HL Deb 23 April 1863 vol 170 cc552-3

, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to bring the law into conformity with the existing practice, according to which the offices of Secretary at War and Secretary of State for War were now held by the same person, and to provide for the discharge of the duties of the former office by the Secretary of State. There would be a convenience in making this alteration of the law, because the commission of the Secretary at War, which had to be held by the Secretary of State for War, ran as to an inferior officer, and directed him to obey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief in certain matters, an obedience which it was not the duty of a Secretary of State to render.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that as this Bill made no practical alteration in the powers now exercised by the Secretary of State, it would be better to let matters remain as they were, and to leave to the Crown the power which it now possessed of separating these two offices. He did not think that an experience of ten years was sufficient to justify Parliament in giving its sanction to their union. Indeed, inconvenience might arise from such a sanction, because it might become desirable to separate the offices at a time when Parliament was not sitting. He had always objected to the union of these two offices, which appeared to him to be incompatible with each other. The duty of the Secretary at War was to check the issue of money, and see that the Votes of Parliament were duly applied, and that no larger sums were issued than were actually voted; while that of the Secretary of State was to direct the expenditure and the issue of money. These two functions were, in his opinion quite incompatible, and ought not to be discharged by the same individual. In 1836 the Duke of Wellington thought that the business of the Secretary at War was as much as could be done in one office. Since that time the duty had materially increased; and if they amalgamated the two offices, he thought it might be that the Secretary of State alone would not be equal to the proper performance of all the duties, Nothing could he more prejudicial to the public service than to heap upon one individual a vast amount of business, to the whole of which he could not possibly attend. So many duties were now cast upon the Secretary of State for War that he could not be really responsible for what was done in his office. He hoped the noble Earl opposite, whose acceptance of the office of Secretary of State had been received with great satisfaction, would apply himself to the re-consideration of that concentration of power in the War Department, which, in a hurried manner, in the midst of the Crimean war, Parliament had imagined itself forced to adopt. It would, indeed, be contrary to ordinary experience if a great change, carried out in great haste, should turn out the perfection of human wisdom. In the present instance, he believed the case to be directly the reverse, and he trusted, therefore, the noble Earl would illustrate his tenure of office by improving, as far as he could, the general scheme for the administration of the army.


said, that the Bill before their Lordships would increase the power of the Secretary for War in a very slight degree. He thought that considerable advantage had resulted from the alterations that had been made, and what was proposed in this Bill would be so far an improvement.


said, that there were eight or ten great Departments under the responsibility of the Secretary of Stale for War, and he thought that it was quite impossible for any one functionary to discharge satisfactorily the duties appertaining to all of them.


said, that if voting for this Bill was to be understood as an approval of the existing organization of the War Department, he should object to give such vote, for he believed that organization to be vicious in principle and inconvenient in practice, and that the military affairs of the country would never be satisfactorily administered until the system was improved. That, however, was a question which was not, in any way, affected by the Bill under discussion. The office of Secretary at War, however, had been, it appeared, virtually abolished, and therefore it was not desirable to keep it up in name.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.