HL Deb 10 March 1914 vol 15 cc426-44

THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH rose to call attention to a statement of the Prime Minister in reply to a deputation from the National Service League, in which he is reported to have said that he was desired by the First Sea Lord to state that the obvious and generally accepted inference to be drawn from a speech delivered by the First Sea Lord on April 21, 1913, rests upon a misconstruction of the language which he used. To call attention to the precise language of that speech, and to ask His Majesty's Government, as the First Sea Lord has thought fit to inform the public, through the medium of the Prime Minister, that a false construction has been placed on his speech, what other construction than that under which for nearly a year he has allowed the public to be misled he now wishes to be placed on his speech; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in calling attention to the statement of the Prime Minister in reply to a deputation from the National Service League I should like to say, by way of preface, that I very much regret that the Prime Minister has thought it necessary to revive a controversy in regard to a question of naval policy which we had hoped was really settled. I will, with your Lordships' permission, read an extract from the statement of the Prime Minister in reply to the National Service League deputation. The right hon. gentleman said— Your case has been placed before us to-day, both in the speeches delivered and in the address which you have been good enough to print for my consideration, upon two distinct grounds—first, upon what I may call military grounds, grounds of national defence; and, next, upon grounds which appeal to the social and educational reformer. As regards the first— the only point with which I am going to deal this evening, the military grounds— your position I understand to be this, that this country has during recent years become exposed to an increased liability to attack in the shape of invasion on the one hand, and on the other hand that, during the same time, it has provided itself with diminished, or at any rate, with inadequate, powers of defence…. In regard to the first, I notice that you say in your paper that 'the immunity from invasion which it was once believed that our Navy could afford no longer exists,' and after referring to some changes that have taken place in the conditions of naval warfare you go on, 'The result of all these developments is that, in the considered words of the First Sea Lord, the Navy alone cannot now protect this country against invasion.' Now come the particular words to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention— Well, I am desired, and I am glad to have the opportunity, by the First Sea Lord to repudiate those words. He says that that is not his considered judgment, and it rests upon a misconstruction of the language which he used, and which he says was not used in that sense, and that it must not be quoted as giving any countenance to the opinion attributed to him.

Now, my Lords, what were the precise words of the First Sea Lord—they were fully reported in The Times—the interpretation of which was alluded to by speakers all over the country and which the First Sea Lord for nearly a year never thought fit to contradict or explain in any way at all? Speaking at a dinner at the Union Jack Club, a joint club of the Navy and the Army, Prince Louis of Battenberg impressed upon his audience the importance of the two Services working together in mutual co-operation, and then he made use of these words— The great problems which were now occupying public attention more than ever were sure to be discussed by the two Services in that Club. He trusted that the one great truth would always be remembered, that neither Service could dispense with the other. They heard a good deal of loose talking on the matter; it sometimes took the shape of friendly chaff, but all the same it existed. There were people who went about saying, 'If war comes the Fleet alone is quite enough to keep anybody from coming anywhere near the shores of this island kingdom.' There could be no more foolish or mischievous statement. The Fleet alone could not do it. The presence of a sufficiently trained professional Army in these islands at all times was quite as necessary as the other arm of the Service. Those are, it seems to me, perfectly clear and perfectly definite words, and I do not think any plain, straightforward Englishman could interpret them in any other sense than as referring to invasion.

I do not know whether the First Sea Lord wishes now to explain that he was referring to raids and not to invasion, but, if so, it is a very remarkable coincidence that on the same day that he made this speech at the Union Jack Club the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made an extremely interesting and remarkable speech in this House upon the Second Reading of the Army Annual Bill. On that occasion the noble and learned Viscount said— It is a sheer fallacy to say that we organised the Territorial Force simply against raids. The prospect of invasion by 70,000 men is not a new factor. It is true that Mr. Balfour used an expression in 1905 which seemed to convey that he thought the business of looking after 70,000 or any other number of invaders was purely a naval question. But Mr. Balfour afterwards made it perfectly clear that he had not meant that. Now, my Lords, you have the First Sea Lord, in very definite language, saying that it was not the duty of the Navy alone to protect these shores against invasion. You have one of the most distinguished men on military questions, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, speaking in this House again in similar language to the same effect. Therefore I maintain that it is extraordinary to suppose that there could have been any misunderstanding in regard to the language, or the meaning of the language, used by the First Sea Lord.

But since the speech of the Prime Minister in receiving the deputation from the National Service League your Lordships will have noticed that a Question was put in the House of Commons by Mr. Primrose, who asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he could give the House any explanation of the apparent discrepancy between the statement of the First Sea Lord and the reference to that statement contained in the speech of the Prime Minister to the National Service League deputation. It was an ingenuous Question, put by a political supporter of the First Lord of the Admiralty with a view, no doubt, to enabling him, on behalf of the First Sea Lord, to make the best explanation he could. But I am confident that any of your Lordships who read the reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty will be still left in complete confusion of mind, and will feel that the mystery of what the First Sea Lord meant is by no means explained. Now that was the attitude taken by the First Lord of the Admiralty, to whom I believe myself the Navy owes a great deal of excellent work and who has fought the battle of the Navy on many occasions with considerable pluck. I rather regret that he should have been betrayed into, it may not have been real, it may have been simulated passion, but he spoke of the criticisms of the First Sea Lord's statement as very unfair. He said he had been subject to attack and to gross misrepresentation. A noble Lord opposite says "Hear, hear." But what did the First Lord of the Admiralty say? He said, first of all, that the word "invasion" was never used by Prince Louis. Well, the actual word "invasion" may never have been used. But Mr. Churchill went on to say—and this is the real pith and point in the whole matter— The First Sea Lord has asked me to say that before making this speech [the speech at the Union Jack Club], on which he consulted me, he was aware of the Prime Minister's speech in the House of Commons on July 29, 1909, with which speech he fully agreed. I do not want to trouble your Lordships by referring at any length to what was contained in that speech, but I would remind your Lordships that it contained this very definite and distinct statement. The Prime Minister said— With regard to the military aspect, it is, in consequence of the findings of this Committee [the Committee of Imperial Defence], the business of the War Office to see that we have under all circumstances a properly organised and properly equipped force capable of dealing with a possible invasion by 70,000 men. If the Fleet alone is adequate to deal with invasion, I should like to ask your Lordships why this language of the Prime Minister and what can the words "under all circumstances" mean. What can those words possibly mean except the absence of the Expeditionary Force, and, in certain cases, the absence of part at least of the Fleet?

I noticed only a few days ago a letter in the Press from a noble friend of mine, Lord Selborne, as regards the question of Mediterranean power. In that letter Lord Selborne said— From my place in Parliament and on the platform again and again and in print I have protested to the utmost of my power against the abandonment of the Mediterranean or any approach to that abandonment, and I have urged that the Mediterranean is as important to the United Kingdom from the point of view of naval policy as is the North Sea. I quote those words because I want to bring before your Lordships a consideration which we always hoped and expected was in the mind of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and which I believe is shared generally by distinguished naval men—that the first and foremost interest of the Navy is that its mobility should not be crippled in any way. If we found ourselves at war and the seat of war happened to be the Mediterranean, it would be the duty of our Fleet to go to the Mediterranean and obtain command of the sea by beating the fleet of our opponents there. It is of the highest importance that the Fleet should not only be mobile, but that in naval warfare the Fleet should be able to go and engage and beat the enemy's fleet. In the case of a military campaign a weaker force with land defences and strong positions might be able to retard and hold up for a considerable time a stronger force. But in naval warfare you either have to go out and meet the enemy's fleet and beat them or be beaten. If we were weaker, as would be the case if we were in an inferior position in the Mediterranean, we should have to run into one of our naval arsenals like Gibraltar or Malta, and the result would be that we should be blockaded or knocked out of action.

When the First Sea Lord re-opened this question after an interval of eight or nine months, have we not a right to ask what is the present meaning of his words? Does he mean that he desires that it shall be the duty of the Navy, not only to go out and maintain the command of the sea, but that it shall be the exclusive duty of the Navy to protect this country against invasion? We are told by the Prime Minister—I would again remind your Lordships of the fact—that the First Sea Lord had stated that he entirely agreed with him and supported his views that we should have under all circumstances an adequately and properly equipped force to meet an invasion of 70,000 men. "Under all circumstances" what force should we have left to confront an invasion of 70,000 men? Do the Committee of Imperial Defence wish to tell us that we must rely upon the Territorial Army to confront an invasion of 70,000 picked Continental troops? Let us rid ourselves of cant and percentages, which it seemed to me there were in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State. Let us come down and speak, in regard to the Territorial Army, of real men, of what strength we have got. I do not myself wish to blame any one in particular for the condition of the Territorial Army. Many members of your Lordships' House have taken, and do take, very great interest in that Force. My country seat in England is close to a large military centre, and I have myself taken considerable interest in presiding over recruiting meetings and so forth, and I believe that our Hampshire Territorial Force compares favourably with that in any other county.

But that is not the point. The point is, After seven years, how does the Territorial Army stand? When it was created it was considered that an establishment of 312,000 men was necessary. The deficiency in the Territorial Force is now 63,000, the strength being, roughly speaking, 250,000. But in this strength of a quarter of a million you have nearly 80,000 men under 20 years of age, leaving only 170,000 men old enough to put in the field. One more point. The number of men who qualified in musketry in 1913 was, roughly speaking, 148,000. Of this number 42,000 were recruits. Therefore the total number of men who qualified in musketry was 148,000 in round numbers, of whom a very large proportion—I refer to the 40,000 recruits— are mere boys. It is perfectly obvious that no competent military opinion will justify the defence of these shores being left to a Force of this kind, when we are told that "under all circumstances" we ought to have a properly equipped force capable of resisting an invasion of 70,000 men.

And when the First Lord of the Admiralty speaks of misrepresentation and of a gross attack, I should like to ask your Lordships, Where is it? Does Prince Louis of Battenberg repudiate the Prime Minister's statement? Does he maintain that it is the duty of the Navy alone to provide against invasion, with the necessary corollary that it is obstructed in its mobility? Does he ignore the fact that if these shores were left bereft of an adequate and efficient Force the country would probably never allow the Navy to leave these shores because of panic and fear? The gist of this deputation from the National Service League was the dangerous condition of the Home Defence Army. The gist of the First Sea Lord's speech at the Union Jack Club was the necessity of the mutual co-operation of the Navy and the Army. Why, I ask, should the First Sea Lord recant language which established what I maintain to be the only true and the only sound basis of naval and military policy? The scheme of the National Service League may be a good one or it may be a bad one, but it seems to me a most extraordinary perversion of everything that you should accuse those of misrepresentation who maintain—and that has always been the view of the National Service League—that the two Services are interdependent, and that you cannot be inflicting a greater injury upon the Navy than by throwing upon it the sole and terrible responsibility which should be shared by both Services alike.

I confess that there are certain features in connection with this case which are extremely unpleasant. The process of eating your words, or perhaps I will say the process of assimilating your language to the political exigencies of the day, has become so much the habitual practice of our politicians that in their case I do not think the public would be very much surprised or disappointed, probably only somewhat cynically amused; but hitherto the words of our leading seamen and soldiers when dealing with the supreme interests of the country have been considered judgments, bluff and blunt if you like and I have no doubt often very inconvenient, which have arrested the attention of the public because they have obviously carried with them honesty, sincerity, and independence. Nobody wishes to misrepresent the First Sea Lord, and I do not desire to dwell long upon this aspect of the case. After all, Sea Lords come and Sea Lords go. What is of permanent interest and importance is that the country should know where it stands and how it stands as regards the basis of its naval policy. In conclusion, therefore, I move the Motion standing in my name, in the hope, but I am afraid not in the expectation, that some Papers may be vouchsafed to us, which may help to clear up the mystery and the muddle in which we now are.


My Lords, the noble Earl's Question on the Paper is, as your Lordships will have observed, but a repetition of the discussion which has taken place in the other House and been continued in the public Press, to which my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Admiralty gave a complete and categorical answer in another place only last week. I am surprised, I must admit, that so close a student of naval and military affairs as the noble Earl is should still find himself in some difficulty on the subject. The speech which the noble Earl made did not, if I may with great respect say so, lighten my task, because I really fail to understand what his point is. Does he assert that the First Sea Lord has changed his opinion? Does he assert that any pressure was put upon the First Sea Lord? I really fail to understand what point he attempted to bring out by the speech which he delivered to your Lordships.


What I meant to say was that if the First Sea Lord denies that he has changed his mind, he has certainly changed the meaning of his words. I asked, What do those words mean now?


I understand that the noble Earl considers that the First Sea Lord has put upon his language a different construction from that which he intended to be accepted previous to the National Service League deputation approaching the Prime Minister. Is that what he means?


Different from that which he was content should be accepted.


Then I think I shall be able to satisfy the noble Earl. But let me do it by way of recounting to the House what happened. As the noble Earl has said, a deputation approached the Prime Minister last Friday. They had previously sent him a written memorandum of their case for his consideration. That memorandum contained a statement attributed to the First Sea Lord which, in the first place, was inaccurate in respect of a very important word. This I think the noble Earl will appreciate. I am sure the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition will appreciate it. It was inaccurate in respect of a single word; it was taken out of its context; it was misconstructed and misapplied; and the Prime Minister, in dealing with that statement, thought it right to say that the First Sea Lord had desired him to repudiate the words. The words used in the memorandum were these— The immunity from invasion, which it was once believed that our Navy could afford, no longer exists. The Prime Minister said— Well, I am desired, and I am glad to have the opportunity, by the First Sea Lord, to repudiate those words. I think it is quite right that the Prime Minister should have repudiated those words, because they were not the words used by the First Sea Lord on the occasion referred to. He never used the word "invasion" at all. What he said was what the noble Earl himself has quoted, and your Lordships will have observed that the word "invasion" never occurs at all. That speech was made by the First Sea Lord after consulting the First Lord of the Admiralty on April 22, 1913, and in making that speech the First Sea Lord had not only first consulted the First Lord of the Admiralty but he had in his mind the opinion of the Prime Minister expressed in the House of Commons on July 29, 1909; and I will, if your Lordships will allow me, trouble you by quoting a particular passage from the Prime Minister's speech on that occasion. The Prime Minister spoke as follows— The second proposition is, we ought to have a home Army—I am not now speaking of an Expeditionary Force, but an Army for home defences—sufficient in numbers and organisation for two purposes—in the first place, to repel what are called raids, that is to say, sporadic offensive expeditions which are so small in then numbers as to evade even the best and most carefully watching fleets, but which are not intended permanently to occupy the country against which they are directed, but only to inflict such serious damage as they can. We should have a home Army not only adequate to repel raids of that description, but—a much more serious thing—to compel an enemy which contemplates invasion to come with such substantial force as to make it impossible for them to evade our Fleet. That, we believe, is the real function of the home Army. You must maintain your home Army on a scale in numbers, in condition of organisation and distribution, as would make it impossible for any opponent contemplating invasion to despatch against you anything but a very considerable army. I think the House will observe that the speech of the First Sea Lord delivered last year at the Union Jack Club and the speech of the Prime Minister from which I have read an extract are in entire harmony. There is not the slightest differentiation of policy between them. Both statements, I may say, represent the view of the Admiralty. They have represented the view of the Admiralty for a long time. There never has been any want of consistency in the statements which the Admiralty have issued to the public; nor has there been any difference on this point in the advice which the Admiralty have received from their professional members; and to suggest that there is anything in this matter which discloses anything in the nature of inconsistency, or difference of opinion, or change of policy on this question, is to suggest what there is no shadow of foundation for suggesting.

This view of the question is no new one. As I have said, for many years the Board of Admiralty have professed it; and I would like to draw the attention of the noble Earl in particular to a speech delivered by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Balfour, in the House of Commons on the Estimates on May 11, 1905. It is, perhaps, the most lucid exposition of the question of home defence and the relative functions of the Army and Navy therein which has ever been delivered. I recommend it particularly to the noble Earl, and I shall not apologise to the House for quoting a short extract from Mr. Balfour's speech. The right hon. gentleman postulated that it was necessary to have in this country a sufficient force to compel an enemy to come with an army of not less than 70,000 if invasion was to be seriously attempted, and in that he entirely agrees with the present Prime Minister. Mr. Balfour went on to say — Some people put a dilemma— I do not know whether he was thinking of the noble Earl opposite— Some people put a dilemma. Either the Navy can absolutely stop an invasion—if so, why do you ask anybody to learn the use of the rifle; or else the Navy cannot stop an invasion, and then you must have a force at home competent to deal with a foreign force. But those dilemmas are very misleading. And not only that, but they lead in this case to a completely false impression. The difficulty of invasion depends upon the men that have to be landed, the number of men that have to be landed depends chiefly on the difficulties they will find when they come to be landed, and therefore some home force is an essential part of the argument I am advancing, and, however little I may personally believe in the possibility of evading the British Fleet, I do not ask them— that is, the people who put the dilemma— to accept any conclusions on that point at all; I do not ask them to accept the doctrine of the blue-water school in any shape whatever; but I ask them to take the problem as I have given it, namely, an insignificant body of Regular troops here, and an. unorganised body of persons with some knowledge of arms, while we suppose that the enemy will require at least 70,000 men in order to reach London. I contend that the problem as the ex-Prime Minister stated it then is precisely the same problem to-day. It has not altered in any particular, and I am sure that if the noble Earl will study the speech from which I have just quoted he will satisfy himself that the question he has raised is not so important as he thinks.

If I may summarise, in the best words I can, the considered opinion of the First Sea Lord, of the present Prime Minister, and of the late Prime Minister as to the interdependence of the two arms of the Service with regard to defending this country from invasion, I would say this. Neither arm of the Service is separately responsible for protecting this country against invasion. The function of the Army is to provide that no invasion could be undertaken with less than a very considerable body of men. The function of the Navy is to intercept such an enterprise. Those functions both branches of the Services are now, and always have been, competent to perform. If you imagine that we had no Army, 1,000 men might evade the vigilance of the Fleet, invade these shores, and seize London. If you assume that we had no Navy, absolutely innumerable hordes of the enemy might descend on our shores. For defence purposes sufficient military and naval forces are essential, and they have always been provided. That, my Lords, is, in a kernel, the position which has always been maintained; and I can assure the noble Earl that he is quite mistaken in thinking that anything that has been said recently on the subject has at all altered the problem or the views entertained by the Admiralty, by the War Office, and, above all, by the Committee of Imperial Defence.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord who has just replied on behalf of His Majesty's Government whether I correctly understood him to say that the problem is unaltered since Mr. Balfour made his speech in 1905?


I said that the problem of home defence is not altered.


On the contrary, the problem has considerably altered. The size of ships has very much increased. The Germans have now two 50,000-ton ships which will carry a division instead of a regiment. The problem is immensely altered by the change in the size of the large mail steamers now building. Furthermore, wireless telegraphy has come in. Wireless telegraphy cuts both ways, it is true, but in one way it is a great help to an invading force. Suppose there is a landing made by sections of the enemy's troops fifty or a hundred miles apart. Those divisions could now communicate with one another by wireless telegraphy. In the old days they would have had to send spies or people disguised, with the risk that they would have been discovered and shot. Just imagine how tactics would have been altered had wireless telegraphy existed in the time of Napoleon and Wellington. As a matter of fact, tactics continue to alter as fast as the wretched scientific inventor introduces new discoveries, which result in all the experienced Generals and Admirals having to go to school again. Why, when I go on board a man-of-war what do I see that I saw when I was a midshipman? Scarcely anything. Everything is so completely altered that one hardly knows one's way about a modern battleship.

The First Sea Lord may not have used the actual word "invasion," but if the Fleet alone cannot keep an enemy from coming near our shores it is quite clear that there is a risk of invasion. A raid may develop into an invasion if a sufficient number of troops can be sent to support those originally landed. In two consecutive years our Naval Manœuvres have proved the possibility of landing troops on our coasts, although on each occasion the defending Fleet was much stronger than the invading squadron. Grand Admiral Von Tirpitz has once more announced that a 16 to 10 standard is "still acceptable." If so, it is because that Admiral believes that a 16 to 10 proportion to the German Fleet is insufficient to perform the double duty of protecting our commerce from capture and our coasts from invasion. If it is acceptable to Grand Admiral Von Tirpitz it ought to be unacceptable to us. A 2 to 1 standard would probably be able to perform the double duty to which I have referred, but with a 16 to 10 standard we should run a great risk of being starved or invaded, a risk that our rulers are apparently prepared to encounter. It must be remembered that on an average one fourth of our ships are in dockyard hands, and that an enemy would come at his selected moment and at our average moment—a factor in the problem which I am glad to say the First Lord of the Admiralty has thoroughly mastered. If we spent more money on our Navy there would be less money available for the purposes of what is called social reform, or what other people call "bribing the constituencies." The taxpayer, I am sorry to say, is quite a different person from the elector. The British taxpayer is rich enough to keep up a 2 to 1 standard, and to pay members of the House of Commons £400 a year as well. But he is not rich enough to find money for National Insurance and other expensive fads in addition to keeping up a Navy sufficiently strong to protect the liberties which our fathers won for us. He cannot do both.


My Lords, I have listened to many explanations in this House, but I do not think I ever heard a more singular and remarkable one than that vouchsafed to us by the noble Lord opposite. My noble friend behind me asked for information upon a very remarkable statement made by the First Sea Lord. Having been told that his own interpretation upon it is a gross misrepresentation, he asked what the First Sea Lord said and also what he meant to say. The only reply he gets is a quotation from a speech made by Mr. Asquith in 1909, and another quotation from a speech made by Mr. Balfour in 1905. Personally I do not care twopence what either of those statesmen said. I think the probability is that they were equally unsound in their statements, and equally failed to grasp the essential facts. What I submit is that a simple question of this kind does demand an answer of some intelligible character, and that has not been received. I venture to suggest that my noble friend should either put the question again, or put it to some other member of the Government who is capable of making an intelligible reply.


What is the question?


My Lords, I rather share the feelings of my noble friend Lord Newton, that the noble Lord who answered on behalf of His Majesty's Government did not favour us with any explanation of Prince Louis of Batten-berg's own views, but merely proceeded to compare them with the views of members of the Government. I am not the least surprised that some anxiety has been awakened by the attempt, or the apparent attempt, to explain away what has fallen from the most important expert naval adviser of the Government. I honestly feel—we have complained of it on this side of the House on more than one occasion—that we have heard a great deal too little of the opinion of experts in the last eight years. The experts have been brought in as a sort of cheval de renfort on different occasions. I have myself heard, certainly in the other House, at the beginning of one session the experts claimed for a particular strength of the Navy, and at the end of the session, after a great deal of pressure from outside, the opinion of the experts equally claimed for a totally different strength of the Navy. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who is a pastmaster in working the expert for all he is worth and keeping him in the background, assured us solemnly, against the opinion of every military man in this House, including the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, that the experts were satisfied with the strength of our Field Artillery, and, as far as I recollect, he rather induced us to believe that he regretted that they should go so far and that he would have been ready to go further than they were in keeping the Artillery which he proposed to disband. But two years later, after a great agitation had taken place, the noble and learned Viscount came down and promised to spare a certain number, the experts again appearing as entirely satisfied with the change. I do feel in regard to all these questions that since the abolition of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army we have heard less of the experts than we have a right to, and therefore it is natural that members in both Houses should regard with jealousy what seems to them an attempt to draw a distinction between what Prince Louis of Battenberg said and what he was supposed to have said.


He was misquoted.


I was going on to say that I was not misled by that language. I had some opportunities when I was in office of knowing. Prince Louis of Battenberg's views, and if I had seen him make a substantial advance in the direction I had hoped he would have gone it would have given me infinite pleasure. He said that the Army ought to be maintained at sufficient strength, and that there could be no more foolish or mischievous statement than that the Fleet alone could prevent any one coming anywhere near the shores of these islands. If he had gone a step further and said that the Fleet was not strong enough, or might not in certain circumstances be strong enough, to prevent serious invasion I should have gratefully acknowledged, not only a change in the views which I know he has honestly held, but certainly a difference between his views and those of Mr. Balfour and of Mr. Asquith. But I do not think he did say that.

What I feel is that too little stress has been laid in this debate on what Prince Louis asked for on behalf of the Army and what Mr. Asquith said was absolutely necessary. Prince Louis of Battenberg said that the presence of a sufficiently trained professional Army in these islands at all times was quite as necessary as the other arm of the Service. Mr. Asquith said— You must maintain your home Army on a scale in numbers, in condition of organisation and distribution, as would make it impossible for any opponent contemplating invasion to despatch against you anything but a very considerable Army. Prince Louis did not say that a Territorial Force, but a professional Army, should be kept. What I ask is, What proportion of the professional Army will remain after the dispatch of the Expeditionary Force? I will undertake to say that there is no committee of experts, naval or military, who, if they saw laid upon this Table the true facts as to the numbers of the professional Army available after you have sent the Expeditionary Force abroad, which you calculate you can send within a fortnight, if it is sent no further than France—there is no committee of experts who would not say that that does not represent the professional Army which would meet the views laid down by Prince Louis of Battenberg. I believe that to be a serious danger.

The noble Lord who replied to-day on behalf of His Majesty's Government used language which made me wish that, instead of coming here with a brief furnished to him from the War Office or the Admiralty, he had come as a representative of one of those Offices with the full responsibility and knowledge which would accompany such a position. In the course of his speech he made a strange slip, to which Lord Ellen-borough very properly called attention. He said that the problem was unaltered since 1905. My Lords, the problem is altered, and our military means of meeting it have altered also, but have altered for the worse. As far as the professional Army is concerned, there has been an alteration very largely for the worse; and as far as the other branches of the Service are concerned, the numbers alone speak, although the organisation has been, no doubt, somewhat improved. It is from that point of view that I think a much more serious defence than has been made in either House is needed as to the warning given by the First Sea Lord. The state of things to which we have vainly tried from this side of the House to call attention seems to us to constitute a great danger to the country, one which, from circumstances of modern development and the enormous increase of naval force against us, has become a greater one since 1905; and I think that before this session closes we must again bring it, in the reduced state of the Regular Army, before this House as a matter calling for the urgent attention of the Government.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down has made his usual speech, diffused with gloom, and the only comfort I can offer him is that, judging by his propositions, he has not appreciated the principles upon which our system of home defence is based. I am not going to discuss them. I am only going to draw attention to the extraordinary looseness of the points which have been made throughout this debate. It started by the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, calling attention to the speech of Prince Louis of Battenberg. Well, Prince Louis of Battenberg said that it was impossible for the Navy efficiently to do its work in defending the country without the presence of a professional Army. That is quite true. That is a general statement which amounts to nothing, as my noble friend Lord Wimborne has pointed out, but a principle which is no new principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, said the conditions had changed. Of course, they have changed. They are always changing. But the principle is the same principle as it was ten years ago, aye, and the same principle as it was in the time of Nelson, and the same principle as it was in the time of Chatham, and the same principle as it was in the time of the Seven Years War. There is one thing which, notwithstanding that this country is the greatest sea nation in the world, seems impossible, and that is to get into the minds of certain noble Lords in this House the fact that we have always had the same principle of national defence and have always rested, and have continued to rest, that defence upon the Navy until this hour; and the day when we depart from that and accept the timorous counsels of the noble Viscount, I shall begin to think our sea power has become shaken.

The principles upon which home defence rests remain to-day what they always were, and the First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg, said no word that was inconsistent with those principles. But the Prime Minister made an explanation, and he was requested by Prince Louis of Battenberg to do that, and no wonder. Prince Louis of Battenberg would have been scouted by every sailor if the interpretation which had been placed upon his speech by noble Lords represented his views. Does the noble Viscount think it is a pleasant thing for a distinguished Admiral to sit down under the imputation that he has deserted the very basic principles of naval strategy? Of course, Prince Louis of Battenberg desired that the Prime Minister should make it clear that he had been misrepresented.


I did not suggest that there was any wonder. I suggested nothing about Prince Louis of Battenberg. I said, on the contrary, that his views seemed to be quite compatible.


I regret if I have misinterpreted the attitude of the noble Viscount in identifying him with Lord Portsmouth's point of view. The noble Viscount did, however, refer to our reduced circumstances, not for the first time; and he said that we were in the habit of relying on the experts. I believe he said that I quoted the experts more than any one in this House. Well, I have quoted the experts because I have relied upon them. But what I protest against is the noble Viscount's view of what the experts are. We have Field-Marshals who sit in this House, but it is not every Field-Marshal who knows the problems handled by the War Office at the present day. How can they? For example, the noble Viscount spoke of the Artillery. That is a very old question, and I am not going into it. I have not served in a battery of Artillery, but so far as I am concerned, with regard to the Field-Marshals who come and sit in this House, if they would let me state the case of what has been done in the lifetime of this Government for the Artillery I should be very happy as to what the result would be. Unless you make use of your experts and give them credit for what they have done it will go ill with you.

I think the noble Viscount is going too far in taking credit for our military knowledge in this House. I, for my part, although I have been Secretary of State for War, feel that I am a mere amateur. The little I know I have gathered in close and daily contact with distinguished soldiers, and, to a less extent, with distinguished sailors. We may also think we know something about naval matters. The noble Lord who spoke to-night (Lord Ellenborough) has some knowledge of naval matters, but I think it was gamed some time ago. Then, again, the Field-Marshals are conspicuous for their want of contact with the work of reorganisation which has been going on in recent years. Of course, they have rendered splendid services; they have done, some of them, magnificent work for their country. But one does not cite them upon the work that is going on, for instance, within the walls of the Defence Committee, or within the walls of the War Office, or within the walls of the Admiralty, because it is obvious that they can know nothing about it; and as for that diffused halo which the noble Viscount seems to think exists on those Benches with regard to military and naval affairs, I must say I do not know where it is.

I have risen only for the purpose of warning your Lordships that really these discussions, based upon an assertion that some one said something which he did not say and that it bears an interpretation which is repudiated, do not carry the matter any further; and if this occasion has led to any good at all, which I very much doubt, the only good is that my noble friend Lord Wimborne has been able to make clear, not only that Prince Louis of Battenberg has not changed his mind, but that what he said is in entire consistency with the accepted principles of home defence in this country.


My Lords, I understand there are no Papers forthcoming. Well, I shall take the opportunity of raising this question again. I confess that I am somewhat amused at the assumption of great indignation, especially by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, on behalf of Prince Louis of Battenberg. Why are we not allowed to know what his own opinions are? I know, as far as I can gather—it is very difficult to gather anything tangible— what the views of the noble Lord opposite and of the Lord Chancellor are, and I have also heard what are the views of the Prime Minister and of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and what interpretations they are pleased to put upon the speech of Prince Louis of Battenberg. But as Prince Louis says nine months afterwards that he has been misrepresented, we should like to obtain from him really what his own views are. I could not help feeling that it was a little remarkable that he should have allowed himself for nine months to suffer under a gross misrepresentation, and then to suddenly feel that he has been made a martyr of by having the matter brought before Parliament, because, owing to his own action entirely, we are all placed in the utmost confusion and mystery as to what his views are. I do not wish to detain your Lordships longer, but simply to give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of raising the question again in another form.