HL Deb 20 June 1910 vol 5 cc926-32

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War, with reference to the proposed appointment of a Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, whether the next Colonial Conference will meet before 1911; whether His Majesty's Government will ascertain before that date, and before appointing a Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, if the self-governing oversea Dominions approve the idea of periodical inspections of their military forces by that officer; and, if they do not, how it is proposed that his time shall be utilised for the public services after the discharge of his services at Malta.


My Lords, the answer to the first part of the Question is that the next Colonial Conference does not meet before 1911. We were not proposing to ascertain before that date whether or not the Dominions approve of the idea of inspections. Our intention was to discuss that question at the Colonial Conference next year. That, we thought, would be the best opportunity of raising the question as to the advisability of making arrangements. We do not consider this particular question to be in any sense urgent, because, as noble Lords are aware, Lord Kitchener has only just completed his important tour of inspection in Australia and New Zealand, and Sir John French is at the present moment making an inspection in Canada. Therefore, so far as those Dominions are concerned, the question of making arrangements for the possible continuance of this kind of thing cannot be considered at all urgent. Consequently we did not propose to take any steps in the matter before the Colonial Conference meet next year.

But I would like to repeat what I said the other night so as to make it quite plain that, whatever may be the outcome of this, such inspections can only take place if invitations are given by the Dominion Governments concerned. That is the reply to the second part of the Question. With regard to the third part, we do not think that the future Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean and Inspector-General of the Oversea Forces will find any difficulty whatever in filling up his time before such arrangements, if they are made, come into force. There are, first of all, the duties that he has to carry out in the Mediterranean, and though, as we have already stated, we do not consider that they will take up the whole or anything like the whole of his time, yet they will undoubtedly fill a large part of it. His duties as Inspector-General of the Oversea Forces will occupy a considerable amount of his time, too. The principal places which he will have to visit are South Africa, West Africa, Bermuda, Ceylon, North and South China, Jamaica, Mauritius, and the Straits Settlements. Besides those there are a large number of smaller places; and, to give your Lordships an idea of the amount of time that this kind of inspectional work does take, I may mention that Sir John French left this country at the end of last year to inspect the troops in Ceylon, Hong Kong, and the Straits Settlements, and that those three inspections alone necessitated his absence from this country for nearly three months. Your Lordships will, therefore, see that this work will take a considerable amount of time. We have, as I have said, no fear whatever that the future Inspector-General of the Oversea Forces will find the fullest occupation of his time, at any rate up till the meeting of the Colonial Conference.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word in explanation of my reasons for putting down this Question. The point is that unless it is made absolutely clear that the General Commanding-in-Chief in the Mediterranean is only to visit the oversea Dominions at their request, I am afraid there may be some jealousy and apprehension aroused in those Dominions at the idea that the Home Government claimed anything in the nature of a right to send an officer out to the self-governing Dominions in the ordinary course. With regard to Lord Kitchener's visit to Australia, that visit, of course, was made by the request of the Australian Government, and I am sure they were very glad to see Lord Kitchener and to benefit by the very valuable report which he made; but I am afraid that they might take some objection to the idea that from time to time any officer might be sent out at the discretion of the Home Government with the view of pulling up the military tree which they had just planted to see whether or not it was growing satisfactorily. The noble Lord has told us that the time of the General Officer commanding would be very fully occupied in ordinary circumstances—that is to say, even if he does not have to go out and inspect the oversea forces. But surely it must make a very great difference whether or not it is part of his duty to visit Australia, Canada, or Africa. My object was to ascertain whether, supposing these self-governing Dominions do not want his presence, there will be sufficient occupation to fill up his full time, and, if so, how His Majesty's Government consider that he will be equally busy whether he has to visit the self-governing Colonies or not.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord has desired to make it even more clear, if that was necessary, that there could be no question of our sending from here any General Officer, however eminent, to inspect the forces of the self-governing Dominions except at their request. It is, of course, obvious to anybody who knows the conditions under which the Dominions oversea undertake their part in Imperial defence, that they reserve to themselves complete liberty both as to the character of the forces which they may think it desirable to have and also as to the training and equipment of those forces. But I think it is not less clear—and it became quite clear to us who were engaged last year in the Defence Conference which took place between the representatives of the self-governing Dominions and ourselves—that there is a real desire among them, so far as is possible under their local conditions, to attain uniformity of equipment and to a certain degree uniformity in the character of the forces of the different parts of the Empire. That being so, I think it is exceedingly probable that they will welcome, not so much perhaps "periodical" inspections, to quote the word which the noble Lord used, because that word looks rather as though we were sending out a man from here at fixed periods, but inspections at such times as they may by arrangement consider necessary in order, in the first place, to obtain the advantage of a first-rate military opinion on the spot, and also with a view to maintaining and preserving at any rate that partial, even if it cannot be quite complete, uniformity of training and equipment of which I have already spoken.

My noble friend, I think, dealt with the question of time. I should be quite willing, if it should be thought there was any advantage in doing so, to inquire of the Governments of the different self-governing Dominions whether they wish to discuss this question at once or whether they would prefer to postpone consideration of it until the Imperial Conference of next year. As my noble friend has pointed out, the matter is, in that point of view, not extraordinarily urgent, owing to the fact that the forces in Australia and New Zealand have had the advantage of being inspected by Lord Kitchener, and that Sir John French is now performing the same work in Canada; and, as regards South Africa, I have no doubt the South African Government would say that they wished to be more firmly seated in the saddle before discussing the question of their own national forces in such a manner. But, as I say, if it were thought desirable I should be quite willing at any time to put that question to the self-governing Dominions.

The purely military aspect of the question has been dealt with by my noble friend. I do not think that the difficulty which the noble Lord indicated is a very real one so far as regards the occupation of the time of this officer. As I understand it, he will be fully occupied as a rule in inspecting the oversea Imperial troops and the forces in the different Crown Colonies, but there would be a margin of time which, by arrangement, would from time to time render it possible for him, when on one of those tours, also, if he received an invitation from any particular self-governing Colony, to combine an inspection of their forces as well. It seems to me it would be a matter for friendly arrangement, and I should have thought that it would be easy enough to fit in from time to time, because nobody can suppose that these inspections in self-governing Colonies would have to be very numerous or frequent. It would not be difficult for him to fit them in in the course of one of the tours which he would, as an ordinary matter of duty, be taking for the inspection of the forces in those parts of the Empire which we administer from here. I think that is all I have to add to what my noble friend behind me has said.


My Lords, I am quite sure my noble friend's statement has made it clear that nothing will be done in this matter which will in any way hurt the feelings or invade the privileges of the self-governing Colonies. But I confess I think that the debate the other night left the position of the officer whom it is proposed to appoint in a most unsatisfactory condition, and as regards the discussion which has taken place this evening we are left in a very nebulous position as to what the functions of this officer are to be.

I would remind your Lordships that there are three points now under discussion. The first is, Does Sir John French require additional support in the matter of the inspection of garrisons which have to be inspected by him? His Majesty's Government hold that that is so, and in that case nobody, I am sure, would be more willing than your Lordships to supply or assist in supplying such inspection. Then comes the question whether this officer, who most of us would think is going to be sufficiently employed in Africa, is fit to undertake the inspection of forces in the self-governing Colonies; and the noble Lord the Under-Secretary added to the already unique functions of this remarkable appointment inspections in North and South China and also Bermuda, all of which, we understand, are to be undertaken by an officer who is to be resident at Malta, and who is to be Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.

I ask His Majesty's Government not to indulge in vague statements about development in the Mediterranean and matters of organisation, in respect of which we have no facts whatever or anything which will guide us, but to tell us frankly and fully whether this officer who is to inspect the whole of the world, and who may be called upon to spend time in Australia as well as in China and Bermuda, is going to command in Egypt and to be responsible as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean for the command of troops in what is not a British Colony but is still under the sphere of British influence? Is he to be responsible for commanding the troops at Malta and Gibraltar? If so, I would point out that the whole existing organisation of the Army is being overturned by which administration is left in one hand at the War Office, inspection in a second, and command in a third; and I plead for that distinction. If there is anything in the present arrangement it is to keep those three functions distinct. As far as I can understand, all three are going to be jumbled together in the vaguest fashion in order to keep up this appointment of Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, for which no man alive, except the spokesman of His Majesty's Government, can say a good word or find a reliable argument. I would ask that we should be told before this appointment is made, and not afterwards, whether this multifarious assortment of duties is to be continued.

Next we should be told—what I ventured to press His Majesty's Government for on Monday last—what were the duties assigned to the Duke of Connaught which he found it impossible to discharge to the advantage of the country, and what were the duties proposed to be assigned to Lord Kitchener which he found, in his judgment and with his experience, incompatible for a Field-Marshal to discharge. May I plead that we should have a little of that clear thinking of which we have heard so much from the Secretary of State for War, and that His Majesty's Government should put into language that your Lordships can understand the answers to what seem to me the very legitimate questions I have ventured to put.

No noble LORD rising from the Government Bench to reply,

VISCOUNT MIDLETON said: I would press the Under-Secretary to kindly give me an answer with regard to the undertaking he gave a week ago that he would consider what Papers could be laid.


The noble Viscount will remember that I undertook, the last time this question was raised, that I would communicate with him as to the Papers we could lay on the Table. I had hoped to be able to give him this information to-day. I trust within a very short time to be in a position to do so. I think we shall be able to furnish a good deal of what he wants, and to lay Papers which will define clearly what we expect this officer to do.