HL Deb 06 March 1911 vol 7 cc290-302

THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH rose to call attention to the discrepancy between the views expressed by the Secretary of State for War and those expressed by the Admiralty in a publication entitled "Compulsory Service," and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to state what is the present official view in regard to the functions of the Territorial Army.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships to consider for a very short time this book entitled "Compulsory Service" and its treatment of some of the most serious questions of military defence, I confess that we all labour under one very great disadvantage. We had a discussion last week as to the propriety of the form of this particular publication, and I confess that I share very much the feeling which was then expressed by my noble friend below me, Lord Camperdown, that it is difficult to know how far this publication is official and how far it is not official. The Order in Council which regulates the business of the War Office very closely associates-I think I might almost go as far as to say identifies—the Secretary of State with the Army Council. There is, therefore, this great advantage that the public naturally presumes that the policy of the Secretary of State embodies the opinion of his military expert advisers. There is, however, a clause in the Order which enables the Secretary of State to reserve for his own decision any matter, of whatever kind, at his own discretion. I should like to point out how this bears upon this special form of publication. If the Secretary of State had merely expressed his own opinion the natural inference would have been that he was speaking in accord with the Army Council. If the Secretary of State had issued this publication in the form of a Memorandum emanating from the Army Council there could have been no ambiguity at all in the matter. But neither of these courses has been adopted. This publication—a very able publication, no doubt—has been issued independently of the Army Council.


Hear, hear.


It contains a Memorandum by a very distinguished officer, Sir Ian Hamilton, who is not a member of the Army Council, and that Memorandum is accompanied in this book by an expression of agreement on the part of the Secretary of State. I do not think it is at all necessary that I should this evening occupy your Lordships' time in considering the points of the discussion last week. I am not concerned to-day with the question as to the convenience or the inconvenience, the propriety or otherwise, of publishing Notes such as appear in this book under the heading "Admiralty Notes" by Sir Arthur Wilson. I do not think I should be speaking unfairly if I said that these Notes partake very largely of the nature of professional advocacy, because they were prepared to assist the Government in a debate which Lord Roberts intended to raise in the autumn of last year, but which, as your Lordships know, owing to the pressure of more important matters, Lord Roberts postponed if the First Sea Lord really desired the publication of the Notes, and was fully prepared to stake his professional reputation, as no doubt he has done, upon them, I do not think it is necessary to say any more on the matter, but, in the public interest, I respectfully dissent from the course which the First Sea Lord has pursued.

But this is not a personal question respecting the First Sea Lord. There is a question of the public interest involved. A book of this kind—I am sure His Majesty's Government will realise the fact—published with the direct support and assistance of one of the most distinguished and important members of His Majesty's Government, cannot be set aside as a purely unofficial and irresponsible document. On the other hand, if the Secretary of State adopted this certainly somewhat unprecedented form of advocacy with regard to a particular policy in order to refute those who differed from him, the inference naturally and reasonably is that the judgment of the Army Council does not coincide with the judgment of the Secretary of State. And for this reason, my Lords. If the views upheld in this book were shared by the military members of the Army Council it is inconceivable, it seems to me, having regard to the use which has been made of Sir Arthur Wilson's Memorandum, that the Secretary of State would not have supported his unprofessional judgment by the professional judgment of his military advisers.

I should like to allude to the extraordinary way in which the arguments in this book are wrested from the facts in order to advocate the special views contained in the book. The Secretary of State, in his Memorandum, endorses the opinion of "Master Mariner," an anonymous writer in a contemporary magazine, and describes him as an expert seaman. I do not know who "Master Mariner" is, but I presume that in this respect the Secretary of State has some special information, because he specifically refers to him as an expert seaman. This principle of anonymous writing has been carried to a very great extent. Your Lordships will remember some extremely able and powerful letters which were published in The Times over the signature of "Pacificus." I guarantee that the country supposed that those letters, published as they were in the largest type and given the greatest possible prominence, were written by some Statesman or someone who had great experience in the serious affairs of State. I do not wish to depreciate those letters, but as I think is known to many of your Lordships they were written by a very able young literary man who, so far front having had any experience of affairs of State, is a prominent member of the firm of Debenham and Freebody. When an anonymous letter in a magazine is seized upon by the Secretary of State and the writer of it described as an expert seaman, we ought to know who that expert seaman is.

To refer for one moment to the arguments used by this expert seaman. He calculates that an invading force of 70,000 would need 150 vessels of sorts, or about 200,000 tons of shipping. It is almost incredible that an invading force would desire to use a lot of old tramps. Take the case of two great German lines. The Hamburg - Amerika line could furnish a tonnage of 200,000 with thirteen steamers, and the Norddeutscher Lloyd could furnish a tonnage of 200,000 with fourteen steamers, and when this had been done both lines would still have ocean-going steamers representing a very large tonnage. I mention this because it seems to me to show in what an extraordinary manner facts have been wrested out of their natural consequence in order to build a case against compulsory service. But it is not so much that I want to allude to compulsory service as to show, as I hope I have shown by referring to this case, how ill considered and loosely thought out a great many of the arguments in this book are. I defy anybody, having read and studied this book, to feel otherwise than completely bewildered as to what are to be the functions and duties of the Territorial Force.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to make two or three quotations from this book. The Secretary of State, in his introduction to the second edition, makes use of this language— It has been closely considered in the Defence Committee, and the answer is that if the invading force exceeds 70,000 men the operation has no chance of success. Then all that has to be done is to provide against a force of 70,000 men. For the fulfilment of this purpose the Territorial Force is being organised. That would appear to coincide with the statement that was made by the Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Committee of Imperial Defence about two years ago in the House of Commons, when he said that it was the business of the War Office to provide under all circumstances against a possible invasion of 70,000 men. Then, again, if you turn to Sir Arthur Wilson's Memorandum at the end of the book, what do you find In summing up his conclusions Sir Arthur Wilson makes use of these words— Taking all those facts into consideration, the enemy would probably decide, as the Admiralty have done, that an invasion on even the moderate scale of 70,000 men is practically impossible. I ask the War Office, How is it possible to reconcile those statements? The fact is that this book, which was compiled with the object of destroying the case for compulsory service, has had and is having a very different influence. In the first place, in this book we find given by its writers a complete answer to the charge, which has been made against compulsory service, that a nation in arms encourages a spirit of Jingoism and militarism. What does Sir Ian Hamilton himself say in this book? He says— Compulsory service is less aggressive, less of a danger to the world at large, seeing that by its very nature it is a weapon that cannot be lightly used… Under voluntary service the majority of the nation pay for war, not with their persons, but with their purses. For this very reason the bulk of the nation views war with a less tragic regard, and is encouraged to run considerable risks in home defence rather than abate by so much as one square mile of barren waste their Imperial pretensions. I do not think you could have a stronger and more forcible argument titan is contained in those words by Sir Ian Hamilton that compulsory service is not associated with, but is really an enemy to, undue military aggression; and if this book has served no other purpose, it has served a great end in the admission which it contains, on military authority, that when all have to fulfil a national duty a nation is steadied and not excited, and is less a prey to those ignoble passions which the unscrupulous politician and journalist can play upon for their own purposes.

But if I must express some gratitude for the publication of these opinions of Sir Ian Hamilton, I cannot see what conceivable advantage can be gained by taking, as this book does, all heart out of the patriotic movement for home defence. Remember that upon that spirit rests the strength and development of the Territorial Force. If in a publication bearing the support of the Secretary of State it is openly declared by the First Sea Lord that an invasion is not practical, you certainly are pouring, in the most effective way possible, an extinguishing dose of cold water upon that warm and patriotic spirit which, under your voluntary system, you have not only to invoke but to keep alive if you wish your Territorial Force to exist at all. Presumably it is desired that the matter of home defence should be, so to speak, shut up in watertight mental compartments to suit political convenience. Is the argument that the Navy is all-sufficient a good and a sound argument and the proper weapon when you have to make a case against compulsory service? And is this same argument that the Navy is all-sufficient to be put on the shelf when you are urging employers and employed to join the Territorial Force? I only ask this evening that the mental confusion which this book has produced should be cleared up by some statement on the part of His Majesty's Government. It is only fair and reasonable that we should have stated with some precision the conditions and the purpose of the Territorial Force. We want some clearness of aim and some clearness of purpose. I therefore beg to ask His Majesty's Government if they are in a position to state what is the present official view in regard to the functions of the Territorial Army?


My Lords, I confess that I find some difficulty in extracting from the speech of the noble Earl the particular discrepancy to which one gathered from the form of his Question his speech was going to be directed to prove. I understand that his position is that he finds in the Admiralty document which has been laid on the Table of your Lordships' House a statement that—to quote his own words—the Navy is all-sufficient for the purpose of guarding these shores against any possibility of raid or invasion. I would like to ask what kind of a speech the noble Earl would have addressed to your Lordships if on the strength of that document alone we were to come here and say that we were prepared to cease to take any kind of steps for home defence from a military standpoint. Is there to be read into that Admiralty document anything which will justify us in the view—and that, after all, is what I understand the noble Earl tries to make out—that home defence from a military point of view is henceforward redundant? Does he really think that we could use the statement contained in that document as a pretext for disbanding our home defence Army? I must say that I was surprised to hear a view of that sort emanating from the noble Earl, because he himself has often, when sitting on the front Ministerial Bench, explained to your Lordships the cardinal principles of home defence as we understand them.

If I may be pardoned for taking up your Lordships' time, I will restate these principles as shortly as I can. The object of maintaining a military force in this country for the purpose of home defence is to make an enemy who contemplates the invasion of this country come in sufficiently large numbers that it shall be impossible for him to elude the Navy. That is to say, the enemy would have to provide so large a flotilla of transports as to give a sufficiently large target that it would be impossible for the Navy to miss him. If I may express it in another way, I will take the figure that has been given to your Lordships before now—to a certain extent it is a hypothetical figure, but it is a figure that has been agreed upon-70,000 men. It is the Army's business to render invasion by a force of less than 70.000 men ineffective, and it is the Navy's business to prevent an invading force of more than 70,000 men reaching these shores. Is there anything contained either in my right hon. friend's preface to the book under discussion or in the Navy Memorandum which is in the least inconsistent with that position? The Admiralty document states that they consider that an invasion on the scale of 70.000 men or more is practically impossible. So much the better. We know that the smaller the force which attempts to reach these shores the more difficult it is for the Navy to intercept them. Therefore, if the Navy is sufficiently strong to reduce the number of the invading force to less than 70,000, and if, on the other hand, our military preparations are adequate, as we believe they are, to repel a force which is not more than 70,000, all requirements are met. As I have previously pointed out, when the Expeditionary Force has left this country, we should have remaining 422,000 men, of whom 100,000 would be Regulars. If, then, the Navy can prevent a force as large as 70,000 from raiding these shores, and the Army is competent to deal with a force of at least 70,000, that gives you no in- consistency, but only a certain amount of overlapping in the safety required. If the position has changed in any way—and I do not: think anything published in this book has changed the position in the least bit—it is that the margin of safety is ample; but to say that the Territorial Force is not required, as I understood the noble Earl to argue from this Memorandum—


I do not want the noble Lord to misrepresent me by saying that I desired to see the Territorial Force abolished. The point is that, we have it now stated, on the highest authority, that 70,000 men cannot land.


That is not so. The words are that it would be "practically impossible."


Well !


That is not saying that it is impossible. There is nothing in the Memorandum which alters our military position in the slightest degree, nor is there anything in it which detracts from the vital necessity for the safety of this country of maintaining the Territorial Force as it is maintained at the present moment. Therefore the functions of the Territorial Force remain exactly as they were stated by the noble Earl in this House, and as we have frequently stated them since. First, it is necessary to have a Home Defence Force for repelling small rails. Secondly, it is necessary to have this force in order to make the enemy, if he contemplated serious invasion, come with a force of not less than 70,000 men. The third function of the Territorial Force is contained in Section 13 of the Act, under which His Majesty may accept the voluntary offer of units or of members of the force to serve outside the United Kingdom. Those are the functions of the Territorial Force, and they have remained unchanged ever since the force was first instituted.


My Lords, put quite shortly I think that the reply of the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War may be condensed into the following proposition—that the Territorial Force exists as a sort of bait for the purpose of drawing 70,000 men to this country who are thereupon to be annihilated by our Navy. I do not care in the least whether the publications which have been alluded to this evening are constitutional or unconstitutional, regular or irregular. Personally I welcome them with enthusiasm, because they show most obviously the straits to which the Secretary of State for War is reduced in the endeavour to manufacture a case against compulsory service.

It is perfectly easy to see what occurred. The Secretary of State for War went to Sir Ian Hamilton and obviously said to him: "Things are getting very awkward. Lord Roberts and his friends are making considerable headway. Clear thinking does not seem to go down as well as it used to; in fact, I am rather gravelled for argument. Now I have done a great deal for you. I have boomed you in the House of Commons, and my Under-Secretary has boomed you a good deal in the House of Lords. Suppose you do something for me. Suppose you write a book to back me up." And I presume Sir Ian Hamilton replied: "It is rather awkward for me to do this, because not so very long ago 1 think I gave vent to a good many expressions in favour of universal compulsory service. But I will tell you what 1 will do. I will write a book and describe the sort of thing that nobody wants and that nobody proposes to introduce into this country, and I will show how very undesirable it is. After all, I can construct an imaginary bogey as well as anybody else and knock it down." Sir Ian Hamilton thereupon produced his book. He did his best for the right hon. gentleman, and a very poor best it is.

But the Secretary of State for War, nothing daunted, then falls back on a fresh expedient. He evidently goes to the First Sea Lord and says to him, more or less in the same language: "These compulsory service people are extremely troublesome. I have turned on Sir Ian Hamilton, but still they go on adding to their numbers and their arguments seem getting stronger. Now I want you to do something for me." I suppose that Sir Arthur Wilson replied very much in the same kind of way. He probably said: "Well, I am only a simple seaman. I don't understand very much about this kind of thing, but if you are very anxious for me to oblige I will tell you what I will do. I will write a preface or something of that kind, and I will assume that all the sense is on one side and all the ignorance on the other, that all the principles are on one side and all the want of principles on the other, and then I will show that, in these circumstances, we have nothing to be afraid of; and in order to do the thing thoroughly I will put at the end of my Memorandum the initials ' A. K. W.,' and you will be able to use it in any way you like. It can be official, or private, or semi-official, or demi-semiofficial."

Nobody has admired more than I have the continual ingenuity of the present Secretary of State for War. He did what I think no other politician has ever succeeded in doing—he obtained the services of his political opponents on his own behalf; he even turned a sensational play into an advertisement for the Territorial Force; and he very nearly succeeded in persuading the whole of his countrymen to join in a general supplication to Heaven on behalf of this portion of the task in which lie was particularly interested. But I do not know that he has attained much success by this last expedient of employing distinguished naval and military advisers in the character of electioneering pamphleteers. I may be wrong, but personally I never attach overwhelming importance to the isolated opinions of these naval and military advisers. It always strikes me that "advisers" is hardly the right term to use, because these professional gentlemen are really the satellites of their Parliamentary chiefs, and if they presumed to differ from their Parliamentary chiefs it is quite clear to me that they would very soon cease to be "advisers," and would have to look out for something else to do. They are, in fact, only advisers so long as they agree with the policy of their Parliamentary chiefs. If they were allowed to issue Minutes disagreeing with their political and Parliamentary chiefs, we might pay considerable attention to what they say; but, of course, that is a phenomenon which we never by any chance experience. In this particular case I am not in the least impressed by these two isolated authorities, because it is perfectly plain that, whatever their own personal opinions may be, they are at variance with the opinions of the enormous majority of experts, whether they be military or naval, who are in the British Service.


My Lords, I did not know when I came down to the House this evening that the advice which was given by "Master Mariner" to the Secretary of State for War would be referred to. The difficulties of invasion are very great, but that is no reason whatever why they should be exaggerated. "Master Mariner" has manifestly exaggerated the difficulties. He assumes that an invading army would bring with them everything that an army could possibly want. We often see advertisements concerning things which we are told "no traveller should be without," but those are generally the things which a wise traveller leaves behind. "Master Mariner" assumes that an invading army would bring with them all-the necessary wagons and horses. What they would bring with them would be plenty of ammunition and also harness for the horses which they would procure on arrival in this country; and after they had landed but a very short time the enemy's Cavalry would be as well horsed as the Territorial Artillery is at the present moment. The amount of tonnage that an invading force would require would not be more than one ton per man. It would be interesting if we could know how much tonnage per man was employed by the only successful invaders of Great Britain, Julius Cæsar and William the Conqueror. Men in our days are no bigger than they were then and there has been no change in their requirements, and I venture to think that a soldier in the time of Cæsar carried about as much as the modern soldier. There is, however, one grain of comfort in what Mr. Haldane said concerning the advice of "Master Mariner," inasmuch as he declared that his War Office advisers did not agree with "Master Mariner" on all points. As I have said, the invasion of this country is an extremely difficult problem, and the difficulty of invasion increases in a greater proportion than the number of men employed—for instance, it is far more than twice as difficult to bring 100,000 men than to bring 50,000 men and so on—but that is no reason why the difficulty should be exaggerated.


My Lords, I think your Lordships must have congratulated yourselves afresh this evening upon the fact that the absence of any rule of order in this Assembly permits of a number of speeches upon subjects not directly connected with the one immediately before the House. We have heard comparatively little of the discrepancy mentioned by the noble Earl in his Question on the Paper. On the other hand, we-have had an interesting little speech from the noble Lord who has just sat down, from whose first words I had hoped we were going to discover the author of the article signed "Master Mariner." Then we had one of those brilliant flights of imagination from Lord Newton to which we are accustomed in this House. He told us he had not very much faith in these advisers of whom we hear a good deal. I am not surprised, because I think he belongs to that small band of members of your Lordships' House, headed by the noble Duke (the Duke of Bedford) on the Back Bench, who think that the only possible defence for this country in time of war will be an Army which shall consist of nobody but colonels of Militia, and that this Army, consisting of colonels and commanded by colonels, will be amply sufficient to repel any force which might reach this country. The other subject, the authorship of the letters signed "Pacificus," I do not think it is necessary to trouble your Lordships with on this occasion, as we are expecting an important debate on a very different topic to follow. I will, therefore, content myself by briefly stating the position. The Admiralty view is that an invasion with even 70,000 men is practically impossible, but the War Office, in order to allow a margin of safety and thereby to make the position absolutely safe, say that they regard 70.000 as the possible maximum. I think that on consideration, the noble Earl will sec that the use of the same figure by the two Departments, though used in a different way, involves no real discrepancy, except in so far as it represents the margin of safety which it is thought right by the War Office they should provide.


As the noble Earl has said, your Lordships are expecting an important debate to follow, and therefore I will not trouble you for more than two minutes. I cannot help thinking that your Lordships are in some difficulty this afternoon from the fact that the noble Earl, absolutely within his right, has thought fit to raise this discussion. We had a discussion on this subject only twelve days ago, when the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, expressed the views that are held on this Bench, and your Lordships will also remember that we are promised a very important full-dress debate on this subject on April 3, on the Motion of Lord Roberts, at which time I have no doubt many of your Lordships will be anxious to exchange the familiar arguments we have heard so often between the views of my noble friend behind me and his League, and the views of those of us who do not agree with him. I therefore feel that it is a pity that this subject should be discussed in driblets, if I may use the word. I think we should confine ourselves as much as possible to the full-dress debate. I hope the noble Earl feels that he has received information from the Under-Secretary as to the functions of the Territorial Army. The noble Lord said that the functions for which the Territorial Army was designed had been in no way changed. Therefore I have no doubt the noble Earl (Lord Portsmouth), who was in charge in this House of the Bill which created the Territorial Army, feels that he has got all the information for which he asked. Questions on this point were asked several times in the course of the debate which took place on that- Bill, but I cannot remember that we got the information we wanted, though, of course, we were met by the noble Earl (Lord Portsmouth), the then Under-Secretary of State for War, with an obvious desire to help us in any way he could. The noble Earl in bringing this subject before your Lordships to-day has made one thing quite clear, and I certainly agree with him that this custom which His Majesty's Government have started of issuing semi-official documents is most unfortunate. It has, I imagine, always been the practice of Governments to try and secure that when official documents are laid on the Table they are official documents. This system of getting particular officials or supporters of the Government to write essays to prove a particular thing and then publishing them in a semi-official way is, as I have said, most unfortunate. You cannot expect the public to feel confidence in trying to understand a question properly from documents emanating from the Government unless they are official. The documents we are discussing are of a semiofficial character. I think at most other times they would have been described, and rightly, as leakages, and as such one would have felt more satisfied if they had been discouraged and not encouraged by the Secretary of State.