HL Deb 15 November 1917 vol 26 cc1015-8

My Lords. I beg to put to the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council a Question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether His Majesty's Government will be prepared to make a statement on the appointment, which we have seen is announced for the immediate future, of a Supreme Council of War among the Allies; and whether, since a debate will take place on Monday next in another place, the noble. Earl will be prepared to answer a Question on Monday—your Lordships' House, of course, meeting on that day for the purpose—if I place one on the Paper. I may say that I think it will probably be the wish of your Lordships that some discussion should take place on this question simultaneously with that which will be undertaken on that day in another place.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Marquess, who, with his usual courtesy, gave me notice of the Question which he proposed to put. Whilst I am not one whit behind the noble Marquess or any other member of your Lordships' House in the desire on all occasions to secure equal opportunity for this House in listening to statements or announcements of policy by His Majesty's Government, I had not, until I received the Question of the noble Marquess, contemplated making a statement upon the matter on Monday myself. And for this reason. The institution of this Supreme War Council, as it is called, was first announced in another place by the Leader of that House, in reply not merely to one question but also to several supplementary questions on Monday last. This statement was supplemented by the Prime Minister yesterday. He read out to the House the full terms of the Agreement that had been concluded between the principal Allied Powers in this respect, and he added a few explanatory observations of his own. Therefore in that sense I have no announcement of Government policy to make, because the policy itself is now public property. And I was glad to see in the newspapers this morning that the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place had, on the whole, been very well received, and had removed a good many of the doubts and apprehensions that had been felt.

There then remains the question, which is quite a different one, whether your Lordships' House would desire, and if so when, to have a discussion upon the matter. Of course, if the Leader of the Opposition expresses a desire that that discussion should take place on Monday, I am in his hands. But I should have thought myself that the better course would have been to have awaited the discussion that is going to take place in the ordinary course of business in the House of Commons on Monday, and then, if any questions were sought to be asked in elucidation of what is stated in the other House or any criticism made upon what is there said, that either the noble Marquess or some other noble Lord should put down a Question or a Motion on the Paper, and I should be prepared at any time to meet it. I leave the decision between these two alternatives in the hands of the noble Marquess and his friends.


My Lords, I, even more than the noble Earl opposite, am entirely in the hands of the House on this matter, and it is undoubtedly for the House to say whether it would be content with the alternative position which my noble friend has just stated—namely, that we, should await the full debate which I understand will take place in the House of Commons on Monday, on the Motion to adjourn the House—the debate will undoubtedly, as I understand, be of great importance—and then make such comments as the House may desire to make upon it. It will be, of course, desirable to know what noble Lords who are able to speak with authority say on this point; but I confess I am still of opinion that it would be more consonant with the usual custom of this House and with the courtesy which is habitually shown to it that the two debates should take place on the same day. But as I say, I am, more than the noble Earl, in the hands of the House in that matter, and it is one for the House to decide. I hope, therefore, that some other noble Lords will express an opinion on the subject. I have expressed mine, which is quite clear.


My Lords, this question is so important with regard to the conduct of the war, and there are so many doubts not only in the minds of the public but in both Services as to whether strategy and tactics will not come under political control, that I should like to support my noble friend Lord Crewe, and ask for a debate on Monday.


My Lords, there is no doubt that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has pursued the usual course on this occasion. When there is a debate of great importance upon a new departure of Government policy taking place in the House of Commons, it is usual to have a parallel debate in your Lordships' House. It is thought that that is due to the position of this House. But I quite agree with one observation which fell from the Leader of the House—namely, that in some respects a later debate might be more fruitful. There is a good deal to be said for that course. It is a fact that by the Orders of the House we are supposed not to refer to the debates which occur in another place, but that is one of those rules which, I will not say are broken, but are not very strictly enforced, and there is no doubt that it might be possible to take the course which the Leader of the House has suggested. I do not know that I speak with any authority, but so far as my own personal opinion is concerned, I think it would be probably more useful to have a later debate, although it is more in accordance with precedent to have one at the same time.


My Lords, I do not know whether any other member of your Lordships' House desires to say anything on this subject. I have listened to the statements which have been made, and I confess it seems to me that there is a good deal to be said, from the point of view of practical convenience, in favour of the course suggested by the noble Earl who leads the House. We shall have, I think, a more fruitful and instructive discussion if we have had an opportunity to consider what passes in another place on Monday.


My Lords, I am completely out of order in speaking again, but the House will, perhaps, excuse me if I rise once more to say that after the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess on this Bench and the noble Marquess opposite I am not prepared to press for Monday as the day on which this discussion should take place, and I presume that it would suit His Majesty's Government if it takes place at some later date in the week or possibly in the following week. I confess that I am not entirely convinced by the argument of convenience, although I see in a sense the practical force of it. But I do not think it is a desirable custom that debates should be held in this House which will mainly be founded upon the debates which have taken place in the other House, and in which speeches will be made, as I have no doubt, either agreeing with the actual terms of, or making replies to, speeches which are made at the other end of the Lobby. I think that is an unfortunate departure. But I am not prepared to press my point against what is evidently the sense of the majority of the House.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lords who have favoured me and the House with their advice on the matter, and to the noble Marquess for deferring to what he regards as a valuable expression of opinion on the part of important members of your Lordships' House. I shall be ready to take the subject either in reply to a Question or on a Motion at any time, however early that may be convenient to your Lordships.