HL Deb 25 February 1881 vol 258 cc1723-5

said, their Lordships would, doubtless, remember that the noble Earl opposite the Under Secretary of State for War (the Earl of Morley) had, some time ago, told him that in presenting the Report of Lord Airey's Committee to the House, he would make such a statement as would raise the whole question of Army administration in a form in which it could be discussed in their Lordships' House. Of course, many Members of their Lordships House were so eminently fitted to discuss the question that it was desirable that the matter should be fully brought before them. He wished, therefore, to ask, having given private Notice of his Question, Whether his noble Friend, in laying the Report on the Table, intended to make such a statement as would raise the general question? There was another subject he wished to mention. The indiscretion had been committed by someone of communicating the contents of the Report to the Press, a summary of it having appeared only that morning' in The Times. Yesterday, the noble Lord had said he was not aware whence that indiscretion arose; but he might now be able to give some information on the point. The somewhat unusual course had been pursued by the Government, even a considerable time ago, of communicating the main points of the Statement which the Secretary of State for War had to make on Monday to the newspapers, for on the 1st of November last The Times had a communicated article and a leading article on the subject of the recommendations of the Committee; and these were followed up on the 9th and the 13th of the same month, all disguise being thrown aside, and it was said that the matter had now passed into the stage of official settlement, and that it was right to give a resume of the changes which Mr. Childers intended to propose. Evidently those articles in The Times came from someone who had a right to speak; and he should like to know whether the Government could give any further information? There was an inconvenience in the communication to the Press of documents like the Report of the Airey Committee before they were presented, which would be quite apparent to their Lordships when it was considered that, whilst quotations from the Report were made on one side, Lord Airey and Sir Lintorn Simmons, both Members of the Committee, were unable to refer to the official document in their reply. Another matter which he wished to refer to was this. There appeared to be still an erroneous impression in their Lordships' minds as to the exact position which was occupied by Lord Airey's Committee. A dispute had arisen as to whether it was a Departmental Committee or a Special Committee. It could not be too strongly stated that it was not a Departmental Committee in any sense. It consisted of nine persons, all holding prominent positions in the Army, and only three of them were connected in any way with the War Office—namely, Sir Lintorn Simmons, General Armstrong, and Sir Archibald Alison. It was, no doubt, a confidential Committee to advise the War Office, but it was not a Departmental Committee. They had gone most carefully into the matter, and their Report was one of the most able objects of military opinion that could be presented to Parliament.


in reply, said, he could not help thinking that the course pursued by the noble Viscount (Viscount Bury) was wholly irregular and somewhat inconvenient. The noble Viscount had sent him Notice that he intended to ask a Question, but he was not prepared for a speech of a quarter of an hour upon a subject of such great importance; and he ventured to think that the regularity was inconvenient, not only to the noble Lord who had to answer, but also to the House at large. With regard to the statements that had been published as to the Report of Lord Airey's Committee, he would say that it was a fact that on the 15th of March last, before the present Government came into Office, a summary of the Report had appeared in The Times, though not so full a one as appeared in that morning's paper; but the Government knew nothing as to how these statements had got abroad. He regretted very much that they should have been published before the Government had laid the Report upon the Table. He might also say that it was not his intention to make any general statement on the subject of Army administration in laying the Report upon the Table, as that would be an unusual course, and it would further be inconvenient in that it would tend to raise a debate upon a question of great importance before their Lordships had had an opportunity of studying the document, or the Statement which would have been made in the other House. He had no desire to postpone any discussion upon the subject; and after the proposals of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) had been made known to Parliament, any noble Lord could raise a discussion on one or more of the important questions upon which Lord Airey's Committee had reported.