§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. F. Hall.]
§ Captain BERKELEY
I desire to call the attention of the House to certain aspects of the speech made on 3rd May at the Royal Academy banquet by the 1511 Chief of the General Imperial Staff, Lord Cavan. I need hardly state that, having served in a very junior capacity in the army of which Lord Cavan was commander during the War, nothing I am about to say is intended to reflect upon a very excellent officer and a very great gentleman. But there is, as I have said, an important public side to the question, and it is that which reflects, as it does, entirely upon the Minister, and in no sense upon the officer himself. It is to that aspect of the case to which I wish to draw attention. Hon. Members will probably agree that it is most important and most essential that a great public servant like the Chief of the Imperial General Staff must have, in the discharge of his duties, the full confidence and support of hon. Members of this House of Commons. It follows, as a corollary to that, that he must never be dragged into any of the controversies, or implicated in the Debates, that take place here. As to the kind of thing that is most undesirable, it will be remembered that in the last Parliament there was considerable heat aroused amongst hon. Members above the Gangway and also amongst hon. Members of my own party, on a certain occasion when the First Sea Lord was invited to the House to address Members on the question, purely controversial, as to whether or not a dock should be built at Singapore. The speech of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff seems to have got very near to that dangerous ground.
What took place at the Royal Academy banquet? Lord Cavan replied to certain criticisms of what has been called the mechanicalisation of the Army, which would develop in the course of the Debate on the Army Estimates, by two very distinguished officers of the Army, members of the Liberal party, one of them a former Secretary of State for War. Lord Cavan was perfectly within his rights in speaking on the general question of the efficiency and morale of the Army and on the subject of general military policy—that was obviously within his province. But beyond that he would not be entitled to go without authority. He did not go without authority, for we have heard the statement of the Secretary for War that the whole of the subject-matter of Lord 1512 Cavan's speech was settled in consultation with him beforehand. In these circumstances I feel it is no reflection whatever upon Lord Cavan to raise this question and to put certain specific questions to the Secretary for War.
In the first place, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he authorised Lord Cavan to name Members of this House in a public speech, and comment in strong terms upon the opinions they expressed in the Debate? The second question is—as distinct from the reply to criticisms made in speeches in the country on public platforms, to which an appropriate reply has always been by some other speech at some other public meeting, or even at some function like the Royal Academy banquet or the Lord Mayor's banquet—as distinguished from occasions of that kind; not officially to reply to criticisms of policy on the efficiency of the Army made in this House, The question is this: When he was authorising the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to deal with these questions in this public way, did he authorise him to make use of phrases such as, "There is not a word of truth in it," "entirely incorrect," and strong expressions of that kind, with which to qualify the opinions which had been put forward in the Debate on the Army Estimates? And if he did so authorise Lord Cavan, does he consider it proper to sanction the use of epithets of that kind by a very high public official, when he is dealing with speeches made in this House by hon. Members, one of whom is an ex-Secretary of State for War. Finally, will the Secretary of State explain this? He said in answer to my supplementary question:I was aware of every statement the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was going to make in my absence.If the Secretary of State for War was incapable of replying to the criticisms at the time of the Debate in the House, would it not have been possible for him to select some further occasion in this House to develop the subject and reply to these points? I know other hon. Members are equally interested with myself in the purely constitutional aspect of this matter, and they will also wish to speak to this question. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give us a full reply.
As my name has been mentioned in connection with the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Berkeley), perhaps the House will forgive me for intervening at once to say that I appreciate to the full the importance of the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, namely, that we must maintain in this House the principle that the speeches we make cannot be acutely criticised by public servants. This is no party question, and it would apply exactly the same to every other party. It is a doctrine which must be maintained. It is quite proper and right—I speak as an ex-Secretary of State for War—that Debates in this House should be referred to by our great public servants by way of elucidation and comment. But when it comes to controversy, it does raise at once the constitutional issue which we always wish to avoid, as to responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, and the responsibility of our great public servants to the Ministries under whom they serve. I think my hon. and gallant Friend, therefore, was quite right to raise the question, though I had not the least idea he was going to raise it until he gave me warning. I should not have raised it myself, seeing I was the person referred to in one of the news paper articles which I have seen.
Having said that, and having entirely endorsed what the hon. and gallant Member said, that it is important the rule should be maintained, I would like to add that the particular point which I ventured to bring before the House was the vital importance of saving human life by greatly increasing, if possible, fire power, that is, machine-guns, artillery, indeed everything to avoid the sacrifice of life which caused such great grief to everybody in the late War. Of all the soldiers whom I knew in the War, who held any high position, Lord Cavan was the one who most sincerely and cordially agreed with that view, and who proved it not only when he was in high position, but especially when he was commanding first a battalion, then a brigade—when I saw much of his work—and, of course, later on, an army corps. When he commanded a battalion and a brigade he was especially distinguished, almost above all other officers, by his care of his men and by his determination to save them. He was the first man to get a real cure for trench fever. He was the first man who 1514 really got the hang of cross-fire to cover an attack. I cannot say how great a debt the Army owes to Lord Cavan for doing in his early days the very thing for which I pleaded a month ago in this House. Therefore, I desire to state that we owe a debt we can never repay to Lord Cavan for having carried through in his early days the very thing on the importance of which I insisted.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Walsh)
I trust my hon. and gallant Friend will permit me to reply briefly to this matter, because only a few minutes remain, and I should be sorry if the Debate were to end without a satisfactory reply being given, because of the lapse of time. Each party in the House must agree upon the necessity of maintaining the true constitutional position that Ministers of the Crown are responsible for the acts of their servants in the Department over which they preside. I do not want to whittle that down for one moment. First of all, I desire to make one fact quite clear. The answer I gave yesterday was categorically correct. The great General whose conduct is under discussion—
§ Lieut.-Colonel RUDKIN
On a point of Order. I have here a cutting sent to me by the General Press Cutting Association—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a point of Order, and, unless the Minister choose to give way, it is not in order to interrupt.
§ Mr. WALSH
As I stated yesterday in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Colonel Rudkin), the Chief of the Imperial General Staff did not mention the names of any of the Members of this House in his speech. As I also stated yesterday, although I have read various reports, I have not seen any specific mention of the names of those to whose criticisms the Chief of the Imperial General Staff referred. I have made further inquiry, in particular, to the report of the speech to which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. E. Brown) called attention I find that, while the Chief of the Imperial General Staff did not mention the names of any Member of this House, two names were mentioned in the Report referred to, and they were mentioned owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding. I regret that misunderstanding should have occurred, especially as it concerns a newspaper invariably distinguished for its accuracy. On the general question I have nothing to add to what I said at Question Time yesterday, but I think I ought to say this. I am asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby whether I authorised strong expressions? When an officer occupying the distinguished position of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff comes to his superior for the time being and says he will be present at such and such a function, and I tell him I cannot be present because of previous engagements, am I, not merely to go into consultation with him upon the points that will be submitted, but to tell him the exact form in which he is to submit them? I did not authorise strong expressions—
§ Mr. E. BROWN
On a point of personal explanation. It was not I who asked that question, but the hon. and gallant Member for East Nottingham (Captain Berkeley).
§ Mr. WALSH
I know; I am referring to the hon. Gentleman who raised the point. Surely no two men can undertake in reference to an engagement of this character that when one has to be absent he is to tell the other not only the points upon which he is to speak, but the exact expressions he is to use. That did not take place and cannot take place in any circumstances. I was asked, Would it not have been better or would it not have been right to have replied for myself on these 1516 matters in this House? I did so reply upon every point to which the Chief of the Imperial General Staff referred in his speech at the Royal Academy. I might not have replied effectively. My knowledge, indeed, is not encyclopædic. I have only been a very few weeks in office but I have endeavoured within my limited opportunities to make myself acquainted with the points that came up for discussion upon the Estimates, and upon every one of those points I replied.
What were the points that were raised by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff? The first point was the mechanicalisation of the Army. That was specially referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Colonel Rudkin). I stated, to the best of my ability, what had taken place. It was probably thought, and very properly thought, that mechanicalisation had not gone to a desirable degree, but that is quite a matter of opinion, and I cannot speak, from my limited knowledge, as to whether it had or had not. I replied, however, to the best of my ability. The next point was research and experiment, and I especially praised what had been done, in what I thought was a glowing passage of words. The next point was the machine-gun equipment, which was raised by three or four hon. and gallant Gentlemen below the Gangway. I submitted the information at my disposal, and said to the House that, although there are not so many divisions as there were during the War, or, indeed, as before the War, in so far as the divisions are in existence, their equipment is carried to a higher degree of efficiency than before the War. Of course, many of my hon. and gallant Friends doubted that, and they were perfectly entitled to doubt it. It is a matter upon which opinions may vary. But I did my best to reply. The next point was that of the education and training of officers.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a point of Order. Surely the hon. Member has been long enough here to understand what is a point of Order.
§ Mr. WALSH
The Speaker allowed it, and we are not competent to sit in judgment on the Speaker's action. The Speaker permitted the question to be submitted and I have a right to reply. There can be no point of Order. I replied on the matter of the education and training of officers. I want to repeat categorically and without the slightest equivocation that Lord Cavan did not mention the names of any Member of this House in that speech. He did not deal with any point whatever of controversial policy. He dealt only with matters of administration, and with them he was entitled to deal. Such references as were made, although not by name, were made in the most courteous and considerate tone, and I am sure that no person of the most tender susceptibilities could take offence at the language used by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. I think that I have a right to make that statement.
§ Lieut.-Colonel RUDKIN
I am in general agreement with what has been said. Nothing is further from my intention than to say anything personal against the Chief of the Imperial General Staff for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, having served under him in India. There are several important principles involved here. In the first place the Secretary of State said, in reply to a question, that he was aware of the statement made by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. If that is true why did he state that no names of Members of the House had been mentioned in the speech at the Academy banquet? I have here a Press cutting from the "Daily Telegraph" of the 5th instant and I do not understand what 1518 the right hon. Gentleman means when he says there is some mistake. The report refers to the names of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) and the hon. and gallant Member for Loughborough (Brigadier-General Spears) and says that the latter implied "that he had failed to grasp the lessons of the War." That is sufficient to show that what I say is correct. It is impossible to say how a mistake could be made. It is childish to assume that is the case. How can the Secretary of State for War reconcile his statement with the fact that the "Daily Telegraph" report gives the names of those two Members. Those statements are irreconcilable with one another. Either the Secretary of State for War saw every statement which the Chief of the Imperial General Staff made before the speech was delivered or he did not, and his statement was inaccurate. The House is entitled to an explanation from the Secretary of State. Does he or does he not take the full responsibility for the statement made by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff? Does he approve of permanent officials criticising public speeches made in the House? Apart from this, the general effect of the remarks of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was to make it appear that criticism levelled at the War Office was ill-informed and frivolous. If this is the opinion of the Secretary of State, why did he not take this attitude in the House and say so himself? That seems to me to be the crux of the whole matter. This matter should have devolved on the Secretary of State. He was here to answer these criticisms, and did not do so. If he did not feel equal to doing so, he should have given instructions, and one of his subordinates should have done so.
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.