§ Order for Committee read.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER,) Belfast, W.
In introducing these Estimates to the House I ask leave to make an apology. I am afraid for what I have to say I must claim indulgence, because I have really very little to recite that can I be of interest to hon. Members of the House. I feel like the needy knife-grinder, "Story, God bless you, I have none to tell, Sir." The Estimates I which I have to present are quite intelligible, and on the face of them they involve no new departure. They have no peculiar feature which distinguishes them unfavourably from any previous Estimates, and I feel that I can best perform my duty to the House by explaining such parts of the Estimates as are obscure, and then leave the matter to the judgment of the House. These Estimates are the last certainly that I shall ever present of this character. Hon. 333 Members may say that these are self-denying pledges on my part, but I venture to say they are likely to be the last Estimates of the kind that anyone occupying my place is likely to present to the House. My belief is, that we are standing at the parting of the ways with regard to the administration of the Army, and I have seen nothing, during the short time I have been brought face to face, officially, with the problems of the Army, to alter my belief that changes of considerable magnitude are necessary if this country desires to obtain the Army which it requires, and the Army which is appropriate to its needs. If I thought that these Estimates which I present to-day represented the last word upon War Office policy, I certainly should not be standing at this box now, but it is because I have the confident hope that it may fall to my lot—and if I have to abandon that hope that it may fall to the lot of some hon. Member equally solicitous for the welfare of the Army—to produce Estimates upon a totally different system, that I now ask the consideration of the House to these Estimates as interim Estimates only.
It has been complained that the Memorandum which has been circulated to Members is too brief and lacking in particulars with regard to the future. The Memorandum was simply explanatory of the Estimates. I did not follow the laudable example of my noble colleague the First Lord of the Admiralty. I did not attempt to make any summary of the conditions of the past, or to make any brilliant anticipation of the hopes of the future. I thought I would be excused from dealing with either. There was nothing in the past to which I particularly wished to call the attention of hon. Members, and there was nothing in the future which I felt at liberty to anticipate with sufficient certainty to make it reasonable and proper for me to put it before the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition mildly reproached me for hurrying these documents on the House. I owe him and the House an explanation of what I did. I think the explanation is a sound one. I ascertained through the ordinary channels that it was the desire of the House that it should have an opportunity of discussing the 334 Navy Estimates side by side with the Army Estimates—that was, that hon. Members should have before them the contemplated expenditure on the Army, when they were discussing the important Navy Estimates which were dealt with last week; and as I have always been a firm believer in that doctrine—I have often preached it in this House—I thought I ought to be the first to give effect to it when opportunity offered, and I went out of my way to anticipate the Estimates by the presentation of the Memorandum, in order to put the main features of the Estimates before the House of Commons at the earliest possible date. That is the only explanation I can give of the fact that the Memorandum was rather hurriedly brought before hon. Members. Had I followed the ordinary course it could not have been presented until the Estimates were presented.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I did not complain of the hurrying of that document, but of the delaying of others.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
I am sorry if I have misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman. I was not blaming him, but rather excusing myself. My view is that we should be able to discuss the Navy and Army Estimates together. These Estimates represent, so far as I have been able to control them at all, a redemption of the pledge I ventured to give that I would attempt to produce Army Estimates which would show some reduction on the Army Estimates which preceded them, but which would not give just opportunity for those who are anxious for the welfare of the Army, to reproach me with having made a new departure without carefully providing some machinery to take the place of that which I proposed to abandon. Nothing could be more unwise—and I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will be in agreement with me—than to disturb our present machine before we have another machine to put in its place. I think it would have been an act of madness to interfere with the due operation of that machine until we were prepared to substitute for it something better and more effective. That is, after all, the whole secret of the Estimates I 335 now present to the House. I know, or I think I know, what is in the minds of most hon. Members when they come to the discussion of these two great Estimates, the Navy Estimates and the Army Estimates. There is a feeling, which I do not affect to deny the importance of—a feeling, indeed which I share—that this is a burning subject and a very serious one in the mind of the country. I have not abandoned the view I have long entertained and often expressed, that the capacities of this country to spend money on its armaments are not infinite, and that if we are to have a readjustment, it must be a readjustment in the sense of first making perfect our naval defence, even though to some extent we are compelled to provide on a greater scale of magnitude than other Powers. Therefore the advocates of economy will find me to be a very sympathetic listener. Of course, I have my own ideas as to the way in which economies may be best affected. I think the first rule we have got to lay clown is this, that true economy exists in making a machine that will do our work, and that anything short of that is a waste of money, and that anything in excess of that is extravagance. But, of course, it is an obvious remark that that valuation is of no use at all unless we know what the duties are. Now I do not think that up to the present time, or until a very short time ago, this country did quite know what the duties were which the Army was expected to perform, and I believe that at this moment we have not that full information as to what those duties are which we hope some day to possess. But I think we are taking steps to bring professional judgment, combined with a knowledge of political exigencies, and combined with a knowledge of financial resources, to bear on the solution of this problem, and I feel that it is the duty of every Secretary of State for War, to whatever Party he belongs, to put into the forefront of all his calculations this matter of the duties which the Army has to perform. It is from my conception of those duties that I regard the whole question. In these matters, in the first place it is for the professionals, and secondly for the House of Commons, to give to the War Office the necessary instructions which will allow it to proceed.
336 I come now to these Estimates, which I confess do not represent my idea of what ought to be the character or the scale of expenditure on our Army, but they do represent, after taking all aspects of the case into consideration, what is necessary to carry on the Army on its present basis for another year. The hon. Member has reproached me for not having imported into these Estimates the decisions arrived at in connection with the Report of the War Office Reconstitution Committee. S I hope that point will not be pressed, for I think you will see that it is not a very reasonable or effective point. I should like hon. Members to bear in mind the dates of these accounts. I do not want to go back on the question when it is necessary to consider the Estimates, but anyone familiar with Government business knows what that means. I take the commencement of the current year, and I would remind hon. Members that the first sitting of this Committee was held on 29th December, that the first Report was received on 1st February, that the second Report was received on 29th February, and that the third Report has not yet been received. I think it will be admitted that it is not within the bounds of human ingenuity to provide in these accounts for the contents of those Reports. The dates of the accounts are regulated like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, and it is not within our power to take into consideration the changes likely to be involved by these Reports.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
Of course they are signed by the new Council. What is it that this House requires? We have been trying to place the War Office on the basis of the Admiralty. We have endeavoured to get the responsibility for those Estimates shared by the I Council which the Government has created. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me still, to be a rational and inevitable step that the moment the Council is formed it should take the responsibility which has been thrust upon it. The hon. Member will say, "Ah, but why does a member of the I Council sign them when he cannot know 337 all about them?" Does he mean to apply that reasoning to every new member of the Admiralty Board? Are we to be told at this stage that the responsibility of a Council like that is to be absolutely interpreted to be the personal assurance of every member of it that he is cognisant with all the facts the Estimates contain? If so, you have to make another Council, you have to begin again, you have to destroy the Board of Admiralty, you have to destroy the Army Board. Let me come, after all, to the matter on which I ought to be addressing the House. The Estimates show, as hon. Members have already learned, a diminution of £8,300,000 compared with the gross expenditure last year. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the bulk of this reduction, is due to the cessation of war charges. The amount which I think is fairly chargeable in that way is £5,325,000. That sum accounts for not only the cessation of war charges, but for practically the cessation of the great expenditure on stores under the Mowatt programme, which was exceptional expenditure, and for the winding up of the accounts in regard to China. The Mowatt programme was a programme sanctioned by Parliament and involving a large addition to the normal Estimates of the Army for providing stores to make up a deficiency. Nearly the whole of these stores have now been provided and the necessity for continuing the expenditure has therefore ceased. There are other reductions which I will deal with later on, and which are set out in the memorandum I have placed before hon. Members, amounting to £1,480,000. After making all these reductions, what I call legitimate reductions, we have £280,000 less than what I think is the normal War Office Estimate. I think it is a matter which we may regard with some satisfaction that we have now reduced these Estimates by that sum below the normal War Office expenditure. For the moment I am taking the normal Estimates of last year as being £280,000 in excess of the Estimates of this year, which amount to £28,900,000, and considering whether this result is good or bad. I can only say, in view of the economy which some hon. Members are anxious to effect, that a reduction of £280,000 is not a large 338 reduction. But I think hon. Members must go a little further than that, and must look into the figures which make up the totals in the debit and credit balances. When hon. Members find whit they are getting for this sum of £28,900,000 I think there will be some reason for satisfaction.
It is much harder to justify reductions than it is to justify increases. One has to be very careful, if one is responsible for the administration of the Army, before reducing any expenditure, for this reason—that every year the responsibilities of the Army are increasing. When you increase your business, it is the normal experience of men of business that you must increase your capital; and it seems to me that no Secretary of State should present to this House, without good reason and a very clear explanation, any decrease in the normal Army expenditure. Therefore I feel more called upon to explain my decreases than I do to explain my increases. I know I shall be criticised in this House, on both sides, by hon. Members who desire to see great decreases in our Estimates, and by other hon. Members who, knowing, as I do, the condition of the Army, believe, as I do not, that that condition can be greatly improved by the mere expenditure of money. I submit to this House—to this I attach some importance—that the decreases which I have sanctioned this year have in no way impaired the efficiency of the Army. It will be noted that there is a reduction of £50,000 in the Estimate for the Foot Guards. No one can regret more than I do that there should be any reduction in the personnel of the Guards. There are no better troops in the Army; they have maintained their discipline under most trying circumstances, and have been a model and example to the Army. I should be the last person to come down to this House and advocate a reduction in the establishment of the Guards if it were a question of my will. It is not a question of my will; this reduction is not a voluntary reduction. Recruiting for the Guards has fallen off, and we are face to face with a reduction of no less than 1,894 men since 1st February, 1903, in the Brigade of Guards. Therefore this reduction of £50,000 merely corresponds with the facts which I am compelled to contemplate. I will not 339 trouble the House at this moment with what I believe to be the reasons for this falling off. I believe the principal reason is that we have now sanctioned three years' recruiting for the whole of the Army, and what was before the privilege and distinction of the Brigade of Guards, has now become common to the whole of the Line. Coupled with that change there is the fact that the duties of the Guards are very heavy. This has contributed to driving recruits from the Brigade of Guards into the Line battalions. Whatever has been the cause, the result is to be regretted, but, however regrettable it is, it has compelled us to effect an economy of £50,000. There is a similar economy, having a similar explanation, in the infantry of the Line. I have been compelled to sanction a reduction of fifty men on the establishment of the battalions at home. There is a shortage in the infantry battalions of 4,776 men—that is the equivalent of seven or eight battalions. I do not consider a falling off of that kind is a matter upon which we ought to congratulate ourselves—it simply marks a failure in our system. There are many who think that a reduction of the battalions might be possible or desirable who will not view with satisfaction a reduction which is not voluntary, but is the result of inadequate recruiting. I think I am quite safe in making the reduction which I have made of £175,000 in respect of this reduction of infantry of the Line. It would require a great development of recruiting to enable us to catch up the whole of this deficiency during the coming year. There is an item of £100,000 for the discontinuance of the Militia Reserve, which was recently established, and was intended to take in men who were Laving the Royal Garrison regiments, and also Regular soldiers who had never gone into the Militia, but had left the Army for several years and had under twenty-one years service. I do not think that experiment has proved to be altogether satisfactory. Undoubtedly it has had the effect of inducing men who otherwise might have gone into the Militia not to go into the Militia. I am not quite clear that this additional force is a very great contribution to our military strength. At any rate, this I can say, with the full acquiescence of my military 340 advisers I have decided that the entrance to the Militia Reserve, except for the men of the Garrison regiments, shall be discontinued. Hon. Members will understand that every soldier well knows without my telling him that this Militia Reserve is a totally different body from the old Militia Reserve which was composed of men who were practically part of the Line battalions serving pro tem. in the Militia battalions.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
This Reserve was for men who had not served in the Militia. The Stores Vote shows the large reduction of £750,000. This reduction is due to the fact that we have a great accumulation of stores, especially clothing, in this country, due to the South African War. I do not know that that is an item which we ought to regard with satisfaction, because it is a reduction which cannot be repeated in future years—as the stores become exhausted they will have to be replaced, and this plethora does not represent a normal condition. There is an item of £148,000 for deferred pay. Hon. Members know that the number of men who are entitled to claim deferred pay is being diminished. The total of these reductions is nearly £1,500,000.
I should like the House to understand that pari passu with these reductions there have been some very important increases. I think it is rather a matter for congratulation that these very important increases, which I think do represent real gain to the Army, should have been possible without seriously increasing the normal Estimates. Under my right hon. friend who preceded me a most valuable and important addition was made to the pay of the Army—an addition which, I believe, has not yet borne its full fruit, but which is most advantageous to the Army and is fully justified. That addition will cost us £750,000 in the coming year. This cost comes, not unexpectedly, but practically for the first time on the Estimates, because the period when the full advantage of the new pay comes into force is 1st April of the year. There is also, I am glad t say, the large sum of £210,000 which will become payable on 341 account of the strengthening of the Army Reserve. The Army Reserve, owing to various causes, is much below what we should like it to be—it stands at 69,500 men—and in view of the great importance of the Army Reserve to this country it is obviously desirable that something like the normal figures should be attained as soon as possible. It may be asked—certainly it was asked by me—How do you account for the war, apart from the casualties, leading to this great reduction of the Reserve? Certainly it would seem obvious that two years of war service in a man's military career need not eliminate him from the Reserve. What has happened is this. During the war a great number of men on the establishment in India extended their period of service to twelve years on the inducement of the bounty. Every man so extending his service pro tanto diminished the Army Reserve. Fortunately, we are now, I think, rapidly increasing the total of the Army Reserve again, and that increase will be represented during the coming year by the sum of £210,000. Then there is the sum of £98,000 for the Military Works Acts annuities. There is also £70,000 for the full training of the Militia. After the war it was not thought necessary to bring out the whole of the Militia battalions for training, but a return to the ordinary practice during the coming year is contemplated. All these items, I think, are satisfactory, and it is satisfactory to be able to make these additions without increasing the normal total of the Army Estimates. Let me remind hon. Members that these Estimates include a sum of no less than £1,360,000, which is the figure necessitated by the maintenance of the garrison in South Africa. I do not mean to apologise for that. It is obvious that any country which extends its responsibilities must extend its expenditure, and, therefore, I think we must have anticipated that there would be that additional cost.
All hon. Members who take a close interest in the Army will have detected the fact that up to this point I have made no reference whatever to a matter in which they are greatly interested, and that is the re-armament of the artillery. I gave, not a pledge, but an indication in 342 this House that if I were permitted I should make a proposal to the House with regard to the rearmament of the artillery. I am able to make that proposal now; but by a fortunate concurrence of circumstances I do not ask the House to sanction the cost of additions to the artillery on these Estimates. We have now practically decided on a type of new gun. I can assure hon. Gentlemen that that gun, the details of which I shall be able to give on a subsequent occasion, is a gun of which the country will be proud—they are a heavy field gun and a horse artillery gun which, I believe, will stand practically without a rival and certainly without a superior in Europe. We are now in a position to commence the manufacture of these guns, and the work will be begun next month. A number of these guns can be made during the coming financial year, and we shall give the manufacturers practically carte blanche to proceed as fast as they can. But the output during the first year must be limited because a great deal of time will be taken up with making the patterns and gauges which are necessary for securing uniformity in all parts of the gun made in different places. We propose to complete during the next year 108 field guns and eighteen Royal Horse Artillery guns, and to make considerable progress with the manufacture of a large number of additional guns. The Government of India had available and desired to expend a certain portion of its revenue upon an object which had long been contemplated—the re-armament and strengthening of the military equipment of the Army in India—and my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for India has intimated to me that they are desirous of obtaining these guns as soon as possible. They will be paid for by the Government of India. I cannot conceive a more fortunate circumstance, because if it had been left absolutely to my own discretion to assign the place where these guns should go to, I would have assigned them to India. India is our only possible place of contact with a great European army. India is a place where long ranges are common, while in this country they are exceedingly uncommon. There are very few places in this country with a 2,000 yards' range. 343 There will be greater value for these guns in India than there would be here, and therefore we propose to assign to India practically the whole of the output of these guns for the coming year. The Government of India will initiate the manufacture, and the guns will be placed-where I think all of us would wish to see them placed.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
I cannot give the exact calibre in inches, but I can give the weight of the projectile. It will be 18½lbs. and 12½lbs.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said that what he desired to know was whether there would be a great number of calibres, or only one or two.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
They will be of the same calibre, with, as I have said, a 12½lb. and an 18½lb. projectile. We are also manufacturing a new rifle. This rifle has been in course of manufacture for some time, and we are going to adopt the same process with regard to a considerable number of these rifles as we are adopting with the field and Horse Artillery guns. The Indian Government are going to take 71,000 stand of these rifles during the coming year, and the upshot of these two transactions is that a sum of £700,000, in addition to the amount calculated in these Estimates, will be expended during the coming year to improve the armament of the British Army in the place where that armament is most urgently required.
Hon. Members will perhaps wish me to say something about recruiting. The recruiting is not altogether unsatisfactory, yet it leaves much to be desired. The recruiting returns are vitiated as a document by the fact that recruiting has been closed for some time past for two important branches of the Army—namely, 344 the Artillery and the Cavalry. Those branches are still overborne, as the expression goes, on account of the number of men who passed into the ranks during the war and have not yet taken their discharge into the Reserve, and no doubt partly in consequence, the infantry has acquired a larger proportion of recruits. I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied with the quality of the recruits, or that I am confident that such recruiting is going to give us all we want. I do not wish to dogmatise on the matter one way or the other, because I believe the full effect of the reforms initiated by my right hon. friend has not yet been fully felt, perhaps, and that when it is realised how great has been the improvement in the position of the soldier we may rely not only on getting more recruits, but possibly recruits of a different class from those we have already obtained. I do not know whether the country yet realises how great has been the improvement in the position of the soldier; and I do trust that those, and they are many, who, like myself, believe that the Army offers a splendid career for a young man, will take the pains to ascertain what is the improvement in the soldier's position, or what will be the improvement in his position when the full change in regard to pay takes effect. I have before me a document which has been prepared in the War Office, which I believe accurately represents the emoluments, the total money received in one form or another by the soldier in 1904 as compared with his receipts in 1897. I find that the figure of £22 15s. 5d. represents the earlier year, as against no less than £35 19s. 7d. for a fully-trained soldier in the present year. And when the other reforms in respect of accommodation in barracks and so on are considered, I hope it will be realised that any one may confidently advise a young man in whom he is interested, and who has any inclination for a military career, to join the Army under the improved circumstances that now exist.
I wish I could tell a satisfactory tale about the Militia. I am sorry to say that circumstances do not permit me to do so. The condition of the Militia, both as regards officers and men, is profoundly unsatisfactory. There has been a very heavy decline both in the number of 345 effectives and in the recruiting. I will not give the figures as to recruiting at length, because I might mislead hon. Members by including figures for the war; but when I say that the nominal effectives are 92,000, and that the strength of the Infantry is only 75,000 men, hon. Members will see that the Militia has long ceased to be able to perform fully the important duties which I believe it might be made capable of performing for the country. I have over and over again given my reasons for believing that this fall in the Militia is due to causes which are preventable, which are obvious. I believe the Militia has long been regarded too much as an adjunct of the Line. It has had no independent existence. I believe the rule; which is common to any body or corporation applies to the Militia, and that, if you desire to restore it to a satisfactory condition you must make it feel that it is an all-important element in the defence of the country, that every battalion has individual existence, and that the prestige of the officer and the man in a Militia battalion is that which he earns for himself and for his battalion while he is in it. I believe it does not pass the wit of man to give to the Militia those conditions of service which I think are calculated to make it the force we all agree it can be made.
I do not like to speak at length of the Volunteers, a force which is of enormous importance to the country—or perhaps I ought to say, is capable of being made of enormous importance to the country—and whose affairs are at the present moment being discussed by a Committee appointed for I this purpose. When its labours, which have already occupied a great length of time, are completed, I shall feel much more free to speak with regard to the Volunteers. My own views are very definite, and I do not think they will be found to differ very widely from those held by those who have the true interests of the Volunteers at heart. At the present moment I am confident the Volunteers are not fulfilling to anything like the extent they ought to fulfil the duties which the country hopes they may fulfil in time of war. I do not believe that that is to any large extent the fault of the Volunteers. I believe it is 346 because we have not yet thought out our problems. We have not yet learned to apply the special conditions of each service to that service. We have not realised what part we want each branch of the Army to take in time of war; and until we do all these things the Volunteers will continue to be what they are now—a body capable of producing a magnificent force, but which would be misdescribed at the present time if we said it was a force of a truly military character, with a quality corresponding to its numbers, and with an organisation corresponding to the zeal and energy of those who compose it.
I must refer for one moment to another force, of which I can speak with the greatest possible satisfaction. That is the Yeomanry. I have been asked with regard to the Yeomanry whether it is not a paper force, because it has not yet obtained its full establishment. That question involves an entire misconception. There are two conditions in which a battalion or regiment can be—either it may never have reached its establishment, though always on the upward grade, or it may have fallen from its establishment. The Yeomanry is in the condition of never having reached its establishment though always approximating to it, and within a very few weeks, probably within a few days, the Yeomanry will reach its establishment. The progress of the Yeomanry under its reorganised conditions since 1901 has been uniform and satisfactory, and I believe the Force is now capable of doing a very large amount of very valuable service in any trouble, in which this country may be involved.
I come back now to the question of broad finance, because if I do not hon. Members opposite certainly will. I have deliberately omitted from this calculation any Estimate for Somaliland. I plead guilty to the fact, and I think the only justification for it is the avowal that I have not left this matter in any uncertainty. I have not pretended that, if this war continues, as it may continue, we have an adequate amount of money for the coming year to provide for its needs. And if the war does continue, and as long as it continues, we shall have to ask the House for more money.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
No, we have not. There is no mystery about it—the fact appears on the face of the Estimates. We have taken money which will carry us on to the end of the present year. I do not want to enter into a discussion about Somaliland. I repeat what I said the other night, that in my opinion, an opinion formed on the advice of my counsellors, the situation in Somaliland is more favourable than it has been for many months past. But if our anticipations are once more disappointed, we shall no doubt be face to face with the necessity of forming a plan of campaign next year. What the form of that campaign may be I do not know. I think it will all depend on what may happen in the next few weeks. But I can assure hon. Members that if an opportunity be given, consistent with the safety of those who depend upon us, of winding up this campaign, I, at any rate, as responsible for the War Office—and in this matter I speak on behalf of the Government—shall avail myself of the opportunity. If it does not arise, then we shall have to ask the House for additional supplies.
I have been asked during the course of this afternoon whether we have taken any steps to give effect to the Report of the War Office Reorganisation Committee. Sir, we have. We have taken steps which I believe have commended themselves to the House and to the country; and I can assure hon. Members that, so far as I am concerned, no day, no hour will be lost which, consistently with my duty and obligations, I can devote to ensuring that the recommendation of these Reports shall be applied to the service of the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: All the recommendations?] I said so far as my obligations permit. I have such absolute confidence in the value of these recommendations that I have very little doubt that they will be applied practically en bloc for the service of the Army. I do not go back for one moment on what has been said on behalf of the Government. I think it reasonable and obvious that the Government and the War Office should retain, at any rate, the right to read, examine, 348 and, if necessary, to criticise, what is contained in the Report.[Laughter.] The right Gentleman opposite laughs, but I am between two fires. The batteries are situated entirely on that side of the House. An hon. Gentleman on the other side has asked me why we were not putting into the Estimates the effect which might result from the adoption ox this Report. The right hon. Gentleman now smiles because I say we require a little time and claim the right to examine the propositions contained in the Report. I have quoted to the House what I call the salient dates in this matter. I think I have shown that there has been no loss of time in this House. I believe that the selection of the members of the Committee could not have been better, and that the work done by the Committee has been a model of close, scientific, and informed examination of a great subject. I believe that the Committee has done more by its example to show how some of our great national problems should be attacked than has any similar body for many years past. I also believe that, practically speaking, the general recommendations of that Committee are such as find favour with the country and with the Army. I believe that in the main we shall do well to adopt those recommendations; but I am not going now either to enter upon a criticism or a defence of the work of that Committee. I believe an opportunity will be given—I know it will be given if it be asked for, and I trust that opportunity will be taken—to discuss this Report thoroughly from beginning to end. I believe the whole essence and point of this Report are that from start to finish it is a coherent work based upon ideas penetrating every part of it, having a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, directed to one purpose and inspired by one aim. There are one or two matters to which I must refer, because they are not future, but past, matters. I am going to ask the House to accept what we have done. We have acted in part upon this Report. The first part of this Report did advise us to make an Army Council; we have created that Army Council. The Report did advise us to create an Inspector-General of the Army; we have appointed that Inspector-General. My view is that in creating that Council, we 349 did exactly what the House desired and exactly what the country desired. We created the machinery which would alone enable us to give effective consideration to the various points we knew were to be raised in the remainder of the Committee's Report, and to give effect to the results of their deliberations. That is all I have to say at this stage either in explanation or excuse of what we have done. My belief is, that this Army Council will fulfil the expectations of hon. Members. I believe it will give greater efficiency to the Army as a weapon for the purposes of this country. I trust it will.
I confess that I do not view with equanimity the condition of the Army at the present time. I believe that, important as it is that we should have this Army Council and that we should have these changes in the constitution of the War Office, it is still more important that we should carefully examine the condition of our Army to see whether it is really capable of performing those tasks which, whatever our politics, whatever our views may be, we fear may be imposed upon it on some occasion which may be, but we all hope is not, near. We have at this moment a great asset in the number of trained soldiers in this country, but that asset will not last for ever. It is being diminished every day. I have been compelled to examine the constitution, organisation, and composition of our Army. I am not satisfied that we can continue with advantage under our present organisation, or that we can do it without grave risk to the fortunes of this country. I am afraid my speech has been dull. I have avoided saying anything about my aspirations or entering into any detailed criticism of things as they are. I think nothing could be more unwise than to find fault with that which is existing, until and unless you are prepared to furnish a remedy. I think it is still more unwise and, moreover, most undignified to throw out suggestions with regard to possible remedies, unless one is fully equipped with the authority to place those remedies before Parliament, as a definite solution of the problem. I hope that occasion may arise, but I have excluded any remarks of that kind from my 350 statement now. I shall endeavour to explain, as well as I can, the details of these Estimates. If I am not as alert in doing it as hon. Members would desire, ii I am not as fully acquainted with all the matters of detail comprised in the Estimates as I ought to be, I hope hon. Members will bear in mind that I have not yet been made as familiar with all those items of account, as I was with the items connected with another Department. I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with all the salient points on which I know hon. Members who take an interest in the Army are likely to require information. In the meanwhile, I hope hon. Members will not suppose I have in this statement said all I should like to say upon the Army, or have made all those demands upon their sympathy and goodwill which I may have to make in the future.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It is not my intention at this time to enter upon a general examination of the Estimates at large, but I do wish to call the attention of the House, and of I the Government especially, to the I position in which the House stands in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech, I think probably the most I extraordinary that has ever been made by a War Minister in this House, because the Government somehow—no one knows how—have created for themselves at this moment a position of such confusion with regard to the administration of the Army that it is almost impossible for a Minister to set clearly before the House the policy of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman began by saying "Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, Sir;" but that is the complaint we make of this administration of needy knife-grinders. It is the story that we want. We cannot effectively and advantageously discuss these Estimates until we have the story. We want to know the history of this strange Committee that has been appointed to revolutionise, not only the War Office, but the Army itself. We want to know especially what are the relations of that Committee and of 351 their recommendations to the Government and the policy of the Government, and we have been able to get nothing hitherto out of the Prime Minister or the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman to-day told my hon. friend the Member for Northampton that the Government had decided upon a certain course and that was all he could tell. He would not say anything as to the action of the Cabinet. But we ought to know whose action has been used in this matter, and who has justified by his; action the phrases that are used in the Report and elsewhere with regard to the policy and opinions of the Government. The Government in this matter, as in others, appears to be a Government of no settled convictions. The Committee they themselves have appointed imputed certain definite opinions and policies to them, and they themselves partly repudiate and partly accept those attributions or imputations. I do not know whether there is any instance in our administrative history of a Committee such as this. I do not propose just now to discuss the individual recommendations of the Committee on their merits. Some of them may be good or some of them may be bad. It would not De advantageous, as I think, nor would it be decent, for the House of Commons to discuss the two sections of the Report which have been published before we know what the opinion of the Government is upon that Report and before the Government have advised the House one way or the other in the matter.
Now, Sir, what is this Committee? We know what a Royal Commission is, and we know what a Departmental Committee is. But this Committee was appointed, so far as we know, not by the King, not by the Cabinet. It seems to have been a personal affair of the Prime Minister's, and it has reported to the Prime Minister. As far as we can make out, and I think this is probably the case, the Cabinet have had no de-liberations upon it. An hon. friend of mine behind me suggests that there was another body of a somewhat similar kind though a larger body. I suppose this triumvirate, this small Committee of three, did not sit at Birmingham. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh."] There has been most extraordinary alacrity and 352 hurry. First of all, of whom is this Committee composed? It is like a revolutionary committee of public safety—appointed and prepared to overturn anything and to guillotine anybody; and I do not think it would be going too far to say of the right hon. Gentlemen the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that if they have, not been decapitated they have run a very narrow risk of it. But upon this Committee, which is to settle the whole organisation of the War Office and of the Army, there is not a single person—there are only three of them—who has had any experience in the administration of the Army, and only one who has had any knowledge or experience of military affairs at all; and yet, setting aside all experience and all past precedent and all knowledge, they set themselves to make up a new heaven and a new earth. I have the privilege of being personally acquainted, and I have been for some years, with all the three members of the Committee, so I do not speak of them with any personal disrespect whatever; but really the whole circumstances are absolutely unprecedented, and yet the behests of the Committee are to be carried out without discussion in the House of Commons; indeed, a great part of them, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, have been carried out already. Their tone, I think everyone will agree with me, is somewhat peremptory and dictatorial and arrogant towards so important a body in the Constitution of the country as the Cabinet and towards the Prime Minister. Their code must be swallowed wholesale. It is everything or nothing. It is a most extraordinary circumstance, which must amuse any hon. Member who has taken the pains to read the Report, that almost every paragraph is said to deal with a vital question of the most urgent character which must be immediately dealt with. Talk about retaliation! That is nothing like this pistol presented at the head of the unfortunate Prime Minister. These three gentlemen, who presumably, until the day before yesterday, knew nothing about it, are dictating in this tone to the Government and the country as to the form, in the minutest detail, which the defensive forces of the country shall take.
I give the go-by to all the recommendations of the Committee on 353 their own merits. There are some of them of which, as every one who knows my opinions knows pretty well, I should be in favour, but of others I cannot say the same thing. I am not discussing the details of the plan in itself; but I say that the manner of constitution, the whole procedure, is without any precedent, and I believe it to be an infringement in some respects of constitutional practice, and certainly of the decent conduct of public affairs, if the House of Commons and Parliament are to keep their rights firmly established. This Committee has a singular advantage in having its own organ in the Press, to which they communicate their desires and behests with a most unconstitutional and most improper association of the name of the King. When I brought the matter before the House at Question time the other day, the Prime Minister said that the name of the King ought not to be introduced; but the name of the King has been introduced, cither by the Committee or by some member representing the Government, or by some one acting on the authority of the Government, and we are entitled to know who it was that introduced it. Anything more improper cannot be imagined. It, of course, conveyed to the world at large the idea that His Majesty was personally recommending this scheme to the country. That would be a most unconstitutional arrangement if the matter had not been submitted to the responsible advisers of the Crown. But, of course, no such unconstitutional tendency was shown on the part of the King. It is the assumption that this body—or some one acting in collusion with them—have committed this outrage on constitutional practice.
But why this extraordinary hot haste? From beginning to end we are told this and that must be done immediately. Men now serving the country in this Department or in certain offices must be ousted without delay. They even speak in one case of the matter being effected in a fortnight. What is the great hurry? I should think it was a most inconvenient thing, and one very much to be avoided, to have the matter brought up just as the Government were putting their Estimates before Parliament. The right 354 hon. Gentleman says that these Estimates are quite independent of the Report, and no doubt he thinks they do not commit the Government or the House to anything except some minor part of the scheme. If that is so, then there is no reason for this haste. Why was it that everything was hustled through in this way? The members of the Committee, who, as I have said, had no previous experience, make strong assertions, some of which will, I think, require a good deal of proof, and they say that they have consulted a great many military authorities of experience and knowledge. But they have taken no evidence, at all events we are not told whom they consulted, and in this random and slipshod way opinions are to be put forward as the basis of a new arrangement which perhaps could not be sustained if they were put forward by witnesses and subjected to cross-examination. What is the extraordinary haste that you should do away with every safeguard for prudent administration, and that you should depart from the established practice of not coming to a conclusion in so essential and important a matter as this, without; having considered the matter on all sides, and gained all the information you could and then formed your decision there upon? I cannot imagine what the intention can have been. It may have been to distract the public mind from other matters. We have seen other cases of the some process. Whatever the motive may have been it does not matter. I maintain that the 'House has the right to demand to be informed as to the circumstances of the appointment of this Committee, as to the I relations of the Government to the Committee, as to the manner in which the Government have considered the recommendations of the Committee, and as to the advice which the Government will give to the House and the country in the matter before we are asked to enter on the Estimates for the year; and I think it is not treating the House of Commons with proper respect for the Government to have avoided taking that very obvious course. I have brought the question forward at once because it is not a matter that would brook delay. I do not desire to proceed now to enter into other matters connected with the Estimates, of 355 which there are many, as I think, deserving of the closest consideration of the House and in Committee, because I shall have plenty of other opportunities of expressing my opinion upon them.
§ *MR. J. F. HOPE (Sheffield, Brightside)
said that in submitting the Motion standing in his name he desired to call attention to a question arising out of the Report of the late War Commission. He asked the House first of all to notice a note by Sir John Jackson, appearing on page 150 of the Report, to the following effect—While signing this Report, in which I fully concur as a whole, I desire.…to express the opinion that if a few months prior to the outbreak of hostilities the War Office had had (as suggested by Sir Andrew Noble, Q. 20840) a sum of, say, £10,000,000 at its disposal, to be spent only with the consent of the Cabinet, but without the publicity of Parliament, preparations could have been made which would have reduced the cost of the war—even if it had not prevented the Boers from declaring war—by probably not less than £100,000,000 sterling.The evidence of Sir A. Noble there cited was as follows—I may say upon that subject—(that is about preparation)—that I do not see how it is possible, unless our policy is changed, that we can ever be sufficiently prepared in the case of a war suddenly breaking out. I need not point out that in the great campaign to which I just now alluded, Frederick had his army chest full, and at his own disposal. We know further that at this moment Germany have a very large sum of money, over which the Parliament has no control, and which can be spent immediately without going to Parliament. It seems to me that the only way in which efficient preparation for war can be made, seeing the questions to which every Minister is now subjected, is that the War Office and Admiralty should have at their disposal a very considerable sum of money, not to be spent, of course, except with the authority of the Cabinet, but at the same time so that it would not be necessary to proclaim the fact to all the world. As things are now, all the world knows the next day what preparations we are making if the present system of questions as to raising money is allowed to go on.20833. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Could they buy guns and other warlike material without its being known?—Yes, my firm has done that more than once for other nations.Sir Andrew Noble went on to say—We were making, I may mention, for the War Office, shrapnel shell for field guns at the time the war broke out. I think we were manufacturing at the rate of about 200 or 300 a week. About five weeks after the war broke out I was sent for to the War Office, and asked what I could supply. I said that I thought in 356 time we should get up to 7,000 a week. But we might have been doing 7,000 a week at that moment if they had told us of their requirements six or seven weeks before.He submitted that that statement was of great importance, because the most serious thing disclosed with regard to the want of preparation for the late war was the shortage of military stores. And later on Sir George Taubman-Goldie asked—When you suggest the Government having a considerable sum in hand for the purchase of material, have you given any consideration to the amount that you would consider necessary?and Sir Andrew Noble replied—Well, I have. I do not pretend in any way to be an authority upon these subjects, but I thought that if there was a sum of £10,000,000 at the disposal of the Admiralty, and the same sum at the disposal of the War Office, not to be spent at all, except when privately informed by the Cabinet that they might go on, efficient preparations could be made.Lord Strathcona asked—You would always keep a reserve of £10,000,000?—Yes, that must be done.20844. And you consider, although that is a large sum, that it would be insignificant compared to the enormous cost involved in entering upon a great war when unprepared for it?—Yes.20845. And when money is invariably expended lavishly?—Yes. We need only go back to the Crimean War and others; there was two or three times as much wasted on the Crimean War as would have been necessary if we had been in a state of efficient preparation.So much for the evidence of Sir Andrew Noble. Now he came to the Report of the Commissioners, and they said—And though, no doubt, the measure suggested by Sir Andrew Noble would go far to remove the chief difficulty which prevents the giving of orders in a situation of the kind, it is probably unnecessary to discuss a step which is so unlikely to receive the sanction of Parliament.He submitted that this conclusion of the Commissioners was somewhat disquieting and impotent at the same time, for it meant that the experience of unpre-paredness disclosed to the Royal Commission might be repeated at any time, and let them reform the War Office as they would, they would be as badly off as ever unless the fons et origo mali was attacked. The Government must be enabled to make preparations without prejudice to their diplomatic efforts. If Sir Andrew Noble was right, and the 357 Commissioners did not seem to disagree, they might be in the same plight again. If the Commissioners were right then it was hopeless to suggest a remedy at variance with traditional ways.
During the last three years there had been three occasions of great crisis. In the first place there was a trouble with regard to Siam in 1894, and he was glad to mention this because he was far from wishing to make a Party point of the contention he was now urging. The Government composed of right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite was then in power. If the Government of 1894 had come down to the House and asked for a large vote of credit what would the consequences have been? His opinion was that as a Party they would have treated the question in a broad and patriotic spirit, but from what he knew of political human nature he was afraid that there would not have been wanting hon. Members who would have been unable to resist the temptation of asking a few inconvenient questions, and the effect would have been the same whether the questioners were few or many. The Government would have been asked why this money was wanted, why it was so much, and since when had it become necessary, and was it to be inferred that all hope of a peaceful settlement was at an end, and if so were the negotiations being conducted sincerely? The impression would have been given to the public and to a far greater extent abroad that the negotiations then going on were not sincere and that the country as a whole was not prepared to back the Government in that course. If that was true in 1894, how much more true would it have been at the time of the Fashoda crisis? They could easily recall the circumstances of that crisis and the amount of excitement there was at that time in the public mind, and to have called Parliament together in 1898 would have brought that crisis undoubtedly to a head. Public feeling was at that time sufficiently excited, and he did not believe, if Parliament had been called together, there would have been any reasonable likelihood of peace being maintained. If peace had not been maintained in 1894 and 1898, on those two occasions, could they say, from the experience they had 358 since had, that this country would have been in a position to carry on the war in which they would have been plunged? On the third occasion, in 1899, the state of things was much the same. During long negotiations the country hoped for a peaceful issue, and the Government did their best to secure it but failed, and they knew now that this country was not then adequately prepared for the struggle we had to undergo. It was a matter of inestimable benefit and it was a national asset simply invaluable, if they had the whole feeling of the country at their back, but they could not have that unless the people were persuaded that their quarrel was clearly and demonstrably right, and unless they were convinced that they had done all they could consistent with honour and safety to bring about a peaceful settlement. That, of course, must involve time, and during that time, while the preparation of the mind of I the nation was going on, the material preparations must necessarily wait, and when the crisis came the material preparation was to be made, and it would have to be made hurriedly and at once, and would be costly beyond measure as compared with what would have bee a involved if the material preparations had been taken in hand in due time.
From our peculiar position and constitution this country was specially open to such a difficulty, but it was a difficulty which necessarily affected all other countries. I In Germany the difficulty was met in two ways. There was in the first place an institution called the Sechandhung Bank. It was not very easy to get exact or accurate information with regard to this institution, but as far as he had been able to ascertain it was nominally a private bank, but actually a great majority of the shares were in the hands of the Government. Then there was an actual reserve in specie of 120,000,000 marks, or about £6,000,000, actually deposited in the Julius Thuom at Spandau only to be used by the Government in case of a war-like emergency, but which was entirely beyond the control of the Reichstag. The actual Estimates voted by the Reichstag were as strictly under Parliamentary control as in England. In France this provision was 359 made by the Nomenclature Des Services, which included a kind of schedule of articles which might be ordered in time of necessity apart from the authorisation of Parliament. In Austria there was a different provision, and in all these foreign countries there was a provision made for this purpose which this country entirely lacked. Of course this was largely a matter for financial experts, and he did not attempt to dogmatise as to how it might be done Perhaps it might be enough to trust to the friendly assistance of great banking houses, whose services were always at the disposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day or something might be done by the Treasury Chest Fund. That was a departure from the strict system of Parliamentary control exercised over the Estimates. It might be done by an extension of this fund, but this fund at the present time would not meet the difficulty, firstly because it was not large enough, and in the second place, because repayment had to be made during the course of the same financial year, and if the country was in stress at the end of the financial year this fund would not be available. Again, there was another possibility. As the House knew there was a system whereby unexpended balances of the Estimates at the I end of the year had to be repaid to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Personally he could not help thinking this was a very bad system, which had been contrived in the interests of a rigid economy, but which in practice led to very great extravagance. It had been condemned by the Dawkins Commission and he had heard Ministers condemn that system and complain of its operation, although they had to submit to it. Under that system a considerable sum was surrendered every year. He found that for the last ten years the unexpended balances amounted to no less than £1,100,000, and instead of that money going back into the Exchequer he would suggest that it should be devoted to a special fund to be used during a warlike emergency. If that were done those responsible for the spending departments would have an interest to save money which at present they had not got. As to constitutional objections to any step of this kind, it would be said that it was opposed to every tradition of Parliament, and that it 360 was contrary to the theory of the Constitution. But it was not more contrary to public feeling and Parliamentary traditions than the establishment of a standing Army itself. For many years there was a feeling against a standing Army quite as strong as that against the step he now advocated. On the broad question he would remark that the Constitution existed for the country and not the country for the Constitution, and if this change was on general and business grounds, and, in view of modern exigencies, wise and necessary, the fact that it would not have approved itself to legislators of the seventeenth century need not be taken into account. He thought there were some people who did not realise that good Queen Anne was dead, and that Charles I. had been even longer in his grave. To give a power like I that proposed, to Charles I. would have been dangerous in the extreme. Could it be said that the giving of such a power to King Edward VII. was to risk the danger of our civil and religious liberties being trampled underfoot? Ministers would have to render a strict account, if not next year, within a comparatively short period of time. What would be done would be that the Executive of the day would have power to spend this amount at their discretion. If necessary it might be done by an annual Bill, in which case it would merely give this contingent credit to the Executive of the day for one year only.
If there was one lesson that the War Commission more strongly than another insisted upon it was that we; should adapt the machinery of civil life to the exigences of possible war. He submitted that to take such a step would only be to carry into the government of the country the common principle of businesslike action. Any large firm having great dealings at a distance would allow its agents some credit for common sense and would not insist upon supervising every step taken. They would not insist that their agents should not take a step involving the expenditure of money without asking the previous consent of the board, and still less without taking the shareholders into their previous confidence. We already gave I great powers to our agents in the making of treaties. That was not in derogation of the 361 ultimate power of Parliament, which had to sanction those treaties. If the Executive could be trusted in that department he submitted that they might be trusted in the preparation for warlike issues as well. We were at this moment using our best efforts to adapt the actual machinery of war so as to be of the best use in future. Should they not also do the same thing with the first motive power which set that machinery in motion. The same risks would almost inevitably arise in future as in the past. The Government would in future be in the same dilemma of throwing chances of peace aside, or being too late in the event of war. We could not too soon or too earnestly make some provision to meet the case. He knew from the forms of the House that his Motion was one which it would not be easy for the Government to accede to. By his Motion, as drafted, this power was given to the Government of the day. If it were possible to devise any other scheme whereby the same power should be given, and the same precautions taken to avoid the same difficulty and emergency, he would gladly see it given to some other body if it could be found. The United States had a Committee on Foreign Relations where foreign questions were secretly discussed. He presumed that any institution of' that kind was impossible here. He did not know anybody in the State except the Executive Government that could be entrusted with discretion of this kind. But in any case he would certainly limit the power he proposed to the initiative of the Sovereign, on the advice of his Ministers, and on the written recommendations of the new Committee of Defence. He presumed that his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one reason or other could not accede to this Motion, but he would ask him at any rate to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee to deal with the difficulty to which he had called attention. He would not attempt to insist on any particular reference on which the proceedings of that Committee should take place. He had drafted a reference, but he should be only too glad if a better could be suggested as long as the dilemma and difficulty 362 were really grappled with. He suggested the following possible reference—To consider whether the restrictions on Supply and Expenditure involved in the present financial system of the country constitute a source of danger or prodigality in times of actual or threatened war; and to report whether any changes in the said system are required by the public interest, saving always the ultimate control of Parliament over tae raising and appropriation of Supply.
§ COLONEL KENYON SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
called attention to the deserted condition of the Opposition Benches. They were now debiting a matter which was supposed to be of great interest to the country, but when he began to speak there was not a single representative of the Opposition in the House. Since he began two hon. Members had entered, so that there was a possibility of dual control on that side. His hon. friend who introduced the Amendment had covered the ground so well that it would not be necessary for him to add very much to what had been said. There was no phrase more constantly bandied about from lip to lip than "lessons of the war." What was the most absolutely clear and convincing lesson the war had taught? It was that first of all absolute preparedness for war meant successful war, that successful war meant short war, and that short war meant economical war. That was the lesson which above all others this country ought to lay to heart and learn in reference to its arrangements for future contingencies. There was plenty of one sort of preparedness for war. There was never an occasion when naval or military questions came before the House when they had not abundance of discussion. Under the present system every item of the Estimates was debated, every question regarding our armaments was debated, our weakest spots were indicated, our strongest points were also disclosed for the information not only of our friends but also of our possible foes. Borne hon. Members debated these things in the interest of efficiency, some in the interest of economy, some in the interest of peace at any price, and some from the point of view of trying to score a point over political opponents. He did not want to say a word that would be offensive if he could avoid it, but it was a 363 matter of common knowledge to this House and the country that on the last two occasions on which this country had been involved in war, and the preparations for war were discussed in this House, they had among them a certain body of Members who by their public declarations in the country and their public action in this House had signified their sympathy with the enemies of the country rather than ourselves, and from the point of view of public policy he finked if any country could be satisfied with preparations conducted under such circumstances as these. Those to whom he referred had as much right to take part in the discussion as the most patriotic. He was aware that the House of Commons would not part with its power in that direction, but what was desired was that they should be reinforced in some way which would make the preparations effective.
The first requirement of the preparations was that the country involved in war should be able to strike with full power, instantly and without hesitation. In order to aid and abet our public preparation we wanted a system of silent unadvertised preparation, which was essential both for efficiency and economy. There need be nothing underhand or anything to be ashamed of in making this preparation silently with out advertising it to all the nations of the world. Let them suppose that a certain country was gradually developing hostile feelings against us and that in the course of eighteen months those feelings might be used against us, it would be unwise as a matter of public policy that any overt preparation should be made or that anything like a threat should be held out, though it would be extremely important that preparation should be made without public advertisement. At that very time we might be in possession of some invention—a new torpedo, gun, shell or rifle, and it might be that a certain pro-vision had been made for these in the h Estimates. But if we suddenly developed these preparations the Government might be exposed to a variety of Questions, as to why these were necessary and against whom they were intended. But supposing the suggestion of his hon. friend were acceded to, what would happen? The Defence Committee would be able to go 364 to the great manufacturing firms, such as the Armstrongs, or Vickers and Maxim, j and say to them—"Now, if you care to put on such and such a plant, or put on such and such a force of workmen that will enable you to turn out these guns, or whatever it might be, in such and such a time, we will give you a guarantee that you will not be losers." Imagine what the difference would be found when we were revealed to be strong where our opponents thought we were weak! That surely was a strong argument in favour of efficiency and effective warfare and if this country was to fight at all what was wanted was that the success should be immediate. It was also an argument for economic warfare, for the shorter the war the expense would be infinitely lessened. We could never hope to carry on our great Empire for an indefinite period without war. In spite of all the Hague Conventions there would be wars from time to time. With the best intentions in the world wars could not always be averted. He remembered not many years ago going over a great manufactory of warlike stores and saw on all sides guns in different processes of manufacture and war material being made at express rate. He turned to the manager of these great works and said to him, how did he account in a time of apparently profound peace for the activity in fulfilling all these large orders and the necessity for employing these, thousands of men? And his answer was the most bitter commentary imagin able on the Hague Convention. He said, "It is entirely the outcome of the Czar's rescript." That was the reason why we should be on our guard and armed against surprises. The object of the Motion of his hon. friend was to secure efficient, effective, and economic warfare. It was to follow out the advice of some of the best experts in the country—Sir Andrew Noble and Sir John Jackson, and to translate into action what was the real opinion of that famous Commission which they gave in that famous Report on the War. But at what cost did his hon. friend and himself wish to secure that object? They asked the House only temporarily to surrender some little portion of its prerogative and privilege. This House was not very backward in, demanding that some prerogatives of other institutions should 365 be curtailed, and why should it not be able to set an example in its own way to do something to meet this demand by making such a small surrender as was asked for in this Motion? They had heard a great deal not long ago from the right hon. gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—not for the first time—in his most excellent Tory speech, that he the right hon. Gentleman preferred old methods to new; but these old methods could always be adapted to new circumstances, and it was for that reason that he seconded the Motion of his hon. friend.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to insert the words, 'in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to enable His Majesty in times of Imperial emergency to raise money to an amount not exceeding £5,000,000 for military purposes without the previous consent of Parliament." Mr. J. F. Hope.
§ Question proposed "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
My hon. friend has for a longtime taken an interest in our financial system, and anyone who heard his speech must have seen that he has devoted much time and attention in his desire to find a remedy for the deficiencies which he now believes to exist in that system. My hon. friend is so well known for the part he has taken in our debates on the Army and his constant efforts to improve the condition of the Army, that I am sure the House must be possessed with a great deal of sympathy not only in the object which he has in view but for my hon. friend himself in bringing forward the Motion now under discussion. But I venture to think that my hon. friend can hardly realise how great a revolution in our financial system would be involved in his proposals, and how little probability there is that the great powers he suggests should be willingly conferred on the Government by a majority chosen from either side of the House. I think there is some misapprehension in the hon. Gentleman's mind as to the amount of latitude which the Government does 366 enjoy even under present conditions, and that he is under some misapprehension also as to the actual advantages which would attach to his proposals if they were adopted in the form he suggests. The object to which the hon. Member for Bright side specially directed attention is the desirability of the Government being able, in a time of great emergency, to make secret preparations in the event of diplomacy failing to provide a satisfactory solution of the question at issue, without having that diplomacy hampered or its success menaced by the knowledge obtained by this House, this country, or by foreign Powers of the preparations actually in progress. I quite admit—everyone admits—that the Government in whose hands you place large secret funds to be used at their discretion, not only without previous leave of Parliament but without any Parliamentary question in the course of the negotiations, is in a position of very much greater freedom and greater power than a Parliamentary Government subject to the limitations to which we are now subject. But docs my hon. friend think that the money could be raised by the means he suggests without its becoming known, or that all these vast preparations could be carried out without eliciting any remark in the country where everything is open to the public, where we have a most active, enterprising Press which tells us daily not only everything in its power, but a great deal which is an anticipation, more or less intelligent, of what might happen. I hope my hon. friend will just consider more carefully the suggestion he has made. His Resolution is that—It is expedient to enable His Majesty in times of Imperial emergency to raise moneyOf course, the Government must be the judge of whether an Imperial emergency has arisen or not; and therefore the only security the House and the country would have for the due expenditure of money would be the honour of our public men and their sense of responsibility. In the second place, the Estimates of the cost of the number of men employed would have to become known, and an Act of Indemnity would be required. But when this Imperial emergency arises, my hon. 367 friend suggests that the Government should have powerTo raise money to an amount not exceeding £5,000,000 for military purposes without the previous consent of Parliament.He suggests that what should be done is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day should, by inquiry of the great City houses, whose advice and assistance have always been given to those who hold my position—
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
My hon. friend made two or three suggestions that were entirely distinct, and I cannot deal with all of them in the same breath. We are told that we should approach these great City houses and ask them to lend us £5,000,000. My first observation on that is—does my hon. friend really think that it is possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to borrow £5,000,000 from the great City houses without the matter becoming the common knowledge of the City It would be impossible to keep a secret like that. But on what security are these great City houses going to lend? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to raise money from the public his security is the Act of Parliament which authorises him to do so; but it would be quite different to raise money from the City houses where he had no security. It could not be done secretly, and I am not sure that it could be done at all. Then my hon. friend says he has another alternative, which is that in some unexplained way the amount of money in the Treasury Chest is to be so largely increased as practically to give the Government a great war fund. At present the Treasury Chest is merely a banking balance, practically a cash balance in the hands of Treasury officials throughout the world, to enable the current financial transactions of the Empire to be carried on. My hon. friend must have thought that the Treasury Chest was something different from what it is. He suggests that we should create a great gold reserve, for use in emergencies, similar to the great reserves possessed by Russia and several other Powers. That might be a 368 great convenience when a great war broke out, as it would relieve the immediate pressure, but we could not use such a fund as that secretly.
That brings me to the other point mentioned by my hon. and gallant friend, who suggested that it could be used for the purchase of stores and in giving orders to contractors to go ahead at full speed when only sufficient money was provided to pay them for perhaps a small proportion of the ultimate output. But the moment we give those orders for stores my hon. friend's other object of secret preparation during diplomatic negotiations would be lost. The placing of those orders, and the sudden pressure a tall the great contractors' works, as well as in the Government arsenals, would at once become known; would at once be open to exactly the same adverse comment; and would throw in the way of our diplomatic negotiations exactly the same difficulties which I admit we suffer from now. But if the real object of obtaining this war reserve is that we should have a proper supply of stores when war breaks out, I think there is a better way of obtaining it. It is the way which the Government have already adopted, and which, as explained by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, is almost complete. It is the way of fixing the proper and definite reserve of every kind of stores and filling those reserves, I might say almost automatically, as fast as anything is drawn out of them. That is the only kind of preparation for war which can be steadily maintained in peace, and which will give us the great reserve we want without any sudden action during diplomatic negotiations, and I hope that once we have got those stores they will never be allowed again to fall below the level which is considered necessary. What the witnesses before the Committee spoke about was, as I understand it—I hare no title to interpret their thoughts—was more of military preparations, such as the movements of troops. They thought that if troops could be moved quickly, and without observation, it would be desirable, but with such an active newspaper Press as now exists it was impossible that that kind of preparation could be made without becoming public.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
Sir Andrew Noble referred to the preparation of stores and not to the movement of troops.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, sir, but you cannot place orders for £5,000,000 worth of stores, or any quantity of that kind, without it at once becoming known in the districts where the orders are being executed, and from these districts the news spreads to the world at large that great military preparations are in progress. What can be done in the way of placing orders in an emergency can be done, I venture to say under our present financial system. Events might take a good turn, or a bad turn, and it is impossible for any Government to know with certainty whether the negotiations will have a peaceful or a warlike termination. It must be for the Government of the day, with a full sense of its responsibility, to decide whether it ought to make special and abnormal preparations for war, and, if so, to what extent. The Government have the means to do that, within such reasonable limits as can possibly be compatible with the preservation of secrecy, under our present financial system. As an illustration, I would put a case which happened the other day. Two Chilian warships were in the market. His Majesty's Government thought it necessary to buy them. That we did on our own responsibility. We made the contract, and in buying them we put on tin country an obligation to pay £1,800,000, and we actually paid some £750,000 of that amount before Parliament was consulted in the matter. That is the sense of responsibility which every Minister has to bear in difficult negotiations, and under those circumstances every Government can have under its control a certain amount of money sufficient to make urgent preparation, though, of course, it must come to Parliament and ask for sanction for the appropriation of the money. Such expenditure cannot be long concealed from Parliament, even if any Government wished to do so; neither can the use to which the money has been applied. I give that as an illustration to show that even under our present system we still have the power, if we feel that the 370 necessity justifies it, to exercise our responsibility and apply money under our control to purposes for which Parliament has not specifically voted it.
My hon. friend the Member for the Brightside Division endeavoured to work into this question another matter in which he has taken a great interest for many years. He attacked the system under which Departments surrender unspent balances at the end of the year, and he said that that deprived the Departments of any incentive to economy. For some reason my hon. friend always cites the Army and Navy Departments as illustrations of his theory, and does not appear to think that the Civil Service Department successfully illustrates it.
§ MR. J. F. HOPE
Sir Clinton Dawkin's Committee specially called attention to the matter in connection with the Army. No doubt a Committee on the Post Office would arrive at a similar conclusion.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not mean to say that the money is always spent to the best advantage, and that sometimes a Department may not be tempted to buy stores when they might have done without them a little time longer; but I believe that this system has not led to any such general waste of money as my hon. friend supposes. My own experience, both in the spending Departments and formerly as Secretary to the Treasury, is that the power which the Treasury has and uses to transfer money from one Army Vote to another, or from one Navy Vote to another, or to allow a surplus on one head to be applied to a want on another does directly make for true economy and is useful in that respect; but if the money instead of being used in that way is to go into another fund not under the control of the War Office or of the Admiralty, but which is to be a special war chest only to be touched by the Cabinet, I fail to see how that will be any greater incentive to economy than the present system. The amount will pass out of the control of the spending Departments, and they will no longer have the power to spend it. If there is a surplus on the year these surrendered balances go to swell it; and are 371 ultimately applied to the Old Sinking Fund for the reduction of the National Debt. If at any time I would have been inclined to divert a surplus to other purposes. I do not think that the present is an opportune moment. After all, my hon. friend and the House must remember that our resources for war are of three kinds; namely, our military resources, our naval resources, and our financial resources. The Sinking Fund is one of our financial reserves against the contingency of war, and I should be very sorry to see it interfered with. Certainly the present time would be a singularly inopportune moment to choose for altering our financial system in this respect. On that ground alone I am unable to assent to my hon. friend's proposal. I hold, in the first place, that the objects which my hon. friend particularly wishes to attain, in so far as they are attainable at all, can be obtained tinder our present financial system. After all, in these matters of special preparation, when an emergency arises, we must rely on two things—a sense of responsibility in the Government of the day, and the patriotism and good sense of this House at large. The Government of the day must make up its mind and discuss in this House what line it will take in an emergency, and this House will support it.
§ MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said he thought there could be no doubt whatever that secrecy for a length of time in raising, and still more in spending, large sums of money was absolutely impossible; but even if it were not, under cur existing system as understood, and under the feeling which prevailed in this House, the power of raising money for an emergency or of using money for an emergency which had already been voted for another purpose did not exist in too small but in too large a form, and if they ere To examine the transfer of Votes from one sub-head to another, they would find greater ground for restriction than for any enlargement of the Government's powers in this direction. As for any danger to this country from the supposed deprivation of the Government of such powers, that was absolutely unfounded. There was the case of the purchase of the warships recently. The Government 372 thought, rightly or wrongly, that the condition of affairs in the East rendered it desirable to purchase two warships, and used money for the purpose that was not voted for it. The vitally important thing in these matters was that the Government should be kept ever in mind that they were acting solely on their own responsibility, and any Bill that would place a fund in the hands of the Government, or which would enable the Government to raise such a fund, would amount almost to a direct invitation to the Government to act—an invitation on which they might act to the detriment of the country. Our Constitution was not, more than any other human institution, perfect. It had its advantages and its disadvantages; but in the days when people struggled for real liberty, it was the question of Parliamentary control for which the English people struggled. Let them not now, in the heyday of freedom, abandon the primary security for that freedom itself. Who was to judge as to the Imperial emergency? Were they not told of an emergency to-day in this community—an Imperial emergency far more close to our doors, and far more likely to affect the welfare of the country, than the question which the hon. Gentleman had brought up, and yet there were very different opinions as to whether an Imperial emergency existed or not. He should not have risen but he desired to say a word for the ancient English liberties on which the modern English liberties depended, and his principal reason for supporting the views of his right hon. friend against this Motion was not merely that there was no practical inconvenience in times of supposed great emergency when Parliament was not sitting, as when the Suez Canal shares were bought, and as when these two Chilian warships were bought, but the fact that we had to balance the advantages and disadvantages of such a scheme, and as he felt the disadvantages greatly exceeded the advantages he declined by his voice or his vote to shake the foundations of English liberties.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said he was a little surprised when the hon. Member for Sheffield brought this matter before the House that it should have attracted so little attention from 373 hon. Members. It was not a matter to be lightly dismissed. He did not understand that the Motion could be regarded as interfering with that financial control of the House of Commons, which everybody was anxious to maintain, it merely acknowledged that there might be occasions when Ministers of the day might take important steps without the previous consent of this House. It was easy for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take exception to the proposal on financial grounds, and to point out the difficulties in the way of carrying a proposal of this kind into effect, and he did not think that the House would affirm a general Resolution of this kind. The alternative that his hon. friend indicated towards the close of his speech was a most necessary preliminary, namely, that the particulars of the remedy proposed should be considered by a Committee. There was one subject in regard to this Motion that had not been touched upon, and that was the timely provision of field transport. One of the chief causes of our soldiers being unable to take advantage of their early successes in the South African War was the absence of field transport. The troops were tied to the railway and were unable to make the simplest flank movements owing to the want of transport. Every other Power purchased largely animals for field transport if there was any idea that war was about' to take place, and if, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, the Government had ample powers to make such provision at the time of the South African War, then the responsibility of the Government in 1899 was greater than the House had yet been acquainted with, because one of the chief reasons given for our being so unprepared to, meet the Boer invasion was that we could not make adequate provision without pointing so directly to war as to endanger peaceful negotiations.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that was exactly what he had stated. It was not the want of money but the impossibility of making preparations secretly. The mere fact that they had £5,000,000 in the Tower of London would not enable the Government to make 374 preparations without the fact becoming known.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
asked whether his right hon. friend contended that the Government could hive made adequate purchases of animals in various parts of the world without powers which they did not at present, possess.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said his contention was that they could not make adequate purchases of field transport all over the world without the world knowing what they were doing. The object, of secrecy, upon which so much stress had been laid, would not have been attained by the mere fact that they had a great reserve of money.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
was of opinion that measures might be taken for the purchase of transport in many parts of the world without attracting such notice as would endanger peaceful negotiations. In fact, it had been done over and over again by military Powers who had the greatest interest in preserving peace. He had known times when those who were best informed were of opinion that war was imminent, and Governments were known to be preparing so that if occasion arose they might hive the necessary material for moving troops. But the knowledge that those preparations were being made, so far from endangering peaceful negotiations, actually prevented war, by bringing home to other nations the danger of precipitating hostilities. He did not believe it would be possible for any Government with their existing powers to enter into the arrangements or to become answerable for the large amount of money necessitated by preparations for war. The Russian Government had a great war chest, and all the other great military nations had special means by which they could make warlike preparations and avoid the danger of war coming upon them unprepared. The subject was deserving of more consideration than it had yet received, and circumstances could be conceived in which the House would regret that greater attention had not been given to the matter.
§ MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny.S.)
said the Amendment embodied the most foolish 375 and extravagant proposal to which he had ever listened, and he doubted whether its proposer or seconder would press it to a division. It was a great pity the hon. Member for the Bright side Division had not devoted to an inquiry into the present financial position of this country a portion of the considerable time and labour he had spent in studying the condition of things obtaining in other countries; he would not then have been under the impression that the recent loss of credit had rendered Great Britain unable to raise £5,000,000 should circumstances require it. That these additional powers were not necessary was shown by the fact that £4,000,000 was expended on Suez Canal shares without this House being taken into the confidence of the Government; and there were the more recent cases of the purchase of Chilian warships, and the expenditure of £900,000 on the Cape railways. With all these precedents he could not understand how the hon. Member could really suppose that it was impossible for the Government to raise £5,000,000. The fact that these powers were not necessary made him believe there was something in the Resolution which did not appear on the surface. In that case he marvelled at the moderation of the proposal. If it was intended to take expenditure from under the control of Parliament why was the sum fixed at they came into power the present Government had taken from the control of Parliament the expenditure of £16,000,000 on the naval service, and a somewhat similar amount on the Army, and this was a proposal to take away another £5,000,000. Reference had been made to unpreparedness for war, but, seeing that the present year's Estimates amounted to £42,000,000 for the Navy, and £28,000,000 for the Army, he thought that such references ought to be unjustifiable. He was afraid that if the Government remained much longer in office, they would, urged by private Members behind them, still further infringe the privileges which had been bought at so heavy a cost in the past.
§ COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)
agreed with the view that the matter under discussion was well worthy of consideration, and that the mover of the Resolution 376 might be congratulated on having taken one step further in the direction of the military efficiency which now seemed to be in the air. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had somewhat missed the point of the proposal. It was not that the Government should wait until the moment of national stress arrived before they endeavoured to raise the money, but that they should have it immedateliy under their control in the Treasury Chest, so that they could expend it in a way which would attract the least notice, and without imperilling the success of any negotiations that might be proceeding. If those who had the well-being and efficiency of the Army of this country at stake would only carry their minds back over the wars of centuries past they would find one unfailing fault repeated, and it was that this country was never ready for war, and while he had the power to speak in the House he should never lose an opportunity of impressing upon hon. Members and the public that they must not wait for the emergency to arise, but be prepared for eventualities beforehand. He rejoiced to see that I efficiency was in the air at the present time, and he did not think there was any danger of that efficiency being curtailed by the action of any future Government, or by the present Government.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the Motion of which he had given notice was one which I he could not move under present circumstances. He noticed that two of his hon. friends had also given notice of Motions connected with the same subject, and he had no doubt they would address the House. Probably they would be able to have a debate on both sides of the present position of the Army problem, which, the Secretary of War to-day was rather obliged to avoid and unable to face. The subject of the particular Motion on the Paper was a limited one, although it was one of importance. He, for one, should not take part in any general attack upon the Report of the Committee on War Office Reorganisation because it 377 was a revolutionary Report, and he had always believed that War Office reforms must be revolutionary to be of any use at all. Although there might be much in it that he should take exception to, nevertheless he could not join in any general attack upon it. The Report had been acted upon to a great extent already, and they would in the course of this debate have comments made upon the portions of the Report which had been carried into execution, and which were contained in the Estimates now before the House. Some hon. Members might be inclined to attack the appointment of the Inspector General, but as he had been made subordinate to the War Office Council the appointment was free from many objections which his hon. friends might have been inclined to make to it. The War Office Committee had made a great number of recommendations, which, up to the present, had been partly accepted and partly shelved for the moment, and with regard to which the language of the Government was most peculiar. Two years ago they had great debates upon the Army Corps system in the House upon the proposals of the then Secretary of State for War. The Secretary of State for India was present to-day during the statement made by the Secretary of State for War and he sat by his side. He wished to know if the right hon. Gentleman agreed with the Secretary of State for War in this matter. Did he agree with the Report of the Committee? Did the Prime Minister agree with the Report of the War Office Committee upon reorganisation? This Committee stated that the time had come when they assumed that the linked battalion system was to be got rid of, and a more portentous change than that could not be made. They assumed that the present Secretary of State for War had been put into office to carry out the views he had always entertained, but those views were diametrically opposite to the views stated last year and the year before by the then Secretary of State for War.
The Motion he had placed on the Paper was confined to a single point, although it raised a matter of some importance. It was the statement contained in the covering letter to the Prime Minister that the Defence 378 Committee of the Cabinet was to be reorganised, and was to form a General Staff, as a General Staff was understood in every country in the world. That letter they were told was an informal one, but this statement was repeated in the formal part of this Report, the whole of which the Government had approved of, and it was to some extent repeated in the second part. He did not know whether he needed to detain the House at length upon this question, because he doubted whether anyone would defend a proposal that the Defence Committee should be anything in the nature of a General Staff. Surely it was not necessary to try and explain to the House the nature of a General Staff, but there were obvious reasons which made it ridiculous that any such term should be applied to the proposed new Defence Committee, and he did think that this was a matter of importance, because it was calculated to give to the staff of tint Committee an altogether exaggerated notion of their own position. It was important that they should at once snuff out any such suggestion, if indeed anyone was prepared to defend it at all. They were in a great difficulty not only with regard to that particular position but altogether as to the Report of this Committee. The whole of the first part of the Report he understood had been approved by the Government, and he should like to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to this point. The Prime Minister was asked a question about this, and he was inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman had been misreported in Hansard and in the papers. At all events, the Prime Minister said, in reply to a question, that the first part of the Report had not been adopted by His Majesty's Government. Those words were diametrically contradicted by the Report of the Committee. The Committee themselves twice over went out of their way to say that the Government had approved of the whole of the first part of their Report. Did any one doubt that fact? The Committee used those very words. The second part of the Report, in the third line of the third page, also stated that His Majesty's Government had already approved of the whole of the first part. Surely the House could not discuss those the Prime Minister that the Defence Estimates without knowing whether that 379 was the case or not. The Committee laid before the House of Commons the second part of this Report and there the direct statement was made that the Government had agreed to the whole of the first part of the Report, and that assertion was made twice over. Under these circumstances how could they discuss the Estimates, or avoid moving to report progress on Vote A if they did not know exactly how this matter stood? They must press to know what portion of the first Report had not been approved by the Government, if, indeed, they had not approved of the whole of it. He thought they would be able to prove by the Estimates how far the Government had yet gone in their actual approval of the Report.
He condoled with the Secretary of State for War to-day—holding the opinions he did and the opinions of the Army reformers below the Gangway and the opinions which he himself held on the main lines of Army reform—at having had the most ungrateful task of defending somebody else's Estimates which were the Estimates of the old system, and the Estimates of the Secretary of State for India, against which they fought two years ago and against which they must fight again this year upon the very same grounds they fought last year and the year before. The Government were not agreed amongst themselves on this question up to the present time, and yet the House was expected to accept these enormous Estimates which had been presented, which showed no real reduction upon the Estimates of two years ago, and which last year were accepted in the dark without the slightest idea of what policy was to be carried out. Several Questions had been asked at Question time upon this subject, and the hon. Member for Perthshire pointed out that a number of officers had been appointed in addition to the Army Council, and they were told that they were to be paid out of the salaries put down to other officers performing other functions which were condemned by the first part of the Report. Was that a position in which the House should be placed? Could they accept those Estimates and usefully commence their discussion in that position? 380 They did not know for what services, or in pursuance of what policy, they were asked to vote this money. He asked the Prime Minister to-day whether the Army Estimates abolished or continued the Army Corps system, and he pointed out that there were words in the list of generals which read "Commanding Army Corp." Why had those words been dropped out altogether. They were told that they were dropped out before the inquiry was made by the Committee. These words must have been dropped out in pursuance of some policy. He believed it was a matter of public notoriety long before the Committee was appointed that it was not intended to carry the Army scheme into effect for the six Army Corps. There was a great deal of evidence given on the Army Corps system before the Royal Commission on the War, and it was a remarkable fact that Lord Roberts in his evidence before that Committee condemned it on the same points on which it was condemned in this House. Lord Roberts, in his evidence, spoke strongly against the mixed corps of Militia and Volunteers, and, when asked how far his authority could be vouched for the Army Corps system, said the scheme was brought into existence with his concurrence. But Lord Roberts's concurrence, expressed by telegram from Madeira, was a very different thing from the representation made to the House two years ago, when the gallant field-marshal was vouched as being in favour of it by the Secretary of State for India. The Secretary of State for War was asked on Friday a Question regarding the linked battalions, and he drew this distinction—he suggested that the Government approved of the view of the Royal Commission against the Army Corps system of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, and the view of the Commission against the linked battalion system, but he said that they had not yet taken any specific act of policy pointing in the direction of a definite confirmation of that approval. That was rather a fine casuistic distinction to draw, and the House would not be doing its duty if it allowed the Government to force through these Estimates without having definitely declared to the House of Commons that it had abandoned the Army Corps system, 381 which had been so justly attacked by the Council, Committee as well as in this House, and also abandoned the linked battalion system.
The comments of the War Office Reorganisation Committee, which the Secretary of State so justly praised to-day upon the Army Corps system were surely deserving of the attention of the House. It was put before the House by the Secretary of State for India when of State for War as a great decentralisation, and last were told that an important portion of the decentralisation had already been accomplished in fact. Yet the Committee appointed by the Government said that the Army was still as centralised as it was ten years ago. That was exactly the contention of himself and his friends two years ago, and it was the contention of the Prime Minister, who argued with all his strength when he vouched to the House that three Army Corps might be required and probably would be required for the defence of the Indian frontier. That was absolutely condemned for ever in these Estimates. They were asked to pass Vote A and Vote I without the Government deigning to tell them that they accepted this second Report of the Committee, and that they were going to abolish the Army Corps system. The House of Commons had never before been asked to take a step of that kind and to pass Estimates in the dark in this fashion. He need hardly go through the final words of the Report in which the Committee asked whether the corps ever existed otherwise than on paper. The Secretary of State now implored the House not to disable the machine; but, according to the Committee, the machine was absolutely disabled at the present time. He assumed, as the House must assume, that the Government were going to carry the new system into effect. He did not know what view the Secretary of State for India took on the matter, but a year ago his view, in which he had the support of the Prime Minister, was diametrically opposed to that of the Committee, which he understood the Government were going to adopt. All the names of the War Office administration were changed in a day on the first Report of the Committee at a meeting of the War Office 382 Council, hurriedly got together while two of the chief military members were not yet in this country. In a single day the ordinary forms received by soldiers and by Members of this House were altered. He himself received a letter in which the usual formula, "I am directed by the Secretary of State" was struck out, and the phrase "I am commanded by the Army Council" substituted. This was no trivial matter, seeing that the Estimates were signed and presented on the responsibility of these individuals. He did not understand what responsibility should attach to the inferior military members of the Council in the absence of their military superiors. It was a sham responsibility. These Estimates, so far as they continued the Army Corps system and did not abolish the linked battalion system, were condemned in advance by the Report of the Committee, and it was almost foolish to vouch the responsibility of the newly appointed men who probably shared the opinion of the Committee in regard to the system they condemned. There was a large amount of additional staff placed on the Estimates in connection with the new system—how large they did not know. The Members who made so gallant a fight against the Army Corps system were bound to take up the fight again on the first Vote. The whole of the Committee's Report appeared to be accepted by the Government. They had not protested, so far as he understood, against any portion or the Report. The Estimates which had been thus placed before the House had, he thought, been prepared in connection with a hopeless task. The Secretary of State had imposed on him a hopeless task because he had to defend in a sort of way Estimates which were prepared for the Army Corps system, and, therefore, he had to defend Estimates which he did not personally approve of.
In connection with the change there was supposed to be a saving which the right hon. Gentleman explained very elaborately in his speech to the House. In these days of economy many hon. Members had only been able to support the large and increasing Estimates for the Navy because they hoped there would be a reduction in the military 383 expenditure. It was necessary to examine carefully the nature of these savings to see whether they were or were not illusory. The Secretary of State had explained to the House the curious operation which was proposed with regard to the rearmament of the Army with quick-firing guns. This was a question in which the Prime Minister had taken great interest, and he had argued that this rearmament had already taken place. The right hon. Gentleman had put it in the list of great Conservative reforms. Now it was going to be begun and done entirely at the expense of India in addition to the reduction of three batteries of Artillery in this country, and the addition of three batteries in India. He thought this re-armament ought to have been undertaken before we went to war. It ought to have been done in 1899. The fact was that there was an immense real increase in the Estimates though there was a nominal decrease, and the whole of the increase was charged to India in the present year, and three batteries of Artillery were also to be charged to that unfortunate country. The words of the Secretary for War in his memory were—It will not be possible to secure delivery during 1904–5 of more than the number of complete batteries assigned to India; but manufacture will be in full swing in the latter part of the year, and rapid deliveries of batteries for the home Army will take place throughout the following year. Arrangements are being made to complete practically the whole rearmament, together with a large number of reserve batteries by the 31st March, 1907, at a total cost of about £3,150,000. This will involve a considerable increase on the Army Estimates of 1905–6 and 1906–7.When they considered the cost of the Army in connection with the cost of the Navy, a proposal of this kind could not be forgotten. He maintained that the savings shown were illusory. The Secretary of State for War very frankly admitted to the House that the reduction in the number of men was a necessary one, because the men could not be recruited, and that very point confirmed his views and those of his friends upon the linked battalion system, and in favour of the great change which the Committee recommended, or rather which they assumed that the Government had already prepared for. He thought that he with his friends, had some right to 384 complain that the Government by their divisions of this subject had not been able to place Estimates on this basis before the Committee, but they had not been able to give the Committee, either in the Memorandum or speeches, a promise that they were going to deal with this question in a fashion which would enable them to pass the Estimates.
Then in connection with these supposed reductions in the Army, it must be remembered that there was a very large increase in the loans for Military works. The one point to which those of them who had long entertained the revolutionary views which the Secretary of State had so persistently placed before the House, and which he now held, and which had been given general approval in the Report of the Committee—the one point to which they looked as the eventual means of saving a large sum of money was the abolition of the linked battalion system, and the substitution for it of reliance far more, for anything like home defence, on the Auxiliary Forces, and the maintaining of the home Regular Forces only as a depot for the supply of Regular troops abroad That was the only way of salvation. The Government were putting off the carrying out of the one definite recommendation of the War Commission conveyed in the very strongest terms of warning, in favour of the increase in the number of horses and mounted men. The Government could not face that necessary increase unless they took the bold step of the large reduction which the abolition of the linked battalion system would give them.
The cost of the Army as it stood was always decreased to the House and the country by the refusal to count into the expenditure the expenditure on the Indian forces and on the land forces under the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, and the expenditure in the colonies themselves, some shown and some not shown in the Appropriations in aid. It was necessary to bear in mind the gigantic total cost of the land forces of the British Empire, because otherwise they could not make a fair comparison with the cost of the Fleet in which they were indulging 385 so frequently last week. The cost of the land forces at the present time was officially placed before the House at £32,500,000, including the Works Vote for the previous year to that for which the Estimates were given—i.e., the Works Vote for 1903–4. To this had to be added about £500,000 for allowances from other Departments, shown in the Estimates, but not included in the official figures, making £33,000,000 at home dispensed by the Army. To this must be added for the Empire, the Indian military expenditure officially known as £17,750,000, and the expenditure, not officially stated, on land forces by the Colonial Office, as for example the West Africa Frontier force; by the Foreign Office, as for example in British East Africa and Uganda, and by the Colonies, Crown and self-governing, so far as they paid their own and did not appear in notes on the Estimates. The best estimate he had been able to make of this was £3,250,000, making £21,000,000 on land forces other than those directly administered by the War Office, and, with £33,000,000 so administered, £54,000,000 on land forces in the Empire without counting supplemental Estimates. This enormous sum might be contrasted with the Naval expenditure of the Empire, officially stated at £42,000,000, from which, however, more than £500,000 for annuities ought to be deducted, or else this money would figure twice over in the Works Account. £54,000,000 for land forces and £41,500,000 for sea forces made up an expenditure of £95,500,000 on defence in a normal year of peace. Now, that sum was vastly greater than the combined military and naval expenditure of any two Powers in the world—say France and Germany. Though he for one supported the Government in the enormous Naval Estimates which they had placed before the House, he could not, on such Estimates as had been placed before the Committee this year, blindly support their military expenditure.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the Committee last year a pledge, which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer repeated this year, that the Government looked forward confidently to a considerable reduction of the normal military expenditure within the 386 next two years—that was to say, this year, or next year. If they were to have that considerable reduction even next year, the House ought to be shown this year, in these debates, the manner in which it was going to be accomplished. In his belief and in that also of many of the experts, the only means of accomplishing these reductions was by the abolition of the linked battalion system. On that point there had been always a difference of opinion between the late and the present Secretary for War. The present Secretary for War had always shown to the House, with weight and truth, that large depots for training the men were preferable to small depots or linked battalions. Let the right hon. Gentleman have the courage of his views and adopt his own scheme, which was the only way of accomplishing the saving which the Government proposed to effect. There were some on that side of the House, he knew, who clung somewhat blindly to what was called the Card well system; and there, were some who objected to the abolition of the linked battalion system if they could see any other way to saving the money. But no other way had been pointed out. The number of troops in India, in Egypt, and in South Africa, had been considerably increased; and they had been forced to increase the troops at home although they knew they did not require them. They had continued to swell the number of battalions at home by automatic increases, by the number of battalions abroad. That system had been condemned by many of the best officers, and by some men who had had enormous experience of the War Office. These were now joined by the man who had always been the apostle of the Cardwell system, Lord Wolseley, who had admitted that he had become persuaded that the linked battalion system must be given up. Now, the Government had shown evidently that night that they had been halting between two opinions. They had, or the leading men amongst them had, already made up their minds, but they had not yet had the courage to come before the House as a whole and say frankly that they had changed their views on many points, and that they 387 had fully accepted the views of the Reorganisation Committee.
The Secretary of State for War said that the Estimates were interim Estimates. They were Estimates of enormous size which were placed before the Committee at a time when the demands of the Fleet were gigantic beyond all conception of former years. Hon. Members and their constituents would feel a great strain in supporting such large Estimates. Could hon. Members defend to their constituents the Estimates now before the Committee, especially when they were submitted merely as interim Estimates without any real defence of the existing military system which the House of Commons had condemned and which the Government themselves had condemned? He did not think hon. Members could defend the Estimates to thier constituents. The Secretary of State gave no real reason why the country had to wait so long for the great military reforms that were now proposed. It might be said that the faults in the present military system had only been revealed in the war. That was not the case, because many of the military advisers of the Government had for years expressed the views which were now about to be accepted. Even if it were the case it was a long time since the Report of the War Commission had been issued. Even if that Report had subsequently to be submitted to Lord Esher and his colleagues the Government had still time enough to make up their minis as to the general lines that ought to be adopted and submit their proposals to the House of Commons. The Government ought to have been able to say that they accepted the Report of the Committee, that the Army Corps system was gone, that the linked battalion system was gone, and that they accepted the whole of the Report. But they did not do that. The Government came to the House of Commons with these interim Estimates and asked them to accept them blindly, and believe that next year, perhaps, they might hear of something to their advantage. He was convinced that the Government must be driven out of the impossible situation in which they stood, and, at all events before discussion on Vote A and Vote 1 terminated, must make a clean breast of it to the House, compose their differences 388 among themselves, and stand or fall by the Report of the War Commission.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said the only argument used by the right hon. Gentleman which dealt with the subject matter of his Resolution on the Paper was that the language used was calculated to give the secretariat of the Defence Committee an exaggerated notion of its own importance. He himself did not attach any weight to that, because if the Prime Minister and the other members of the Defence Committee could not keep the secretariat in order it was useless to discuss the matter at all. He confessed that he did not know what justification there was for the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that the Government had partially accepted and partially repudiated the recommendations of the War Office Reconstitution Committee. All he understood from the statements of the Government was that they had adopted certain portions of the first Report of the Committee, and that they were taking time to consider the whole Report. They had established the Army Council, had appointed the Inspector-General, and had not repudiated anything. Having considered the Report they would come to a decision upon it and make that decision known. His individual hope was that, having thoroughly considered the Report of the Committee, the Government would adopt it as it stood and carry it out in its entirety. The scheme of the Committee was a complete scheme, it was logically argued out from beginning to end, and it appeared to him to be perfectly true, as the Committee said, that if they took this and lest that they would spoil the whole.
He would not take part in the discussions on the Estimates because he was not going to flog a dead horse. The Committee was alive to the fact that certain principles which many hon. Members like the right hon. Gentleman opposite and himself had been fighting for years had now been acknowledged and endorsed. He would ask hon. Members to consider what was the position of the Secretary of State in the matter. The Estimates had been prepared and constitutional circumstances demanded that they should be submitted to Parliament at this period of the year. He maintained that the course 389 adopted by his right hon. friend was a plain businesslike course. His right hon. friend was hardly responsible for the Estimates, but he was under the necessity to produce them whether he approved of them or not. It was quite premature to discuss the recommendations of the Committee, for two reasons. First of all they did not know the exact attitude of the Government in connection with the Report of that Committee, and secondly it was impossible for the Committee to discuss the Report on the Army Estimates, because they would also have to discuss the naval aspects. He, however, looked forward to two things, first an announcement from the Government that they had adopted the Report in its entirety, and secondly that they would be afforded an opportunity for a free discussion which would admit of the naval part of the problem assuming its proper place of priority. After that discussion he believed that the House would by a large majority approve of the action of the Government in accepting the Report.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Perthshire, E.)
said the Secretary of State for War commenced his speech with a quotation from "The Needy Knife-grinder." He would retort with another quotation from the same source, which was "Give you 6d.? I'd see you damned first." Having regard to the way in which the Estimates had been introduced the Committee would be justified in refusing to consider them. The Secretary of State for War apparently thought it was a sufficient defence to say that the Estimates were interim Estimates. No Minister in charge of a great spending Department had a right to say that. The Committee had a right to expect from the responsible Minister a statement as to the policy of the Department and the policy of the Government. Neither had a Minister a right to present Estimates of which he disapproved. Yet that was practically what the right hon. Gentleman did. He said he hoped they were the last of their kind that would be presented, and that changes of considerable magnitude were necessary in order to produce an efficient Army. That was an unconstitutional and most unheard of position for a Minister of the Crown to take up in presenting Army 390 Estimates. He was bound not merely to place before the House Estimates upon which he could rely, but he should also be able to state fully and frankly what in his opinion was the best policy to pursue with regard to the Army. But here there were members of the Government directly in antagonism with one another. The Government spoke on great questions and small questions, not with one, but two voices. The House was also treated with scant courtesy and consideration by the Government in the matter of the Report of the Esher Commission. The, House was desired to commit itself in regard to the whole scope of this Committee but what was the opinion of the Government itself upon this matter? How far did they themselves intend to adopt those recommendations? The Secretary of State was committed up to the hilt, as was apparent from what he had just said, but that statement was made by him as a private individual, and in a matter of this kind the right hon. Gentleman had no right to speak as a private individual.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
asked what view he, had expressed which he had admitted was not shared by his colleagues? He had expressed admiration for the Committee's recommendations, but lie had said, as the Prime Minister hid also said, that the Report must be carefully considered, and that the Report of no Committee could be binding on a Government.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said that the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his approval of the, recommendations in the main, and had spoken of them being applied en bloc.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said that admission carried the question a step further. In accepting the proposal of the Committee for the formation of an Army Council and the, appointment of an Inspector-General, and in putting down Votes corresponding to these changes, the Government accepted itself, and asked the House of Commons to accept, the 391 cardinal principles of the full Esher scheme. And the Committee said the same thing, because they said if the Government accepted that proposal they thereby accepted what was really the foundation of the whole of the scheme. There were two or three points involved in the acceptance of this scheme which ought to be seriously considered. The Order in Council fixing the powers of the new Army Council had not yet been promulgated, so that the House was in the dark as to the intentions of the Government in that direction. The powers of the Board of Admiralty were governed much more by the Order in Council than by the Letters Patent; consequently it was of supreme importance that the House should know the terms of the Order in Council with regard to the position and powers of this new Army Council. Further, how was the position of the Secretary of State for War towards the Cabinet and towards Parliament affected? The Committee's Report contained elaborate and absurd proposals as to the organisation of the Army Council—proposals suggesting the most irrational conduct on the part of the military members. He believed that sensible men could be obtained to work the system, and that the absurdities suggested would not arise. It was not known how far the Government intended to carry out the proposals of the Report, but if those proposals were carried out in anything like the detail suggested in the Report the Secretary of State for War would be reduced almost to a cypher so far as power was concerned. The point of importance was not so much the power of the right hon. Gentleman in the Army Council or in the Cabinet, but his relations to the House of Commons and the country. Hitherto the Secretary of State had been ultimately responsible for everything done by the War Office, and could be brought to book by the. House of Commons if necessary. That was a power not lightly to be surrendered, and it was to be hoped that in the Order in Council regard would be had to the desirability of maintaining the supreme power of the Secretary of State, so that in the future, as in the past, there would be one Minister actually responsible to the House of Commons.
392 But had this scheme, in its financial aspects, been carefully thought out, either by the Committee or by the Cabinet? The Government had not stated, absolutely whether they were going to adopt the whole of Part II. of the Report, but it appeared probable that they would in the main adopt the recommendations. If they did so the Accountant-General and his Department were doomed, and the House was entitled to know what was to be substituted for a Department which, on the whole, had worked in the direction of economy. The Report itself stated—Although the scheme proposed has not been worked out in complete detail, we are in a position to state that no increase of expenditure is involved.It was absurd to ask the House to consent to such far-reaching changes in the Army system without a knowledge of all the details of the financial obligations involved. The first step had to be guarded against. Let the House once agree to the Estimates involving the institution of this Army Council, and they would be told that they had given away the principle and were committed to whatever schemes proposed by Lord Esher's Committee the Government might choose to adopt. As to the Estimates themselves, the economies claimed by the Secretary of State were not real economies at all, or the comparisons in the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum were fallacious; they were meant for the public outside, not for Members of this House who could look into the details. The Estimates were guilty of almost every possible vice. They were interim Estimates; they did not indicate the real settled policy of the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else; they confessedly omitted charges which the Secretary of State knew would come in course of payment for 1st April onwards. Not a penny was included for the Somaliland War. The right hon. Gentleman had said that part of the current expenses of the expedition would be paid out of savings on other Votes. But there would be no savings on 1st April, unless the right hon. Gentleman had asked for a great deal more money than he wanted for other matters. And surely it was not suggested that the Treasury had given their consent in advance to the application to 393 this purpose of possible savings on other Votes? The answer to that query was probably supplied by the Committee's Report, where it was stated that—The War Office cannot commit the Treasury to expenditure not provided for in the Votes for the year.For a Minister to say that a war was going on, but that he did not propose to ask the House to provide a single penny for its cost, was entirely without precedent; it was dishonest, and not treating the House fairly. The increases in the Estimates were real, the decreases unreal. The present year was being relieved at the expense of future years, when the right hon. Gentleman and his Party would not be responsible for the finances of the country. But worse than that was the proposal to relieve the finances of the present year at the expense of the taxpayers of India. That was shabby and mean. Could the right hon. Gentleman point to a single passage in the Financial Statement of the Government of India urgently demanding an immediate supply of particular armaments?
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
pointed out that in any case the Government of India would pay for their guns.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said that part of the policy of the Government of India was to develop their power of making both rifles and heavy guns, and they were increasing their capacity in that direction every year.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
was understood to say that these guns were supplied in response to a demand of the Government of India.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
held that as a matter of finance the course taken was a bad one, and that it simply amounted to thrusting an extra charge on the shoulders of the Indian taxpayer.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sifting.