HL Deb 24 February 1881 vol 258 cc1635-43

who had given Notice of a Motion, in rising to move— That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will he graciously pleased to direct that the Report of the Committee on Army Organization over which Lord Airey presided may be presented to the House at an early day; said, he had intended to move this Re-solution, but since placing it on the Paper he had been informed that he ought to have named a day. Afterwards, however, the War Office had intimated that it was no use naming a day, as the Report could not be presented to Parliament before the Secretary of State for War made his Statement on Monday night in introducing the Army Estimates in the House of Commons. The noble Earl (Earl Granville) informed him the other day that the Report would be laid on the Table on Tuesday. But even for that day, which was too late, he feared that they had a difficulty to contend with. War Office printers did not willingly print observations unfavourable to War Office policy. He spoke from experience. The tactics of the War Office had caused universal regret among those who considered that Parliament had a right to know War Office information respecting military organization on which they had been called to legislate, and on which they must be called again to legislate, as their Lordships would learn from extracts from a letter from Lord Airey of the 20th instant, communicating to him part of his Instructions, dated June 23, 1879, which the noble and gallant Lord then read to the House. He begged now to solicit their Lordships' attention to important facts. First of all, the Members of Lord Airey's Committee were nominated by the Commander-in-Chief, and they were of high standing and experience. Extracts from the Instructions proved that the Committee were not exclusively under the control of the War Office, but that the authority of the War Office was shared with that of the Commander-in-Chief; that the Committee was not a Departmental one but a Special one; and that a great part of its scope was to go into questions of a high order—that was, inquiry into military efficiency, discipline, and recruiting; and that it had to perforin a grave State duty—to suggest a remedy for the practical defects which were found to have occurred in Lord Card well's Scheme. Therefore, the first excuse, that the Committee was a Departmental one, fell entirety to the ground. The second excuse was equally invalid. It was the French excuse—"Qui s'excuse s accuse." On a former occasion he explained that the short-service soldiers had been forced by the present system to undergo trials and hardships in war which the totality of the Medical Profession declared it was impossible that they could bear; that their morale must collapse with their physique; and that, therefore, the responsibility fell, not on them, but on the authors of the system. He had said enough to show the high scope of the State duties assigned to the Committee, showing that they belonged to the competency of Her Majesty's Government— of course, including the Secretary of State for War—and of Parliament, and were not of the individual competency of the Minister of War, and that, consequently, the Secretary of State for War was bound to submit them to Parliament as soon as he possibly could; for the short-service system was simply a law sanctioned and passed by both Houses of Parliament, and any alteration of that law must receive their assent. The Report was sent in to the War Office on the 8th of March, 1880, and had been a year in the exclusive possession of the Secretary of State for War, and yet the Secretary would be able to avail himself of any portion of the evidence given before the Commissioners before the whole of it with the Report was in the hands of their Lordships. In fact, their Lordships would only have it "a day after the fair." He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will be graciously pleased to direct that the Report of the Committee on Army Organization over which Lord Airey presided may he presented to the House at an carly day."—(The Lord Strathnairn.)


thought that if his noble and gallant Friend had been as well versed in the forensic art as in the art of war, he might have made out a formidable ease in favour of the presentation of the Report. But when they were told that the Report was to be presented, willy-nilly, on Tuesday next, it was rather late to insist on its production four days before that time. A little more respect might have been shown to Parliament by presenting it before the present time. The public had a right to know, at the earliest opportunity, the condition the Army had been in during the past few years, and the success which had attended the new Scheme promulgated by one Party and supported by the other. The Committee, of which Lord Airey was the Chairman, had commenced sitting, he believed, in the month of June, 1879, and reported early last year. It had been described as a Departmental Committee; but he found, from opinions he had taken, that it was a Special Committee. No adequate reason existed for the Report being kept back from Parliament and the public, when every point that came before the Committee was known to every serjeant-major in the Service. He was guilty of no breach of Parliamentary decorum when ho said that the highest military authorities did not object to the production of the Report. He did not know that more than one or two Members of the Committee objected to its production; and, as a matter of fact, he did not believe there was anything in it which could not be published at Charing Cross, and which was not known to the military attaches of the various Embassies. He himself had seen the Report a year ago, and he knew that a Member of Parliament who was not connected with the War Office, and who did not sit on either of the Front Benches, had the Report for some weeks in his house. He had been told, also, by a distinguished officer at a Club, of which several noble Lords and Members of the other House of Parliament were members, that he bad seen the Report in Canada. The Times published a resume of it months ago; and, in his pamphlet, General Lintorn Simmons, himself a Member of the Committee, referring to a leading article in The Times, said— The writer of the article has an advantage over any non-official person like myself, inasmuch as he quotes from the Report of Lord Airey'a Committee, which I cannot. He trusted that at no distant date they would have a long and thorough discussion on the condition of the Army in their Lordships' House. He had seen the Army and knew what it was; and it was a matter of surprise to him that Her Majesty's soldiers were not blown from the transports on their passage to India, such slender little boys were they. He did not know how three or four officers, who passed most of their time, he believed, in comfortable arm-chairs at the War Office, could pit their opinions against those of his noble and gallant Friend (Lord Strathnairn). With the facts patent to everybody before him, he did not think any judge could arrive at the decision that short service should be continued. The Government ought to have given them the Report before the introduction of the Army Estimates, for to present it to them after was only rendering them sagesse apres coup.


said, he could not understand why the Report had not been produced, as the Committee had finished their labours on the 8th of March last. It embodied every description of evidence from the several Military Departments; but how the contents of the Report had transpired he did not know, and he could only suppose that they had leaked out from the War Office. It was incomprehensible to him that, as the Government had determined to lay the Report before Parliament, they should have decided on not presenting it till the Secretary of State for War made his Statement on the Army Estimates. The decision of the Government in this respect appeared to him to be a very unfortunate one.


expressed surprise at the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord, after the very distinct assurance which had been given him that the Report would be laid on their Lordships' Table at the beginning of next week, after the Secretary of State for War had made his Statement on the condition of the Army. If the Motion were carried now it would not accelerate by one hour the production of the Report. The noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn), and the noble Lord behind him (Lord Dorchester), had complained of the tactics of the War Office; but he was not aware of there being any subtle tactics whatever. For himself, whenever the question had been raised, he had always returned the same, and a very distinct, answer, that the Report should be printed as soon as the Secretary of State for War had submitted his Statement as to the condition of the Army. It seemed to be assumed that the object of this Report would be defeated, unless it was produced before Tuesday next. He was not aware that it would be possible to have a discussion in this House before that date; and he was at a loss to know how the object of the Report could be defeated when their Lordships would, in the course of the Session, have many opportunities of discussing the suggestions of the Committee for the re-organization of the Army. There was no desire or wish on the part of the Secretary of State or the Government to conceal anything; but it would have been highly inconvenient that comments and criticisms should be made on the condition of the Army until the House had an opportunity of considering what proposals the Government were to make. It was impossible for him now to state how far ho agreed or disagreed with the many attacks which had been made upon the present system by noble and gallant Lords on both sides of the House. The distinction between a "Special" and "Departmental" Committee which had been drawn seemed to him somewhat subtle—almost too subtle for him to analyze it. The noble and gallant Lord admitted that it was a Committee appointed to advise the Secretary of State for War. That being so, it was quite within the discretion of his right hon. Friend to determine whether or not the Report should be laid before Parliament. His right hon. Friend, wishing that nothing on the subject should be kept back from Parliament, had determined to produce it; but he submitted to their Lordships that the time of its production ought to be loft to the discretion of his right hon. Friend. His noble Friend behind him (Lord Dorchester) said that he had already seen that Report. He was sorry to say that by some means, certainly not legitimate, matters contained in that Report had been prematurely published; but that was not the slightest argument for anticipating the intention of the Secretary of State. Of that opportunity of perusing the Report he had no doubt the noble Lord had made good use.


I did not open the book, though it was offered to me. I felt I ought not.


thought the Motion was unnecessary, and he trusted the noble and gallant Lord would not press it.


I think your Lordships will agree that it is impossible to discuss the matter brought forward as it is on the present occasion. We are in possession of neither the Report nor the Secretary of State's views, so that at this moment we have nothing before us. There is one thing I am anxious to say. This Army question is causing a great deal of sensation in the civil as well as in the military world, and it is really a question that requires the gravest consideration, But it is not a Party question; it is an Imperial question. I wish I could induce the country to look at the matter as entirely devoid of Party spirit. What does it matter to one Party or the other whether the long or short service prevails? What is wanted is that the country shall have a good Army, and the question is whether a bettor Army can be produced the one way or the other. It is not a Party question; but a matter for common sense and experience. I give no opinion as to which is right or wrong at this moment; and I put it to your Lordships that no solution should be attempted to be arrived at until the fullest information shall be placed in the possession of everybody, whether of this House, the other House, or, indeed, the public out-of-doors. Let the question be discussed, not on Party grounds, but on military grounds, and on its merits. Every man in this country wishes well to the Empire, and wishes to see a good and efficient Army; and if that can be obtained in one way better than in another, I am quite sure everybody would be quite disposed to give up their own theories and to accept those which common sense and experience lead us to believe would be the best. I do hope that no decision will be come to till the information contained in the Report has been thoroughly sifted, thoroughly appreciated, and is thoroughly understood; and then, after we once do come to a solution, I hope that decision will be adhered to, because anything worse than constant changes, and the doubts and uncertainty which exist, I cannot imagine.


My Lords, I entirely concur with the remarks of the noble and illustrious Duke. The question is an Imperial question, and not a Party one; and, as far as I know, those sitting on the Opposition side of the House have never attempted to make it a Party question, but have always approached it with the view of making the Army as efficient as it could be made. Notwithstanding what has been said, it is not at all surprising that my noble and gallant Friend (Lord Strathnairn), holding the position ho does in Her Majesty's Army—the highest position which a soldier can aspire to—and after the service which he has seen, and the manner in which he has performed that service, takes a very great interest in the question of the condition of the Army. I would advise him, however, not to press his Motion that the Report be presented at an earlier day than that on which we have been assured it will be presented—namely, Tuesday next, because it can hardly now be presented earlier. Anyone who has gone over the present condition of the Army, and the manner in which service-battalions are fed from this country, must be, I think, fully satisfied that there must be some alteration of the existing system. I speak in the presence of the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief. He will correct me if I am wrong, when I say that at the present moment, to fill up the ranks of the battalions that are serving abroad, men are sent out who have not been dismissed drill. I ask whether we can expect a proper state of things to exist in India, or at the Cape, if the ranks are to be filled by men who have not yet been dismissed drill? I think we have a right to ask Her Majesty's Government, and the noble Earl who represents the War Department, that they will give an undertaking that there shall be no course adopted, either in this or the other House of Parliament, which shall in any way bind the country or the House to adopt any system or any mode of action which shall be contrary to the recommendations of the Committee over which Lord Airey presided, and until both Houses shall have had ample opportunity to thoroughly and fully discuss the Report and recommendations that are made in it. I think we have a right to demand from the Government that they will take no action in the matter until that Report has been fully and thoroughly discussed by both Houses of Parliament.


I have already said that both Houses will have opportunities of discussing the Report in connection with the proposals of the Government in submitting the Estimates.


It is useless giving us an opportunity for discussing the recommendations of the Committee if, by your action you have already taken some stop which is entirely at variance with those recommendations. It is like locking the door after the steed has been stolen.


I cannot understand what the noble Duke means. It was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to consider this Report and to make up their minds as to the proposals which they should make to Parliament. Those proposals will be made known, in the proper place, on Monday next. In the meantime, does the noble Duke expect them to give an undertaking as to what they will or will not propose? Something they must propose, and then both Houses will have the fullest possible opportunities of considering and discussing the whole matter.


That is to say, that the Estimates will not be pressed forward until both Houses shall have had an opportunity of making themselves fully acquainted with and discussing this Report, which is only to be laid on the Table when the Estimates are introduced. What my noble Friend moans is, that we cannot be said to have had the fullest opportunity of considering and discussing the recommendations of the Committee if steps have previously been taken by the Government at variance with those recommendations. If the noble Lord says that we shall have that opportunity after we have become acquainted with the Report before any final discussion is taken, that is all that is desired.


I am afraid it would he impossible, under the circumstances of the case, to give any pledge that progress with the Estimates shall wait for any decision on the question, because that might not be consistent with the Public Service.


I hope that no Papers on the subject will be communicated to the newspapers before they are presented to Parliament.

In reply to Lord PENZANCE,


said, that the whole of the Report, as well as the Evidence, would be laid on the Table as soon as the Estimates were submitted.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.