HL Deb 20 July 1908 vol 192 cc1333-5

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies a Question of which I have given him private notice, and which I understand it will be convenient to him to answer to-day—namely, whether His Majesty's Government adhere to the declaration recently made by the Secretary of State for War in the House of Commons that no further reductions of the Regular Army are in contemplation.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount for having given me private notice of his intention to ask this Question. The statement made by my right hon. friend in another place to which I imagine the noble Viscount alludes, was as follows, A Question was put to my right hon. friend in the following terms— I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether it is proposed to make any further reduction in the establishment or strength of the Infantry of the Line, and, if so, whether it is proposed that such reduction shall be effected by destroying additional units or by reducing the number of officers and men in existing units"; to which my right hon. friend replied— No, Sir. My reply to the noble Viscount is in the affirmative, but at the same time the circumstances under which the Question is asked I think make it desirable that I should say a few words in explanation. The noble Viscount's Question is in itself a somewhat unusual one, because it has relation to the Army Estimates for the year 1909, and is asked on 20th July of this year. I conceive that his reason for asking it is the existence of certain rumours and talk which have to some extent reached the newspapers, and which have been prevalent of late. Now political small talk and what Lord Beaconsfield called coffee house babble, are very apt to concentrate on one office at a particular time. The noble Viscount himself has had some experience of that. At one time it may be the India Office. At another time it may be the Admiralty. At this moment it happens to be the War Office. Sometimes there is foundation for talk of that kind; sometimes there is not much foundation. I think it would be desirable in the public interest that I should state to-day what actually has happened in this case. What has been going on has simply been an ordinary inquiry into general expenditure, not confined to one Department, such as all Governments are bound to make from time to time. There is an especial reason why, in view of the autumn session, which, as noble Lords have so often said, with our agreement, makes concentration on anything except the session itself difficult in the autumn months, an inquiry of that kind should begin this year earlier than usual. That is all that has occurred. Therefore I am not able to say anything further on the subject. But I would like to add, in conclusion, that we are as alive as noble Lords opposite to the needs of the defence of the country, and I think that it will be found that we have devoted quite as much attention to that subject as, if not more than, any Government which has existed before our time. It is perfectly true that we are bound in the matter of the spending services to study economy as far as we can; but we certainly do not intend to sacrifice efficiency for that economy.