HL Deb 30 March 1914 vol 15 cc755-6

My Lords, I understand that in the other House of Parliament an important statement has been made affecting the position of at least two of the noble Viscount's colleagues as well as that of two members of the Army Council. I think the House will probably be grateful to the noble Viscount if he will afford us the same information which has been given elsewhere.


My Lords, it is quite true that Field-Marshal Sir John French and General Sir John Ewart have been relieved of their offices in compliance with their fully-considered desire. They retire from their offices, not because they have any difference in their views from those of the Government as to the conditions under which the Army serves or should be employed in aid of the civil power, but because they had initialled the Memorandum in the White Paper which your Lordships have seen, and which Memorandum was handed to General Gough. Therefore they thought, this Memorandum having been initialled by them, that it was incumbent upon them to adhere to that engagement so given. To that point of personal honour—I am sure your Lordships will see that, as they are agreed in policy, it was a point of personal honour—to that point of personal honour, after long, close, and most straightforward discussion, extremely full and candid, the two Generals adhere. The regret of His Majesty's Government, and, I think I may add, of your Lordships' House and of the country, is deep and sincere, and it is not at all easy to express what we feel. We all of us realise the sacrifices which these two brave, tried, and eminent soldiers are making. It is a misfortune for the Government and for the State. But we respect that general susceptibility to points of personal honour of which to-day they furnish a high example.

Now, my Lords, to continue the communication for which the noble Marquess has asked, these officers are followed in their retirement by the Secretary of State for War, Colonel Seely. Colonel Seely feels bound in loyalty to them, who have stood by him through many difficult and trying passages—he feels bound to follow them. We, Colonel Seely's colleagues in the Cabinet, all regret to the full the disappearance from among us, in this capacity at all events, of a colleague whose attractive personality, whose signal power—of which I, for one, have had good opportunities for judging—of attention to work, and whose gifts of fair and lucid exposition they know well in the House of Commons. We deplore his departure.

I have now a further announcement of the first moment and significance to make to your Lordships. The vacant post of Secretary of State for War is to be filled—I think, indeed, it is already filled—by the Prime Minister. Eulogy of colleagues, as many of you know, is very often to be suspected, but I believe I may say that your Lordships will all realise—yes, I make bold to say all—with true and general satisfaction that the Prime Minister, in such a moment, with as heavy cares as ever fell upon a Prime Minister, has undertaken such a task. I have sat for some years on the Committee of Imperial Defence with the Prime Minister, and have watched his patience and vigilance, his accuracy of mind, his grasp of detail, the close and steady desire on his part to know and to probe to the depths all the military and naval conditions of the United Kingdom and of the Empire; and I should almost say, did I not remember his enormous power in the House of Commons, that the Prime Minister is seen at his best on the Committee of Imperial Defence. I hope that this announcement at least will be received by your Lordships with cordiality and admiration.