§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
I should like to bring before the House some points connected with the recent Memorandum relative to the new appointment of General Officer Commanding in the Mediterranean, and also holding the position of inspector of the over-seas troops. The subject is worthy the serious attention of the House. It is connected with our organisation for war, and other matters which hinge on it. Everybody knows the origin of the appointment. First a Royal Duke was appointed. He, to his lasting credit, when he found he was getting a large sum of money with no work to do, threw up the appointment. Then a very distinguished Field Marshal was appointed. He, however, respectfully declined to take up the position. A third officer was appointed—also a very 1594 distinguished soldier. And here I take great exception to the case which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, made out, or endeavoured to make out, the other day in relation to this officer. This officer is under totally different conditions to the two Field Marshals. The two Field Marshals have risen to the summit of their career. This officer is rather a junior general—well, he is not a very senior officer. Anyway, he is not a Field Marshal. He has not arrived at the summit of his career, and he could no more refuse the order, which it must have been, to take up that command, if he wanted to become a Field Marshal, than the captain of a ship, or a rear-admiral, could refuse to obey a like instruction if he wanted to go forward for further promotion. The right hon. Gentleman's theory that the three officers are similar is altogether wrong. Two are Field Marshals and the other is merely a General.
Again, I must find fault with the right hon. Gentleman for the action he took, I think it was on the 14th when he came down to the House very late and read out the statement he did, without first of all having been chivalrous enough to give my hon. and gallant Friend warning that he would do so. I must tell him that I do not think he behaved with the usual courtesy and chivalrous action which he always shows. I do not think he had any right to read that statement without notice. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must acknowledge the justice of what I say. [Mr. Haldane demurred.] If the right hon. Gentleman does not acknowledge it then he ought to. Another point is that besides many Members wanted to speak on points connected with the Army and Navy, and by the right hon. Gentleman's action were hindered from taking part in the Debate at all. I do not know how late the Debate was kept up. Personally, I went to bed at two o'clock. Another point. I see in the Memorandum there is a question connected with strategy, and the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief has got to conduct this question of strategy with the War Office. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what possible strategy is there in forts in Malta or Gibraltar? There is no word mentioned in the Memorandum of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief having anything to say to the Commander-in-Chief of the station. What can the General Officer do in a fortress? He 1595 can march the troops down to the water's edge, and they then come under naval control, which must be the predominating factor with those who look after the transit and transport of the troops. You cannot have strategy in a fortress, and this General Officer Commanding is commanding over the two fortresses we have in the Mediterranean. The right hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that when anything in the nature of warlike operations occurs, the strategy then must be dominated by the Naval Officer Commanding-in-Chief. I find fault with the principle of sending a Commander-in-Chief to the station. It is altogether wrong. I represented again and again that there can be only one Commander-in-Chief. Personally, when I came under the command of an Admiral I immediately hoisted a flag that I was no longer Commander-in-Chief to avoid that friction that otherwise must arise. The Admiralty were never so foolish as to make a General Officer Commander-in-Chief who was junior to the people who he is to command. They never have been so extraordinary foolish as that. I find that the new General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, attained his seniority in 1907, and one of the officers over whom he is to rule attained his seniority in 1905, and is therefore two years his senior. Supposing this Inspector of the oversea troops happened to be at Gibraltar when warlike operations occurred, is he to take command of the Commander-in-Chief which is two years his senior?
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
That is the point, and I say that is the way to promote friction. This is a question of commanding a fortress, and he cannot get out unless the Admiral sends for him. He will remain in the fortress until the war is over, and he will be junior to the Commander-in-Chief in charge of the fort. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he will consult his own Army List he will see that the General Officer Commanding in the Mediterranean is two years junior to the Commander-in-Chief at Gibraltar. I say this appointment was a mistake from the beginning, and instead of coming out in a manly way and admitting the mistake the War Office is trying to bolster the matter up, and are making it much worse than before. They 1596 are giving an appointment and £5,000, and I do not know how many more thousands for travelling expenses, to cover up what was originally a mistake. It might be very wise to send to the over-sea forces and to the Dominions to inspect the forces there, but I cannot see why the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean should inspect the other Commanders-in-Chief there. This officer is going out to inspect such places as Hong-Kong with an authority which I cannot for the life of me make out. The same officer has other important duties to perform. He has to be a member of the Selection Committee and also a member of the Defence Committee. The Board of Selection meets every month, and the Prime Minister has informed us that the Defence Committee has eight different questions to settle. How in the name of fortune can this general officer undertake all those duties? It is impossible for him to do them all. Is he to be in command in the Mediterranean? If so, supposing he is inspecting in New Zealand and war breaks out in Europe? It will take this officer six weeks to get back. These things show how ludicrous the appointment is. This appointment from beginning to end was a mistake, and why do the Government not come down to the House and say so, instead of telling us that this officer can do all these different things and be in two places at once? May I ask why Lord Kitchener was offered the appointment? Is the Government not aware of the merits Lord Kitchener possesses? At any rate the country knows Lord Kitchener's merits. If the Government keep on calling our attention to his merits why do they not use them? The Territorial system seems to be a very good one if only you had more money, more officers, and more men. Who could you have better than Lord Kitchener to organise that force? What we would like to know is, who is responsible for Lord Kitchener not being employed? It is admitted that his abilities are second to none for administration and executive duties. You rarely find a man who can administer and carry out executive duties as well. In this respect Lord Kitchener is unrivalled, and he has been successful in everything he has undertaken. Why should he not be employed in some position in the Territorial Army, which the right hon. Gentleman must admit is now in a state of transition? Personally T believe the scheme is a good one, but it will want very great organisation and 1597 administration to make it perfect. Lord Kitchener has every qualification for taking up some command to look after the Territorial Forces. I think the right hon. Gentleman himself would say if Lord Kitchener was put on the Committee of Defence he would surely strengthen that Committee, and be useful to the right hon. Gentleman. He would certainly be trusted by the public. With regard to the Committee of Defence, my humble opinion is that it wants thoroughly overhauling. It seems incredible that Lord Kitchener is not employed on that Committee. We have on it another Noble Lord with enormous power and tremendous interest and influence, though goodness knows where he got it, devoid of all responsibility. It is somewhat curious that this Noble Lord—I refer to Lord Esher—who has had no practical part in the Army, and who can know nothing whatever about it, should be on the Committee of Defence, and that Lord Kitchener, who knows everything and has proved himself to be one of the best officers we have ever had in this country, is outside it. In both services from the country generally there is a good deal of uneasiness as to the position that Lord Esher holds on that Committee. What is he doing? He is responsible to nobody, and I say it is unconstitutional he should be on the Committee. I consider it is very much to the detriment of both services to have a man on the Committee of Defence of no responsibility, and no knowledge whatever, whilst there is a man outside whom the whole country respects, and in whom they put their trust, because he has proved himself a good man, not only in administrative capabilities, but also in practical capabilities in time of war.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)
The Noble and gallant Admiral criticised the appointment of Sir Ian Hamilton to the Mediterranean Command, and charged the Government with not having employed Lord Kitchener. I would suggest to him that before he brings that topic up again he should have a little conversation with both those distinguished soldiers. Then he says the Committee of Defence wants overhauling. It has been lately overhauled. It is not an official body, and it is not a body whose proceedings ought to be discussed very much in public. It is not to the public advantage. The Noble Lord said the Memorandum 1598 which defined the Mediterranean Command was quite contrary to common sense, and I think the law of the Army. He said that General Hunter, the new Commander-in-Chief at Gibraltar, was senior to Sir Ian Hamilton, and, therefore, the latter could not command in the event of war. The Noble and gallant Admiral is excellent in many things but not in the study of the King's Regulations. I do not believe they ever interested him at any time in his life. To me, who am neither soldier nor sailor, those regulations are intensely interesting, and if the Noble Lord will do me the kindness to look at Regulation No. 218 he will find that a General Officer appointed to take command of any body of troops takes precedence and exercises command over any General Officer of the same rank even if senior to himself, who commands only part of that body of troops. That disposes of that particular point made by the Noble Lord. Then he asked what was this officer to do, was he to move about from fort to fort at the will of the Admiralty. There are other things in the Mediterranean besides walking up and down with a telescope looking for ships. There is the whole question of strategy and defence; there is the question of reliefs and the organisation and movement of the troops in that great highway along which so much of our commerce passes. The Noble and gallant Admiral does not think that these things require much strategy or thinking about. We think the contrary, and it is that want of thinking that has brought things to such confusion in the past. Therefore we thought it worth while to appoint an Inspector-General over the seas to deal with these strategical problems in the Mediterranean. It is not intended to bring in amateurs to interfere with the work of the fortresses. It is a question of strategy and higher training which it will be his special business to see to. The Noble Lord made another point. He said there are so many Commanders-in-Chief. I suppose he referred to the naval Commander-in-Chief, who he feared might be interfered with by the military Commander-in-Chief, and he added that the Navy must be supreme. As a soldier I take off my hat to a sailor. But there is a well-established precedent in the Service that the military Commander-in-Chief shall not interfere with the naval Commander-in-Chief. There again, I may refer the Noble and gallant Admiral to the King's Regulations. I love those Regulations. If he will read No. 1762 1599 —I fear he has never read so far—he will find it provided that in naval or military matters no naval or military Commander-in-Chief is ever to exercise control over the forces of the other arm of the service except by direction of the Government of the day.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I have read these Regulations. I know them all perfectly well. I read them—I will not say long before the right hon. Gentleman was born, but long before he had anything to do with the War Office. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman not to put words into my mouth which I never used. I said nothing about the military Commander-in-Chief interfering with the Navy. I simply observed that when questions of strategy came to be effective they would have to be conducted by the fleet.
§ Mr. HALDANE
That was the impression made on my mind when the Noble Lord exclaimed—"What is the use of having so many Commanders-in-Chief?" If I misunderstood him I apologise and withdraw my criticism. I venture to think the more one studies the Memorandum, the more one studies this command the more he will see that the proper and natural course is to combine the offices of the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean and of Inspector-General.
§ Mr. CLOUGH rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker declined then to put that Question.
§ Lord BALCARRES
The right hon. Gentleman has not explained how this officer is to do the work allotted to him, which was one of the principal questions of the Noble Lord.
§ Lord BALCARRES
I heard every word the right hon. Gentleman said the other day, and with great respect he did not say how he was to do the work. He has, in the Mediterranean, to watch over the interests of the canal, supervise the troops, and deal with strategy. He has to inspect the troops of every one of our Crown Colonies in every part of the world and in every self-governing Colony where he is invited, and I think we may presume that he will be invited in every case. In addition to that he has to be the active 1600 fighting Commander in the Mediterranean, to be a member of the Defence Committee, which has eight questions before sub-committees to-day, and then he is to be a member of the Board of Selection which meets once a month in London. How is it possible for him to perform all these duties. He may be in Canada or in New Zealand or on the high seas, and he has got to get back to fulfil the duties of his Executive Commandership to Malta or the canal, or at any rate within the zone of his Command. I say it is impossible for him to deal with all this work. Another point which the right hon. Gentleman has omitted is why Lord Esher should be appointed on the Committee of Defence and Lord Kitchener should not?
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Friday).