HC Deb 02 August 1904 vol 139 cc601-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceed- ing £2,960, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1905, for the Expenses in respect of the Committee of Imperial Defence, in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury."


said he did not propose at that stage of the discussion to make any broad statement of policy. He thought the House was thoroughly acquainted with the grounds which induced the Government to remodel the Committee of Defence. It was necessary for its new condition that there should be a staff which should assist the members of the Committee adequately to perform their work, and should also give them that element of continuity which he thought was so valuable a portion of the new machinery which had been created. He proposed to reserve himself to answer the Questions which would doubtless be put to him from both sides of the House. He would only mention now the fact that one of the great incidental advantages which every Member of the House, he thought, would agree with him in regarding as a consequence of this Amendment was that the House could for the first time discuss certain military and naval problems in their entirety. Under the old system and the old rules the discussion on the Navy Estimates was strictly confined to the Navy, and the discussion on the Army Estimates to the Army. There were, therefore, excluded from the consideration of the House certain questions which it would, he dared say, be hard to discuss in detail with any advantage, but which should not be absolutely excluded from general consideration.

SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)

observed that, whatever its merits might be, the proposal was not the proposal of the Esher Committee, which was that there should be not only a principal secretary, but two naval, two military, and two Indian assistant secretaries. Those secretaries had been reduced to two.


was understood to say that there would probably be an Indian representative.


agreed with the Prime Minister as to the great advantage of the proceedings of the Defence Committee being brought before the House of Commons, as since its initiation in 1895 it had been a somewhat nebulous body which Members of the House had never heard of or seen. He thought the proposal as regards staff was a very moderate one; he had assisted at certain War Office Committees, but he had never heard of any Committee of any size which had not a secretary to record its proceedings. It was very necessary, with a body that would have to deal with matters of the first importance, that they should have some person responsible for keeping the records and preparing the documents necessary for the proper working of the members of the Committee. He anticipated great advantages from the deliberations of a body which would be able to consider naval and military affairs together, and to come to definite conclusions from which he believed considerable economies ought to result.

*SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

said that all students of this question would heartily welcome the formation on some definite basis of the Committee of Imperial Defence. When they considered the gravity and the ramifications of the questions that would come before the Committee, they must agree that the Estimate now put forward was a very moderate one. If, however, this Vote was to be simply a sub-head of the Treasury Vote, to be discussed at the end of the session, he thought it would not be in its proper place. He was glad the wishes of the House had been so far met, but he would point out that when he originally brought to the notice of the House in 1888 the waste and confusion which resulted from the entirely separate discussion of naval and military policies, his proposal was that before the estimates were discussed there should be a statement made by a Minister of the Crown defining the general principles of Imperial Defence by which the policy of the Government was guided. He suggested, therefore, that this Vote in future should be brought forward prior to the introduction of the Army and Navy Estimates, so that it might render more effective the discussions on Vote A and Vote 1 of those Estimates. He regarded the establishment of this Committee as the greatest step that had been taken for many years in the direction of putting our defensive system on a proper basis. Hitherto there had been no machinery by which various parts of the Empire might be brought, so to speak, into focus, and he welcomed this Committee as a means of enabling Ministers to see in true perspective the real necessities of the Empire. The experience of the last forty years showed that we had been drifting about without any real policy at all, and he regarded that as mainly due to the fact that Prime Ministers had no means of co-ordinating the various views brought before him, with the result that the strongest Minister of the day was able unduly to influence general policy in a particular direction by the views of his Department.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.