HL Deb 14 November 1929 vol 75 cc521-42

THE EARL OF MIDLETON had given Notice to call attention to the reduction of the Army in recent years, and to the cost of the War Office, and to ask His Majesty's Government what steps it is proposed to take to reduce the civil establishments of the War Office and Admiralty. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not offer any apology for asking you to consider the Question which I have placed upon the Paper, because we have no opportunity in this House, either by the presentation of Estimates or by the presence of the War Minister, to discuss or consider year by year, as is done in another place, what are the changes which are taking place in the Army and also in the commitments which that Army has to meet. A sort of general understanding seems to exist in the speeches of all public men who devote themselves to this subject, that there should be a consecutive diminution of the Army. There is in that direction a clatter of peace talk. We read of Resolutions passed at Geneva. We hear of ideals such as the President of the United States voiced a few days ago, based on ideas that the world can be administered like the Supreme Court of America, whose decisions hold, but are not, enforceable by any forms of coercion. There are many members of this House who can judge better than I can how far this millennium is likely to be applicable to Europe, but I submit that whatever may be the application to Europe, in all those questions connected with our Forces far too little attention is being paid to the needs and commitments of the British Empire outside Europe.

I shall ask your Lordships to examine figures as briefly as I can. I have gone back some years, and I have taken as my starting point the year 1895, for this reason, that in that year, after a long period of comparative peace, broken only by the Egyptian campaigns, this country had reached a fairly low ebb of military preparedness. In 1895 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and the Government of that day fell on a shortage of war supplies. But in a few months the incoming Government were informed by the new Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley, that they could not mobilise the Army to carry out, not any European aggression, but the actual functions which the Cabinet of that day, without any idea of taking part in a European campaign, had laid upon the War Office to undertake. The result of that was shown in a work which has just seen the light in a most able account which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has given of Lord Lansdowne's period at the War Office; and amongst other things I think he has brought out that, in order to obtain the minimum necessary to enable the soldiers of that day to carry out the functions laid upon them, Lord Lansdowne on one occasion resigned office, and was, in point of fact, out of office for several days before the decision was given in his favour to carry out that very moderate increase.

Therefore, in going back to 1895, I am not going back to a period which was one of great military preparedness or of great political aggression. The next date I will ask your Lordships to consider will be 1914, by which time undoubtedly, intermittently, without an absolutely fixed plan, but still with a consciousness that a European War was looming before them, preparations had been made by the Government; and the last date is 1929, which involves the Estimates of the present year. What is really remarkable is that the Army was at a much lower ebb after the Great War. All the great increases made for the Great War have been swept away. After the Boer War considerable increases, especially of artillery, were maintained. All those increases have been swept away. Before the Boer War under Lord Wolseley's influence large in creases had been made. All those increases have been swept away, and we are now back below the level of 1895. And therefore I take it that we have a right to ask what is the change in our position abroad and in our commitments which justifies so very great a retrogression in our military forces.

These are the figures. In 1895 we had an Army of 148,000 men in England, Regulars, and 73,000 in India. Lord Wolseley's changes had raised it in 1906 to 193,000 in England and 75,000 in India. In 1914, after the reductions made by Lord Haldane, who increased the Staff but largely decreased the rank and file, the Army stood at 176,000 in England, instead of 193,000, while the number in India remained the same. It now stands at 140,000 in England and 60,000 in India. Therefore, as compared with 1906, the Army is short at this moment in England and in India by 68,000 Regulars, and, as compared with 1914, the Reserve has fallen from 176,000 to 147,000. The Special Reserve of 1914 has disappeared altogether. Therefore, while the Army has fallen by 68,000 men, the Reserve has fallen by 86,000 men. Beyond that, the Territorials, which in 1914 numbered 252,000, are 133,000 today; so that the Territorials have fallen by 119,000 while the Army has fallen by 68,000 and the Reserve by 86,000. The total fall in the number of men who wear His Majesty's uniform available at home and in India is no less than 273,000. I take leave to say that those are almost staggering figures. Those figures alone justify me in asking your Lordships to take stock of the position and to consider whether there is so great a fall in our commitments as justifies our sitting down and regarding this as a number which may be even further reduced without any popular doubt or hesitation.

There is a subsidiary question with which I do not propose to occupy your Lordships' time. One of the points on which the soldiers of thirty years ago insisted most strongly was that we should not reduce the strength of battalions at home or in India below a certain level, because it became impossible to train a battalion of short numbers entirely composed of young men. But that is a military question, and the military men who will follow me, and especially Lord Allenby, who, I hope, is going to speak in the debate, will be able to tell your Lordships more than I can about it. I know that it is urged that the strength of a battalion in India, which used to be 1,033 and is now about 900, may be justified because machine guns and such like additions to armament no doubt, in such warfare as you expect on the frontier of India, make the smaller number of men more effective; but you have to consider the question of the position of your troops at Alder-shot if you are going to send them suddenly on mobilisation to an unhealthy climate. Therefore when you have to exclude recruits the general question whether you are not getting down to zero mark with a view to mobilisation is one which requires the most serious military consideration.

What about commitments? What were our commitments in 1895, as compared with the commitments of to-day? Let us leave out the question of Europe altogether. I would not venture to decide, or even to allude to, the responsibilities in which it is expected that we, as signatories of any agreements of the League of Nations, may find ourselves involved. There are certain things which are clear. In 1895 we were not responsible for the Sudan, we had taken no Mandate for Palestine, we had taken no Mandate for Mesopotamia. We had on the whole on our North-West Frontier less trouble, or less danger of trouble, than we have now. Afghanistan was then under a strong ruler and was relatively quiet. You have only to look at our main Eastern neighbours, China and Russia, with 500,000,000 inhabitants. I believe that both Russia and China are signatories to the League of Nations. If that is so they show on their own frontiers and between each other the most lamentable want of appreciation of the doctrine of the League of Nations. I am not at all certain that we who are continually considering our relations with both those Powers, can consider our frontiers more secure for their adhesion.

However that be, look back (and I ask you to look back) to the fact that since 1895 we have been involved in wars which never occurred to us as possible at that moment, which involved an enormous expenditure in troops, which in one case very nearly caused, as it were, an impeachment of the very Ministry of which Lord Lansdowne was a member and from which with such difficulty he wrung additional troops, because when the Boer War broke out we were unable to meet the full liabilities as we should have wished to do at the moment. Since then we have been engaged, as we all know, in Asia. When you are dealing with an Empire which has such undertakings in the midst of brave, fanatical and warlike peoples, and when yon have the experience of the past before you, I really do not think the obligations of this Empire can be discharged by merely studying Protocols and resolutions of Peace Conferences. Therefore, I would urge the Government—I am not making the slightest attack upon this Government; they look at many things from a new angle and a new standpoint—to see how far this downward progress has gone before they consider any further reduction. I think I am right in making that appeal because over and over again the Secretary for War in the last few years, even under the late Government, has apologised to the House of Commons for having again to make a cut in the Army Estimates, and has put the national needs in regard to expenditure and retrenchment in the forefront of his argument. If that argument had weight under the last Administration, what are we to expect under an Administration which never passes a week in the House of Commons without giving out with both hands promises of large subventions in practically every direction? It may be right. It may be supported by public opinion. But the money has to come from somewhere, and I have a shrewd suspicion that at the present moment the Chancellor of the Exchequer is pressing each of his colleagues to exercise every possible economy.

I ask your Lordships to give me a few moments while I point out an economy which has long been needed in connection with the War Department and with the Admiralty, and, if my Question covered it, I should be prepared to prove that it was needed on behalf of other Departments of the State. Let us take the Civil Service. The expenditure on the various classes of civil servants in the great Departments is one of the most crying questions with which any Government could deal at the present moment. Statistics are dull things. I do not in the least wish to indict the whole Civil Service. I know perfectly well how many self-sacrificing men it contains. I know what excellent work is done. I know what the position is of heads of Departments and how we have had at different times to rely upon them. But I say that there is no business in the City of London which from time to time as it expands does not carefully review the whole of the salaries and staff, and endeavour to cut out work which is unnecessary and to limit expenditure which can be foregone. That system, I say, has never been attempted with regard to the War Office or the Admiralty, and I do not think it has been carried out with regard to other Departments.

Three or four years ago three of the most distinguished administrators sat in a Committee appointed by the late Government. Sir Alan Anderson was the Chairman and Sir Herbert Lawrence, whose name is so well known in your Lordships' House, was one of the members. That Committee made a Report which I should have thought must have stimulated any Government to further exertions. They reported:— that it was impossible to press home this inquiry so far as to cut down work or even effectively to examine the ground unless the full authority of Parliament was applied. That was an invitation that the full authority of Parliament should be applied, but I doubt whether any member of either Front Bench will get up and tell me that any pretence was made of applying the full authority of Parliament to this great reform. Then the Report goes on to say:— We are full of respect for the work of civil servants, but in a business which expends £75,000,000 per annum in pay, and where the pay roll has increased in nine years by £44,000,000 sterling, there must be great accretions of unnecessary work. I treasure that expression, "great accretions of unnecessary work." Why should an enlightened country like this sit down and allow an army of civil servants to be added to year after year to carry out "great accretions of unnecessary work."?

Then, as business men, they proceeded to state what a business firm would do which had great developments of this kind and saw itself faced with a pay roll with such a heavy increase. They say:— They instruct the executive to survey the duties undertaken by the company and to recommend which of these duties, choosing preferably the most expensive, can be closed down without danger to the whole. I shall stand corrected if any member of your Lordships' House can get up and tell me that any one of those three paragraphs has been acted upon since that important Committee reported.


What is the date of that?


It was in 1926 or 1927. Let us apply that for one moment to the War Office and the Admiralty. I will not suggest that either the War Office or the Admiralty can come to quite such a pass as we are informed, by a noble Lord who was recently an Under-Secretary, the Department with which he was connected, namely, the Post Office, has reached of inefficiency and want of progress. But I affirm that the figures I have given justify me in saying that they come under the strictures of Sir Alan Anderson's Committee. The War Office in 1914 had 660 men employed in the Military Department. In 1929 the number is 903. The Civil Department had 611 men employed in 1914 and in the present year they have 1,013. The cost in 1914 was £455,000. In 1929 it is £861,000. It is no use telling me all that is done because of increased Staff work, and putting forward arguments of that sort, which we know so well. I have taken the purely civil work. The Council and Secretariat have increased in pay and in numbers by 65 per cent; the Finance Department by 65 per cent.; the Local Audit Department by 68 per cent.; the Contracts Department by 72 per cent.; and the Lands Department, having been, I think, very much overhauled by my noble friend Lord Onslow, who is not able to be here this evening, was increased by only 60 per cent. These percentages give two-thirds more of men to administer a Department which is controlling 273,000 troops fewer than in 1914.

I do not wish to press these figures unduly, but you cannot meet that case by a pure negative. Your Lordships, I think, will admit that I have some right to ask for inquiry. The Admiralty beats the War Office in a canter, as it always does in this respect. The Admiralty numbers in 1914 were 1,802; in 1929 they are 2.512. The cost was £484,000 in 1914, and instead of that it is now up to £1,187,000. Like the War Office it has gone up. It is £1,187,000, and yet everyday we find that more money is wanted and that these excesses remain unchecked. I am sorry to have to trouble your Lordships with so many figures. I venture to ask those who will reply in this debate that they shall consider three points. The first is this: We make a demand that the condition of the Army should be most carefully considered before any further cuts are made either in men or material. We have had experience in the past of an unlimited deficiency, and we have now returned to it after thirty years. I am, however, not going to attempt to enter in this debate on the question of man power, but I do want to say that I think there is a feeling, universal in this House and in the country, that the taking of further Mandates in the East by Great Britain is one which requires to be much more carefully watched than has been the case hitherto. That is my second point. My third is this: I do ask that the Government, having regard to the immense demands which they must necessarily make on the taxpayer in the near future, will at least satisfy us that the money which is voted will be expended on necessary services.

Whether or not we agree with the exact amount of social legislation which is required to be brought forward in the House of Commons, at any rate we ought to see that the money voted goes to the people whom it is intended to benefit, and that we do not continue, as we have done for the last few years, to shut our eyes to what is really a great error in our administration. Some further notice should be taken of these things than is at present taken. I wish to say a word upon the action of the Treasury in placing a small section of clerks in each Department in order to avoid expenditure. The Department has to pay for those clerks. If those men could settle anything they might be justified, but if they are simply there to say that this or that establishment might be reduced by three or four men—and that is the only purpose for which they are there—then they are absolutely redundant. By a change in that system alone I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer might obtain a large reduction in expenditure.

I ask your Lordships also to bear with me while I briefly touch upon two other points. I would like to give one or two illustrations. I say that there is undue minuting, at all events in the War Department, with which I have been best acquainted. What is the system? A military member of the Staff requires an increase. He sends the request forward to the civil side. One of the Finance staff dissects it. It is then sent back, and finally after a prolonged engagement it is entered upon a list for the Army Council. Then a further engagement takes place, and after a series of brilliant interchanges between officials sitting a few rooms away from each other, who might very easily settle the point submitted in a very few moments, it goes to the Treasury, and there a fresh skirmish begins. I am certain that if your Lordships could visit the War Office at this moment you would find many files of grievances going back months and occupying the time of any number of clerks. During the Boer War, when we were worked to death, it was laid down that not more than two minutes should be written on each side and then a case was stated for the Secretary of State to decide. We found that system worked perfectly.

Another point is the extraordinary over-checking of accounts. I remember that we found during the Boer War there were four hundred thousand men under pay in South Africa. Every shilling paid to each man in each company was vouched for by the commanding officer. The sheet was checked by him, that sheet was checked again by the Paymaster at the base at Cape Town, the same sheet then came to the War Office and was checked again there. We persuaded the Treasury that this checking three times of the pay of four hundred thousand men was unnecessary and that they might have merely a test audit at the War Office. That was done and we saved the check of about 350,000 claims per week. That is the sort of simple thing a business man coming in would tell you to do. Many of these things have grown up and have been endured for years, and they ought to be changed. By this means staffs could be reduced and much unnecessary work abolished. That is my case. There are real means of economy in several Departments of the State. In regard to the Military Department, we have to consider our commitments and not merely the desire of the public to save money, but we should as far as possible do away with all superfluous expenditure.


My Lords, I hope for a very few minutes to be granted the indulgence of your Lordships' House. I have no up-to-date technical or statistical knowledge. I do not know what may be the financial or political considerations that govern military policy, but as a professional soldier I do know the difficulty in meeting with ten thousand one who comes against you with twenty thousand, and it seems to me to be always better to be sure now that one will be able to meet disagreeable and unexpected happenings rather than be compelled to resort to improvisation on the day of trial. Improvisation, as your Lordships know, is always very gradual and is seldom satisfactory. Look back fifteen years. If we had been able to send across the Channel six complete Divisions and a cavalry corps in August, 1914, we might have been saved that retreat from Mons and the early stages of the War might have taken on a very different complexion. To the outsider, to the onlooker like myself, recent events in Palestine seem to emphasise the danger of optimism leading to the lessening of safeguards. It seems to me something like ceasing to pay your premiums on an insurance policy to reduce your safeguards too greatly in peace time, ceasing to pay your premiums because you have not yet had a fire on the premises. The cost of improvising forces later will be much greater than maintaining those forces at adequate strength. I am not suggesting that, however lavish the expenditure, security can be absolutely gained, but we can, and we should, afford reasonable security.

The Great War has bequeathed us many new responsibilities in addition to our own great Imperial business. Our own great Imperial business is big enough, but we have now assumed the responsibility of those several Mandates which have been mentioned by the noble Earl and, having taken up those Mandates of which others have been disinclined to assume the burden, we cannot lightly lay them down. We are in honour bound to carry out our trusteeship. The armed forces of the Crown are and have been a great Imperial police force. Now they are in addition a great universal police force. We must keep them in such strength that we can when required safeguard and uphold the Mandates with which we have been entrusted. The force for that I cannot define—it is not for me to do so—but I do beg your Lordships to bear in mind the fact that we have taken up those responsibilities and we cannot in honour lay them down. But if we are going to carry them out we must be in sufficient strength to do so. This Imperial and universal police force, as I have called the forces of the Crown, must be so armed, so organised and so trained as to be sufficient for defence and able to pass rapidly, when emergency comes, to the attack: for the attack is ultimately the only effective form of defence. I say that in no spirit of aggression and in no spirit of militarism, but because a force which is made for defence is no good unless it can fight in defence, and in fighting in defence it has to take the offensive.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has somewhat extended the scope of his original Notice. I make no complaint of that because he was good enough to inform me a few days before he did so, even before he actually altered the Notice on the Paper. At the same time I hope he will not expect me to follow him into some of the more remote parts of his speech. Of course this Government, having been in office only a few months, must refuse to accept responsibility for the state of the Army not only in 1895 and in 1914 but in 1928 and in the first few months of 1929. The noble Earl has suggested that the present Army is not equal to its obligations. I can only make the reply that apparently past Governments, representing as they did the side of the House on which the noble Earl himself sits, only reduced the size of the Army when they made their cuts after careful and mature consideration, expert, technical and political. Naturally, on such an important point of policy as this my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War must have time to consider thoroughly the whole position before he states the policy of His Majesty's present Government. I quite realise that the noble Earl did not make any serious criticism of this Government, but my right honourable friend must have time to formulate his policy and to state it, as he will when he presents his Estimates in another place. I will certainly see to it that the noble Earl's observations are conveyed to my right honourable friend and I know that they will receive the most careful consideration.

In what I am going to say I must not be taken in any way as pledging the Government on future policy, but at the same time I wish to give your Lordships as much information as is possible at the moment. I think if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, his speech shows rather that he has not quite fully realised the alterations in military technical requirements that have taken place all over the world since 1914 and since 1918. I will give one example. Actually during the last three years we have spent on materials of mechanisation alone over £2,000,000, quite apart from consequential expenditure, while every infantry battalion has one company that is armed exclusively with machine guns. I think an example such as that shows the difficulty, and the impossibility almost, of comparing the existing situation, the existing figures, with figures relating to pre-War standards and pre-War requirements. Tanks, mechanical transport, aeroplanes and the need for anti-aircraft defence, improved methods in technical devices for signalling—all these really revolutionise military requirements.

The efficiency of this new equipment depends on research and training and education. You cannot re-equip your Army until you have decided what you want to re-equip it with and until you have decided also to what form of organisation the new equipment can be best applied. When that has been done officers, non-commissioned officers and men have to be trained in the use of that equipment, and trained so that they can teach other men to use that equipment. Research and education have to be centralised, and it is only natural that the War Office should become the central force for research and education. Naturally, if that is so, the cost of this must reflect itself in the cost of the War Office itself. I think that this is a process that may in time to come have to be carried even further than it has been carried at the present moment. It is fair to say that the importance of management is being increasingly realised throughout the whole business world, and I should be very surprised if the noble Earl could find a single large successful business in this country that would agree with him, that we ought to cut down—to take the example that he gave—in such a matter as the checking of accounts. More and more the efficiency of management is being realised to be at the real heart of general efficiency. In spite of this, War Office expenditure has decreased steadily since 1922. To give an instance, at the present moment our clerical staff is actually 20 per cent. below our establishment, while the administrative staff is at pre-War level.

Another point is the increase in the demand for purely clerical work and administration. Since the War there has been a very large output of legislation of the character which affects the Ser vice Departments. We have had the Pensions Increase Act; the Injuries in War Compensation Act; the Representation of the People Act; the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920; the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925; the introduction of marriage allowance; the periodical revision of emoluments according to the cost of living; and the introduction of cost accounting and of technical costings in relation to contracts: and almost all of these items throw additional work primarily upon the civil staff of the War Office. Another point is that we are still dealing with the aftermath of the War. Claims and inquiries about pensions continue to come in and have to be dealt with. Then there is the disposal of War records and other papers connected with the War. As a result of the War also, we no longer employ boy and girl messengers. They are replaced by ex-Service men at higher wages. Incoming correspondence seems to have increased by about 50 per cent.—why, it is very hard to say. It is very hard to explain, unless you like to say that the nation as a whole is becoming very much more persistent and sticks to the point more. If so, it may be all very well from the national point of view, but these letters have to be answered, and I am sure the noble Earl would be the very first to complain if we were not to answer our correspondents. Members of Parliament and the Press certainly make their contributions to this increase of work.

I have tried to show as shortly as possible, by giving just a few instances, why there is a different ratio of costs as between different portions of Army expenditure in 1914 and 1919. Perhaps I might recapitulate. Alterations in military demands as regards equipment, reorganisation and the consequent need for research and education; the general increased appreciation of the importance of management; the ever-growing complexity and quantity of legislation requiring administration in regard to the Army; and the increase of general correspondence, relating not only to the present day but going right back to the War: all these factors combine to produce the present state of affairs in regard to the War Office and military expenditure generally. I think it is only necessary to relate these factors to prove to your Lordships that there really is nothing to worry about, as the noble Earl suggests, in the alteration of the proportionate allotment of that expenditure, whether on financial or on military grounds. I make no reference to the change in the value of money, because on this point we are really discussing proportions rather than amounts.

The noble Earl complained that we have made no inquiry, have had no review of our expenditure, as any normal expanding business would do. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that since 1921 there have been no fewer than seven committees of inquiry into the Army and the War Office, quite apart from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Estimates which, I think, has reported twice, and the annual sessions of the Public Accounts Committee. In the Session of 1928 the Estimates Committee received a copy of a Treasury Minute dated February 22, 1928. I should like to read that Minute to your Lordships. It says:— My Lords are satisfied that continuous efforts are being made by the Council to reduce the numbers and cost of staffs, military and civil, where possible. The noble Earl smiles. I do not know how he can smile at the suggestion that there has been very adequate inquiry into War Office expenditure, since there have been no fewer than seven committees enquiring, in addition to the sessions of the Public Accounts Committee and the meetings of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Estimates.

The noble Earl has added in his Notice a reference to the Admiralty. Your Lordships must forgive me if I speak with less personal knowledge on that subject, but, generally speaking, the considerations that I have mentioned as necessitating the maintenance of staffs at the War Office at above pre-War level apply with equal force to the Admiralty. Although, as has been shown again and again in answer to criticism from various sources, the connection is logically very slight between the numbers of the Navy and the size of the Admiralty staff, a progressive reduction has, in fact, been taking place in the latter, and during the term of office of the late Government a reduction of staff at the Admiralty was effected to the extent of 275. When the present Government took office they found that an exhaustive inquiry into Admiralty staff was already on foot, and the Parliamentary Secretary took over the position of his predecessor as Chairman of the inquiry and has been and is carrying on its work, with further results in the direction of the reduction of staff.

To return to the War Office, in spite of the inquiries I have mentioned His Majesty's Government are not content to let matters rest at that, and we intend to investigate thoroughly every possibility of saving. Let me make it quite clear that we accept no responsibility whatsoever for the actions of the past Government. I only regret that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not here to defend them for himself. But we must give credit where credit is due and say that for the Army that we possess, as regards both numbers and efficiency, the Army Council appears to be giving the nation very good value, and I must confess that nothing that has been said to-day by the noble Earl really holds out any hope whatsoever of providing that Army more economically. On the contrary, I think it is fair to say that the criticisms which were made on the point of expenditure—I am not dealing with the question of policy, of the size of the Army—are really made from a very retrograde point of view, complaining as they do of central planning and organisation, which are, in my view, the one hope of yet further economy and efficiency.


My Lords, I should like to say one or two words on this question. It appears to me that we ought to welcome this discussion, because I have a feeling that while we are all of us naturally and properly anxious to take every possible step to remove all possibility of future war, there is a danger of our losing a proper sense of proportion. It appears to me that we have already set an excellent example as regards reduction, and I do not see that other Powers are following our noble example. Therefore, it does seem absolutely necessary that we really should have the greatest possible regard to any future reduction of our military strength. Mention has been made of our commitments having increased since the War. As far as I know, our commitments have certainly increased, and I do not think that the commitments of other Powers have increased. Yet here we are, I venture to submit, setting an unnecessary example of reduction to other Powers. Sometimes we hear people saying that there are going to be no more wars. We all hope that, and certainly, speaking for myself, I think that future wars are going to be very unlikely. I hope we shall never have them; but pious hopes are not certain facts. None of us can tell whether there is going to be war in the future or not, and we cannot afford to disregard the dangers and to run the risk of dangers coming upon us.

I confess I was rather disappointed with the speech of the noble Earl opposite. I do not for a moment attach any blame to him, or to the Government which he represents, for anything that has taken place in the past, and he is fully entitled to say that it is right and proper to admit that, during the short time the present Government have been in power, they have not had time to make themselves fully acquainted with all the necessary and advisable economies alluded to by my noble friend Lord Midleton, and which some of us think ought to be brought about. I want, if I may, to call attention to one fact which has not been alluded to. I may be quite wrong but I have an impression that a few years ago, when there was a great public demand for economy, the Treasury appointed in every Government Department a small clerical staff to advise or supervise, or to see how the expenditure of the different Departments went on. This is a question, which concerns not only the War Office but the Government as a whole, and I would ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to give it his attention for one moment. I want to know whether this staff still exists, or whether it has been reduced, because I have a suspicion that it is still maintained, and, if so, it is a perfect farce. The Treasury appoint men for the purpose of looking into the expenditure of each Department, and there is no necessity, surely, for keeping them in existence perpetually in addition to the staff of the Department. It is not their business, I suppose, to exercise a continued system of espionage in the Departments.


Economies in establishment.


My noble friend says they were to enquire into economies in establishment. Having done that, I submit that their work is over and that they ought not to be continued. Of course, I do not press for an answer on that point now if the noble and learned Lord is not properly acquainted with the matter, but I think that some day we ought to be informed whether that increase of the establishment still continues. I hope also that we may have some further elucidation as to the economies to which my noble friend has alluded. The noble Earl mentioned the great increases in scientific armaments and things of that kind which have taken place since the War. These things have been carried out throughout the world by other Powers, but he has not told us that those other Powers have made any reduction in their men. We have, however, and I do want to utter, if I may humbly do so, a note of warning against the danger of further reduction in our forces until we are satisfied that other Powers are making their share of reduction, and that we are moving on parallel lines with them and not in advance of them.


My Lords, I desire to trouble you with a very few words only. Let me say in the first place that I think we must all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Midleton for his pleas in favour of the principle of economy, because we believe that without economy there can be no lowering of taxation, and that without the lowering of taxation there can be no fostering of that private enterprise throughout the country on which we believe the prosperity of the country depends. Therefore we are all for economy, and grateful to my noble friend for pleading for it. I do not think that we have got much from the Under-Secretary, who made, as he always does make, a pleasing and charming reply. It seemed to me that I had heard that reply from different mouths often before. It did not seem to bring us much nearer to a solution. The speech of my noble friend Lord Midleton divided itself into two parts. He was anxious to show that the Army was, if anything, too small, and, so far as the War Office establishments were concerned, that the civil side was too large. Of course, if the Army were to be increased it might be useful in other ways, but it would not be in the direction of economy. Therefore in one sense the two parts of his speech do not quite hang together. But substantially, though not perhaps with the same emphasis, I agree with him. I do not think the Army could be safely reduced any more, but I should be glad if economies could be made in the civil side of the War Office administration.

I quite agree with the noble Earl the Under-Secretary. He is not responsible, nor is his Government, for the present position. If anybody is responsible it is ourselves who recently left office. We were responsible, for reducing the Army. But I hope your Lordships will not think that those steps were taken otherwise than with the greatest care. I mean we did not begin by saying we must reduce the Army somehow. We looked to see if there was any possibility in any direction of safely reducing the Army, and only with regard to our commitments, bearing them strongly in mind, did we allow any policy of that kind to prevail. That was the direction in which we moved. My noble friend instanced a case when, I think, Lord Wolseley informed the then Government that he could not mobilise even the smallest expedition. That was not the case with us in the least, and I think my noble friend probably watched, as we all did, with great satisfaction the facility with which the machine worked, and its effectiveness, when it was necessary to take a military expedition to Shanghai on a very considerable scale—nothing to the military events of a few years ago, of course, but, compared to the old times of the nineteenth century to which my noble friend referred, an expedition on a considerable scale.

Well, those possibilities are always with us, and even the present Government in their very short period of office have been obliged to provide military and naval reinforcements on a considerable scale in Palestine. And the machine worked quite well. Every credit is due to Ministers and those who worked under them for the efficiency of the work. We have, however, reduced compared with the periods to which my noble friend Lord Midleton referred. That was a settled policy, of course, with the late Government in the interests of economy and in the interests of general European policy. We are for disarmament, if it can possibly be managed, and we went as far as we possibly could. I agree with my noble friend that there is a strange reluctance on the part of some foreign Powers to follow our example, and we certainly cannot afford to go any further. We have gone, as I believe, to the last possible point of safety, unless there be some international agreement which enables us to go further.

But, even as far as we have gone, it would only be safe if the greatest care were taken in watching the trend of policy. I hope your Lordships will believe me when I assure you that nothing was more present to the mind of the late Government, and I am sure it will be true of the present Government, than to take every step which was possible to regard the movements in all parts of the world with a view of seeing whether the peaceful policy we have tried to pursue ought to be modified in any degree. I do not mean to look just ahead, but for years ahead, and always to be on the watch lest it should be necessary to change the direction of reduction which we have hitherto pursued. That was the settled and oft-repeated policy of the late Government, for we worked, it must be admitted, on a very small margin.

All that I have said about the military establishments makes it all the more necessary to economise elsewhere if it can be done. And that is where I think my noble friend who has just sat down was justified in saying that the noble Earl's speech was a little disappointing. He did not seem to have at heart the principle of economy. It is quite true, as he said, that the development of public interest in the working of the Departments, and of the War Office among other Departments, and the continual pressure from members of the House of Commons and the action of Parliament itself do lead to very large demands upon the civil side of the War Office, which therefore, of course, would tend to expand on the civil side. That is perfectly true, but at the same time I must say that I was greatly impressed by the figures which my noble friend Lord Midleton produced. I think they were very striking—I mean the comparison with an Army much smaller and with a civil establishment much higher. I am not going to repeat his figures, but I beg the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and his colleagues to weigh them well, and to see whether really nothing can be done to bring a more reasonable relation between those two figures.

It does certainly seem ungracious to criticise the Civil Service. Personally, I have no criticism whatever to make upon the great heads of Departments and their immediate subordinates. They are not only most efficient, but they are overworked men. The pressure upon them is perfectly enormous. They are great public servants, and we ought to be entirely grateful. But when you take the whole mass of the Civil Service then I am bound to say that I believe that if you could conceive the Departments of the Government being worked by private enterprise they would be at once very much more efficient and very much more economical. My noble friend Lord Midleton has very fairly reminded your Lordships of certain articles which recently appeared in The Times from the pen of a noble friend of mine who is a Member of Parliament in another place, in which from the inside he was able to tell the country exactly the condition of the Post Office when he left it. I do not mean to say that it would be fair to argue that because the Post Office was bad every other Government Department was equally bad. That would be most unfair, but still it is rather unlikely that the Post Office should have what Mr. Gladstone used to call a double dose of original sin. I suspect that in a minor measure the same criticisms could be made against other Departments—not all of them perhaps, but some other Departments. And it may well be that some slight errors, not comparable to those in the Post Office perhaps, but still some slight errors of the same kind, may be found in the War Office and in the Admiralty. At any rate I would urge noble Lords opposite, members of the Government, members of the Cabinet, to use their influence to have these facts and figures looked into, if they can, to produce economy, and if they do they will receive the thanks of your Lordships, in whatever quarter of the House they may happen to sit.


My Lords, I think that the noble Marquess—I do not complain of it—has gone rather wide of the Question asked by the noble Earl opposite. But I can certainly assure him that what he has said and what the noble Earl has said will be most carefully considered. At the same time I am sure he is aware from his own experience, as the noble Earl is, that for a long period of time now every effort has been made to bring the largest measure of economy consistent with efficiency into the work of the War Office and of the War Services; which, of course, was the special point to which the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, called your Lordships' attention. Of course we desire to economise. Every Government desires to economise.

I am glad that the noble Marquess expressed his appreciation of the enormous responsibilities and duties which attach to the high officials in all OUT great offices. I should have thought it was almost common ground and I do not think the noble Marquess would differ from this, that in all these directions, judged by the experience of the world, our great officials hold a very high standard as regards efficiency and what I may call the practice of their work. It would certainly be beyond my present purpose to embark upon a discussion of what the noble Marquess said about the Post Office. He must be perfectly well aware that this is a matter upon which two opinions have been expressed of a very different character, regarding both the inferences to be drawn and the basis of facts from which they should be drawn. He will not expect me to go into a matter of that kind to-day. I do not think there is the least possibility of any Government doing other than relying on the best work they can get from the civil servants in order to carry forward, in the interests of all persons, the Post Office on at once the most economical and the most efficient lines.

I do not want to go beyond that. I feel that the question he raised is one which it is impossible to consider within the range of practical politics at the present time, and I can certainly assure him on that matter that, although we shall make every effort in the direction of economy, we are not in the least likely to follow the suggestions made by the noble Lord to whom he referred, who, as we know, took a special interest in matters of this kind when he was at the Post Office and continues to display it in his addresses in another place. I do not intend to say anything more to-night as I think I should be travelling outside the region of the Question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Lord the Lord President I will not carry the question any further. I am fully conscious of the manner in which the noble Earl the Under-Secretary has endeavoured to meet the Question I have raised. He has spoken with a diligence that commends him to the House and a discretion which will commend him to his colleagues; but he did not carry the matter very much further. I take it that I may regard the noble and learned Lord who leads the House as having pledged himself that the Government will look into this main question as to whether serious economies can be carried out in these Departments and will give it the best consideration in their power. I am much obliged to the noble Lord.

House adjourned at a quarter before six o'clock.