THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
, in rising to move to resolve—That this House desires to express its approval of the proposed Council for National Defence, and its earnest hope that the first efforts of that council may be directed to the adjustment of the national armaments to the naval, military, and financial conditions of the Empire.Said—My Lords, I think I owe an explanation to the House as to why I am bringing on this Motion so soon after the discussion inaugurated by my noble friend behind me, Lord Carrington. The reasons are twofold. In the first place, since that discussion took place the memoranda presented by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War have been laid before this 4 House, and, in the next place, my object is not the same as that of my noble friend. In his speech, which from my humble point of view I thought very good, he entered into a great deal of polemical matter, a great deal of party recrimination, and said many things which, though extremely true, were more of a partisan character than I myself wish to introduce on the present occasion. In my judgment, the condition of affairs as set forth in the Papers before us is sufficiently critical without the admixture of any party matter; and indeed I may claim for my motion that it is one of those unimpeachable platitudes in which I am accustomed to revel. I recommended it privately to my noble friends on the Ministerial Benches as a motion for which they might vote with a clear conscience, and they acknowledged that they might do so. At least, I understood them to say so, for I do not pledge them to any unguarded utterances. But one, more cautious or more pawky than the rest, added—I am not so sure that I can vote for the speech with which you will introduce the motion.I am not without hopes that I can secure the support of many of my noble friends in the Government for the motion if I could take it to a division, and if the voting were by ballot; and I cannot help thinking that the views which I hope to present must have considerable support in the Government; and if I cannot claim any Member of the present Government as an avowed supporter of what I shall say, I can claim one of the most illustrious ex-Ministers, who has only recently left that august company, as one who will endorse—if I may use a word which Mr. Gladstone never allowed me to use while he was alive—every word that I shall say.
For the first part of my Motion I can claim the approval of noble Lords opposite. It is to approve the Council of National Defence. That is no very great concession on my part, because the germ of that Committee—the small and imperfect germ, I acknowledge—was laid in the late Government, when a small Committee was formed with the head of the Admiralty, the head of the War Office, and the First Minister of the day, 5 to consider this matter in common. I hoped that, if the life of that Government had been prolonged, much more might have been developed out of that small nucleus; but, as your Lordships know, the life of that Government was troubled and short, and before we could arrive at any definite or more extensive arrangement of that Committee it had come to an end. As to the views expressed by the First Lord of the Treasury in expounding this system to the House, I find myself in absolute and complete agreement. I do not think there is any word said on that occasion with which I disagree. We do require a body such as a Council of National Defence to co-ordinate the various proposals which are made with reference to Army and Navy matters; to bring into one system the claims of the Army and Navy Departments; to present to Parliament, not jarring plans, but one comprehensive and well-considered scheme; and to ascertain what it is in the departments of naval and military affairs that we really require, and how we are to got it. If I were of a loss sanguine nature I might be a little dispirited by the recollection of the last Council of National Defence. This new one is heralded with all the trumpetings and applause which it is possible to give to a project. But when I carry my mind back, I remember precisely the same things were said of the last Council of National Defence. If I were inclined to indulge in disputatious matter, it would afford me some pleasure to recall the article in The Times of July, 1895, which recorded the birth of the new Council, and to point out that it said exactly in praise of that Council what it now says in praise of the present. We lived under that Council for some years—at least, I presume we did—and the First Lord of the Treasury, who ought to know, says that in his opinion the old Council did much useful work. But, of course, that useful work was not apparent on the surface, and in any case a proposal for a new Committee of Defence implies that in the opinion of some Members of the Government some reform in that body was necessary.
The late Council did not manage to do what I hope the new Council will do—it I did not co-ordinate the different demands of the War Office and the Admiralty, and it did not obtain for the Government a clear and consistent policy such as 6 may be expected from the new, more efficient, more vigorous body. I will give two instances of what I mean. In the first place, the speeches made at the Colonial Conference by the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty certainly appear to indicate a very considerable conflict of opinion as to the proper conditions of national defence; and the second instance was this. It was with reference to a name which I am afraid is seldom heard without a smile among the people of Great Britain. I mean Wei-hai-Wei. There was a policy formed by the late Government of taking Wei-hai-Wei and occupying it as a place of arms. There was a policy adopted later on which reversed the former policy and which made something else of Wei-hai-Wei. The First Lord of the Admiralty when the first policy was formed is now, I am happy to say, a Member of this House; and when the reversal of the policy was announced he not unnaturally expressed considerable scepticism as to the wisdom of that proceeding. He came down to the House, and I thought that he was about to take part in the debate with a view to criticising the reversal of his policy. But on reflection he did nothing of the kind. He explained that the Board of Admiralty which had reversed the policy did not contain a single individual who was on the Board by which the policy was originated, and he did not think, therefore, that any further explanation was necessary from him. Nor do I think any further explanation was necessary, because the noble Lord had nothing to do with the reversal. But we may at least hope that under this new Committee of National Defence we shall have no such reversals of policy in the course of a few years, and that we shall have no policies undertaken in such haste and repented with such leisure as the policy of occupying Wei-hai-Wei as a place of arms.
I referred to the article in The Times on the first Council of Defence, and there is one passage in that article with which I concur, and which seems somewhat inconsistent with the present proposals. If I am not mistaken, the Prime Minister is the President of the new Committee. The Times, in explaining the appointment of the noble Duke to the presidency of the old Council of Defence, said that it 7 was not practicable for a Prime Minister, overburdened as he was, to preside over the meetings of this new Committee. I think the first idea of The Times was the right one. I think that the Prime Minister ought to be a member, and an active member when he is present, of the Committee. But if the presidency implies that he is to take part in all the meetings, and to remain throughout the proceedings, I am afraid it will very materially curtail their usefulness. How any one born of mortal parents can combine the duties of Leader of the House of Commons and of a real Prime Minister surpasses my comprehension; and how, in addition to all that, with all the labours which are put upon him, he can further undertake to preside over a Committee so vitally important as this is to me a matter of very considerable doubt and difficulty. The Prime Minister has been accused by Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House of having done something in derogation of the Cabinet system in founding this Committee. I confess that I was rather amused when that accusation was brought, because precisely the same accusation was brought against me. I proposed—and I still think that it was a wise proposition, though I cannot say that I have found much external or expressed support for it—that Lord Kitchener should be placed in charge of the War Office, for the purpose of getting over the present condition of things, of putting our military system on a sound footing by putting our War Office on a sound footing, and of bringing to bear on this Department the ripe experience, the great organising power, and the signal ability which he has displayed in military operations in Africa. I was then told by the Prime Minister that I was upsetting the British Constitution. I confess that I had some difficulty in finding out how it was I was accomplishing this arduous feat. The Prime Minister said—What would happen if Lord Kitchener made demands on the Chancellor of the Exchequer with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not disposed to comply?I have not been a member of many Governments, but I very much doubt whether any Minister has been at the head of a Department without being in that position; and in almost every case these difficulties are got over without 8 the resignation of either of the Ministers concerned. What happens is this. The Minister whom the Cabinet supports gains the day, and the other Minister does not break up the Government by resignation. I am not disposed to take a side issue, but if the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to the demands of the present heads of Departments he would not be likely to demur to those of Lord Kitchener. Lord Kitchener is a man of frugal mind in public affairs, and I do not think that he would cause much uneasiness to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The next point raised was this. Would Lord Kitchener continue to be a member of the next Government when the Government which included him was out of office? That is a question I cannot answer; that would lie with the Minister who recommended the formation of the new Government. But I suppose if he found Lord Kitchener a useful Minister—and of that I have no doubt—he would be anxious to continue his services, and if he did not find him so, then he would be anxious to let him drop out. That is, I believe, not infrequently the case in all Governments. Then I was told that I would make Lord Kitchener a party man. I hope nothing will make him a party man. I think it would greatly neutralise his influence, and derogate from his high character in the eyes of the country. But my proposal was intended expressly to debar him from becoming a party man. He was only to be summoned to the Cabinet for the purposes of his own Department; and though, of course, he would be responsible for the acts of his own Department, like any other Minister in Parliament, he would not be in the same sense responsible for the remainder: of the acts of the Government who are Members of the Cabinet. I was told that I was upsetting the British Constitution. It is no part of the British Constitution that a Cabinet Minister should be summoned to every Cabinet for every purpose. The Cabinet itself is not recognised by the British Constitution. It is an artificial arrangement. It has developed in silence in one direction, and may, before we are gone, develop in another. It constantly happened in the eighteenth century that Ministers were summoned for one particular purpose to the Cabinet, and not for another. I will give one instance 9 which will be considered not inapplicable to the case of Lord Kitchener. The great Duke of Marlborough, the most consummate general England has ever possessed, was Master-General of Ordnance in the first Cabinet of George I.; but he was only summoned to the Cabinet for the purposes of his own Department. I admit that the Cabinet afterwards developed a greater closeness of responsibility, but I do not know why it should not develop back again in the direction which it took then; and that for what is obviously a temporary appointment, to meet a temporary exigency, the Government should not be enabled to take the great precedent of the Duke of Marlborough in favour of the course I suggest.
I leave that part of the subject to come to what I am afraid is the more contentious part of my Motion—the second part, which refers to the financial, naval, and military conditions of the country, and the hope that the new Council will as speedily as possible adjust our armaments to these conditions. I am afraid that may be taken as a reflection on what has already been done; and I cannot deny it is so. But when I look at these conditions of the country, I am inclined to think that they have not been sufficiently considered by those who framed the proposals now before Parliament. With regard to the financial condition of the Empire, I have some figures which I think are rather noteworthy. They are familiar to many of your Lordships, but in an argument of this kind they cannot be omitted. What I first ask you to remark is this. We are not at this moment in a state of war, or in a state of collapse caused by a disastrous struggle. We are just emerging from a victorious war. And yet, so far as the people of this country are concerned, so far as the taxation of the country is concerned, the only result to our fellow subjects in these islands is this—that the war seems to have been a machinery specially constructed in order to stereotype for all time a war taxation on the people of these islands. We were lured on during the war with great expectations as to the sums which were to be recovered from the conquered republics, and from the great mineral wealth which underlay their territories. We were led confidently to expect that we should recover £100,000,000 in this way. But 10 what we have recovered, or shall recover when we get it, is £30,000,000, which I suspect will not cover more than the expenditure entailed by the peace, without going into the expenditure incurred by the war.
What is our financial condition? The Navy alone costs within £1,000,000 of what the two Services cost in 1894, the last complete year for which the Liberal party was responsible for the finances of this country. Since that time, since we resigned in 1895—I take it as a convenient epoch, not with the view of lauding the late Government, but I note, which is more significant, that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer takes this epoch in his review of the finances of the country—in those seven years the ordinary expenditure of the country has gone up at the rate of £5,500,000 a year. So that, whereas in 1894, which is earlier than the seven years, the expenditure was £94,000,000, it has now risen to £140,000,000. This is not a war expenditure, but a peace expenditure. Is this expenditure likely to diminish? I am quite aware that in some Departments the War Estimates may be taken to be temporary in their operation. I may be a pessimist, but I cannot see in the present system of administration the slightest hope for any reduction of expenditure. To-morrow night you are going to introduce a new Land Purchase Bill. I do not suppose that it will effect any great economy in your annual expenditure. You came into power in 1895 pledged to a scheme of old-age pensions. Whenever you can save some money from your present bloated expenditure the people to whom you have promised old-age pensions are not unlikely to remind you of that promise; and that, again, will not diminish your expenditure. I suppose the wealth of the country is increasing. We have no fixed figures on that point, no figures which we can trust. But though the wealth of the country may be increasing in the aggregate, I suspect the pinch of diminishing means is very largely felt throughout the nation. If that be so, it is not surprising that your debt, funded and unfunded, with all the capital charges upon you, is nearly £800,000,000 now, or where it was nearly forty years ago. So by your expenditure you have done away with the effects of forty years of frugality, of 11 forty years of careful and arduous and self-sacrificing reduction of the Public Debt.
I am not bringing this as a charge against the Government. I am only bringing it forward to prove that the financial conditions under which we are living are not favourable to the Estimates which they are presenting to Parliament. Is your National Debt the only debt? You have to recognise that your municipal debt is near £300,000,000. I venture to say no one conversant with municipal affairs, or who has had anything to do them, as I have had both in the largest and in the smallest municipalities, will believe that that debt is likely to diminish, but rather to increase, and to increase by leaps and bounds. If that be so, it seems to me we have to settle down with the fixed and firm prospect of a permanent income tax of 1s., with bread-stuff's and coal in a permanent state of taxation. That is a state of things which, if it does not cause you any serious reflection, causes very serious searchings of heart in the constituencies. I do not, as a rule, dilate on bye-elections. I never know how far this House is entitled to touch on the sacred privileges of the other House; but at least I am sure that, though many people give you heroic reasons for this election and for that, there is one reason which, independent of local and district feeling, affects every election—your enormous expenditure and your oppressive taxation. I speak with little authority on the question of finance; but there is one who speaks with the highest authority—I mean Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. I regard the speech which Sir Michael Hicks Beach made last October before going to India—I hope he may soon return with renewed vigour to make many more such speeches—as not merely by far the most remarkable speech ever made by a Minister on resigning control of the public purse after seven years of office, but also the gravest symptom of financial danger. Here is a man with fixed economic principles, with a character, it is said, capable of considerable power of resistance, who says that he has been fighting his colleagues on this question of expenditure day by day and hour by 12 hour during the seven years which he has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and without the faintest result. What, then, have we to hope? We were told by the last Prime Minister that one of the great difficulties in his path was the control of the Treasury. That means the control of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Department. We hear a very different story from the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and if he, with all the power at his command, was unable to do more in keeping down the expenditure of the country, I ask you what have you to hope from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, however able and experienced he may be, or from any of his successors, unless he pursues a very different course of action with regard to the spending of public funds?
One of the feelings which has most excited my mind by this contemplation is this—it is pity for the Government which will succeed this one. I do not know if any of my noble friends behind me aspire to form part of that Administration, but, if so, let them receive the assurance of my deepest and warmest sympathy. I cannot help thinking that it is not without a malicious foresight—a foresight which has not always, I must say, accompanied the action of the present Government—that they are spending so much money and leaving so little for their successors to spend. I can see how they will be able to say—not at first publicly, but always privately—"See what a skin-flint, nip-cheese, curmudgeonly Government this is which has succeeded to us! Think of the spacious days of Arthur and of Joseph—days when we revelled in expenditure and voted millions as though they were nothing, without control and amid the loud cheers of the House of Commons. If you want money disseminated in the country, call us back to power and get rid of these miserable creatures." There was a work which may be familiar to the younger generation among your Lordships, and not long ago was not unfamiliar to me, called "Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour," and in that remarkable book there is an account of the family of the Earls of Scampersdale. The Earls of Scampersdale were a family which conducted its proceedings on the following 13 principles:—One Lord Scampersdale spent and lived magnificently. The next Lord Scampersdale starved in order to make up the ravages of the first Lord Scampersdale, and to make preparations for the next magnificent Lord Scampersdale; and I cannot help fearing that in future the alternation of Conservative and Liberal Governments is to be based upon some such principle as this.
It was not always so. There was a time when the Tory party was the party of strict and capable finance and strict and capable economy. I am constrained to confess, looking back to history, that under the great Sir Robert Peel finance in this country was never more ably administered, and that it was he who, by his capacity and economy, managed to undo the condition into which our finance had fallen under the somewhat lax hands of Lord Melbourne. But here in this House we are not concerned with money; our only concern with taxes is to pay them; but I think we are, as far as my Motion is concerned, very materially concerned with the question of money. Money is the sinews of war. It was our money-bags that were down the first Napoleon, and sorry indeed should I be to see these money-bags depleted. But I venture to say, on the authority of every economist who has studied the subject, that you are depleting the money-bags now, and, in the words, or equivalent words, of Sir Edward Grey—which I think admirably expressed the position—you are bleeding us to death in times of peace. That is the financial condition; and, as far as I know, the answer of the Government to the charge is this, "We cannot spend less." Both publicly and privately, I think, they hold that language, "We cannot spend less." Then, I say, our condition is parlous indeed If we cannot spend less in time of peace it is impossible to predict what we should spend if we came to a really serious war; and as all armaments must really depend upon policy, sound policy cannot ignore finance. Well, my Lords, I pass from that branch of the subject to the naval conditions of policy as they exist at this time. As to that, I take it we are practically unanimous. We are all agreed that our policy is that of a maritime Empire, that the Fleet is our 14 great weapon of offence and defence, that we must make it as perfect and as powerful as our brains and our money can make it, for, if that fails us, it is a matter of life and death, It is not thirty corps d'armée, it is not forty corps d'armée, that would redress the balance if the Fleet of Great Britain, through some calamity—which God avert!—were swept from the seas. These are principles which are held almost unanimously in this House, except, perhaps, by those who represent the War Office.
But there is one word I should like to say with respect to this matter, and it is that I think we are all agreed that we would not spare one shilling on the Navy Estimates to make the Fleet as efficient as possible. And I would go a step further than that. I believe in every shilling we give to the Navy, or the millions which the Navy claims, we are giving it to a department which will spend the money well. I know something of the present First Lord and his Board. I have seen them at work, and I have a well-founded belief that there is no more efficient—if I may use a word which I know stinks in the nostrils of His Majesty's Government-there is no more efficient department in his Majesty's service. They do their work thoroughly, and take the greatest pains in their power to arrive at the truth and act upon it; and greater praise no department could wish to have. It is on the question of military policy that I fear there is a discrepancy between the Government and the great mass of thinking people. I do not in the least pretend to represent the nation, or any section of the nation, in what I say; but I do believe that thoughtful men—civilians, like myself—who have no expert knowledge, are greatly alarmed at the military proposals of the Government. The particular point to which I call attention was tersely summarised by Mr. Brodrick in the speech which he made at the Colonial Conference, when he said—We are prepared to send 120,000 Regular troops to any part of the British Empire which may be threatened.Well, he had other figures; he had no less than 600,000 men at his disposal. These are very spacious figures. I do not know if the 600,000 men—or boys, I should say—exist; I am told they do not. But all I can say on that point is this—if 15 they exist I scarcely know how you are going to employ them, and if they do not exist your Army Estimates are a great deal too high. But as regards the 120,000 men—the three corps d'armée, as they are usually called—the striking force, I am very anxious to know their purport and their raison dêtre. Both Houses of Parliament have in vain endeavoured to try to find the ground on which this great force is to be maintained by the country. Mr. Brodrick told us that it was not a force kept for ambitious schemes or offensive operations, or for an attempt to involve ourselves in the great quarrels of our neighbours in Europe. Well, I am very glad to learn that; 120,000 men would be perfectly futile if they were so intended. But what is it they are intended for? If they are intended to be sent to any part of the Empire at a moment's notice, to protect any colony or dependency of the Empire, one consideration at once presents itself, which is this—that if the country were at war the colonies would be at war, and every colony which knew you had 120,000 men ready to send out to its defence would simultaneously claim the advantage of this contingent. I do not believe for a moment that this Army is wanted for colonial defence. If we have learned one thing more than another from the Boer War, it is that the powers of defence are much greater than the powers of attack, and that any, even a great military nation would think twice and thrice before they attacked a British colony which was defended by its own Militia and Volunteers.
Then we come—having, as I said, pressed for explanation at every point—to the last which was offered by the Prime Minister, and which I think has since been withdrawn—though I am not clear upon that point—I mean that they should be sent for the defence of the North-west Frontier of India. I think it is highly inconvenient to discuss these hypothetical contingencies, which I trust may never occur, and which I do not believe will ever occur, but which, at any rate, give an unpleasant taste to the discussions of Parliament. But I will venture to point out that if you were at war with Russia you would probably be at war with France also, 16 and that, even conceding that the Admiralty were able to assemble a great fleet of transports by which we could move 120,000 men from these shores to India and guard them against the French fleet on their way, preserving at the same time the protection of our own shores, and going round, as you would be obliged to go round, by the Cape of Good Hope, you would take thirty-six days at least to get to the point where you might hope to be of some use for the protection of India; and, at the rate at which wars move in these days, you would be much too late. As a matter of fact, if you wish to defend India, and if you think your means of doing so inadequate, it is infinitely better to strengthen your Indian Army than to rely upon any possible contingents from England, such as the three corps d'armée which would be kept for that purpose. Having extracted from the Government every possible explanation they can give of the use and necessity for these three Army Corps, I must confess that we still remain in a state of ignorance on the subject. I do not know whether any speaker in the House of Lords will be more generous and liberal in his explanation to-night, but, if so, I am sure the whole country will hear his statement with interest. In making these remarks I hope it is not considered that I am animated by any wish unduly to criticise the Secretary of State for War. If that appears on the surface of my remarks, it is certainly not in their spirit. I believe him to be an able and industrious Minister—I know him to be an industrious Minister—and though I have not made it a secret either from him or others that I believe Lord Kitchener would make a more efficient War Minister than himself at the present time, I do not think that has produced any feeling of rancour in his mind.
I regard the differences which separate us from the War Minister as three in number. In the first place he thought it was necessary to meet a Parliamentary exigency by bringing forward a scheme of Army reform four months after he had entered office, before he could in any respect have received and garnered the experiences of our Army in South Africa, and, instead of setting to work even 17 with the then Council of National Defence to plan a deliberate scheme which would stand the test of time and circumstance, he chose to produce a scheme which has stood the stress of neither, and which has met, outside the ranks of Party, with very general criticism and condemnation. The next difference we have with him is this—that in his project of Imperial defence he ignores, and avowedly ignores, the Navy. That is Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark indeed. I ask your attention to the very remarkable words which he used in introducing his scheme of Army reform in 1901. He said—In the first place, when we talk of home defence, let us not confuse our minds by considering the position and action of the Navy.Well, I am afraid that, if confusion of mind is attendant on all those who connect these two things, we are the most muddle-headed nation in existence, because I have never heard of any human being except the Secretary of State on that occasion—and I hope he has repented of his words at leisure—who would think of considering the position of our national defence by clearing his mind of all reference to the Navy. But the third point on which we differ from the right hon. Gentleman is in some respects more important still. He seems to me to confuse quantity with quality. Now what is it that we should aim at in our military preparations? I venture to think that it is quality and not quantity. We cannot hope with a voluntarily recruited Army to vie with the great military nations of Europe in quantity, but let us at least try to vie with them in quality. If we cannot rival them in numbers, at any rate let us have an Army which, man for man, will show against any corps d'armée which they have. Of course I do not say that, if you could afford it, the power to put a million, or half a million, of trained soldiers in the field at a moment's notice would not add very considerably to your strength and power. But as a matter of fact you cannot afford it, and no nation that has to keep such a Navy as ours can hope to afford it; and, as you must cut your coat according to your cloth, it seems to me to be absolutely necessary that you should curtail the numbers of your Army.
18 My opinion in this matter is one of very little value, but I am supported by several authorities; and I should like to quote the most recent of these authorities, because it is the opinion of a gallant soldier whom we are proud to number as a Member of this House. I mean Lord Methuen. Lord Methuen, in distributing prizes to Volunteers on Saturday, made use of these expressions—What we want is quality, not quantity. We require a small Army, but behind it we need a large army of Yeomanry, Militia, and Volunteers.Coming as it does from Lord Methuen, a trained soldier who has so ardent a feeling for the Army, and who must have gathered more of the lessons of South Africa than any, except perhaps a dozen, other generals in the field, I think that opinion is entitled to the utmost weight and the highest consideration. He asks for a small, efficient, striking Army, and a great defensive reserve. What is that defensive reserve? My Lords, it is the nation itself. It is the duty and the prerogative of the nation to defend the national territory. It is the historical tradition of this country that the nation should defend the national territory. In what way the nation may exercise its undoubted right to call, in the words of the old Statute, on every freeman capable of bearing arms to rise in the defence of the country is a matter for the discrimination of the nation itself, whether it be by Militia, or by Yeomanry, or by Volunteers, or by rifle clubs, or by any other method which the wit of man may devise. That is the historical practice of this country. I was reading the other day a reprinted tract of the Tudor times which gives a remarkable picture of the position of affairs under Queen Elizabeth. It says—As for able men for service, thanked be God, we are not without good store, for by the musters taken in 1574 and 1575 our numbers amounted to 1,172,674 men.I suppose the population of England at that time did not amount to five millions; and it does seem a prodigious estimate that at that time, when there was a dread of invasion, there should have been able to be placed on the muster roll of England not less a number than nearly 1,200,000 men.
I know very well that in making this allusion I shall hear people who are not very wise say that I am making an 19 insinuation in favour of conscription. I am not making any insinuation of the kind. Conscription is a melancholy and arduous burden laid upon the great European States by reason of their conterminous frontiers, and by their mutual armed exertions. This nation, which has not these frontiers, would never undertake that burden, except under the pressure of some over whelming national calamity in which they might think that even forced military service was preferable to the terrors of that calamity. If you do have conscription it will be by maintaining the scheme of the War Office now before Parliament. The demand that that scheme makes for recruits is no less than 50,000 annually. You have got this year an exceptionally good recruiting year, 50,700. Out of these I think there are over 8,000 who are "specials" or otherwise inefficient, and belong to classes of recruits which the War Minister has promised not to admit into the service again. Therefore, if you have as good a recruiting year next year as you have had this year, you will still be 8,000 short of the number required to complete the War Minister's scheme. If this goes on one of two things will happen—either your scheme must break down, or you must resort to enforced military service; and that is the only danger of conscription that I see in the future of these Islands. I know another word that will be used in reference to my remarks; it has been used before with equally little justification; it is the reproach of militarism. I do not know in the least what militarism means, but it is a phrase that is used against any one who seeks to put the forces of this country on an efficient footing. I do not know that Switzerland is a country which is much accused of militarism. It has no standing army, and in that respect, at any rate, it evades the charge. It has a population of over 3,300,000. What are its defensive armaments? They are no less than 518,000 men, or one out of every six of the inhabitants. Switzerland has not yet, so far as I know, been accused of militarism. Yet it raises this prodigious force in order to defend its territory on the understanding and on the axiom that the duty of the nation is to defend its own territory. Switzerland 20 is not so well placed as we are. It has no fleet; it has nothing but land frontiers. And yet what nation, however great it may be in power or in military resources, would ever think of attacking Switzerland? Switzerland is safe because its population is organised for its defence.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Quite true; The noble Lord has interposed an observation which is perfectly sound. But if a democratic community like Switzerland thinks it right to put on compulsion in defence of its territory, it is obvious that there is nothing particularly unsound in asking this country, without compulsion, to call upon the great mass of the nation for its support. Take the case of the United States. The United States is not, I suppose, a nation which is liable to militarism; yet it is part of the law and Constitution of the United States that every State (I suppose also under compulsion if it came to the worst) is bound to maintain as a militia every male capable of bearing arms between 18 and 44 years of age; and although undoubtedly; that militia has fallen into desuetude, the reason is extremely simple. It is because, with all its vast population and resources and its utter remoteness from any military Power, an attack on the United States for purposes of aggression is almost beyond the field of possibility. My Lords, I say that these are instances which show that not merely is the defence of the nation carried out by the nation itself, the national and the historical method in this country, but it is also the democratic method elsewhere. I know what the noble Lord opposite means when he alludes to compulsion, but I assure him that I have no idea of compulsion in my head. Suppose a compulsory force, raised on the principles of the Swiss, in which one man out of every six inhabitants was recognised as forming part of the defensive force of the country. Why, you would have an Army of seven millions in this country to maintain.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
No, but the Swiss do take them all. It is because I do not wish us to take them all that I do not wish to resort to the principle of compulsion.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The noble Lord says you would not get them otherwise. That is where I differ from the noble Lord. I firmly believe that you will get them otherwise. I firmly believe that any Government which appeals to the nation on the sacred duty of the nation to defend its own territory against the possibility of foreign aggression, would meet with a response such as would surprise our present rulers, and would enable them to place the defence of our Islands on a far sounder footing than it is now on. My Lords, if you wish to call upon the nation to raise Militia, Volunteers, and Yeomanry to take their part in the defence of these shores, you must pursue a very different course than that which you have been pursuing. You must not starve, you must not discourage, you must not look with disfavour on these Auxiliary forces; you must foster them; you must encourage them; you must see that they are not out of pocket by their exertions. Let every form of Ministerial and social, aye, and I would add Royal favour be shown them; and I believe that you will soon have in existence a Volunteer Army, a Militia, and a Yeomanry adequate to, and exceeding, the utmost necessities of the defence of your territory. My Lords, these are the views which I place before you with great humility and with great diffidence. I am aware that on these subjects I am neither a naval, nor a military, nor a financial expert. I lay them before you as none of these; but I do offer them as the opinion of a common citizen, of a common Imperialist, and a common taxpayer; and, if I may add the words, as a matter of common sense.
Moved to resolve that this House desires to express its approval of the proposed Council for National Defence, and its earnest hope that the first efforts of that Council may be directed to the adjustment of the national armaments of the 22 naval, military, and financial conditions of the Empire.—(The Lord Rosebery (E. Rosebery.)
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, I am sure no member of your Lordships' House will for one moment complain of the tone which the noble Lord who has just sat down has adopted. He has explained to us the motive which actuated him in bringing this subject before the House. From the first to the last of his speech he has acted up to the professions he made at the commencement. He has excluded, as he told us he wished to exclude, all party spirit, and I am glad to think that there is much in what he said in which not only this House but all parties will concur. I am anxious to say something with reference to the Committee of Defence; and before asking some questions of His Majesty's Government with reference to that Committee, I should like to remind the House and the public of the degree in which there was co-ordination between the naval and military authorities before the constitution of the National Defence Committee. I think it right to say that there has not been that absence of any kind of consultation or co-operation between the naval and military authorities which the public seems to believe, and sometimes has been told, has been the case in the past. It should not be thought that past Administrations have proceeded in a hugger-mugger fashion and not taken pains to secure such co-operation as was possible between the Army and the Navy. The first Defence Committee, established in 1856, was mainly an Army Committee, in which there were four or five military officers, and only the First Sea Lord to represent the Naval Board. By 1890 there were on it seven military officers and only two naval officers. Then it was recognised by the Committee that naval views were not sufficiently expressed, and there was created what exists to this day—namely, a joint Naval and Military Committee, which is composed of four Naval officers and four military officers. Formerly the secretary used to be an Army man and the assistant secretary a Naval man Now there are joint secretaries—one the 23 Director of Naval Intelligence and the other the Director of Military Intelligence.
The House may ask what has been done by this Joint Committee, of which the public do not seem ever to have heard. They have dealt with much; but they have dealt with it in silence; and the misfortune of the present day is that all work that is done quietly, and of which the Press knows little, seems to be considered as non-existent. I fervently trust that when the new Defence Committee is fully at work, when once the public has been informed of its constitution and its intentions, it may be allowed also, without public inquiry into every scheme, to work quietly and with confidence that the work is being done, without any self-advertisement on the part of any of those who are upon it. The joint Naval and Military Board examined the fortifications all round the island. They went into schemes of defence for every port of the United Kingdom. They examined the schemes of defence of every port in our colonies. These schemes all exist, and they have been made by the joint efforts of the naval and military authorities; and when this new Committee was established the Director of Naval Intelligence and the naval adviser to the Inspector-General of Fortifications, with the military adviser, visited all the commercial ports, and the joint Naval and Military Committee examined the schemes for regulating the traffic in time of war, for regulating the control of the mines at the ports, for the regulation of lighthouses—in fact, did all they could with reference to defining the respective positions of the Army and Navy in the defence of these islands and of the colonies. There was, besides, a Colonial Defence Committee at work with the Joint Committee; so that the whole scheme of defence has been considered carefully by them together in the past. Then there is an officer, who dates back as far as 1884, who is called the naval adviser to the Inspector-General of Fortifications. This is a naval officer of substantial rank, picked invariably from the ablest men of the Navy, who is a kind of representative of the Admiralty on a number of War Office Committees, and he lives in constant 24 relations with the Director of Naval Intelligence. He represents, so to speak, the eyes of the Director of Naval Intelligence. I should be glad to know how far the labours of the Joint Naval and Military Committee will be superseded, if at all, by the work of the new Defence Committee. I do not think it need be entirely superseded, and I hope the new Committee will avail itself of its labours. I hope I have not abused your Lordships' patience by giving this short résumé of what has been done in the past; but I thought it due to the naval and military authorities of those days, and also to those who are working the system at the present time, to give some information which, I believe, has never been so fully given to the public before on this matter.
Then we come to the last Cabinet Defence Committee. The noble Earl referred to the comparative failure of that Committee; but he also quoted the words of the Prime Minister to the effect that much good work had been done by it. I know that, because I myself had the greatest possible advantage from conferring with the members of the Committee. Many questions were brought before that Committee with great advantage; but it did not undertake that which the new Committee is to undertake, namely, a survey of the whole of the forces of the Navy and the Army together and take into consideration the cost of the two services and the relation of that cost to the financial situation of the day. The noble Earl hoped that such changes of policy as took place in the case of Wei-hai-Wei would not take place under the new Defence Committee. Well, I might almost say that in some cases I hope such a change may take place—that is, if there is a change in the situation. I thought the noble Earl was aware that there were certain international changes in the Far East which distinctly modified the position of Wei-hai-Wei. Such changes of policy may happen under the new system, because all the members of the Committee are not going to be permanent. There will be new naval lords, and it will always be possible that the new ones may not take the same view as their predecessors. But there will be one great advantage in the new Committee from 25 the fact that reasoned documents, as the Prime Minister called them, will be kept.
In regard to the constitution of the new Defence Committee, I am not sure that I agree with what the noble Earl said as to the Prime Minister. I agree that the Prime Minister is overburdened with work; but I think, and I say it from experience, that you want the private, compulsory, coercive pressure of the Prime Minister to make this Defence Committee thoroughly workable. Again, I think that the Foreign Minister ought to be a constant member of the Committee—that he should not be a member called in, as the Prime Minister said, when his advice and opinion are wanted, but that he should practically be a party from the very beginning to the discussion of the important questions which come before the Committee. If I were First Lord of the Admiralty or Secretary of State for War, one of my first questions on the Defence Committee would be addressed to the Foreign Minister. I should say, "Tell me what your policy is, and when I know that I shall be able to judge what ships I require." There are a number of questions which the Foreign Minister ought to be able to answer before the Defence Committee. For instance, what, in given circumstances, would be the attitude of neutrals? What combinations of Powers do you expect? Do you consider that we ought to take into consideration the possibility of an alliance here or there? And, if so, should that alliance be supported by any troops or ships? All those are questions of foreign policy as much as of naval or military policy. Then such questions as the right of search, the rights of neutrals, what is and what is not contraband of war, ought to go before the Committee. All those questions must affect the number of cruisers and generally the size of the Navy Estimates. Take again such a question as the Mediterranean. What is the policy as regards Egypt and as regards the Suez Canal? These questions must all be examined. Of course, these questions were examined under the old system by personal communication between the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary for War, and the Foreign Minister; but if you take a certain amount of responsibility from them as regards the Estimates, then the Foreign Minister, in 26 my judgment, ought to be one of the most important members of the Committee of Defence. If it is pleaded, and properly pleaded, that he could not, with his work, always be present, I would put it this way—that he should generally be present and only absent when business arose with which he was not necessarily concerned, rather than that he should be generally absent and only present when his presence was directly requested.
Then comes the question whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be a member. I have myself been at one time Chancellor of the Exchequer and at another First Lord of the Admiralty, and I know what the relations between the two always must be. I have cross-examined, and have been cross-examined, as to the volume of the Estimates: and the conclusion I have come to after that experience is that the authority of a man who hears the case from the beginning, and is able to watch the progress of the policy adopted, must always be superior to the authority of those who are not present and are only brought in occasionally. Therefore, I would suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer also should be a member of the Committee, especially in view of the present financial situation. I agree with a good deal of what fell from the noble Earl on that point, and I will not deny that the picture he has drawn is a most serious one. But if that be so, at all events let the Chancellor of the Exchequer have the fullest possible opportunity of seeing the development of the Estimates in the same manner as the other members of the Committee. Then I would ask. Is there to be voting in this Committee? I have seen the word "decisions." I think myself it would be very awkward to have it, for it would almost be necessary that the chief professional adviser of a Minister might not vote with him. Suppose they had had a friendly conflict. Four battleships might have been asked for; three might ultimately have been settled upon after considerable discussion. Would the professional adviser be entitled to raise that question again in the Defence Committee and argue it out? I do not wish to have any precise answer to this question, but I think the action of the Committee should rather be consultative than decisive. Every 27 Minister will admit that the First Lord of the Admiralty must continue to be the responsible officer with regard to the Estimates, and that no decision of the Defence Committee or of the Cabinet ought to weaken that responsibility. In times of peace the public wishes everybody to be consulted; in times of war, when disasters occur, the public wishes one man to be hung. It wants to know who is responsible. It is difficult to find who is responsible, but this is a question the public always asks, and I hope that, in working out the general organisation of the Defence Committee, the question of responsibility will be most carefully kept in view. I also hope that the meetings of the Committee will be kept as private as possible, that no call will be made to publish all their proceedings, and that the Committee will be treated as a Cabinet Committee in all the essentials of secrecy. I leave others to determine how far it would be possible to admit Lord Kitchener to the Cabinet with a limited liability. It would be a vast constitutional change to take a great soldier and put him in that position without any financial control.
I pass to the question of the chief business of the Defence Committee, and that is dealt with in the second part of the noble Earl's Motion. Admitting that the financial position is such that it behoves the Government to ask for nothing that is not absolutely indispensable, it is not the opinion of one Minister, however eminent, that can determine that the expenditure incurred was unnecessary. I have had friendly arguments with Sir Michael Hicks Beach; but I know that, if I had not spent on the Navy that which was spent during the five years I was in office I should have been held responsible for letting down the Navy, in respect of which the noble Earl says that at no cost must there be any stint. I believe that the great attack which was first made on Mr. Brodrick's Army Corps Scheme arose from a fear that the Navy would be stinted because the Army had so much. The youthful and informal Defence Committee of the House of Commons feared that the money which ought to go to the Navy would be diverted to the Army. But when the Navy Estimates appeared I do not think that anyone said that the Navy 28 had been stinted. There was an increase of £3,250,000, and I was struck with the confidence of the noble Lord in believing that the money he asked for would be voted. It was well illustrated in the able statement with which he accompanied the Estimates, and in which he simply mentions that there is an increase of £3,250,000. It was not necessary to say more; and the Secretary to the Admiralty, who might have explained the causes of the increase to the House of Commons, simply said that it resulted from the rivalry of other Powers. I am glad that my noble friend was able to be so reticent. It is most satisfactory that the same pressure is not applied to him that is applied to the Secretary of State for War to explain coram populo all the circumstances which make an increase of the Army necessary. My noble friend is happy in being able to refer only to the general situation. People ask why we have gone beyond the two-Power standard which has hitherto been considered sufficient. In proportion as other nations increase their navies, though they are not likely to be ranged against you in actual warfare, any prudent Government must take into account their existence. You have to assert your rights against neutrals; and the South African War was enough to teach us that in time of war most troublesome questions may arise with neutrals. It would be an unsatisfactory position for this country if, when it was engaged in a life and death struggle with two Powers, it had no ships to watch those neutrals who might raise difficult questions. The great developments of other fleets have made it necessary to increase to this vast extent our own naval preparations.
I now come to the most controversial part of the noble Earl's speech—whether it is necessary to have the large military preparations involved in Mr. Brodrick's scheme. As to the three Army Expeditionary Corps, the noble Earl instanced the defence of India and the colonies as the purpose of them. It has never been suggested that 120,000 men were to be sent merely for the defence of a colony. That was never for a moment the intention. As regards India, I do not agree with the noble Earl; and I think that the public would be much misled if, without seeing the documents upon which the Government found their policy, and with- 29 out hearing the views of such eminent men as Lord Roberts, who is profoundly acquainted with the situation in India, they were to believe that the troops might not be required for India. The noble Earl says that it would take the reinforcements thirty-six days to get to India, and that they would not arrive in time. But the Russian Army would have long and tedious marches to make, and I am not sure that our troops would not be there in perfectly good time. While admitting that it was unpleasant to discuss such matters, the noble Earl challenged the Government to say why they wanted these 120,000 men. I can imagine numbers of cases in which they might want them; and the noble Earl gave the go-by to the powerful argument of the Prime Minster with regard to the necessity of having troops to support the Navy. The Navy, as the Prime Minister said, can only carry operations to a certain point, and after that you require troops to ensure your success. Ships can only silence forts. They cannot take them. Those who have read the history of the Napoleonic wars may remember how Nelson, St. Vincent, and others clamoured for troops. Not only that, but surely every coaling station and every naval base belonging to an enemy ought to be attacked; for what would be the attitude of the public if our ships were simply to hold the fleets of the enemies in check? There are many military operations which have been considered. I know that troops would be wanted for this place and that, and it would be most indiscreet to name them, but many of them might occur to anyone who goes thoroughly into the question. You want your troops abroad not only for India but for the defence of other lines which are conterminous with foreign countries, and we want them in order to ensure the success of the Navy. A large force is wanted if we can possibly afford it, not for any fanciful operation, but to carry out some of the operations which early in the war ought to be undertaken. While, therefore, entirely in favour of the Navy, I do not wish to see the country crippled for the want of the necessary troops which even the South African War has shown us to be necessary.
30 I turn now to the question of a citizen army, which is to hold the country against invasion. I agree that every kind of inducement should be given to the people to come forward as Yeomen: infantry, and Militia. But the point is this, whether you can absolutely trust a citizen army without a certain mixture of veteran troops to stiffen the force. I believe that no military officer has yet come forward to say that we ought to rely on the Auxiliary forces alone. The question is thus reduced to the amount of Regular troops that are wanted; and if I read aright the Army Corps system of the Government the number of Regular troops is something like 25,000 to 30,000 men. Are 30,000 Regulars too much to stiffen the Auxiliary forces in time of war? Though the Navy ought to be responsible for the defence of our shores and to maintain command of the sea, yet there may be naval raids and disasters full of dangers and risks. You must also count on the attitude of the populace; and I believe that the country would be alarmed if all the Regular troops had left the country, and the whole defence was to be left to a citizen Army alone. Discipline and training have to count for something. It was said that a small and good army was wanted. What is a small Army? I should say that 30,000 Regulars mixed with 100,000 Volunteers was a small Army, and I would endeavour to get it as good as possible. But whatever the size of the citizen Army may be, hold out every inducement to bring the men forward, but until you have got it do not begin to diminish the number of troops. Let every effort be made to establish, equip, and train the Auxiliary forces, make every effort to get your Reserves into, order, and then the Government would be prepared to reconsider the number of troops which may be required. In view, however, of the present state of Europe, the advances which the Powers have made, the state of fermentation going on in so many quarters, I feel that if the Government came forward now to diminish our defensive forces they would make a mistake. I come forward not because I think the Government require any support from me, but having been myself at the Admiralty, and knowing what 31 the Navy can do, I believe the present scheme of the Government is more advantageous than any diminution at present in the Regular forces of the Crown.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, it is not often that I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl opposite, but I do think that on this occasion he has rendered a real public service in bringing before your Lordships' House a Motion which is so general, and I think I may also say, uncontroversial in its character. It would be a pity if in this House a question of Imperial defence, of the amount of money we can afford to pay for our Army and Navy, was not properly or adequately discussed, for at the present moment this is a subject which is anxiously occupying the attention of people in the country. The subject has been debated in the other House of Parliament, and military and naval experts are exercising their minds to an unusual degree upon it; and, moreover, many men who have hitherto left the discussion of these matters to experts are to-day studying for themselves the question of national defence, and are trying to judge it by the standard of everyday practical consideration. That is all the more reason why I rejoice that the noble Earl below the Gangway refrained entirely from those somewhat disturbing and bitter elements which are the legacy of the South African War, and placed this discussion on a calm and dispassionate level. It has often been said that the question of Imperial Defence is not a party matter, that it is above party consideration, and I think I detected in the words of the noble Earl in moving this Resolution that he rather agreed with that point of view.
This is a subject concerning the welfare, not only of people in this country, but also of people outside in our colonies and dependencies who I do not think care very much for our party machinery or party opinions. I think it would be wrong, therefore, if we could not approach the discussion of these matters in this House except from a party point of view. It cannot have 32 escaped your Lordships' attention that there is a growing volume of doubt and anxiety throughout the country on the part of people who until recently have found themselves in agreement with His Majesty's Government and have given them loyal and true support, but who feel that to-day the amount of money we are spending upon our Imperial defence is beyond what we can afford, that a great deal of that which is expended does not yield a proportionate return, and that the taxation of the country is weighing so heavily on all classes of the taxpayers that at no very distant date there must be an outbreak of great discontent and dismay. I do not think I have overstated the case. There have been protests—bitter protests—in the House of Commons on the part of those who are usually supporters of His Majesty's Government, and whatever noble Lords may think of those protests, no one will doubt that they emanate from those who are actuated by the highest sense of public duty. Then, again, articles and letters have appeared in the Press, asking that this excessive taxation should be reduced. Notably there has been a series of articles in The Times—articles which I think everybody admits have been very ably written—and I do not think they altogether support the policy of His Majesty's Ministers. So much for outside opinions. Then there is the testimony of one whom I do not think we can possibly ignore on this occasion; in fact, the noble Earl alluded to a speech he made on the question of the finances of this country, and the amount of money we were spending. I refer to Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. My noble friend who has just spoken said we should not pay too much attention to the opinion of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I pay just as much attention to the opinion of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hold that it is just as valuable, as I do to the opinion of the noble Viscount, and I will tell him why. It is because he, as well as the noble Viscount, has been for years past, on account of his official position, able to have before him all the secret information upon which the policy of the Government to-day is largely founded, and I think therefore we should have the highest regard for the opinion of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. 33 I should like to read what he said on this subject—Even with proper allowance for the services in South Africa there might easily be a reduction in our Military Estimates if the War Office properly expended the people's money.I think it would be an injustice to the people of this country to say that they begrudge the money which is really required for the service of the State; but if there are a large number of His Majesty's subjects who believe that a great deal more money is being spent than is absolutely necessary, that some of that money does not yield a proportionate return, then I fear, in view of the great expenditure which the country is called upon to bear to-day, that that may easily pave the way for a dangerous and parsimonious reaction in the future.
I think it would be an exaggeration to say that our trade has suffered by the late war in South Africa, or that the well-being of the people has been affected; but I do not think anybody can regard our financial position without having two conclusions forced upon his mind—that there is no available margin of taxation at the present moment for any needs of the future, unless, on the one hand, you resort to maintaining the income tax at a figure which is cruel to the poorer classes of the income tax-payers, or, on the other hand, you resort to indirect taxation upon the necessaries of life. While to-day our annual expenditure is at a higher figure than it has ever been before in the history of this country, our finances are not so good. Our Consols stand at 91—a point lower than they have ever been for the last thirty or forty years. I think there is no better proof of the immense reserve of wealth that there was in this country before the South African War—wealth which had accumulated owing to quiet and careful Governments of the past—than the fact that we were able to carry on that campaign for three years without seriously interfering with the comforts and the convenience of the people of this country. The security of our financial position was such that we were able to make those exertions without any serious danger and subsequent evil consequence. Our financial position today is very different from what it was then, and we cannot better gauge our position and the change that has been 34 effected than by considering what would be our position if to-morrow we were engaged upon a conflict as onerous and as severe as that in South Africa. There is no margin for a war tax. The income tax is to-day 1s. 3d., and I think I am right in saying that every penny you put on to it means a less proportionate return.
Then, my Lords, imagine for one moment the effect on our credit. As I have already said, Consols stand at 91, and we shall find that it will be increasingly expensive if we have to borrow money. We took up loans for the South African War of £159,000,000, and we got £152,500,000, but to-day, if we wished to borrow this sum, we would have to pay £9 for every £100 borrowed, and the result would be that if we borrowed £150,000,000 the amount we would get would be less than £140,000,000. I think it is quite clear, therefore, even assuming that Consols do not fall lower, that it would be very easy to have much financial trouble in the City, which would find its reaction in the industrial centres in England. I should like to give an historical illustration which I think is not inappropriate. Your Lordships will remember the war with the American Colonies. At that time England, by the loss of those colonies, was supposed to have received one of the greatest blows to her military prestige that any country had ever received, and our rival, France, triumphed and was overjoyed at our dismay. But in a very few years, although England suffered a great military defeat, she was able, by careful and quiet manipulation under the able administration of the great Minister of that day, to restore her finances to a good condition. France, on the other hand, although she was the victor in the struggle, placed her finances in such a hopeless and terrible condition that trouble arose between the classes in that country, the Government of the day could not decide whether to tax the rich or the poor, and the result of this financial embarrassment was the French Revolution. I think this illustration is a very appropriate one, and shows that, although armaments are very important to a country, yet its financial position is a matter which its Statesmen cannot afford to neglect any more than they 35 can afford to disregard the equipment of the Navy or the Army.
It has often been said that want of money never stopped a war. It is quite true that want of money never stopped one country from invading another, or one nationality from protecting itself against invasion from another; but I do not think that these are the kind of wars we are likely to be engaged in. The want of money for an oversea war like the South African War is certainly likely to be seriously felt, for on these occasions you want vast sums for the purchase of stores, ammunition, remounts, and all the different paraphernalia associated with a great military expedition. I contend that for the successful operation of this kind of war the finances of the country must be in such a position that the Government of the day can impose a war tax which can be easily collected, and which will not weigh too heavily upon the people. Therefore a financial reserve is not less vital, not less important, and not less imperative than the efficiency of either our Army or our Navy. I cannot pretend to be an expert in these matters, nor do I wish to approach the discussion of them in any way in a spirit hostile to the noble Earl who represents the War Office in this House, but I gather that we have not nearly reached the full and ultimate cost if the present Army Corps Scheme holds good. The normal Estimates for the Army are £27,500,000 this year, but next year and the year after many items will come in, and, as far as I can gather, will help to increase that amount. We have to look to increased expenditure in the cost of battle, in the augmented pay of the soldier, and, above all, to the fact that the cost of the Army must rise in proportion as the number of men contemplated by the War Office are realised. According to the present Army scheme, if its full conclusion is arrived at, you require 70,000 Reservists, 22,000 more Militia, 17,000 more Yeomanry, and 100,000 more Volunteers, the total pay of whom comes to something like £2,000,000 of money. The noble Earl the Under Secretary of State for War dissents. Obviously he is in possession of facts and figures which I cannot dispute. But this much I will say, that we have every reason to 36 suppose that during the next two financial years the Estimates for the Army will certainly be in excess of what they are to-day.
Briefly, my argument is this, that the position of our Imperial Defence depends upon three units—our Army, our Navy, and our War Chest; that after having satisfied the requirements of the Navy, the balance of the expenditure we can afford is the amount which we should devote to the Army; that to-day the two services are absorbing a sum of money which to a large extent destroys the possibility of a war fund; that the three weapons we fight with being the Army, the Navy, and the War Chest, the two former are fast absorbing the latter, and that the Government have robbed the financial Paul in order to pay the military Peter.
Turning to the question of the Committee of National Defence, I rejoice to know that this Committee is to be placed on a more real and permanent basis. One cannot help feeling that this Committee can either be of an enormous benefit to the country, or, on the other hand, a positive danger. If it is only to ratify the decisions which the Cabinet have already arrived at, and to be a sort of block-house where those who are responsible for unwise decisions can seek immunity from attack, then, instead of being a benefit, it will be a source of danger to the country. I am told that the Prime Minister is deeply interested in the formation of this Committee. I hope that may be the case; but what the country asks, and what I venture to think your Lordships will ask, is that this Committee should frankly, readily and entirely consider the whole position of our Imperial Defence from its strategic and economic standpoint, and that they should not approach the question in a formal way, as Governments are somewhat prone to do, and with a preconceived intention of finding themselves right, but that they should approach it from the beginning with the critical and impartial mind of a new investigator. With profound respect I say this to the noble Duke the Leader of the House, that unless he can satisfy us that such a course of action is really his intention, I see no reason why we should not support 37 the noble Earl in the Motion he has laid before the House.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (the Earl of SELBORNE)
My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced this Motion has frequently pointed out how much he wished to be a supporter of His Majesty's Government if His Majesty's Government would only give him the chance. I now understand why the noble Earl left the House the other day before he knew whether we were going to divide, because the Motion then brought forward by Lord Carrington was a Vote of Censure. I gather from reading the Motion now before the House that it is really a Vote of Confidence in the Government for having at last supplied the country with a piece of constitutional machinery which has been too long Jacking. I agree with so much that the noble Earl has said that I am almost sorry to have to point out that, if this machinery has been so long lacking, and I agree with him that it has, there are only three men living who have had the opportunity of supplying this want. Public opinion has been largely educated in this matter by the work of the noble Duke who leads this House. It was his work on the Commission that bears his name that first focussed public opinion on this question, and he has taken a leading and distinguished part in it since. But the three men living who had the opportunity of carrying it into effect are the present Prime Minister, who has established the Committee of National Defence which we are now discussing; the late Prime Minister, who started the Committee of Defence at which the noble Earl has never wearied of gibing, but without which the present committee could not have been developed; and the third man is the noble Earl himself, who during the time he was Prime Minister left this great Constitutional want wholly unfilled.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I expressly said, and took some pains to lay stress on it, that there was such a Committee when I was Prime Minister.
THE EARL OF SELEBORNE
I understood the noble Earl to say that when the annual Estimates were brought 38 forward he met the Secretary for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty and discussed them together.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I never said a word about Estimates. I said it was for the purpose of discussing these matters.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
This germ is now revealed to the public gaze for the first time. I am glad that the germ did exist; but it certainly would have died unfruitful if the present Government had not revived it in a more extended and far more practical way. The noble Earl must excuse me for having failed to appreciate the fact that this small Cabinet Committee existed, when there was nothing in his speech to show what he must have known, as was pointed out by Lord Goschen, that a great deal of work unknown to the country had been going on by means of the joint Naval and Military Committee and the Colonial Defence Committee. The work of these two Committees has been far too little recognised; for, while all the faults of administration have been recalled the good they effected has been ignored. Great as has been the criticism of the War Office for its conduct of the late war, it is an absolute fact that the mobilisation of the Army, the supply of drafts, the provision of stores and ammunition, was carried on as effectively and with as great rapidity as was possible; and the country would not be provided with the great works at Gibraltar and Devonport and other places if these questions had not been faced, not only by the present Government but by the late Government, without the public being aware of it. But that good work does not prove that we should not endeavour to perfect the machinery for national defence by the constitution of this Committee. What the public has not yet quite realised is the magnitude and complexity of the work that lies before this Committee. The problems arising from the peculiar constitution of this Empire are, perhaps, the most complicated that any nation has to deal with. This is very little understood, even by statesmen whom 39 one would think had learnt it out of their own personal experience.
I have great respect or the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons; but I must say that his speeches, not only on the subject of the constitution of this Committee but also on the Naval Estimates, show a most extraordinary lack of appreciation of the difficulties of the problems involved. In connection with the Navy, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as if it were this country that had been pressing on other countries increased naval expenditure, whereas it is strictly accurate to say that, no matter what Government has been in power, we have only followed other countries whose shipbuilding has compelled us to keep pace with them. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke as if the problem of naval defence was one of equality of ships, and that we had by far exceeded that standard. Now there has never been any suggestion of equality with two naval Powers except in respect of battleships. The real question is as to the requisite expenditure necessary to protect the commerce of this country in time of war; and for that purpose no standard of bare equality of numbers has ever been suggested. Nor does Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman seem at all able to understand the kind of problem that this Committee will have to work out. If I have been surprised by what he has said about the Navy, I heard with sheer amazement what the noble Earl who introduced this Motion said about the North-West Frontier of India. I do not see why we should make excuses for dealing with this question. India is ours. The United Kingdom is ours. We talk about the defence of the United Kingdom, why not about the defence of India? In both cases we most earnestly pray that the occasion for defence will never arise. We believe that in neither case it ought to arise. But we are as much entitled to discuss the problem of the defence of India as the defence of the United Kingdom.
With my great respect for the noble Earl, I listened with perfect amazement when he contemplated the possibility of a war in the course of which India might be invaded by some Power and in which 40 it would not be necessary for us to send any reinforcements to India. And still more was I amazed for the reasons he gave—that they could not arrive for thirty-six days, and at the end of thirty-six days they would be obviously too late. I cannot imagine how a statesman of his great abilities, who has occupied the positions of Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, and had at his disposal all the advice of military, naval, and Indian experts, can possibly have brought his mind to that frame in which it would be possible for him to make such a statement as that. I do say, unhesitatingly, that if he is again in a position of authority, which is probable, and he gives his mind to this question as president of the Defence Committee, as I know he will, he will not hold for many hours the opinion he has expressed so lightly to-day. And what was his remedy? His remedy was to increase the Indian Army. That increase would be of the most expensive kind; whereas the reinforcements we had contemplated sending to India in time of need would, of course, be mainly composed of regiments made up to their strength from the Reserves, and would be far more economical than a corresponding increase to the Indian Army. What is the problem before us? There are questions which are purely naval. These are questions for the Admiralty. There are questions which are purely military. These are questions for the War Office. Then there is the class of questions both naval and military, with which neither Admiralty nor War Office is competent to deal alone. Then there is the even more important class of cases which are not naval alone, nor military alone, nor naval and military combined alone, but naval and military and political. It is that class of cases with which the Defence Committee have to deal—the cases which are naval, military, and political.
Now I will turn to the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Goschen. He said the Foreign Secretary ought always to be a member of this Committee, and also the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I venture to differ; and I will give my reason for my opinion. To make any such Committee a success it is necessary to reduce to the lowest possible number those on whose constant, never-failing 41 work such success depends. The fewer there are, the more responsibility those few will feel never to miss a meeting and never to attend a meeting without having read all the Papers supplied to them and as far as possible mastered the situation. When you take the Prime Minister, the President of the Council, the Secretary of State for War, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, the First Sea Lord, the Director of Naval Intelligence, the Commander-in-Chief, and the Director of Military Intelligence, you have there a nucleus of men who are prepared to regard that work as having as paramount a call on their time and energy as the work of the Cabinet has for a Cabinet Minister, and you include the only members who need always attend. Why should the Foreign Secretary, who is a most overworked Statesman, attend when there is no question of foreign policy involved in the discussion of the day? In many cases you may assume that such and such a political position governs the situation, and the question remains what are the naval and military steps to be taken, and you do not want to call in the Foreign Secretary or Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if it comes to considering what the political conditions are likely to be you must call in the Foreign Secretary; and if you say that a certain eventuality touches your naval and military position, and that further steps have to be taken and more expenditure, or expenditure of a different kind, must be incurred, then we pass to a stage at which no meeting can be held with utility without the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Returning to the question of naval strength, the Government has never abandoned what has been known as the two-Power standard. That has never been interpreted as a mere equality of battleships with the two next naval Powers. The two-Power standard surely means that, given a war with the next two naval Powers, there should be a reasonable probability of victory for this country. That is what is meant by the two Power standard, according to my interpretation of it. When you pass from the question of battleships to the question of commerce, which I alluded to just now, your Lordships must see how impossible it is for the country to 42 accept the interpretation of our naval necessities that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman has laid down. When I remind your Lordships that the average value of our seaborne trade for the twenty years ended December 31st, 1899, was £710,000,000 sterling and the average value of the seaborne trade of the next two naval Powers was £340,000,000 sterling only; when I remind you that the aggregate tonnage of the mercantile marine in the year 1899 which the British Navy had to protect was 9,000,000, whereas the aggregate tonnage to be protected by the next two naval Powers was only 1,500,000, you will see what a totally different task our Navy has to perform, as compared with the Navy of any two Powers with which it may be confronted. Not only is the struggle for naval supremacy with us a struggle for life and death, as stated by Lord Rosebery, but with all other Powers their naval strength is comparatively only an incident in their national existence. But the actual work we have to accomplish in defending the trade of the mercantile marine throws upon us a corresponding obligation to keep up our naval power. In dealing with our trade, there never has, by any Government at any time, been any attempt to say that our cruiser standard should merely equal that of the next two naval Powers. I feel more compunction in passing from these criticisms to something else that the noble Earl said, because I am extremely sensible of the generosity of the tribute he paid to the Board of Admiralty. I did not take that as meant for myself or my colleagues. It was a tribute to the excellence of the permanent organisation.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
And as a tribute to the excellence of the permanent organisation I believe it is justified; and my noble friends in this House who have held the office I now hold will bear me out. I do maintain that the organisation of the Admiralty is singularly adapted to the needs of the country. It is an organisation which works without friction, and that is saying a great deal. But the noble Earl has recurred to-night to a 43 matter which has already been discussed on the platform—to the suggestion that Lord Kitchener might become the Secretary of State for War. Now, my Lords, I have not the least objection to the noble Earl discussing changes in our system, but why should he play with words by pretending that the suggestion is not incompatible with our Parliamentary system as we know it? If he chooses to come forward and say our Parliamentary system is worn out, and if he proposes various changes in it, none of us would cavil; but what we do object to is the noble Earl's pretending that what he is proposing is not a complete revolution in all that we understand by Parliamentary Government at the present moment. His proposal is that the whole Cabinet should be responsible for the acts of Lord Kitchener as Secretary of State for War, and that he should not be responsible for any of their acts. That proposal may be good or bad, but it is a complete change of our system; and if you come to that, my Lords, why have two soldiers—two men like Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener? If a soldier is to be Secretary of State for War, why do we want a Commander-in-Chief? If a distinguished soldier is all that is required, why are you not content with a Commander-in-Chief? Why not get rid of a Secretary of State for War? Even on the noble Earl's own plan, supposing it to be feasible, he would find it run much more smoothly if he had one soldier instead of two.
I am entirely saved the task of answering Lord Rosebery's question as to what the Government mean when they talk of the military necessities of the Empire. Lord Goschen has summarised our requirements so fully and so succinctly that I really need add nothing to what he said. He has disposed of the colonial bogey; he has dealt with the Indian problem; and he has dealt with the supplementing of naval actions by military expeditions which has been the history of all our naval campaigns. He did not allude to, though I am quite sure he did not forget, the maintenance of those garrisons at the coaling stations which we have to keep up to support the Navy; and he then passed on to the question of home defence. I am not going into the question of the relative 44 position of the Navy and the Army in regard to home defence. My views, I trust, are thoroughly well-known. They are the same as those of the noble Earl and Lord Goschen. The Navy is the only real permanent defence of the whole British Empire. But you cannot be too logical. If you try to drive that principle home too far, to what conclusion does it really lead? To this—that all the Regular troops you want are those that are necessary for action outside the United Kingdom, and that you do not want any auxiliary troops at all.
That is not my position. That is why I say it is impossible to drive this matter to the rockbed of logic. If you pursue it to its ultimate logical conclusion it leads to a reductio ad absurdum, that you do not want any Volunteers; at all. Therefore, I say that you must deal with this matter in a comprehensive spirit; and the mistake, I think, that has been made—I speak entirely as a private individual—not only by this Government, but by every party which has ever been in power yet, is that in dealing with the Auxiliary forces, they have never tried to organise them properly. Surely it is far better to have 50,000 Militia or 50,000 Volunteers really organised, with all their component parts and the proper arms in proportion to each other, than to have double or treble that number who have grown up by accident without any regard to military necessity. But if you agree to that, who has taken more steps than anyone else to bring order out of chaos than my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War? You may deride the Army Corps system, but I believe that it will maintain its own against all the criticism levelled against it, because it is adaptable to any numbers you choose finally to have. It is the first attempt that has really been made to properly proportion the various arms and fashion these chaotic parts into an organised whole. The noble Earl was very careful, in bringing forward this Motion, not to commit himself to numbers. I think he was very wise; because how can you possibly defend, on grounds of efficiency, a proposal such as has been deliberately made in another place, that, after blowing hot for three years, suddenly you should blow icy 45 cold, and, without any relation to any organised policy, reduce the Army by 27,000 men? That was the proposal actually made, but rejected. Such a proposal cannot possibly tend to efficiency; and I do implore noble Lords opposite, if they ever come to deal with this question, not to sit down and suddenly write off so many men as will give them that diminution of taxation which at that moment happens to be convenient to them, but to try to think out the question as we are trying to think it out, from its commencement, and whatever force they have to endeavour to have it presented to the country as an organised whole. The noble Earl presented the Government with a dilemma. He said—Mr. Brodrick has talked somewhere of having 600,000 men. All I have to say is that if he has 600,000 men I do not know what he wants them for; and if he has not got 600,000 men, then we are paying too much money.But only a few sentences afterwards the noble Earl developed his argument to the effect that what we really wanted in this country was a large, thoroughly well-organised Army of Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers. Did it not strike the noble Earl that by far the greater proportion of these 600,000 men are Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers, and that the very men on whom he wants to depend for the ultimate defence of this country are the men against whose existence he is inveighing when he inveighs against this force of 600,000 men?
Nothing could be more inaccurate than to say that my right hon. friend the Secretary for War introduced his scheme without proper consideration and in an immature condition. Remember that when he became Secretary for War my right hon. friend had served in the War Office an apprenticeship of many years. He had been there both as Financial Secretary and as Under Secretary, and he had become, perhaps, more familiar with the questions which affect the British Army than any Minister on either side of politics at that time. Therefore, in no sense could he be said to have approached these subjects without having informed himself upon them. It is true that the war was not then over; but 46 it is also true that the Commander-in-Chief had returned from the war, and that the scheme which was adopted, and adopted very deliberately, by the House of Commons two years ago, was framed by the Secretary for War and the Commander-in-Chief as that, in their opinion, most adapted to the needs of the country. As I have contended before in this House, the real question at issue between us is how many men are required for the military purposes of the Empire. The Army Corps system holds the field because it is adaptable to any numbers you choose to have. It is adaptable to the Regulars, the Militia, and the Volunteers. And I do not think, notwithstanding al that the noble Lord has said, that he has proved his point against the Secretary for War. I am quite sure that he does not really hold the view that the Secretary for War absolutely ignores the Navy in all his calculations on this question. I know the noble Earl quoted some words which, taken from their context and used adroitly, might bear that interpretation; but I am sure the noble Earl will take it from me, as a colleague of my right hon. friend, that nothing could really less represent his true position in this matter. He recognises quite as much as the noble Earl, or as I do myself, that the Navy is the force on which the whole British Empire rests, and that its military strength is purely supplemental. Nor, again, is it fair, I think, to say that my right hon. friend has ignored quality and preferred quantity in dealing with the Army. I do not think any Secretary for War before him has ever taken steps so thorough or so well devised as he has taken to improve the quality of the Army. He has raised the pay; he has improved the conditions under which the soldier lives; and, quite recently, he has taken a further step to direct all the recruiting authorities to take the utmost care as to the class of recruits they select. Therefore, I do not think on any of these counts has the noble Earl's indictment, friendly and kindly as it was to my right hon. friend personally, been made good. At any rate, on all these questions he has made more progress than his predecessors have ever been able to do; and because the whole result of the work in which he has 47 been engaged cannot be shown within two years it is surely not compatible with the doctrine of efficiency to say that that whole work should be plucked up by the roots and some new system invented to replace it.
But the real stress of the noble Earl's speech rested on the financial condition of the country. The noble Earl will pardon me if I say that I do wish, when he comes down to this House and talks to us on these big questions, he would not always paint with so lurid a brush. During the South African war he did not talk to us of economy. It was not the moment. He talked to us about the inadequacy of our military preparations and how absolutely necessary it was for us to put our house in order and see that our Navy and Army were strong enough. All the pressure the noble Earl put on the Government at that time was directed to increasing our military strength.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
But even in doing that he painted the picture with what I call a lurid brush. Now, when, according to his idea, the important point is not so much the strength of our military resources as the organisation of our finances, he again comes down and paints with this lurid brush. He talked of enormous expenditure, oppressive taxation, and bleeding to death in time of peace.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I entirely agree with him, as I do with the noble Duke who spoke last, that the material strength of this country rests net only on its Navy, but on sound finance. The Navy is of no use at all unless the country is financially sound—though the country cannot be made financially sound unless there is a Navy to give it protection. Therefore I admit to the fullest possible extent that sound finance and good credit are absolutely essential to the maintenance of our Empire. Everything is by comparison. "Enormous expenditure," "oppressive taxation," "bleeding to death"—how can those terms be 48 applied to us when we remember what our forefathers endured 100 years ago? The noble Earl talks about a National Debt of £800,000,000. In 1815 it was £900,000,000. If our forefathers could bear that debt, cannot we bear it now? What is the reason that we feel this taxation more severely nowadays? It is not that we are poorer, or that our working classes are worse off; but that we have, for our own purposes, reduced the basis of taxation to the lowest minimum. We have entirely abandoned all those general sources of taxation which enabled our forefathers to tide over their financial difficulties. We must be consistent. Free Trade is the fiscal policy which best suits this country. But when we cut ourselves off deliberately from all these sources of taxation which our forefathers enjoyed, we must not be surprised if, in a moment of real national difficulty, the taxes which remain are high. That is not a reason why we should not reduce those taxes if we can; but I do not wish the country to expect too much in this direction from the work of the Defence Committee. When we are only at the beginning of so great a task, it would be unwise to prophesy as to what the result will be. But the examination of this question as a whole will receive close attention from the Defence Committee, and will do more for the proper co-ordination of our system of Imperial defence than anything which has yet been done. I hope that as a result, though I do not prophesy, the rate of increase in our naval and military Budgets will be checked.
But I wish most earnestly to say one word more, and I speak now as an individual and not in any sense as representing the Government. I do hope, if the time of the cold fit comes in this country, when the nation is no longer prepared to spend so much on the Army or the Navy, that whatever Government is in power will not attempt to cut down the Estimates suddenly and without any real policy behind the action. To cut down 25,000 men from the Army one day, or £5,000,000 from the Navy Votes, can produce nothing but chaos, and must be absolutely incompatible with anything like effective administration. The whole, when it has been carefully thought out, is a complex 49 whole, of which each part is dependent on the other. The ships are no use without the men, nor the men without the ships; and neither are of use without adequate stores and reserves; they are then a living sham, because they cannot fulfil the functions which the country expects of them. If the country does decide that a limit to expenditure has been reached, the proper course is for the country to give fair notice to the Admiralty and to the War Office, and to say that, say the next five years the expenditure each year must not exceed a certain sum. Then the Departments would be able to frame their Estimates accordingly and to the best advantage. Nothing has so much alarmed me in the recent debates in another place as the idea which seems prevalent that you can suddenly arrest expenditure or diminish establishments without producing far-reaching results. I hope that under this or any future Government the Committee of Defence will take measures to teach public opinion that all these questions can only be dealt with properly on an organised plan. The deliberations of the Committee will not be made public; but the conclusions which they arrive at, and the reasoned arguments in support of them, will be at the disposal of each Government in turn; and in future it can never be said that, in taking hasty action, the Government were not aware of the reasoned policy of their predecessors or of the arguments on which that policy was based.
§ Moved, that the debate stand adjourned till Friday next.—(The Marquess of Ripon.)
§ On Question, Adjournment agreed to.