HL Deb 05 May 1920 vol 40 cc134-72

VISCOUNT HALDANE rose to call attention to the subject of the Committee of Imperial Defence and its relation to the War Staffs of the Navy, Army, and Air Force; and to ask for information as to general policy.

The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, some of your Lordships may ask why it has been thought desirable to bring forward this subject at the present moment. The answer is a simple one. There are those, and among them persons of influence, who have been making suggestions in the other House and through the medium of the Press to the effect that a departure ought to be made from our existing system. At present we have in the Army and in the Navy, and to some extent in the Air Force, organisations of officers specially qualified who are set aside for the task of reflective work, of acquiring minute and extensive information, of digesting it, and, in the light of the knowledge so acquired, of studying the possibilities of war and forecasting and preparing plans for dealing With possible situations. These Staffs have been in existence for a very short time. They have grown, and they show great promise—a promise that is the greater because they have been welcomed as arising out of their own environment within the Services to which they belong, and as attaining their strength by the co-operation of those surrounding them in those Services.

It is suggested that on the top of these Staffs there should be placed a new body, a sort of Imperial General Staff, as I understand it, which should consist of distinguished officers who will direct and influence the activities of the special Staffs of the Services to which I have referred. But more than that it is suggested that instead of, as at present, the work of the various Staffs being co-ordinated and brought together in consultation under a common roof at consultations presided over by the Prime Minister as the head of the Government, in future there should be—in place of the Prime Minister sitting in the Committee of Imperial Defence—a Minister of Defence, supreme over all the Services, who, with the aid of the new Imperial General Staff of which I have spoken, should direct our military policy as regards the future. I think, and some of your Lordships who take similar views also think, that to be a retrograde suggestion; that it is not in accordance with the experience of other Armies and other Navies; and that it would lead, not to reform, but to going back to a condition where stagnation might well begin to set in. I propose to submit to your Lordships shortly some reasons for holding that opinion.

I may be asked, however, why, in a time of profound peace, it is necessary to ask your Lordships to entertain such a subject. It is true that the most formidable menace—that menace on which the attention of the staffs of the Navy and of the Army were concentrated for some years before the war—has now ceased to exist. There is no longer a Germany piling up armaments. But we have only to look at the newspapers every morning to see that the world is still full of explosive material. Where it may explode, and how, no one can tell. We hope that it will not explode; but, if ever there was a time when the work of the Staff mind was necessary, when it was essential that there should be continuous and anxious observation of what is going on in new quarters, and study of the new problems—more difficult because they are more vague and more contingent—it is to-day. The sky is, relatively speaking, very clear at this moment. We have had experience of that before. Who can tell when the sky may become clouded? I am not asking your Lordships to contemplate making expenditure upon new military or naval forces; what I am asking you to do is at least to see that the requisite study is devoted to these contingencies lest they should possibly mature and we should find ourselves unprepared in the face of what we have not thought out.

Then there is another question which may be put—Is not the League of Nations the body to which all this should be entrusted? I agree. But I have said before in public what I venture to say again to your Lordships to-day—namely, that fine Staff work of this kind is the very essential of the efficiency of a League of Nations. A Viscount Haldane. League of Nations is useless unless it is foreseeing things and has considered how to provide for them should difficult situations arise. But it must know where the danger spots are, and without the information and the exact knowledge which can be got only through such a medium as that of which I am speaking, it is difficult to see how a League of Nations can ever be efficient. Therefore, even from the point of view of the League of Nations, it is essential that we should keep our level of military study at a high degree.

Having said so much by way of preface I now come to the point, and I can best make it plain by contrasting in a few words that which now obtains with what I understand it is proposed should exist. To-day we have—they are of very recent growth—Staffs of the kind of which I have spoken for the Navy, for the Army, and for the Air Force. These are comparatively new bodies; they owed their origin to the defects which were discovered in our organisation during the South African War. Mr. Balfour, when he was Prime Minister, made the appointment of the Esher Committee, which produced a very valuable Report; and in that Report, which dealt not with the Navy at all but only with the Army, there were two things made prominent. The one was that if you were to get efficiency and relieve yourself from the confusion which always ends in unpreparedness, you must separate the work of administration—of the Adjutant-General, who raises and provides the troops; of the Quartermaster-General, who furnishes the supplies; of the Master-General of Ordnance, who sees to the munitions—you must separate these administrative services from that other kind of service which consists in study, in the collection of information and materials, and in the fashioning of plans, as well as the foreseeing of the contingencies to meet which these plans are devised. That was the important recommendation which the Esher Committee made, and it resulted in the proposal that a General Staff should be created.

A General Staff was created, but it is one thing to create a General Staff on paper and another thing to make it a reality. It was not until September, 1906, that the General Staff was organised and it was not for two or three years afterwards that it attained an efficient stature, but it did attain efficient stature and the country owed a great deal to the General Staff of the Army. Without it you would not have had the Expeditionary Force, or even the organisation of the Territorial Force and the Special Reserve. Without its clear insight you could not have had the minute plans and the detailed study which resulted in the rapid mobilisation of the Expeditionary Force when war broke out. Therefore to the General Staff of the Army, I say, a great deal was due, although it existed only for a very short period in an effective condition prior to the war.

The case of the Navy was different. As I have said, the Esher Committee did not report upon and it was not until 1911, when Mr. Churchill introduced one, that it was decided to overcome the repugnance of the older school of Admirals to the creation of a War Staff for the Navy to perform the same functions as the General Staff was performing for the Army. It was said, in opposition to the notion of a Naval War Staff, that the Navy dealt with ships as its units and not with battalions and brigades, and therefore, ships being self-contained, it was unnecessary to give that amount of strategical study in advance of operations which was required for military proceedings on land. That, of course, turned out in the course of the war to have been profoundly untrue. The strategical operations of the Navy are stategieal operations nevertheless, though the ships are self-contained units. That the ships should be self-contained units has a great effect on administrative work in the Navy, but it does not in the least dispense those responsible for the higher command from having to devote years before to the thinking out and working out of their plans and to the immense problems connected with gunnery, submarines, harbours, and with that multitude of other subjects on which the revelations made in memoirs since the war have thrown considerable light on our shortcomings. The spirit and fighting capacity, tradition, and size of our Navy were magnificent, and in the end it was the decisive instrument in the war. At the same time we cannot look with pride on the fact that the War Staff was only very imperfectly existent before the war broke out. I have referred to these things to show your Lordships the organisation of to-day.

I pass by the Air Force; that is a minor matter. But in the Navy and Army there are War Staffs which are still nascent, which are being built up in the environment of the Services and which are connected with problems that nobody can fully realise or be conscious of who is not living within those Services. Those who are responsible for the War Staffs can only derive their materials from constant observation of what is going on in their administrative environment, and it is within the Navy and the Army alone that such General Staff spirit can grow up. It is obvious from this, if it be true, that a General Staff is characterised even more by the spirit than by the letter. It is the spirit of the environment which matters, and the main proposition which I have to submit to your Lordships is that such a Staff can only grow adequately and can only develop itself fully if left to develop itself within its own environment and without interference ab extra.

If one may take a homely illustration from an actual case of what the value of such a Staff is, there comes to my mind the story of the old Tay bridge. There was a bridge which, according to the easygoing engineering science of the day, was built in a way that would make it adequate to anything that might happen in the way of gales blowing up the Tay at Dundee. What happened? It turned out that the engineering science which had been devoted to the problem had not been sufficiently imaginative. Greater stresses, greater strains, new factors which had not been taken into account matured on a single occasion, and the bridge, with the train which was unfortunately crossing it, was overwhelmed and blown into the water. After that a bridge was built on which every conceivable resource of engineering science was spent, which has never been shaken and which it is believed never will be shaken. That was a case of the separation of the work of thinking from the work of administration. A contractor could have built you a very good bridge for ordinary purposes, but you could not be sure that he would have taken into account the abnormal stresses and strains which are sure some day to occur. It requires high science to do that.

As it is in engineering, so it is with Armies and Navies. You cannot provide the minute and exhaustive technical knowledge which is required unless you set aside the best type of mind and the best trained kind of mind for the purpose. Suppose, in the University of which the noble Earl opposite is Chancellor, the suggestion was put forward, in the name of economy in then hard times, that the professors should form a single body and that science and the classics should be taught indifferently by the same people. What would be the result? You would produce some very efficient people, but science and the classics would alike suffer. There must be distribution of work. The atmosphere is different. It is everything in such cases, and you require different types of mind. So it is with the Army and Navy; the Staffs of each of these bodies will always be brought up in a different way, and always will deal with sets of problems of which the others are not even conscious.

In place of Staffs so growing up it is suggested, as I understand, that the control of Staff development and the work which these Staffs do should pass to a new superbody—we do not know yet how it is suggested that that body should be constituted—and that it should look after the, development of the special Staffs of the Services below it. I say I do not know what the proposals are. They are not the proposals of the Government. They have been suggested in influential quarters, as I have said, inside and outside Parliament, and although in the concluding words of the Motion winch I have put on the Paper I have asked for information, I do not expect or even desire that the noble Earl opposite should go in detail into these matters. What we are anxious about is that the Government should not commit themselves without knowing the whole case that is to be made on this subject, and those of us who are interested in these matters have put this Motion down in order that there might be before the Government and the public the grave matters that have to be taken into account before any such departure as I have spoken of is made, because if that departure is made you will have a state of things necessarily inferior in the standard of quality at any rate of the special Staffs of which I have spoken. More than that, you will have a great difficulty if you endeavour to replace the Prime Minister and his Committee of Imperial Defence by a different kind of body and a Minister devoted to these subjects.

I remember, and my noble friend who sits by me (the Marquess of Crewe) remembers well, how the Colonial Premiers came over in the year 1907 to consult Viscount Haldane. about the common defence of the Empire. It had been rather a disastrous meeting on a previous occasion at which it had been suggested to them that the War Office and Admiralty would take over these matters, consult with them, and arrange everything for them. They would have nothing of the kind. They said, "We are here as representatives of self-governing Dominions of the Crown, under the same Sovereign, but with a different set of Ministers and different Parliaments. We are a group of independent Commonwealths bound together by a common purpose which is enough to provide for the very greatest amount of loyalty and devotion if only you leave us our freedom." The result was that we found that the most efficient way of bringing them into consultation with us was the freest way.

The Committee of Imperial Defence was admirable for that purpose. It consists—and I have sat upon it as an active member for some eight years—really of the Prime Minister alone, who summons such Ministers as he requires. In practice he always summons the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, but he summons other Ministers. My noble friend behind me when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies attended; and the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other Ministers whom the Prime Minister considers may be useful, are summoned. They meet and consult with the heads of the Staffs of the Army and Navy. Departments which have nothing to do with war in a direct form, such as the Post Office, were frequently brought into consultation. The result was that by this kind of consultation you were able to have—thanks to the devoted assistance of the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, Sir Maurice Hankey—that famous War Book which showed all the Departments exactly what they had to do when war broke out, and made them feel that they had been coordinated for a great supreme common purpose.

Not only did the Committee of Imperial Defence bring these Departments together, but it provided a roof under which Colonial Ministers could come without the slightest sense of sacrificing their independence, as it was the doyen of the Prime Ministers—the Prime Minister of this country—who presided over the meeting. For that reason I say that the Committee of Imperial Defence is an irreplaceable body. At the present time I understand, though I know it only from the newspapers, that it does not meet. And that is very natural. Ministers are very busy just now. But the time will come when some body will have to meet, and if it is a question as between the Committee of Imperial Defence and some new body representing something like a return to the state of things which the Dominions said they would not have, then all I have to say is that I think the prospects of maintaining an Imperial General Staff are very precarious.

The Imperial General Staff arose in this way. At the Conference to which I have referred, and at which Sir Wilfred Laurier and General Botha and others were present, it was agreed that the Army General Staff should acquire an Imperial character—that is to say, consultations should go on between their officers and ours, they should become to some extent interchangeable, but that their officers should remain servants of the Dominion Governments to which they belonged. In that way we might cooperate in an attempt to get the same pattern of battalion, the same formation of brigade, the same sort of armaments as far as it was practicable throughout the whole Army. That was done, and with enormous advantage when war broke out in 1914.

It is obvious, if I am right, that the General Staff could only grow up efficiently within the atmosphere of its Service, and that is not merely the opinion of a great many people in this country but it is the lesson we have learned from the Continent. As I have said, we had no Staff organisation until a very short time ago. We were much behind the rest of the world, as we found out from the lessons of the South African War. When we did get a Staff organisation it was modelled upon the best Continental patterns. Those of your Lordships who have read a great book by a great master of war—"Marshal Foch: His Principles of War"—know how he insists that War is both a science and an art. Marshal Foch is one of those who says that the great leader and the great General Staff thinker ought never to be separated, and he says this all the more emphatically because he proclaims himself a disciple not of Moltke but of Napoleon. Napoleon was a man of genius, and had the mental power to combine the gift of thinking with the art of handling troops; the result was that he was his own General Staff and his own administration. No mortal could to-day perform the functions that Napoleon performed, not merely because there is no mortal who resembles Napoleon but for the reason that armies were smaller in his day relatively than they are to-day. And the necessity for separating thinking from administration is greater than ever. Moltke held that it must be absolutely separated from administration, except in so far as the thinker and the administrator must be in close relation to one another. Without that separation you cannot get clearness of study. You cannot reflect in the interstices of administration. It must be a set of men, students, set apart for the purpose of working out problems and collecting information; and they must be kept separate and free from intermeddling.

It was Moltke who was reported to have said complainingly, when he found that the General Staff had been placed outside the Brandenberg Gate, that it was "only a mile from the War Office, whereas it ought to have been two miles in order to keep it free from outside meddling." And Moltke himself was a man who never contemplated leading troops. Once only in his career did he lead troops. There was a gallant old General who figured prominently in the war between Prussia and Austria, General Steinmetz, who commanded the First Army, and in August, 1870, finding that the French at Gravelotte were reported to be much weaker than they were, attacked. The German General Staff had information which made them think that the French were more numerous. General Steinmetz got mauled and was in great peril, and Moltke had to lead in troops in order to extricate him. He was so angry at the departure from the General Staff advice that he is reported to have gone to the Commander-in-Chief, the King of Prussia, and said "Sir, to-night either General Steinmetz or I recrosses the frontier into Prussia." Needless to say, General Steinmetz recrossed.

All these things are important as illustrating the way in which in the Continental models which we have followed as regards the science of war the self-development and self-reliant character of the General Staff has been insisted on. For my part, I should be sorry if we did anything which seems to go back on that principle. At present the War Staff of the Navy is very young. It came into existence in 1911, and was a good deal interfered with. Your Lordships have only to study recent Memoirs to see how the First Lords, whose business it was to have devoted themselves to the study of operations and such work as distinct from building battleships and meddling in construction, thrust themselves up to the elbows in every problem of administration. Well, you cannot think if you do that; and my impression of the noble and gallant Lord who at present occupies the distinguished position of First Sea Lord is that, fighting sailor as he is, he realises those things and desires to devote himself to the problems of war unhampered by problems which can be better dealt with by other people. I do not know, but I draw that inference from little indications which one has, from the way in which the Admiralty is working; and, if it is true, then I am most anxious that the noble and gallant Lord should have his way in working these things out as only a sailor can, without interference from a body which may prove to have more of a military than a naval character.

Now, I have really made the points which I had to make, with very few exceptions. Our Navy was magnificent in this war, and reading the German Memoirs the only hope I find that the most astute of their Admirals entertained was that they would profit by what they realised to be the great shortage of the British Navy in War Staff organisation. The awareness of this was very prominent in the minds of the German Admirals. Fortunately they made far worse miscalculations than we did, for they underestimated the magnitude of the potential problem with which they were confronted—a problem which became an overwhelming one. But it is to the point that if you read those. Memoirs you will see that on the Continent they did realise that we were very old-fashioned in our naval organisation of that day; and this makes it all the more desirable that the Navy, which contains now some of the ablest officers you can find, should be left with a free hand to work out the problems of which it is thoroughly aware, and the methods to the consideration of which it has given great attention.

But that is not all. To talk of a joint Naval and Military Staff is to indulge in confusion of thought, because two- thirds of the problems with which the Navy have to deal have nothing whatever to do with military operations on land, and are best kept apart from them. It is quite true that the Navy has to transport troops. It transported the Expeditionary Force splendidly, and other troops also with most conspicuous success, during the war. But two-thirds of the work of the War Staff of the Navy is, or ought to be, work done in peace time. We are an island, and with a great scattered Empire it is necessary that we should have command of the sea, with, of course, the possible control of other and weaker countries, which has been the source of a great deal of grumbling in the past, but which is a necessity for our safety. But the essence of success in that command of the sea depends upon the study and understanding of commerce and of trade routes. The bulk of the Staff work of the Navy is, as I understand it, devoted to the question of how we are to be protected in the food and raw materials that are being brought across the ocean to us, and how our supplies can be maintained during war. That was a tremendous problem during the late war, and it involves every sort of question connected with submarines, convoys, and a multitude of other matters. It is essentially a problem to be thought out by seamen, and by seamen in close connection with the Mercantile Marine, who have devoted themselves to these problems for a long period during peace. If that be so, what profit would there be in putting them under a semi-Military Higher General Staff? It would be simply to invite the diversion of these activities from their proper purposes—purposes which can only be realised in the proper surroundings in which the Navy ought to exist.

The Staffs, whether they be Naval, or Military, or Air, have all the same divisions of work. They have to train their officers, they have to collect and study intelligence, and they have to devise operations, and divine as far as possible what are the operations which they will have to meet. Those are divisions which occur both in the Army and in the Navy to-day, and of course it is extremely desirable that these Staffs should not exist separately altogether. Their members should meet and consult, but they will consult all the better if they come as grown intelligences, not dependent upon somebody else, and put their minds together in a common pot and think out the objectives which they have in common with the special knowledge which belongs to each. No doubt if it were true that the only or main work of the Navy was the landing of troops for military operations on land, there would be a good deal to be said for a combined Staff, but I hope that I have shown that that is a very small part of the Navy's work to-day, and it is a much smaller part than it was in former days.

It is one of the misfortunes connected with the recent history of the Navy that not having had any proper War Staff it lived on traditions. In its war schools there was a good deal of study of what were called "dumping operations," the landing of small forces in different places. I have known that from my own observations. The traditions have survived from the days of the Seven Years' War, when landing operations on a small scale really were of some use, because by sending five thousand men to Britanny you could make the King of France bring back his Army from the frontiers of France; but, to-day, with strategical railways and the study of these things made on the Continent and elsewhere, these landing operations have become of no account arid are even matters of foolishness in many cases. The modern Naval Staff sets itself to include in its own knowledge an amount of military information which enables it to set aside as useless many of the things on which time was wasted in days gone by, and there is no reason at all why officers of the two Staffs, Naval and Military, should not have a good deal of intercourse, take courses at each other's colleges and work together, provided that in the end the conclusions you get are the conclusions of seamen in the one case and of soldiers in the other, working together for a common purpose, each with expert knowledge and each bringing to bear the fully developed personality which can only arise from the sympathy and inspiration of their own Service, as the home in which they have been bred and as the place where they rise td pre-eminence.

I have said all that I wish to say at present. We have in the position of the Prime Minister at the head of the Defence Committee what seems to me an ideal organisation for the development of the strength of the individual Staffs. It is true that the Prime Minister does not administer it. That is the strength of the situation. As head of the Government he is in such a position that his word is law. We ought to have, as he has had, the best Staff for study and for consultation that he can obtain. His position is rather that of a Judge than of one who initiates, and it is therefore always impossible for him to delegate that position upon occasions. It was extensively done during my experience, and there is no reason why it should not be done to-day. But the importance of the Prime Minister being at the head is that he alone can command the necessary position with the rest of the Dominions of the Crown, and he alone is in the position to speak with that gentle authority which is sufficient to bring people together. With that and with constant intercourse—because I hope your Lordships understand that I am insisting on the desirability of constant intercourse—between the Staffs it should be possible, and I think always is possible, for common objectives to be worked out and general purposes to be visualised, and the means of their attainment investigated. It is because an organisation of that kind, loose as it may seem, is more in accordance with our own Constitution in these Islands and still more in accordance with the Constitution of the Empire and its necessities, that I respectfully ask the Government not to come to any conclusion in favour of some alternative system, the nature of which I can hardly believe to have been thought out, and to take time to consider this matter in the light of the peculiar necessities and standard up to which we have to work if we are to maintain and develop the interests of Imperial defence.


My Lords, it may perhaps be convenient, before the noble Earl replies to the speech to which we have just listened and to the questions that have been put by the noble and learned Viscount who is so well qualified to speak on the subject he has raised, if I were to place before your Lordships some views that have occurred to me as the result of many years' study of these questions, and also as the result of conversations which I have had with those who have been more fortunate than myself in having taken a large part in the active operations, of the late war.

The Question on the Paper particularly refers to the War Staffs and to the Committee of Imperial Defence, and the noble and learned Viscount confined himself in his speech entirely to those two elements, of our organisation. I do not know whether. he may, as I do, recognise that in the course and under the strain of the war another element has been evolved which must always be considered, since it will certainly form a permanent part of our organisation. I refer to the War Cabinet. The War Cabinet was evolved greatly during the war. At the very beginning of the war it was realised that some force was necessary to direct and co-ordinate action in the theatre of war other than those forces which existed before the war in the constitution of the Imperial General Staff and of the other organisation which has been described by my noble friend—the Committee of Imperial Defence.

I will not trouble your Lordships with a recital of the causes of the various steps which led to the gradual evolution of that great body, the War Cabinet, as it existed after the advent of the second Coalition Government, and which was undoubtedly the main instrument in opening the way to victory. Then we had a body over which, first of all, the Prime Minister presided, and my noble friend has pointed out the necessity of any organisation being brought very closely under the control of the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister was the head of this Cabinet, and he summoned around him those who were representative of the constitutional forces of the country, and was able to call in all those who represented the professional and technical forces of the country. He thus had a body which was given the very highest responsibility. It was armed with all the means of obtaining the necessary information, fully furnished by technical experts, and was therefore of the character to ensure the greatest weight in its deliberations and the greatest authority in its decisions. I, and I think other officers with whom I have spoken, feel that this new development in our constitutional system, having been a very useful one, should be made permanent, and have some counterpart in times of peace. I think this view is justified, because it may properly be said that the ideal condition of an organisation of preparedness is that we should have one which will be efficient in peace and at the same time can bear the strain of war with the smallest amount of dislocation and change.

Although the War Cabinet has now for a moment disappeared from the scene, since its functions are suspended, we who believe that it must be recalled into life the moment another great. emergency Lord Treousen. arises would like to see that life still shown, even in time of peace. And this, I think, means a great extension of the principle on which the noble and learned Viscount dilated at some length, the Committee of Imperial Defence. He pointed out that that was a body to which various persons could be called by the Prime Minister, and in which practically all matters concerning the defence of the country could be considered. But one would like to see that assume a rather more definite shape, that it should have as clearly defined a shape in time of peace as it had in time of war, and that we should feel a confidence that there was a superior body, a sort of Committee of the Cabinet reinforced, as was the War Cabinet, by the very best expert opinion, which would have constantly under its consideration all matters dealing with the armed forces of the country. And I say this as having been for many years a member of the House of Commons, and having taken part in many of the debates there, some of which were initiated by the noble and learned Viscount on his reforms, and some of which were on the Army Estimates.

One of the matters to which I have more than once had to draw attention in the House of Commons and about which I think all those who followed the Army Debates will agree is that we always spoke on those matters, whether it was the Army or the Navy or any other matter connected with the armed forces of the country, at a very great disadvantage, because each of those Services was placed, as it were, in a separate compartment, and the policy underlying the whole of our armed preparedness never came under review, or could only with very great difficulty be brought under review by a special Motion referring to the Vote for the Committee of Imperial Defence—a question which, as my noble and learned friend knows, was very difficult indeed to bring before the House. Therefore there was never an opportunity for Parliament to review as a whole the armed forces of the country. You were possibly asked to vote so many ships or so many regiments, but what the connecting link between the forces was one was never allowed to examine. And now that we have a third element of military force in the Air Service, if we are to go back to this old system of dealing with these matters in water-tight compartments I feel it will indeed be a most disastrous condition of things. I do not advocate the creation of a Minister of Defence. This my noble and learned friend likewise deprecated. But I think that if there were in time of peace a War Cabinet such as we have had in time of war, always surveying and examining the condition of our armed preparedness—which must continue in spite of Leagues of Nations or Treaties or anything else—and whose duty it would be to present to the House of Commons and to your Lordships from time to time a general review of our armed expenditure, apart from the particular detailed examination which would have to be made upon Estimates, I think that a very great and useful advance would be made, and we should be applying to some degree the lessons of our late hard learned experience.

I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that these Staffs of the various Services should be each separate, as he expressed it, in developing themselves in their own atmosphere. That is absolutely necessary. The general duties of those Staffs may be grouped together in very similar groups. Speaking perfectly generally, without attempting any details, you may put them in the groups of Intelligence (that is, information respecting your enemy or your potential enemy), of Operations (that is, the means which you are going to take to defeat that enemy), and of Material (that is, the means that you are going to apply in order to effect that defeat). Those are, in general and very broad terms, groups of work which would have to be followed up by each of those separate Staffs, but those Staffs would, from the very nature of their Services, view all those things from an entirely different angle one from the other. Therefore to bring them all together, as has been suggested in another place, in a sort of joint General Imperial Staff, would really be to destroy their usefulness. It would be difficult at any time in a body consisting of experts of that kind to arrive at any very definite decisions, and I think it is extremely doubtful, if decisions were arrived at, whether they would command complete confidence.

I should like therefore to see these Staffs thoroughly organised, and nobody has done more for the organisation of the Army Staff than the noble and learned Viscount; and I should like to see the heads of those Staffs called into consultation with certain members of the existing Government at any time, who would form, as it were, a permanent War Cabinet in time of peace, always watching the development and the proposed development of the Services. I would even like to see the term "War Cabinet" made permanent in time of peace. It does not mean that we must necessarily be going to war. We already have a War Minister, often a very peaceful person. But I should like it never to be forgotten that we have imported into our constitutional procedure this War Cabinet, and I think it would be a very useful body if it were made permanent as it existed in time of war.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, I may perhaps be allowed to acid a few words to what has been said. I should not venture to speak in this debate except for the fact that for a number of years I took part in the deliberations of the Committee of Imperial Defence in respect of different. Offices which I filled, and I therefore have some personal knowledge of what has passed there in former years. I am sure that no one will dispute the claim of my noble and learned friend to bring forward this subject for discussion. At various times he has been the subject of a certain degree of obloquy from different quarters, apparently on account of his early studies in German philosophy, but I am sure that that is of small moment to him corn pared with the tributes he has received of the kind which the noble Lord opposite just paid him, and which I happen to know he has received from many of the most distinguished military authorities of the day, in recognition of the great services to the country which he performed when he was Secretary of State for War.

My noble friend Lord Treowen, who has just spoken, stated that he personally does not favour the creation of a Ministry of Defence to be in supreme control of all the three great arms of offence and defence, thereby, it would appear, turning into Under-Secretaries the present First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, and the Air Minister. So far as I can ascertain, the great weight of instructed opinion takes the same view as my noble friend opposite and my noble and learned friend behind me. But there are some, undoubtedly, who conceive that sooner or later the Services are sure to be combined in that way; and among those is no less an authority than the present Secretary of State for War. Although he does not favour, apparently, the immediate creation of such a Ministry and such a supreme control, he considers, from what he said in the other House, that the general tendency of the world is in the direction of such concentration, and he conceives that sooner or later it is likely to be brought about here. I confess that, with my far less knowledge than his, I sincerely hope that no such consummation will ever be brought about.

I cannot see what advantage there can be in combining the control of the three offices in the hands of one Minister when, as matters now stand and have stood (one may say) ever since the time when Mr. Balfour was in office, the Prime Minister has occupied for all reasonable and necessary purposes that position of supreme control over the different Fighting Services. As regards the Committee of Imperial Defence., I notice that there, at any rate so far as the immediate future is concerned, the Secretary of State for War believes that it must and will be retained. With his accustomed felicity of phrase he described it as "the instrument by which the Prime Minister asserts his view and exercises his responsibility over the whole field of military policy." I venture to think that this could not be better expressed; and I assume, therefore, it may be taken that there is no immediate intention of abolishing the Committee of Imperial Defence, even though its composition and its functions may be altered in some degree. I do not know whether the noble Earl who leads the House will be able to give us any information on that point. We shall have no right to complain if he cannot, but it will no doubt greatly interest the House if he is able to give us any particulars upon it.

As regards the past work of the Committee of Imperial Defence, its inquiries might, I think, be described under two general headings—namely, the study of the various danger points throughout the world which might have to be defended, or where action might have to be taken in the event of war with any country with which it was possible to conceive ourselves at war; and, in the second place, specific inquiries into subjects brought forward by critics of eminence whose views could not be neglected. Under the latter heading would come such as the Inquiry instituted in respect of Lord Roberts's belief that The Marquess of Crewe. special steps should be taken to guard against an invasion on the East Coast, or, on the other hand, the special criticism on the work of the Admiralty which our lamented friend Lord Beresford brought forward at a somewhat later time. With regard to the conduct of business in the Committee of Imperial Defence, I notice that in the course of the debates on the subject in the other House one or two hon. Members expressed the opinion—founded on some degree of personal experience, because in one capacity or another they had been present at these inquiries—that too little part in the conduct of the business was taken by the expert officers and too much by the political heads of Departments. It so happened that, in the course of examination before one of the Commissions which was held during the war, I expressed a somewhat similar view, and. I need not mind repeating that opinion as it appeared in the Report of the Commission. Although, as we know, the evidence was not published, extracts from it appeared in the Reports both of the Dardanelles and of the Mesopotamia Commissions. That is, no doubt, a danger to guard against in a joint body of this kind; and, speaking generally, it is no doubt, or may be, a temptation to the more skilled and practical talker to take too great a part in the proceedings.

Here and there you may, perhaps, find a voluble officer; now and then you may come across a taciturn politician; but, speaking generally, it is obvious that the man whose profession in a considerable degree consists in the practice of oratory is likely to take too large a share in such proceedings. But it is possible to overstate that criticism, and those who uttered it were, I think, somewhat misled by the occasions on which they were present at the deliberations. They may have been present in the course of some of those inquiries which I mentioned under the second heading, which were naturally more argumentative, and, therefore, more generally conducted by the political chiefs, but taking the subjects of local inquiry into matters of a more geographical character I can say from experience—and I think my noble and learned friend will confirm me—that the distinguished officers who formed part of the Committee took a prominent, and even a principal, part on those particular deliberations and discussions.


Hear, hear.


There is, I think, a general agreement so far as the respective Staffs are concerned—leaving the Defence Committee—that there should be what I think Mr. Asquith described as an "intimate personal exchange of views" between them, and I venture to think that such interchange of views ought not merely to depend upon the desire of one Department to consult another on a particular subject, but should be periodic and compulsory. There should be continuous meetings at fixed dates between the representatives of the different General Staffs, at which regular subjects of discussion should be put forward with the view of their being brought, when sufficiently ripe, before the Committee of Defence. That applies also to questions affecting India and questions affecting the Dominions, for which purpose special experts, possessing knowledge of those subjects, would undoubtedly be called into counsel.

My noble friend opposite has suggested that what ought to be done is to retain the War Cabinet explicitly and under that title. I confess that as described by him the War Cabinet, except in its title, did not appear to rue to differ in any important degree from the Committee of Imperial Defence—that is to say, that it represents, as I understand, a body of selected Ministers under the presidency of the Prime Minister, reinforced by such experts, with knowledge of the Navy, Army, or Air, as the Prime Minister may think fit to call into counsel. That is very much what the War Cabinet was during the war, but; it is also what the Committee of Imperial Defence was, and I trust will be again; and I think my noble friend forgets that during the war the War Cabinet was the only Cabinet. Although there was a suggestion which I remember I strongly favoured, when the proposition of a small War Cabinet was first made, that there should be two Cabinets, one for War and one for Home Affairs, that view was not adopted, and the War Cabinet became the sole Government of the country.

Although the subjects of war remain, as they always must, most important, yet there are other subjects on which the mind of the country is also fixed, and I did not quite understand from my noble friend's speech what he conceived would be the position of other Ministers not called into counsel for the purposes of the War Cabinet, but of equal standing and rank, when some important question or policy had to be decided. I have no doubt my noble friend has the matter clear in his own mind, although I confess I am not myself quite certain what his view was in that particular respect.

One word on the question of the Staff Colleges. Apparently there has been a suggestion that there should be a common Staff College—that is to say, a Staff College at which officers would obtain knowledge of all the different Defence Services, with a view of their reaching in time those high positions of advice which would enable them to serve on the Committee of Imperial Defence and to guide the Government of the day with a full and general knowledge. I do not see how the existence of a College of that kind can be combined with the continuance of the present Staff Colleges of the different Services. I should have thought that a cheaper, easier, and more practical way of proceeding was the interchange of individuals between the different Staff Colleges. For example, where a soldier, already a Staff College officer, is specially designed and fitted for General Staff work, he should have an opportunity of spending a year, or whatever term might be agreed upon, at the Naval Staff College, and, if necessary, also at the Air College, whenever such an institution is brought into full perfection. That, I should have imagined, would meet the case adequately without having to create a special College at which the work of all the different Departments would be regularly done—that is to say, that those officers who belong to what is called, as I understand, the Planning Department of the Admiralty and the officers in similar posts in the other two Forces might, as a regular practice, have an opportunity of acquiring knowledge about the other forces.

I am sure we shall all agree that a discussion of this kind cannot be altogether wasted, because whatever size the Army is going to be and whatever size the Navy and the Air Force are going to be, it is evidently necessary for Imperial purposes that each force should be as perfect as it possibly can be made. To make it perfect there must be a means of receiving the very highest technical instruction that can be acquired. After all, even if the highest hopes of the most idealistic politicians are to be realised it will be necessary to have an adequate force, not merely for the defence of the Empire, but to enforce the justice of the whole world. Therefore I am sure that my noble and learned friend need not apologise for having brought forward his Motion.


My Lords, among the many useful activities which the composition and procedure of your Lordships' House enables you to undertake with almost unique authority and with sufficient leisure I can imagine few more beneficial than the discussion which has been inaugurated by the noble and learned Lord this afternoon. As the noble Marquess said in his concluding sentence, no apology was made and certainly none was needed from the noble and learned Lord for calling your Lordships' attention to this subject. And for two reasons. Firstly, because no man in this House, I might almost say no man in this country is more competent to bring this question before us; and, secondly, because the juncture at which he does so is one eminently favourable for a calm and dispassionate consideration of the question to which he has called our notice.

We are here at the end of a great and devastating war. At such a period it is not only incumbent upon us to, but it would almost be a dereliction of duty if we did not, take stock of the situation and inquire how far the machinery with which we fought and won the war was adequate for its prosecution or was responsible for its success, and to what extent and in what manner that machinery may require expansion, modification, or alteration in the future. It is a commonplace to say that the war from which we have recently emerged differed from all previous British wars, indeed from all previous wars, in scale and character. Beginning by being a European or Continental war it merged before long into a world war, in which there were few States in any part of the universe that were not in one way or another engaged. And, if we look at its bearing upon ourselves, beginning by being an insular war, a war in which the preliminary forces were launched from the shores of Great Britain, it became an Empire war in which no single Dominion of the Crown in however distant a part of the Globe was not, in some way or another, involved. Moreover, it was a war which had other and even more striking characteristics. The noble and learned Viscount alluded to the saying of Marshal Foch, that "war is both a science and an art."

No one will dispute that both the science and the art of war were profoundly modified in the course of the last six years. Prodigious discoveries were made, new instruments and implements of war were invented and perfected, and new services were called into being. In this country a profound effect was exercised not merely upon our military organisation, to which the noble and learned Lord confined the greater part of his remarks, but also, as was pointed out by the noble Lord behind me, upon our constitutional machinery. If I might say so, he was entirely justified in drawing attention to the remarkable change that took place in that part of our administrative organisation in connection with the war. Indeed he might, I think, have elaborated his observations on that point a little more.

I ask your Lordships to remember what took place when the war began. It was conducted for the first ten months by Mr. Asquith's Administration, which was a Cabinet of the old composition and numbers, having something I think over twenty members. In the course of the next summer—in May, 1915—this old-fashioned Party Cabinet was, for reasons with which we are all familiar, replaced by a Coalition Cabinet in which the best abilities and experience of all Parties were enlisted in the prosecution of the war. That Coalition Cabinet presently threw off other bodies or organisations directed to the better conduct of affairs. There was first the Dardanelles Commission, so called because that was the campaign with which it had to deal with at the start. This presently merged into a General War Committee, and when the numbers of that were found to be too large—the noble Marquess will remember how at the end of 1915, I think it was, at the unanimous request of the Cabinet, a smaller body, the War Committee of five or six members, was nominated to conduct the camapign.

Then ensued the great change which took place when Mr. Lloyd George's first Administration took office in December, 1916. There was constituted the War Cabinet on which there were at first five, and then afterwards I think six, persons, not overburdened with departmental or administrative work who were charged with the exclusive conduct of the war. They did this in daily sessions, in the invariable company of the military and naval experts who were there as their advisers, many others being called in from time to time as occasion required. I must say, as a member of that body, that I was exceedingly gratified to receive from my noble friend Lord Treowen a somewhat belated recognition of the fact that the War Cabinet did contribute in some measure, however small, to the successful issue of the war. But it was not, as Lord Crewe indicated, the only body. I think he has forgotten the existence of the Imperial War Cabinet, which grew out of the War Cabinet, to which representative statesmen of our Dominions who were in this country were summoned. They became Cabinet Ministers for all purposes connected with the war, exactly on the same footing as members of the Home Cabinet, and this was the body that, during the period in which they were in this country, was responsible for the conduct of affairs. Such was the development in our constitutional machinery.

Meanwhile a corresponding development was going on in our military organisation. The noble and learned Viscount alluded to the circumstances in which, arising out of the Report of Lord Esher's Committee, the General Staff came into being some years before the war, and he spoke of its somewhat fluctuating and sporadic activities in the years before the war. As we all know, when war broke out all our best officers, Staff officers or otherwise, were taken away to the Continent, and for some time there was a comparative cessation of the work of the Staff at home. Many of us thought that that was a great defect, and it was, if I remember aright, by common consent and almost as the result of a common appeal that in the latter part of 1915 first Sir Archibald Murray, then Sir William Robertson, and afterwards Sir Henry Wilson, were appointed Chief of the General Staff in this country, with the real powers, authority, and influence which ought to be exercised by the Chief of the General Staff. In this way that body exercised an enormous influence in the conduct of the war, and I believe that at the close of the war no General Staff in Europe was better equipped or produced more satisfactory results than our own. Simultaneously—and this was a development to which attention has not been drawn—new Ministries were called into being, all of them directed to the purposes of the war. There were the Ministries of Shipping, of Munitions, of National Service, and of the Air. Some of them have disappeared—


First of all was the Ministry of Blockade.


I beg your Lordships' pardon. There was, of course, also the Ministry of Blockade, of which Lord Robert Cecil was the head. Some of these have disappeared, their work being finished, and others are in course of disappearing; one or two only remain. Such was the nature of the transformation of our military and constitutional equipment in this country for the purposes of the war as the result of our experiences. Now that it is all over most certainly it does behove us to gather together the skeins of these manifold experiences and ascertain what part of this machinery can be dispensed with and what should be retained, and, if retained, in what form it should be kept. It is our duty now to provide for the Empire the best machinery, both administrative and executive, which will enable us to profit by the lessons of the war; to consider, in the first place, the military requirements of the Empire, and, in the second, the degree to which the military resources of the Empire are adequate to supply them; to lay down our military policy for the future, and to produce the maximum force in time of war with the minimum expenditure in time of peace. Such, my Lords, I imagine to be the duty with which we are now charged.

To that examination the noble and learned Viscount has indeed made a very valuable contribution to-night. The problem, if not a new one—because it arises at the end of every war—is at any rate a much larger one than on any previous occasion, because we have to secure co-operation now not only between three services instead of two but between these services in all parts of the Dominions which constitute the Empire of the Crown. Much thinking will have to be devoted to this subject, and I fully appreciate the part of the noble and learned Viscount's speech in which he said that he did not expect the Government to commit themselves too definitely on this subject, but that he wanted to know only that they were carefully examining these problems and that no contribution would be set aside by them, whether it be good or bad, without having been carefully considered.

The discussion has turned in the main upon three subjects. The first was the Committee of Imperial Defence, and about that I am in a position to respond to the invitation which was addressed to me by Lord Crewe to state quite explicitly what is the view entertained by His Majesty's Government upon the Matter. The Committee of Imperial Defence, as all here know, was set up in 1904 in Mr. Balfour's Administration. It was adopted, continued, and most loyally served by his successor, Mr. Asquith, who never failed not merely in his recognition of its importance but in constant attendance to its duties. Lord Haldane told us in effect what the composition of that Committee was. Theoretically it consists—I use the present tense because the whole of the argument which I am developing is that it is in existence and functioning now—of the Prime Minister and whomsoever he may choose to summon to the Committee to assist him, as well as the Permanent Secretariat for keeping the records. In practice the full meetings have always been presided over by the Prime Minister. They have been attended by the political and professional heads of the three fighting Departments, as well as by the representatives of the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Colonial Office, the India Office, and by the heads of other Departments who were from time to time concerned, and also—I do not think the noble and learned Viscount mentioned this—by persons of experience or authority who were often called in from outside to advise. Many of us have on different occasions had the honour of being invited to meetings of the Defence Committee to give evidence on matters with which we were personally concerned.

But, my Lords, bear this in mind, that the Committee was an advisory Committee, and was, of course, subject to the final authority of the Cabinet. It is true that its final conclusions were rarely challenged because of the authority which lay behind them, but it had no executive authority and no responsibility except for advice. The responsibility for decision rested with the Cabinet; the responsibility for execution rested with the heads of the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Air Ministry. Further, representatives of the Dominions, Ministers coming from overseas, when in London were as a rule invited to attend its meetings. But your Lordships would be mistaken if you thought this organisation existed by itself alone. It was, on the contrary, the centre of a great and far-reaching ramification. The greater part of the detailed work of the Committee of Imperial Defence was transacted through sub-Committees. There were several permanent sub-Committees, including the Overseas Defence Committee, the Home Ports Defence Committee, the Air Committee, and the Co-ordination Committee, which undertook the responsibility for what the noble Viscount so justly remarked was the famous War Book produced by our authorities before the war. There were, in addition, very large numbers of ad hoc Committees in which were included experts in very many branches of national life. The reports of the sub-committees were brought before the full Committee for final approval, and when approved were, as far as applicable, applied by the Coordination Committee to the War Book.

Lord Treowen was kind enough to compliment the War Cabinet on its work. A much greater compliment is, I think, due to the Committee of Imperial Defence. I believe that it thoroughly justified itselt in the war by its labours before and during the war. It is a commonplace to say that we were unprepared for the war, and in so far as this means that many persons in this country did not believe that the particular war in which we were involved was likely to occur, or that if waged it could not last for the time or be prosecuted on the scale on which it was, and that therefore we had not got the preparations to meet it—in so far as that is the charge, I have no doubt it is true; but in so far as thinking, planning, and brain work were involved before the war, I believe it to be profoundly untrue. And I am told, by those who speak with much greater authority than I possibly can, not only that our War Book was infinitely superior to anything of the same kind that existed in any other country, but that the actual degree to which we were prepared for all the developments that ensued was in excess of that even of the most able and scientific of our foes.

I said just now that I spoke designedly in the present tense. The Committee of Imperial Defence is not extinct. It is in active existence. It is again functioning on the same lines as I described just now. The Oversea Defence Committee, the Home Ports Defence Committee, and the Co-ordination Committee are in full operation. The last of these Committees is engaged on the reconstruction of the War Book in order that the lessons of the war may not be lost in our future organisa tion. I must not be thought by this remark to suggest that war is in sight, although I am afraid that the condition of the world cannot be described as other wise than troubled. Still less must I be thought to be disparaging the labours of the League of Nations, to which we look in future, if not to eliminate war, at any rate to reduce the opportunities for its occurrence and to mitigate its scale and hardship when it does occur. Nevertheless, my Lords, you will agree with me that no nation in the modern world can afford to run risks, and as a matter of precaution the lessons of the late war are being carefully studied here, as I have no doubt they are also in the other belligerent countries. The Co-ordination Committee has appointed a number of sub-Committees for this purpose. The Imperial Communication Committee, which is a sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, is also in active operation. It is a mere accident that a plenary meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence has not already been held. As a matter of fact, a meeting had been arranged to take place a few weeks ago, arid was only postponed because of the intervention of the San Remo Conference, to which we all had to go away. Another meeting, arranged some time ago, was also to have taken place this week, and has only been temporarily postponed because of the absence through indisposition of the Prime Minister.

In reality the reason why the Committee of Imperial Defence has not been meeting during the last few years must be obvious to your Lordships. It. is the existence of the Peace Conference. Until the Peace Conference has finished its labours and until the Peace Treaties have been drawn up it is clear that our scheme of future Imperial defence must be to a large extent in suspense. The outlook, of course, is clearing. The German and Austrian and other European Treaties have been concluded, but the Turkish Treaty has not, and when you realise the extent of the world's surface which will be affected by the conclusion of the Peace Treaty with Turkey you will see how profoundly the problem of Imperial defence must be affected by it. A portion of the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence has been employed in the British Secretariat of the Peace Conference. This was considered desirable in view of the close connection between the peace settlement and our future foreign and defence policy. As We emerge from the phase of treaty-making, as we come on to the ground that will follow, and as the situation becomes rather more clear, so will our policy itself be easier to define, and so shall we be able to co-ordinate the work of the Defence Committee with the work of our branch of the League of Nations and with other organisations that exist for the purpose.

There is yet another stage that has not been mentioned which has to be borne in mind. Your Lordships may remember that a promise was given that at the end of the war—I think it is to be redeemed next year, if not this—there was to be a Constitutional Conference on the future relations of the Mother Country with its Dominions in various parts of the world, and it would be unwise to indicate too definitely a forward policy with regard to imperial defence until that Conference has taken place. There are some we know who look forward, as the result of such enquiry, to the constitution in some form or another of an Imperial Cabinet, whether for purposes of war or in general. But however that may be, the deliberations of this body when it meets must have a great effect upon our policy and upon our proceedings.

In the interval I think the narrative which I have ventured to place before your Lordships has shown that in the Committee of Imperial Defence you have a body sufficiently elastic to throw off the various forms and developments which are suited to the exigencies of the time as they occur. First there sprang up the War Cabinet. Then, out of the War Cabinet, sprang up the Imperial War Cabinet. Then out of that sprang the British imperial Delegation engaged on the execution of the Peace Treaties in Paris and elsewhere. Thus, I think, the Committee of Imperial Defence, the future of which is in my judgment quite assured, affords sufficient grounds for believing that we have a good starting point for future Imperial constitutional progress, without any attempt to give more precise details at the present moment of the form the latter may take.

There have been two other subjects mentioned in the course of this discussion. The first was the project, which has found favour in some quarters, of a Ministry of Defence—that is, the creation of a single Department with a Cabinet Minister at its head, possessing executive authority, re- sponsibility (subject, of course, to the Cabinet) for the execution of the policy of the Government, administering its own Votes, and having the three heads of the fighting Ministries subordinated to the Cabinet Minister who is at its head. On paper I dare say this looks very symmetrical and very attractive, but, as the three noble Lords who preceded me have pointed out, great difficulties will evidently attend its execution. It is no use to shut our eyes to some of these; indeed, they were indicated with great precision by the First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking on behalf of the Navy in the discussion in the House of Commons a little while ago. He pointed out on that occasion that the machinery and control: of the three Services are entirely different; that the work of the Navy is carried out under very different conditions from that of the Army; that the plans, operations, and duties of the Admiralty are very different from those of the War Office, or, for the matter of that, of the Air Ministry; and he also indicated (and pray let your Lordships not regard this as a personal observation, because I am convinced it was meant to be nothing of. the kind) his belief that the three Ministerial chiefs of the fighting Services—at any rate of the Navy—would never agree to subordinate themselves to a single Cabinet Minister. That I understand to be the view that has been expressed by the three noble Lords who have spoken this evening. And I recall that on the same occasion in the House of Commons it was also the view that was expressed by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith. He argued with great force that each of these Departments should have undivided responsibility for its own Service. I need say no more upon that aspect of the case, because the question has not yet been examined in detail, either by the Cabinet or by the Committee of Imperial Defence. But, so far as I can judge at present, those are not the lines upon which it seems probable, as at present advised, that the Government is likely to proceed.

The second idea which has been mentioned in every speech to-night, and mentioned, I think, with equal disfavour, is the suggested creation of an Imperial General Staff—also I imagine under a single head, with the Dominions and India represented upon it, and with such duties as the collection of information, the study of military science, the preparation of schemes of common defence, and the co-ordination of the requirements of the three Services, not only in this country but in all parts of the Empire. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, described this as a retrograde suggestion. I refrain, in deference to what he said, from expressing any opinion upon it myself; indeed, it would be an impertinence on my part to do so. In so far as I have studied the matter I have not been able clearly to determine how such a scheme would fit in with the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence, assuming the latter to continue to exist in the manner in which I have described—exactly how it would work with the system either of a Cabinet or of a War Cabinet, or with the actual control of naval, military, and air operations, which must always to a large extent belong to the three Department which are responsible. That, however, is merely a passing impression on my part, and I refrain from dogmatising upon the point.

I fully realise, as we all do, that we shall want in the future closer liaison between the Staffs of the various Services than we had in the past. It is indisputable that we want some machinery to avoid over; lapping of functions on the one hand and duplication of work on the other. And further we want, I take it, as far as we can, to associate advice with responsibility—in this sense, that the Department, or the Government, or the individual who is responsible for giving the advice ought to have some connection with the carrying out of the advice when it has been given. Whether these ends, upon which we all agree, will be found in a development of existing organisations or whether they will be found in some new departure it is premature to say.

I have only to thank the noble Viscount and those who have taken part in the debate for having favoured us with their views—to thank them for the small amount of pressure that they have put upon me with regard to any disclosure of the views of the Government, and to say, speaking for the Government, that I hope that such indications as I have given will have somewhat facilitated the examination of the case, and will, in some quarters at any rate, have given satisfaction to your Lordships.


My Lords, may I be allowed to add a few words to what has been said on this great subject? I speak from a point of view that I think has not yet been touched upon, and that is the question of the military representatives at Versailles. In the extraordinarily interesting account which the Leader of the House has given to us of the development of our constitutional methods of conducting the Government during the war and of the creation of the War Staffs he omitted altogether any reference to Versailles. I venture to suggest that there is a possibility there of adding on to the Committee of Imperial Defence—exactly the sort of body which every one of the noble Lords who have spoken tonight really desires.

The Secretary of State for War made a speech in another place which was full of many important decisions, but there was one which is always taken as an axiom, but to the best of my recollection has never been stated by any Minister of the Crown while in office. He stated that policy must depend on armaments, and armaments upon policy. The whole question really is this. Did we possess before the war, and have we now, a body which is capable of co-ordinating our policy and our armaments? The Secretary of State for War described the Committee of Imperial Defence as follows, speaking in another place on March 22— The Committee of Imperial Defence before the War was really nothing more than a secretariat of the Prime Minister … No one, however, must underrate the extraordinarily good work done by that body before the War … The Committee of Imperial Defence as a great instrument by which the Prime Minister asserts his view and exercises his responsibility over the whole field of military policy will certainly continue and endure. It will be a great mistake, however, to suppose that any revived or rejuvenated Committee of Defence would in any way bridge the gap or gulf. It is not because the Committee of Imperial Defence was not efficient that it failed entirely to bridge this gulf between the different services.

The whole difficulty to my mind in regard to the Committee of Imperial Defence is this. It is entirely composed of very distinguished individuals who have a great deal of other work of their own to do. There are Ministers holding high office who have work which must be trying to any man to get through. The Military and Naval Members—as far as I know there are not any Air Members except when they are specially summoned…are also the heads of great Departments. It is perfectly impossible for those individuals, however capable and hard-working, to be able really to study the strategic andtactical questions to the very foundation and to work them out in their detail. Such a body can deal with policy and with armaments in their broad general outline as it did, but I suggest that it is unfitted to think out strategical and tactical problems in all particulars. Still less is it fitted to co-ordinate the problems within the three Services.

There are several instances of its failure to achieve sonic of the requirements that were found necessary in the war. A distinguished Admiral, writing not very long ago to the papers, said that the British Expeditionary Force should have been landed on the north shores of Germany at the commencement of the war. As a matter of fact, he made that statement and held that view also at the commencement of the war. It is quite obvious that that was not a thing which had been considered by the Committee of imperial Defence, because that individual happened to be a member of it at that time. Then, of course, there is the well known event at the Dardanelles.

Might I turn to this other side? I had the privilege, until I was brought back to hold a rather futile position at the War Office, of serving as a Staff officer at Versailles. There our business was to try to consider the problems that were likely to arise four, or six, or eight months ahead. We were appointed, so far as I understand, not because the General Staffs at the War Office and elsewhere were inefficient, but because they were dealing with their day-to-day problems and had not the time or the opportunity to deal with questions ahead. Your Lordships will realise, particularly the noble and learned Viscount with his knowledge of the War Office, how constantly officers are disturbed there by being asked every sort of detail and having to deal with questions. of day-to-day occurrence; how they have to frame answers to Parliamentary questions; how they have to deal with the employment of troops or the garrisons required in various parts of England and France. It is impossible for officers under those conditions to be able to think out strategical and tactical problems. May I be allowed to give two instances of the sort of problems with which we dealt? I have selected these two cases because in each case it is not one Service which alone can be considered but a matter in regard to which it is necessary to have co-ordination. There arose at a certain stage of the war—your Lordships will easily realise the period—when, in the spring of 1918, it was a question whether the British Army would be any longer able to hold the line, and whether it might not become necessary either to break connection with the French and retire to and garrison the Channel Ports, or whether we should have to give up the Channel Ports and keep our connection with the French. That obviously at once opened up the whole question of what the effect would be on the Navy, and still more on the Mercantile Marine, of giving up the Channel Ports. I do not propose to give your Lordships the solution arrived at because, although the war is over, it is better to leave these things unsaid.

But I can give you another matter which was considered and which, again, raises the question of co-ordination between the two Services. During the late spring and early summer of 1918 it appeared that the situation on the Western Front would become a stalemate for both sides, and that we should have to wait until the arrival of the American Army in the late summer and autumn of 1918 before we could make much of a move, and, in fact, that we should not be able to drive back the Germans until the spring of 1919. We then had to consider whether the Germans would not do as they had done every previous autumn—undertake a minor campaign in a subsidiary theatre of war and thus try to raise the moral of their people during the winter. It appeared that the Front on which such a campaign would be entertained would almost certainly be Salonika. The communications to Palestine rendered that almost impossible and our Forces at Salonika at that time were very weak; they were ravaged by malaria, and there were great opportunities for a big German success there. We had to consider whether in the event of a retirement—which would almost certainly have become necessary—it would be advisable to garrison the port of Salonika and at the same time to hold the line of defence across Northern Greece, or whether it would be better to give up the defence of Salonika. Your Lordships will realise at once that, again, a naval question was involved. The consideration arose whether Kavalla, slightly to the east and in the hands of the Austrians, was so good Earl Stanhope. a submarine harbour that the taking of Salonika would be of no real advantage to the enemy; whether, in fact, the release of the Navy from the perpetual escort of transports and of ships carrying military stores up to the harbour of Salonika would not be au advantage, and whether the Navy would be glad no longer to have to take ships into that port. On the other side there was the consideration that Salonika was connected with the direct line of rail with Austria; and it was held by many that Austria would be able to send down submarines in pieces, put them together in the harbour of Salonika—which we had made a very good one indeed—and that the result of this would be that shipping throughout the Eastern Mediterranean would become even more menaced than it then was, and that it might become necessary to feed our Army in Palestine round the Cape instead of across the Mediterranean. I was asked to come back to find out what were the views of the Admiralty on this question; because, although we had nominally a naval representative at Versailles, he was not in a position to give a, decision, or even to express an opinion on such a point. I found that, although we had been then two and a-half years in Salonika, the question of the evacuation of that place had not been considered by the Admiralty, and that they had not made up their minds as to what the effect of such an evacuation would be.

It may be said, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House suggested, that the war is over, and that therefore there is no need for a Staff of this kind; but, as the noble Lord pointed out, the need is even greater now than it ever was before. The war ended at a moment when machinery was beginning to have an enormous effect on operations. A new type of tank had just been made capable of going two or three times as fast as those then in use. Big aeroplanes were being produced in large numbers; and the whole effect of machinery on land operations was changing very rapidly at the end of 1918. The question of co-ordination between the Services, such as co-ordination between aeroplanes and tanks, between aeroplanes and long range naval guns—such guns as we read of at the present day with a range of one hundred miles, though possibly they may not come into actual use for many generations—but, at any rate, the modern long range gun which is even now being considered makes co-operation between the Air Force and the Navy a matter of supreme importance. Then there is the question of aeroplanes watching for submarines, a matter which appeared likely to come very much to the front at the end of 1918. There is also the question of the use of coastal motor-boats for canal and river work, a matter which, incidentally, was never considered before the war and which is not actually mentioned in the book on naval operations recently published, although some motor boats did extraordinarily good work during our retreat through Flanders.

Those are minor questions, but there arise the questions of new bases for the Fleet. It is perfectly certain that the bases used for the Fleet in this war are not those which we shall use in a future war; because, as the noble Earl pointed out, the whole strength of the various nations of the world has been entirely altered by the Peace. How are those new ports to be protected? Whence are the garrisons to come? What is to be the Air Force necessary for scouting in order to protect them from hostile submarine attacks? Then there is the question, upon which the noble Earl touched, of the League of Nations. How is the League of Nations to enforce its will? How is its armed force to be provided, and in what proportion? I have long felt that the Versailles Military Staff in many ways was the kernel around which the League of Nations would eventually form. It was in some respect an extraordinary organisation. You had there the officers of four different nations, thinking on parallel lines and arriving at a unified result. In more than one case the results achieved were, I think, more than any of us hoped for, and such that the accuracy of the forecasts which were made of events in March and April were extraordinarily unpleasant. Of course, it would no longer then be a question of four Allied Nations but of the great nations of the world. Work somewhat on the lines of the Versailles Council would, I suggest, be necessary if the League of Nations is to become a really effective organisation.

The four essentials of such a body are these. The first is that the personnel must be permanent. That is a difficulty both in regard to the Imperial Defence Committee and still more in regard to the General Staffs of the various Services. The second is that the head of that body must be a man of imagination, independence, and strong character. It was found that as soon as a man of great independence and judgment was not, available to be the head of that organisation at Versailles the results of its work became very much less. The third is that the Staff should have no other duties. They should be relieved of such work as the drafting of Parliamentary answers and petty details. The fourth is that the functions of such a body should be purely advisory. As your Lordships know, at one moment the Military Staff at the Versailles Council was given executive functions, and it was from that moment that Versailles became the catspaw of political argument and perhaps of some professional jealousy. It came under suspicion and ceased to do as good work as it had done before. In any case I think any one will agree that the Prime Minister and the Government of the country must be responsible to the country for the policy it has undertaken, and therefore a Staff such as I suggest, formed entirely of Naval, Military, and Air Force officers, can only act in an advisory capacity to tell the Ministers what, to the best of their belief, would happen and advise them of the best. way to meet enemy action should it occur.

It may be said that the cost of such an organisation would be somewhat large. I do not think that it is necessary to have very senior officers. The whole point really is that you should have officers with imagination and with knowledge. Their rank is immaterial, because they would report in each case to the heads of their own Services, and the weight necessary to carry through a policy would come from the acceptance of their suggestions by the heads of those various Services, Naval, Military, and the Air. My own belief is that the cost of their salaries would be saved many times. We should cease to waste our efforts by an Army undertaking things which the Navy could do better and the Navy undertaking things which the Air Force could do better. I believe it would do more than anything[...]else, when adopted by other nations, to make the League of Nations a success. It would give it the power to enforce its decisions, because once the Government of the country has realised what force is necessary for the League of Nations to accept a mandate, it would probably find that it was the cheapest course to pursue.

I venture with great diffidence to put forward these views because I have had some opportunity of seeing how a body such as I suggest worked during the war, and although the noble Earl the Leader of the House did not mention the Council of Versailles, I believe it was the opinion of the War Cabinet at the time that it did perform a useful work and at one time it was considering future policy to be carried out by the forces of the Crown. I suggest that the organisation might be even more valuable in time of peace than it has proved in time of war.


My Lords, I do not rise to prolong the debate, but I feel—and I think my feeling is shared by my noble friend beside me—that we who sit here would be wanting in gratitude if we did not say how much we appreciate the speech which the Leader of the House has made in this debate. He has spoken both with frankness and with careful reserve. We are quite aware that he is binding himself to nothing in what he said, but he spoke with such frankness that we appreciate the consciousness he has of the difficulties which we ourselves have felt. Really all we desired was to make sure that the Government were taking those matters Earl Stanhope. into the consideration which we feel they need. He has reassured us completely on that, and it is a source of satisfaction to us to know not only that the Committee of Imperial Defence is continuing its functions but that there are sub-Committees, to which he referred, which are actually at work at the present moment. I felt it right to say this, because it is not always that one has a speech from a Minister that is thoroughly satisfactory. I can say that, from the point of view from which I spoke, the speech of the Leader of the House has been very satisfactory to us on this occasion.

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