HL Deb 18 February 1907 vol 169 cc498-518

My Lords, I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) for the nominal roll of first-class battleships fully manned and in active commission in Home waters on the 13th February, 1907; (2) to state how many battleships had nucleus crews on board at that date; how many had reduced nucleus crews on board at that date; and (3) what number of officers and men constitute a reduced nucleus crew, and how many men were there on board the "Ramillies," etc., on 13th February, 1907.


My Lords, my noble friend puts to me three questions which I hope to be able to answer with the greatest frankness. The reply to the first question is, there is one first-class battleship, the "Dominion," which is now in dockyard hands. It will take two or three months to repair. Of our other ships in full commission about sixty are at this moment engaged in the manœuvres at Lagos, and therefore lot more than three days' sail from come waters. The answer to the second question is that there, are twelve ships with nucleus crews on board—the "Albion," the "Magnificent," the "Victorious," the "Glory," the "Bulwark," the "Barfleur," the "Centurion," the "Majestic," the "Empress of India," the "Nile," the "Ocean," and the "Revenge." There are eight with reduced nucleus crews—the "Ramillies," the "Repulse," the "Hood," the "Resolution," the "Royal Oak," the "Royal Sovereign," the "Trafalgar," and the "Renown."

I think, my Lords, it would be well to recall what these ships did when the mobilisation took place on June 14th last. This was the performance of the ships at the Nore. The order to mobilise was received by the commander-in-chief at 2.46 a.m. It was made "general" at 3 a.m. The first ship ready was the "Aboukir" at 5.15 a.m., and the last the "Ramillies" at 8.10 a.m., all with full crews and ready to go to sea. At Portsmouth the order was received by the commander-in-chief at 2.55, and the ships were completed and had sailed for their ports of assembly by 9.30 a.m., except the "Royal Arthur" at 10.29, and the "Barfleur," delayed by the tide till 1.20 p.m. At Devonport the order was received at 3.12 a.m., and the last ship was ready to sail for sea at 9.30 a.m. These ships responded to the test put upon them. There was no necessity for a proclamation, to call out reserves, or anything of that sort. They went to sea with full crews with the extreme rapidity I have indicated. I know there has been a good deal of discussion about the advantage or disadvantage of nucleus crews; but the enormous improvement that has taken place in the Fleet owing to the institution of the nucleus crews is hardly to be exaggerated. It has diminished the number of ships out of repair in the most extraordinary manner, and the Fleet is now in a condition such as it was never in before, thanks largely to the high state of efficiency maintained owing to the nucleus crews on board.

Three years ago, in the third week of January, 1904, we had sixty battleships on our list. Of these thirty-eight, or 63 per cent., were unavailable for one reason or another. On 21st January of this year out of fifty-one battleships only eight were unavailable, or only 16 per cent. of the whole number we had. Of the armoured cruisers, of which there were twenty-four on the list in January, 1904, there were eight unavailable, or 33 per cent. Now we have twenty-eight on the list; seven are unavailable, or only 25 per cent. Of unarmoured ships we have now only twenty-one unavailable out of seventy-six; in 1904 forty-four out of eighty-four were unavailable, or 52 per cent. The destroyers were this year 143 on the list; twenty-nine were unavailable, or 20 per cent.; in 1904 there were sixty-one out of 110, or about 56 per cent. Thanks to the admirable changes made by my predecessor, Lord Selborne, for I must give him credit for the initiation of the scheme, the whole of our ships are in much better order.

As to the third question, it is difficult to state with an accuracy that cannot be disputed the exact number which at any particular time constitute a nucleus crew. At present a full nucleus crew is about two-fifths of the whole crew, and a reduced nucleus crew is about one-fifth of the whole crew. On the "Royal Sovereign" class, the number of men varying from day to day and week to week, the nucleus crew is about seventy-three, but there is an intention of largely increasing the proportion of the nucleus crew. We are going to try to work it up from two-fifths to three-fifths on most ships, and so far as the Home Fleet at the Nore is concerned, we shall have in about six weeks time six battleships and six cruisers to all intents and purposes fully manned. They will have three-fifths nucleus crews, and the other two-fifths will be made up of men who will no doubt be moved from time to time from other ships, but not quicker than in eight months. That is going back to the practice carried out by the Channel Fleet before 1903. This will, I believe, secure that these ships will be always ready to go to sea and will carry on their practice and training in the waters in which they may be called upon to fight.


who had also given notice "To call the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War to the number of efficient fully manned British battleships on active commission in home waters on 13th February, 1907; to ask him, in view of the naval conditions obtaining on that date, whether the possibilities of foreign military invasion of these isles must necessarily be confined to a raid of 10,000 men; and to move that facts and figures be produced and laid on the table of the House to substantiate the contention of the Under-Secretary of State for War on 10th December, 1906, that the supremacy of the fleet guaranteed the British Isles from invasion by any force greater than that of a raiding party of 10,000 men," said: My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord who has just sat down for the way in which he has answered my Questions. In his reply the First Lord naturally put the case in the best point of view from the Admiralty side, not distinguishing between ship and ship or excluding those which are used for other purposes than those of a warship. The "Ocean," which is quoted as having a nucleus crew on board, is in dock, and I presume will not go out to sea. I think the "Victorious," the "Dominion," the "Magnificent," and the "Glory" are in similar condition. With regard to the "Renown," that is no longer regarded as a man-of-war, as it has been used for other purposes. As to the remainder, I would point out that there are only four of the efficient ships named which carry 12-inch guns. Of the twenty-one ships in home waters, it would be difficult to produce more than fifteen or sixteen at the outside which would be of any value as fighting ships; and amongst those you have the "Barfleur," the "Centurion," the "Trafalgar," and the "Nile," which I do not think are now reckoned as first-class ships of war.

But that, however, is not my point. I wish to dwell rather on the question of fact than of Admiralty policy—to test whether it is not a fact that the time might come when we had not the command of the North Sea and were therefore liable to invasion. I, therefore, ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War to reconsider the question whether the theory of the Blue Water school still holds good. I mean by the Blue Water theory the question of the possibility or non-possibility of invasion, We have had during the last few years various theories on this subject. The Norfolk Commission were absolutely unable when they sat to find out by what number invasion was possible, but it was assumed, from the number of men we were expected to get ready, that invasion was possible by a force of 100,000 men. After a certain period Mr. Balfour, in perhaps the most regrettable speech ever made in this country from the point of view of the result it has had, stated that 70,000 would be the minimum that could land with a view to successful action, and that 10,000 would be the maximum raiding force which it would be possible to send across the channel. From there we got down to a raiding party of 5,000, and, finally, to Mr. Arnold-Forster's dinghy theory. Then we had the statement by Lord Portsmouth that, even if we had not the command of the Channel, a force of 10,000 was the limit that could come across. I should very much like to have the facts and figures to substantiate that contention. We certainly are not organized on land. Our defensive forces are in course of organisation and unprepared. Moltke said— Initial distribution carries in it the germ of success or failure. I wonder if either the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty or the noble Earl who represents the War Office could say of any part of our forces during the past week that the distribution and organisation gave prospect of success. As regards the distribution of the Fleet the question is even more serious, because the nation we have to fear is obviously Germany. Indeed from neither point of view can we regard the situation as satisfactory. The question of speed, moreover, which I understand is a great factor in naval matters, is also absolutely against us; all the oldest ships we possess are in home waters, and those which are not old ships are for the moment hors de combat.

In considering the possibility of raids it is important to note that on Saturday last there were thirteen liners in German ports, with a tonnage of over 110,000. These liners could be off our shores any morning with a powerful raiding force on board. In Mr. Balfour's figures three tons were calculated as necessary to carry one man; but in the Japanese War one ton and a half carried one man, and in the Turkish War the proportion of men was greater than the tonnage. I have seen it stated on authority that 80,000 Germans could be suddenly mobilised in a German port in six hours. Personally I do not think the figure would be so high as that. I think the limit would be 40,000 or 50,000 men, for it would be essential in any surprise invasion that no outside preparation should be shown, otherwise information would be sent across. For a liner raid 150,000 men could be mobilised in German ports in thirty hours, and the tonnage available would be ample at any moment to bring over whatever force was considered necessary for the invasion of these islands. We know very little in this country of the time it takes to embark men and get them off, but the Germans have practical experience and training in the rapid embarking and disembarking of troops. These are facts which ought to be kept in mind. The question of time, too, is all important. The First Lord of the Admiralty gave some interesting figures just now of the results of mobilisation orders on the 14th June, and no doubt mobilisation can begin at once when the order is expected.


It was not known; it was a surprise.


Were not the Press correspondents down?




Was it on a Saturday?


I cannot say.


With regard to the presence of Press correspondents I find I was wrong. I think the result would be very different if "a bolt from the blue" fell on a Saturday night, when men are absent on leave in large numbers. I happened to be standing outside Chatham at 1 o'clock on Saturday, and I saw over 200 blue-jackets taking their tickets till Monday. The ticket collector was a very intelligent young man, and entering into conversation with him I remarked, "There are a great many men going away to-day, aren't there?" He replied, "Not nearly so many as a week or two ago." I ascertained that on some occasions as many as 1,200 leave. If, for instance, a surprise took place on a Saturday with the German naval force stronger than ours in the North Sea, I do not see how the Admiralty could be ready before Tuesday, and it would be difficult for the ships to concentrate in face of an active enterprising enemy. As to the time necessary for the mobilisation of the Auxilliary Forces, I sent some telegrams last week to the various headquarters to ascertain what would be the average time, in case mobilisation was sounded at 10 o'clock at night, in which each unit would be able to start preparation. I find that when you wire on a Saturday night to a distant commanding officer the telegram is not received until 8 o'clock on Monday morning. This is another important matter to be borne in mind in this connection. In the circumstances I have mentioned your raiding party could have landed on the Sunday, and by the time our ships were ready for sea a large majority of the 150,000 raiders would be on our shores.

I do not apprehend that the Germans would in time of peace start "a bolt from the blue" of this nature. But we must bear in mind what history teaches, which is that hostilities usually begin before war is actually declared. In my calculations for a surprise I have not made a single allowance for the 84,000 Germans in this country, for the dropping of a bomb in Chatham Dock, or the sinking of a ship in the narrowest waters of Portsmouth Harbour. I might instance the Dogger Bank affair as showing that we cannot rely on the Navy being near enough to protect these shores from sudden attack. We may be certain that if this surprise comes upon us it will be the best organised surprise, both as to method and thoroughness, that ever was known. Therefore, I ask the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary of State for War, whether he still considers that the possibilities of foreign military invasion of these islands must necessarily be confined to a raid of 10,000 men.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for facts and figures to substantiate the contention. of the Under-Secretary of State for War on December 10th, 1906, that the supremacy of the Fleet guaranteed the British Isles from invasion by any force greater than that of a raiding party of 10,000 men."—(Lord Lovat.)


My Lords, the noble Lord has brought forward a Resolution which is one of such vital importance to the safety of this country that I earnestly trust it will receive most careful attention, not only from both Houses of Parliament, but from every thoughtful and intelligent person in the United Kingdom. The noble Lord has stated certain facts; and it seems to me essential that these facts should be tested from the bottom. If the statements are correct—and, so far as I can judge, having gone carefully into them, they are absolutely correct—they reveal a state of affairs that is most disquieting and it would seem as if we were living in a fool's paradise, and shutting our eyes to a danger that may only be realised when it is too late to guard against it.

I know there are many people who scout the idea of invasion so long as we possess a powerful Navy. A powerful Navy we must possess—a Navy sufficiently powerful and numerically strong enough to cope, with every chance of success, against the navies of two Powers; but it would be unwise to trust to the Navy alone to defend these islands. My noble friend has clearly proved that in time of peace we cannot rely on the Navy being near enough to prevent these shores from being attacked. It is all very well for people to imagine that this is not likely to happen. But it has happened already, at the time of the Dogger Bank affair; and at this moment the greater part of the Navy is too far off to prevent attack.

Were we at war with any two Powers, the main body of our Navy, in accordance with the duties defined for it by the Carnarvon Commission in 1881, might be hundreds of miles away seeking for and destroying the fleets of the one Power while the fleets of the other Power would be at liberty to harass our commerce, to interfere with our food supplies, and, quite possibly, to land an army in this country. Anyhow, my Lords, as I have already said, it would be very unwise, either in peace or in war, to trust to the Navy alone to defend these shores. We cannot surely suppose that the intending invader would be foolish enough to give us timely warning of what he was about to do. We cannot flatter ourselves that an expeditionary force could not be landed on our territory without war having been previously declared.

Depend upon it, if this should ever occur—and that such an eventuality will happen I feel morally certain, unless we put our house in order—it will be at a moment when we are least prepared to meet the enemy; that is to say, when we are asleep as we are at present, or when nearly the whole of the Regular Army has been despatched abroad, as in 1900. For surprise is the essence of success in war, and if you will study a very valuable book called "Hostilities without Declaration of War," compiled in 1883 by Lieutenant-Colonel (now Major-General) Sir Frederick Maurice, you will find that, as a rule, hostilities have commenced before the declaration of war. Sir Frederick Maurice tells us that of the 117 wars fought by European nations, or by the United States of America, against civilised Powers, during the 171 years (from 1700 to 1870) only ten are recorded when hostilities were preceded by a declaration of war. He further states—this was in the year 1883—that— In far the greater number of cases recorded the surprise which overtook the assailed country was as complete as would be the effect if to-day, or at any time during this last year and a half, a foreign army had landed on the shores of England. If this record had been brought up to date more examples of this fact could have been given, and I think we may rest satisfied that what has happened in the past may happen in the future. Increased facilities of communication have made surprises more frequent during the last two centuries than before. As Sir Frederick Maurice says— When armies moved by the slow stages by which the Roman legions advanced, the whole progress of war was cumbrous, and a solemn announcement of coming war was part of the laboured programme. But in modern times the development of roads, railways, and other means of communication, of supplies, food, clothing, and of general wealth, the facility with which physical obstacles can now be overcome, the perfect knowledge of ground furnished by good maps, have made sudden enterprises incomparably more easy than they were in earlier times. Assuming the possibility of a hostile force landing upon the eastern part of our country, a possibility which has greatly increased in recent years by the growth of the navies and mercantile marine of our continental neighbours and by the new light that the experience of the Russo-Japanese war has thrown upon the question of the amount of tonnage required to convey a given number of troops, it would be well to consider what amount of resistance we have to offer.

First we must remember that our arrangements for mobilisation have been hitherto dominated by the requirements of Imperial defence and have been adjusted, partly because it was thought that places like Portsmouth and Plymouth needed to be specially protected, but mainly with a view to getting troops out of the country expeditiously to reinforce any threatened point beyond the seas. The requirements of home defence have hitherto been considered of secondary importance. The possibility of an invasion has never been believed in by our rulers since the days of Wellington and Palmerston, and consequently the people have been taught that if an invasion ever occurred it would be only a mere raid which could be frustrated without difficulty. I myself doubted at one time the feasibility of any large force being landed on our shores, but modern conditions have developed so rapidly that it is impossible now to study the question without realising that, under some such circumstances as the noble Lord has supposed, a large number of troops could be safely and rapidly landed in this country.

The result, then, my Lords, of our defensive arrangements has been to locate the larger portion of our Regular troops in the south of England, while the mass of our Volunteers is to be found amongst the populous manufacturing districts further north. A landing on the centre of our eastern coast would cut our military forces in two. Panic and confusion would prevail everywhere, and the Regular troops at Aldershot and on Salisbury Plain—not more than 30,000 men in all, and very imperfectly prepared, I am sorry to say, for a sudden move, in the important matters of transport and artillery horses, and without a sufficient supply of ammunition available for either guns or men—would have to be hurried up for the defence of London; the task of checking the invaders would therefore be left to the Auxiliary Forces, who, it is generally recognised, are insufficiently trained to meet a Continental army in the field. And even if their patriotic spirit could compensate for their imperfect discipline and training, it certainly could not remedy the want of artillery and cavalry, nor the lack of the administrative services which are necessary for the maintenance of an Army in the field. It is true that after a time the number of our Regulars might be increased by the addition of Reservists, but the long delay before they could join, under the existing very inconvenient arrangements for the mobilisation of Reservists, would be still further increased by the interruption of our communications, caused by the presence of an enemy in the centre of England.

My Lords, I have not, I believe, got the character of being an alarmist, and I trust I am not yet in that state of dotage which Mr. Cobden attributed to the great Duke of Wellington when his Grace ventured to point out the necessity for suitable arrangements being made to defend Great Britain. But I confess to a feeling of absolute despair when I think of the blindness displayed by the British public which enables them to rest satisfied with our present state of unpreparedness. The responsibility for the remedy of all this lies with you, my Lords, on both sides of this House, and with the leaders on both sides of the other House. So long as the warnings of men who know what war is and who wish to save their country from its horrors are treated with something very like contempt; so long as our rulers refuse to believe that it is possible for a Power with a fleet rapidly approaching our own in strength, and with an army of at least 5,000,000 of thoroughly trained men at its disposal to invade this country, so long will the people continue in their ignorance of what may overtake them and in their complaisant satisfaction as to our means of defence.


My Lords, I feel in this difficulty with regard to the Question put to me by my noble friend and the point raised by the noble and distinguished Lord who has just addressed us, that in questions of this kind we are dealing with matters of opinion rather than facts and figures. I hope I shall never be so extremely rash as to make a speech guaranteeing this country against invasion. Nothing is so uncertain as war, and even the greatest experts differ profoundly when they venture to prophesy in regard to military or naval matters.

If I were asked on what facts and figures I rested the contention that we have to look to the Navy to secure us against oversea invasion rather than the Army, I would refer my noble friend to the speech which Mr. Balfour made, with the fullest responsibility, as Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Imperial Defence Committee. With the general tenor and principles of that speech we agree. We feel that these questions should not be treated in any sense as Party matters, and that successive Governments should endeavour to carry out as far as they can some consistent policy, guided by the best advice obtainable, and endeavouring to co-ordinate the two great services in the defence of the Empire. I hope my noble friend will not think that I am lacking in courtesy, but it is impossible for me to lay upon the Table of the House what he is pleased to call the facts and figures on which Mr. Balfour based his speech in May, 1905, because the proceedings of the Imperial Defence Committee are strictly confidential.

I deny that we ought to act upon what I may call the theory of treachery. If either Germany or France were to act in the way indicated by noble Lords, they would be guilty of the grossest acts of treachery, acts which would be certainly contrary to the whole experience of civilisation and to every practice of modern diplomacy. But before I touch upon that I would compare the condition of things prevailing at the end of January—the nearest date I can get to February 13th, with that which obtained when Mr. Balfour made his calculations. He made his calculations on the basis of a French raid—because France was much nearer to us than any other country—he assumed a state of the Army such as existed at the lowest point touched during the South African war, namely, at the end of February, 1900. The figures he quoted were 17,000 infantry and cavalry and twenty-six batteries of artillery, which constituted the whole Regular forces that we had at home in organised units at that date. On the other hand, at the end of January of this year we had in England alone, exclusive of the troops in Ireland, 70,000 infantry and cavalry, twelve batteries of horse artillery, seventy-two batteries of field artillery, and in addition the Departmental Corps such as the garrison artillery and the Army Service and Ordnance Corps. If I were to contrast the state of the Auxiliary Forces in the general comparison on those two dates, it would show a still more favourable result. I have omitted bringing into the comparison the Auxiliary Forces, because it has been admitted by military experts that in case of an invasion the invading country would certainly send their best troops, against whom, if they landed, the Auxiliary Forces would be very little good, and that we should have to rely in that case upon our Regular troops. That, my Lords, puts the case of the Army.

Now, what is the case that my noble friend brings before you? The whole contention of the noble Lord opposite, who puts the case of the absence of our ships at the manœuvres off Lagos, is based on the theory that our nearest neighbours are practically brigands. That is really what it comes to. The noble Lord who initiated this discussion and also the noble Earl on the cross benches referred to some interesting remarks by Sir Frederick Maurice in regard to warlike hostilities occurring before declarations of war. I do not dispute that; but a great deal of water has to run under the bridge between strained relations and the declarations of war. In this connection I would quote the words used by Lord Lansdowne in the Report of the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel in 1883, of which he was chairman. The noble Marquess said— We do not take the view that the contingency of a coup de main struck by a Power with whom our relations have been friendly and unstrained is one which we have any right or which experience would justify us in placing amongst the foremost of the probabilities with which we have to deal. It is our impression, on the contrary, that, if such an attack were to be made, it would be preceded by circumstances which would have called for effectual precautions against surprise. The noble Marquess went on to say— We observe with pleasure that this view is that apparently entertained by His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief (the Duke of Cambridge) and by Sir Lintorn Simmons. With the permission of the House I should like to read what the evidence of these two distinguished soldiers was on this question. The Duke of Cambridge was asked— I think your Royal Highness has admitted that although in very many instances acts of war have been committed before war had been formally proclaimed, that has never been the case until after the relations had been strained between the countries? and the answer of His Royal Highness was— Certainly. The question put to Sir Lintorn Simmons was as follows— You have spoken of acts of war having preceded declarations of war. Those are notorious cases. We have ourselves taken ships of war before war has been declared, and I daresay cases may be found where we have even attacked small distant fortresses before war was declared. But have you ever known such acts as those taking place until the political relations between the two countries have become very strained? Sir Lintorn Simmons replied— Certainly not; at least I cannot recall any. With regard to the position now placed before the House by Lord Lovat, it is perfectly clear that our fleets would never have been away at Lagos unless our relations with our neighbours were perfectly friendly and unstrained.

The Government do not wish it to be assumed that they accept the view of the extreme Blue Water school. But if we are to suppose that France or Germany, in a time of profound peace, when our Foreign Office tell us they can see not the slightest difference of opinion, would be guilty of an act of treachery of that kind, then we must alter our whole national life. We must alter our procedure at Portsmouth and on the Forth and other places. It would be impossible to carry on our commercial life at all if every night these places were to be fully manned and all the entrances were to be protected as if we expected a raid. In all these matters the Government have to be guided, not by extreme improbabilities, but by reasonable commercial and national risks.

I can assure the noble Lord that the Committee of National Defence have most carefully considered all these questions. There are schemes prepared for the defence of all defended ports, which it is confidently anticipated will be in a position to resist any sudden attack. These schemes have been drawn up with the full concurrence of the Admiralty, and the two services are in entire accord as to the measures which should be taken for the defence of the country. While I can assure noble Lords that the whole of these questions are receiving the fullest consideration, I do not think it is consistent with common sense, and hardly consistent with good international manners, to assume that nations with whom we are on the best of terms are prepared to act towards us in a manner which, if committed by his own Government, every Englishman would consider most disgraceful.


My Lords, I should not have intervened in this discussion but for the reference to myself made by the noble Earl in the concluding part of his speech. The object of my noble friend who introduced this subject, and the object of the noble and gallant Field Marshal on the cross benches, is, I take it, to impress upon this House and the public the necessity of not imagining that the safety of this country can be secured merely by the possession of a powerful Navy. At the outset of his speech the noble and gallant Earl said— Do not let us trust to the Navy alone. I have yet to discover a public man in any position of responsibility who is prepared to say that tie does trust to the Navy alone. I do not think it is the view of His Majesty's present advisers. We know that the Secretary of State for War has devoted himself to the preparation of a very elaborate scheme for the improvement of our Home Army, the purport of which is likely to be made known to us before long. It certainly was not the view of the late Government. I challenge anyone to find any statement by any member of the late Government to the effect that our naval supremacy was in itelf sufficient to justify us in relaxing our vigilance in military matters.

My noble friend who spoke first referred to the often-quoted speech made by Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons in May, 1905, and he referred to that speech as one which, in his opinion, was a very regrettable one, because it gave the impression that Mr. Balfour at any rate was content to rely upon the security given to us by a very powerful Navy. But criticisms of that kind—and they have have not been made to-night for the first time—are surely made by people who have not taken the trouble to read Mr. Balfour's speech with the attention which it deserves. I have more than once read that speech, and let me venture to insist again upon this that throughout his closely reasoned and cogent argument Mr. Balfour postulated that we should have a sufficient and powerful Army for home defence. That was the bedrock of his argument. Although it was not possible on that occasion for Mr. Balfour to give facts and figures, any more than it is possible for the noble Earl representing the War Office to do so this evening, Mr. Balfour did give very fully the arguments based upon the facts and figures which had been supplied to the Imperial Defence Committee, over which he presided with so much distinction. And, unless I am very much mistaken, Mr. Balfour, when he mentioned 70,000 as the minimum force with which any foreign Power was likely to attempt the invasion of this country, relied upon the advice of my noble and gallant friend upon the cross benches. Mr. Balfour was able to show that even at the time when the South African war had been some time in progress and we were most denuded of troops there was a considerable residuum of regular troops left in the country, besides a large number of Auxiliary Forces. He showed further Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Channel Fleets were employed in foreign waters, there could be made ready in a few hours six first-class battleships and six first-class cruisers, while there would be in commission in home waters twelve cruisers besides a number of gun-boats, destroyers, and torpedo-boats, irrespective of a large number of ships in reserve with nucleus crews. He therefore contended that even on the most unfavourable assumption there would yet remain available a very considerable naval force for the purpose of repelling an invasion. If the corresponding figures were to be taken for the time through which we are now passing, they would not be less favourable. I imagine that, even assuming our main fleets were away, we should yet have a very large force of vessels sufficiently powerful to engage with great effect the kind of flotilla that might be employed for the purpose of conveying an invading force across the sea that girds these islands. I hope, therefore, that I may assume that when my noble friend presses his views upon His Majesty's Government he is really preaching to those already converted, and that they have no idea either of diminishing the naval force available for the purpose of resisting invasion, or of neglecting the efficiency and strength of that home army with which an invader would have to reckon if he had effected a landing.

I wish to say one word as to what fell from the Under-Secretary when he told us that in his view the anticipation of a sudden invasion rested upon a theory of international treachery. The noble Lord quoted the Report of a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, which sat in 1883, and of which I had the honour to be president. Let me say at once—and I am not sorry to have an opportunity of saying it—that I must protest against the assumption that, because twenty-four years ago I committed myself to certain strategical views derived from the evidence tendered to us by witnesses, I am to be held bound to the same views in the year through which we are now passing. I say frankly that if I had to sit down and write a Report on the question of the Channel Tunnel to-day, I do not think I should write the same Report that I drafted in 1883.

The possibility of hostilities without a previous declaration of war is certainly one which I do not regard as having been disposed of be the Report which the noble Earl has quoted, nor does the evidence adduced in the remarkable compilation of Sir Frederick Maurice deserve by any means to be lightly put on one side. I certainly shows that the contingency of sudden surprises is one which ought never to be kept wholly out of mind. It is quite true that we can scarcely contemplate that at a moment when international relations are in no sense strained, when there is no outstanding difficulty between two great civilised Powers, one of those Powers would be at all likely to spring suddenly on the other. But there may, on the other hand, be periods of international tension when complications may supervene with great rapidity and when it is the duty of any Power that values its own safety to leave no precaution neglected. Therefore I am not at all disposed to neglect the possibility of what is sometimes called a bolt from the blue, or to think that ample precautions should not be taken to provide for such a contingency.

To my mind this debate is the more satisfactory because it has disclosed a certain consensus of opinion on both sides of the House to the effect that in this as in other cases you cannot separate the military from the naval question, and that it is the duty of those who are responsible for the safety of this country to see to it that in neither the one direction nor the other is any precaution neglected which might be necessary to secure the safety of these islands.


My Lords. I agree with the noble Marquess who has just sat down that we ought not, whether we are connected with the Army or with the Navy, to neglect the possibility of a sudden attack, and that we are bound, whether we are connected with the Army or the Navy, to take every precaution to secure ourselves against a surprise. I am sorry my noble friend opposite should have become a sort of mouthpiece of the alarmists and scaremongers who are so very prevalent at present. I think that in order to take up that position you must assume a perfect series of hypotheses to be true. In the first place you must assume that the sea is no longer the main defence of this country. Naval history shows that the sea has been our defence in the past, and I hope it will be the same in the future.

Then it has been assumed that foreign nations are anxious to attack us. At this moment we are in the most supreme agreement with all the great nations of the world. I do not think there is a shadow of difference between ourselves and them—certainly no difference that would be likely to lead us into war. Then my noble friend also has assumed what is certainly not the case now—that the Army is away. I think there is no doubt that at this moment the Regular Army is as able to defend our shores as ever it was. At this moment, if called upon, it would be prepared to pit itself against a raiding force and give a good account of itself. Then it is assumed that our fleets would be away. Certainly they are not away now. I cannot admit my noble friend's statement that the fleet is really at any impossible distance at all. Again my noble friend has entirely forgotten the fact that we have a very large force of destroyers and submarines all along the coast, which would be exceedingly awkward for an attacking fleet, or still more for a force of unarmoured vessels which were attempting to land troops on our shores.

My noble friend has said that our ships in reserve are not ready to fight and are not equal to those that would be brought against us. I do not quite agree with him. I think the average British ship, even a ship in reserve, would be quite equal to the ships that the Germans could bring against us. Still more will that be the case when the whole of the Home Fleet is organised as it will be in the course of the next six or eight weeks. My noble friend seemed to think that Continental nations had a monopoly of information, that they could know exactly what our condition is, whereas our own Intelligence Department was exceedingly bad. I dispute the fact. I maintain that our methods of getting information are as good as those of any foreign country, and that now our means of information are greater than ever, owing to the development of wireless telegraphy and the good system we have adopted of that great new invention.

I think my noble friend has not established his case. I think he should have proved that the hypotheses he put forward would be realised before he ventured to raise this question. I believe at this moment, at any rate, and, as far as we can see, for some considerable time, we may look our enemies in the face, if we have any—we may look foreign nations in the face and declare that we are only desirous to preserve the peace of the world, and that whilst we are determined always to be in a position to fight, if we are called upon to do so, yet, so far as we can help it, we shall always use our forces in order to keep peace and not to make war.


My Lords, I regret that the noble Earl is not going to give the information for which I asked. I disclaim any desire for the disclosure of secret documents, but it must be remembered that when Mr. Balfour made his statement he gave certain definite figures. I have shown, however, that the assumption on which Mr. Balfour proceeded as to the proportion between men and tonnage needs revision. This is one of the matters in respect of which official statistics should be given. Mr. Balfour's calculations also had reference to the amount of tonnage in French ports; but the figures which I have given in regard to German ports alter this factor likewise. I must adhere to my statement—that the effect of Mr. Balfour's speech has been regrettable. Those who are interested in recruiting for the Auxiliary Forces have found themselves met with the remark—"Mr. Balfour says the country will not be invaded; why should we serve?" I was unable to follow the answer I received as to the Volunteers, or how it is made out that we are in a better position with regard to Volunteers to-day than formerly. On the question of brigandage, we have been the chief brigands. In the list of those who have fought before a declaration of war we come second, with, I think, a total of thirty instances. We secured the fleet of poor harmless Denmark one morning, although we had no quarrel with the nation. The Dogger Bank incident took place when the Channel Fleet was as far of as it is to-day. At a great crisis the Fleet was two and a half days' steam from the East Coast. Our equality with the Germans could only be established by the speech we have heard if the assumption is that one Englishman is equal to two Germans. I am sorry to be included amongst the alarmists. It is my last wish to be an alarmist, but I view with grave anxiety the prospect that our Fleet, hampered by the want of a good Army behind it, will never be able to search out the enemy in the ports should we ever come to a war.


I do not rise to continue the debate, but to ask the noble Lord whether the House is to understand that the Motion he has put down is withdrawn.

LORD LOVAT assented.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at five minutes past Six o'clock till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.