HC Deb 11 March 1910 vol 14 cc1797-801

Resolution Reported, "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 184,200, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911."


moved to reduce the the Vote by fifty men.

I move this reduction purely in order to ask a question as to procedure. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that to-day we take votes A and I which will carry men and money to the normal period of the Session when the rest of the Supply Votes are guillotined, about 5th August; that is to say, we are proposing to take Report on a normal scale. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the other great Service Departments are only going to take a short Vote. The Naval Service, for which the right hon. Gentleman has a certain collateral responsibility, is only going to take provision for six weeks from the beginning of the financial year. I wish, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman why this differentiation is made in respect of the two Services. I can, of course, only ask him with regard to his own Department, but I wish to ask definitely why the War Office is taking provision till the month of August, whereas, with his knowledge and with his assent, the sister Service is only taking provision for six weeks? There must, of course, be some reason. The right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of the Cabinet, and also as a Member of the Defence Committee, has his share of responsibility for the sister Service, and I think this is the only opportunity we shall have definitely upon the Army Votes of finding out what is the explanation of this disparity between the two Services. Assuming that the two Votes passed in Committee are sanctioned on Report today—an arrangement which the right hon. Gentleman knows has been assented to by the Opposition—the right hon. Gentleman will have money and men to last him for five months, that is to say for the normal period for which Votes on Account are taken. Hon. Members are aware that no Vote on Account is taken in respect of the Army, because Votes A and 1 are themselves in the nature of Votes on Account and last for a period of time equivalent to the Civil Service Vote on Account which we took yesterday.

Personally, my interests are largely in the Territorial Force. That force very properly is largely supplemented by Regular soldiers. Without Regular soldiers, without men provided by Votes A and paid for by Vote 1, the Territorial Army cannot continue. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to throw the Territorial Army into the party game which was announced yesterday? A very remarkable announcement was made yesterday afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke), who said that the Army Annual Bill is going to be postponed till a period long subsequent to the normal period of a Session when that Bill is passed. I have been in Parliament fifteen or sixteen years, and never during the; whole of that period has the Army (Annual) Bill been postponed till after Easter. Of course, I cannot say before that. I venture to point out that, although the right hon. Gentleman to-day is asking for Votes A and 1, for men and money, and for power to carry on the Army works, men and pay and, indeed, the whole organisation, including the Territorial Force, till the month of August, it was yesterday announced that by postponing the Army Annual Bill he is going to take away the right to continue in that Service those men for whom to-day we are going to vote the money and for whom to-day we are going to pass the numbers. That is a matter on which we ought to have an immediate explanation. We want to know if the right hon. Gentleman's Department is falling into line with the sister Department of the Admiralty? We want to know if the finance of the War Office is to be managed as the finance of the Admiralty is to be managed, or whether the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in doing what I am sure he personally would wish to do, and that is to maintain the Army on a non-party basis and not to use the Army as a pawn in this rather sordid game, of which the first move was announced yesterday.

I wish to give no offence to hon. Members opposite, but I would remind them that the whole pride of the Secretary of State for War has been that for his Territorial Army he has enlisted the services of his strongest political opponents throughout the country. It is to the most convinced opponents of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Secretary of State has gone to find his chairmen, presidents, and working members of the Territorial Force, and I say that the moment the right hon. Gentleman brings the Territorial Force into play as one of the agents for this financial juggle, which was announced yesterday on the Civil Service Estimates and which has got to be explained on Monday with regard the Naval Estimates, he will imperil the whole existence of the Territorial Force. I hope he will now give us an assurance that the postponement of the Army (Annual) Bill, by which it is possible for the sergeant-majors, adjutants, and so on, to continue in the Territorial Force after the first six weeks of the future financial year, is in no way analogous to what has been done with regard to the Civil Service and what is to be done with regard to the Navy.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

On Monday my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. McKenna) will give his reasons for taking his Votes in the form he proposes to take them. I can only speak just now for the Army. I have taken the usual full amount of money on Vote 1, enough to carry on the Army for months, and so far as that is concerned, matters are perfectly in order for the future. As regards the other point, I think the Noble Lord was justified in asking why it is not proposed to take the Army (Annual) Bill till after Easter. I can only say that if that answer was given it was given because it was understood from the communications which have passed that it would be more convenient to right hon. Gentlemen opposite to take it after Easter. So far as I am concerned, the Army (Annual) Bill has been drafted for a week. It is a very small Bill, and there is only one small new point, which I do not think is controversial, in it, and my wish was to take it at once immediately after report of Vote A of the Naval Estimates. I am now prepared to introduce it immediately after the report of that Vote. I wish to make it quite clear that the only reason why there has been any suggestion of delay was that it was thought from communications which passed that it would be more convenient to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to defer it till after Easter. If they prefer to have it before Easter, I revert to my original wish, which was to take it at an earlier date. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Master of Elibank) would be able to rearrange a day. It is a very short and simple Bill, and my wish, as the Noble Lord anticipates, is to get the number of men for the Army settled and authorised by Parliament at the earliest possible time, and, so far as Votes A and 1 and the Army (Annual) Bill are concerned, the machinery will be in operation for months ahead. I wish it to be distinctly understood that, as far as we are concerned, we are quite ready to arrange an early day for the Army (Annual) Bill. The only reason, I think, why the informal discussion for postponing it till after Easter took place was that Easter is very early, the adjournment very short, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wyndham) thought it would be more convenient to take it then. If it is desired to take it earlier, well the Bill is ready, and I will introduce it at the earliest possible moment after report of the Naval Vote A is taken.


I think the House must feel that the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman is satisfactory. In the early part of his answer he spoke in the first person singular—of his wishes—but I was glad to notice that in his concluding phrase he said "as far as we are concerned." If we are to understand that the course he has taken is binding with all those acting with him or over him his answer is, I think, under these circumstances, completely satisfactory. We understand that the Army (Annual) Bill will not be of an unusual and certainly not of a specific character. There will be no difficulty in providing a proper opportunity for taking the Army (Annual) Bill before Easter. It is not, of course, my business to make a personal study of the exact business programme, but it occurs to me that on the Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill there would probably be such an opportunity as the right hon. Gentleman has told us he is prepared to take advantage of. It being thoroughly understood that we are in agreement that, whatever may be said with regard to other portions of the public service and whatever justification some people may find for creating some confusion in some branches of the public service, no confusion is to be brought into the military defences of the country, but that the men and money are to be voted as speedily as possible. I think my Noble Friend might very well withdraw his Amendment.


I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He has announced that the analogy of the Navy and Civil Service is not to be followed in the case of the War Office. I am greatly obliged to him, and in those circumstances I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Leave to withdraw withheld.

Question, "That '184,200' stand part of the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Resolution agreed to.