§ *VISCOUNT MIDLETON rose to call attention to the position of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief and High Commissioner in the Mediterranean; to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is intended to continue the appointment; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have been informed that within the last few minutes an answer has been given by the Secretary of State for War in another place which deals partially with the subject which I desire to submit to your Lordships' consideration. I understand that it has been stated that the appointment of High Commissioner in the Mediterranean, which it was announced nearly a year ago had been accepted by Lord Kitchener, is not now to be held by that distinguished officer, and that, although another officer will be appointed, the same title will not be given to the position. This announcement, though I am sure it will have been heard by your Lordships with regret in view of the great services of Lord Kitchener, by no means absolves me from the task of bringing before your Lordships the state of facts with regard to this appointment with the object of eliciting from the Government what their intention may be as regards the future, and, if possible, of placing before this House considerations which would make it impossible for the Government to renew an appointment which I believe to be in peace useless and in war a national danger.
§ The circumstances of the Mediterranean from a military standpoint are probably well known to all present, and I need not recapitulate them. Three years ago there were Governors of Gibraltar and Malta, men of high military rank, who were at the head of the Colonial Governments and the military establishment. We had in Egypt the Consul-General; we also had the commander of the British troops, who was responsible to the War Office, and the Sirdar, who was in close touch with the Consul-General, but who, being the Khedive's officer, commanded the native troops who were not under a British General. These arrangements, although in the case of Egypt they undoubtedly were arrangements of much delicacy, requiring great tact and judgment on the part of the officers concerned, I think I may say worked upon the whole smoothly and 844 without friction for a long period of years, and, owing to the excellent cable communication and the fact that nearly every year the high officials at Malta, Gibraltar, and in Egypt were in touch with this country and came here in the summer, there had really been no difficulty in adapting those arrangements to modern requirements.
But three years ago His Majesty's Government suddenly, and without giving any very specific reason, established a High Commissioner. The title is a very high-sounding one, but I confess that when one comes to look at the powers entrusted to that officer those powers fall ludicrously short of the title. I hope, my Lords, I may trespass on your indulgence for a moment to refer to these powers. I believe they have never been given to us as a Parliamentary Paper, but, as far as I have been able to trace them, they are contained in an answer given by Mr. Haldane on August 8, 1907, in which we were told that His Majesty's Government had decided to create a new Command in the Mediterranean, with headquarters at Malta. Then we were told that the force under His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, who had been appointed to the Command, would comprise the garrisons of Gibraltar and Malta and so forth, and that all matters of local military administration Would continue to be disposed of by the Governors of Gibraltar and Malta. The only portions of a long answer which refer to His Royal Highness are these—
His Royal Highness will be able to devote his attention to inspection and training, and to the consideration of questions of strategy and defence within the limits of his command.
Further on the Secretary of State for War said—
In regard to questions of policy which involve military considerations the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief and High Commissioner will be consulted by the representatives of the Foreign and Colonial Offices before they lay their views on such questions before their respective Departments.
§ Well, my Lords, that is not a very wide sphere of activity. I believe it will be felt by all who have had experience of military affairs that if you could isolate the Mediterranean and treat it as a place with four or five stations having little communication with home and a good deal with each other, and if you could, looking back to the Napoleonic days, imagine that communication with this country was sparse and 845 opportunities of exchange of opinion, and still more of the giving of orders on active service, were very difficult from headquarters, then, I think, it might be wise to place the Mediterranean and all its forces under one supreme head, to whom all could apply for the support which they might require in any emergency. But, my Lords, if you are to do that you must put the Navy as well as the Army under the High Commissioner. What is the use of putting a man to sit down at Malta when he cannot move a single ship or a single regiment without orders from home? If you are to treat the High Commissioner in the manner that I have suggested you would have to put him in the same position as the Governor-General of India in regard to the troops and the ships under his control in his Command. He moves them where he pleases. He accounts to one Secretary of State alone. But if you do not give those powers you really run the risk of duplicating duties and of complicating the whole machinery of action in case of emergency.
§ Now what was the position of the Duke of Connaught as High Commissioner? It is most important that we should look into this question in view of Mr. Haldane's answer this evening, because we are told, as I understand, that the new arrangements proposed on the change in the High Commissionership have fallen to the ground, and a fresh set of arrangements for a fresh official, who is to have fresh duties and fresh powers, is to be set on foot. I ask your Lordships to consider what those duties and powers can reasonably be. In the first place, I deprecate putting any man in the position in which the late High Commissioner was placed—a position in which he was responsible to three Departments and connected in his action with certainly one, if not two, more. The orders to the Duke of Connaught, if framed on the answer of the Secretary of State, meant that he was responsible on certain points to the Foreign Office, on others to the Colonial Office, on others to the War Office, and he was to act also in connection with the Admiralty. I do not believe that in the varied experience of all the high officials who are now sitting in your Lordships' House there is any man who has gone through such a penance as being responsible to four different Government Departments in Whitehall. Although he was nominally in charge and nominally 846 representing the Crown, so ridiculous was that position that even in that respect I have understood that the High Commissioner when present represented the Sovereign and the Governor of Malta claimed to represent the Sovereign when the High Commissioner was absent; and that, by a sort of Box and Cox arrangement, when the High Commissioner was present "God Save the King" was played in his honour, and when he was absent it was played for the Governor of Malta-These are small nuances, but they might conceivably lead to friction. The important point was whether the High Commissioner could co-ordinate all the forces in the Mediterranean if desired. He could not do anything which could not be done equally by the noble and gallant Field Marshal Lord Grenfell when he was Governor of Malta. He could not move a regiment from Gibraltar to Malta without consent and orders from the War Office. He could not move a gunboat from Malta to Cyprus, Crete, or Egypt without orders from the War Office—
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Without orders from the Admiralty, as the ex-First Lord, whom we are glad to welcome amongst us again, reminds me. He could not move a regiment from Cairo to Khartum without first consulting the Consul-General in Egypt and then obtaining orders from the War Office. If it were desirable I might pursue these regulations—the regulations I read out a moment ago—which prescribed that on all diplomatic questions which had a military importance His Royal Highness should be consulted by the Foreign and Colonial representatives before they made recommendations to their respective Departments. If such correspondence exists I shall be very interested to see it laid on this Table. I think it is extremely probable that that which I would venture to describe as a piece of padding in the Secretary's answer had some insignificance when it came to action.
Your Lordships will see that the result of all that is this, that the late High Commissioner had absolutely no work to do there at all except to inspect the troops within his Command. What were those troops? In 1904 there were scattered between Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Crete, 847 Egypt, and the Sudan under 22,500 British troops. Those troops have since been very considerably decreased. I am not founding any charge upon that, but as a matter of fact they have been reduced by about 5,000 men. The whole number in the Mediterranean, including Egypt and the regiment at Khartum, is now about 17,000 or less, and for inspectional purposes I cannot help remarking that those 17,000 troops have already got the advantage of being commanded by nine Generals. I have some doubt whether it is economically sound to add a Field-Marshal, with a Major-General on his Staff, solely for the inspection of these 17,000 troops who have already got such ample oversight.
Although I do not wish to introduce any side issues, I should like to make two or three remarks on this subject. In the first place, I hope it will not be inferred that we on this side view with equanimity the present size and strength of the force in the Mediterranean, and notably in Egypt. I trust that the strength in Egypt will meet with the attention of His Majesty's Government. I hope also, what I am sure by those who have served in Egypt wall be regarded as important, that if there is to be another officer in any way in control in Egypt it will be remembered that the present system under which one Brigadier-General, or Major-General paid as a Brigadier, commands the troops in Egypt is one which is not only inadequate but calculated very greatly to detract from the proper position of the General Officer commanding there. Of course, if it is argued that he is the locum tenens of the General Officer at Malta, some case would appear to be made out for the reduction. But to ask a man in one of the most expensive towns in the world to live in a house which requires at least £3,000 or £4,000 a year to keep up, to maintain the proper position of a General Officer commanding the British troops in a country which is held by British troops, and to give him about £1,000 a year to do it, does seem to me to be a most unwise condition of things, and the sooner we return to a position in which that officer is appointed because he is the very best man for the post and well worth paying to do a very difficult business, I think the better. I am not saying a word in derogation of the Commanding Officer in Egypt. I should like to see his status raised to an equality with his ability and his responsibility.
848 Another thing I ask is that in whatever appointment they make His Majesty's Government will have some regard to finance and economy. I know that when first the High Commissionership was set on foot the Secretary of State for War told a pleased House of Commons that no expense would be incurred by this additional post. We can all do a sum in subtraction. If you had 22,500 troops and you have now got only 17,000 you probably want fewer Generals and not more. I would point out again—it is a figure which I know has been one of embarrassment to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary—that in the incredibly short space of between four and five years the present Government, who took up Army Estimates of a little over £28,000,000 with the determination to immensely reduce them, have managed to reduce them by about £1,000,000 in all, but of the savings gained by reducing troops £500,000 a year goes in the payment of Staff Officers who did not exist before. I press that because the efforts of Government after Government have been brought to bear to decrease, if possible, the great expenditure on Staff, and if Staff is wanted for the many new purposes which this Government have set on foot, then I would ask that, where we cannot avoid making fresh and expensive appointments of this character, we should exercise all the economy we can. We know also on the Civil side, from a Paper which was placed before your Lordships a few days ago, that as a result of the legislation of this Government 1,200 new posts have already been created in the Civil Service, involving an expenditure already of £135,000 a year.
I think the point we come to at the close of the Duke of Connaught's régime is that, so far as the command of troops went, the High Commissioner found himself the fifth wheel of the coach; and, so far as the inspection of troops went, it seemed an inadequate use of military strength, and perhaps an inadequate recompense for past military service, to have asked the Duke of Connaught, who had been Inspector-General of the Forces at home, inspecting 200,000 men, to devote his whole time, to eke out his time as best he could, in inspecting and re-inspecting a body of troops who, in all, only make up two weak brigades and did not make up more than a Lieut-General's command. I do not think any of your Lordships will have been surprised that, 849 in these circumstances, the Duke of Connaught felt that he could not continue in the appointment with advantage to the public or in the satisfactory performance of his own duties.
We enter then on the second chapter of this rather remarkable story. On August 7 last year we were informed by an official communiqué of Lord Kitchener's acceptance of the appointment, and the wording of that acceptance is so remarkable that I would ask your Lordships' special attention to it. It ran—We are officially informed that Lord Kitchener, in conformity with the wishes of the Government, has accepted the position of High Commissioner and Field-Marshal Commanding-iii-Chief in the Mediterranean. He will have a seat on the Committee of Imperial Defence. In view of new developments in organisation, the Mediterranean Command assumes increased importance, and it will be taken up by Lord Kitchener with the object of giving it its proper place in the great scheme of Imperial Defence.Why the words "in conformity with the wishes of the Government"? Has anybody ever seen those words before in notifying to the Press a high appointment under the Government? Does not every high official accept his position in conformity with the wishes of the Government? We saw an announcement on Saturday of the greatest interest. I am sure your Lordships will have seen with great satisfaction that a most distinguished diplomatist has accepted the office of Viceroy of India in succession to Lord Minto. But we are not told that that was done in conformity with the wishes of the Government. We are left to assume that, though he gives up one post where he will be very much missed to take up another and a higher post, he has done so in conformity with the wishes of the Government. Without labouring the expression, one cannot help being driven by the announcement made to-day in another place to the understanding that this appointment was accepted by Lord Kitchener in conformity with the wishes of the Government but against his own wishes and against his own judgment. And I am sure that if your Lordships will follow the successive statements made as to his duties, their heterogeneous character, and the manner in which they are all jumbled together regardless of time, place, circumstance, or the powers of the human frame, you will have no wonder that Lord Kitchener should have hesitated and finally refused to assume them.
850 We were told that Lord Kitchener was to have a seat on the Committee of Imperial Defence. That Committee used to sit, and sits still I believe, weekly for many months in the year. It hears not merely written papers but oral evidence and discussion. It would be impossible for Lord Kitchener to have attended that Committee without being for many months in the year absent from his Command. It would be possible for him to have attended for many months and yet not to have been a party to, and not to have heard, some of the most important decisions at which that Committee might have arrived. I will leave the subject merely with this observation, that that Committee's work is not final. Their business is to advise and not to decide. The final voice lies with the Cabinet. But I think nothing can be more fatal to the interests of that Committee than, on the one hand, that men without official responsibility and who cannot be held accountable should be the advisers, and, on the other, that officers of high military or naval rank should be cited in support of conclusions which they have not had the opportunity of recording their opinions upon. That must have been the position of Lord Kitchener with regard to a large number of the conclusions of that Committee if, in the case of his Command, he had been invited to take his seat on the Committee of Imperial Defence.
A few days later Mr. Haldane made a further announcement. He said—The inspection of the Regular Forces throughout Africa and the giving of military advice to the local authorities were to be part of the duties of the Mediterranean Command.I have had the curiosity to look up what this really involves. It struck me, in the first instance, that the Mediterranean Command already involved a good deal of travelling. But here is a list of the stations which Lord Kitchener, engaged for some months in the year on the Defence Committee in London, was to inspect. He was to inspect Gibraltar, Cyprus, Egypt and the Sudan; he was to inspect British, South Africa, Nyassaland, Somaliland, and Uganda; Natal, the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and the Cape Colony; Mauritius, Gambia, the Gold Coast, Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. I said just now that the title "High Commissioner in the Mediterranean" is a high-sounding one, but this officer was to be High Commissioner not 851 only in the Mediterranean, but also in the Indian Ocean and in the South Atlantic, and instead of having his headquarters at Malta, he should have been accommodated with headquarters at Lake Chad. There seems to be confusion of thought in imagining that any man could have taken the part assigned to this distinguished Commander. But while we were feeling that a man who had already such wide oppotunities of travel and adventure was probably sufficiently seized of work in the interests of the Empire, the Secretary of State for War came down with a further bombshell. On September 15 last he announced that Lord Kitchener would be the President of the Selection Board, which meets monthly in London. Your Lordships are probably aware that on the decisions of the Selection Board depends the career of practically every officer in the Army. A man at a single meeting of the Selection Board is passed over or has his appointment decided against him and his career may be regarded as closed. I submit—and I say this with confidence that I shall be supported by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Lord Roberts—that there is no work done by the high officials of the War Office which demands such great care and attention; and I do think it is an extraordinary arrangement to ask an already overburdened officer to take the Presidency of that Board when he was bound to be absent for many months together on his other duties, and to exclude from it the late President His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, who had the absolute confidence of the Army, who had leisure and was in London, and who could perform the detailed duties which it was impossible for Lord Kitchener to find time to discharge. I do not wish to labour that point, but it does seem to me one of the most extraordinary questions that have arisen in the course of this controversy.
The conclusion to which I invite your Lordships to come is that, although it may be a matter of serious importance to relieve the Inspector-General of the Forces of the inspection of troops in Africa, although it may be well to appoint a man for that special task provided that he is not asked to interfere in the rather delicate arrangements of Egypt, there are grave doubts whether it is desirable that the time of a prominent Field-Marshal should be spent in going into all these smaller garrisons and absenting himself from headquarters to the degree proposed in the 852 Paper I cited a moment ago. I think it would be generally agreed that if it were possible to combine all this inspection work at headquarters and if it were necessary to unite it in a single individual, then that individual must have his headquarters in London and not in Malta. I think that some idea of that kind must have occurred to the Government themselves. Looking back at the notices of the appointment I endeavoured to detect, both in the language of the Secretary of State and in the language of those who justified it, some explanation of Malta having been seized upon as the headquarters. As regards the Secretary of State, he only said that—It is desirable that the problem of military defence, as a whole should he studied on the spot by officers of high standing and long experience who have time at their disposal fully to consider the questions involved.But the panegyrists of the Government went further, and pointed out that for one who had done much work in the East Malta was the place to rest. And a special panegyrist proceeded to say that—To an expert horticulturist like Lord Kitchener the gardens of the Palace of Valetta cannot fail to present an attraction.This is the only justification attempted for localising an official at Malta whose duties were to lie almost exclusively elsewhere. In all the long list of duties that I have detailed to you there is no increase of power given to the new High Commissioner as compared to the old. He can report and inspect, but he cannot move a ship and he cannot move a man. I am all for trusting the man on the spot, but he must be on the spot, and not on so many spots as he is supposed to be in this case. Most of the orders which he gave could be given with greater effect, because they would be given with greater consultation with the authorities at home, by the Chief of the General Staff sitting in London. It amounts to this, that if you are going, as I hope the Government are not, to resuscitate this Command in respect of the Mediterranean at all, you are going back to the days when the Command could be justified, as in the time of Nelson, by the absence of cable communication; but an appointment which was useful and desirable in the days of Nelson really becomes grotesque in the circumstances which I have stated to your Lordships. If the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, call him by what name you like, is to have no greater powers of moving troops and controlling the whole force than were 853 possessed by the Duke of Connaught or were proposed to be possessed by Lord Kitchener, I think that Malta should be left entirely out of consideration, and that an inspector for South Africa should be appointed. I do not think you have the right to put on any distinguished officer responsibility when you do not give him power; and if you are going to give the necessary powers I submit that it is impossible for any General Officer, however considerate and however careful, to avoid coming into sharp collision with the Governor of Malta, with the Consul-General in Egypt, and with the Admiral commanding on the Mediterranean Station, and every one will admit that it is highly desirable that all those contingencies should be avoided.
This appointment and the object of it leave us in perplexity. I personally am still tossing on the sea of doubt as to what can have induced the Government to change past conditions as they have done. We are this evening at this point. One eminent Field-Marshal has attempted the post and has vacated it; another eminent Field-Marshal has accepted the post and, apparently after long consideration in conference with the Government, has thrown it up. We have present this evening the late Consul-General in Egypt, than whom no man speaks in this House with greater authority, and we have the noble and gallant Field-Marshal who has commanded in Egypt and has also been Governor of Malta. I shall be surprised if either of those great authorities tells us that there is need for any change in the command of troops in the Mediterranean from that which existed a few years ago. If that be so, surely I have the right to ask the Government on what military authority they have been acting. Can they produce any Memorandum from the Defence Committee or from the Army Council showing the necessity of this supreme command? I think that one thing we want is continuity in military policy. We have got lately a certain continuity in Egypt, and since the days when commissioners used to be sent there on the smallest provocation we have certainly advanced enormously in that country. I submit that to disturb that progress by interpolating a fresh authority between the central authority and the Egyptian authorities is bad policy, and one which we ought to do our best to protest against in this new appointment.
854 It is for that reason that I ask His Majesty's Government to put us fully into possession of their views, and I would urge them to give us such Papers as they can to clear up this important question. I will, in conclusion, move that there be laid before this House any Memorandum of the Defence Committee or the Army Council establishing the necessity of appointing a High Commissioner in the Mediterranean; secondly, any Memorandum defining the duties of the late High Commissioner and the proposed duties of the new High Commissioner; and, thirdly, all correspondence between His Majesty's Government and Field-Marshal H. R. H. the Duke of Connaught, and between His Majesty's Government and Field-Marshal Viscount Kitchener relating to the duties and powers of the High Commissioner. I ask for those Papers in order that when the terms of the fresh appointment which the Government now speak of making are announced the country shall be able to judge whether it can be held with due consideration to the officer who may be appointed to it and with advantage to the Empire.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for—
- 1. Any Memorandum of the Defence Committee or the Army Council establishing the necessity of appointing a High Commissioner in the Mediterrancan;
- 2. Any Memorandum defining the duties of the late High Commissioner and the proposed duties of the new High Commissioner;
- 3. All correspondence between His Majesty's Government and Field-Marshal H. R. H. the Duke of Connaught, and between His Majesty's Government and Field-Marshal Viscount Kitchener relating to the duties and powers of the High Commissioner.—(Viscount Midleton.)
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I wish to make a very few remarks in support of the observations which have fallen from the noble Viscount. Every one, I am sure, would wish that the great talents and experience of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Viscount Kitchener should be utilised to the best advantage of the nation. But it may well be doubted whether the idea of utilising those services by appointing him to be High Commissioner of the Mediterranean is cither a wise or a happy one. We have, therefore, heard 855 without surprise, and I may say for my own part without regret, that Lord Kitchener is not to go to the Mediterranean. I hope that some other means will be found for employing that very distinguished officer.
In the first place, it appears to me to be a waste of power, and in the second place, I have never yet fully understood or appreciated the reasons which made this appointment necessary at all. If it is made, one of two results must always infallibly ensue. Either the High Commissioner will efface himself and do little or nothing—a position which no military officer of high standing should be asked to occupy—or, if this is not done, then the High Commissioner, if he begins to interfere, will almost certainly clash with the other political, naval, and military authorities in the Mediterranean. I should wish, moreover, to say that nowhere is friction more likely to occur than in Egypt. The powers it is proposed to confer upon the High Commissioner in respect to Egyptian affairs ought to be defined if the appointment is made, and I think, in practice, a definition will be found extremely difficult.
The relations between the officers commanding the British and Egyptian forces in Egypt have always been very delicate, and, like almost everything in that country, anomalous. From time to time they have caused a good deal of trouble, and if the arrangement which was made some few years ago now works fairly well, this is mainly due to the good feeling, tact, and judgment displayed by the officers commanding on either side. I do not say that the present arrangement is theoretically perfect, but it works well in practice. Why not leave it alone? What object is there in appointing a High Commissioner, who will really be the fifth wheel in the coach? There are in all conscience sufficient difficulties at present in Egypt, difficulties which it would be obviously improper for me to dwell upon at this moment, but as to which I will only say that, considerable though they are, they are by no means insuperable if the stern realities of the existing situation are recognised with adequate clearness and determination.
The truth is that amongst the many plagues which have from time to time 856 descended upon Egypt, the mania which at one time possessed all concerned to send either Special Commissioners or High Commissioners to that unfortunate country has not been the least. The disease broke out at a very early period of the Egyptian troubles. In 1881, the Turkish Government, with the consent of the British and French Governments, sent a special commission composed of two Pashas, to Egypt. This visitation was of very short duration, for no sooner had they arrived in Cairo than both the British and the French Governments exerted the strongest pressure to make them leave the country, and in a very few days these efforts were crowned with success. Then Lord Granville started a very peculiar, and I do not doubt original, idea. It was that in order to quell a mutinous army two Special Commissioners, one English and one French, who had been in the habit of studying economic questions, should be sent to Cairo. This proposal was at once scouted by Sir Edward Malet and the other authorities on the spot. They thought—and I think very rightly—that there was no distinct connection between economic science and mutinous armies.
The French Government then followed suit with a somewhat similar proposal of their own. They wanted to send two Generals as Special Commissioners to Egypt who were to have no executive authority, but were to advise. Again this proposal was providentially abandoned at the instance of the local authorities, who did not think that it was much use giving advice to a mutinous army which, for various reasons, had been lashed into a state of frenzy. Then followed the Dufferin Mission, which produced some very useful results; Lord Dufferin did admirable work. After that, General Gordon was sent as a Special Commissioner to the Sudan, and we all know the disastrous results which ensued from that Mission. Shortly afterwards Lord Northbrook was sent as a Special Commissioner to Egypt. He made a very useful Report, but inasmuch as his views did not tally with those of the Government of the day, it was put into the waste-paper basket. After that, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff and his Turkish colleague, Moukhtar Pasha, were sent as Special Commissioners to Egypt. They were to settle the whole Egyptian question, but they failed to do so. The only result of this Mission was to leave 857 behind it a damnosa hereditas in the person of a permanent Turkish Commissioner, whose presence in the country has not been of the smallest use to the Sultan, the Egyptian people, or to anyone else. Their Commission gave birth to another minor Commission which was intended to treat with the Mahdi, the only result attained being that it gave an admirable opportunity to that potentate to hurl a series of curses and anathemas at the heads of both the Sultan and the Queen of England. After that, the era of Special Commissioners and High Commissioners was fortunately closed, and though it may be only a coincidence, it is nevertheless a fact that simultaneously with the blight of Special Commissions being removed, the country began to revive and prosper.
I confess that, after the experience that has been gained, I look with some distrust and suspicion at a revival of the idea of sending a High Commissioner to Egypt. What is he to do when he gets to Cairo? Is he merely to report? In that case his appointment is quite unnecessary, for all the reports that may be required can be received from the authorities now on the spot. Is he to inspect? That is a military detail on which I cannot form any opinion, but in that case he ought to be called an Inspector. Or is he to have executive authority? In that case his appointment will be absolutely hurtful, for it is quite impossible that he should do anything without clashing with the other authorities on the spot, and producing confusion in the administration of the country. For these reasons I earnestly hope that after the very slight approval, if not condemnation, with which the proposal to send a Special Commissioner has been met by almost every one who can speak with authority on the subject, the idea will be abandoned. I feel convinced that if it is not abandoned the War Office will not only lay for themselves the seeds of a great deal of further trouble; they will not only waste a certain amount of public money, which might well be economised, but further, they will not attain any national objects sufficient to justify this new and, I think, somewhat unfortunate departure.
§ LORD GRENFELL
My Lords, the noble Viscount mentioned my name as an ex-Governor of Malta, and having had the 858 experience of command in Egypt and Malta I desire to support the Motion for Papers. I agree with every word which the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, has said, especially his remarks about High Commissioners. I was commanding the Egyptian Army at the time that these various Commissioners appeared. They always desired full information. We were then struggling with great difficulty to create an Army. We were taken away from our work, and it was very embarrassing sometimes to supply all the information required.
The noble Viscount has given the numbers and the strength of the forces in the Mediterranean. A large number of those are men who would not necessarily be inspected, such as hospital orderlies and men connected with the transport and other departments—not true fighting men. The total number of battalions of Infantry in the Mediterranean at present is twelve. There are two at Gibraltar, five at Malta, four in Egypt, and one at Khartum. It seems perfectly absurd to any soldier that an officer of high rank should be appointed with the sole duty of inspecting and supervising the training of these troops. Who are the officers in command of the Mediterranean stations? At Gibraltar there is Sir F. W. Forestier-Walker, an officer of longer experience than that of Lord Kitchener; at Malta there is Sir Leslie Rundle, whose name is well known in connection with the South African war; and in Egypt there is another very distinguished officer, although he is only a Major-General. If those officers with their many years' service are not capable of inspecting and training the troops under their command the sooner they are dismissed from the Army the better. In addition, there are other officers of the War Office who periodically inspect the Artillery and the Engineers, and the Inspector-General of the Army, I conclude, makes a visit there, as his duty is to inspect the various units abroad. Therefore these unfortunate battalions would be perpetually undergoing a system of inspection. The duties are very hard in Malta and Gibraltar, and out of this small number of troops very few probably would be seen by the inspecting officer.
May I say one word as to the position of the unfortunate Governors? In order that the sum necessary for the payment 859 of the High Commissioner might be produced, the salary of the Governor of Malta was reduced from £5,000 to £3,000 a year. He lost the Palace, which is really in Valetta the only place fit for the Governor, and he also lost the best of the Residences outside the city of Valetta. Two Generals were reduced, and a large number of the Staff; this was done, no doubt, to provide the necessary funds, so as to obviate any extra charge to the public in connection with the High Commissioner's salary.
The title, as the noble Viscount said, is a very high-sounding one, but I cannot conceive in what possible way such an appointment as that of High Commissioner can be of the slightest use whatever. On the contrary, fortresses must be self-contained, and I think my noble and gallant friend Lord Roberts will agree that two Kings of Brentford are highly dangerous. I should like to ask the noble Lord the Under-Secretary what will be the exact functions of this High Commissioner in war. Is he to be interned in a fortress, or is he to be placed somewhere where he can communicate with the forces by wireless telegraphy or airship? If he is interned in a fortress he can have very little influence over his command. The very fact that so distinguished an officer as the Duke of Connaught should have found that it was an impossible position might, of itself, have induced the Government entirely to reconsider the question of this appointment.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, there have been a number of questions asked in the speeches of the noble Lords who have spoken up to now, and I will do my best to answer them and to give all the information which can be given at the present moment. I am afraid that does not mean that I can answer every question that has been put, but such information as can be given I will lay before your Lordships. I have, to my great regret, to confirm the statement already made by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, to the effect that Lord Kitchener has now informed the Secretary of State that he does not desire to take up the appointment to the Mediterranean Command. It is, nevertheless, the intention of the Government to keep up the appointment. Ever since the growth of 860 our military organisation created the necessity for the post three years ago the Government have attached high importance to it, and at no time have they rated its importance higher than at the present moment when both recent and prospective developments in our military organisation render it, in their opinion, essential. The actual number of troops in the Mediterranean Command is by no means the only factor in the situation, but the noble Viscount will hardly expect me now to go into a discussion on that point, which is, after all, a question of policy which has been debated in numerous aspects at different times.
Our experience during the past three years has shown us that the real value of this appointment lies in its military duties, and we consider that the scope of these can advantageously be enlarged. This particular aspect of the case has for some time past been engaging the close attention of the Government, and though I am not able to give the House full information with regard to all the details, I can give certain definite points which will, I think, show some of the directions in which we propose to develop this post. We do not consider it necessary for the new Commander-in-Chief to reside in the Mediterranean for more than a portion of the year, and this Command will henceforward carry with it the inspection of all the military forces oversea, except in India—a duty at present carried out by the Inspector-General, Sir John French.
For some time past, especially since the creation of the Special Reserve and the Territorial Force, it has been becoming increasingly evident that the inspection of the troops at home is amply sufficient to occupy the time of the Inspector-General, and important duties have had to be set aside to allow him to carry out his oversea inspections. Therefore we have realised that if the duties of Inspector-General are to be efficiently carried out—and we attach very great importance to that—it is necessary that we should have one Inspector-General for our forces at home and another Inspector-General for our oversea forces; and this appointment, as we view it now, is going to enable us to have an Inspector-General for the oversea forces.
861 There is another possible development upon which, however, I cannot speak quite so definitely at the present moment. We anticipate so much benefit to the Dominion Forces from the visits of Lord Kitchener to Australia and New Zealand, and of Sir John French to Canada, that if, as a result of the next Colonial Conference, visits to the Dominions for the purpose of inspection and advice on military matters could be made more or less systematically by an officer of high rank and distinguished military service, we believe that they would produce most useful results. If this should be agreed to, the most appropriate officer to carry out this duty would, in our opinion, be the Inspector-General of the Oversea Forces and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. Then with regard to the question of the High Commissioner-ship, on which Lord Cromer spoke, we consider that in view of the importance of his inspectional duties generally, and the prolonged absence from the Mediterranean which these duties will often entail, it is inexpedient that the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean should continue to be styled High Commissioner.
No. The present conditions and the present responsibility will not be affected by any change we may make in this post. With regard to Papers, I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me for saying that I have listened to a number of speeches of his in this House, and it is his habit to terminate those speeches by asking for information on a number of questions, information a great part of which, were he in office and requests made to him for the same information, he would be the first to refuse. Therefore I am not prepared to agree at once to produce all the Papers for which the noble Viscount asks. I can, however, undertake that we will lay at the earliest possible opportunity the information which we can legitimately give.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, the noble Lord has gone into several matters, but has carefully avoided answering any of those points which were raised by my noble friend behind me. He has said that 862 the only alterations intended to be made are, first of all, that the title of High Commissioner is to be given up. But he has not said that any of the duties which it has been pointed out would be so dangerous, both for efficiency and discipline, are to be given up with the High Commissioner-ship. In addition to that, he has said that the inspection of all Regular troops outside the United Kingdom will be placed in the hands of this new Commander-in-Chief. That sounds a great deal, but as a matter of fact there are no Regular troops except in the numerous posts that have already been mentioned by the noble Viscount. The noble Lord, in his reply, has not dealt with this point, that at such a vital position as the Mediterranean you may have in time of war the man who is responsible not only for the posts in the Mediterranean, but for all the other posts in Africa, interned in a fortress and unable to take any part or to do anything towards the defence of those places for which he is supposed to be responsible. You will have in every single place two men responsible, able to shift the responsibility from one to the other, and in time of war you will have the one man whom you appoint to supervise the whole in all probability unable to take any part or parcel in the defence.
The whole question seems to me to be—What are the reasons why the Duke of Connaught refused to go on with the post and why Lord Kitchener accepted it and afterwards refused to go on with it? The noble Lord tells us that he will not, that he cannot, give us any Papers. Surely if we are to allow to go on this post which he says must go on for military reasons, we are entitled to know why the two military men who have had practical experience, one actually on the spot, refused to continue with what the noble Lord calls essentially military duties. Really we ought to press the noble Lord for Papers and for certain information. I would ask him whether he could not give to the House the communications, telegraphic or otherwise, that induced Lord Kitchener to accept this appointment, and, further, any reasons which Lord Kitchener may have given to the Secretary of State for War on his return from his tour in the Colonies for not continuing in the post which he had accepted. Are we to understand this, that the conditions made were found by Lord Kitchener on inquiry to be 863 detrimental to the Service as well as expensive to the State, or are we to understand that Lord Kitchener asked from you certain conditions which he considered essential for efficiency and for the maintenance of that part of the Empire, and that His Majesty's Government refused to give them? Those surely are points on which we are entitled to demand information from the noble Lord, and I do not think that we can be put off, as a good explanation of the situation, by his statement that the one thing that the Government are determined to do is to go on with the appointment but simply to drop the title of High Commissioner.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, perhaps I might say a few words in reply to what has been said from opposite. In the first place, so far as regards the greater part of the speech of the noble Viscount who introduced this subject, his attack seems to me to be somewhat belated. I think I am right in saying that he did not make anything like an organised protest against the appointment of the illustrious Duke to this post, and that during the time that His Royal Highness was holding that appointment all the considerations which the noble Viscount has pressed so strongly to-day in a speech of great ability did not seem to have occurred to him. If they did, he kept silence on the subject. The noble Viscount at that time had general information as to the terms of the appointment, and now that the illustrious Duke has ceased to hold it he comes forward and attacks the whole principle of the thing as from the first.
Neither was any demonstration of this kind made when it was announced that Lord Kitchener was likely to succeed His Royal Highness, and if the whole principle of the Mediterranean Command was so absolutely vicious as the noble Viscount and the noble Earl who has just sat down seem to think, I confess I do not entirely understand why a protest was not made before. The noble Viscount says we ought to have continuity in our military policy. Now, among the many qualifications for public life possessed by the noble Viscount his courage is conspicuous, but I must say that coming from him—one of 864 three Secretaries of State for War in a single Administration extending over two Parliaments, each so far as I know having held and announced, as I understand, entirely different conceptions of military policy—that observation displays even greater courage on the part of the noble Viscount than I should have credited him with.
My noble friend has stated that the post of High Commissioner is not to be continued. I admit that the appointment of a High Commissioner in the Mediterranean has always been an experiment, and we are not above profiting by the lessons of experience. I admit that, so far as there are any civil duties in the position which we were all very glad to see held by the illustrious Duke—so far as any civil duties attach to that office, it does not seem desirable in the particular circumstances to continue it. We all listened with interest to Lord Cromer's account of the various Commissions which from time to time have visited Egypt, and which he says have not always resulted in benefit to that country; but he will forgive me for saying that so far as the appointment we are now discussing is concerned, those reminiscences, though interesting, were not precisely relevant. It seems the title of High Commissioner is like a red rag to the noble Earl and other noble Lords opposite; but I may remind the House that a High Commissioner has exercised his functions in Cyprus for years past without anything very terrible happening. But so far as this particular military post is concerned, we quite agree that it is not useful or desirable to attach to it the special position which was held by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught.
It, of course, is a matter of regret to us that we shall not have the services of Lord Kitchener in this particular post. Unfortunately, at any given moment it is not always possible to find a particular post fitted for any eminent and distinguished public servant; but we do most fervently hope that the great qualities and the unique experience of Lord Kitchener will be held at the service of the country in some capacity or other, because we all feel that the great qualities he possesses should not be allowed to be wasted. The noble Earl who has just sat down asks in what way the position of this officer—the Com 865 mander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean as I understand from my noble friend he is to be styled—will differ from that which was held by former occupants of the office. My noble friend has stated that he is to be Inspector-General of the whole Empire, with the exception, of course, of India.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I do not think he said "Regulars," and if the noble Earl will reflect, he will see that what fell from my noble, friend about our hopes that there might be an Imperial inspection, if that should seem good, as I trust it may, to our great Dominions oversea, would not be in conformity with what the noble Earl supposes my noble friend to have said. It certainly does seem to me, assuming what has been said of the duties of the Inspector-General at home to be the fact, that he can hardly be expected to make a tour such as Sir J. French lately made; and I confess, speaking as a civilian, that it is a proper and rather attractive idea that all the oversea forces of the Empire should be under the supervision for purposes of inspection of one distinguished officer. The noble Earl who has just sat down said that those duties might so take that officer away from the Mediterranean itself as to make it possible that, in the event of an outbreak of war, he might not be able to conduct the defence of that part of the theatre of operations. That undoubtedly might be so, but still more might it be so if there were only one inspector for home and also for the overseas Empire. I may remind the noble Earl that speaking of the two great soldiers, Lord Kitchener and Sir J. French, they have at one moment both been very far away from where they might have been wanted.
I understand the military idea to be that the local administration will remain as it is now in the hands of the various officers commanding locally in the Mediterranean. From what the noble Viscount has said of the number of these officers, speaking as a civilian and not on behalf of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, there always has seemed to me to be a large multiplication of commands, and that is probably due to the fact that the Governorships of Gibraltar and Malta have always been given to eminent soldiers. I will not enter into 866 that at this moment, but it does so happen that these two Governments, both involving command of a small number of troops, have both been given to officers of high military rank, and the multiplication of which the noble Viscount spoke arises to some considerable extent from that fact. The functions, I suppose, of the Commander-in-Chief will be generally, in addition to inspection, to organise the defensive policy of our oversea forces, including, of course, the force in the Mediterranean. Part of those forces constitute, as I understand, the Seventh Division, and the general scheme of defence in which that Division might or would have to take part would be under the control of this distinguished officer.
As to the request—I might go further and call it the demand—for Papers made by the noble Viscount, I agree with my noble friend behind me that he can hardly be expected to say straight off that he will present all the Papers that have been asked for. Certainly we are anxious to give all the information that can fairly be given, but I should like to say two things. The first is that it is not usual, as nobody knows better than the noble Viscount, to lay Defence Committee Papers except in special circumstances; and in the second place, I should be very much surprised to find it otherwise than most unusual to publish correspondence giving the personal reasons why a particular officer has not seen his way to accept a particular appointment. I cannot recall any instance of the kind, and I greatly doubt if the noble Viscount can either. But subject to these general observations I am sure my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War will desire to give as much information as he can of the manner in which the idea of the Mediterranean Command was originally started and of the changes it has seemed to him and his advisers to make as the result of experience, and, so far as possible, in relation to the whole subject generally.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I cannot help thinking His Majesty's Government must be grateful to my noble friend behind me for the opportunity of offering to the House some explanation on this most puzzling and intricate subject. The speeches which have been made from the Bench opposite have thrown a little light, at all events, on the 867 future of the appointment which we are discussing. With regard to the past history of this remarkable, I might almost say this protean post, because it has undergone so many changes, I am afraid we shall never have much light thrown upon that. We are driven to conjecture what were the sources to which it owed its origin, but one thing will scarcely be contested—that is, that the latest phases of the affair are of a very extraordinary and of a very unsatisfactory character. Here you have a great military appointment invested with the utmost pomp and circumstance, highly remunerated, deemed worthy of tenure by an officer who is not only a Prince of Royal blood, but a soldier widely respected throughout the Army, and deemed worthy of acceptance by probably the most brilliant and conspicuous soldier at present on the active list—I need not say I refer to Lord Kitchener—you have this appointment resigned by the one officer because it placed him in an intolerable and impossible position, and refused by the second officer, after evidently much deliberation, on the ground that it is not one he can consistently with self-respect see his way to accept. The War Office has, perhaps, not been unused to rebuffs in the past, but I doubt if the War Office ever received a more tremendous rebuff than this during its long history.
It seems to me, I am bound to say, impossible to conceive that there should have been any real justification for the appointment as it was offered to and accepted by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught. Your Lordships will recollect that at the time when the Army departments were reorganised in 1904 a new appointment was created, that of Inspector-General of the Forces, to which great importance was attached. It was to be a check on the new War Office system; we were told that the Inspector-General of the Forces was to be the eyes and ears of the Army Council, and to be to the Army Council what the public auditor of a company is to the shareholders. The public, consequently, attached a great deal of importance to that appointment. The position of the incumbent of that appointment was perfectly intelligible, for his duties were duties of inspection pure and simple; no duties of command attached to the position. What happened? A new appointment was created, the appointment of High Commissioner and 868 Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. To the holder of that appointment were entrusted not only duties of inspection, but duties of command, and he was, moreover, placed in a position which brought him, as my noble friend said, under no less than five public Departments, to say nothing of the risk of friction between himself and various high officers in the Mediterranean. It became evident to His Royal Highness that the office as it then existed was not one in which he cared to continue and he asked to be released from it.
Then came the reconstitution of the office. What was done? The old confusion between inspection and command was continued, but matters were really made considerably worse, because, as my noble friend pointed out, new duties and new responsibilities were attached to the office. The High Commissioner was to have the new function of inspecting the whole of the African troops, and he was, besides that, placed on the Defence Committee and offered the post of President of the Board of Selection. One naturally asks oneself why, if those were to be the duties offered to Lord Kitchener, it was necessary to station him at Malta at all? Malta is obviously not the most suitable centre for such numerous activities. No one, I think, can be very much surprised that, though Lord Kitchener is a man of boundless courage, his courage failed him when he came to consider the possibilities unfolded by this most remarkable post. We have had really no explanation—I do not think we ever shall have an explanation—or sufficient defence of the manner in which the office was constituted or of its attributions either when it was offered to and accepted by the Duke of Connaught or when it was subsequently offered to Lord Kitchener. So much as to the past; not a very satisfactory past I venture to think.
What matters much more is the future of the appointment, and as to that I am bound to say that so far as we have been able to follow the statements made from the Bench opposite, His Majesty's Government have at last come to see clearly that it is necessary fundamentally to alter the whole complexion and character of this post. It is idle to talk of it as a continuation of the same office. It will be a different office with even a different name. What I really understand is now 869 admitted by His Majesty's Government is that the sphere of operations assigned to the Inspector-General of the Forces is so extensive that it has become necessary to make an arrangement by which some other highly-placed officer will relieve him of part of the work which has up to the present time fallen on him. The new Commander-in-Chief—and let me say, in passing, that I rather regret that the title of Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean is still retained, because it perpetuates the old confusion between duties of inspection and duties of command—is to have the inspection of all the forces overseas, with the exception of India.
I qualified that by saying if it was arranged. That would be, of course, to a certain extent a matter of subsequent arrangement, and I qualified that by saying that possibly as a result of the next Colonial Conference arrangements might be made for systematising it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am glad to have elicited that explanation, because I did not quite catch the qualification. I am glad the qualification has been made, because I can imagine nothing more unfortunate than that the Canadian and Australian Governments should read of this proposal for the first time in the Press of this country.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I think I made the same qualification. I think I said it was for the Dominions themselves to say whether they chose to join in with the arrangement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I therefore will assume that the Dominion Governments will be fully consulted before any step committing His Majesty's Government is taken. Upon the whole, therefore, it does seem to me, if I may quote the words used by the noble Earl opposite, that His Majesty's Government have not been above profiting by the lessons of experience. I think the experience has been unfortunate, 870 but it has also been instructive, and I am glad the lesson has been learned.
One word more: I do hope His Majesty's Government will take to heart what my noble friend behind me has said as to the necessity of avoiding the needless multiplication of these high military and other appointments. These are surely days when some regard, the utmost regard, should be paid to economical considerations, and it is a little remarkable that the record of His Majesty's Government in this matter should be that which my noble friend behind me has given to the House.
The only other observation which I will make is this. I can quite understand that there should be some Papers connected with this subject which His Majesty's Government may not desire to produce. On the other hand, it does seem to me that we are entirely justified in pressing for the production of documents which will at any rate put the House fully in possession of the precise terms upon which this important military office will hereafter be held. The noble Earl must be aware that at the time of the great reorganisation of the Army Headquarters Staff Papers were laid giving with the utmost detail the duties assigned to the heads of each of the great Departments; and in the case of an office such as that which we are discussing, and it is evidently destined to be quite one of the most important posts in the whole Service, I think the public is entitled to know exactly what duties it is intended to entrust to the official selected and what will be the precise scope of his activities. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will endeavour to lay on the Table of the House at any rate some documents giving the kind of information for which my noble friend has asked.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, before the Motion is put from the Chair, might I have the indulgence of the House to ask whether the last proposal, at all events, of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne will be accepted? We have not got, so far as I am aware, the terms on which the Duke of Connaught held the appointment, and so far from my not having gone beyond what is usual in asking for this information I believe there is no precedent for such an appointment having been made without the terms and duties being laid on the Table of the House. I contend that the terms of these two 871 appointments ought to be laid before Parliament, and should have been laid at the time. Accepting the noble Lord's promise that all other Papers which can properly be given on the subject will be laid before Parliament, I would venture to ask that at all events the Memorandum describing the duties of the late High Commissioner and the proposed duties of the new High Commissioner should be given to the House.
My Lords, I do not like to trust my own knowledge on these matters against the infinitely greater experience of the noble Viscount opposite, but I was under the impression that as a rule the actual terms under which a Command of this sort is held are not made public. The noble Marquess referred to the case of the reorganisation of the War Office. That was a slightly different case, because the actual terms were embodied in the successive Reports of the Esher Committee, and it was in that form that they were given to the public. However, if the noble Viscount is right and I am wrong in that, I am sure there will be no difficulty in following precedent and making public the terms of this appointment. I will undertake to lay the noble Viscount's contention before my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, and if it can possibly be done the terms of the appointment shall be made public.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I will withdraw the Motion as now moved. Perhaps the noble Lord will kindly look into the matter and confer with me as to the form the Motion should take.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.