HL Deb 12 December 1906 vol 167 cc270-2

rose to call attention to the delay in circulating the information upon the subject of Army Organisation, ordered to be furnished by Resolution of the House on 24th July, and laid on the Table "in dummy" on the 1st of August last, and to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War if he could state when this information would be printed and circulated.

The noble Earl said

My Lords, it was my intention to put to the noble Earl the Question standing in my name on the Paper, but he has saved me the trouble, because I understand the actual figures reached the printer this morning, and that, after a delay of five and a half months, your Lordships will be able to examine the figures which you ordered. I therefore have no reason to put the Question, but I do wish to call attention to the delay which has taken place, and which I believe to be absolutely inexcusable. [The noble Earl then read the eight heads on which he asked for information on 24th July.] He proceeded: These are all points which must have been worked out by the Government before they made their statement in July. Therefore, why should we have been kept waiting five and a half months before the Return has been laid on the Table? Accusations are frequently made as to the dilatory conduct of the War Office, but I have always stoutly denied those accusations. In the present case, however, I can see very little answer to that accusation. I have felt it my duty to make this protest against what has happened. In this case I do not think your Lordships' House has been treated with the respect with which you are generally treated by a Public Department.


My Lords, as a matter of fact it is quite true that the figures in regard to the Regular Army will be supplied to my noble friend. The reason for the delay, to be quite frank, is this; we have been endeavouring to give him such information as we could, and we are still unable to give him information on some of the heads because we consider the information confidential. Some of the figures asked for deal with prospective arrangements still under consideration; and as regards the last request, in which the noble Earl wished us to tell him how many Yeomanry and Volunteers will be ear-marked for certain purposes, that is a matter which we consider forms part of our moblisation scheme. Therefore, although it would be quite a different matter to let the noble Earl have the figures confidentially, we really cannot place them on the Table and make them public. I can assure the noble Earl that whatever delay has occurred has not arisen from the fault of the War Office, but from the desire of those responsible that we should go closely into all these matters and give the fullest information possible.


My Lords, I think your Lordships must have listened to the explanation of the noble Earl with some surprise. It appears that in July last a Motion was made by my noble friend who sits behind me for certain papers. That Motion was accepted by His Majesty's Government, who, I suppose, knew what they were about. The information that was required was set out and the noble Earl the Under-Secretary, having consulted the War Office, was told to say that the Government accepted the Motion. Not only so, but the Motion was put and carried, and therefore your Lordships' House ordered these Papers to be laid on the Table. Then the noble Earl proceeded to carry out the order of the House, but he did it "in dummy." Up to that point suppose the noble Earl still thought he could supply the information and he actually laid "in dummy" information which he now says he cannot give. The noble Lord ought to have known, when he answered my noble friend, whether or not he could give the information, and not to have misled— quite unintentionally, of course— your Lordships into thinking that you could have information which could not be supplied. If he did not find it out then he ought to have found it out before he laid the information "in dummy." But, after it was laid "in dummy," five and a half months have elapsed before the noble Earl has discovered that the information moved for in a Motion which he had accepted, and information which he had laid "in dummy," could not, after all, be given. I really think the noble Earl has been very badly served in his office. It ought to have been the business of someone first of all to have told him he was misleading the House. I think the Government owe some apology to your Lordships for having treated this House with so little consideration in the matter. As to the answer which the noble Lord has now given, he and his colleagues must be the best judges of what can safely be laid on the Table in the public interest, and we should not press them to do more than they consider safe; but I hope in future we shall have answers on which we can rely more confidently.


No doubt it is to be much regretted that this Return, which was promised, cannot be presented; but it is not the first time that this has happened. These mistakes do occur occasionally. I greatly regret that the mistake has occurred in this case, but I am sure your Lordships will agree with me in acquitting the noble Earl of having done anything in any way disrespectful to your Lordships' House.