HC Deb 11 May 1905 vol 146 cc139-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £58,595, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1906, for the Salaries and other Expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, including Expenses in respect of Advances under The Light Railways Act, 1896."


resumed his remarks in contention that it would be unwise to adopt the views of the Committee of Defence without further discussion. Certainly, with regard to the Admiralty, although they might have administered the Navy with great skill and discretion, they had been wholly lacking in that foresight as to future developments, which alone could induce the Committee to take action from which there could be no retreat. When questions were raised of Army and Navy policy on previous occasions, the Prime Minister informed them that was not the proper time to raise those matters; and they now asked for enlightenment as to what was really intended by the reduction of the Navy and the proposal to reduce the Volunteers.


indicated dissent.


said that on March 11th, 1903, the Prime Minister did say that a Regular Army was required to reinforce the Indian Army at the early stage of a war. The right hon. Gentleman would find that statement in Hansard, Since they were now discussing the question as to whether this was the proper time to have a disclosure of the real intentions of the Government, he would tell the right hon. Gentleman what in point of fact he did say. In reply to a Question of his own the right hon. Gentleman said that it was not the proper time for the hon. Member to propound his views as to the proper duties of the country. Being asked when the time would be, the right hon. Gentleman said the rules provided a proper occasion. Surely now was the time, when the Committee were discussing the possibility of invasion, and the question whether we were to abolish or reduce our Auxiliary Forces on the ground that they were not enlisted for service on the Indian frontier, and that they would be of no use for that purpose. If this country could not be invaded they were of no use for any other purpose, and as a corollary the formation of a home-service Army was unnecessary. If the Prime Minister proposed to take any further part in the debate, he owed to the House an explanation why it was he was supporting the Secretary of State for War in taking the most serious steps of forming A short-service Army for home service except in time of war, and discouraging all voluntary effort in the defence of the Empire. As no one could foretell the circumstances which war might bring forth, it would surely be rashness or madness to discourage or refuse any offer of service in the defence of the Empire, no matter from whom or whence it came. This question was agitating the mind of the country. During the last few days he hid received many letters showing that it was now impossible to recruit for the Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers owing to the widespread belief that in consequence of the Committee of Defence having decided that invasion was impossible, and that the Auxiliary Forces were useless for service abroad, all effort in that direction would be in vain. The policy of the Committee of Defence seemed to be to discourage voluntary effort, and at the same time to heap scorn on the idea of conscription. In that way danger lay. Of course, it was a comfortable doctrine to many people. It was a doctrine which must appeal to those who thought that conscription was the only solution of the military problems of the Empire; for they recognised that the sapping of the patriotism of the country involved in the discouragement of voluntary effort must inevitably lead to the adoption of Continental military methods. He would recommend the Prime Minister to ponder upon his own words when he first proposed the Committee of Defence to the House. "You must not expect too much. War is much too full of surprises." That was a better attitude of mind than one of practically telling the people that they might safely relax their efforts to fit themselves for war. He had thought that they might welcome the Committee of National Defence. But he found that, after all, it was adopting the school of thought which meant less effort and less patriotism, and he for one would vote against that conclusion. For that reason he moved the reduction of the Vote.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item E (Committee of Defence, Salaries, etc.) be reduced by £100."—(Major Seely.)

*MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)

said that while he agreed with one portion he disagreed with another portion of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He must say that he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman was too hard on the Admiralty when he referred to the attitude assumed in 1835 when the introduction of steam into Her Majesty's ships was suggested. He agreed with the portion of the speech which deprecated any further reduction in our Navy or our Army, and he further agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the importance he attached to the Volunteers.

He was sure they were all pleased to have heard the very instructive speech of the Prime Minister. He had given them an enormous amount of most useful information with regard to our home defence and the defence of our Colonies and of India. The Prime Minister had lifted, he ventured to say, a load from the minds of many people in this country by assuring them, on the authority of the Committee of Defence, they need not now fear an invasion in force of this country. Not long ago the Secretary for War told the House that an invasion in force would mean conscription. That statement depressed the House and the country generally, but that depression had been lifted by the speech of the Prime Minister. They heard, however, that in case of war on the Indian frontier eight divisions, or 80,000 men in all, would be needed in the first year, and he wondered where the men could be got if we were to reduce the Army as suggested by many members of the Opposition. He would point out to the House also that if eight divisions would be required in Afghanistan the enemy would also be active in other places against this country, and a very much larger number of men would be needed to defend vulnerable parts of the Empire. In the war in South Africa they had to send against two small Republics no less than 445,000 men from this country and the Colonies. If 445,000 men were needed for that comparatively small war he asked the House what might be needed should we be at war with a great Power. He, therefore, sincerely hoped that the Committee of Defence would not reduce the Army by a single man. He agreed that by managing the Army on business lines a considerable sum might be saved, but it would be penny wise and pound foolish to attempt to save money by reducing the Army in time of peace, and then in war have to recruit men at very great cost. He held that the power of the Navy did not affect by one iota the necessity for an efficient Army. We had had a large number of naval wars and land wars, but he believed that in the future our wars would be on the land and not on the sea; for, depend upon it, foreign nations were quite alive to the fact that our strength was on the sea. He believed that they would endeavour to embroil us in the future, as in the past, on the land; and therefore we ought to have every available soldier possible to enable us to meet any emergency.

The Prime Minister had said that we need not any longer fear an invasion of this country in force; although he acknowleged that an attempt might be made to land 70,000 men. He himself did not believe that it was possible that that number of men could land here. Possibly, however, there might be a raid, and if the Volunteers were not considered sufficient to repel an invasion in force, surely they could be depended upon to repel a small raid. He believed the Government was mistaken in under-estimating the value of the Volunteers. It was implanted in the minds of the people of this country that when the Navy was otherwise occupied we might be invaded, and that the Volunteers were the force to repel that invasion. The Volunteers were a connecting link between the lower and the upper classes of this country, and they ought to be encouraged. Speaking as an employer of labour and representing employers of labour, he could say that they would rather see, the Volunteers increased than the Regular Army increased; because if the Regular Army was increased that would at once withdraw from active employment the very best body of young men.


The hon. Member is not in order to go into such details.


said he would impress on the Government the necessity of reconsidering this question of the Volunteers, and he would like the Prime Minister to take the opportunity of saying, in the course of his reply on the debate, that it was not the intention of the Government to seriously curtail the Volunteers.


said that anyone who had listened to the debate must have been fully satisfied that the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean had been amply justified. The statement of the Prime Minister indicated a complete severance from the traditions and policy of the past, and, if they were to agree as to the wisdom of the present policy, then they were right in censuring the policy of the past, and from that aspect alone the Amendment of his right hon. friend was fully justified.

There was one point on which he did not think anything had been said during the debate. That was the relation of the Prime Minister to the Committee of Defence. Under the Treasury Minute which was addressed to the First Lord of the Treasury under which the expenditure of this Committee was sanctioned, this Committee was treated not as a Committee of Imperial Defence, but as a Committee to consist of the Prime Minister and such other members as he might from time to time summon. He imagined that among the members which the Prime Minister would summon would be Ministers of War and Marine, but there was no obligation on him for doing so. He could not help thinking that that omission in the constitution of the Committee might prejudice the relations of the Ministers of War and Marine with the Prime Minister for the time being. That was a relation which could not, and ought not to be lost sight of if the functions of this Committee were to be considered.

In his very interesting speech the Prime Minister laid it down that there were three things to be considered by the Committee—colonial, Indian, and home defence; and he pointed out that the existing Committee was the successor of two preceding ones—the Joint Naval and Military Committee, and the first Committee of Defence. Now, he should like to quote what was the policy of those two previous Committees in relation to the defence of our colonial possessions, whether self-governing or Crown colonies— The true policy of a great State having vast interests to protect all over the world is to assume naval supremacy as the basis of Imperial defence. This alone is the determining factor in shaping defensive policy. But they laid down this further proportion— that no supremacy can prevent isolated raids of hostile cruisers conveying small bodies of men. The result of that policy was that they took most elaborate precautions and spent large sums of money in securing places essential to the Navy for coaling and refitting. The policy of the past had been departed from with a light heart. The Prime Minister said that afternoon that new conditions rendered old fortifications and old ships useless, and he pointed out that St. Lucia had been abandoned on the ground of its inconvenient situation as a naval port, and as too near a French torpedo station. The obvious reply to that was that St Lucia was not more inconvenient to day than it was ten years ago, and therefore ho could not seriously support a policy of that kind. He maintained that if the people of the West Indian Islands had been fully aware of the military policy of the Government, they would not have been so keen to accept the sugar policy of the Government. Surely that was not the real reason for the abandonment of the West Indian Islands. These islands were close to another great Power whose sentiments were not always quite friendly to us. The present happy relations with the United States made the force we had in times past maintained in those waters unnecessary to-day; but who could guarantee that a great naval battle would not be fought in the vicinity of the West Indian Islands, and, therefore, there should be a harbour there for the repair of vessels. The West Indian Islands had been from time immemorial the cockpit of naval warfare just as Belgium had been the cockpit of land warfare on the Continent, and it was unwise not to keep up a harbour in these islands for the repair of a British fleet.

The right hon. Gentleman had gone fully into the question of the invasion of England and had rebuked the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight for dealing with the Volunteers, a question which, he declared, was not suitable for debate at the present moment. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman on that point. A month ago the right hon. Gentleman said, in reference to some remarks of his hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Isle of Wight, that there had been a perfect misconception of the rôle to be played by the Volunteers in connection with home defence; and then he went on to say that he did not mean to go into that argument at the present time because a more appropriate opportunity would be afforded to consider it shortly. Therefore, the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight was quite entitled to discuss the condition of the Volunteer force in relation to the possibility of an invasion of these islands.

In referring to the Indian policy of the Government, the Prime Minister told the Ho use that we had failed to prevent Russian expansion in Asia by diplomatic means. That raised the question, on whom depended the diplomacy on which the Government had acted? If we had constantly thrown obstacles in the way, and thwarted Russian expansion in Europe, could it be wondered at that Russia had sought expansion by other means which had proved a source of difficulty to us. The Prime Minister had dealt at length with the question of the possible invasion of India through Afghanistan, and slightly on the question of a possible invasion through Beluchistan; but the right hon. Gentleman had not dwelt on what seemed to him to be a far more important approach to India, and that was by way of Persia. Now Russia had, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, great influence in Persia; not so many years ago he spoke of what he was pleased to call the "identification" of Persia with Russia. There was a process of peaceful absorption going on. It seemed to him that Russia during the past five or six years had taken strong steps towards that process of "identification." Russia had made roads from her own frontiers through the heart of Persia; she had made large loans to Persia and had forbidden Persia to receive loans from any other country until 1912. She controlled the whole Persian trade by means of Belgian Custom-house officers; she had developed a railway system leading up to the Indian frontier; she had practically swallowed Northern Persia, and was in a position to swallow Southern Persia as well. He wanted to know whether the very definite warning or menace addressed by the Prime Minister to Russia with regard to Afghanistan would be repeated with respect to Persia, in which direction the danger to our Indian Empire was more to be apprehended. He did not himself believe that an attack on India would be made through the passes of Afghanistan, but that an approach would be made, perhaps, along the shores of the Persian Gulf, and between Beluchistan and Persia. If the conclusions and arguments of the Government were to be pushed to their legitimate conclusion he was not sure that they might not say to themselves, "Is there any reason for our maintaining a large standing Army in the future?"

There were other possible complications which had not been mentioned in the debate. He wondered how many people recollected that we had guaranteed the integrity and independence of half the smaller States in Europe— Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Portugal. In fact there was hardly a small country in Europe that did not depend for its existence on our guarantee. [An HON. MEMBER: Jointly.] Yes, but what was the use of our joining in the guarantee? He would put this Question to hon. Gentlemen who overlooked this aspect of the subject: "Are we to forego our obligations co these countries, or are we to prepare military forces which will make our guarantee respected?" He himself thought that there should be a reduction of expenditure and of the number of men required in the Army; but he was sure of this, that while military expenditure depended on policy, policies other than our own were often guided by our expenditure and that of other countries.

COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)

said he was sure that they were all in agreement that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was one which had created a sense of satisfaction to a great many minds in this country with reference to the foreign policy of the Government. The Committee of Defence had stated that this country could not be invaded by a larger force than 70,000 men; but he confessed that that did not carry conviction to his mind. Invasion was very improbable as long as we were free from foreign complications; but in circumstances which might detain our Fleet at a distance from our shores, it was quite possible that an invasion could be made at different points. It was not necessary that 70,000 men should be lauded at once. All that was necessary was that 10,000 men should be landed at a point in the North of Scotland, at another point on the east coast, and at a point on the coast of Wales, or at other places. These 10,000 men would only require to hold two or three square miles of country to enable 30,000 or 40,000 men to come on some days after. Our home military organisation should be directed to cope with that danger, and crush the 10,000 men before the additional 40,000 could be landed. He thought it right to say that the statement that we were free from invasion, as the Committee of Defence had laid it down, had to be accepted with caution.

As to colonial defence he did not propose to go into it, but with regard to the third great portion of the subject, the invasion of India, it was one on which he could speak with great confidence, having given considerable attention to it and having spent a considerable portion of his life on the North-West Frontier. He might say this, that the settled policy of Russia to invade India was held to be an accepted fact by every officer in India and also by every native. And it was the traditional policy of Russia, as laid down by Peter the Great, that the acquisition of India was necessary for the development of Russia. Russian policy was not a matter of Party policy, as it was with us, but it was a policy which was carried on unswervingly, and he had no doubt that if we could have access to the documents of the Russian Chancellerie we should find that the policy of Peter the Great was still carried on unswervingly by Russia. We might be hoodwinked by the specious promises of Russia, as we had frequently been, but he hoped we should not be so hoodwinked again, and that we should prepare for the inevitable. He shared the apprehensions entertained by the preceding speaker as to the advance of Russia through Persia. He believed that that would be the preliminary stage towards the invasion of India. He did not believe it would be necessary for Russia to bring her strategic railways absolutely to the frontier of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan itself railway engineering was a matter of very great difficulty, but if they could advance those railways within a moderate distance of the Afghan frontier there was a great quantity of camels in that country which could carry grain up, and they could trust to their army to reach Kabul. What we had to do now, as had been pointed out in the Prime Minister's speech, was to check the advance of Russia by a strategic railway towards our frontier as was done by them in Manchuria, the line of railway in question leading to a prolonged war which was going on at the present moment. If we once allowed them to get a footing on the Persian Gulf or to carry their railway projects to the frontier we should have to do in India what the Chinese had to do in Manchuria. Forewarned was forearmed. It had been the policy of this country to defer her preparations until the danger was at the door. We had had an object-lesson of that in the war in South Africa. We had another object-lesson in the way in which the Japanese prepared slowly and persistently before the misfortune of war came upon them, and when it did come they were ready. We never were ready, but if we were not ready when Russia was ready to invade India we should lose India. He pressed upon the Government and the House generally the advisability of saying that, as we had become a Continental power in Asia, and had Continental responsibilities with regard to military defence—although our admirable Navy must be relied upon to a great extent, and yet not entirely for that defence— that in future it should be rested upon military action, and towards that end the action of the Committee of Defence was one upon which he congratulated the Prime Minister and the country.


I think the Committee will, perhaps, desire me to make a brief answer to some of the criticisms that have been passed upon what I have said this afternoon, and upon the general subject of the Vote. In the first place, with regard to the Vote, I dissent from the view which has been expressed with some emphasis by one or two Members opposite, that this is the proper occasion on which to discuss the Volunteers, the Army organisation, and other cognate subjects. It is impossible to deny that the Volunteers have a relation to national defence, or that the Regular Army, the Navy, diplomacy, and finance are all connected intimately with it. But the great object with which we arranged to put down this Vote, at the request originally, I think, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, was not that we might afford a new opportunity for discussing the subjects I have just mentioned, but that we might deal, and deal only, with those subjects which, while relevant to the problem of national defance, were out of order on the Votes either of the Army, Navy, or diplomacy. So much for the limits to which, I venture to say, our debits should be confined.

I pass to the criticism which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean developed at some length with regard to our withdrawal from certain naval stations, a criticism which was partly based, I think, on naval and partly on financial considerations. Let me take first the naval considerations he alleged. I think his statement was in one important particular erroneous, though the error was a very natural one. He seems to think that one of the naval stations to which we attach less importance than our predecessors is Hong-Kong.


denied that he made that specific statement; he said there was a reduction of the garrison at Hong-Kong which seemed inconsistent with the present state of things. That place had been rather heavily fortified, the garrison having been fixed in accordance with the numbers required for a defence which should free the Fleet, as the phrase went, but now that garrison had been reduced. Of course he knew that dockyard expenditure was going on there now.


I have not been able since the right hon. Gentleman spoke to consult the documents, but I believe—I am confident—he is wrong in supposing that any reduction has taken place in relation to the authorised defence of Hong-Kong. There was an additional battalion placed there at one time, not, for the purpose of defending Hong-Kong, but in relation to the Chinese troubles. Those troubles are over, and that additional battalion has been withdrawn; but I am confident I am right in informing the right hon. Gentleman that the existing garrison is the garrison which has always been regarded as adequate for the defence of that place. Should any doubt remain on the question, if the right hon. Gentleman will kindly put down a Question on the Paper I will give him all the information he requires.

Now I come to the undisputed part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that part relating to St. Lucia and the West Indies. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last but one and other speakers in this debate regretted that we had abandoned a place upon which much money had been spent, and which they thought would be still extremely useful as a base for naval operations. The money may have been ill-spent, but the fact that it was ill-spent does not make it better to say that you will keep a place which on strategic grounds you had better abandon. I do not think that the fact that money has been wasted is a reason for wasting more. The expenditure is now brought to an end. The reason why the expenditure was originally undertaken was in consequence of the Report of a very strong Commission—the Carnarvon Commission—whose general tendency was to concentrate our forces, and who carried on the old tradition that the West Indies were likely to be the centre of an important action between different Powers. The Report was based on the view that the West Indies were likely to be the scene of a great fleet action, and that decision seemed to us to be in the least degree probable. We thought that actions between the fleets of any European Powers were likely to take place in a theatre of war far to the east of the Caribbean Sea; and although some of he great naval battles of the world have been fought in those regions, I hope and relieve that we shall never again be engaged in a great fleet action in the Caribbean Sea.

It has been made a matter of a reproach that all this was not thought of before, and that more caution was not shown in this expenditure. Let the Committee consider for a moment how this kind of criticism would tell upon any great change and any great reform either in naval or military or other matters. You could not get certitude in these matters even if you had to do with persons of infinite knowledge as regards the existing conditions. The conditions change, the dispersion of sea power throughout the world varies, the size of vessels varies, the weapons used by the vessels vary, tactical methods vary, and with these variations there inevitably occur the sort of variations that render useless the expenditure which at the time may have been fully justified. And, of course, that expenditure will be carried on, and ought to be carried on until it becomes quite clear that the new view is the correct one. To remain in a state of floating indecision, neither dealing with the old policy as if it were true nor making up your mind upon a new policy, cannot be wise and is not wise. A wise man would pursue the opposite course and say, "We saw that circumstances wore changing and considered them, arid, after having fully considered them, we see that some vital and fundamental alteration mast be made in our strategic considerations." The part of the wise man is, in what I understand is a City phrase, "To cut your loss," to admit that the old conditions have changed and that you have been mistaken, and to redistribute the forces of the Empire as sound strategy and sound economy best dictate. Now, I am not prepared to deny that there was a mistake made in the case of St. Lucia. But it was not wholly a mistake. The conditions have greatly altered since the decision was originally come to.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight devoted a great deal of his time to an argument by which he seemed to indicate that the Defence Committee and their advisers were wrong because many Boards of Admiralty and many War Office Administrations have been wrong in the past. Of course they have been wrong. The naval and military history of this ration and of all nations is strewn with mistakes, and will continue to be strewn with mistakes. In questions so difficult and so changing it is impossible to get in every case a decision which wisdom after the event will ultimately show to be the right one. The members of the Defence Committee do not claim, either for themselves in their individual capacity or in their collective capacity, that they are endowed with any special wisdom. What is claimed for the Defence. Committee is that it provides mechanism by which such wisdom as we can collect together may be brought to a convenient focus and worked not in antagonism but in harmony for the attainment of a common object. The hon. Member for King's Lynn mentioned a case which gives an apt illustration of these very changes in Admiralty opinion in the past which have been made the subject of comment—the case of Trincomalee. No doubt the Admiralty were at one time— again it was Lord Carnarvon's Commission—desirous that in addition to Colombo we should have a harbour at Trincomalee. As a matter of fact, the stores have not been kept there for a long time, for it has not shown itself to be of use for a convenient naval base. It was perfectly right that it should be abandoned and the Committee were right in endorsing that suggestion. On this question of costly error there is one other observation suggested to me by the interesting speech of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington. He spoke in laudatory terms of the Committee of Defence, and he looked forward to the period when the Committee of Defence, or other bodies constituted on the lines of it, should bring the scientific element into every Department of our Government, and he would desire to have something analogous to the Committee of Defence dealing with such matters as public health. Every one who will look through the history of medical opinion as regards public health during the last fifty years, and the amount of money spent in obedience to medical opinion, will find as great a crop of errors and as large an expenditure of public money which subsequent knowledge has shown to be ill-spent as anything connected with the Army and the Navy. It is regrettable but it is inevitable. As long as we are fallible, as long as the House of Commons is not entirely composed of men possessing Solomon's wisdom, so long shall we, acting on the best opinion we can obtain and which science can give, commit errors which the science of the next day will say have been of the grossest description.

There is one very curious moral which one or two speakers, but not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, have drawn from what I have said. They seem to think that the sober and modest estimate which I gave of the dangers which we fear on the North-West Frontier of India were of such a character as to indicate, together with the views which the Committee held, that we might largely reduce the numbers of our Regular Army. I do not go into the question of the size of the Indian Army on this occasion, but I think that the right hon. Baronet put the point in a more accurate fashion. What he said was that my statement, with which he broadly agreed, was of a character which showed that no fundamental alteration could be made, by which I suppose he meant that compulsory service of some sort or another would be required in order to carry out our national obligations.


said that he referred to the speech of the Secretary for War on April 3rd and the comments of the Conservative Press, that vastly larger forces than those contemplated would have to be sent to India in a shorter time, say in the first year of a war.


I did not say anything of what might be anticipated in the first year of a war, but I am afraid that in the first year of a war it will be found by the Government responsible for meeting its needs that the enormous reductions which some hon. Gentlemen seem to anticipate will be quite impossible. I do not mean to develop that point; but I raise a note of warning, because I understand that the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen drew from what I have said the inference that the first thing which ought to be done in consequence of the statement of the Committee of Defence was to begin to reduce the Regular Forces of the Crown. I do not think that the Indian problem is otherwise than a grave problem. Some hon. friends of mine seem to think I rather contemplated as a remote and impossible danger that we should be invaded by any neighbouring Power, and that if we were so invaded the difficulties of Afghanistan and the provisions necessary would make the military attempt an impossible and illusory one. That is not my view. And it is not the view of the right, hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. On the contrary, I think a war which, was really undertaken for the conquest of India by any foreign Power, though a war which in its inception and earlier stages would be a slow war—I mean that not in one or two or three months should we see the collision of great forces or even later—yet it would be a war that would impose a strain on all our resources, and would require a great force of Regular troops even in what may relatively be described as its earlier stages—relatively, that is, to the duration of the operations. I do not think that any one who really heard and weighed the speech which I delivered this afternoon could doubt that that was what I intended to convey.

With regard to Persia, I did not deal with Persia; but, of course, the question of Persia has engaged our most anxious attention, and necessarily will do so. But I do not think that it is so important a matter as those matters which I did discuss in connection with India. I do not think it probable that the main attack on India will be through Persia. I do not at all deny that subsidiary and collateral dangers might be apprehended upon the regions to the west and south of Afghanistan itself; and I indicated that in my speech. But I confined myself, and I think rightly confined myself, to the two lines of advance which all military critics are agreed are those which would be the principal lines along which dangerous invasion is likely to take place.

That is all I have to say in answer to the, for the most part, very kindly criticisms of my speech of this afternoon. But I have been reproached for not saying more about the constitution of the Committee of Defence itself.


The right hon. Gentleman promised to say something on the colonial question.


That is true and I will deal with it in connection with the constitution of the Committee. It may seem a paradox, but, after having given the matter the most careful consideration in my power, I have come to the conclusion that the only member of the Defence Committee who ought to have an indisputable right to be a member is the Prime Minister himself. It is perfectly true that as a matter of practice and in relation to almost all of the subjects that we have had under discussion there have been summoned to the meetings of the Committee, not as witnesses, but as members, the two members of the Cabinet responsible for the Army and the Navy respectively and their chief naval and military advisers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is an almost constant attendant because, unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss a large number of these questions irrespective of the state of the national finances. Constantly, also, questions have arisen in which we have been obliged to ask the overburdened Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to assist us. Indeed, he has asked us to deal with questions in which his own and other Departments are concerned, and on those occasions, of course, he has to be present. In the same way the Colonial Secretary attends whenever any question is raised in which the Colonies are directly interested; and we have had on more than one occasion also not merely the Colonial Secretary, but the Permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies, who has given us valuable assistance. Observe the enormous advantage of this flexibility of constitution. If you laid down fixed members of the Committee every other person would come to the meetings on sufferance, either as an additional member or with a different status, and that would carry with it what would be regrettable in the highest degree—namely, that when any colonial representative came over on a question in which the Colonies were interested, he would not come on precisely the same footing as other members, but in the form, I will not say of a suppliant, but of a witness or of an ambassador bringing a request, or in some other capacity than that of a member of the Committee. He is now a full member of the Committee for a particular purpose, and that arrangement has the advantage of making known to him the documents of the Committee, some of which are of the most confidential character, and are not to be scattered broadcast all over the world. They remain in the keeping of the only fixed and permanent member of the Committee—namely, the Prime Minister himself. I admit that that constitution, which has no statutory obligation, and which can be changed by any successor of mine who desires to do so, is in itself at first sight singular. But those who habitually attend the Committee have found it convenient and flexible; we have not found it open to any objection; and if it be urged that it takes away from the Committee its authority, because no one knows of whom it is constituted, I would say that the Minutes state who was present and who agreed to the resolutions at which the Committee arrived. These resolutions remain on record for the benefit of ourselves and our successors, and there is not the slightest danger of the House of Commons believing that tin resolutions are expressed on the authority of an important body, when, as a matter of fact, they are expressed on the opinion of a single individual who has perhaps very little authority.

I think that probably answers the Question put to me by the hon. and learned Member for Haddington, and, if so, it also answers the Question put to me by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. He said, and said truly, that some questions that the Committee of Defence have discussed involve very nice points of international law. That indeed is a fact, as anyone who has served on the Committee during the present war knows to his cost; but for those purposes we ask the Attorney-General to attend. He is for those purposes a member of the Committee. He comes and gives us his opinion; if there is a vote taken he will give his vote., just like any other member of the Committee. So that, again, gives a further illustration of the great adaptability which the present constitution of the Committee gives to the varying circumstances of the national need. That is all I have to say in reply; and I can only thank the Committee, first, for having tolerated a very long speech at the beginning of the sitting, and then having patiently listened to such a defence as I am able to offer to the criticisms that they have in a very kindly spirit given utterance to during the course of the afternoon.

MR. HARWOOD (Bolton),

while considering that the appointment of a Committee of Defence was a step in the right direction, thought it did not go far enough and was not placed on a proper basis. There should be more accuracy in the use of terms. The Secretary for War was wrongly named. He was Secretary for the Army. He hoped the new offices in Whitehall would not be called the War Office if they were going to be used for the Army. We had two arms—the Army and the Navy—and we wanted one brain to govern the two. That brain should be the brain of the Minister for War. It might be said they could not entrust such power to one man, and probably that was in the mind of the Prime Minister when he organised the Committee of Defence. Why call it the Committee of Defence? They could not distinguish between defence and offence. When they were fighting they were righting. When it was war it was war. The Committee should be the Committee of War, not of Defence, as we might be defending or we might be attacking. The Prime Minister had said the Committee of Defence had worked well, because this person and that person had been called in for this purpose and that purpose. But look at the South African War. They had no one responsible. They could not find the right horse on which to put the saddle of blame. The nation would not be content unless the Prime Minister organised some responsible body who could be blamed if things went wrong, and praised if things went right. A shifting or varying constitution was not the sort of thing to deal with a matter of life and death such as war. He hoped, therefore, that the Prime Minister would place the matter on a logical basis, organise a Council of War, give it a definite constitution, and let Parliament be consulted as to how it should be constituted. Let the nation know who composed it, and let it be responsible to the nation.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

thought the question of finance ought to receive more attention from the Committee. The excellent principles which the Prime Minister had that day enunciated had not the slightest reflection in the Estimates of the year. If there was no serious danger of invasion, and the India problem was less pressing, why were we spending from £65,000,000 to £70,000,000 on the Army and the Navy this year, with Naval and Military Works Bills, involving a further expenditure of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, to follow? There never was a Government which gave so little serious thought to the expenditure of public money as the Administration now in power. They had not paid their way in any single year. The Prime Minister had borrowed money and spent it everywhere, and he now told the misguided nation that the expenditure was all worthless. Although he was being told all the while that the policy was very questionable he still plunged on.


This is pure romance.


considered the interruption of the Prime Minister a most offensive one. He did not regard the matter as romance. For the last seven years he had urged this view; he, at least, was consistent, which was more than could be said of the Government. The way in which the question of cost was considered by the House of Commons and treated by the Prime Minister was simply shocking. Instead of meeting their liabilities the Government borrowed money, and would leave it to their successors to find means of paying it off. The only reason for the change of policy announced that day was that the nation had become angry, and the Prime Minister was afraid to go any further. The people were evidently going to take the matter into their own hands, and the sooner they did so the better, as matters could not possibly go on for many years longer with the present wretched management of national finance, for which the Prime Minister, more than anybody else, was responsible.


considered it a matter for congratulation that at last the military and naval policy of the country was co-ordinated under one control, and that there was at the head of affairs a body responsible as were the general staffs in European countries, but of much greater weight. The nation would rejoice to hear that the opinion of naval and military experts was now so harmonised that a serious invasion of this country might be regarded as impossible, and the announcement as to the diminished likelihood of an invasion of the North-West Frontier of India would be received with equal gratification. The foreign policy of Lord Salisbury had been amply justified. Five years ago we had three great land frontiers open to attack—the South African, the Canadian, and the Indian— and of those the only one that need now be seriously considered was the North West Frontier of India. Such a result redounded to the credit of the Administration.

And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

The Clerk at the Table informed the House that the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS and MEANS was unable, owing to indisposition, to resume the Chair as Deputy-Speaker.

Whereupon Mr. JEFFREYS, Deputy-Chairman, took the Chair as Deputy-Speaker, in pursuance of the Standing Order.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

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