§ LORD BERESFORD rose to call attention to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal delivered on May 5 in reference to the establishment of a War Committee; and to ask His Majesty's Government to explain the difference between the methods of controlling and directing military operations under the War Committee and those which were in force previous to its establishment.
§ The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Curzon made an interesting speech on May 5, in which he stated that there had been set up a War Committee of six, and that upon no single occasion had the decisions of that Committee been overruled by the rest of the Cabinet. That was a very satisfactory statement. But I think the public have a right to know the difference between the methods of controlling and directing military operations under the War Committee and those which were in force previous to its establishment. There is no necessity for secrecy on this point. Many people think that too much secrecy has been observed over a great number of different matters with regard to the war. There is no question that the French get considerably more information than we do. They are given a semi-official statement nearly every day. We have been promised fuller information, but we never get it. To return to the point of my Question, I should like to be told the date when this War Committee of six was formed, and who the individuals are who constitute it.
§ Since hostilities commenced this is the third authority that we have had for the control of the war. First we had the Radical Government. We cannot say that they were a great success, because they conducted the war in such a manner that at last they had to come to the Unionists to form a Coalition. Then there was the Coalition. As I have previously said in your Lordships' House, I do not think a Coalition Government can be a great success, because coalition is a matter of compromise. Now we have a War Committee of six, which would appear to me a common sense arrangement and much more likely to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion than either of the previous two. But it seems curious that there is no naval representative on the War Committee. I would suggest that there should be placed upon it some young 223 Admiral who has distinguished himself and who has been in the war and knows what he is talking about. After all, the whole success or failure of the war will depend upon the British Fleet, both for ourselves and for our Allies; and I think that many blunders would not have been committed had we had a known young Admiral in an authoritative position earlier in the war. I may say that the French and the Russians have an Admiral on their war bodies, but in the case of neither of those countries is that so imperative as here, because, as I have said, the whole question of the success or failure of the war depends on the British Fleet.
§ I would ask whether it is possible under this new system to have a recurrence of what I consider the crazy campaigns of the past, carried out from political considerations without any reference to military necessities—that is to say, without having first ascertained that we had the forces necessary to make the policy a success. I refer to Antwerp, the Dardanelles, Salonika, and to a certain extent to Mesopotamia. The public want to be assured that under the new principle, which, as I have said, I consider an excellent one, the mismanagement of the past will not recur. Then I would like to ask, Are the Six responsible for the military as well as for the political conduct of the war? We have seen failures produced by the latter which I hope we shall not see again. I should like to know what are the relations now between the fighting Services and the statesmen. I would further ask, Was this Committee aware of the state of Ireland before the rebellion, and, if not, why not? I may be told that this has nothing to do with the war. It has a great deal to do with it. If we had not had considerable luck and the German ship containing ammunition had reached the country with Casement, telegrams would have gone all over Ireland announcing that 100,000 Germans had landed. That would have meant 300,000 troops and the whole of Ireland aflame. So it had a great deal to do with the war.
§ Personally I have advocated a Committee of five ever since the war began, so that I can testify to my great satisfaction at the adoption of this new principle which Lord Curzon enunciated the other day. I should like to ask, Did the Committee of six bring about compulsion? Lord Curzon said that compulsion could not come until the military authorities demanded it. I think 224 that was a very grave statement. The military and naval authorities have nothing whatever to do with finding men. Their business is, the Cabinet having declared a policy, to state to the Cabinet what they consider necessary in order to make that policy a success. What do the military authorities know about trade unions, or about opinions in Ireland? I think Lord Curzon made a mistake there. The business of the military authorities is merely to put down the number of men they want, and not in any way to say how they are to be provided, whether by compulsion or under the voluntary system.
§ Again, I should like to ask whether it was this Committee of six or the Foreign Office which despatched Mr. Hurst and Admiral Slade to Paris to discuss contraband. The Foreign Office have controlled the blockade up to the present, many people think most deplorably. This sending of Mr. Hurst and Admiral Slade to Paris is causing the greatest anxiety throughout the country, as these are the two gentlemen who were principally concerned in drawing up the Declaration of London, which would have curtailed the power of our Fleet. It was a Declaration which, as has often been said, was based entirely on the idea that we were always to remain neutral. It certainly would have benefited us under those conditions, but it would have handicapped us proportionately in war. I maintain that had an effective blockade been established at first, the war would have been over now; and we could have made an effective blockade according to International Law. The neutrals would not have said anything at first, because they had not then embarked upon their present enormous enterprises and contracts with Germany and Austria. I quite acknowledge Lord Robert Cecil's argument. It was very difficult after the neutrals had embarked on these enterprises for the British Government suddenly to cut them off; but if an effective blockade had been put on at first, I am satisfied that the war would now have been over. This is proved by the present position in Germany. After public opinion had forced the Government to make cotton contraband and to make the blockade more effective, we then heard that Germany was feeling the pinch. If she feels the pinch now, how much more would she have felt it had we put on an effective blockade at first.
§ The question of food is getting more and more serious, and requires the greatest 225 consideration and foresight. Is this Committee of six considering that? Further, is the War Committee considering the question of tonnage, which is perhaps the most important of all questions at the present moment? I think we have a right to criticise the Government upon those matters on account of the number of gallant men who have lost their lives and on account of the immense amount of money that is being squandered. Had we continued the conduct of the war on the same lines as obtained before the appointment of this Committee of six, I am certain we should have lost it. Every responsible person in the country wishes to support the Government. But, as I say, we have a right of criticism, and apparently this Chamber is the only place in which the Government can be criticised. The Press cannot criticise them, neither can the House of Commons. If any man went to a public meeting and criticised the Government, the Press would be debarred from reporting what he said. We desire that the Government should show some symptom of knowing how to control the war, and therefore there is every reason why we should be informed what the difference is between the methods of directing military operations under the present War Committee and those which were in force previous to its establishment.
§ All criticism must be fair to be of any use, and, of course, everything is not black. We must look at the admirable achievements of our naval and military forces. There is nothing in history like those achievements; they have been simply marvellous. But much of that splendid work is being wasted by bad management and want of quick decision and prompt action on the part of the Government. What we want to stop, to quote a phrase I heard the other day, is Birrellism abroad. Had the authorities exercised their powers parallel with the efforts of the fighting forces, the war would have been over. It is a notable fact connected with this war that whenever there has been a pronounced failure by those in authority they have invariably been rewarded by honours and decorations. I hope that will cease. It is because our forces, which have done such marvellous work, are so severely handicapped by bad management that criticism is necessary, and I hope my noble friend will not think that I have been unfair in what I have said and will be able to answer the questions which I have submitted to him.226
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Curzon is not able to be in his place yet this afternoon, because he has to preside at an important meeting of his Air Board, at which witnesses attend, so that it was impossible for him to alter the time. In any case he would have desired that I should reply to this Question, although his name appears in it, for the simple reason that he has only been apprised of all these matters since the Coalition Government was formed, whereas they have fallen under my notice since the beginning of the war.
My noble and gallant friend asks what difference now exists, since the formation of the War Committee, in the control over military matters from that which obtained before it was formed. Perhaps I may briefly describe what the course of Government control of warlike operations has been. At first the responsibility of the Cabinet as a whole for the control of military and naval operations was more direct than it is now. The Cabinet undertook more direct responsibility than it does now, although, of course, its final responsibility still remains unimpaired. But in some respects the situation was not so dissimilar as might appear, because there were certain members holding particular offices—who for a long time had served on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and were thoroughly cognisant of the method of working with the naval and military officers on the respective staffs—who undertook a special charge in connection with military operations. Their charge was more informal than that of the War Committee is now, but it was in essential respects not less real. Then after a time, when the Expedition to the Dardanelles was undertaken, a special Cabinet Committee was appointed to exercise a general supervision over those joint operations. In time it was seen that it was convenient that such a body should extend the sphere of its work over a wider field, and, indeed, generally over warlike operations, and it therefore became what at that time was called the War Committee. The defect of both those bodies was that they were somewhat too large; they were not quite definite in their constitution as is the present War Committee. As my noble friend will well understand, the tendency of a body of that kind is to increase rather than to diminish in size. Therefore it gave 227 place to the existing War Committee. Unluckily, I do not carry in my memory the precise date when the present War Committee came into being, but I can easily ascertain that for my noble and gallant friend.
This War Committee, as the noble and gallant Lord correctly stated, is strictly limited in number, but other Ministers whose Departments are specially concerned with the subject under discussion attend for the purpose of that particular discussion. Those additions are made purely ad hoc and for the purpose of the, particular subject. Therefore the general answer to my noble and gallant friend is that there is no real, or at any rate no intentional, difference between the control exercised by the Government or a part of the Government over military operations compared with that in the early stages of the war. That is to say, there is no time at which any Expedition or any large strategic movement has been sanctioned from here without full consultation with the naval and military advisers of the Crown, or one or the other according to the necessities of the case. There is no instance in which that military or naval advice has been overridden by the Civil head of the Department. Perhaps I might remind the House once more, as I did on the last occasion when a kindred subject was under discussion, that naval and military experts are exceedingly apt to hold different opinions among themselves. Therefore when expert advice is spoken of it is important to realise precisely what expert advice is meant, and naturally every critic is disposed to attach more importance to the particular military advice with which he happens to agree.
§ LORD BERESFORD
That is perfectly true if naval and military experts are asked individually, but if they are put together as a War Council without a Minority Report it is a totally different thing.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My noble and gallant friend has experience of the Board of Admiralty. But I am bound to say from my experience, which now extends over a considerable number of years on the Committee of Imperial Defence and on the various War Councils and War Committees since, that I have often known—and it surely is bound to occur—Admirals of great distinction or military officers of great distinction to take diametrically opposite views of the advantages or disadvantage 228 of a particular course. All, then, that the unhappy civilians can do, as representing the taxpayers and the people of the country, is to form the best opinions they can, which may be right or may be wrong, on the materials set before them, just as in countless cases a Judge in Court has to form an opinion on a subject of which he is not specially cognisant, or as the members of any Board or Committee have to form an opinion on subjects of which they are not experts. One thing that I think the experience of this war has brought specially home to all of us is that there is and can be no more difficult problem than to decide what is the precise amount of discretion which ought to be left to a commander in the field or at sea, to the" man on the, spot" as he is called. We all know that the Aulic Council, which was supposed to direct actual operations in the field from a room a hundred miles away, has become a byword for futility. Yet, on the other hand, those who are finally responsible are bound in some cases to discount the natural confidence of a brave man in the success of an operation of which he has charge, and also to take into consideration the natural dislike which any such man must feel to declining the responsibility of undertaking a difficult task.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I venture to think, therefore—and I am glad to note that my noble and gallant friend, who has had so much experience, agrees—that there is no more difficult problem set before those responsible for a war than to decide the precise amount of discretion which ought to be left to those in the field. I do not hesitate to say that as the months have passed the particular machine of superintendence of the war runs on smoother and on more rapid wheels than it did at first. That, if one comes to think of it, is by no means surprising; and I have no doubt that all the belligerents, including even the Germans, whose organisation is so universally praised—and it is natural, of course, that those who intended war should be more prompt and efficient at first than those who did not intend it—would say that they have learned during these months a vast deal regarding the efficient conduct of such a gigantic war as this.
Now I will endeavour to deal with one or two matters which my noble and gallant 229 friend mentioned, though I am afraid I am not able to give replies to all the conundrums which he put to me. I did not quite understand what he meant by saying that there was no naval representative on the War Committee. It is quite true, of course, that the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is a regular member of it, is a civilian, and, as we all know, a most capable civilian, but he is invariably accompanied by the First Sea Lord, and often by other members of the Board of Admiralty for particular purposes, who, indeed, are the chosen directors of our naval affairs. Of course, it is open to my noble and gallant friend to suggest that some change ought to be made by the addition of, I think he used the phrase," a young Admiral." I suppose he means some one who has seen recent service. But that is, as he will see, an entirely separate question. So far as representation of the Admiralty on the War Committee is concerned, that is always and fully provided for. My noble and gallant friend asked whether certain different questions came before the War Committee. He will not expect me, I think, to divulge any of the recent subjects of discussion before that Committee. That, I am sure, is the last thing he would desire.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
But I can tell him in general terms that all matters so far as they directly affect the war and are urgent invariably come before the War Committee. So far as my knowledge goes, the programme for each particular meeting is drawn with the most meticulous care that no question of immediate urgency should be overlooked, and the Committee meets very often on several consecutive days in order to lose no time in considering questions which can be regarded as in any way urgent. That observation covers such questions as those regarding blockade and other matters about which my noble and gallant friend inquired. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not enter at all on the subject of Ireland at this moment. I have no quarrel with my noble and gallant friend for alluding to it in this connection, but he, I am sure, will not expect me to develop it. So far as concerns the phrase to which he took exception—that of whether the military authorities had demanded compulsion and compulsion was agreed to at the request of the military authorities—I do not disagree with the construction 230 which my noble and gallant friend placed on that phrase. It was, of course, not for the military authorities to demand or to suggest the purely Parliamentary remedy which had to be applied to the lack of the necessary number of recruits. The function of the military authorities is, and has been all through, to say how many men they would desire to have and were able to train, arm, and equip for the purpose of particular operations which are undertaken by agreement between ourselves and our Allies, and their functions do not go beyond that. When my noble and gallant friend says that it is for the Cabinet to decide the policy and for the military authorities then to say how many men will be required to carry it out, I should venture to point out that the two operations ought so far as possible to be concurrent, because it is useless for the Cabinet to come to a decision (if my noble and gallant friend likes, on political grounds) that a certain operation would be desirable, and then to be told that the men or the particular naval force required were not forthcoming. The two consultations ought to take place together, and the one naturally has to hinge on the other.
I think I have answered as many of my noble and gallant friend's question as I can. When he said just before he sat down that the Government enjoyed absolute immunity from criticism in every quarter, including, I suppose, another place and also the whole of the Press, and that it was only in this House that any critical accent was ever heard, I feel that I must refer my noble and gallant friend to the files of the daily newspapers, or some of them, in which he will note that our shortcomings are dwelt upon to an extent which we perhaps are wrong in thinking excessive, but which at any rate cannot be described by any one as scanty. I am afraid I cannot answer definitely any more of the questions which my noble and gallant friend put to me, but I hope he will consider that my reply is not altogether barren of information.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I think the names have been already announced. The Prime Minister presides over the Committee, and the other regular members are the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the 231 Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Minister of Munitions.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
My Lords, I should like to ask a question, not exactly on the lines of that placed on the Paper by my noble and gallant friend, but distinctly connected with it. Are the Committees, like the one which deals with contraband, appointed by the War Committee direct or are they appointed by the War Office and the. Admiralty? The point is that the Admiralty representation on the Contraband Committee is in a decided minority, with the result that they have no power in that Committee of carrying their arguments to an executive decision. Again, what connection have the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade with the appointment of representatives on and assistants to these Committees? It is understood by some representatives of the Press and also by the man in the street that the, old system of Party Government is still carried on in the appointment of these Committees, especially the Contraband Committee, the work of which, if it were carried out by the executive officers of the Navy, would probably be, done in a much more distinct way than it is at present. Then it has been pointed out in the public Press that, after the Navy have had the trouble and danger of bringing ships into harbour, many of these ships are allowed to go, notwithstanding that the naval officers responsible for seizing them know that they carried contraband.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am afraid I cannot enter into any detail in replying to my noble friend opposite. So far as the Contraband Committee and some of the other Committees which deal with kindred subjects are concerned, those have always been appointed with the full concurrence of the Departments and the heads of the Departments who are represented on them. There ought to be no colour for the statement that the Board of Admiralty takes any exception to its representation either on the Contraband Committee, or on the War Trade Advisory Committee, or on any other body in which it is interested. My noble friend started again what was rather a familiar hare—namely, that of the supposed chagrin of certain officers in the Navy at finding that ships which had been brought into British 232 ports, sometimes with great difficulty and at considerable risk to themselves and their crews, had afterwards been released. That subject has been discussed before, and my impression is that the officers of the Navy have now been more fully informed than they may have been at an earlier stage of the necessity for the release of certain ships after they have been brought in. It is not possible, as I am sure my noble friend will realise, to put every ship that is brought in into the Prize Court; and that being so, after having either parted with certain parts of her cargo which may be prize-courted, or after having gone on her way with the sure guarantee that certain goods will be brought back—a great many of the cases come under that head—a ship may then be allowed to complete her voyage to a neutral port. I am sure my noble friend will forgive me if I do not attempt to develop without notice the questions which he has raised. I can assure him once more that, so far as the composition of the Committees is concerned, the fighting Departments have the fullest voice in the selection of those who are to represent them.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I am sure we owe a debt of gratitude to my noble and gallant friend behind me for having again raised this question, in which I think we have a hereditary interest. If I recollect aright, the first demand that was seriously put forward for a War Committee came from these Benches last September or October. We had the great advantage then of a speech from the Lord Privy Seal, who not only promised us that a War Committee was under consideration by the Prime Minister, but added that the Prime Minister had it under his consideration to carry out a reform on which we were all much set—namely, a reduction in the numbers of the Cabinet. I am bound to say he never led us to suppose that the result of that consideration by the Prime Minister would be a somewhat cynical disregard of our views, because the Cabinet has been increased constantly ever since.
In regard to the conduct of the war, we really do not gather from the noble Marquess's speech that any considerable change has taken place as compared with the practice which obtained in the earlier period of the war. I think that is a very serious admission, if admission it be, because we had grave reasons to doubt the previous system, and we should have liked 233 very much to hear from the noble Marquess that the steps now taken were such that a recurrence of the unfortunate decisions which we all lament would be avoided under the system of the new War Committee. I somewhat fear that in this respect the Government have fallen under the precedent which was good for peace but does not obtain at all in time of war. If my noble friend Lord Selborne were in his place, he would bear me out that the Defence Committee which was originally established in 1902 was formed for two purposes—first, to bring together all the pundits, if I may so express it, the most prominent men in the Government, who were to meet to give decisions which would be difficult for individual Ministers representing the War Office or the Admiralty to get, on matters which it would be inconvenient to bring in detail before the whole Cabinet; and in addition to establish a general review of the needs, the dangers, and the possible military operations by land or sea of the whole of the Empire. That Committee did an enormous amount of valuable work. But the circumstances for which you want the Committee which we are now discussing must surely require it to be built up on very different lines. You do not want academic consideration, the greater part of which must be carried on outside the actual council chamber. You do not want very occasional meetings, for which even the busiest members of the Cabinet could find time. What you want is a small Committee sitting almost de die in diem, powerful enough to take decisions and able to afford the time to carry out, and see that they are carried out in other Departments, those decisions, so far as they do not immediately affect the War Office or the Admiralty. I venture to maintain two things—first, that this War Committee, so far as the names which were given to us a few moments ago are concerned, does not carry out that view; and, secondly, that there must be references to the Cabinet which make it highly desirable that the Cabinet should consist of about a dozen members, or half its present size, rather than this enormous and inflated body, which can hardly be taken into confidence without grave danger of confidential papers going astray. Consider who have been put on the War Committee, You must have the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for War. The Foreign Minister, I understand, is a member.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is probably one of the hardest-worked members of the Government. I know that for months together he could not find time to preside over a very important Committee for which every hour was of value. And at a moment when he was most engaged on questions involving hundreds of millions of loans to our Allies and the meeting of our own expenditure, we suddenly saw that he was placed on the War Committee. Obviously the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to be consulted on all such questions which involve finance, but how is it possible for him from day to day to exercise a controlling influence and to find time for the thought necessary for the effective discharge of such very difficult duties? I might say the same of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, from another standpoint. Although I would not go the whole distance of my noble friend in suggesting, as I think he does, that all those who sit on the War Committee should be without portfolio except the Ministers immediately employed in the war, I confess that I think the advantage of such offices as there are which do not involve heavy official work would be very great, and that so far as possible those offices should be utilised for the immediate conduct of the war at this critical time. The Lord Privy Seal said that the Cabinet had so far never overridden the War Committee; but there are occasions when questions must come before the Cabinet. Supposing, for instance, that a fresh Expedition were going to be undertaken, would not that come before the Cabinet? If a fresh Expedition to some other part of the globe were to be undertaken, would that be decided by the War Committee or would it come before the Cabinet?
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
As the noble Viscount challenges me, I will, if he will permit me, interrupt him by replying to the two specific points which he has raised and on which he requires information. In the first place—and it is desirable that there 235 should be no misunderstanding on these points—the work of the War Committee, for its members, takes precedence of all other work, of all Departmental or even Cabinet work. Therefore I think that the strictures which the noble Viscount has raised regarding its composition are not entirely justified. He instanced the case of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who at certain times has undoubtedly heavy pressure of work, but, as the noble Viscount knows very well, the Chancellorship of the Exchequer is not departmentally at all a heavy office—indeed, it is one of the lightest—and it is only in connection with certain periodical matters that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully occupied. Then as regards the equally important point which the noble Viscount raised and which had been alluded to by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal in his speech—namely, the extent to which the Cabinet as a whole interfere with the decisions of the War Committee—I can repeat quite conscientiously what was said by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the decisions of the War Committee are not considered by the Cabinet at all. They are treated as final, as a rule. They are, of course, subject to the consideration of the Cabinet, because the Cabinet is informed of the conclusions that are reached. But whatever the reason may be, as a matter of fact those particular matters are in practice never re-discussed by the Cabinet as a whole. It is important to make that entirely clear, because if it were not so the objects of promptitude and the advantages of discussion by a smaller body, with which we all agree, would not be fully achieved. We believe that as a matter of fact they are achieved, that both rapidity and efficiency are brought about so far as possible, and that therefore the present system is as good a one as could be devised for the carrying on of the war. The noble Viscount apparently asked me to promise that the War Committee would never make a mistake or never advise anything imprudent or anything which turns out badly—because half of the criticisms that are made on the conduct of the war are not that a particular plan was a bad one, but that it did not succeed. If the noble Viscount asks me for such a pledge I am afraid I cannot give it to him.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I believe I am expressing the opinion of most of us when I say that we should infinitely prefer to 236 hear that these questions—the ninety-nine out of a hundred questions connected with the war—were settled by men who were not overburdened with the work of their Departments. As regards the relations between the Cabinet and the War Committee, some interesting questions present themselves on what fell from the noble Marquess. For instance, it is quite impossible to put on the War Committee all the numerous Ministers who are concerned in the war. Besides those who have been mentioned, there are the Foreign Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, the Air Minister, the President of the Board of Agriculture, and so forth. They are men of ingenious minds and of great concentration. Surely questions must occur to them which ought to be brought before the War Committee. Is there any machinery by which that is done? Have they to communicate with the Prime Minister or with the secretary of the War Committee, or must they take the War Minister aside and say" We want you to consider this." We wish to know that the best is being done. We know that the country looks to the Cabinet. They have confidence, not merely because five or six members, two of whom are amongst the busiest of Ministers, are on the War Committee, but because those on whom they depend and in whom they have confidence are sitting in the Cabinet. I cannot see, from the noble Marquess's statement, any machinery by which those members of the Cabinet who specially have knowledge of military matters, who have had military experience themselves in administration, have any power to make their thoughts and wishes known on the War Committee. That seems to me to be a flaw of the greatest magnitude, and it is a flaw directly connected with this system of putting very busy men on the Committee. If you had two or three men on the Committee whose time was given up to the war, their colleagues could go to them and say," I want to direct your attention to this which has come up in my Office, and beg you to bring it before the War Committee." To expect the War Minister or the First Lord of the Admiralty to do that, or to expect the Prime Minister (who has been away on the public service repeatedly in the course of the last few months) to act as a sort of post office, would be absurd. I do not think that the machinery, so far as it has been sketched by the noble Marquess this afternoon, is such as to inspire confidence.
237 The noble Marquess's one chance of commanding our confidence in this new arrangement would have been to make out clearly the difference between the old and the new methods. I am not going to follow even the distant allusions made by my noble and gallant friend to what occurred in the Dardanelles. We have had to choose on that subject between two courses—one, to allow the matter until the end of the war to go in silence; the other, to insist on probing to the bottom one of the most unfortunate transactions in the whole of the military conduct of affairs in this country. We elected to take the former course. For that reason I do not wish to draw illustrations from the past. But I am sure that noble Lords, whether they belonged to the Government before or whether they joined it after those transactions were past praying for, if I may use the expression, will agree that a great change was needed, and it is because we have not in the noble Marquess's speech any evidence of that change that I do not think that this discussion has been as satisfactory as we might have hoped.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that my noble friend opposite is rather hard to please in this matter. He and his friends have been clamouring for a long time past for a small body to deal with the conduct of the war. They have got a small body. My noble friend suggests that the change is no considerable change. I venture to think it is a considerable change. My noble friend behind me (Lord Crewe) gave a very full account of the different modifications of the Cabinet machinery which had taken place. When the small Committee was set up there was in existence another Committee known as the Dardanelles Committee, to which from time to time more than one member of the Cabinet had been added; and that Committee—I speak from memory—when the change took place consisted of twelve members. To my mind there is all the difference in the world between a body of twelve and a body of six.
What are the conditions which my noble friend lays down as indispensable in order to bring about the efficient consideration of business by this small body? He says it is not to be engaged in academic discussions; it is to be a small Committee sitting de die in diem, powerful to take decisions and powerful to see that they are carried out. That is exactly what we have got 238 now—a small Committee, I will not say sitting de die in diem, but sitting constantly, able to take decisions, and able to see that they are carried out. Then my noble friend expresses dissatisfaction or misgivings as to the relations between this small Committee and the plenum of the Cabinet. To my mind they are the only relations which can reasonably be set up. What happens is this. The decisions of the War Committee are from time to time reported to the whole body of the Cabinet. The Cabinet has an opportunity of considering them, and it certainly has an opportunity, if it so desires, of raising questions with regard to them in the Cabinet. My noble friend has said—of course, the expression was not intended to be mathematically accurate—that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the decisions of the War Committee have been accepted. Upon my word, I cannot at this moment recall the hundredth case in which we differed from them, but that may be a lapse of memory on my part. If a reference of that kind was not made to the full Cabinet, I really doubt whether any self-respecting member of the Ministry would very much care to remain in the Cabinet at all. It seems to me that for a member of the Cabinet to be completely ignored in regard to all matters concerning the conduct of the war would be to place that Minister in an almost intolerable position.
My noble friend took exception to the manner in which the members of the War Committee are selected, and he rather concentrated his criticism on the selection of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All decisions concerning the conduct of military operations on a large scale mean the expenditure of vast sums of money, and it seems to me not at all unreasonable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be in a position at the very outset, if he desires to do so, to say something as to the financial aspects of these great military and naval proposals. You cannot wage war without thinking of something besides the men whom you are employing. You have to think of the munitions; you also have to think of the money, and the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is very valuable for that purpose.
Then my noble friend has noticed that from time to time the small Committee becomes increased by the presence of other members of the Cabinet. Is that unreasonable? Is it unreasonable, for example, that the 239 Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should be called in when you are considering the question of military operations which may involve the interests of other Powers? Or take again the Air Minister. Is it, unreasonable that he should be invited from time to time? Or the President of the Board of Trade? These occasional reinforcements of the War Committee seem to me entirely reasonable and defensible. My noble friend says," What machinery have you to provide for these additions?" What does my noble friend mean by" machinery"? Does he want to have stereotyped rules, under which it shall be laid down that such and such a Minister shall be only called in after certain procedure has been followed? I venture to say it is infinitely better that the proceedings should be elastic, and that the Prime Minister and the other members of the War Committee should be in a position to call in from time to time any colleagues whose counsel they may desire. I maintain that upon the whole we have given effect to what I believe was the desire of most of your Lordships and of a large section of the public outside. We have set up a very small and a very efficient body to watch over the conduct of our military operations.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am quite sure that my noble friend who sits beside me (Lord Midleton) was fully justified in his remarks, because they drew from the noble Marquess the speech which we have just heard. I speak in the recollection of your Lordships, but I think that the impression conveyed by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House was that there, really was not very much difference in the management of the war under present conditions as compared with what it was in what we think were the old bad days.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My observation was that there was no difference in the precise conduct of the war in the sense in which we were invited by my noble and gallant friend on the Back Bench to admit that there was a difference— 240 namely, that before the constitution of the War Committee there had been regular interference with the naval and military authorities by the Civil Ministers, whereas now the conduct of the war was left to the experts. The absence of difference that I desired to point out was in this—and I am sorry if I gave either the noble Marquess or anybody else in the House the impression that there was no difference in the plan or methods of superintending the carrying on of the war—that neither then nor now had there been any ignoring or overriding of the military and naval authorities by the Civil members of the Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is always useful to have debate, because one gets at the truth or at as much of the truth as it is possible to give in Parliament. No doubt your Lordships have heard with the greatest interest, from my noble friend Lord Lansdowne and now from Lord Crewe, that there is a great change in the method in which the war is managed so far as the Cabinet and the Committee of the Cabinet are concerned. That was the principal point which it was important to elicit. We wanted to know whether there was a great difference. The reason why we wanted to know that was that the country was very dissatisfied with the conduct of the war formerly. That is the plain English of it, and everybody knows that this is true. The question was whether there had been a change in the method by which we might hope that the war would be better conducted. Now we hear from the members of the Government who have spoken that this is so, and it is a very important statement which I hope will be quoted throughout the country and which ought to some extent to restore confidence.
My noble friend criticised Lord Midleton for having said a word or two about the machinery under which this change has been carried out. The change is of great importance in so far as we have a small Committee instead of the whole plenum of the Cabinet to decide these things. But my noble friend Lord Midleton called attention to the fact that all the members of the Committee were very hard worked Ministers in their Departments. The noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) told us that notwithstanding their being hard worked they put the questions and matters of the war before everything else, and that therefore the deliberations and decisions of the War 241 Committee do not suffer. That must be very difficult, all the same. It must be difficult to find time to do the Departmental work and all the work of the War Committee. Although it is quite true, as the noble Marquess said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is during a great part of the year not a very hard worked Minister, yet everybody knows that during one particular portion of the year—namely, the last quarter which precedes the close of the financial year—he is an exceedingly hard worked Minister. But the war does not stop during the last quarter of the financial year, and it is a criticism well worth consideration whether during that period of the year the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be a very valuable member of the War Committee.
I cannot help wondering who it is who thinks out the larger policy of the war. Let us look at the Ministers who form the War Committee. Is it the Prime Minister who thinks out the great problems which the Government of this country have to decide in respect of the war? Does he think of new ideas and new departures? Does he originate suggestions of high political importance? I rather doubt it, because he goes away to Rome, to Dublin, and elsewhere, and it does not seem to matter very much. Then who does? Is it the Secretary of State for the Colonies, or is it the Chancellor of the Exchequer? There remain the two great Departmental Ministers, the two Ministers of the fighting Services. No doubt they or their advisers do; and I hope that is the truth whence the suggestions come. But even so, that is not a very satisfactory arrangement; because the military advisers must look after the military part of the war and the naval advisers must look after the naval part. Who co-ordinates, who correlates, them? Who acts as the great driving force of the policy of this war? That is what we should like to know regarding the machinery. I do not say that I expect to receive a reply. All these questions are rather difficult for Ministers to reply to. But I think I am doing my duty in stating that these are the kind of preoccupations which are felt in the country. We desire that the best machinery for driving this war forward should he employed, and we are anxious to see that all the best intellects and Departments of the Government co-operate toward this consummation. That is the anxiety of the country; and if 242 anything which has been said in this debate reassures the country, so much the better. If, on the other hand, any suggestions we have made are fruitful in the consideration of the Government, again so much the better. In any case we are grateful to my noble and gallant friend for having raised the discussion.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I wish I could follow the noble Marquess in the remarks he has just made. I, like the noble and gallant Lord who brought forward this proposal, am very strongly in favour of a small body of men to administer the war. But as I understand my noble friend who has just sat down, it is not to be the Secretary of State for War; it is not to be the First Lord of the Admiralty; it is not to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I said nothing of the kind. Of course, the Secretary of State for War; and of course the First Lord of the Admiralty. What I suggested was that they by themselves were not sufficient, and that there might be something to be said for not relying upon hard worked Departmental Ministers to co-operate.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I do not want in any way to misrepresent what my noble friend said. But it has been argued that the men who were to be on this Committee were not to be hard worked officials. I cannot conceive any more hard worked officials than the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War. Personally I think that they must be on this Committee.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
And what they ought to go to the Committee with is the plan of campaign upon which they have agreed and which has been put forward to them by their military or their naval advisers, as the cast may be. Surely that is what is done at the present moment. The First Lord of the Admiralty goes with the views of the Board of Admiralty and the Secretary of State, for War with the views of his Chief of Staff. My noble friend asks, How are you to co-ordinate those, two views? Surely when you have the First Lord of the Admiralty and the 243 Secretary of State for War on the Committee, accompanied as they may be, and as I think I am right in saying they are, by the chiefs of their respective Staffs, this is the best way of getting a discussion before impartial men who are best able to decide how far they can go into each other's schemes or how far they can be modified to make a regular policy. Personally I agree with my noble friend when he says that it is an excellent thing that this debate was instituted, because it has brought out much more clearly than any of us recognised before that the present system of the War Committee is very different from the old system, and that there is now a small Committee of six Ministers of State who, though their views have to be laid before the Cabinet, do not have their views overruled when they have decided on a matter on the advice of their naval and military advisers.
My Lords, I feel that it is presumptuous on my part to address your Lordships on such a highly important and interesting question, not sitting on either Front Bench and having throughout the war maintained a detached attitude as regards the conduct of the Government; but possibly my opinion may be of some little value. I must say my noble friends are rather hypercritical. I cannot see the practical character of their suggestions. I have agreed with them all along in that I thought what was wanted for the conduct of the war was a small body of men as free from Departmental labours as possible. But when you come to work that idea out, you tumble up against this difficulty. All the members of the Cabinet must be very overworked men just now, and I cannot conceive a body formed to a considerable extent of members not in the Cabinet being able to take those prompt decisions which are necessary, and which we understand from the noble Marquess the present Committee is able to take. That is the difficulty, and if you work it out carefully you find that you must come back to the idea of a small Cabinet within the Cabinet. I do not see how you can get away from it.
Exception is taken more than all, I think I may say, to the inclusion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Obviously you do not object to the inclusion of the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty, and obviously you cannot object to the Prime Minister being included. Those are obviously three men 244 who ought to be there. I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Derby that if the thing is worked properly the strategical schemes, perhaps even the tactical schemes, ought to come from the advisers of the Secretary of State for War and the advisers of the First Lord of the Admiralty. And as regards diplomacy, the Committee call in the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Surely that is not a bad combination. Now the principal objection, as I say, is to the inclusion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the Committee would never be able to come to the same prompt decisions without the presence on the Committee of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My noble friends know even better than I do how many political questions depend upon the answer of the Treasury, and if this small Committee had to refer back to the Treasury the question whether a particular expenditure would be sanctioned, it would obviously take longer than if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being on the Committee, was able to say offhand," Yes, I will consent to that." Having in my humble way been watching the proceedings of the Government with great care during the whole of this time, I can honestly say that I have never been able to attach myself to the extremest critics of the Government, and I am grateful to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, for the statement he has made to-night, which in my opinion ought greatly to reassure the whole country.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I quite agree that the interesting statement of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, was calculated to give great satisfaction in many respects to those who have been most severe critics of the conduct of the war. Everything that he said in his almost vehement assertion of a great contrast between the manner in which the supreme direction of the war is conducted now and the manner in which it was formerly conducted was, I think, the fullest justification of the criticisms which have been directed against that conduct in the past. I cannot imagine a more complete vindication of the action of those who have constantly urged that the conduct of the war by so large a body and by a body in many respects so ill qualified as the Cabinet was bound to lead to unfortunate results.
With regard to the present system, I think it has been from some points of view 245 rather unjustly criticised. So far I agree entirely with the last speaker (Lord Harris). I do not think this is a discussion in which we are divided into parties, those on this side of the House wishing to find fault with those on the other, or noble Lords opposite wishing to put the best face upon everything. I think this is a distinctly practical discussion, in which we all have one object in view—the object of making the important machinery which we have now got as perfect as possible. I agree with my noble friend Lord Derby that the body must be a small Cabinet within the Cabinet. There is no way out of that. But why should we create for ourselves those unnecessary difficulties which arise from being too much tied to the old Cabinet traditions? The old system—and for ordinary purposes of peace it is a good system—is that the heads of the most important Departments of the Government, all of them very busy men in their respective Departments, meet together from time to time to discuss general questions affecting the government of the country and to compare, notes about their various Departments. I have never been in a Cabinet myself, but I have a fairish notion of the sort of work that goes cm there. Under the tremendous pressure of a war like this and with the enormous new questions and difficulties which beset us, are we not able to shake ourselves free a bit from this old system of a number of Departmental chiefs meeting together and necessarily forming a Cabinet?
Undoubtedly the people who compose the War Committee are for the time being by far the most powerful, important, and influential Ministers. That is clear. Therefore they are members of the Cabinet. They are, if you like, the inner Cabinet. But why should they or any of them be responsible for the main work of enormous Departments? We are told that the Secretary of State for War must be on the War Committee; we are told that the First Lord of the Admiralty must be on it. If this means that men of first-rate knowledge of military and naval subjects must be on the Committee, very good. But why does it also involve the same men who are on the War Committee being actually the responsible and working heads of the great naval and military Departments? As for the Chancellor of the Exchequer being on the Committee, I am absolutely unconvinced by all the arguments which have been advanced of the necessity for that. It has been said that the Chancellor of the 246 Exchequer is not a very hard worked Minister. That may or may not be. I once had the privilege of being private secretary to a Chancellor of the Exchequer for a certain number of years, and I cannot say that I thought the work I then experienced was at all light or that the work which my chief was doing was at all light. And that was in time of peace. At present surely if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a very busy man in dealing with the purely financial problems which he has to face, then he ought to be. There is something seriously wrong if he has much time to spare at present for the very important work of the War Committee.
I think that the small number of men—I am not saying who the men ought to be; that is a matter of personal qualification far more than of office—the small number of men who are selected from the Cabinet to form this War Committee have the most arduous task which it is possible to conceive, and it seems to me perfectly irrational—I cannot use too strong an expression—not to relieve them for the time being from all Departmental duties whatsoever. It may not be necessary, if they are the nominal heads of Government Offices, absolutely to detach them from those Offices altogether; but every man who is on the War Committee, if he is to be an efficient member of it, would require to have a double in his own Department. I cannot conceive what the difficulty is in arriving at such an arrangement as this, that the members of the War Committee should either consist of Ministers who have no important Departmental work, or, if they consist of Ministers who have great Departments dependent upon them, those Ministers should be relieved of all, or very nearly all, Departmental work while the war lasts, and while they have, as members of the War Committee, duties infinitely more arduous, more trying, and more important than any ordinary Departmental chief in time of peace, however important he may be.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House on the subject now before us, but there is one thing I should like to bring before your Lordships' notice which I think ought to be said. I wonder whether my noble and gallant friend opposite has the smallest conception of how a good many people dislike and resent the tone and temper of some of the speeches he has 247 made in your Lordships' House. I listened this afternoon to his speech, in which he said that he wanted the Government to have control of the war; he complained of the wastage and want of management; he said honours and decorations followed failures. He talked about the mismanagement of the war" which he hoped would not occur again"; he wanted to know whether the Government knew the state of Ireland; and he then talked about his Committee of five, which we remember he advocated in his maiden speech when he spoke of His Majesty's Government—the Government which is really a Committee of Safety—as a collection of twenty-one or twenty-two amateurs who had usurped the executive of the war. He ended his speech this afternoon by saying that he was perfectly entitled to criticise His Majesty's Government on account of the gallant men who had fallen in the war.
I do not suppose anybody inside this House, or outside it, would object to criticism of the Government of the day. In fact, if they did object to it, how could they stop it? But I would remind the noble and gallant Lord of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Cromer about three weeks ago in speaking on the Vote of Censure on the Government on account of their Irish policy, which was brought forward by Lord Loreburn. Lord Cromer said that nobody could object to criticism if it were just and reasonable, and he added that if we wanted to be victorious in the war it would be necessary to support His Majesty's Government in a crisis like the present. I believe everybody will agree with that. I think people would go almost further and say that criticism, when the enemy is at our gates, ought not only to be just and reasonable, temperate and accurate, but ought not to contain one single word in it in any way to depreciate or—I do not know exactly what the word should be; perhaps I may use a French word—dénigrer the Government or embarrass or make more difficult our diplomatic relations with neutral or friendly countries. And, above all, that it ought not to contain one single word which would in any way give away military secrets or endanger the lives or limbs of our soldiers and sailors who are fighting abroad.
We have heard a great deal of criticism this afternoon. From time to time we have heard perfectly reasonable and just criticism from the Front Bench opposite. But 248 can it be honestly and truthfully said that the criticism brought forward in some parts of this House by irresponsible persons does come up to this standard? I have not the quotations with me, but everybody remembers instances, to which I need not refer. We all recollect some speeches which have been made. Some of them have been criticised by Lord Derby in language much stronger than that usually used by members on the Front Benches. How is it that men who stand so high, and deservedly so, in the estimation of the country should follow the line of policy which they have thought fit to adopt? They tell us that they are actuated—of course, they are—by the highest possible motives. Obviously they are not actuated by any sort of attempt at personal gain or personal advancement or advantage, and we know that they are aware of the danger that there would be in the advertisement of any discord at all. I ask myself—and I am sure many people put the same question—Why is it that these men who stand so high in the opinion of their fellow-men should be induced to follow this line of policy? I fancy that the real reason must be the one which was given by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in one of those speeches which held the attention of the House, when he said that the mind of every man in the country was sore; he could not possibly know what was being done, and it was not unnatural that he should complain. And that was well backed up by a sentence in the great Unionist weekly, The Spectator, where it was written—This sort of criticism is quite intelligible it is well-intentioned; but the results are deplorable, and white trying to injure the enemy it in fact frequently helps and sustains them.I should very much like to bring before the noble and gallant Lord the speeches and the actions of those great leaders of democratic thought, the statesmen who have come from the Dominions across the seas. If we glance over the speeches of Laurier and Borden, of Smuts and Botha (men whose patriotism was some time ago so cruelly and wrongly questioned), or, above all, those of the great Labour leaders, the great statesmen from Australia, Hughes and Fisher—these seem to me to teach us a great object-lesson. It was not so long ago that my right hon. friend Andrew Fisher was addressing a number of men who in happier times would have been called by noble Lords opposite" infernal Home Rulers and Radicals"; and he drew 249 vehement cheers from these men when he said," We from the Dominions are with you heart and soul, and will fight with you to the last gasp. We do not care two straws what the Government of the country is, so long as it is determined to fight to a finish and to act up to the statements of Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister. We are with you heart and soul, and for you and for the King and for the country we will spend our last shilling and send you our last man." That breathes the spirit of national unity, a unity which we all desire and without which we cannot win.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, I do not know whether it is worth my while to answer the amusing attack of the noble Marquess opposite. I think that the Government are very well able to take care of themselves without his assistance. He has charged me with being inaccurate and vindictive, and he has brought a number of other charges not usually associated with a gentleman. But I leave all those charges in the hands of the House and my fellow-countrymen. I do not attempt to answer them.