§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To call attention to the Report of the War Cabinet for 1917, and to the desirability of limiting the duties of the War Cabinet to matters immediately relating to the conduct of the war, and of reestablishing ordinary Cabinet government for all other purposes.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, since I put upon the Paper the Notice which it is my duty to discuss to-night, apparently well-authenticated accounts have appeared in various journals of the intention of the Government to appoint some species of Home Committee for the purpose of dealing with some of the subjects which at present come before the War Cabinet. I do not know how far those accounts are well authenticated, but assuredly what is proposed will not reach the distance that we desire unless it goes a very long way in advance of any proposal which has hitherto found favour in the Press. Because anything in the nature of a Home Committee, while it may co-ordinate action which is at present disjointed, cannot compose diffieulites. We are occupied, not with questions merely of detail, but with the whole principle.
§ Perhaps I might be allowed to say that in any remarks which I have to make there is nothing whatever of hostility to the War Cabinet. There is no desire in any way to criticise the part that they have taken. I was one of those who, with many of your Lordships, welcomed the War Cabinet when it was established in December, 1916. Any one who has read or tried to grapple with the volume which I hold in my hand, the Report of their work during the year after, 240 they were established, must be struck by the stupendous task they have undertaken, the immense ground they have covered, and in many respects the wonderful results which have been achieved. Nobody who has studied this book can doubt for a moment the patriotism and devotion of the members of the War Cabinet. But what I contend is that the whole system on which they were appointed, and on which we hoped they were going to proceed, has been reversed.
§ The old Cabinet was a body of twenty-four men; and it was desired to replace twenty-four men, most of whom were mainly occupied in civil duties, by six men who should be solely devoted to the military and naval needs of the war. Instead of that, what has happened has been that eighteen Ministers—indeed, I am sorry to say, far more, but on that I must say a word presently—eighteen Ministers have become practically autocrats in their own Departments, independent entirely, as far as Cabinet work is concerned, because they have no share in it, while the whole of the work of the Empire—not merely the decisions connected with the war, but all those connected with the civil Departments and after-war issues—fall on the shoulders of the half-dozen oligarchs who now control the whole destinies of the country. I challenge this system because I believe that it is in many respects an infringement of the Constitution, a great danger to civil government, and likely to provoke most serious reaction after the war.
§ This Report of the War Cabinet is drawn up under eighteen heads, and I will go bail that ten of them might be entirely relegated to other authorties who are not concerned with the war. I do not mean to say that there is no over-lapping—of course there is over-lapping. I do not mean to say that that could be done if there was not good feeling and proper confidence between colleagues. But out of these eighteen heads there are only about eight which really affect the conduct of the war. Is not the conduct of the war in itself something which is sufficient to exhaust any energies? You have 7,000,000 men, operating, I believe, in about ten different countries and three different Continents. You have a Navy carrying on operations in every sea. You have a financial outlay, which, either as aid to be given or money to be spent, in three months amounts to the whole of 241 the National Debt before the war; you have war councils sitting here every day; you have Imperial councils with the Dominions; yon have war councils with your Allies; and. in addition to that, numerous other councils with neutrals. I venture to say that a man who has to read what has to be read about the war and to administer and decide what has to be decided about the war has scope for the highest energy and the wildest ambition.
§ But that is only a tithe of the labours. I will not go so far as to say that the War Cabinet, which was intended to be solely occupied with the war, is not mainly so occupied, but I have great doubts whether if the output of any given day were taken, it would not be found that every member of the War Cabinet has had to give more time to things unconnected with the war than he has been able to give to the things connected with the campaign which the War Cabinet entirely administers. Among the labours which the War Cabinet have undertaken are national organisation during and after the war; industrial relations, with trade reform now and after the war; the whole question of transport and shipping reform; agricultural reform; food and the restriction of imports; education; and the question of pensions. Some of these are by-products of the war; some are not. But to those have been added—I do not say by their wish, but at all events the fact remains that they are there—nearly every important question in domestic policy which in ordinary times would, usurp the whole attention of the Government during the period when they have to be settled. In the last few months the War Cabinet have had to deal with the question of the franchise, with the Second Chamber, Ireland, India, and the liquor trade. Not one of those things could fail to occupy untold time of the War Cabinet.
§ I wish I were permitted to bring before your Lordships a menu of the War Cabinet's proceedings. I believe it would astonish you. I believe it would be taken by the public as comic, were it not tragic. I only draw a bow at a venture, but I would say that there probably have not been many days on which the War Cabinet have not been forced to discuss a critical position in France, claims of the most urgent character from our Allies; they have had deputations on labour subjects; they have also had to deal with Ireland; they have had to settle various forms of food restriction; to 242 assuage various Parliamentary troubles; and on at least one occasion we could see from the newspapers that every one of those subjects had been going on at the same time as the critical position of Parliamentary reform. I believe I am right in saying that a large amount of this business has to be done by memorandum, the mere reading of which every day takes in the case of the most rapid member of the War Cabinet something like three hours of his time—three hours on subjects to be mastered before he can begin to think about what decisions are going to be given.
§ In this volume here we are told that 218 interviews have been given by the War Cabinet to different individuals during the war. My only surprise is that the number is not larger. I know a good many people who have been summoned to the War Cabinet, and their account of the antechamber of the Cabinet is like that of the horse before Troy—it is crammed with individuals of every description waiting in various stages of impatience for the moment when they may be called. They come; they wait; they are taken in—perhaps in more senses than one; they go expectant; and if notes were taken of all that passes in that room they would take several hours the next day to read hp. And all this is going on at a time when there is the greatest possible pressure on those w ho have to settle them to touch principles. They however, do not deal only with principles The War Cabinet in some respects goes into the minutest details. They have a legion of secretaries to help the Prime Minister himself; an army of secretaries to assist Sir Maurice Hankey, the admirable Secretary of the War Cabinet; and they have behind them Departments, as I am going to show later. But it is impossible for the War Cabinet to avoid minutiœ. On the same day that we knew them to be discussing most critical positions in France they were also settling whether racing should continue, or whether the breed of British race-horses could be kept up without racing. They turned from that to the question of how many barrels of beer should be brewed. On one day of great importance, as I see from an answer in the House of Commons, the War Cabinet had to settle whether meal should be allowed to be used in dog biscuits; and at the same period they were settling whether pheasants should be shot in March.243
§ I suppose that the last few weeks have been as critical in the history of this country as any previous time. I am not suggesting in what I am going to say that every official does not listen with the greatest courtesy and expedition to any legitimate views on any subject that is brought before him; I am speaking only as a matter of principle. I had a little experience which happened when I had to ask the authority of the Government on behalf of a public school of which I was a governor, where fire had broken out. The fire had un-housed 80 boys, 2 dormitories being burned out. Everybody was anxious to help, but the cost of replacing a roof—which had to be done unless those boys were to be sent away from the school—exceeded £5,000; and neither the National Service Department nor the Timber Authority, nor anybody else, could deal with anything which came to over £5,000. Although it was only a question of £2,000 or £3,000 over that amount we had to go to the War Cabinet for a decision whether the roof of the Charterhouse should be restored and the boys allowed to go back. I soon found that the War Cabinet have Departments under them besides secretaries, and that there was a Priority Committee, which Committee was most anxious to help. But the idea that men so burdened as the War Cabinet are should have to settle these trivialities will, I am sure, show your Lordships that some change is needed.
§ But really, without over-stating it, I believe the members of the War Cabinet are not aware of the chaos which has been produced in the Departments by this system of centralisation. The heads of the Departments never meet in Cabinet as they did in the old days; consequently, numerous matters which could be agreed upon by the heads of the Departments have to come to a higher authority. Overlapping is incessant. There were twenty Government Departments before the war; they have been made into twenty-nine, and there is now an agitation for a Health Department. There is no idea of reducing any of those which are redundant. Other new Departments are proposed daily; and these Departments so overlap that they absolutely fight for the work—they fight for the staff; they fight for the offices; they were even fighting for contracts and bidding against each other until a short time ago.
§ I do not think that there is any greater scandal than that of which we heard 244 yesterday, brought out in answer to a Question in the House of Commons, as to the rise of these Departments. It was disclosed that there are now 94,500 persons on the clerical staff of the Government, costing in all £1,330,800. But that does not represent the whole; the thing is growing daily. I could not help thinking, when I looked at a heading in the newspapers yesterday and saw the date of June 18, that the men who are now engaged in clerical work in Government Departments—mostly in London—exceed by threefold the number of troops which Wellington had at Waterloo on that day 103 years before. These Government employees constitute an army in themselves, and their numbers continue to grow. Look at the number of members of the Government. Mr. Asquith's Government raised the number to sixty-eight—an unknown figure hitherto. The new Government promptly increased it to seventy-nine; in the middle of last year the number had risen to eighty-four; and this year it reaches ninety-three, while yesterday I see that Lord Clinton has been added, making a ninety-fourth. No doubt by Christmas next we shall have over 100 members of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I sincerely hope that the noble Earl will use his influence to stop what I think is a most profligate form of expenditure. The people will not stand it, and it will lead to drastic reaction.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I hope that the noble Viscount will excuse me for interrupting. But when he objects to the appointment of Lord Clinton, does he really want the Board of Agriculture to be without a representative in this House? Lord Clinton's appointment is not the addition of a new post to the Government; the noble Lord replaces in this House Lord Goschen, who has hitherto occupied that place, and who, owing to the pressure of other duties, has been reluctantly compelled to relinquish it.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I am not speaking only of the Board of Agriculture but of the general manning of the Government, which I maintain has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. I think there is grave danger that there should be so many votes in the House of Commons at this moment of gentlemen attached to the Government, and so far as my experience goes I certainly think that if any Committee were appointed and the Government were not represented on it, it would be found that very large reductions could be made.
The noble Earl challenges me, and I am bound to tell him that I have myself served on a Committee appointed by the War Cabinet to examine these very subjects, and that that Committee did report that there was great waste of time, power, and money; and I am compelled to say also that no action whatever, so far as I know, has been taken on the work of that Committee. There were forty Committees sitting at the same time, and I remember asking whether it would not be possible for these subjects to be taken up, and I was told that the only system was that whoever had sat upon a Committee, if dissatisfied, could apply to the War Cabinet to be heard as to whether the recommendations of his Committee should be put in force. That is not to my mind the proper relation between private individuals and the Government. What right have we to come, forward and say, "We sent in our Report; why don't you act upon it? We claim to be heard, and this or that should be done." I do not blame the War Cabinet in the very slightest. They could only have dealt with these subjects by taking their minds away from much more pressing and important matters; but I do say that the business of the country would be infinitely better done if some individual who had time and authority could deal with these subjects, and if the inflated staff of the Government were reduced by 20 per cent.
The subject is a very large one, and not wishing to detain the House at undue length I propose only to suggest two or three instances of the sort of difficulty which has arisen through this system, not as in any way covering the whole ground but merely suggesting certain points on which I think we are suffering. One is the question of finance. There is no check upon expenditure before events. Recent 246 disclosures by the Auditor-General make it perfectly clear that the door is never shut and cannot be shut until the steed has been stolen. My Lords, there are many reasons why the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to sit in the War Cabinet. On a great question of many millions of further expenditure he can no doubt give his presence. But one great reason is that he is the custodian and guardian of the public purse, and if his whole mind is to be taken up with war proceedings it is absolutely impossible for him to keep any check upon expenditure. Remember that this is going on after the war, and it will then take years to cut down expenditure which is entered into and carried out in a few weeks at the present time. I put finance high.
My second point, which I press upon the noble Earl's attention, is the relation of the War Cabinet to wages and labour. I am not going to give any opinion as to the right or wrong of the sums which have been given, but I may be allowed to say in one sentence that since the artificial rise given by the War Cabinet of 12½ per cent. in a number of the larger trades—steel and iron—you have this result, that in a large number of products the sum allowed by the Government to be charged is so insufficient, owing to the wages which they have forced to be paid, that the Government have had to come forward and give a bonus not merely upon munitions but on steel and other products banded over for private consumption, in order to prevent manufacturers stopping because they cannot manufacture except at a loss. Therefore you have artificial wages on one side, an artificial price struck in the middle, and a still more artificial bonus given by the Government on the other side as part of the cost of war. If that continues after the war we must and shall lose all the neutral markets, or all the markets as against any country which has not got a system which forces up prices in this absurd manner.
Look what is going on in the matter of agricultural wages. The Government forced with celerity through Parliament a Wages Board to fix agricultural wages. The Wages Board, I think, is not responsible to Parliament, but merely responsible for doing its best; and at this very moment steps are being taken which will place agricultural wages in such a position that on the lighter lands of the country it will be absolutely impossible fo[...] farmers to 247 make a profit, and the only way you can maintain them will be by a most drastic system of Protection which neither this, House nor any other House of Parliament has ever undertaken to consider. The Houses of Parliament do not know, and still less do people in the towns know, what lies before us, and I cannot imagine any subject on which after the war there may be greater differences of opinion and greater dangers.
Then I take the question of appointments. At present every appointment of every description falls into the hands of an overburdened Prime Minister. I do not in the least say that technically most if not all of these appointments have not been given by the Prime Minister, but I do most certainly say that there have been—for certain of us here have sat in Cabinets—constant discussions of [...]mportant appointments in which very have been expressed which very much changed what occurred, and I only take the result. Has it tended to good official relations that the whole matter should rest to the degree which it does on a few heavily-taxed individuals? Look at the changes which have taken place. There have been seven Secretaries for War in seven years, and five of them since the commencement of the war. Then take the Board of Admiralty, which requires technical knowledge that very few civilians can gain in two or three years. There have been four First Lords of the Admiralty in four years. Then take the Air Service. I cannot remember the exact date when the noble Earl who leads the House gave up the work which he had in connection with that Service. If, as I believe, it was some time about a year and a half ago, that perhaps makes it longer; but in the course of eighteen months since we have had an Air Minister we have had three different noble Lords as head of the Air Service. I am not going to mention in this respect the differences which have occurred—regrettable as I think, and as we all think them —between the Government and some of our leading military advisers, as I believe all of them are due to a large extent to the overpressure and the haste with which affairs have to be conducted.
If I wanted to show how completely all the old traditions have been left aside in this matter I would refer to an appointment made to this House a few days ago. For administrative reasons in Ireland a change was made and a Judge was appointed to be a 248 member of your Lordships' House. I do not think that it occurred to anybody who had to do with that change that any Peer so appointed has a right to sit in appeal in your Lordships' House, but if that is so I can only say that, so far as I have been able to ascertain, never in living memory has a judicial Peer been appointed to this House unless it has first been ascertained that his services were required and would be useful for the judicial functions of the highest Court of the Realm. In these days of haste I venture not to ask the question—because it may be inconvenient to my noble friend if I were to ask it—but I suggest that in these appointments, made solely on administrative grounds, an addition was made to the highest Court in the land without any previous consultation with those who hitherto have always had to give a decision as to whether such an appointment would be valuable or not. I venture to say that this is in itself an illustration of the rapidity and the want of forethought which cause so many appointments made at present to have to be reviewed in a very short period.
Now, my Lords, what is the remedy? The remedy, I feel, is that we should have a War Cabinet which is solely occupied with the conduct of the war. Let the Prime Minister be a member of it; the two heads of the Army and Navy; a Minister, if you desire it, without a portfolio; a Minister like General Smuts representing the Dominions; and, I would urge, the best military and naval representatives that can be obtained, to sit there not as assessors but to vote as members of the War Cabinet. I would say one word both as to those who, in my opinion, should be and those who should not be members of that Cabinet. I think a very grave mistake, and one which has reacted in very serious matters greatly to the public detriment, has been made by excluding the Secretary of State for War from the War Cabinet. The Secretary for War is constitutionally the individual whose duty it is to watch the interests of the Army. The Secretary for War, when soldiers are largely engaged in council, is their natural adviser and protector, and I cannot conceive anything which is more difficult for any man than that he should have to deal with the question of retaining or not retaining his chief adviser when the questions involved in the whole discussion are questions which have been raised and decided at meetings at which the Secretary for War himself was 249 not present—in other words, when he has to decide a most vital question for the country which he alone constitutionally can decide. The War Cabinet cannot dismiss the Chief of the Imperial General Staff or change him; that officer can only be changed by the Secretary of State for War. It is very difficult for the Secretary of State for War that he should have to deal with these questions on secondhand information; that is, on what he has gained from his colleagues and those with whom he is dealing. Therefore, I think it essential that these two Ministers—the War Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty—should be members of the Cabinet.
I think it most essential that the Leader of the House of Commons and the Leader of the House of Lords should not be members of the War Cabinet. Mr. Bonar Law is one of the busiest men in the country. I have already suggested that his other duties have suffered most seriously by the fact that he cannot attend to them. If his services are needed in the War Cabinet there are others who have served in the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer who could fill that office instead. In the same way, with regard to the presence of my noble friend (Earl Curzon of Kedleston) here, I grudge every moment I am taking of his time. My noble friend is a man who spares himself nothing. Let your Lordships consider what is the number and variety of subjects with which he has had to deal in this House, all of which involve preparation and many of which are foreign to the whole of his training. If I may be pardoned for reading the list, which will not take a moment, I will state the subjects on which he spoke in the course of six or seven weeks (I think it was) last year. He spoke on war policy, the United States, the Dardanelles, the position in the Near East, the Egyptian campaign, the submarine menace, the position in Mesopotamia, the action of the Navy, peace proposals, reprisals, Salonika, the War Loan, the supply of war material, and the supply of wood. These are all subjects connected with the war. He also spoke on the Civil Service, exports and imports, lack of control on finance, the internal situation in Germany, the holding of directorships by members of the Government, the expenditure on Government offices, Home Rule, the Imperial Conference, India, International Law, merchant shipping, the Franchise Bill in all its 250 bearings, prisoners in Germany, the titles held by enemies. There are thirty or forty subjects, one in every two days, in which the time of my noble friend has to be taken up.
And this is not a system which is really very agreeable or enviable for your Lordships' House. What happens when he is not here? My noble friend Lord Crawford, who always speaks with great ability, has to occupy his position. How can he occupy it? He has not been present at the discussions on the matters which he has to explain to your Lordships. Take what happened last week. A question was raised as to why Ireland did not have the same restrictions as Great Britain as regards such things as food, travelling, and the rest. In the old days the noble Earl would have been a member of the Cabinet. He is a member of the Cabinet, but it is a Cabinet which never sits. It has sat once, I believe. He would have been a member of the Cabinet, would have heard the subject discussed, and would have influenced it by his own opinion. It is much more important from our point of view if a strong opinion is expressed in this House that he would have given effect to it by his influence in the Cabinet. At present he can only read the reply furnished him as if he were a Lord-in-Waiting or a Lord of the Treasury. That is surely not a dignified position for the noble Earl himself, nor a satisfactory one for Parliamentary criticism.
For that reason I would urge that there should be a Home Cabinet—a Home Cabinet charged with whatever the War Cabinet considers are home affairs. The head of the Home Cabinet would be closely in touch with the Prime Minister, and would be responsible at any moment for advising the War Cabinet in decisions likely to be connected with their work. But there is no half-way house. If the War Cabinet are going to decide everything, as apart from the Home Cabinet, they would be just as busy as they are at present and the public service would not be advanced. I only desire to say one other thing. I believe there is nothing which is likely to do so much harm to the future of the country as the absorption of all private enterprise by Government Departments. That difficulty, great as it is, is intensified when the whole of the decisions concerning the vast chain of Departments is concentrated in a few gifted individuals whose business it is solely to concentrate their minds on the war.
251 I sincerely trust that the Government will reconsider the whole position, that they will take more drastic action than anything that has been adumbrated in to now, and that they will not, from any patriotic desire to do the best for the country, continue to burden themselves with decisions which no mortal body o men could undertake to carry through If they will do so they will greatly facilitate the conduct of the war, restore efficiency to the Administration, and enable order to be restored to our finances. I am quite certain that such a change would be welcomed by the entire Civil Service of the country, and would put a stop to measures which, in the reaction which will certainly come after the war, may gravely affect good order and the government of the country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I find myself in general concurrent with the greater part of the argument advanced by my noble friend, and I shah not take up the time of the House by travelling over the ground which he has occupied with so much skill this evening. If I differ from him at all it is, perhaps, because I realise rather more than he does the immense difficulty of adjusting our old-fashioned political machinery to the new conditions with which we have to deal in these days. The subject is a most perplexing and difficult one, but I think there are two conclusions which emerge pretty clearly from the controversy which is taking place. One is that some change is absolutely necessary in the present arrangements by which the Government is carried on. I do not think this would be disputed, because the newspapers, which are usually well informed, have been lately giving us chapter and verse (with how much accuracy we do not yet know) as to the proposals which are likely to be made from the Front Bench on this side. The other conclusion which, I think, emerges is this—that whatever is done it is idle to think, for the present at all events, that there can be any question of going back to the old system of Cabinet government as we knew it before the war. I say this although I am one of those who are deeply attached to the old system of Cabinet government.
Both in principle and in practice, the old Cabinet as we knew it in former days was entirely defensible. The Cabinet stood for what most of us regard as the principle 252 which lies at the very root of our Constitution in this country—namely, the principle of the collective responsibility of the Government as a whole, a principle which seems a little out of date in these days when we so constantly see different Departments s of the Government proceeding in a sort of go-as-you-please system, apparently without much consultation with one another or with the Government as a whole. The old Cabinet was in principle a democratic institution. It was representative. It a represented different political groups; it was constituted with some consideration a for the great social, industrial, and other interests which have to be taken into account, and with some reference also to the geographical areas of which the country is composed. In practice the old Cabinet afforded what seems to me to be an invaluable opportunity of consultation between one Department and another. It afforded to the Government the means of keeping in touch with both Houses of Parliament. It enabled a Minister who was in charge of a measure, or engaged in the preparation of a measure, to discover beforehand what rocks lay ahead in his course, and it also afforded the other Ministers a chance of protesting if they found they were likely to be rushed by a perhaps over-headstrong colleague. Therefore I deeply regret any invasion of the old Cabinet principle. Your Lordships will find it supported in all the text books. I am not going to quote them at length on an occasion of this kind, but let me read two or three lines from Sir Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practise," and from Sit William Anson's "Law and Custom of the Constitution." Sir Erskine May says—The representation of the Government by Ministers, in both Houses, who have a common responsibility for the measures and policy of the State, secures uniformity in the direction of the councils of these independent bodies. Every public question is presented to them both, from the same point of view; the judgment of the Cabinet and the sentiments of the political party which they represent are adequately ex- pressed in each House, and a general agreement is thus attained which no formal communications could effect.Sir William Anson speaks of—the advantage of having to deal with a body of men who stand or fall together, because they represent common interests, and the opinion of a party. They have become Ministers because a majority of the House of Commons was willing to support their policy and not willing to support any other; they are collectively the nominees of that majority; the dismissal of one is an attack upon the policy which all represent.253 I venture to say that we have a right to regard the old Cabinet as being, so to speak, the very "hub" of the political machine, and if it is tampered with we cannot be surprised if we find the machinery begins to get out of gear.
But even before the war the machinery did begin to creak. I think the trouble really arose from the rapid increase in the number of the members of the Cabinet. It became an unwieldy body. It was impossible with two or even three weekly sittings of a couple of hours duration to give the members the opportunity to which they were entitled of taking part in discussion. If only a few of them took part the Cabinet ceased to be representative; if many of them took part; the proceedings tended to become prolix and interminable, and it is a matter of common knowledge that reasons of that kind led to the practice of transacting a good deal of the more important work of the Government through the agency of an informal inner Cabinet which had no official existence whatsoever.
When once the war broke out it became quite evident that extensive changes were inevitable. The Government became responsible, to begin with, for the conduct of the war itself—a colossal responsibility—but on the top of that it proceeded, as my noble friend pointed out, to take upon itself the management of roost of our great national industries, the supply of a number of the most important staples, arrangements connected with transport, and such things as the control of prices and other matters of the greatest importance. Then came the creation of new Departments. New Departments were multiplied with phenomenal rapidity, and multiplied, as far as I can make out, without any particular pains being taken to demarcate clearly the frontiers by which one Department was divided from the rest. In these circumstances it became quite evident that a change was called for, and a change was demanded by no one with more insistence than by the Government itself. What was desired was the appointment of a much smaller body to deal with the war, and of a smaller body which should be concerned with the business of conducting the war and with that business alone. But I am bound to add that I have a strong impression that in those days the idea was that the Cabinet should not be asked to part with any of its rights, but that it should delegate 254 them for a particular purpose to a body drawn from its own members. The larger body consisting of those who were not to be included in the War Cabinet were to remain, unless I am quite mistaken, entitled to the fullest information with regard to all that passed in the War Cabinet, and although it was well understood that tine War Cabinet was to be, as far as possible, let alone and not interfered with, I do not think the Cabinet as a whole ever went so far as to surrender absolutely and unconditionally the whole of its rights to take an interest in questions concerned with tine prosecution of the war.
How do we stand now? I was glad to hear my noble friend pay what I thought a well-deserved compliment to the extraordinary and in litany respects successful efforts made by His Majesty's Government to cope with the heavy task which they have undertaken, but there are certain things which we cannot conceal from ourselves. In the first place, I think it is shear that Cabinet government has disappeared altogether, and with it the good sound doctrine of the collective responsibility of the. Government of the day. We sometimes see an announcement that a new Department is to be created and to be entrusted to a gentleman who is, we are told, to have Cabinet rank. I do not know what Cabinet rank in these days means. I do not know whether it means anything more than participation in the rather attenuated emoluments which a Cabinet Minister is now entitled to draw. Outside of that, I really do not know what functions or what responsibilities Cabinet rank as such carries with it. The second result of all these changes is that the War Cabinet itself is, and cannot heir being, absolutely overwhelmed by the great mass of duties which it has undertaken. My noble friend made that so clear that I will not attempt to support what he said. Indeed, it is impossible to read the Report of the work of the War Cabinet for 1917 without coming to that conclusion.
I am very anxious to be told—and I hope that we shall be told when my noble friend speaks—what, under the new dispensation, is really the position of these Ministers who are not in the War Cabinet. It seems to be pretty clearly established that as a matter of practice so far as their own Departments are concerned they have gained very considerable power. They may, as far as I can make out, do very much 255 what they please unless they happen to encroach upon the territory of some other Minister who is a little jealous of the functions which appertain to him; but so far as they are responsible for questions of general policy they have it seems to me lost, if not everything, very nearly everything. I say this rather confidently, because in the Report from which my noble friend quoted the authors actually take credit for the new system on the ground that it has taken away from these outside Ministers any right to interest themselves in questions of general policy. The point is so important that I will read the actual phrase. The Report says—These Ministers are now free from the necessity which rested upon them under the old Cabinet system of considering these wider aspects of public policy which had often nothing to do with their Departments but for which they were collectively responsible.If that means anything it means that those Ministers, put in the Cabinet on account of the importance of their position in public affairs, are positively warned off questions of general policy which form by far the most important part of the work of the Government of the day. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. Supposing the Government had to discuss such a question as terms of peace. One would like to know whether that would concern only the War Cabinet, or whether other members of the Government would be given an opportunity of expressing their views upon it.
We do not yet know, of course, what the new scheme is going to be, but it is quite clear that His Majesty's Government are going to propose to us some new organisation for the administration of domestic affairs. I hope that when that new organisation is explained we shall be enlightened upon one or two points. Is this new body going to be a second Cabinet, or a Committee of the main Cabinet? Is it intended that each of these two bodies shall be kept informed by the other of its proceedings? Then, what will be the position of the statesman who will be placed in charge of the Domestic Cabinet or Committee? A well-known statesman's name is freely mentioned in connection with the appointment. Will he be a deputy Prime Minister, or will he be a liaison officer between the two bodies—the War Cabinet and the Domestic Cabinet? And will there be any occasion when the plenum of the Ministry will be called together and consulted? 256 Then one would desire to know whether any attempt is likely to be made to demarcate with a certain amount of precision the frontiers by which the spheres of the different Departments, which now evidently constantly tend to overlap, are divided.
There is another question, and it is, perhaps, one of some importance. What will be the relation of the War Cabinet with the Imperial Cabinet, which is now holding its sittings in London No new development, to my mind, has been more striking than the setting up of that Imperial Cabinet. We are told—again I am quoting from the Report on the Table—that the Imperial Cabinet will be "able to deliberate and to come to decisions," evidently on questions concerning the conduct of the war. One would like to know what means are to be taken to co-ordinate—"co-ordinate" is a word which is very difficult to get away from in these days—the decisions of that Cabinet with the decisions of the British War Cabinet. There will, no doubt, be some nexus between them. At any rate, it looks as if we should have three bodies—our own War Cabinet, our own Domestic Cabinet or its equivalent, and the Imperial War Cabinet—and I think there can be no doubt that the relations of these three bodies will have to be very carefully adjusted.
I can assure my noble friend who leads the House that I have said nothing, or at any rate have intended to say nothing, that could be regarded as carping criticism of what has been done by His Majesty's Government in regard to the conduct of the war. I realise, indeed we must all realise, that they have undertaken a colossal task. I suppose no Government in the history of the world has ever had such a task thrown upon its shoulders as the Government of this country has at the present day. There have been, no doubt, mistakes and miscarriages in the past.—it would have been extraordinary had there not been—and I dare say there will be mistakes and miscarriages in the future. I realise, and readily admit, that this is just one of those cases where it would be idle to attempt to lay down hard and fast rules to govern the whole of the intricate procedure which must take place under these different agencies. There must be a good deal of elasticity, there must be a general consent to trust a great deal to the tact and to the good sense of the persons concerned. I, at any rate, part very 257 regretfully from the old Cabinet system; I hope some day we may get hack to it. I hope even now that something may be done to restore some of the features which were inseparable from the old Cabinet system. Meanwhile I am perfectly ready to trust His Majesty's Government to give us the best practical arrangement which the conditions admit for carrying on the immense enterprise which they have under-taken.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I understand that the noble Earl who leads the House will before very long be called away to some of his important duties—a fact which is in itself something of a commentary upon the questions asked by my noble friend who introduced this subject. Of his I speech can say that so far as my experience of the House goes I have seldom heard an indictment of His Majesty's Government—I describe it as an indictment, at any rate of the system under which they work, although generally speaking it was couched in moderate terms—I have seldom heard an indictment more thoughtfully conceived and powerfully delivered than that of my noble friend. I think also that it received in its general sense the almost universal acceptance of your Lordships' House.
The system which has prevailed during the lifetime of the present Government was clearly explained in its main features by the noble Earl the Lord President in a debate which we had in this House on December 19, 1916. It is worth while, I think, to recall what the noble Earl then said, because it is quite clear from that what the hopes of His Majesty's Government were at that time, and it is interesting to consider how far those hopes have been fulfilled. The noble Earl, speaking of the War Cabinet, which he was still able in those days to describe as a Committee, said—That Committee sits every day, and sometimes two or three times in the day. It is in truth, as it is called, a War Cabinet. There is no other Cabinet constituted as a body and netting regularly under the presidency of the Prime Minister with collective responsibility for all the acts of Government.Then the noble Earl well on to sayAn effective liaison between the two—the Cabinet and the Departments—must obviously be maintained by means of conferences and meetings intended to Ming a hoot common action and a common aim.258 And be stated further on that the body might be regarded as analogous to the Committee of Imperial Defence, because—the plan which that body proceeded has been a small nucleus continually replenished by Ministers coming in from other Departments when their advice was needed and their attendance required.That, I take it, is the system which has been followed during the year and a-half or more during which the Government have been in existence.
In replying to the statement (a very full statement) of the noble Earl, I made one or two observations to which I will venture to allude—although it is not pleasant to quote one's old speeches in your Lordships' House—because the subject with which I dealt has also been mentioned by my noble friend who spoke last, Lord Lansdowne. I said this—… one idea which found favour with some of us was the creation of two Committees, one of which would be the War Committee proper, the other to contain the representatives of those services to which I have last alluded—namely, the domestic services—the one being concerned mainly with the conduct of the war abroad and with foreign affairs and the other with war questions at home, the Prime Minister being the connecting link between the two. I cannot help thinking that there was something to be said for a more formal arrangement such as that, rather than the present arrangement by which these domestic questions have to be departmentally discussed outside, and, in the event of difference of opinion, to be brought to the War Cabinet.The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, spoke of that proposition, which was carefully considered at that time; and it is trite, as he said, that no conclusion on the subject, so far as I knew, was ever reached by the Cabinet as a whole. My own idea was at that time that there should be, in fact, two Cabinets—that is to say, that the two small Committees of four or five or six members should be composed of members of the Cabinet, and that the Cabinet would not formally be dissolved but that it would, in fact, never meet, and that the other Ministers who had been Cabinet Ministers would become Departmental Ministers outside either of the two bodies, which might be described at the War Cabinet and the Home Cabinet.
Perhaps I may add it really would not have been necessary in a matter of that kind for the Cabinet to agree on any such 259 solution. The matter was really one for the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is his creation, and the Prime Minister at that time could, proprio mo[...]a, bring about a change of that kind even though it was not a subject of univeral agreement. As we know, that scheme did not come into being because a rapid change of the Government took place. It is worth noting, I think, that at the time of that debate, on December 19, 1916, neither the noble Earl the Leader of the House in his speech, nor I in my reply, alluded to anything but two bodies both concerned with the conduct, of the war—one with the conduct of the war proper and foreign affairs, and the other with the conduct of home matters also related to the war. It was not, I believe, in the minds of any of us at that time that the great number of subjects to which the noble Viscount alluded, which have since become part of the policy of His Majesty's Government, would have to he considered by either of the two bodies which it was proposed to appoint. At the end of 1916 there was not, I think, any contemplation among the political leaders of any Party of the great political changes, so wide in their scope and so deep in their essence, with which it has since been found necessary for His Majesty's Government to deal—the different subjects mentioned by my noble friend behind me (Lord Midleton): Parliamentary reform, Ireland, India., education, the creation of a Health Ministry, and the reorganisation or reconstruction of the Second Chamber. Although it was generally known that they, or some of them, I might have to be dealt with, they were not, so to speak, in the forefront of the picture; and in considering the form of Cabinet government which ought to be adopted I do not think that the attention which might have to be paid to those great subjects was sufficiently in our minds. It cannot be disputed that the system which was started at the end of 1916 has proved to be infinitely more difficult in its daily working from the fact that what the War Cabinet has had to consider have not been merely war questions either at the different Fronts or at, home, but the multifarious list of important matters of which I have spoken. It is, indeed, the fact that the War Cabinet has ceased to be a War Cabinet. It is clear that when the War Cabinet has to reach decisions on matters of Irish policy, of Indian policy, to agree to the form of framing of an Education Bill, or of a Bill for creating a Health 260 Ministry, it ceases in the strict, sense to be a War Committee or War Cabinet.
Now, I am not one of those in which I probably differ to some extent from my noble friend Lord Salisbury—who are disposed to cavil at the attempts which have been made to deal with this great number of subjects. It is, of course, arguable whether they ought, or each of them or every one of them ought or ought not to have been undertaken now; but I have no doubt that in each case a most plausible and, I should consider, convincing argument might be adduced for dealing at the particular time with the particular matter. A great many of them can, in fact, be closely linked up with the war and with the immediate necessities of reconstruction after the war; therefore I do not make any complaint of their introduction. But the fact remains that an altogether unexpected burden has been thrown upon the central body of the small War Cabinet, even though it has been somewhat enlarged; and I venture also to say that although, as we know, all the members of the War Cabinet have been men of distinction and some of them of the very first distinction, yet I do not feel certain that the body itself is the one from among the statesmen of the day which you would have selected to deal, as the final deciding authority, with at any rate some of the subjects upon which they have had to be the arbitrators.
It has been, as previous speakers have stated, freely rumoured in the Press that a change is contemplated. I have seen various propositions stated with some confidence in journals which for one reason or another do not often go wrong in the political forecasts which they make, but those forecasts have not been identical. One of them describes the creation of a new Committee of Ministers which would take over and deal with all questions of co-operation, conflict, or overlapping as between different Departments, but which would not attempt to deal with any projects of domestic policy, such for instance as devolution from one Department to another, labour questions, the creation of a Ministry of Health, and the like. The other prophesy which I have seen made is that two such Committees are likely to be created, one containing representatives of the Local Government Board, the Ministry of Reconstruction, the Scottish Office, and several others, which would be entrusted with all domestic affairs which 261 were not economic or commercial, those being handed over to another Committee, presumably an offshoot of the Board of Trade hut containing other Ministers whose offices would make. their presence suitable, the theory being, apparently, that those Committees would be able to take what we call binding decisions; but in cases of great importance or difficulty the matter would have to be brought before the War Cabinet for decision.
If am, of course, entirely unaware of what His Majesty's Government are about to propose, but so far as I am able to form an opinion without any inner knowledge I confess that the creation of bodies of that kind does not appear to me to be nearly so likely to provide an effective machine as the original proposition of two Cabinets of equal authority, of both of which the Prime Minister should be the chairman, although he would obviously not be able to be present at all the meetings of both. It might seem that this would throw an extra heavy burden upon the Prime Minister, but I do not feel at all certain that such is the case, because I suspect that as it is a great part of his time must be given to personal interviews with Ministers and others who have to explain and to receive sanction fin the very matters which a body of that kind would be able to decide finally. I cannot help thinking, further, that if such a second co-equal body could be created with a powerful vice-chairman, who under ordinary circumstances might be the acting chairman, this would he the beg solution. I question myself whether either of the schemes which we ha ye seen suggested in the newspapers would work very well. In fact, I am afraid it would be found that the War Cabinet at any rate after a short time would be frequently appealed to, and that it would not receive that measure of relief for its war work proper which is what we all desire that it should receive.
If I may quote once more from what I said at the end of 1916, speaking of the differences which were brought before the Cabinet, I said—It can hardly be hoped that they [Departmental Ministers] always will or can agree. It is said that in such cases the War Cabinet will send for those who differ and reach a prompt decision. It is not always easy, even for the most competent and energetic Ministers placed in a supreme position, to arrive without much care and thought, and possibly the expenditure of some time, at a definite conclusion on a disputed matter. I 262 foresee possibilities, not so much of difference and difficulty as of delay and loss of time.I cannot help thinking that this must have occurred, and that it would occur again if the Press scheme is the one which His Majesty's Government propose to adopt for the purpose of causing some relief of the War Cabinet.
I myself cordially join in what was said by my noble friend behind me and by the noble Marquess opposite, in their expressions of admiration at the devotion and unstinted labour which the members of the War Cabinet have given to their work. It is impossible for anybody who has had to do with Governments to speak too highly of the devotion which His Majesty's Ministers have shown; but I think that, as was clearly shown by Lord Midleton, they have indeed undertaken an impossible task. What was probably in their minds when the Government was formed was to make the reaction from the large Cabinet of twenty-three as prompt and as complete as possible. As will be seen from what I have just quoted, some of us thought at the time that they were overdoing it, and that they were thereby undertaking an impossible task, even though we did not know then how greatly the burden would be increased by the introduction of all the large measures which have sprung into being since.
While agreeing that it was absolutely right—I entirely agree with my noble friend opposite that it was entirely right—to make a radical alteration in the old Cabinet system, and agreeing at the same time with him in greatly regretting the disappearance of the collective responsibility of the Government as a whole—although, I take it, the War Cabinet do admit and claim for themselves collective responsibility among thernselves—and without attempting to make any prophecy as to what the future form of Cabinet government in this country is likely to be, if sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to devise a scheme which will prove to be thoroughly workable and which will at any rate see the war out and give time for the country to consider precisely how it desires to be governed when peace once more comes.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I readily accept the disclaimer of my noble friend Lord Midleton, who opened 263 this debate, that he was not inspired by any feelings of hostility towards the War Cabinet, of which I happen to he the spokesman in this House. I am bound to say that his attitude was not always characterised by any great excess of affection, but, broadly speaking, I accept with gratitude the expressions of sympathy, and sometimes even more than sympathy, that the Government as a whole has received in its labo[...]s from the various noble Lords who have addressed us to-night.
The subject which the noble Viscount has brought before us is eminently one which this House is entitled to explore, and personally I welcome the opportunity which is presented to me of a making a much more sustained explanation and defence of the governing system under which we are living than has at any time been possible during the year and a-half for which the Government has existed. The noble Viscount (Lord Midleton) drew a picture of the Government as he saw it. He described us as half a dozen oligarchs, drunk with autocracy, and swamped with work, at the top, doing important things and unimportant things, and charged—to use the language of the noble Marquess who has just spoken—with an "impossible task." Lord Midleton went on to describe a condition of what he believed to be administrative dislocation and chaos below. He seemed to know everything, or at any rate a great deal, of what goes on inside the Cabinet Chamber, and, generally speaking, in the procedure of Government. From what sources he derived his information I am at a loss to understand. All I can say is—and it will be my object to convince your Lordships—that his information is for the most part quite incorrect. The picture which he presented to us is not a picture but a caricature, and the presentation of the case which I shall endeavor to place before your Lordships will, I hope, leave upon your minds an impression of a Government not only conducting its work in a manner very different from that which has been suggested, but free from many of the blemishes with which the noble Viscount has charged us.
Let me begin by asking, What was the old Cabinet system which the present Government was intended to replace? I do not think I need say much about it, because I have noted with great interest that both the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, and my noble friend Lord 264 Crewe, who speak with a vastly greater experience of the old Cabinet form of Government than I can claim, have both admitted in your Lordships' House that it was obsolete, that it was no longer adapted to the circumstances of the day, that radical alteration was required in it for the purposes of the war, and that, to use my noble friend Lord Lansdowne's phrase, it is idle to think we can ever go back. I entirely agree in these remarks. My own experience of the old Cabinet system was limited to the year and a-half in which I had the honour to serve, with many of my noble friends on both sides of this House, under Mr. Asquith. I certainly formed an impression at the time that that Cabinet was faulty for the purposes of peace and quite impossible in time of war. It was so imperfect for the conduct of the war that, as my noble friends will remember, war work had to be devolved upon smaller bodies. We started with a body called the Dardanelles Committee, because that was the campaign which at the moment was occupying the greater part of the attention of the Government; but as time went on, as the military expeditions to Salonika and Mesopotamia became involved, so did the Dardanelles Committee, without actually losing its name, expand into a War Committee. Its numbers varied, but at one time they reached, if I remember aright, a total of at least ten, if not more.
Then occurred the stage, which my noble friends will remember, when the entire Cabinet, convinced that this was an inadequate and over-cumbrous machine, petitioned the Prime Minister to place the conduct of the war in the hands of a smaller body. The original numbers of that War Cabinet were five. It was afterwards increased to six; then to seven; I am not certain that it was not eight. But my noble friend Lord Lansdowne was quite right in saying that all the while the authority and responsibility of the main Cabinet remained in the background, and it was understood and frequently acted upon that any large issues of policy, certainly anything involving a considerable departure of policy, should come to the Cabinet as a whole before it received executive sanction.
There were, therefore, at that time two Cabinets, subject to the qualification I have made. I have said that I regarded the machinery as imperfect for the purposes 265 of war. Was it effective for the conditions of peace? I would ask noble Lords who are now pleading for two Cabinets to bear in mind their recollection and experience of what happened at that time. I am treating matters as they were. My noble friends will bear me out when I say that meetings of the Cabinet were most irregular; sometimes only once, seldom more than twice, a week. There was no agenda, there was no order of business. Any Minister requiring to bring up a matter either of Departmental or of public importance, had to seek the permission of the Prime Minister to do so. No one else, broadly speaking, was warned in advance. It was difficult for any Minister to secure an interstice in the general discussion in which he could place his own case. No record whatever was kept of our proceedings, except the prix-ate and personal letter written by the Prime Minister to the Sovereign, the contents of which, of course, are never seen by anybody else. The Cabinet often had the very haziest notion as to what its decisions were; and I appeal not only to my own experience but to the experience of every Cabinet Minister who sits in this House, and to the records contained in the memoirs of half-a-dozen Prime Ministers in the past, that cases frequently arose when the matter was left so much in doubt that a Minister went away and acted upon what he thought was a decision which subsequently turned out to be no decision at all, or was repudiated by his colleagues. No one will deny that a system, however embedded in the traditions of the past and consecrated by constitutional custom, which was attended by these defects was a system which was destined, immediately it came into contact with the hard realities of war, to crumble into dust at once.
When Departmental differences arose in those days, how were they settled? Long delays ensued then, just as we are told they do now. Ministers found the utmost difficulty in securing decisions because the Cabinet was always congested with business; and, to make a long story short, I do not think any one will deny that the old Cabinet system had irretrievably broken down, both as a war machine and as a peace machine. This was partly due, no doubt, to the size of the Cabinet, which had swollen to the preposterous number of twenty-three or twenty-four; although I should like to say that the idea of my noble, friend that large Cabinets have only been the evolution of the past quarter of a 266 century of our history is quite mistaken. If you will go back to the Ministry of Lord Grey, which passed the Reform Bill, or the early Ministries of Lord John Russell, Lord Derby, and Lord Palmerston, you will find that in all these cases the number did not fall below sixteen, and the idea that less than half a century ago there were only ten members of the Cabinet is one which finds small justification in the recorded history of those days. The failure of the old Cabinet system was partly due to the excessive numbers, but still more, I think, it was due to the total lack of businesslike procedure on which I have already commented.
Then the present Government was formed, and a number of changes were introduced. I may very briefly tell the House what they were. I am sure your Lordships, in many cases, know what they were as well as I do. There was a substantial reduction in number. The War Cabinet began by Icing five; it afterwards rose to six and seven, and the present number is six. Secondly, the Ministers who were appointed to it were deliberately chosen, because for the most part they were without portfolio; they were, therefore, freed from the general administrative work, and were regarded as more likely to be able to devote their whole energy to the prosecution of the task with which they were charged. It was for this obvious reason that the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, War, the Colonies, India, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, were not made permanent members of the War Cabinet, though, as is well known, they are always present at any discussion, in which their Department is concerned, and many of them are constantly present at the entire session of the Cabinet from day to day. Thirdly, a new feature was the regularity of meetings. These take place at half-past eleven or twelve o'clock in the morning; indeed there are very often two, and sometimes three, meetings in the day. Your Lordships can well understand that the fact of there being so small a total of Ministers, whose duty it is habitually to remain in London, renders it very easy to summon them by telephone, almost at a moment's notice, and makes it a great deal easier than it would have been in the old days of much larger Cabinet bodies. In fact, the present system is that of a Cabinet in permanent session; I want your Lordships clearly to get that in your minds.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Is my noble friend quite correct in what he has just stated? Does he really maintain that in the past the Secretary of State for War has been at all meetings at which the Chief of the Imperial Staff was present?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON I should not like to pledge myself absolutely to that, but my impression is that on every occasion when war matters have been discussed, matters upon which the Secretary of State for War was entitled to have or desirous to give an opinion, he has been there. If the noble Viscount has instances to the contrary, I hope he will give them to me. Let me give the figures. This Government has been in existence for eighteen months. During that time there have been 525 meetings of the War Cabinet and of the Imperial War Cabinet, which replaces the War Cabinet when it is in existence in this country. In addition, there have been thirty conferences, or meetings, with our Allies, at which the War Cabinet, or the greater part of the War Cabinet have been present. Thus there have been 555 meetings in 474 working days, excluding Sundays. This is exclusive of the meetings of the Committees of the Cabinet, which have frequently supplemented and sometimes taken the place of Cabinet meetings. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne paid a compliment to our labours, and I am sure I am therefore entitled to say without vanity that such a record of administrative activity has never been approached at any other period of our history.
§ You may ask me how these figures compare with the days that preceded us. I have not been able to obtain figures for the whole of the time, but I find that in the interval (i.e., the space of five months) between July 16, 1916, and December 8, 1916, when the present Government was formed, there were forty-one meet[...]ngs of the then War Committee, eighteen meetings of the Cabinet only, or a total of fifty-nine in 146 days. The present Government came into office in December, and in the interval (again of five months) between December 9, 1916, and May 3, 1917, the War Cabinet meetings were 126, special Cabinet meetings 6, Imperial War Cabinet meetings 14, or a total of 146 meetings in 146 days, including Sundays, or 125 days excluding Sundays. Take another period From September 20, 1917, to February 12, 268 1918, there were 131 meetings in a similar period of 125 working days, excluding Sundays. I have given your Lordships the figures for the whole period during which the present Government has been in power.
§ I pass, with your permission, to the procedure adopted. And here I hope that what I have to say may dissipate a good deal of what I can only regard as misapprehension. Every morning the day begins by reports on the military, naval, and air situation by the representatives of those Departments. The meeting of the Cabinet is attended by the Secretary of State for War, by the Chief of the General Staff, very often by the Director of Military Intelligence; and there are present, representing the Navy, frequently the First Lord, invariably the First Sea Lord, or a deputy representing him if he is called elsewhere. Frequently in addition other military or naval officers—the Adjutant-General, the Quartermaster-General, the Director of Military Operations—are present, and when we have the good fortune to have in this country the eminent Field-Marshal commanding in France, or other distinguished Commanders from other theatres of war, they also are not infrequently invited to our discussions. That is the first business of the day. It may occupy half an hour or an hour, or it may occupy more. It may conceivably extend over the whole of the sitting of the Cabinet.
§ Let me say before I pass away from this, that I doubt very much whether there has ever been a war waged by this country in which the military advisers of the Government have had a freer hand in the expression of their views, or in which there has been more deference paid to their opinion. I, of course, have not had much experience myself, at any rate of what has happened at other times, but I can truthfully say that I can hardly imagine a situation or a Government in which a more consistent desire has been not only expressed but acted upon to give due consideration to the views of military advisers and also to accept the advice which they have offered. I doubt if there has ever been a war in which the record of a Government has been cleaner in that respect.
§ These discussions are followed as a rule by a discussion on the foreign or diplomatic 269 situation, at which the Foreign Secretary is invariably present, frequently accompanied by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary or Minister of Blockade, and sometimes by experts from his Department. I say emphatically that no question in either of these categories, military or naval on the one hand, or diplomat is on the other, has ever been delayed, or if it has been delayed it has not been due to the existence of the Cabinet system or to the manner in which it is worked, but it has been due to the character of the ease itself.
§ After this we proceed to what may be described as the agenda of the day. Here let me at once brush away the idea that when the present Cabinet was formed there was any thought in our minds, or I believe irk the minds of anybody else, that, we should confine ourselves solely and exclusively to matters connected with the war. We never threw off our shoulders the general responsibility of government. The Ministry were called a War Cabinet because their main function is war, but the idea that they were not held accountable for the administration of the vast number of affairs that ordinarily rest upon the Government of this country never entered into our heads, and certainly could not be deduced from anything that I have said, or I believe that any representative of the Government has said in either House of Parliament. We then come to the agenda of the day. Here we approach all the topics of administrative, or Parliamentary, or domestic concern which come before a Government whether in time of peace or of war. A list is prepared in advance. The subjects are put down upon the list by the Prime Minister or by any member of the War Cabinet who desires to bring a matter up, or at the request of any Minister or Department that is concerned, or at the instance of the Secretary of the War Cabinet. A timetable is fixed for each subject, and the convenience of Ministers, which the noble Viscount seemed to think was dangerously imperilled by their having to sit occasionally in a not uncomfortable seat outside the Cabinet, Chamber, is endeavoured to be served by the arrangement, as I say, of summoning them by telephone a few minutes before their case comes up for discussion.
§ I ask the question, Is there congestion under this plan? I answer No, emphatically No, and I challenge contradiction. I say that there is not, and I will give you 270 my proof. At the beginning of each week a list is circulated by the Secretary of the War Cabinet of all the subjects, from whatever Department they may emanate, which are ripe for consideration by the Cabinet. During the last three months the weekly average has been thirteen. This list is usually cleared off in the first two or three days of the week. There were only six on the list yesterday, nearly all of which were disposed of this morning. Sometimes a clearance meeting is held at the end of the week in order to rub the slate clean, and Ministers have not infrequently been able to dispense with a sitting on Saturday because there was no business to be done.
§ I pass to another feature of the present system. I have described the manner in which Ministers are summoned to the Cabinet room. A Minister may bring with him the Departmental experts by whom he is guided and by whose counsel he may wish his opinion to be fortified when he meets the Cabinet. Thus, as I have explained, the Foreign Secretary constantly brings the experts of his Department. The Secretary of State for India, brings with him, if required, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the Permanent Under-Secretary and sometimes the military adviser of his Office. If on any of the topics that, are down for discussion two Ministers disagree, and if the question has not been settled in advance by conference or committees, each Minister of the Department circulates a Paper stating the case. The experts are then heard at the War Cabinet. A discussion takes place, and decision is arrived at. This opening of the doors of the Cabinet room is, of course, an entirely new feature in our system. My noble friends who are scattered about these benches will bear tire out when I say that in olden days the Cabinet was regarded as almost sacrosanct. It was a kind of Star Chamber which sat with closed doors, through which no one was allowed to penetrate, and across whose threshold the shadow of any stranger was only on the rarest occasions allowed to fall. To-day if we are discussing questions affecting labour, shipping, agriculture, or the Irish question, outside authorities are freely admitted. The Cabinet benefits in my judgment from that, because we hear the views of the experts expressed from their own lips, and the experts themselves are grateful for this system because they have 271 a chance of being heard. They hear the discussion in the War Cabinet and they are made acquainted with the decision that is arrived at. In some respects these meetings hear a certain resemblance to the custom with which some of us are familiar in Oriental countries and which is there known as Dubar. I do not speak of a Durbar in its ceremonial application; I am far from suggesting that there is anything ceremonial about our appearance or conduct. I allude to a Durbar in the more common sense familiar to those of my noble friends who have been in Eastern countries—i.e., an open court at which the Sovereign sits in judgment amidst his counsellors. Very often in Eastern courts the ordinary public is admitted. This is a system implanted in the traditions of the East, some features of which we have, I think, not unsuccessfully adopted on the present occasion.
§ The number of persons not being War Cabinet Ministers who have in this way attended the meetings of the War Cabinet during the past year and a-half has been 381, several of them attending many times. My noble friend Lord Midleton quite unfairly spoke of these as interviews. Really, if you go into a Cabinet room and are one of a body of ten, fifteen, twenty, sometimes thirty people, you do not describe yourself as having an interview with the Prime Minister. That is an abuse of language. These gentlemen attended not for the purposes of an interview with one Minister or another, but in order to have an opportunity of explaining their views to the Cabinet as a whole. Finally, the discussion is reported, and the decision is recorded by a staff of very able secretaries. I was glad, by the way, to hear a compliment paid by one noble Lord to Sir Maurice Hankey, the Secretary of the War Cabinet. That distinguished officer, by his ability, his industry, his knowledge of affairs, and his unfailing tact, has really been far more responsible than any other individual for what I claim to be the successful working of the system, and when history is written he will deserve his own niche in the temple which records the builders of our national Constitution. These reports of the proceedings are circulated in type the same evening for the consideration of the Ministers who have been present. They are submitted for their correction, and a day or two later they appear in print for record. And how valuable that record may be, how indispensable in some cases it has been shown to 272 be, may be illustrated by the case that arose over what was known as the Maurice letter in the newspapers a short time ago, in which, if it had not been for the existence of such a record as I have described, it would have been impossible to make the case that was made in the other House of Parliament.
§ I turn to another aspect of our work, and I think, from the point of view of this debate, that this is the aspect to which your Lordships will attach the most importance. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne spoke in general terms about the process of devolution and delegation that is always going on in Cabinet government, and which I think he was anxious to see developed in the working of the present system. Delegation has been a part, I believe, of the system of every Cabinet that has ever existed in this country, certainly during the last century, but it has been developed to an enormous degree under the system which I am now describing. There are two classes of questions which are thus treated. There are some questions which affect a single Department lady, but which requite Cabinet authority. Then there is the vastly larger range of questions overlapping the spheres of many Departments, perhaps affecting eight or ten or even a dozen Departments. If these raise questions of high policy they are brought to the War Cabinet, argued, and decided there. If not, we have to provide for their examination, discussion, decision outside.
§ Now let me explain to your Lordships how this is done. There are three methods by which this aspect of the problem is sought to be met. First, there is a delegation of questions with over of decision, or, if decision is difficult, then for reference hack, to one or two Ministers. Every one of us who is in the War Cabinet has had such questions assigned to him for decision, either alone or in conjunction with one of his colleagues. This, of course, relates to matters of administration with whirl] it is not necessary to trouble the War Cabinet—the kind of things with which the noble Viscount seems to think that we are saddled day by day. These matters are dealt with promptly. I think successfully. Very often the question is referred to a Minister at a Cabinet in the morning, he meets the Ministers concerned in the afternoon, and the thing is settled before nightfall; and this system is one which I 273 believe to be extremely popular with the Departments themselves.
§ The second method is that of what I may describe as ad hoc Committees—Committees formed for the examination and solution of particular classes of questions, questions which are constantly coming up and which fall more or less into a single group or under a single heading. There have been ninety-two of those Committees during the last year and a-half, and they have been attended, of course, not by War Cabinet Ministers only, but by other Ministers and other persons as well. The kind of questions that have been referred to these ad ho[...] Committees have been such questions as shipping, imports, labour, liquor, man-power, food production, registration, agricultural policy, Army and Navy pay. These Committees have sat once, or twice, or thrice, as the occasion demanded; the matter has been fully examined, the decision has been reported to the Cabinet; and, unless a serious division of opinion arose, it has been confirmed by them.
§ I pass to the third method. Out of those two methods that I have described the Committees consisting of individual Ministers and the ad hoc Committees has gradually been evolved, by an organic process, the existence of a number of permanent Committees which are in constant and regular session. I will give an illustration of what these Committees are. It became customary in the middle days of our existence to refer questions of priority for manufacture, labour, and materials between the various Departments to one of our number, General Smuts. Out of this has arisen the War Priorities Committee, to which my noble friend Lord Midleton referred. And as regards the case to which he alluded of some conflagration at a school in which he was interested, I really do not know what the bearing of his remarks was. That was obviously a question which had nothing to do with the War Cabinet; it could not conceivably come before us. It was a question which the War Priorities Committee was constituted to deal with; and, if my noble friend had placed himself in touch with that Committee, he would have been spared making that portion of his speech this afternoon.
§ I will proceed with my illustrations. Before the Air Ministry was constructed there was an Air Policy Committee, which was also under the control of General 274 Sm[...]ts. That Committee became unnecessary as soon as we had a full blown Air Ministry with the full powers which were eonferred upon it by the Act which your Lordships helped to pass into law a little while ago. Then there is an Economic Defence Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Chamberlain, which has taken over the work of two or more Committees between which it, was divided at an early stage. Fourthly, there is a Standing Committee on Eastern Affairs dealing with the multifarious problems, increasing in significance and in moment, day by day and week by week, that arise between the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean and the frontiers of India—Palestine, the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Persia, Central Asia, and so on. Of that Committee the Foreign Secretary and the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office are members; so are the, Secretary of State for India and experts in his Department, the Chief of the General Staff, the Director of Military Intelligence, General Smuts, and myself as chairman.
§ To this list there has recently been added the Committee about which so many questions have been addressed to us this afternoon namely, a Committee on Home Affairs. In the absence of the Home Secretary the Committee has not vet met, but it is to consist of the principal Home Ministers—the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and many others; need not give the exhaustive list this evening. The Committee will meet, under the presidency of the Home Secretary, at least once a week, and all domestic questions will be referred to it that require the co-operation of more than one Department and that call for Cabinet decision. I ought to say, in passing, that on all of these Committees to which I have referred—these Standing Committees—the Treasury is represented, if it desires so to be; and your Lordships can easily imagine that in most cases financial interests have to be looked after by the presence of a representative of that Department.
§ My noble friend Lord Lansdowne asked me, What exactly are to be the functions and powers of this Committee? They really are on the same footing as the other Committees to which I have referred. This Committee, like them, will have the power of deciding on behalf of the Cabinet at the discretion of the chairman, but, as in the ease of the other Committees, larger 275 questions of policy will be referred at his discretion to the War Cabinet. I think that this Committee may be a valuable addition to our system. It is the latest—perhaps it may not be the last development of a system which I have been arguing to your Lordships has been well tried and is now soundly established in experience; and all the way through my remarks this afternoon I hope I do not give your Lordships the idea that I am claiming for one moment that a final step has been reached in our organisation or re-organisation. Our system is essentially a fluid system. We are building up our own experience from day to day; and just as we have added the Committee to which I have referred, so it may be necessary to add other Committees or to alter the constitution or powers of Committees in the future.
§ One noble Lord asked a question about the co-ordination between these Committees and the War Cabinet—what is the liaison., or touch, between the two parties. Well, the co-ordination is secured by the fact that the chairman is either a member of the War Cabinet or else a person who has access to the whole of the Cabinet proceedings; by the fact that the secretaries of these Committees are in all cases selected from among the Assistant Secretaries of the War Cabinet; by keeping the records, first in type and then in print, in the same form as the records of the Cabinet; and, finally, by the circulation to the members of the War Cabinet of the proceedings of these various Committees, whether they are Standing Committees or the ad hoc Committees to which I referred as having existed in an earlier stage. I have now endeavoured to describe the system of Committees with which we are working.
§ Then there are two other forms of consultation to which recourse is frequently made. One is conferences, presided over by the Prime Minister, with important bodies or interests concerned with matters that are likely to come up for decision. I will take the ease of Ireland. My noble friend Lord Midleton has himself attended on many occasions at these conferences. They are outside the ordinary Cabinet system, but they are an invaluable and indispensable method of acquainting the Prime Minister, who is usually attended by several of his colleagues, with the views that are desired to be brought before him by important sections of public opinion.276
§ Finally—and this is an answer to a question put by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne—what he called the plenum of the Cabinet (that is, a meeting of all the Ministers), is from time to time summoned to deal with matters on which they are all entitled to be heard. I will give two illustrations of that. The first was the question of the franchise—the Representation of the People Bill. The second has been at more than one stage the question of Ireland, obviously a question which the War Cabinet would not like to decide without knowing what, all their colleagues think; and on those occasions it is always open to the Prime Minister—and he has more than once acted on the opening—to summon the entire body of Ministers.
§ I said just now that I was ignorant of the congestion which people seemed to think exists; and the only hint of any congestion that I have had in the speeches to which I have listened this evening was a reference by the noble Viscount to the Ministry of Health. It is true that the question of founding a Ministry of Health is not solved, but its postponement has not been due to any congestion of work in the Cabinet; it has not been due to the numbers of the Cabinet, be they too small or the reverse. It has been due simply to the fact that this is a question which raises the most acute and deep-seated differences between the various Departments concerned. It is a question which would equally take time whether you had a Cabinet of six or sixty; whether von had a War Cabinet or a Peace Cabinet. The question of Ireland, of course, is another matter of the same type. Those are questions which necessarily can be dealt with only by repeated consultation, conference, and the like, and the slow treatment of which it is really unfair to charge to the particular Cabinet system which I am concerned in explaining.
§ I come now, my Lords, to the suggestion of my noble friend. He advocates—and he has been followed to some extent, although not quite, I think, to the full extent, by the two noble Marquesses, Lord Lansdowne and Lord Crewe—he advocates the setting up of two Cabinets side by side, one to deal with the war alone and the other to deal with domestic questions. I personally, from such experience as I have had during the last year and a-half, believe that to be an utterly impossible solution. I will tell your Lordships why. In the first place, it is simply out of the question to draw a line 277 of division, of demarcation, between what are domestic questions and what are war questions. Nine-tenths of the questions which are commonly called domestic, which would be domestic in peace time, are war questions now, or tend to become war questions as you proceed with their discussion. I will take as illustrations agricultural policy, food production, shipping, man-power, labour—all those questions which fall, I understand, under the noble Viscount's scheme, to his Domestic Cabinet. They are all of them war questions. Not a week would pass before the Domestic Cabinet would have to send them up to the War Cabinet in order that they might be looked at from the point of view of the war. I will take one little illustration which the noble Viscount gave. He laughed at the War Cabinet because it had to give a decision on the question of racing. Is it laughable? Not a bit. The question of racing—I see Lord Chaplin eagerly awaiting what I am about to say—could not be decided by considerations of sentiment or of expediency alone; it had to be decided in its reference to the war; it had to be decided upon the advice of the Army Council; and small, trivial if you like, as that question is, certain as nine men out of ten would be to include it in the list of domestic topics, that was a war question, and it had to be decided by war considerations. I ask your Lordships to believe that the war absorbs everything into its mesh to a degree that you could hardly imagine.
§ Let me now give au illustration which will appeal to some of my noble friends opposite, because it relates to the Coalition Government of which they, along with myself, were members. I allude for a moment to the Dardanelles Committee of which I spoke a little while ago. I have already described the process by which the Dardanelles Committee gradually expanded into a War Committee. As such it had to take notice of shipping. Why? Because the tonnage was required for the transport of troops and of supplies. But then arose a question of food imports, because shipping was also required to meet the ordinary needs of the civil population of this country. As soon as you had to deal with that von became involved in the question of food production in this country to take the place of imports which you were restricting from abroad. But food production cannot be successfully pursued in this country unless you have mechanical 278 appliances—tractors and ploughs When you get to that stage the Minister of Munitions appears upon the scene. He has complete control of steel, and he says "I want a decision of the War Cabinet as to whether I am to find steel for ploughs or aircraft or shells." Thus you see that a war question may presently slide off into what is a domestic question and then back it comes as a war question, and has to appear before the body which has the management of the war.
§ The second reply which I make to my noble friend's suggestion is this, that the present system. so far as my own experience goes, works smoothly, and if you bad two Cabinets existing at the same time side by side[...]and I think this was seen by the. Leader of the Opposition—I am pretty certain you would soon develop a good deal of jealousy, friction, and misunderstanding between the two, instead of the on the whole most harmonious working of the system which we have now. I find a third objection in my recollection of the Cabinet system with which many of us are familiar. It is this, that Ministers in the various Departments are hard worked, not only those in the War Cabinet alone, and I am afraid we should take a good deal of their time, as we did in the days of the, old Cabinet to which I have alluded, if Departmental Ministers were required to be in constant session in the second Cabinet, listening to the proposals of others and always with the prospect in the background that the moment a question touched the war it might have to go to the War Cabinet sitting independently.
§ I come to what is, after all, the crowning objection to a Domestic Cabinet sitting side by side and independently of a War Cabinet. How can you have a Cabinet dealing with all these affairs on which the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the two Houses of Parliament are not to sit? The noble Marquess solves that difficulty by saving that he would have the Prime Minister on both, as President of both. I would like him to consult the present Prime Minister as to his views upon that suggestion. You are complaining that the present War Cabinet is overburdened, and now it is proposed that the principal executive laver of the country should have placed upon him the duty of presiding over, not one, hut two Cabin[...]ts.
§ Then the noble Viscount deals with the case in another way. He says that he 279 would not have the Leaders of the two Houses of Parliament upon the War Cabinet, but only upon the Domestic Cabinet, and then he proceeded, as illustration of his thesis, in terms of great sympathy with myself, to describe the labours with which I have been oppressed during the last year and a-half. My Lords, I have a somewhat retentive memory, and I remember the noble Viscount getting up at my side on that Bench and making precisely the same speech and with a similar and equally long list of subjects directed at the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who then sat here. He gave a list of fifteen or twenty, or perhaps thirty, subjects with which the noble Marquess had dealt, with I am certain much more success and ability than I have done, and he described it as an instance of the defects of the system of that day. So it has nothing to do with War Cabinets, but is the result of the abnormal curiosity of noble Lords opposite.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Exactly the opposite. The reason I protested was one in which the noble Earl sympathised with me very much—namely, that in the time of the noble Marquess the Government took away all the Under-Secretaries from this House and left the whole weight upon the Leader of the House.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not accept that explanation, because the noble Viscount was pointing to the burdens with which I was charged, and I remember his making the same complaint and extending the same sympathy to my noble friend opposite. Therefore it is clear that it arises from the manner of doing business in this House, and has nothing whatever to do with the present war system. Again, imagine a War Cabinet from which the Leaders of the two Houses were excluded. I wonder how your Lordships would view that situation. Just now the noble Marquess drew attention to the position of the Lord Privy Seal, who is sometimes called upon to speak in this House without full knowledge of all that goes on inside the Cabinet. Imagine the situation in the future with two Cabinets and with the Leader of this House not a member of the War Cabinet, and your Lordships charged to the brim with curiosity and wanting to know what was going on, and having me as a kind of pale Lord Privy Seal standing up and confessing that I did not know.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The Secretary of State for War would reply for the War Office, as he ought to do.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
There are a good many matters connected with the war that do not touch the War Office at all. Let me ask the noble Viscount whether he has really thought this out. Let me take the case of Home Rule for Ireland, Indian Reform, and Representation of the people. Those are great domestic problems, and I suppose they would be dealt with by a Domestic Cabinet. Does the noble Viscount really mean that large problems of that character are to be dealt with, discussed, and settled by a body of which it would be absolutely impossible for the Prime Minister to be a member? They are not only questions of domestic importance but of Imperial and of war importance. Do your Lordships think that in dealing with Ireland the Govern went have not had to look at the question from the point of view of the war, of recruiting, and of the military situation in general We sent Field-Marshal Lord French to Ireland because he was thoroughy competent to deal with the military situation. Then take the question of the reform of Indian Government. That is not only an Imperial question but it, is a war question. There is the point of the contribution of India to the war. The moment you try to discriminate between war and domestic questions you break down irretrievably.
I believe that the idea put forward by the noble. Viscount is chimerical, and I would like to submit to your Lordships that true reform, if reform is required, does not lie in that direction. It does not lie in creating two bodies of co-ordinate powers. It does lie in an extension of the system of devolution and delegation which I have endeavoured to describe to your Lordships tonight. The noble Viscount said, in one I portion of his speech, that there was discontent in the Departments, and that the changes he proposed would be welcomed by the Civil Service. Is he sure of that? Has he consulted the heads of Departments? How is be entitled to speak for the Civil Service? I believe my noble friend Lord Haldane, who has just left, has been sitting as the chairman of a Committee which has been taking the views of the heads of the Departments in the Civil Service, and I am told—I am sorry he is not here to correct me if I am wrong— 281 that they have almost unanimously pronounced in favour of the present system.
I think it would be open to me to say—though I do not want to lay stress upon this—that the system which I have endeavoured to explain to your Lordships to-night does find its vindication in the record of the past year. If we look at our Parliamentary output alone, there are the questions which have been named by several of your Lordships this evening. We have in this year of war placed upon the Statute Book a great Act for the Representation of the People, by far the greatest measure of Parliamentary reform ever carried in this country, which has doubled the electorate and has recast our whole electoral system. We have created Ministers for National Service, for the Air, for Reconstruction, and for Labour. We passed, not without prolonged anal fruitful discussions in your Lordships' House, the Corn Production Bill. The restriction of imports, to which I just now alluded, which has been on a scale that perhaps is not everywhere apprehended, has been pursued with very little dislocation of the life of the country as a whole. Food control, once looked upon with so much apprehension, has been achieved under the administration of my noble friend Lord Rhondda and Mr. Clynes, I think your Lordships will agree, with the minimum of friction, or of privation, or of general discontent. Take food production, matter with which your Lordships are most intimately acquainted and concerned. During the last eighteen months there have been added four million acres to cultivation in the United Kingdom. Thus, the process which has been going on for the last half century has not only been arrested but reversed, and there has been accomplished in a single year what no one would have dreamed before could he achieved in twenty or thirty years. Then there is the handling of the shipping problem by the Minister of Shipping. I am far from contending that our shipbuilding programme has been equal to our anticipations; but, my Lords, it is two or three times now in 1918 what it was in 1916, and this notwithstanding that 1 000.000 men have been taken out of the labour pool. As I said, I have no desire to attempt to blow any trumpet, but I do say this—that this record of achievement which I have endeavoured to summarise to-night, administrative and legislative achievement, could not have been accom- 282 plished if the Cabinet system had broken down in the irretrievable way which the noble Viscount asks your Lordships to believe. On the contrary, so far from breaking down, I assure your Lordships that at this moment there is less pressure—in June, 1918—under the War Cabinet than there was in tin corresponding period of June. 1917.
One sentence only before I sit down. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in his remarks about the old Cabinet system, indicated his view that; much of it would never reappear, and that from the new system[...]whether it be, broadly speaking, good or bad—in his opinion certain valuable experiences and precedents may be found for the future. I believe myself that it is profoundly true, and, whether our system survives or not in anything like the present form, I believe it will bequeath to future Governments and future Cabinets these features. I think you will find that Cabinets in the future will all he subject to a great reduction of numbers from the old and over-swollen total to which reference has been made. I do not think we shall ever have a Cabinet of twenty-two fn. twenty-three Ministers again. Secondly, I think the premium of other Ministers than Cabinet Ministers at the discussions will also become an inevitable feature of future Cabinet procedure. Thirdly, the preparation of an agenda in order that we may know in advance what we are going to discuss is an inevitable and essential feature of business-like procedure in any assembly in the world. Fourthly, I doubt whether it will he possible to dispense with the assistance of a secretary in future. Fifthly, I think that a record and minutes of the proceedings will have to be kept; and, lastly, I hope for a very considerable development of the system of devolution and decentralisation of Government work which I have described. In all these respects, my Lords, I think that the Government have male a substantial advance, and whether our work be good or be bad, I think I have shown that it is not subject to some of the censures which have been placed upon it; and my own opinion is that when the war is over and the history of this time is written, it may be found that we have left a not inconsiderable mark upon the constitutional development of this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I know that my noble friend the 283 Leader of the House has to go. He will allow me to say that we do not desire for a moment to deny to the Government a great deal of credit for what they have done during these last few years. We bear witness, have borne witness, both to their industry and their success, but I confess I wish that I could be as satisfied with everything that I do as my noble friend is satisfied with everything that he and his Government do. He appears to think that no criticisms have been levelled against the Government, and that the system which prevails now is universally admitted, by all those who know from the aside what goes on, as being almost perfect. Let me assure my noble friend that be is labouring limier a complete misapprehension. It is not the [...]ase that everybody is satisfied with the system as we see it, and I think, if he will take the trouble to make some inquiry in the Departments of the Government of which he is one of the most distinguished members, he will find that the system of the War Cabinet as it at present exists is not considered as at all perfect or as making for the rapid transaction of business. My noble friend was very proud of the system—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but I have an important Cabinet meeting relating to the business of to-morrow, and I regret most deeply that I cannot be here to hear his remarks. I wonder if he will kindly excuse me. There is a meeting of the Cabinet which I am really bound to attend.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I quite understand, and your Lordships will understand, the reason for my noble friend going away. It is always a loss to your Lordships when the Leader of the House is not here. I do not think this is a bad illustration of the overwork which falls upon the Government under its present system, but I must be allowed to say a few words in reference to the speech of my noble friend. If he is not here to hear them, that is my loss and the loss of your Lordships.
My noble friend made a great deal of the excellence of the system under which the War Cabinet is mainly manned by Ministers without portfolio. I think it is a very good illustration of the erroneous view from which my noble friend contemplates the subject. His idea of an ideal Cabinet is a number of gentlemen who are not engaged 284 in Departmental work, who sit as judges before whom the various Ministers, or others interested, are called in to plead and to hear decisions by them. That I believe to be a thoroughly bad system. What you want is not to be governed by people who acquire the information they ask for at the moment, but by people who have constant experience in the administration of affairs. Those are, and can only be, the Departmental Ministers who are soaked in the work of their Departments. It is not a question of hearing in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour a case put forward by one man, and the contrary case put forward by another man, and then deciding between them. That is not the method which has prevailed in this country, and which ought to prevail. Our system has been that the Ministers who are actually engaged in the conduct of affairs, who have at their command the best talent on any particular subject that, the world can provide, who live, and move, and have their being every day in the transaction of a particular subject, should meet together and come to a decision. It is that very point of view of my noble friend which seems to me to mark the difference between him and ourselves as to what is the proper method of government.
The noble Earl says that it is all very perfect, and that the system has worked admirably. I am not sure that it would have been right for any of us to have said so much as to what the system of the Cabinet is if the noble Earl had not gone into it in such detail; but as he has done so I think I ought to add my little crumb, and a small crumb it is, to the general information. I have had the honour of being summoned before the Cabinet on more than one occasion[...]I think on three occasions in all. I am bound to say that it did not make upon me that impression of admirable businesslike arrangements which my noble friend describes. On the contrary, it seems a very unsatisfactory system as I saw it in those fragmentary moments. You cannot carry on government, by a system of occasional interviews. You want the continued presence of those who are actually engaged in the work. A question is not to be decided on one day and never referred to again. The subject comes up constantly, and the Minister ought to be there constantly. I share the feeling of absolute astonishment of the noble Viscount that during all these months and years, in the middle of the greatest war 285 that has ever been known, the Secretary of State for War has not been a member of the War Cabinet. That, by itself, is an illustration of the weak[...]es of the system.
My noble friend was very anxious to prove how very hard the Government worked. No one doubts it. He dwelt upon the heaviness of the labours which they have to transact, the enormous number of meetings of the Cabinet, and the number of Committees which were appointed. He deluged us with statistic[...]s on the subject, My Lords, that is our case. it is because the Government have so much to do that these other domestic and non-war subjects ought not to be added. Every word of my noble friend in that part of his speech was the proof of my noble friend's case. We do not accuse the Government of idleness. On the contrary. We accuse them of trying to undertake more than mortal men should undertake. The work is stupendous. The Government have been accused of acting without the full consent, in certain particulars, of their military advisers. That may be true or it may be untrue, but undoubtedly the Government, and my noble friend in particular, have claimed the right and the duty of the civilian Ministers to undertake all the main decisions of the war, as the phrase is, "to run the war." For civilians that is a tremendous task. Yet these civilians think themselves competent, not only to run the war and in some respects to supersede their military advisers, but also to transact the whole business of government as well. Is it possible that in such circumstances the country can get the best decisions? What we want is to give time for our Ministers to think. When I had the honour of being in office, even in times of peace, I know the great difficulty there was to find time in order to think out the subjects with which one had to deal. The pressure of official business was so great, the reading of papers was so voluminous, that time for this essential purpose was difficult to obtain.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My noble friend reminds me that Lord Midleton said the more reading of the war papers took three hours a day, and the noble Earl the Leader of the House never contradicted it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I ton not surprised at all that it takes three hours each day to read the necessary memoranda in order to carry on a war like this. I do not believe the Government have time to think our the great decisions they make. Has it ever struck your Lordships as very surprising why members of the Government make from time to time speeches of a very optimistic character, which generally have it very unfortunate effect. What is the reason? It is because they have no time to think. Speeches in war time, with great issues depending upon them, require great discretion, and discretion can only be achieved with great care. If you have no time to think it is better to make optimistic speeches, because it is quite easy to make a speech which, I will not say is incorrect, but which at any rate will do no harm in the shape of giving away secrets, but which does do harm in the fact that it misleads the public and destroys the confidence of the public in the Government and in the information they get from the Government.
I do not intend to detain your Lordships long bur I should like to turn for a moment to the actual issue which is brought before us in the Question of my noble friend. I do not doubt that the proper method of government is that the Ministers responsible should meet together and consult. That seems to be an elementary principle. That is all that a Cabinet is. The Ministers responsible for the government of the country should meet together and consult. There appears to be no machinery under the present system for any Ministers to meet together, except the War Cabinet itself. There may be one of those Committees which my noble friend described, but that is more or less of a chance meeting. There is no actual machinery provided under which the Ministers whose functions overlap and interlock shall meet together to consult. My noble friend Lord Midleton says that you ought to have a Domestic Cabinet. The War Cabinet, as is conceded on all hands, has no time to do all the business; let there be a Domestic Cabinet The Leader of the House says that this is impossible, but I observe that he told us that there is going to be a Domestic Committee. I need no[...] say that I do not. Care, nor do I suppose any of your Lordships care, by what name the particular body is 287 going to be called. You may call it a Domestic Cabinet, or you may call it a Domestic Committee; that will not make any difference. The only question is whether this Domestic Committee is going to do all the things which my noble friend Lord Midleton hopes and believes would be achieved by a Domestic Cabinet.
The Leader of the House said that it was quite impossible to divide off those subjects which are not of direct importance to the war; it was impossible, that is to say, to determine the frontiers of the business which should belong to the War Cabinet, and those of the business which should belong to the Domestic Cabinet. If he could not do it with regard to the Cabinet, at any rate it appears that he can do it in regard to this Domestic Committee; and if it is possible in the one case why should it not be possible in the other? It is quite clear that if this Domestic Committee is to be of use there will have to be a separation of power—if I may use a well-known phrase in another connection—between the Domestic and the War Cabinet. This separation of power is sought to be achieved by the Domestic Committee. The only weakness which, it appeared to me, lies in the proposal as made by the Leader of the House is that there does not appear to be any proper touch kept between the Domestic Committee and the War Cabinet. There is to be no one in the Domestic Committee who knows from immediate personal experience what the attitude of the War Cabinet is. The Home Secretary, though a very distinguished statesman, is not a member of the War Cabinet, and he will only know second-hand what the views of the Cabinet are.
I confess I should have thought that the president or chairman of the Domestic Committee, or Cabinet, or whatever you choose to call it, ought to be a member of the War Cabinet. Thus you would have an effective liaison between the two and it would be perfectly possible for the Domestic Committee or Domestic Cabinet to conduct its business and come to its decisions in strict conformity with the necessities of the war and the exigencies of the situation as they are laid down by the War Cabinet. 288 That appears to me a weak point, but it is a detail. The principle seems to be conceded. I can only hope, therefore, that in practice a large measure of confidence will be extended to this Domestic Committee by the Cabinet, and that the necessary relief from this heavy burden to which so many of your Lordships have called attention will be carried into effect.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Curzon should have thought that in the action we have taken to-night we have been actuated by any hostility to the Government. That is not the case. We are all here to do our best to carry the war to a successful conclusion, and notably to bring what wisdom we possess to bear upon framing the best system under which that can be achieved. It is more important than anything else that the War Cabinet should do its work properly, and we do not believe—and nothing that we have heard to-night has altered our Opinion—that under the present system, with its enormous burden of unnecessary work thrown upon their shoulders, the best value is got out of the War Cabinet, and the best manner of carrying on the war secured.