condition we lay down.
The second condition we lay down is that this fixed and permanent nucleus should not be too large. It is very easy to say, and we all are tempted to say, that every available person who could give a valuable contribution to the discussion of the strategical subjects should be admitted to this Committee. I am quite sure that those who have seen much of committee work will not be misled by that view. A committee to do anything must not be too large. It is perfectly true that by restricting the numbers you will exclude from your councils, from your immediate discussions, persons of great capacity and great knowledge, whose opinion would be eminently worth having; but the main point is to have the machine a working machine—a machine that really can get through the extraordinarily complicated and difficult problems with which it has to deal, which it would never do if its members were permitted to grow beyond certain narrow limits. Therefore there must be a permanent nucleus, and the nucleus must not be too large. The permanent nucleus which we have tentatively, provisionally at all events, determined upon, makes the Cabinet members of the Committee consist of the Lord President, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. It 1583 makes the non-Cabinet members of the Committee the First Sea Lord, the Commander-in-Chief, the Head of the Naval Intelligence, and the Head of the Military Intelligence. That I think is quite large enough for that continuous and permanent nucleus of which I spoke just now. I think, though I am not sure, that I misled the public by an incautious phrase at Liverpool. Whilst that is a permanent nucleus it does not mean that the gentlemen I have enumerated are for all purposes and on all occasions to constitute the whole of the Defence Committee. For instance, it would be quite absurd for the Defence Committee to discuss any problem involving the expenditure of public money without asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take part in our deliberations. It would be quite impossible for the Committee to discuss such problems, for example, as the defence of India, without asking the Secretary of State for India and his military advisers also to take part in our deliberations. It would be quite impossible to discuss any problem in which were closely intertwined the current questions of diplomacy without begging the Foreign Secretary to come and give us his opinion and advice. Whilst I mention those particular Members of the Cabinet as obviously being required from time to time, I do not mean to exclude other Members who, for any particular reason, may be required to help us; nor do I absolutely exclude the introduction of other Members who are not Members of the Cabinet, though on the whole I am disposed to think they should as a rule come as witnesses rather than as Members. On the other hand, I pronounce nothing more than a tentative opinion. That is the constitution of the Committee as we have conceived it. It differs, of course, from the old Committee in the fact that it has upon it an important body of experts: and there are some who, I think, would wish to go farther and would like to have a Committee of Defence entirely composed of military and naval experts who should discuss these problems among themselves and then go to the Cabinet with a cut-and-dried opinion upon the various points submitted to them or upon the points which they think ought to be brought to the notice of the Government. Personally, I am strongly opposed to that. Remember that has been tried, and within its limits 1584 has been extremely useful. There is at this moment a Joint Committee of the Army and Navy, to whom a great many problems have been submitted, and who have given very valuable assistance.
In my judgment the Committee of Defence, if it is to be worth anything, must contain a strong Cabinet element. I believe that to be important for many reasons. I believe it to be very important for constitutional reasons—from this point of view, among others, that Cabinet opinions come to the Cabinet with a very different kind of weight to the opinions of mere experts. And, further, I think that, as the decisions will have been arrived at by the help of members of the Cabinet, they will, whatever their value may be, receive a deference and support which they never could or would receive if they were simply thrown at the heads of the Cabinet from outside. That is a reason, I think, everybody will agree with; but there is another reason with which there may not be equal agreement. I have the profoundest respect, need I say, for expert opinion, whether naval or military; but I cannot help thinking that even the best of soldiers and the best of sailors give a better opinion after they have been thoroughly cross-examined by civilians than they do before they have undergone a process which, I hope, is not unpleasant, but may be long and laborious. This Defence Committee, as I need not say, will be full of instruction for civilians and Cabinet Members, and I hope it will not be without its instruction for even soldiers and sailors. I entirely agree with those critics of our old system, our old national system, in which the Navy decided its own affairs without consulting the Army, and the Army decided its own affairs without reference to the Navy—I agree that was a very faulty system. That is cured by bringing soldiers and' sailors face to face on this Committee. While the soldiers will benefit from the sailors and the sailors from the soldiers, I hope both will benefit from the civilians; at any rate, I am vain enough of the class to which I belong to think that that happy result may not be impossible. I really think I have now said all that I need say, except to give two warnings; to the House. One is that I regard this as experimental and tentative. I hope and believe it will bear roost valuable fruit. I hardly dare hope that it is incapable of modification in detail, on 1585 perhaps even more than detail. I think experience, and experience only, will show how it works. Therefore, I do not set it before the House as a scheme to which we are unalterably attached in all its details; but I lay it before the House as a great experiment on a great subject an experiment, however, I ought to add, which, from the very brief period in which we have tried it, I am inclined to think is likely to do, if not all, yet much of what its fondest parents have ventured to hope from it.
The only other point is just to remind the House of what everybody knows, but which we are all liable to forget, that however well you constitute your Committee you must not expect too much from it. I have heard in the many criticisms of our military system, of which the last few years have naturally been filled—I have heard it thrown out that everything would go smoothly in war if only those most qualified by knowledge and general intelligence had considered the problem. Well, war is much too full of surprises to allow of prophecies by any set of prophets, however certain they may be. Constitute your Committee and your Intelligence Department as you will, you will have in any war in which you may unhappily be engaged, many surprises, not all, I hope, unpleasant, but all quite beyond the purview of even the boldest and most experienced prophet. Then is the time when the happy but irresponsible critic comes down and says, "Why did you not foresee this, that, or the other?" Well, the more we try to foresee the better; but, try as one will, no reconstruction of Departments, no attempt, however successful, to bring the best brains of the Empire to deal with the Empire's problems will prevent difficulties arising in time of stress. War is full of the unexpected. But though that be so, it ought not to cool our efforts or chill our enthusiasm for any change really for the benefit of our naval or military organisation: and I cannot help thinking that the experiment which we have begun—though we begin it in no vainglorious or overconfident spirit—may yet prove not inefficacious to carry out the great ends for which it is designed. I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given notice.
1586 Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, the growing needs of the Empire require the establishment of the Committee of Defence on a permanent footing."—(Mr. Balfour.)
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
said the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in an answer given to-day, said he was not disposed to suggest or impose on railway companies a return as to a surprise month. Now we have a "surprise" day in our proceedings here. The right hon. Gentleman has found an idle day apparently at the very beginning of the session when the Government are not prepared for discussion of their business, and he uses the time for the purpose of endeavouring to induce the House to accept this Resolution. Until we heard his explanation we were in ignorance of what the Resolution pointed to at this moment. Let me at once say there cannot be two opinions as to the necessity for taking this large, broad, and comprehensive view of the naval and military needs of the country. Happily the days are over, which some of us may remember, when there used to be a sort of policy of "pull devil, pull baker" as between the two defensive services, and each set about its business without any reference to the ideas, the desires, or necessities of the other great service. Those days are gone, and this is a question of how far we may carry the ideas of a permanent and recorded series of decisions on military and naval questions. We are agreed up to this point; but as to the particular method by which it is to be accomplished, I think there is considerable room for variation of opinion; and I think the right hon. Gentleman has tried—no doubt involuntarily—not to force, but to tempt, the House into an expression of opinion, when the House really has not had time to consider the real nature of the proposal.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that in his speech at Liverpool he made a very incomplete statement, and, further, that in that statement he used some expressions which had given rise to misconception; and it was with that incomplete information, and possibly under the influence of this misconception, we came here to-day. Although the right hon. 1587 Gentleman has made much clear that was obscure before, yet I think it would be a "strong order" to ask the House to commit itself to the endorsement of any proposal, good, bad, or indifferent, on such a subject at such short notice. The right hon. Gentleman set a precedent for this mode of dealing with a great military question two years ago, but I do not know that the precedent was a very happy one. We had been accustomed previously to hear the policy of the Minister explained in Committee of Supply, or other opportunity, and it was open to the House to take such line and express such opinion as it chose. But two years ago the right hon. Gentleman came down with a cut-and-dried Resolution, which he asked the House to accept, embodying the Army Corps scheme, which was accordingly, under the influence of Government authority, and, no doubt, of the feverish state of mind that then prevailed, accepted in haste by the House.
§ SIR. H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Yes; that is a point in my favour. I say in haste. I call three months in haste. So very definite and particularised a scheme as that required more than three months for consideration in all its bearings. On that occasion the Secretary of State expounded his scheme on introducing the Estimates in March, and did not invite a decision from the House until May.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
But there are plenty of other means of discussing a matter without asking for definite approval of a particular scheme. The House has already repented of that definite approval. [Cries of "No, no."] 1588 Yes, so far as we can judge. [" No, no."] Well, I will leave hon. Members on the other side who are divided on the subject to settle the matter among themselves. Certainly a large number of those who then expressed the most complete approval of that scheme now appear by their voices, rather than by their votes, to have altered their opinions.
We come to a matter now which is less 3omplicated, but one which is a very delicate constitutional question, and may give rise to great consequences in the future. We are asked to commit ourselves with only a few minutes' consideration to this proposal. I admit at once that as it stands on the Paper it is very vague; it commits no one to anything. What I would say generally upon the scheme is this: this Resolution embodies a mere pious opinion in which we would all be ready to join, viz., that the growing needs of the Empire require the establishment of the Committee of Defence on a permanent footing. I have no objection to that at all. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] I mean I have no objection to the words which I have read, but I may object very much, and many Members may object, to that which is read into the words, and that to which the House will be held to commit itself if it agrees to the words. The right hon. Gentleman says that in its present condition the Committee of Defence has not done all that he thinks it might do, and that he is now going to give it a more ambitious scope. He referred to the particular changes that were to be made. First of all, there is to be a fixed permanent nucleus. The first point that is raised is this: Is it desirable that these great officers of the two services, two representing the Navy and two the Army, should be actually members of this Committee? That is the most important point of all. The members of the Government would have the means of ascertaining the views of these officers in any way they chose; they might call upon them to consider any or every question, and to hand in memoranda for the information of the Committee and the Cabinet. They might have them before the Committee, not exactly as witnesses, but as the confidential and intimate advisers of the Government. You could have them in that capacity if you liked, but if you make them members of the Committee 1589 you will interfere, or you may interfere, very seriously with that Ministerial and Cabinet responsibility which constitutes the foundation of our system of Government. The Minister must be supreme. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that he is supreme. In what way is he supreme? He is a colleague on the Committee of Defence with those who occupy these great positions in the two services; he sits side by side with them on the same footing. It is quite true that the Cabinet to which he and the other Ministers belong is behind the Committee, but he, after all, is the most influential member of the Cabinet, and the others who are on the Committee are, next to him, perhaps the most influential. How then is it possible to say that the Cabinet have the opportunity of overriding, supervising and modifying the decisions of the Committee when the principal members of the Cabinet have themselves been members of the Committee?
Then we are told that the decisions of the Committee are to be recorded and handed down. I do not know how they are to be recorded, or who is to record them. I think the scheme can hardly have been fully thought out, because the right hon. Gentleman talks of a permanent nucleus. Where is the permanency of this nucleus? The Commander-in-Chief changes; the First Lord changes still oftener. We were told it was so awkward that a new mind had to be brought to bear upon these great questions, and to go over the ground that predecessors with minds equally acute and accomplished had alread gone over, and that this was to be avoided by giving to the Committee the element of permanency. But you do not give permanency to the Committee in the sense in which it is spoken of. But, after all, the decisions of the Committee are to be revised by the Cabinet; I am thankful for that, because the Cabinet, as a Cabinet, have to keep their eyes and ears open to other considerations altogether than those which the mere Committee of Defence, and especially the professional members of that Committee, would keep in view. Allusion has already been made to the strange absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the Committee. I should have thought the question of 1590 finance—the question affecting the taxpayers—was perhaps the most important that could be considered.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Then he will be a member, and in that case whoever may be a permanent member he, will be, because I can hardly conceive any subject being brought before the Committee which does not, either remotely or directly, affect the interests in charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Committee of Defence having come to a certain conclusion, either in agreement or in disagreement with the professional members, the matter then goes to the Cabinet. The proposals made, the facts stated, and the arguments on each side are recorded for the instruction of future generations, but when the matter goes to the Cobinet, which surely is the most important moment of all, none of the reasons or the arguments which prevail in the Cabinet are ever recorded in any form. So that it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is running after something which cannot be accomplished when he seeks to have a record of the reasons for the conclusion arrived at. That there should be a record of the opinions of the professional members is perfectly right; I see no harm in that at all—in fact nothing but good. Let them have the fullest opportunity of stating their views. But when the members of the Cabinet have to decide upon the acceptance or the rejection of those views, a class of considerations and ideas come into play which it is impossible to place on record without the greatest inconvenience to the public interest. You must maintain your Cabinet secrecy. If you do not do so, I do not know where you will be landed. Cabinet secrecy must govern the decision come to by the Members of the Cabinet who are on the Committee.
These are the considerations which occur to me after hearing the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and I think they are deserving of full consideration. What, after all, is aimed at? What is the value of it? According to any reasonable plan, 1591 you will have the full mind of the professional adviser; the Cabinet Ministers and the civilians—for whom I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman put in a word, because they are sometimes looked upon as of very little importance—will consider all that the professional advisers have said and come to their decision. But why should that be known to the general public? Is it to be known?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That depends on the Minister. I do not know that a Minister would not say that such and such a question was discussed, and such and such a decision arrived at. That depends on his discretion. But the proceedings of the Committee, of course, will not be published, but will be embodied in a confidential document.
§ Sin H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I understand that any decision that is come to will not be binding in any way, either upon the individual Minister or upon any subsequent Minister.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Then I do not see what you gain by this elaborate machinery that you could not gain at this moment; and still less do I see why you come to the House of Commons and ask us to give our approval to this Resolution. You do not require legislation: you do not require a vote. Why should the House be asked to commit itself to a Resolution of this kind, which Resolution in its vague terms any one of us would accept, but which, as implying acquiescence in all the particulars of the scheme, is rather too much to demand on such short notice and with so little information as has been vouchsafed to us? On these grounds I think I should best represent my attitude in the matter, which is one of entire approval of the co-ordination of the two services, and of the power of securing the co-operation of the services and of enforcing on the heads of these services a large view, not only of their own interests but of the interests of 1592 the sister service. We all approve of that, but when you come to the question of the constitution of this body, as the right hon. Gentleman has described it, I think it is premature to ask the House to approve that which the Prime Minister himself says is after all but a tentative and experimental organisation. Therefore, Sir, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I understand that upon this question nothing but the adjournment of the debate can be discussed. That, I think, is a most unreasonable proposal on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. With all respect to the House, if I may say so without rudeness, so far as the Government are concerned, it really matters not one farthing. We do not ask money for this scheme It is not to serve our interests as distinguished from those of anybody else But the House, having passed the Supplementary Estimates with a celerity quite unexampled, there was an opportunity, without interfering with the general programme of business, of finding a few hours in which hon. Members might express their views on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman now comes forward and tries to deprive the House of that opportunity. That seems to me a most unreasonable proceeding, and I strongly protest against it.
§ *MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
Before the House goes to a division, I should like to say a few words. I think the Prime Minister has some justification for what he has said, because the Motion has been merely one to enable him to explain, and others to express their views, as to the proposals; and certainly, as regards myself, I am not committed to this scheme in any shape or form. The Government will have the whole responsibility for whatever may happen as a result of it, and I think we should certainly give them an opportunity of setting up what has, in effect, been asked for so long, and I shall cordially support this proposal. I do not myself see the slightest necessity for a division. The Government admit the responsibility is theirs, and the House 1593 is now really going to get what has been asked for during the whole of the war. Over and over again it has been said, "Where are your expert opinions? Have you no record of them, so that we may have an opportunity of judging what they advised?" and so on. I understand that this Motion outlines something; this is going to be a business like procedure on the part of the Government which will enable their successors to know the reasons upon which they have based their policy. I cannot, therefore see that any particular harm can be done. During the progress of the war many speeches were made, notably one by the Prime Minister, and which I will describe as the "man-in-the-street" speech.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that the only matter before the House is the Motion, and that when that is disposed of the hon. Gentleman will be at liberty to discuss the scheme.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that there is no necessity for an expression of opinion from the House [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] and that he will not press for it on this occasion. I have not the slightest wish to prevent the House discussing or stopping the discussion in any degree. The House ought not to be asked, and it is unnecessary to ask it, to express an opinion to-day; but it will not be an undesirable thing that Members should have an opportunity of stating their views. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Withdraw."]
§ MR. KEARLEY
I should not have intervened in the debate had not the Motion for the Adjournment really forced the House to go to a division. But I am determined if it goes to a division that it should not be supposed that I and those who voted with my right hon. friend are hostile to the proposal of the Government, as I think the Prime Minister is justified in stating his position to the House. I always thought that a Motion such as this before the House was introduced as an act of courtesy on the part of the Government, and merely as a peg upon which a discussion might hang, so as to enable the House to form some idea as to what their scheme was in connection with the amendment of the Council of Defence of the Cabinet.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I do ask the Leader of the Opposition not to persist in this Motion. It is true that there has been a very short notice of the discussion, and it is true it would have been more convenient if more time had been allowed: but that also has some advantages, because, the debate coming as it does, nobody will take part in it except those who have given some time and attention to this subject. My right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury said that this is an experimeent, and that the Government have only made a provisional arrangement, and so forth. The Resolution he proposes is more or less of an abstract nature which only affirms permanency, and therefore what he has come down to the House to do—that i to ask the advice of the House—is a proper course to take. Under these circumstances I do trust that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will not see fit to continue his Motion.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
Is it understood that there is no intention of pressing this matter to a division? [MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no."] I think something of the kind was said. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Divide, divide."] I think everything the Prime Minister has said would be secured by an open discussion without having at the end of it a Party division. I therefore think it ought to meet with the approbation of everybody if we appeal to the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw his Motion on the understanding that the debate would be of that open character. I respectfully appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury to say whether the object he has in view would not be best served in that way instead of taking a hurried division.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I think the House may be in some danger of proceeding to a division under a misunderstanding. I am quite sure there is nothing further from my right hon. friend's mind than to press for a division. There is nothing further from my mind than to oppose this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that this comes as a surprise to the House. Granting the right hon. Gentleman has yielded to pressure from this side of the House, we are not prepared to say "yes" or "no" to a proposition which was made known to us only to-day. The entire, 1595 purpose of a Motion for Adjournment is to prevent a final decision being claimed at this moment when we are imperfectly acquainted with the significance of the Motion, and we desire the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that he does not mean to force an expression of opinion from the House, and that time will be given not only to consider the contents of the right hon. Gentleman's most important statement, but also his omissions. I would suggest that the Colonies should have been left out altogether, and I object to being called upon to express any final opinion upon this proposal. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not claim a division upon this question.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
I think it is a satisfactory fact that the Leader of the Opposition is in general agreement with the principle which the First Lord of the Treasury has laid down. The underlying idea of the First Lord's proposal is that there should be a permanent responsible and active brain exercising general control over the strength, organisation and distribution of the military and naval forces of the Empire, and for such an idea there can be nothing but praise. Indeed the constitution of such a Committee has been urged again and again in this House by many military reformers. Perhaps the most satisfactory feature of the whole scheme, which admittedly is only a tentative one, is that the Prime Minister himself will take the chairmanship of that body, because it is he, and he alone, who can be really responsible for the co-ordination and control of the two services. The next point, in order of importance, is that the Committee is to have certain permanent features and that it will, at any rate, keep permanent records. It seems to me that this element of permanency is the very essential of efficiency, and the only means of obviating what the Americans call "panic" legislation and trusting to muddling through when the emergency comes. I most strongly deprecate the disparag- 1596 ing and almost sneering tone which has been adopted towards this Committee during the recent debate on Army organisation. I cannot refer to what was said in that debate, but I cannot help thinking that such criticism is ungracious and bad tactics in addition. I think the better course would be to back up the formation of this Committee in every way, and make it clear that we intend to maintain a watchful and friendly interest in its proceedings. I think there is ample reason to believe that the Prime Minister is enthusiastic, and really roused to the vital necessity of a Committee of this kind. I have every reason to hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not allow it to sink into noxious desuetude like the old Committee of Defence, but I think it will be to the national interest that the right hon. Gentleman should be reminded as early and often as possible that the country will take a deep interest in the work of that Committee, and they will judge of its usefulness entirely by results.
The Committee undoubtedly supplies a long-felt want. It is well to bring the responsible Ministers and the chief experts face to face, deliberating not in pairs or in corners, but at a round table, so that they shall have to play their own hand openly in the presence of other counsellors. Bacon shrewdly said that "private opinion is more free, but opinion expressed before others is more reverend." I venture to say that this Committee will not command the full confidence of the country unless it occasionally results in the resignation either of the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think the vital need of this Committee has never been more forcibly illustrated than by the circumstances in which the present Army Reorganisation Scheme has its genesis. That scheme is a reflection of the alarm that took possession of the public mind some two years ago. The Secretary of State for War, unaided—and I do not wish to blame him for this—had to interpret the national but distracted yearning for Army reform, and the House of Commons and the country had to accept his scheme, as they were not able to think of anything better at the 1597 moment. Not having the guidance of a Committee such as this, or of any responsible body which had been continuously considering the question of the defence of the Empire for a long period, the Secretary of State evolved a scheme which was designed mainly apparently for repelling the invasion of these islands. The country supported him because we were at that moment engaged in a land war, the result of which was that our chief national need appeared to be a great Army. If I may use a metaphor, the country was rather in the position of a sea monster gasping out of its natural element, and not knowing what to do except to flop about. If the Boers had been a maritime nation, and had succeeded at the outset in inflicting some small naval reverses upon us, the First Lord of the Admiralty would have been the interpreter of the nation's fears, and we should have been busy voting flying squadrons and other additions to our naval strength. I almost wish under the circumstances that the Boers had been a maritime nation.
It is surely altogether wrong, however, that the general policy of our Imperial defence should be based either on the evanescent fears of a people at war or on the unaided interpretation of those fears by the War Minister. It should be based rather, I believe, upon a continuous and systematic study of this whole question by experts, and their studies should be directed, not to the needs of the moment, but to the normal requirements of Imperial defence. It is at such crises as that which occurred two years ago that the imagination of any single Minister must prove unequal to the strain, and it is for that reason that the need of a Council of Defence becomes more than ever necessary. Again, I cannot help thinking that if this Committee had been constituted earlier the results of the Colonial Conference might have been very different. My hope is, that if another Conference is arranged in the future, the Government will, at any rate, have come to some definite decision on the whole problem of Imperial defence, and thus obviate the possibility of such conflicting statements being made by the Parliamentary chiefs of the two fighting services—statements which added to the gaiety of 1598 all nations in the world, except our own. In view of the divergence of opinion expressed before the Colonial Conference by the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. I think it is hardly to be wondered at that the Colonial Premiers were not willing to accept the proposals for the joint defence of the Empire which were put forward, and I venture to say that if a comprehensive scheme had been put forward by a responsible Council of Defence, it would not have been at all impossible that the colonies would have been willing to consider it, and to take, at any rate, a reasonable share of the burdens involved. It is to be hoped that before another Conference takes place, this Committee will succeed in restoring conjugal relations between the Admiralty and the War Office, whose present incompatibility of temperament cannot be regarded as incurable. I think that the foregoing illustrations establish the need for a Committee of this kind.
As to the functions of the Committee, I desire to say a few words. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for constituting the Committee, and I am not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth. On the other hand, I do not think he will resent any friendly criticism we may offer. I must therefore, in the first place, express disappointment at the answer he gave to a question I put a fortnight ago, from which I gathered that, not only would this year's Defence Estimates not be revised and approved by the Committee of Defence, but that he rather considered such work would be beyond the province of the Committee in future. He rather took the line that the Committee would not inquire into or advise with respect to all the details of the Estimates. I do not think that anyone in his senses intended that the Committee should do so, but it is difficult to see how they are going to have a co-ordinating control over the whole province of defence, if there is not also financial control, and I did certainly imagine that this Committee each year, after considering the strategic needs of the Empire and its financial resources at the time, would determine how much would be spent altogether on the defence of the 1599 Empire, and that it would then determine how much of the grant should be allotted to the Army and how much to the Navy.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
was understood to say that the Committee would consider the needs of both services and determine the amount to be granted for the year.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
I am exceedingly glad to hear the Prime Minister's statement, because he has now informed me that the Committee will do exactly what I hoped in the first place it, would do. I have no desire, of course, to go into details, and I think the statement which he has just made will be received with a great deal of relief; I mean that the amounts allotted respectively to the Army and the Navy will be settled in bulk by the Committee. After that the heads of the respective services will apportion them in detail. That will be, I may say, an exact reversal of the present system tinder which the two services are not co-operating but competing services, each playing for its own hand, and endeavouring to squeeze as much as possible out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Owing to the fact that the Committee was not constituted earlier, so far as this year is concerned we shall have to vote £00,000.000 for national defence without the comforting assurance that the sums asked for have been reviewed and approved by the Committee. In fact, as far as this year's Estimates are concerned, we have to "go it blind." I do not wish to go into the question of the composition of the Committee, because I think the Prime Minister has given us a satisfactory assurance on that point. He has explained that there will be, in addition to the regular members, certain ad hoc members, and particularly that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will always be present when any matter involving expenditure comes under discussion. I do not think there can be any matters of Imperial defence which do not involve expenditure, and I think, therefore, we may look upon it that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be practically a permanent member of the Committee.
One other word only with regard to the composition. I hope that sometime in future we may find that the chief military and naval experts will not be the Com- 1600 mander-in-Chief and the First Lord of the Admiralty, but the two "Chiefs of Staff" of the great general staffs which should be constituted in the two services. But that is a matter of detail that can be better discussed on another occasion. I think on the present occasion we should avoid the discussion of strategic policies. I quite agree with the Prime Minister that it would be highly undesirable that Ministers should be asked questions in this House on delicate matters of international policy, and other matters bearing on strategic policy. I think the wiser course, and in every way the more desirable course, will be to judge of the work of the Committee entirely by results. With regard to results we have just heard the first fruits of the larger deliberations of this Committee. We have been informed that it is the intention of the Government to establish a naval base on the east coast. I think that will command the earnest approval of all who have studied recent developments affecting the balance of sea power and the altered strategic position of the Empire. Whether we approve of it or not, here is the first definite offspring of the collective wisdom of this Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "The old Committee."] I am afraid I have not sufficient confidence in the old Committee to imagine that this scheme was evolved by them. We do not know the exact reason that led this Committee, or the old Committee, to come to that conclusion, but it is sufficient that we should judge its usefulness and activity by results. If there should be no results, or if there should be no more signs of life than in the old Committee, which I have reason to believe passed away painlessly in its sleep, or if the results furnished by the Committee are considered to be inadequate or vicious by this House, then I think it would be necessary for Parliament to intervene, and it would know who is the responsible body, and who is to blame for any bad results. The weak point of our old system was that there was no one who was more than nominally responsible for any decision regarding defence. For example, if a new Army scheme was introduced which might be entirely unsuited to our needs, the Secretary of State for War would be regarded, I think justifi- 1601 ably, as being its author. Of course we know the usual reply is that the scheme would be the scheme of the Cabinet as a whole, but we know also that in practice the scheme would be essentially the creation of the Secretary of State for War, and that it would be only perfunctorily considered by the Cabinet as a whole, because the Cabinet consists of a number of hardworking and extremely busy heads of departments, who are absorbed in the details of those Departments, and who have, after all, their own axes to grind at subsequent Cabinet Councils.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
The hon. Member assumes that the scheme I introduced to the House two years ago was not before the Defence Committee. As a matter of fact it was discussed at continued meetings of the old Defence Committee.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I wish to remind the hon. Member that only in a limited degree does the question of Army organisation enter into this debate.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
I have no intention of debating the question of Army organisation. My argument was only directed to show that this Committee would in future be the responsible body for such a matter as a great Army scheme, and that the responsibility would be taken oft' the shoulders of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War. As regards this Committee I hope it means the dawning of a new era. I hope it means that we shall be told, in the first place, what we keep the Army and Navy for and what is the extent of the work they are intended to do. I hope that when any new great scheme of Defence conies forward it will do so under the authority of this Committee of Defence, and I venture to say that if it does it will receive a very different response from that given to previous schemes which had been suspected, rightly or wrongly, of being the offspring of the unaided genius of a single civilian Minister. If this Committee comes up to our expectations—and I think it is only wise at the outset that we should be sanguine, as well as jealously watchful on this point—I hope that 1602 for the first time in our history the great problems of Imperial defence will be intelligently thought out, continuously studied, permanently recorded, and periodically dealt with by a Committee which, however it may err in the judgment of posterity, will at any rate be thoroughly representative, and beyond all excuse responsible.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
If my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition had made his Motion, or caused the Motion to be made by one of his friends later in the afternoon, I think the grounds he gave for it would have been very strong indeed. The difficulty of agreeing to that course was that if my right hon. friend, having Constitutional objections, which I do not say he entertained, but at any rate foreshadowed, took the opportunity of putting them before the House, he would shut out other hon. Members than himself from stating their views. My right hon. friend probably entertains Constitutional objections to the proposal which has been put before the House, and I think some hon. Members sitting behind him entertain economic, or taxpayers' objections, which I would support if I shared their views. I should like very briefly to state certain views, which I know are not shared by the right hon. Gentleman, which I entertain on this question. The Leader of the Opposition referred to those conflicts between the Army and Navy, those struggles between them to gain the ear of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, those different views on subjects of defence which prevailed in the past, which we all recognise as having prevailed in the past. and which have been alluded to by the Prime Minister—stated that these days wore gone. Part, of our case in asking publicly and privately for this discussion is, that up to the present time I do not think these days are gone; that there have been flagrant examples of these evils recently, and that the Estimates to be considered next week will show continuous examples. That makes it necessary the new departure should be made, and that we should try to strengthen the control of the Prime Minister in the Cabinet in this departure.
I confess that I, for one, have always attached the highest importance to 1603 strengthening the interest and the knowledge of the Prime Minister in what is going on in the War Office and at the Admiralty. That is the real key to the situation, and it is the Prime Minister alone who can effectually represent the Treasury. The Prime Minister is First Lord of the Treasury, and it is idle to suppose that in surveying the deliberations of this Committee, he would not have the taxpayers' interests and finances in view. I believe that that would not be the case. There is a conflict to-day between the Ministers representing the Army and the Navy, but if these days of conflict are over when have they gone, and how long have they gone? Personally, I think that this proposal, instead of being made too suddenly, has come too late, that the Cabinet has spent a great deal of money unnecessarily, and that the country has been involved in evil organisation which might have been avoided if this step had been taken earlier. The active co-ordination and co-relation of all the branches of the two Services can only become effective on the Estimates for the year 1904-5; and on the Estimates for the next financial, year to be presented to us next week, we shall not be able to discuss the subject. This of itself almost proves the case that it has come very late, instead of very soon.
I venture to criticise the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition, because this is a matter of first-class national importance, on which men of the same Party and even the same section of the Party, can entertain different views. My right hon. friend objects to the scheme because he suspects that it may lead to interference with Cabinet responsibility. It seems to me that Cabinet responsibility is complete. The Committee of the Cabinet is not a body with so many Members with so many purposes, who show their hands when they come to vote. The Prime Minister should have that prominence which his position commands. He may demand the resignation of all his colleagues, and he can form a new Administration. The opinion of the Prime Minister must therefore prevail, and where there is an essential difference of opinion between the Prime Minister and his colleagues, his opinion is the one which carries weight. As regards out- 1604 siders having too great weight on such Committee, it is rather an idle fear. It seems to me that soldiers and sailors in giving advice are too deferential, and are too much afraid to put their own opinions before the Cabinet. They almost need to be encouraged to tell the Cabinet the truth. These Cabinet Committees are not very rigid bodies, consisting of so many members with so many votes. I confess that it seems to me it would be impossible to go behind a statement of the Prime Minister, when Indian, colonial, or financial Affairs are being decided upon. Of course, Ministers concerned with their special Departments would be called to give their opinion. The strongest objection which I thought my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition made was, that although there was a very careful arrangement for recording the opinion of this Defence Committee, the Cabinet might overrule that opinion on sound grounds, and that there would be no opportunity of knowing the opinion of the Cabinet. But there is a power to leave minutes of what has been decided at Cabinet meetings, which has been occasionally exercised when it is desirable that the Cabinet should leave their opinion on record for the information of their successors.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I have read the memoirs, and I believe that these minutes are never left for the new Ministers. Only two copies are made. One is handed to the Sovereign, and the other is retained by the Prime Minister.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
There have been references to minutes of Cabinet meetings which have been made in some form or another to be handed to their successors. There is no Constitutional objection to that course being taken if the Defence Committee has put forward deliberately an opinion on matters of first-class importance, and that opinion is overruled by the Cabinet. The need for some better arrangement than the old Cabinet Committee, as framed in the last flays of the last Liberal Administration, seems to me proved by an immense number of separate facts which are well known to Members of this House. I will not debate again the different statements made to the Colonial Con- 1605 ference on behalf of the Army and Navy, except to say that that could not have occurred, especially in a matter of such moment, if there had been a due and proper supervision of the work. This is what accounts for the overwhelming importance which I attach to the influence which the Prime Minister should have in the deliberations of this Defence Committee. He alone can bring the diverging views of these great Departments into harmony. Untold harm has been done by this divergence in letting slip and spoiling the opportunities which the Colonial Conference presented. There is one matter which illustrates that view and has not been mentioned hitherto, and it shows the need for the improvement of this Defence Committee which we are now discussing. A Memorandum was put before the Colonial Conference on the organisation of colonial troops for Imperial service. That Memorandum begins by stating:—Prior to the outbreak of the War in South Africa, so far: as any general scheme for the defence of the Empire as a whole had been considered (very damaging words these are) it was assumed that the military responsibilities of our great self-governing colonies were limited to local defence, and that the entire burden of furnishing reinforcements to any portion of the Empire against which a hostile attack in force might be directed must fall on the Regular Army. There may possibly have been some pious hope that in time of need the colonies might rally to the Mother Country, but no definite arrangements were made, nor were inquiries even on foot, as to whether such aid might be expected, and, if so, in what strength. Indeed, the necessity for it was by no means realised, and its reliability was doubted.All through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the colonies took an almost preponderating part in the defence of the Empire; and that shows the necessary importance of the preface to the Memorrandum which I have quoted.
Then the Memorandum goes on:—The present war has, in fact, been a valuable illustration of the necessity for organising the defence of the Empire against far graver contingencies; and it is essential to preparation, that it should be definitely known in peace what forces can be relied on in war. Success in a great war can only be insured by a continuous policy of careful organisation and preparation in peace.This Memorandum also states that New Zealand as long ago as 1900 passed a Statute—which was mentioned in this House at the time—actually constituting 1606 an Imperial Reserve for Imperial purposes. Yet that matter was allowed to slumber and was not taken up in any way. The Colonial Conference failed very largely through the difference of opinion between the Army and Navy, which the personal supervision of the Prime Minister, with the highest advice behind him, might have prevented.
I will briefly mention a series of questions which occurred during the last few years to illustrate the inability displayed be the old Committee of the Cabinet to deal with them. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition has assented, and my right hon. friend the Member for Dundee has not very willingly, assented to the working of the old Committee. The Leader of the Opposition was a Member of the Cabinet when the Committee was first constituted, and he assented to its working; but the Committee could not satisfactorily have carried out some of its work, because the work it ought to have done was ill-done. I think that is the universal opinion as regards some five or six questions which may be mentioned. Take a connected class of questions, three or four of them being very much of the same kind; the Cunard agreement, the steamship subsidy question, and the importance of the Merchant Fleet as a true reserve for the Navy in the time of war, the questions which arise in connection with the deputation which is taking place to-day, questions, for example, such as that which was raised in this House by Lord Charles Beresford as to the insurance of merchant shipping in the time of war. The questions I have named have all more or less in the past, during the reign of the old form of Committee, been dealt with by the Board of Trade on strategic or naval grounds. I think that may be said of all of them; deputations have been received by the Board of Trade, and their representations have been considered by the President of the Board of Trade on strategic or naval grounds, with some advice from the Admiralty behind him in some cases, though not in that emphatic way in which they will be considered by the new form of the Committee. Of course, I am assuming that this Committee will have all the virtues. We do discern in the new Constitution that responsibility of the Prime Minister, 1607 with the best advice behind him, which, as my hon. and gallant friend says, will tend to greatly improve the Committee.
On the last occasion when it was supposed we were very near a great war with a European Power, a conference was called at the Peninsular and Oriental offices by Sir Thomas Sutherland. It was a secret conference, and nothing that passed there got into the newspapers. It was a conference of a most interesting and valuable character, and the speech made at that conference on these very subjects—the insurance of ships and food supply—by Sir Thomas Sutherland was one of the greatest importance. It was, I am afraid, shown by the speeches of the great shipowners that these questions had not at that time been thought out by any Department of the State. These men had approached Departments of the State, and they knew what had been considered and what had not been considered; and it came out clearly that no one representing the State had thought out these questions. I confess I cannot but think that if a Committee in the constitution of which the Prime Minister takes so much interest, and which he has explained to the House in language so exact, had been in existence, all these questions would have been thought out by the Committee and the Cabinet, which at that time were left to the President of the Board of Trade. There was one other question of a similar kind the details of which were left to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who received deputation after deputation in the past—not recently—with regard to strategic cables and the question of cable communication in time of war. This question was dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on strategic grounds, and while we have the highest respect for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, it was not entirely satisfactory that a matter of such importance as arranging for a possible war should be dealt with except by a Committee of Cabinet. All these are types of questions in which mistakes were admittedly made during the time of the old Committee. The Prime Minister alluded in his opening speech to the case of Wei-hai-Wei; he did not name it, but from the description he gave 1608 of the differences which had occurred between one Lord of the Admiralty and another he was evidently alluding to it.
§ *SIR C. DILKE
At all events, on that occasion the Lords of the Admiralty gave opposite opinions to the Government. One opinion was expressed by Lord Charles Beresford on the day of the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, and was openly contradicted on behalf of the Government, though it was afterwards admitted to have been correct. There is a matter to which I alluded the other day, and which has been dealt with by a representative of the Home Office, advised by the War Office. The States of Jersey sent a deputation to this country with reference to defence, but the Admiralty was not consulted, and it was the Assistant Secretary for the Home Office who had to cram, on the advice of the War Office, military views down the throats of the deputation without having had any advice from the Admiralty. Then there was another matter which came up the other day. Years ago the country was greatly excited about coaling stations, and Lord Brassey and others took a deep interest in the subject, and a scheme was resolved upon. One of the coaling stations which was of great importance at that time was not kept up in the way intended, its garrison dwindled away, and it is impossible to find who is the person responsible. All we know is that all these mistakes have been made under the reign of the old Committee, and while those who are pessimists and while those who, like my hon. friend the Member for Dundee, who does not believe in Committees, may say that the new Committee will be no better than the old, those who are optimists believe that even by the expression of our views we shall do something to realise the hopes we entertain, and make the Government also realise the responsibility which falls on the Prime Minister. At all events we have shown that improvement is essential, and that there is need for increased co-ordination and a clearer view. Personally I believe that economy can be promoted by this more specific view. It cannot, I believe, lead to war or to a more reckless expenditure. We cannot have a 1609 Committee of this kind presided over by the Prime Minister without saving money to the State, without decreasing ill-expended money, and spending the money of the State to better advantage.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I rejoice that the opportunity has been offered to this House to discuss this very important proposal now in process of being carried out: and I rejoice that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not press his Amendment. I will not trouble the House at any length, but there are one or two observations which I should wish to make. In my humble judgment the step that has been decided on is the most important one that has yet been taken in the interests of economy. We cannot trace the history of the expenditure of the country without seeing how we have oscillated in response to the popular clamour or emotion of the moment, without any regard for principle whatever. That was a change which was initiated in 1860. There was in that year a public panic—which, by the way, created the Volunteer force and Lord Palmerston rushed a Royal Commission to inquire into the defence of this country against invasion. The country flew to arms, and as a result we embarked on that policy of gigantic works of which Portsmouth now remains the monument, and the visible expression of vast expenditure to protect our naval arsenals from attack by land. Since that time we have gone on developing that policy, and we have spent millions and millions on gigantic works all over the world. I would put it to any student of this question whether, if such a Committee as that now proposed had been in existence, with its records and evidence before it. such vast expenditure could possibly have been incurred. Of course it could not. Therefore, if I were asked to put in order of merit my reasons for rejoicing at the Prime Minister taking this step, my first reason would be on grounds of public economy. The Committee will give us more value for our money, and it will certainly tend to continuity of policy. As I see it, it is a great instrument which will impress the minds of Ministers, and which will put shortly what I might call the perspective of British defence.
To illustrate what I mean, let me say this: i think everyone will admit, 1610 now that the excitement of the war is over, and that nothing else is happening to interest the country in naval and military affairs, that there will certainly be a cry for economy, and the cry will be with regard to the Navy and the Army. There was that feeling in the country at the time of Lord Randolph Churchill's resignation, and what did the Chancellor of the Exchequer do '.' I presume, of course, that it was settled by the Government that there should be a reduction of expenditure for defence. We know what happened. They did not look round and see what expenditure could most reasonably be reduced or what they could best spare. What happened was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer issued a mandate to the Admiralty and to the War Office asking them to reduce their Votes by half-a-million each. The real point is that the reduction should be made in the Estimates of the next year on what could best be spared. There, I think, we get the safeguard that when a reduction has to be negotiated by the necessities of the case, the matter will be really considered, and the expenditure will come off that which will least affect or injure the country.
There is one Member on this Council to whom no reference has been made at all. We have had no reason given why the office of Lord President of the Council is represented on this Committee. In my judgment the question of the defence of the Empire embraces all things connected with the adequate defence of the Empire as a. whole, including the combining of all parts of the Empire in its defence. Without that principle the Empire cannot endure. I look, therefore, for a Council where the contributing parts of the Empire shall have a place, and I think it ought to be the Privy Council. Therefore I would like to see this Council the germ of a development in that direction, because I am convinced that in the future the whole Empire will have to bear the burden of its defence. I see in this the germ of an instrument which will be necessary when the Colonies take their share in the cost of Imperial defence I regard this Council, therefore, as a step forward, and I trust that little attention will be paid to those who expect too much from it at first, and that we shall not be engaged in pressing Ministers to 1611 have the Council consider this or to consider that. I think such a course would be a mistake. If I know anything about the subject at all, I think the Council will take some time to grasp the salient features of the question, and to lay down conclusions as to the main principles.
I cannot sit down without saying that one of the reasons why the constitution of this Committee has been received with general satisfaction is because public opinion has become more intelligent, and more educated, as to the necessities of the case. I think the debates in the House this year on the Army Estimates have shown a gradual sense of the fact that you cannot treat the Army as lying entirely outside the subject of naval defence, and that the general line of our military policy must be influenced not only by our naval policy but also our naval necessity. I foresee also that this House will, before very long, see the necessity of enlarging the scope of debates regarding the question of the military policy of this country. I think that the debate on the Address shows that the House has become fully alive to the fact that it is not practicable—it is not possible—to really discuss our military policy in its broad features if the procedure of the House prevents our dealing with those broad naval considerations which influence this matter. In the long run I think we shall find this Committee of Defence will inevitably tend in the same direction—towards the enlargement of the procedure of this House. Suppose, having reviewed everything, the Ministers responsible for the defence of the country find there must be a reduction of expenditure, and suppose they propose to reduce the expenditure on the Volunteers or the Militia, or something else of that kind; they have to defend their policy in this House, and their policy would be dependent on their naval necessity. Therefore, looking at the question from, as I think, the proper point of view, namely, that of economy in dealing with the taxpayers, money, and from every point of view comprised in the question of the defence of the Empire, I am of opinion that no wiser step has ever been taken in the true direction. It is perhaps well that it has not been too long a step, but I 1612 am certain it contains the germ of something greater yet to come.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
My hon. and gallant friend began his observations by alluding to the Motion for the Adjournment made by my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition as being in some way intended to stifle discussion.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
The real meaning of that Motion was not to stifle discussion at all, but to have a full and considered discussion. It is not without significance that we notice now that the vast majority of those who two hours ago clamoured for an immediate discussion on this subject were so easily satisfied that they departed from the House immediately, and have not returned. Now in the little that I have to say on this subject I am embarrassed by the procedure on which we are to proceed. I know very little about the Army, but with the little knowledge I possess I protest against this discussion. Let me remind the House that until yesterday the fact that this question would be raised was entirely unknown to anybody, unless the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean was a preferred and privileged party.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
The First Lord of the Treasury, defending his action in submitting this great proposition to the House, said he had put it forward under pressure from this side of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There is no reason why this should have been brought before the House at all, and it would not have been brought forward had it not been for the desire on the part of hon. Gentlemen to discuss it.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I do not mean to deny that there was any desire on either side to discuss it, but 1613 that pressure, if any, was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. But the fact remains that until this morning we did not even know the terms of the Resolution, much less what its form was intended to convey to the House. My right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean has spoken of me as in some way being opposed to the Committee. I think that is a little unfair.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
I did not mean to be unfair. I only gathered from previous debates that the hon. Member did not believe very much in any of these Committees.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
As a fact the pressure brought to bear in those debates was upon the Admiralty. I am in no way committed against the principle of a Committee of Defence, but the first germ was naturally a small one, and the first question was apparently a more specific and limited question than was anticipated. What is it we all desire to have? In early days all that was admitted was that the Navy and Army should be considered together as two parts of one whole; that they should not be considered separate Departments, like the Post Office and the Home Office, but that every proposal made for the Army and the Navy should be the result of a joint investigation into the needs of both. But there has been a great difference in latter years. We all remember how two years ago the Secretary of State for War introduced his proposal with the extraordinary statement that it was based on the possibility of our at any moment losing the command of the sea. Now I think that the Navy and the Army ought to be considered together, and that could not possibly be unless they were considered by the same people. Therefore, instead of being an opponent, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine, I may claim to be a supporter. But the right hon. Gentleman's proposal marks a totally new departure. Hitherto you have had a Committee of the Cabinet, with Cabinet authority in every one of its members, reporting, I suppose, to the Cabinet. Now you are to have what may be called a hybrid Committee, with 1614 a fixed nucleus consisting of four Cabinet Ministers. But in what sense is that a fixed nucleus? The present Lord President of the Council is to be on the fixed nucleus, but a future Lord President may not be. The only fixity that I can see is that four are to be members of the Cabinet for the time being. The Minister for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty must be on the Committee, and, as far as I can see, they are the only ones who will always be members of the Committee.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER,) Belfast, W.
said that the Prime Minister, when he spoke of the fixed nucleus, was referring to the four naval and military members.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
If I am to understand that the fixed nucleus consists of subordinate permanent officials, and the floating element of members of the Cabinet, then a new light altogether is thrown on the situation; and that is one of the advantages of having a discussion on the subject. But I venture to doubt whether the hon. Gentleman is correctly representing his Leader. I understood him to say that the fixed element was the Cabinet element. ["No."] Then the fixed nucleus is to consist of four Cabinet Ministers, not necessarily always representing the same offices, and of four subordinate officers always representing the same offices. My point, however, is that it is no longer a Committee of the Cabinet at all. Words were used by the Prime Minister which seemed to imply that, in addition to the eight members named by him, provision would be made for admitting others from time to time. That is an essential part of the scheme, and I should like to have a clear and precise statement of the intentions of the Government on that point. In any case it is to be a mixed Committee, one half possessing complete executive authority, and the other half possessing nothing of the kind; and there may be great danger of a Committee so constituted degenerating into a pure fiction, as in the case of the Board of Trade.
Their there is this point of practical constitutional importance. This Committee is to pass resolutions and keep records. You cannot presume unanimity 1615 in a Committee of this sort; the resolutions therefore will be arrived at after debate and division. 80 this consultative Committee may come to a decision in regard to which the Members of the Cabinet are in a minority. Three of the Cabinet Members may vote one way and the rest of the Committee the other. The resolutions will therefore go to the Cabinet, with the damning fact behind it that a majority of the Cabinet Ministers are against it. That is a point worth considering, at all events.
Then the Prime Minister says that the Parliamentary responsibility of the Cabinet is in no way to be interfered with. This Committee is not to be in any sense an executive body. It is not to have power to give directions to any Department, or to spend money, or to do anything except report to the Cabinet. It will be purely consultative, and on that point I wish to say a word or two about the concluding observations of the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last. As a purely consultative Committee, not a subordinate branch of the parent body—the Cabinet—which the present Committee of Defence is, I fail to see the cogency of the reasons given by the First Lord of the Treasury for limiting the members of the Committee as he has done. It is quite true that a large Committee is not likely to do as much work as a small Committee. But this Committee is not to do anything but advise, and why a Committee consisting of twelve should be less able to advise than a Committee of eight I cannot understand. That is why I find myself in agreement with the suggestion contained in the last words of the hon. and gallant Member, which was really the same suggestion I ventured to make on the Motion for Adjournment. On this consultative Committee you are putting four Members of the Cabinet and four officers of the Army and Navy. The Committee is to deal with the Army and Navy and nothing else. Why is not the whole Empire represented? Why not take this great opportunity of bringing the colonies into some association with this Committee?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
Neither are Cabinet Ministers experts, nor is this an expert Committee. This is a Committee to advise, and for my part I heartily agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth that the whole of the colonies are as much interested and concerned in this question of Imperial defence as are the people of these islands.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
That is the point I am making under more persuasive, judicious methods than have hitherto been employed. I think the great self-governing colonies may come directly into the list of contributors. That would be my own desire. I would not put it by way of a demand, but I should have thought that there was a fine possibility of this being one of the ways of securing that end—by inviting, on certain occasions at any rate, representatives of the colonies to sit on this consultative body. When I read the terms of the Resolution, I had no doubt that some such hint would be dropped by the Prime Minister. The "growing needs of the Empire" are merely the needs of the two great arms which serve the whole Empire, and to the support of those arms I believe the self-governing colonies will ultimately contribute. There would have been no difficulty, as far as I can see, in associating them in some degree with this consultative body, and I regard it as an omission that no suggestion that such a possibility would be recognised was made in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But, after all, this is an experimental discussion of a great experiment. I do not condemn the principle, or the particular proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, but I must associate myself with the desire expressed by the Leader of the Opposition that the final decision of the House should not be claimed on this great experiment until full discussion has been given to it.
§ COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)
I do not often trouble the House with an expression of opinion, but to-day I feel called upon to offer a few remarks in reference to this Resolution. This is a fresh matter in the modern history of the Empire, because we have had formally introduced for the consideration of the House what I might call a scheme of Imperial policy—a policy which will apply not only to the land, but also to the sea. Whether a man fights on the sea or on the land the principles of strategy are unchanged, and it is for the purpose of considering these strategic needs of the. Empire that this Committee of Defence is to be called into operation. I had the privilege of hearing this proposal introduced by the Prime Minister at Liverpool, and I can only say that the impression it produced upon the highly intelligent audience there was not exceeded by the impression which, I think, it has made on the minds of many Members in the House to-day. The details were not so fully gone into on that occasion as they have now been, but at any rate the outline of the scheme was presented to the meeting. The scheme to-day has been more fully described, and although it is a somewhat difficult thing on a question of this kind to throw fresh light upon it, after it has been exhaustively considered by various other speakers who have dealt with it before, yet still there may be one or two points upon which a few remarks may be made.
One point in this scheme which appears to me to be of great importance is that professional opinion is brought into juxtaposition with the opinion of Ministers who will have weight with their confrè res of Cabinet rank. What we have all been wanting for years past—by "we" I mean those who have given thought to the military needs of the Empire—is that somehow or other the actual requirements of the Navy and of the Army should be put into shape by great naval or military officers, and in that concrete form should be brought to bear upon the minds of Cabinet Ministers, who should themselves have power to put them into execution. What is required for the military needs of the Empire—which includes the naval needs 1618 —is that the responsible officers at the head of these two great services should report fully upon what in their opinion would be the actual naval or military needs for the time being. Then the question arises as to whom they should make their report. At the present time, and under the present scheme, the responsible heads of the two great services will be able to lay the needs of their services respectively before Cabinet Ministers, whose presence there will ensure their being thoroughly gone into and put into an efficient action. It has been objected by one or two speakers who have preceded me that this Committee of Defence will have no power to spend money and no executive power whatever. That is perfectly true, but it will have the power of putting things into an authoritative form which must command consideration from those who have the power of carrying them into effect—that is the Cabinet—and it will set forth the result of professional opinions, for which they are professionally responsible; and therefore we have introduced for the first time into our national military policy a principle of responsibility as well as of continuity in administration.
Now I take it that in the national military policy for the defence of this Empire the three points we have to bear in mind before all others are, first of all, continuity of administration, secondly, efficiency, and thirdly, responsibility. And it does seem to me that these three points are considered in the present scheme of national defence, and that there is a reasonable possibility if this scheme is carried into effect—as I trust it may be at the very earliest possible time—that these three great principles of continuity of administration, of efficiency, and of responsibility will for the first time be put into a form by which they may bear fruit for the effective defence of the Empire. I was greatly pleased to hear that the Prime Minister, by the way in which he brought the scheme forward, considered that the Committee of Defence should be a small one. I have always believed in small Committees. Possibly the size of it in future may be increased, and if there is a future enlargement it may admit of some further representative element for our colonies. At any rate, 1619 I think in supporting the Minister in this view that at the present time it would be quite sufficient to have a Defence Committee of the proportions which he has suggested; and that when they have, so to speak, got into gear and working order and formulated the outlines of the plan, and, to some extent, the details of their working scheme, then will be the time when it will be fit to consider whether the Committee can or can not be enlarged. Exception was taken to this by the Leader of the Opposition, who said that it was a strong order that any decision should be come to upon this question to-day. I do not, of course, know what are the intentions of the Government upon the matter, but it does seem to me that an efficient scheme of national defence which we have been looking forward to for years has now been introduced.
Those of us to whom this subject is very dear—and I may say also that the public at large take an intelligent interest in this question—have been looking forward to this scheme, hoping to see it born, and we are glad to see this scheme officially introduced to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister to-day. It is my earnest desire that a decision may be come to as early as possible upon this Motion, provided that course meets with the approval of my right hon. friend who introduced it. I do not know that I should go into the question to-day, but I will merely conclude by saying that an advisory board, with an appeal to the Cabinet, is to-day to be created; that it will receive the highest professional advice that can be laid before it, and should such a contingency arise as was alluded to by the hon. Member for Dundee—should there be a conflict of opinion between the professional and the civilian element—then there will be the whole Cabinet to fall back upon in order to decide which of the views is right. So that now there is a thoroughly Constitutional and effective safeguard in that particular way, and I think it will meet all requirements. I will conclude by saying that I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having introduced this scheme. I think it is one which will work for the advantage of the nation, and I am 1620 quite sure that all thinking soldiers will congratulate him upon having introduced a measure which promises so much good.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I have only a few words to urge, and they are entirely from the point of view of the tax-payer. I heard the elaboration of the scheme in the splendid form which the Prime Minister gave it with much pain and concern for the future. I read in between the lines, which were left so wide apart, increased expenditure of millions of money as the probable outcome of the formation of this Defence Committee. We are all desirous that whatever defensive forces we have should be so composed and organised that they should be ready to work in harmony with each other at the shortest possible notice, and with the greatest effect in the interests of the country. But surely that might be accomplished without the appointing of this additional Department of Government, because it is sure to become a Department. To multiply the authorities as you are now going to do does not necessarily mean that you will have increased efficiency and increased safeguards for the objects you aim at in the appointing of this Committee. You are going to have a number of military men and a number of naval men, with a certain number of the Cabinet, joined together as a sort of extra Cabinet, and if these naval and military forces are to be of service you will in the main be ruled and guided and advised by the fighting forces as to any increased necessity for expenditure to make those forces more effective than they are. A man naturally is interested in increasing the cost of the Navy if he is a naval man, and he would be a very poor sailor if he did not take great pride in that branch of the service; and the same can be said of the Army part of the service. A man would be a very poor soldier if he did not take pride in the Army, and therefore these two great military forces will naturally always be advocating increased expenditure for their respective Departments. Consequently, it they are continually recommending increased developments of the Navy and Army, this House will be almost powerless to resist proposals 1621 made by a Cabinet backed by so great an authority as this Committee.
I hope this Committee will not be appointed unanimously, because I believe that it will only increase our military expenditure, and from what we know of the Departments already in existence, I am afraid we shall get but a poor, and probably an altogether inadequate, return of safety in proportion to the enormous cost that will be incurred. This is a momentous day. This Committee will be one of universal interest throughout Europe and America. Its consultations, deliberations, and decisions will be objects desired by every Governments in Europe. You will, for the first time in your history, create a Department which will be besieged by foreign spies looking for chance copy which will probably be transmitted throughout Europe. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no."] This information will probably be conveyed to Governments chiefly opposed to us, and even if the reports conveyed are false, they will cause a state of unrest which will produce increased armaments abroad. The moment armaments increase abroad they increase at home, and so you go on with a beggar-my-neighbour policy until the whole of Europe is taxed out of existence by this fanciful expenditure in preparation for an European war.
We all knew or suspected that there was no minute book kept at Cabinet meetings. If I understand aright the Prime Minister suggested that this joint Committee are to keep records in minute books, which are to be handed on from generation to generation of Cabinets. You will want almost an Army Corps to protect the secrecy of these records of the Committee. That itself will be a national danger. The very object of the appointment of a National Committee of Denfence is to secure national safety. These priceless archives which are to be created by the Committee will be besieged by all the nations of the world, in order that they may get copies of them. There may be reasons for the handing on from Government to Government of the general plans that have been discussed, but I sincerely hope that if you have your Committee you will find the means of carrying on its work without preserving in this substantial way every detail of the discussion 1622 and the reasons why the decisions were arrived at.
When I said that this was a momentous day, I was speaking entirely from the taxpayers' point of view. The Prime Minister made a statement during Question time in reply to a Question of my hon. friend the Member for Great Yarmouth which will no doubt have been flashed throughout the world. He stated that we are going to create a great naval base on the East Coast; I am not saying that you should not. The Government, and others besides the Government, have thought for some time past that that part of the country has not been in the state of preparation that it might be for certain eventualities. On that we are all agreed, but you have made the announcement of a great naval base in the northern part of Great Britain, from which you are going to be able in a few years to issue forth a great and mighty fleet, while it is also to serve as a harbour of refuge for your fighting vessels in time of war. What will the Jingoes of Germany, France, and Russia, say? Germany will undoubtedly make counter moves in the same direction, and for the same purpose. A Conservative Government, a few years ago, surrendered Heligoland to Germany. I am not at ail sure that this northern base would have been so necessary now as it is but for the surrender of that island. It was a haven for our fleet, our fishing vessels, and general merchant ships. A naval home in the North will mean an additional permanent expenditure of probably more than £2,000.000 a year. There are a few Members in the House who have not swallowed this proposal without consideration, and I am warning them as to what is to follow. You can laugh and dance until the feast is over, and then comes the reckoning and you laugh no more. The expense of this new naval base will be enormous.
I believe that the First Lord of the Treasury could easily, if he liked—he. is clever enough for it if he had applied his mind to it—have insisted upon his subordinates connected with the two services devising a scheme whereby greater unity, effectiveness and cooperation between the two branches could have been brought about without the creation of this new Depart- 1623 ment. I know that the Prime Minister has only made a very general demand which has been continuously reiterated in this House for two or three years past. I always hoped that he would resist the demand which, in a weaker moment, he has surrendered to, and here we are now launching ourselves forth in all the glory of our Jingo raiment with a great and powerful Committee, so that we shall be ready at any moment to hurl the British Army here, there, and everywhere, and send the Navy to sweep all the seas of the world. All I have to say to-day is that those who accept these proposals must consequently accept full responsibility, not only for the initial cost of the proposals, but for the permanently increased burden which they will involve to this country. The expenditure to-day on the two branches of the service amounts in the aggregate to about £60,000,000—a sum which thirty years ago represented your entire revenues. You have a great deal more than doubled your expenditure on the Navy and the Army combined.
If all that is foreshadowed in this Resolution is agreed to by the House and carried into effect, together with the increased expenditure for a naval base on the East Coast, we shall in all probability add permanently to the expenditure of the country at least ten millions a year. I am second to none in my desire to see the interests of the country efficiently and effectively safeguarded both by land and by water, but I fear that this additional authority, this further division of responsibility, this delegation of the duties of the Cabinet, which is the proper Defence Committee, will certainly mean an increase of expenditure without any adequate increase in the efficiency of the Army and Navy. Unless I hear before the debate closes some better defence of the proposal, or some assurance from the Government that this is not going to lead to an enormous increase of expenditure, I am afraid that I shall have to take a division against the Motion on financial grounds in order to test the feeling of the House as to the proposed policy, which at present appears to be wild and extravagant.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
If the hon. Member who has just spoken had studied the suggestion made by the First Lord of the Treasury—for it is only a suggestion—he would have been satisfied that there is no immediate expenditure involved at all; and as to what it will ultimately involve, that is entirely another matter. The hon. Member spoke as if this were to be a new Department. It is nothing of the sort. There are eight members—four of them members of the Cabinet, and four of them special Members already in the services. They are existing functionaries, who are formed into this Committee to meet together and consult. I should strongly object to the formation of a new Department, because a Department of this description might obtain too much power and become a great danger. That is my objection to the formation of anything corresponding to the German General Staff. That would be a new departure and a costly one. But this is a different thing. Those who have considered the tremendous problems involved in military and naval defence—the problems of defence connected with the co-ordination of the two forces according to the needs of the Empire—must rejoice that for once in its existence the House of Commons has had the opportunity of discussing these matters to-day and deliberating upon the suggested Committee of Defence put before it by my right hon. friend. I am not only very glad that we have had this scheme put before us, but also because of the tone in which my right hon. friend spoke in putting it forward. He has put forward an abstract proposition which affirms the desirability of permanency, and he has also in the course of the debate stated that while the new Defence Committee exists, it exists only in an experimental and tentative form.
It has been provisionally determined; it is experimental and tentative so far. Consequently, taking that and the terms of the Resolution into account, it is quite manifest that what my right hon. friend desires is, if I may say so, to take the House into his confidence and invite it to make some suggestions for the further 1625 improvement of the Committee. As one who has given a great deal of thought for many years to this subject, I wish to offer a few reflections on the scheme, and to make a few practical suggestions. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked: "What is the need of this Committee? You have your military and naval advisers, and you can consult them. if is a thing which has never yet existed." I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have asked such a question. He must be well aware that all those who have considered the great strategic problem connected with the defence of this Empire, and the great importance of determining the relative proportions of the Army and the Navy and their functions, have seen the necessity for having something, not in the nature of the German general staff, but a body which is in the position to have all the information before it and to co-ordinate the duties of the two forces. That is what is wanted, and I am the more surprised at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, because it was in the right hon. Gentleman's own Government that the idea of a Cabinet Defence Committee was first started.
The root idea is that we should have some body outside the highest military and naval authorities which will be able to take a whole worldwide scope of the political and strategic situation and consider what the relative naval and military forces should be and where they should be placed. Well, there was the Committee of Defence, but I have always supposed that that was an impossible body to advise the Cabinet, or to tell the Cabinet what it did not know already, or to persuade it to do that which it was not already persuaded to accomplish. For it was nothing more than a few members of the Cabinet itself. It was said by the present Secretary to the Admiralty that the Cabinet Committee of Defence was a huge joke and a grotesque imposture. I do not think that the picture was overdrawn. How huge the joke was, and how grotesque the imposture, is shown by certain examples which the House may have in its memory. Take the Mediterranean. Since this Cabinet Committee of Defence has been in existence it has allowed things to take place in the Mediterranean 1626 which have tremendously altered and impaired the position of our power in that sea. We have Egypt to look after, and we must find a considerable Army of occupation for it. But that Army of occupation necessitates our naval presence there, which tends to divide our Mediterranean fleet. Under these circumstances what has occurred? We have seen tremendous questions raised in Tripoli and in Morocco. France is even now massing troops on the western frontier of Algeria towards Morocco. In addition to that, there is the most startling development of Russian power in the Mediterranean. The Black Sea has now become one vast Russian arsenal. It became so from the moment she was allowed to pass her warships unchallenged through. the Dardanelles. It is true that they go without their guns mounted, but there is no difficulty about their getting through, and once passed in or out they may be armed on the other side, or they may come out with their guns in their holds. That makes the Black Sea one huge Russian arsenal in which navies may be prepared unwatched and unhindered, and whence they may issue unchecked. The Cabinet Committee has seen that prepared and has allowed it to take place.
Then this grand Committee of Defence has allowed that monstrous waste of £5,000,000 of public money on the western side of Gibraltar, although the Cabinet knew well that it was impossible to make the new works there safe or tenable, and that to make them tenable they would require to provide another Army Corps. All this has gone on during the existence of the Cabinet Defence Committee! It has also allowed a most vital and important maritime right hitherto enjoyed by this country to be given up. I allude to the right of search of mail steamers during a state of war. That right was given up to Germany during the Boer War, and it follows that you have given it up to the whole world. That is a matter most essential to the interests of the Empire, and my opinion is that, if there had been an adequate Committee of Defence, the surrender of that right could not have been made.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Undoubtedly it has. What occurred was this: we had the right in war to stop neutral ships when we had reason to believe that they were carrying on board contraband of war. On that ground we stopped two or three steamers. But remonstrances were made by Germany. At that moment we had the "Herzog," a vessel which was notoriously choke-full of contraband of war: but, on the remonstrance of Germany, Lord Salisbury peremptorily instructed Lord Goschen to give orders for the release of the ship. As a consequence of the communications with and something like menace by Germany, we finally agreed that we would not search any ship nearer to Delagoa Bay than Aden, and that no German mail ship should be searched at all. That right having been surrendered to Germany, it would be impossible to deny the surrender of it to any other power. That surrender, I am convinced, would not have taken place if we had had a properly constituted Committee of Defence. It is time therefore that some new body, more competent, more capable, and of greater working power, should be set up. I think there are some very serious defects in the scheme as presented by the First Lord of the Treasury, and I respectfully submit that certain improvements are capable of being made in it. Let me magnify the functions of this Committee. There has never been a time in the history of this country or of the world when problems so complex, so wide-spread, and so far-reaching have arisen. They are those with which this Committee of Defence will have to deal. Our territories and our responsibilities are world-wide, our frontiers by land and by sea. in all four quarters of the globe. We have indeed only a small land frontier in Europe, but: in Asia we have a most extended and important land frontier. In America we have a land frontier of great length, regarding which the most delicate and difficult questions may arise, which it is only possible for such a Committee to consider thoroughly, if it is a really adequate and competent body; and in Africa we have also extensive land frontiers. Then we 1628 have our sea frontier, and to my mind that frontier is wherever the five-fathom line touches a foreign coast. But if this Defence Committee is to be a competent body, every day and all day long it must have the whole map of the world before its eyes, and in its mind all the changes which are making or have been made in the frontiers of all the Powers. No such problems, none so wide and varied as these, were ever before presented to the statesman or the strategist. Nor Napoleon nor Moltke, neither Xerxes nor Alexander had such things to deal with on such a theatre. And to deal with them demands the best of the life of the best of the men we have, and the whole of their time. Seeking to form a body with such functions to perform, which will decide on the whole destinies of the Empire, we cannot safely entrust its duties to amateurs or dilettanti, or even to Ministers occupied with the affairs of their own Departments, nor to the Commander-in-Chief or Intelligence officers whose whole time is occupied with their particular duties. We should commit it to a permanent outside body having no other business. We should, in my opinion, commit it to a permanent Royal Commission—a consultative Commission with full powers of acquiring information, but subject to the Cabinet. But on this I will not now enlarge. There is another point, perhaps the most important of all, to which such a Committee as this should direct their attention.
It is said that the proportions of the Army and Navy, and the work of the Army and Navy, are to some extent co-ordinated in the mind of the Commander-in-Chief and First Naval Lord, but it is a one-sided consideration, and there never come before them political considerations which are of the most intense importance. The Committee of Defence, such as I hope this one will develop itself to be, has the most tremendous political problems to consider. Let the House remember our treaty engagements. Our treaties and guarantees cover the whole world. They extend to Belgium, Luxembourg. Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Portugal, Greece, Muscat, and China. At any time, and in the most unexpected way, any one of these guarantees may force us, for the 1629 honour of our flag, to go to war, and that must be constantly in the mind of the Committee. Again, there are other equally serious political trammels. Take the Declaration of Paris, by which this country has undertaken that we will not seize our enemy's goods carried in neutral bottoms. That has been denounced by everybody, by Lord Derby, Lord Beaconsfield, and Lord Roberts, who said that it struck at the root of our naval power. If Lord Roberts is to be a member of the Defence Committee, I hope his opinion will be considered. It is precisely these matters, which have never been considered before, which this Committee will have to discuss, and upon which they will have to come to a decision. Lord Salisbury himself said this of the Declaration of ParisI believe that the fleet, admirable as it is for preventing the invasion of these shores, is, since the Declaration of Paris, almost valueless for any other purpose.And Lord Salisbury gives specific grounds for his belief. These "rounds will have to be examined, and in the event of the Committee coming to the conclusion that these grounds are serious, it will be their duty to submit them to the consideration of the Cabinet.
I venture to lay down certain conditions which ought to obtain in any Committee or Council of Defence. My first point is that it should be permanent. And here I would remark that to my mind one very serious objection to the plan now suggested is that there is no evidence that permanency is now proposed. There are to be, on the pro posed Committee four Cabinet Ministers who we know are not permanent. There are the Commander-in-Chief, the First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, and the Military and Naval Intelligence Officers. I believe I am right in saying that although there is no absolute rule to that effect, it is the rarest thing in the world for either of these four officers to hold office for more than five years, and if this be the ordinary allowance of time for these officers it is a generous allowance for a Cabinet Minister. Consequently there is not there the element of permanency. I say you must have permanency or you have nothing adequate. I say that the members of the Committee must live with their important functions; they must think of them, take them 1630 home with them, sleep with them, dream of them, and never lose hold of them. A Defence Committee that sleeps or slumbers or folds its hands or gives only an intermittent attention must be inadequate. My second point is that it is absolutely necessary to keep consecutive records and to preserve them for the next Government. And the records must be kept by the Committee itself. Now then who is going to draw up and to have charge of the records? Is one of these eight men to keep the records, and is it possible that any one of them can be a proper archivist? Every report will be of the most intense importance. An hon. Member opposite suggested that these reports will be the object of espionage and bribery on the part of every other Power in the world; out without going to that length, they will undoubtedly be some of the most important records of the Empire, and their guardian should he a very important person and an altogether permanent person. Consequently, one of the suggestions I should make is that such a functionary as I name—an archivist—should be permanently appointed for life, with a salary adequate to the importance of his position. He would be a sort of Master of the Rolls, would be the custodian of the records, and would himself be invaluable to the Committee as embodying in his memory a record of the proceedings. Then, in my belief, it is essential that the Committee should have as one of its standing members, with at least a consultative voice, a, competent international lawyer, and I am not sure he might not be one and the same person as the guardian of the records whom I have called the archivist. For the Committee will be confronted at every turn by questions of the Law of Nations, which it must determine before it can proceed further. My third point is that the Committee must have the fullest access to all sources of information; and should be able to call before it the Permanent Secretary or the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, and all documents should be open to it.
Perhaps the House will allow me to say that when I lay down conditions which I think to be essential, I am to some extent assisted by the fact that I myself have been a member of this very kind of Committee. Our Gibraltar 1631 Committee was this very kind of Committee. We had to consider political considerations, then military considerations, and, finally naval considerations, and we had to co-ordinate the whole. There should, therefore, be most complete records—though there are, of course, certain details which need not be recorded—and a full account should be kept. But if you do not provide an archivist who is to make the record? You cannot bring a casual shorthand writer in and let him take the proceedings down and then go away. Then there is another matter to which I attach very great importance indeed. The House knows that a large part of the value of discussions in this House arises from the fact that in this House every Member is equal. There is no inequality as between members, and the result is that sometimes an entirely unsuspected Member gives the House information and suggestions of a most valuable character.
My fourth point, then, is that equality must also exist in a Committee of this sort if it is to be a Committee of intelligence, of ideas, and above all of suggestion. It must be a Committee that has imagination, that can let its mind roam over the various portions of the Empire, and it must have its mind free for conception of plans, methods, devices. To that end it is absolutely necessary that its members should be on an equality. There again I see a defect. You are going to have on this Committee the First Naval Lord and his subordinate the Naval Intelligence Officer. An Intelligence Officer does not dare to call his soul his own before a First Naval Lord. Then again there will be the Commander-in-Chief and his Intelligence Officer, and above these will be the four tremendous members of the Cabinet, to join in debate and in an overpowering body to discuss matters with these gentlemen, their inferiors and subordinates. The whole thing will be unequal. At one end you will have inferior persons who will not be fitted to give their whole mind and imagination—which is most valuable—to this Committee; and they will be under a feeling of oppression by the presence of these superior persons. My fifth point is that among the things necessary there must be, of course, absolute 1632 secrecy. No word must transpire anywhere, not even in this House, and of course precautions will have to be taken as to that, precautions which can only be adequately furnished by giving the Committee itself charge of its own records. Finally, my sixth point is that any decision that may be taken must not be anything but of an advisory character. It would he most improper and dangerous in any way to fetter the discretion and responsibility of the Cabinet. The Cabinet must be responsible for all great measures that may be taken.
I lay down these conditions, and I think them essential; and I will tell the House frankly that in my opinion these conditions are to be obtained not by a Committee as suggested but only by the establishment of a permanent, paid Royal Commission who will make it the business of their lives, and who would give up all else and think of and live for this alone. That would not he too much to ask. I would make the Commissioners four in number, and I would charge their salaries on the Consolidated Fund. I would provide them with an archivist, and would charge his salary on the Consolidated Fund, in order, as I frankly admit, to prevent any of the acts of the Commission, which must be wholly secret, from being discussed even in this House. I am not now going to enter upon that proposed Royal Commission, which I believe to be the proper form of this body, as I only desire to make some practical suggestions with regard to the Committee as actually now proposed. The First Lord of the Treasury has said that he holds it to be important that there should be a strong Cabinet element on the Committee. I, on the contrary, believe it is important that there should be no such Cabinet element on it. I see no necessity for it. Why are the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty to be members? Where is the need? Every military suggestion of the Committee must first come before the Secretary of State for War, and every naval suggestion must come before the First Lord of the Admiralty, for his decision; and then his decision must at last come before the Cabinet. Therefore, I do not think it desirable that there should be a strong Cabinet element. What I do think desirable and indispensable is that 1633 the First Lord of the Treasury should have unchallenged access to this Committee, and that he should be an ex-officio member of it as First Lord of the Treasury. For he is the Prime Minister, the leader and master of the Cabinet, and, nothing should be kept from him. I notice what seems to be some uncertainty as to the composition of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said that the present President of the Council was to be a member, but he suggested that not every other President of the Council was to be a member. I should have supposed that once you attach membership to an office, the holder of that office would necessarily succeed his predecessor as a member of the Committee.
I venture to make these few suggestions because, in my view, the matter is one of the most intense importance. When we are replacing a worn-out, useless and grotesque imposture by a new body we should take the greatest pains to make it fit to carry on its duties, otherwise we may create, not a new security, but a new danger for the Empire. I make these suggestions in no spirit of hostility, but in a spirit of friendliness to the scheme. I trust they will be considered, as I believe they will; and that in the end the country may be endowed with a body capable of discharging the tremendous duties which will devolve on it, duties greater than and incomparable with those imposed on any other Government or any other country. No leaders of any nation ever vet had to consider problems such as we have to deal with. They are increasing day by day in complexity and in vita] importance, and I trust the outcome of this deliberation may be that such a body may be' constituted as may safely be entrusted with the tremendous destinies with which it will have to deal.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
The hon. Member began his remarks by saying that he thoroughly approved of the scheme laid before the House by the first Lord of the Treasury, and then he immediately proceeded to pick the scheme to pieces. It is un- 1634 questionably true that no provision has been made for keeping records, but I cannot agree with the proposal of the hon. Gentleman that there should be set up a permanent paid Royal Commission with an archivist and all the rest of it. After all there have been very important decisions of the Admiralty and the War Office which are kept secret from the public, but which are available to officers in the Navy and Army; and, therefore, although there may be inconvenience and a certain lack of regularity and arrangement in the provisions suggested by the First Lord of the Treasury, I do not share that escape of knowledge which seems to haunt the hon. Member for King's Lynn.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
What I fear is that there is no provision for keeping the knowledge. I do not suggest that it would escape, but I see no provision for keeping it.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
I hope the Government will not set up an archivist, because it seems to mo that these records could be best kept as documents have been kept in the past, in duplicate, one at the War Office and the other at the Admiralty. [An HON. MEMBER: Who is to keep them?] Who keeps the records at the present moment at the Admiralty and the War Office? No special officer is told off to keep them. If a special officer is to be appointed to keep the records of the Committee, the fear expressed by my hon. friend the Member for Leicester is not so ill-placed or far distant as hon. Members seem to think—viz., that the Committee might develop into a Department, gradually accumulating to itself very considerable spending powers. If we set up an archivist, as the hon. Member suggested, we are not very far from the expensive Department foreshadowed by my hon. friend the Member for Leicester. What I think has escaped the notice of the House is that this proposal is by no means a new one. Similar proposals have been made before, and it is very curious to notice that so great has been the change in public opinion that a proposal which then met, so far as I can trace it, with very little notice, and very little approbation from the 1635 public at large has been to-day received unanimously on both sides of the House. That shows a very great change in public opinion, but it none the less shows a very significant growth of public opinion on this question.
Then there is the question of permanence. It is quite true Commanders-in-Chief and Secretaries of State disappear at the end of five years, but so far as I can make out the terms of office of those gentlemen overlap, and, therefore, it is improbable that four of the Committee will go out together, and still more improbable that the other four will go at the same time. I think that has escaped the notice of hon. Gentlemen who have noticed this part of the Committee's working, and it gives a greater value to it than it would otherwise possess. The only pity is that this Committee was not set up before the present Estimates were set up in this House. It has not been mentioned, but it is the fact that the Army Estimates this year are no less than £31,500,000, which is an increase of £2,500,000 on the normal Army Estimates. If those Estimates could have been submitted to a really responsible Committee I venture to think that a great part of that increase would not have been presented to the country, but by some means or other that increased expenditure would have been eliminated. It would be out of order to discuss those Estimates now, but that points to the uselessness of the old Cabinet Defence Committee. And speaking of that I should like to know if the Colonial Defence Committee has ceased to exist. That was a most important body, comprised of the War Office, the Colonial Office, the Admiralty, and the Foreign Office, which drew up a detailed, clear. and specific plan for the defence of the colonies. Their records were kept, and they laid down a systematic plan for the defence of the country. That Committee attracted no attention, because it was practically unknown, but I should like to know whether it exists at the present moment; whether any part of these Estimates have come under their notice; whether they have made any recommendations with regard to them; and whether the new system, 1636 now being set up in continuation of the old, will have any influence on the Estimates of this country more than the old Defence Committee have had. Because if we are to judge of the future by the past I very much doubt whether this Council will have that chastening influence on the Estimates which we hope they will have.
There is one other point which I should like to touch. The hon. Member for King's Lynn seemed to think this Committee ought to have its whole time taken up in considering questions of military and naval defence. I do not think that ought to be the conception of the duties of a Committee of this sort. The information will be collected by the naval and military Intelligence Departments and that information ought to be full, sufficient, and final. The deliberations of this Committee ought not to extend to obtaining now matter but rather adapting and considering the matter already submitted to them by the Intelligence Departments. If that is the true conception of the duties of this Committee it is quite clear they need not meet more than occasionally, and need not have their whole time taken up by the consideration of schemes of defence; but they will rather, if fresh information is presented to them from time to time, be able with the assistance of their political confrè res to take into consideration the whole scheme of defence as a whole. I think I need not detain the House longer. All I have to say is that if this arrangement is to be of any real use the officers who compose it must be entirely free from the influence of their superior officers. You will have inferior officers sitting side by side with their superior officers, and unless the directors of military intelligence, both Navy and Army, are kept entirely free from the Executive of the Army and Navy, as they are in every country but this, they will be useless members of this body. If they are kept free from the Executive they will have at their disposal useful, nay indispensable, information, which no other member of the Committee can have. If that plan is adopted, this Committee will be a success; if it is not, it will be a. failure.
§ *MAJOR EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
I hope if I make a few suggestions they will not he taken as captious criticism by the right hon. Gentleman who proposed this Motion. I see for my part one very serious objection to the constitution of this Committee. It may, I fear, be taken as a substitute for what, in my opinion, is essential, that is to say, a great general staff for the Army. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the origin of this Committee of Defence. It was a suggestion thrown out by the Hartington Commission, but that Commission only said it might be advantageous that such a Committee should be constituted. But the main suggestion of the Hartington Commission was, that a general staff of the Army should be created. That was the main recommendation. The Cabinet Committee of Defence was only a suggestion which went hand in hand with the larger proposal. It is only the minor suggestion that has been adopted. The main recommendation has been ignored. The hon. Member for King's Lynn has pointed out the enormous complexity of the questions which must come under the purview of the Defence Committee, and I submit it is quite impossible that these great and complex questions can ever be fully and properly considered by such a body. The work described should be the lifework of those concerned in it; they should devote their whole time to the consideration of the problems with which they have to deal; and I do not believe that Cabinet Ministers and officials already overloaded with other responsible duties, can possibly find the time in which to give the requisite attention to these great matters. The Hartington Commission was emphatic on this point, and I cannot understand why its recommendations as to a Chief of the Staff presiding over a special Department have never been adopted.
The recent debate on the Army Estimates seemed to me to show considerable confusion in the minds of hon. Members as to the difference between the Intelligence Department and a General Staff. The collection of information is one thing, but its digestion and assimilation is quite another. My contention, and the contention of the Hartington 1638 Commission is, that the information when collected should be submitted to a Department, which upon that information should found its plans and base its requirements. Until this is done, and until a general staff is constituted composed of experts both of the Army and the Navy, I do not believe there is any great hope of these plans and requirements being worked out. The Committee of Defence will certainly not. fulfil these objects. What its past has been we all know: we cannot tell what its future will be. We can only hope. Looking at its past history we know it has never fulfilled what was expected of it when it was constituted. The intention of the Hartington Commission was to place the control and guidance of the whole war power of the country in the hands of a Committee of the Cabinet, presided over by the Lord President of the Council. In 1895 we find the present Secretary of State for War, then in opposition, closely criticising the Council and asking whether records had been kept, as was suggested by the Hartington Commission. In 1896 the same right hon. Gentleman, then in office, told the House that the Council had been turned into a reality. So that upon the right hon. Gentleman's authority until then, at all events, it had been a sham. Since 1890, although the Secretary of State for War has had control, no records have been kept, and the very steps which he himself considered necessary in 1895 have not been taken. It seems to me that whenever the military policy of this country is seriously criticised, this Committee of National Defence is produced, like Seigel's Syrup, as a panacea for all ills. I feel sure that in addition to this Committee a Department of general staff for the Army should be created, and that this step is an essential feature in any real measure of Army Reform.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
This matter does not raise any questions in the domain of Party, and I can assure the Prime Minister that if my right hon. friend and others amongst us desired to have a fuller opportunity of discussion, it was not because we underrated the importance of this proposal, but rather because we thought there ought to be ample time for reflection and consideration of the question in all its bearings before the House expressed any opinion upon it. There are unquestionably some good 1639 points in the scheme, and they have been very generally recognised on both sides of the House. It is a real advantage that there should he a formal and definite method provided by which the authorities of the Army and of the Navy—both the Minister responsible and the permanent official—should constantly be brought into contact for the purpose of settling a general scheme of defence. The problem before us is an excessively complicated problem, branching out into many directions, each having aspects of its own. For instance, the problem of the North-West Frontier of India is entirely distinct and unique; it cannot be considered to have a parallel in any part of the Empire. But all the greater is the reason for looking upon the question as one for endeavouring to bring all the concentrated forces of naval, military, and diplomatic knowledge to bear. Diplomatic knowledge must be recognised in this matter. All defence is largely a question of policy.
I should have felt much disappointed if we had not had from the First Lord of the Treasury an assurance that the Foreign Secretary would be, at least on many occasions, a member of this Committee. I do not think that a decision with regard to defence, particularly in the case of the North-West Frontier of India, could possibly be arrived at without the presence and counsel of the Secretary of State for India, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It is also a great advantage that the representatives of the Army and the Navy should be brought face to face with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that both those Ministers—the one in his function of generally overlooking the whole policy of the Government, and the other as responsible for finance—should be directly confronted with those who make the demands for military and naval expenditure. Many troubles might have been avoided in the past if, instead of being at arm's-length, they had been constantly in contact, and if the skilled advisers had been brought into direct contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, instead of their views merely filtering through the responsible Minister. So far, therefore, I think there are real advantages in the scheme, and I should be the last person to deny the possibilities which the scheme in these respects holds out. I think, too, it has this advantage: 1640 that the fact that the country has an assurance that continued and steady attention will be given to these problems may do something to avert panic such as we have from time to time suffered from. I am old enough to remember the panic of 1859-1860, and we all remember that there was a similar panic a few years ago. If we know that there is be an authority of this kind, meeting not only at moments of Imperial danger, but regularly, it will go far to reassure the country. At the same time, I think that this debate has disclosed on the part of many Members an expectation of more results from this Committee than can reasonably be expected from any Committee. The hon. Member for King's Lynn referred to several points in regard to which he thought errors had been committed. But those errors are just as likely to be committed by this Committee. There are many problems in this world which are not solved by Committees or Royal Commissions, and upon which the best and wisest men would differ, and their decisions shown by the future to be wrong. Nothing more could be done than to provide the best possible opportunity for discussion, and I think this Committee will at any rate afford a better prospect than we have hitherto had of all these things being thoroughly discussed.
As regards finance, I cannot agree with my hon. friend the Member for Leicester, that this Committee will necessarily involve increased expenditure; neither do I feel sure that it will lead to a reduction of expenditure. But it ought to lead to a reduction, because it should ensure expenditure in one direction being considered in reference to expenditure in another, although such matters of expenditure do not necessarily depend on one another. It does not follow because we spend more on the Army that we should spend less on the Navy, but it seems to me that the more we take a wide view of the problem, the better chance there is that it will be dealt with in an economical spirit. These things do not depend upon machinery, but upon the temper of the country and the men elected to Parliament. No machinery can go very far.
Premising that I am not desirous of criticising the scheme in a hostile spirit, let me advert to a few possible drawbacks, or, at any rate, risks, which seem to be 1641 involved. One relates to the question of keeping records. I suppose the Prime Minister will keep the record.
§ MR. BRYCE
By some Foreign Office official, I suppose. That, to some extent, meets my point. Passing by that, therefore. I come to the question of the permanent element, consisting of the Commander-in-Chief, the First Sea Lord, and the respective heads of the two Intelligence Departments. It is a real difficulty that the heads of the intelligence Departments are subordinate officers, because sentiment and tradition are so strong in the two services that it is not easy to induce a subordinate to express an opinion different from that of his chief. I cannot help feeling that these heads of the Intelligence Department, being subordinate officers, may be governed by that sentiment and tradition, and not exercise a sufficiently independent judgment. I should have thought that instead of making them members of the Committee it would have been better to put them in the position of assessors—that is to say, of persons who are not members but who are called in to sit with the Committee: not being asked to give a vote, if it comes to a vote, but simply to communicate facts and answer questions. In that position they might have been sufficiently free to express an opinion, whereas they would not feel free to vote against their chief. I really think it would have been better, both for them and for the work of the Committee, if they had been put on a different basis from the other members. Any system under which you associate permanent officials with members of the Cabinet is to some extent a departure from, or an infringement of, your Cabinet system. The system of Cabinet responsibility in this country is a very peculiar system, and I do not think you can put persons outside the Cabinet on the same footing as persons inside without more or less weakening the Cabinet system. It must be borne in mind that these eminent officials are specialists. They are not accustomed to look upon these questions as a matter of general policy, or to keep their finger on the pulse of the country, or to watch foreign policy, or to deal with financial questions, or to know how much the country can spend in the way of taxation, or how 1642 much the House of Commons will accept. They are, therefore, really not in the same position for expressing an opinion upon these questions as are members of the Cabinet. Then they have a natural tendency, as all specialists have, to magnify the importance of their own Department, and to think that their first duty is to make every possible demand on the part of their Department. Professional opinion expects to ask not for what is necessary, or even what is desirable, but for all that the most advanced professional opinion wishes. A man in the position of the Commander-in-Chief or the first Sea Lord is necessarily influenced by professional opinion, and it is very hard for him to bring himself into the same position in considering these matters as a member of the Cabinet.
I do not say that these are insuperable difficulties, but they ought to be borne in mind as being drawbacks, necessarily incidental to the scheme of putting permanent specialists on the same footing as members of the Cabinet. After all the decision must rest with the Cabinet. The Cabinet must not suppose that the existence of this Committee is to lessen the responsibility of individual members of the Cabinet. Every member of the Cabinet ought to consider himself responsible for everything done by that Committee. It would be a great misfortune to our system of Government if the existence of this Committee led members of the Cabinet to acquiesce in what the Committee had decided merely because it had so decided. The particular proposition laid before us is really one which might have been carried into effect by the Government without coming to the House of Commons at all. I hardly understand, except it be for the purpose of giving us a peg on which to hang a debate, why the House of Commons should have been asked to express an opinion. What was done before was done by the Government, and what is being done now could be done by the Government; it does not require a Minute; it requires only a resolution of the Cabinet for certain members to meet these permanent officials in consultation.
I should like to remark on a peculiarity of the Motion. The Motion is that the growing needs of the Empire require the 1643 establishment of "the" Committee of Defence on a permanent footing. Is any Committee of Defence, in the sense of a Committee of Defence, known to this House? It certainly is not known to law. This seems to me to be a recognition by a side wind in a manner which is rather novel, and I should have thought that the object of the Government would have been well met by saying "a" in stead of "the" Committee of Defence.
The House will have gathered from what I have said that we on this side do not object to the Motion, and that we do not propose to challenge the opinion of the House upon it. The Government put it forward as a tentative and experimental proposal, and it is in that sense that we do not object to it. It is perfectly right that experiments should be tried in this way, and that if the experience of the last seven years has convinced the Government that the form in which this Committee has hitherto existed is not satisfactory they should be allowed to try another form. But at the same time I am sure it will be understood that in not objecting to the action the Government propose to take, we are not committing ourselves to this proposal in any permanent form; we are only agreeing that it is an experiment which they may fairly try.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Leicester that this will lead to greatly increased expenditure. I think that coordination and common-sense in the Committee of Defence is likely to reduce rather than increase expenditure. I was not at all surprised to hear the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, because on the Hartington Commission thirty years ago he opposed the formation of a general staff, and I think that this proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury is something in the nature of a general staff. The right hon. Gentleman opposite opposed the proposal then on the ground that a General ought to know what he had got to do when he arrives on the ground, and that a general staff would make this country more bellicose and warlike than before. I think certain unofficial bodies in this House, who have shown an intelligent interest in events before they happen, ought to receive some 1644 credit for the Resolution proposed to-day, because as long ago as last session they tabled an Amendment to the Address intending to move it this session, which Amendment has been practically taken up and adopted in the Resolution to-day. Of course the necessity for a reconstruction of the Committee of Defence has been absolutely evident to everybody—at any rate since the events of the last few years. Nobody knew how to fix the responsibility on those who were responsible for the Fleet, which Lord Charles Beresford told us had practically to be refitted and strongly increased in 1901. Those two memoranda which had been alluded to, one coming from the War Office and the other from the Admiralty at the time of the Conference of Colonial Premiers, each pointing in opposite directions, showed the necessity for some such proposal as this. As far as the old Committee of Defence went perhaps I may say that nobody as far as I know could understand its raison d'ê tre. Apparently it seldom met; it took no minutes; had no records;: could spend no money; gave no account of itself: and the only thing we knew about it was that the Duke of Devonshire was chairman. Surely it was time such an organisation made way for something else. I cannot understand why it lasted so long, and I am glad it has been got rid of. I beg to thank the First Lord of the Treasury for what he has done in this matter.
§ *MR. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I rise to support the proposal which has been put before the House, subject to certain information which may come to hand as to the precise constitution and mode of action of the Committee. As far as the principle is concerned an instrument is now produced which is to secure greater co-ordination between the operations of the Army and those of the Navy. That seems an object deserving of praise, but it will depend for its success upon the manner in which it is administered. The cardinal factor affecting the safety of the British Empire is that, apart from the Indian frontier, there is no part of the world in which we should be likely to clash with other Powers, where our Army and Navy would not require to co-operate. It appears to me to be absolutely essential that some arrangement should be arrived at by which the two forces can be directed from one and 1645 the same head. The hon. and gallant Member who sits for Stepney expressed some apprehension that the creation of this Committee might retard the constitution of a chief of the staff for both the Army and the Navy. There appears to be no actual reason why the constitution of this Committee should produce any such effect. On the contrary ought it not to accelerate some consummation of that kind? If you have a Committee consisting partly of members of the Cabinet, and partly of the great officers of the Army and the Navy, you will be able to bring to bear such influence as will lead to the most speedy creation of a Staff, whether it be a General Staff or a Chief with certain advisers, which can direct from one source the operations of both forces. Not only will that be the case, but the creation of a Ministry of this kind may also accelerate another process for which opinion is not at the present time ready, and it would probably be regarded as a very dangerous proposal in some quarters I allude to the abolition of the Admiralty and the War Office as separate Departments, and their reconstitution as a Ministry of Imperial Defence. It seems to me that the tendency is to bring about more co-operation between the two classes of the Service. The establishment of a Committee of this kind and the formation of a general staff, and the ultimate amalgamation of the two offices into one, are distinct signs that there is a tendency in that direction which I think will be one of great utility. Then comes the point whether this Committee will tend to diminish or increase the expenditure. Of course ever) thing depends upon the policy carried out. I think there is more reason why a proposal of this kind should diminish instead of increasing expenditure, because, while it will enable the shortcomings to be more patent, it will at the same time be bringing the Army element into such close relation to the naval element that it will enable them to spend less money in one direction so as to counterbalance more being spent in another direction. Of course it does not follow that the expenditure will be reduced, and everything depends upon the way this work is done, but I think there is primâ facie evidence that there is more reason to expect a diminution of expenditure than an increase.
1646 I now return to some utterances from the hon. Member for King's Lynn. He enumerated a very large number of guarantees which we have signed, and responsibilities and obligations which we have incurred in various parts of the world, and he mentioned Belgium, Switzerland, Asia Minor, the Far East, Muscat, and so forth. He mentioned them as if they were to come within the purview of this now Committee of Defence. But is that the case? Surely it is to act as a Consultative Committee and not to deal with these general questions of policy for which the Cabinet alone can be responsible. No doubt the hon. Member for King's Lynn was correct in his surmise that upon these questions certain distinct duties might be offered to this Committee. I will take a concrete instance. There is the question of our responsibilities with regard to Belgium. Those obligations rest upon the treaty made in the thirties and a memorandum of 1870. The Cabinet must know to what extent those old obligations still hold good and to what extent it would be desirable to carry them into effect. They can probably ascertain all this from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but they should also have some knowledge as to how those obligations could be carried out. By means of a Committee of this kind, such information would be placed within their purview and it would be at their very doors. Not only would this Committee enable the Cabinet to know how these obligations should be discharged, but also, if there were any doubt in the mind of the Cabinet as to whether that obligation was still in existence, the advice of a Committee of that kind purely on the strategic side of the question might afford the determining factor to continue or not continue that obligation. There might arise naval or military considerations, and the preliminary advice given on these grounds alone by a Committee of that kind would be a very useful factor in determining the Cabinet to arrive at this or that decision. Of course this question is one which rests entirely with the Cabinet, and they ought not to shift their responsibility on to the back of a Committee of that kind.
1647 I might go into those obligations enumerated by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, and it seems to me that questions of that kind do not rest with the suggested Committee of Defence, although that Committee might furnish most useful advice from a strategic point of view, in the event of any doubt arising as to whether those obligations were in our power to discharge, and whether it was our duty to discharge them. There is one point of detail, and it is in regard to the way those records should be kept. I understand by an interjection made by the Prime Minister that these records are to be kept in the Foreign Office. I do not know whether he means they are to be kept by a Foreign Office clerk, or kept in the custody of the Foreign Secretary. A copy of these records will be kept at the War Office, at the Admiralty, and also at the Foreign Office. Obviously the risk of publicity becomes greater when you have three records than when you have one, and this fact ought not to be left out of sight. Perhaps some means may be adopted by which any danger of that kind may be prevented. These are matters perhaps more of detail than for consideration at the present stage of the discussion, and, in conclusion, I desire merely to say that on general grounds, and with full reservation as to details, I desire to welcome the scheme which has been placed before the House to-day.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)
It seems to me there is not much to be said against this scheme on principle, and what there is to be said is more upon matters of detail. This has been an interesting opportunity for considering what details there are likely to be. The hon. Member for King's Lynn was quite on wrong ground, and very dangerous ground, when he advocated the formation of a large paid Commission. What we want to establish is Cabinet responsibility and not a separate paid body which will enable the Cabinet to shift its responsibility. I think we ought also to declare as distinctly as possible that we stand for Cabinet responsibility. The hon. Member for Dundee threw cold water on the proposal, and compared the proposed Com- 1648 mittee, in a rather disparaging manner, to the Board of Trade. He said that on the Board of Trade there were such members as ' the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, this Committee is the exact antithesis to that. In this case the members are not nominal, and—if I may use the word ornamental; they are experts, and are there for a purpose. The hon. Member has also said that there is. danger of disagreement on the Committee. I do not see why, because there is a divergence of opinion between politicians, and the military members that should at all impair the value of the judgments they will arrive at or the the advice they give. I do not see that the country will necessarily gain by having special men devoting their whole time to the work. I am not sure that you could find a body of professional men whose whole time would be worth the money; nor would their knowledge, opportunities of judging, or sources of information be adequate to the duties; they would have to perform.
I would like to know how the archives of the Committee are to be kept, and who is to record the decisions, because the impression these records will have upon successors in office is a very important matter. I see nothing ridiculous or obviously impossible in having a professional archivist. The Clerk of the Council is an official who is not overworked, and it might very well be his duty to be the professional archivist. What you want, and what of course you must have is a complete equipment of modern information. We must not on any account have a stereotyped or stale Committee. You must have not only a body of men living in the thick of politics, but also those who have the latest or liveliest knowledge of what is going on in naval and military circles. One point has not been mentioned. If one Minister more than another ought to be on the Committee it is the Colonial Secretary. Why the President of the Council of Education is on the Committee I do not know, and it is not my business to inquire. I think the Government deserve our gratitude and the gratutide of the country for instituting this Committee, or perhaps I ought to say the 1649 gratitude of the country for instituting it, and our gratitude for giving us an opportunity of having this very interesting discussion upon it.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That, in the opinion of the House, the growing' needs of the Empire require the establishment of the Committee of Defence on a permanent footing."