Motion made, and question proposed:
That a sum, not exceeding £257,330, be granted to Her Majesty to defray the Charge for the Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1896.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Stirling Burghs)
Sir,—I have to make an announcement of great importance and of great interest to the Members of the Committee. I have to state that on October 1st next, a date which is regarded as marking the close of the active military year, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge will relinquish the position which he has so long held as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. It would hardly be possible for anyone who has followed with interest the history of the Army for many years, still less would it be possible for one who has been engaged, as it has been my fortune to be engaged, with several intervals, in the actual work of the civil administration of the Army, to make this announcement without emotion. [Cheers.] His Royal Highness has been at the head of the Army for the unexampled term of 39 years. During all that time he has devoted all his energies and abilities—the whole of his life, in fact—to its service. [Cheers.] He has become identified with the Army. The Army in all its ranks has seen in him a true friend, and, as he himself, I am sure, would like to be considered, a faithful servant. [Cheers] It has recognised in him some of the most characteristic qualities of our countrymen. The Army has been, in ever-increasing degree, proud of the Duke, as he 1674 is called, and fund of the Duke [cheers]; and if the time has now come, as come sooner or later it must, when his active career shall cease, he will be followed in his retirement throughout the Army by a universal sentiment of gratitude, sympathy, and regret. [Cheers.] Happily, sir, the time has not arrived, and I trust it may be long deferred, for making a general eulogy of his Royal Highness's public career, nor should I be a fit person to make it. But perhaps the Committee will allow me, as having had a prolonged opportunity of observing the qualities which he has displayed in the discharge of his duties, to express some appreciation of one or two of the more conspicuous among his qualities. And in this I will endeavour, as well as I am able, to disengage myself from the influence of his most attractive personality, and from the power he possesses beyond most men of winning for himself the regard, I would say even the affection, of those with whom he is brought closely in contact. [Cheers.] I leave aside the question of technical attainments. I say nothing of the Duke of Cambridge's extraordinary familiarity with all the details of the military profession, and especially with the traditions, duties, practices, and requirements of our own Army—a familiarity in which, probably no officer in the service could equal him. ["Hear, hear!"] I say nothing of his industry, of the energy which he displays in an unflagging degree, even at the advanced age which he has now reached, and which can be gauged by any reader of the daily newspapers who follows his Royal Highness's engagements week after week. I wish to speak rather of other qualities which the Duke of Cambridge brings to the service of his country, and which appeal especially to us as members of Parliament. There are two qualities which, in my opinion, are the most important that any public man, and especially any public servant, can enjoy. One of them is supposed to be inborn, though I doubt it; the other is acquired. They come, in my opinion, before talent; they are better than zeal; they make genius useful; they fertilise eloquence. They are as rare as they are essential; they are constantly spoken of, but never defined. We know them by the vague titles of common sense and knowledge of the world. [Cheers.] In 1675 the exercise of these great qualities the Duke of Cambridge is a past past-master, and it is their possession that has made his influence so great. But, Sir, there is another characteristic which comes home very closely to the heart of the House of Commons. The Duke of Cambridge has been, as I have said, for 39 years the occupant of the office of Commander-in-Chief. At first his position was one of quasi independence; he was gradually brought closer to the Secretary of State, until at last he has been distinctly responsible to the Parliamentary Minister. During a great part of this time, though, happily, not of recent years, there was much room for jealousy, for difficulty, and for friction, and if this trying time has been successfully passed, it has been in a great measure because the Duke of Cambridge is a firm observer of constitutional propriety, a respecter of Parliamentary authority, and because he desires always to recognise and follow the general feeling of the country. I only now express publicly what I have often said privately, when I say that, if Providence had called the Duke of Cambridge to be sovereign ruler of some country, he would have exercised in an eminent degree all the qualities which we regard as necessary in the constitutional head of the State. I see it sometimes imputed to him, in articles on Army subjects, that he is an impediment in the way of all reform. Well, Sir, it is well known that, when, a quarter of a century ago, certain great changes were advocated, fundamentally altering our Army system, the Duke of Cambridge did not then view them with favour, because he did not anticipate a successful result from them. But when they were introduced with the approval of the opinion in the country and with the authority of Parliament, he frankly accepted them; he has never been slow to acknowledge the benefits accomplished by them; and I can say that of late years he has never shown himself unwilling to adopt such changes as were proved likely to be of advantage to the Army. If I required to quote instances of this temperament I would refer to the fact that he now makes way in order that certain changes may be introduced which Ministers have recommended to her Majesty for the benefit of the service to which he belongs. If the time has 1676 now come for the retirement of his Royal Highness, and if we are, some of us at least, looking forward to the introduction, on the occurrence of this event, of an altered, and, as we think, a more efficient machinery of administration, we can yet with perfect consistency look back with admiration and gratitude upon a long career, distinguished by such constant, zeal and devotion, and marked by a marvellous development and improvement in that Army which it has been the Duke of Cambridge's pride to command and whose interests it is his highest happiness to serve. [Cheers.] This event imposes upon Her Majesty's Government, and upon the Secretary of State for War in particular, a serious and difficult task. With common accord it is agreed that the present Commander-in-Chief cannot be succeeded by any officer with so large powers, and it is also agreed that the administration of the Army ought to be adapted to the latest ideas of efficiency. If we fail to make our method effective it will not be from lack of advice. One authority after another, one committee or commission after another, has pronounced the most confident judgment on the subject; but undoubtedly the most authoritative pronouncement has been that of the Royal Commission which sat in 1890 under the presidency of the present Duke of Devonshire. Now I have on more than one occasion within the last two or three years been interrogated as to my attitude towards this Hartington Report as it is cased, and I have always been careful to give an exceedingly cautious reply [A laugh], and this for a twofold reason—firstly, because, while I cordially concurred, as a member of the Commission, in the main lines of the report, I was a dissentient with respect to one or two of their somewhat prominent individual suggestions, which were not essential to those main lines; and, secondly, because any such academic recommendations are always to be held subject to such modifications on the part of those actually responsible for their application as may be suggested by active experience in the duties concerned. The Committee will not expect me on this occasion to enter upon the details of a scheme for the reorganisation of military administration which necessarily is not yet matured, but this I am prepared to say, that we accept 1677 and shall proceed upon the main principles of the Report of the Hartington Commission. The Report of the Commission refers to certain defects of principle, which appear to be inherent in the War Office system, and they define these to be, in the first place:—An excessive centralisation of responsibility in the person of the Commander-in-Chief on whom the whole executive command, administration, and supply of the Army now devolve. He is, in fact, the only officer who has any direct responsibility to the Secretary of State.That is the first defect. Then, secondly,—the system cannot adequately provide for the consultative as distinguished from the executive and administrative duties of the War Department.Now, what are the remedies proposed? The Commissioners say that—the principles which should be kept in view in any changes which may be decided upon are: The recognition of the responsibility to Parliament which rests on the Secretary of State; the recognition of the importance of the consultative as distinct from the administrative and executive functions of the professional advisers of the Minister; and the establishment of direct responsibility to the Minister of officers charged with certain denned duties.These principles we adopt and will act upon. ["Hear, hear!"] We do not propose to create the new office of Chief of the Staff as described in the Report, believing such an office to be not only unnecessary, but undesirable. We maintain the appointment of General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, but his functions will be greatly modified as compared with the duties now attributed to the Commander-in-Chief, and his office will be subject to the ordinary rules affecting staff appointments, and will be tenable for the usual term of years, capable, of course, of extension, as in the case of other appointments. He will be the principal Military adviser of the Secretary of State, and he, with the other heads of the Military Departments, who will each be directly responsible to the Minister, will constitute a deliberative council, so that the Secretary of State when he gives his decisions will be guided and supported by the express opinions of all the experienced officers by whom he is surrounded. The other departments will be the Adjutant General's Department, dealing 1678 with discipline in the Army; the Quartermaster General's Department, dealing with supplies, &c.; the Department of Director of Artillery, or whatever name may be given him, dealing with materials of war; the Inspector General of Fortifications, as he is now called, dealing with works and cognate subjects. These five general officers, each directly responsible to the Secretary of State, will constitute a deliberative council of the kind to which I have referred. That is a very rough indication of the general idea; it, of course, requires careful elaboration in details. I firmly believe that when this new configuration is given to the heights of Military Administration, when a system is thus introduced less centralised and more elastic, great advantage to the Army will ensue. But I should not be honest if I did not depreciate the too sanguine view which I have seen expressed, which hails the prospect of rapid changes in the Army, and of vast economies as the consequence of a redistribution of duties among the officers of the Headquarters Staff. I trust that improved administration will follow, and this will have its due effect. But, after all, if it be the case, as I know it to be, that at this moment no patriotic man need think of the condition of our Military forces with misgiving; if we are able to discern in them a constant tendency to development in power and efficiency, if the country be year after year getting—as the phrase goes—more value for its money, the main factor towards this result is not the co-operation, however able, of half-a-dozen distinguished soldiers at headquarters. All that can be done by them is to secure full justice, freedom, and play to that moving force which will not fail us—namely, the patient and intelligent devotion to duty of all ranks within the Army itself. [Cheers.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
In the interesting speech just made the Secretary for War has hinted at changes to be made in the War Office which no doubt must in the future invite discussion, and even anxious discussion, in this House, and of which we doubtless shall hear much more before the Session is over. But the right hon. Gentleman has given us the ideas of the Government on these prospective changes 1679 in a form obviously general and vague, and until we know in more detail what precisely it is the Government propose I think I should be going beyond my functions if I attempted any criticism or discussion on these proposals. But the minds of the Committee will, I think, turn not so much to the future as to the past at the present stage of Debate. We must all feel, as the Secretary for War feels, that the severance of the long connection of the Commander-in-Chief with the Army is an event which moves us and must move the country, and which for the moment must exclude from our consideration this particular question, which cannot for very long be deferred. The Commander-in-Chief has served his Queen and country in his present capacity for nearly 40 years, and during those 40 years he has had the privilege conceded to all public men in this country of being tolerably freely criticised from time to time. But even those who have indulged in criticism will admit that the Commander-in-Chief has throughout that long period been a bright example of single-minded devotion to the service of the country in the duties entrusted to him. It has never been my good fortune to serve in an office which brought me into direct official relations with the Commander-in-Chief, but it is not necessary to have had that privilege which the right hon. Gentleman has enjoyed to be assured that the Commander-in-Chief has shown a power of continuous and strenuous work which few can imitate, and of which, perhaps, we can hardly find such another example in the public service. ["Hear, hear!"] As the result of that continuous and strenuous exertion the Commander-in-Chief has, by universal consent, a knowledge of the details of Army work, in which he probably had no rival. ["Hear, hear!"] He has always been able, in spite of the great, of the revolutionary, changes which have taken place during his term of Office, to keep abreast, and to do more than keep abreast, of each new condition of Army affairs as it has arisen. He has, as the deserved result of his public service, earned the gratitude and affection of the whole Army of which he has been the head. ["Hear, hear!"] It would ill become me, in the presence of the Gentlemen who have a far more minute knowledge of Army 1680 affairs than I can pretend to have, to go through, in any detail, the special services which the Commander-in-Chief has rendered to the Army and to the country. But I think it would not be out of place to mention two, both of which I think—one, at all events—were touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman. The first of these to which the Secretary of State did not make special illusion, was the anxious care which the Commander-in-Chief has always had of the wants and needs of the private soldier, and the minute knowledge which he has had of the condition of life in which the private soldier lives. It is in no small degree, I believe, owing to his continuous exertions that the life of a private soldier has undergone so great a change for the better in the last generation. The other point of view is one not purely military, but it is not on that account less important, or less deserving of the recognition and gratitude of this House. This point has been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman. Everybody who has any knowledge of the subject must feel that no man has more clearly realised than the Commander-in-Chief the spirit which ought to animate the head of the A[...] a free and constitutionally governed country. It has not always been a lesson easily learned by members of the military profession. It has been learned completely and practised without stay or hindrance through his whole career by His Royal Highness the present Commander-in-Chief; and we who are members of the Legislature, we who have had in some respects, perhaps, to come into collision from time to time in the last 30 years with some cherished military traditions, owe a double debt of gratitude to the patriotic soldier who has been at the head of the Army, and who has used the great power which his position has given him to make the reforms and alterations required by this House acceptable and palatable to those who served under him. [Cheers.] We shall, I hope and believe, always find men fitted for the service of their country in the high position of Commander-in-Chief, but we shall never find any man who will inspire greater affection in the Army which he commands or who will be animated by a higher sense of his public duty to the Queen and to Parliament. [Cheers.]
SIR HENRY FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)
said that, as one of the old soldiers sitting in the House, he desired to thank the Secretary of State for the kind words he had used towards the Commander-in-Chief. He himself entered the Army 43 years ago, and having served continuously for that period, first in active service and later in the auxiliary forces, he could bear testimony that the announcement which had just been made would be deeply felt by all ranks of her Majesty's forces. The British soldier had for many years looked up to his Royal Highness as one of the best friends of the Army, and many of the better changes which had taken place during the past few years had been mainly attributable to the Commander-in-Chief. He would remind the Committee that during the Crimean War Ids Royal Highness led the first division, which was then, to a certain extent, the pick of the Army, and went through all the important engagements connected with the siege of Sebastopol, showing that though he was a Prince of the Royal blood he was not above taking the position offered to him and doing his duty honourably and nobly as the general commanding a provision of that force. [Hear, hear.]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, the Leader of the Opposition, following the Secretary of State, had expressed in admirable language the feeling of the House with regard to the long service, detailed knowledge of army administration, and great popularity among the soldiers of his Royal Highness. With regard to the future, he wished, as one who had criticised the War Office on a good many former occasions, to express some satisfaction with the statement of the Secretary of State. A great deal would depend on the way in which the changes were worked out, but generally speaking, if the right hon. Gentleman's main words continued to be the expression of the opinion of the Government, they ought to be satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the future Commander-in-Chief, although possessed of lesser powers than the present Commander-in-Chief, would, nevertheless, be the principal military adviser of the Secretary of State for War; and though he suggested that there 1682 would be a board of five, yet the qualifications with regard to the services of the other officers were so marked, that, if the carefully-chosen words of the right hon. Gentleman were adhered to, the scheme would give general satisfaction to the House and the country. Anything like the creation of a new board with equal powers, where decisions would be arrived at by counting heads, would, of course, never give satisfaction; but, if the right hon. Gentleman adhered to the main lines of his statement, the country would have a scheme which would bring it more into line with the scientific requirements of the present day than any which it had hitherto possessed.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he had not referred to anything in the nature of an Executive Board. What he wished to see introduced was a consultative Council comprising these five officers. The Commander-in-Chief would be the president, but he would also have definite functions of his own apart from the other officers. Each member of this Council would have an opportunity of expressing his opinions, especially on topics which required decision and which affected more than one of the Departments. From his experience he was satisfied that that would be a most useful arrangement; but he did not contemplate anything in the nature of an Executive Board.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
asked whether these great and unexpected changes were to be carried out at once, without further reference to the House of Commons. He had always thought that the great changes made by the late Mr. Stanhope were carried out on thoroughly unconstitutional principles. It seemed that that precedent was about to be followed, and that the House of Commons would have, no opportunity of discussing the proposed changes. Perhaps they could hardly press the right hon. Gentleman to tell them who the new head of the Army was to be. But the House of Commons had a right to assume the responsibility in the matter, and it was not too much to ask that it should have ample opportunity of discussing the violent changes that were to be made. As one who had served under the Duke of Cambridge, he desired to say that it was impossible to overrate the services which his Royal 1683 Highness had rendered, more particularly to the private soldier, during the long time he had been at the War Office. ["Hear, hear!"] It was, he thought, peculiar that, although the changes proposed were recommended by the Hartington and Stephen Commissions, no attempt had hitherto been made to carry them out. It was only at a moment when the country viewed the position of the Government as being critical that this change was brought forward. He did not think it was quite fair to Parliament that such a change should suddenly be sprung on the House of Commons without a word of warning and without an opportunity being afforded to collect evidence and facts which could be presented to the consideration of the House. The country would, no doubt, think that this was a species of deathbed repentance—an effort to rake up a very small amount of popularity in the country. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, he would not speak lightly of the value of the criticism made by the House of Commons on military subjects, though he did not attach the same value to that criticism on matters of military detail as appeared to be attached to it by some military Members; and he recognised the right of the House of Commons to have such a change as this submitted to its full consideration before it was finally made. He hoped, therefore, that an ample opportunity would be afforded to understand this change thoroughly before it was finally adopted in the arrangements for the Army. As a soldier of some standing and experience, he trusted that the House of Commons, in any criticism it might pass on the change, as well as on matters generally, would never forget that there must also be other essential qualifications in such an arrangement as this. Whoever the person might be who was called to such a position in the administration of the Army, he must satisfy not only the needs and the requirements of the House of Commons, but also those of the working combatant Army besides. It seemed to him that from time to time they lost sight of the necessities and the interests of the fighting soldier, and that they were inclined to be too bureaucratic, and occasionally to forget that there was a necessity behind calling for the necessity 1684 of consulting the feelings and the interests of those without whom their best arranged scheme was not worth the paper upon which it was written. [Cheers.] It was essential that respect should be paid to the traditions of the Army, and unless the new managing body observed this rule it would never be able to put an efficient Army into the field. Those were some of the dangers which he thought lurked behind the too great amatuer interference of Members of Parliament as Members of Parliament in military questions. As to his Royal Highness himself, he earnestly hoped that, whoever his successor was, he might at the end of his term of office find that he had deserved half as well of his country and of his brother soldiers as the Duke of Cambridge. [Cheers.]
§ MR. ALPHEUS MORTON (Peterborough)
said, that, in the circumstances, he would not criticise the Commander-in Chief. He did not profess to be a military expert, although he thought that in their own opinion all hon. Members were pretty good generals. [Laughter.] He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the announcement he had made, and the Government for yielding to what he believed was the general demand of all parties in the country, without regard to politics. It had long been felt that great reforms were necessary in the management of our Army. He agreed with the last speaker that whoever was appointed to the post must have the confidence of the soldiers and officers of the Army as well as of the House of Commons. But before any final decision was arrived at he, like other hon. Members, would like to hear more about the arrangement. He believed that His Royal Highness, though called Commander-in-Chief, was never really Commander-in-Chief. He was described as "Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief; "but he was also told that it had been the custom for some years in the case of war for the Government to appoint a Commander-in-Chief in the field, who was responsible directly to the Secretary of State for War, and who had nothing to do with the so-called Commander-in-Chief. Was it the intention of the Government to continue that state of things? He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had practically 1685 followed the report of the Hartington Commission recommendations, and that he was going to carry them out except in one instance.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he was not so foolish as to attempt to carry out all the recommendations. He said that there were recommendations which must be considered when the time came to apply them in the light of the experience of those who had to deal with the duties concerned. All he said was that the Government followed the general principles and general lines of that Report.
§ * MR. ALPHEUS MORTON
understood, at all events, that one of the recommendations was not to be carried out—namely, the recommendation with regard to the Chief of the Staff. Was it the intention of the Government to make the appointment of Commander-in-Chief an ornamental one—to give it to a person who had little experience in war; or was it to be given to someone who had done real work in and for the Army? As the announcement of the Secretary of State for War had practically carried out the object he had in putting down a Notice to reduce his right hon. Friend's salary, he (Mr. Morton) should not, of course, move the Motion standing in his name.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
said, he wished to address himself to the Vote now before the Committee, and to call attention to a question as to which, up to the present, the House of Commons had not obtained much satisfaction from the Secretary of State for War. It was the state of unpreparedness in respect of our small-arm ammunition. As far as he was concerned, they had been anxious that the Secretary of State should make himself responsible to the House of Commons, and should assure it that, while Parliament voted great sums of money for the public service, those sums were being administered in such a way as to give the country an efficient army. His excuse for bringing the matter forward was that it was a subject of grave anxiety to the late Government. It was brought before Mr. Stanhope, the late Secretary for War, repeatedly and strongly, by his military advisers, and it was one with which the late Government did their utmost to grapple. He was in 1686 this dilemma and difficulty—that, notwithstanding the importance of the subject, the figures with regard to our reserves of stores had been regarded as private and confidential, and, for the beat of reasons, that it was not considered consistent with public policy to make a public disclosure with regard to our reserves of supplies. He would not deviate from that position, but it placed him at a disadvantage in discussing the subject, and, if he could show a disparity between the number of rounds we possessed and the number of rifles we might have to place in the field, he should not have to ask that side of the House alone for support. He would base his case, as far as he could, upon the Army Estimates. In 1891 we were going through two processes that were always dangerous in Army matters—we were changing our rifles and adopting a different size of ammunition, and we were also changing our powder from black powder to cordite. In this condition of things the trading firms who were for the first time engaged in making up the new ammunition found it impossible to keep up the supplies, and the only place at which the Government could manufacture cordite was Waltham Abbey, where it was also being made for the first time. In 1890 and 1891 the supply received from trading firms fell short very largely of their expectations.
said, that any question relating to the manufacture of cordite ought to be discussed on Vote 9, that for warlike stores.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR,
on the question of Order, wished to point out that it was not possible for a private Member to move an increase of Vote. This was a question of general policy, and his hon. Friend was of opinion that the authorities of the War Office had not done their duty in a very important matter of military equipment. He therefore proposed to raise the vote on the salary of the Secretary for War. In these circumstances he submitted it was hardly possible for his hon. Friend to do justice to his case upon any other item.
said, he quite saw the point, and if the Committee wished it, a general discussion could take place. Any question of general maladministration would, of course, be rightly brought forward on this vote. All he wished to 1687 say was that if the hon. Member was going into details as to the stores of ammunition, such details would be more in order on the vote for warlike stores.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
said, he could not move the reduction of the vote for warlike stores, and he did not wish to do so. This was a question of general military policy, and he could bring it forward only by moving the reduction of the salary of the Secretary of State, which he proposed to do.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
said the question could perhaps be raised on the salary of the Director of Artillery, by reason of the responsibility of his position.
§ * MR. BRODRICK,
continuing, said, that the Secretary for War had taken upon himself some responsibility for the general policy involved, not only with reference to the future, but also with regard to the past year, and it was on his salary alone that it could be properly raised. The difficulties of supply began in 1891, and the representations then made to the Secretary of State led to great efforts being made to increase the supply. The result was that the supply of ammunition at our own factories was raised to nearly treble the amount they were intended to produce, in order to meet the expected deficiency from the trade. It was intended that the supply should be increased until a reserve was provided, and he regretted that so little could then be done to make up the deficiency. In 1891–2, although the Government gave orders to manufacturers, and although they took steps to increase their own production, and for that purpose provided £375,000 in the Estimates for small-arms ammunition, the appropriation accounts showed that only £323,000 was expended. In other words, in spite of all their efforts, there was a deficiency of ten million rounds of ammunition. Thus 1892–3 was started with a deficiency above that of previous years, with new rifles actually served out to the troops of the Line and the Brigade of Guards. In 1892–3 the Government provided by the Estimates £363,000 as the largest amount they were likely to spend, and the appropriation accounts showed that they spent £372,000. In 1893–4 the present Government placed on the Estimates 1688 £370,000 as being the least sum which, in the interest of the public service, it was thought right to spend; and the appropriation accounts issued last October showed that £270,000 had been expended, leaving a surplus of £100,000, or nearly 30 per cent, of the amount of the estimate. That difference represented a deficiency of 20 million rounds of ammunition which the Government had failed to get. In 1894–5 the amount put on the Estimates was £352,000. On July 15 last year the Secretary for War said that he could not, with due regard to the interests of the public service, give any figures with regard to the reserve store of ammunition, but he added that he did not profess to regard it as satisfactory. That was a deliberate confession made by the right hon. Gentleman with figures before him that he could not make public. The deficiency was, not doubt, due to the fact that supplies could not be obtained from the trade, but in the Estimates of this year the right hon. Gentleman provided merely for annual maintenance, without making any provision for increasing the reserve, or making up the £100,000 which he had failed to secure the preceding year. What was our position with regard to rifles? The former Secretary for War-stated to the House early in 1892 that we had 300,000 magazine rifles. Now, probably, we had 500,000, but the number supplied with ammunition was practically not larger than it was three years ago. When the matter was brought before the present Secretary for War in March last, he said:—As to small arm ammunition the War Office, according to its competent advisers, stood well in this respect. There had been developed in this country wonderful facilities for the supply of small arm ammunition, and it was unnecessary to keep an exaggerated reserve, and the War Office was advised that it had a sufficient supply for its purpose.He (Mr. Brodrick) did not wish to cast any doubt on the genuine nature of this advice, but he could only say the advice of the "competent advisers" of the War Office was absolutely at variance with what was given to the former Secretary for War in 1891. Without going into figures he could not show what was advised then and now, but trying the minute by the standard of public documents put forward for the 1689 guidance of the Army, what was the position with regard to the number of troops to be supplied? They had only to look at the Army List. We had at home:—Infantry of the line and foot guards, 60,000 men; Army Reserve infantry, 60,000; Militia infantry, 80,000; Volunteer infantry, 160,000; total 360,000—men absolutely serving with the colours with rifles in their hands; and abroad we had infantry of the line 21,000 men. Many opinions had been expressed as to the provision that should be made for each rifle in the hands of the troops. He would cite two as conclusive. Lord Wolseley said:—As a general rule, subject to such modification as the nature of the service may require, the proportion of small arm ammunition is calculated at 480 rounds per man. In my opinion there should, in action, be 200 rounds per infantry soldier either on his person or close to him.Had we 200 rounds for each of our 360,000 infantry soldiers, or 480 rounds regarded as requisite by Lord Wolseley? [Cheers.] Let the Secretary for War try the matter, not by the opinions of the military advisers of the War Office stated over his table, but by the equipment regulations laid down for the guidance of the Army. He had consulted these, and he found they prescribed 400 rounds per man. Were there even 200 per rounds man? To supply 360,000 men with 400 rounds each, 150,000,000 rounds would be required, and that was a minimum, as it provided only for equipment and not for reserve. If there was a sudden outbreak of war, horses, transport, and even clothing could be got at a pinch, but the one thing that could not be got in a hurry was warlike stores; and he regretted that the Secretary for War, with his great knowledge of what could be done, should have used the faulty and delusive argument he used on March 15. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by saying that in recent years there had been extraordinary facilities for the supply of small arm ammunition. Forty or 50 million rounds was the estimated consumption for the present year, therefore the manufacture of about 1,000,000 rounds per week was necessary. He asked any manufacturer in the House whether, if twice the amount of ammunition now used were required, it would not take five or six weeks to 1690 begin to deliver it, even with night shifts and extra workmen and machinery? Six weeks in these days of modern warfare might represent a whole campaign. The Austrian Campaign of 1866 was terminated within six weeks by the battle of Koniggratz; and the Franco-German War of 1870 was decided by the battle of Sedan in about the same time. Six or eight weeks would be required to get a supply of 2,000,000 rounds per week, or, with a sufficient supply of cordite, 3,000,000 rounds might be delivered. But the other day a contract for cordite was given to a firm which had not yet erected even the buildings in which to make it. If there was now a sudden outbreak of war we should have to find enough cordite to put into the cartridges, and also the facilities for manufacturing the great increase necessary. This was a serious state of things. To have practically no reserve of small arm ammunition was the height of impolicy. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had said in one of his writings that the British Army was an Army to which peace was a necessity.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
differed from the opinion expressed in the quotation. But, seeing how leisurely the supply of ammunition was, it might be supposed to be an Army to which peace was a certainty. His own opinion was worth nothing against that of the Secretary for War in his official position, for he knew the confidence which he commanded in the House. But he asked him to try this matter by the equipment regulations he had sanctioned; by the opinion of military advisers advanced in the most serious manner to his predecessor; by his own words last year, which were, after all, the deliberate judgment of a responsible Minister; and by the experience of foreign nations, who had never allowed themselves to be placed in the position in which we found ourselves. ["Hear, hear!"] He knew no task which could be more ungracious or ungrateful to himself than showing up our national deficiencies. He had not brought the subject forward without exhausting every influence he could in public and private to lay before the War Office what he believed to be the dangerous position 1691 in which we stood, He would not have brought it forward if he had not believed we were drifting into a position of grave national danger. We were spending so much money on other national objects, that a little timely exertion would enable us to put ourselves in a position of security. Believing the policy we had been following was mistaken, he felt it necessary to test the opinion of the Committee by moving to reduce the salary of the Secretary for War on item A by £100, [Cheers.]
§ * THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (MR. WOODALL, Hanley)
said the hon. Gentleman had spoken of his distaste for the task he had performed. With his long experience the hon. Gentleman would admit that it was extremely difficult to follow him without disclosing figures which were confidential. He could only repeat the assurance given by the Secretary for War that in estimating the quantities of small-arm ammunition the War Office had been advised by the Director of Artillery, whose conclusion had been accepted and confirmed by the Adjutant-General, and the War Office was in a position to say in regard to the necessities of the year and the reserves at home and abroad, that they were satisfactory. It was perfectly true that the amount asked for this year for cordite was much less than last year, but that was due to the fact that, owing to improvements in the method of manufacture and to other causes, the cost of its manufacture had diminished the cost of cordite to an astonishing degree.
§ * MR. WOODALL
said, he could not answer that question at that moment. The supply of the cordite had been seriously interrupted last year owing to the unfortunate accident that had happened at Waltham, which had delayed the manufacture for a considerable time. He, however, was glad to say the factory at Waltham had been reconstructed, and that a considerable amount of the explosive was being turned out there. By improvements in the system of manufacture they were now able to turn out 1,000 tons of cordite in the same lime that they formerly made only 400 tons. It had been determined to erect a duplicate nitro-glycerine factory, which 1692 would enable the manufacture to go on, even in the case of untoward accidents occurring. By employing additional hands in cases of emergency the Department was of opinion that they could in a few days so enormously increase the output as to enable them to meet any conceivable demand. He was also glad to say that at last the Government had obtained the assistance of the trade in the manufacture of cordite. They had given out contracts to two manufacturers, who had each undertaken to supply five millions of small-arms ammunition, and 200 tons of cordite within the current year. In these circumstances he could assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that there was no danger of our falling short in our supply of our small-arms ammunition. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
said, that his hon. Friend near him brought a very heavy indictment against the Government in respect of this new powder. He could hardly believe that the country would view with satisfaction the explanation which had just been given to the Committee by the hon Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Department. He did not understand the hon. Gentleman to say that we had an adequate reserve of this cordite ammunition, because, according to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, we had absolutely no reserve of it. ["Hear, hear."] The hon. Gentleman had been compelled to take refuge in general and vague language. The hum. Gentleman asked the Committee to be content with his assurance that the military advisers of the War Department were of opinion that our reserve of cordite powder was sufficient for our requirements. The hon. Gentleman, however, informed them that the Government were going to obtain the powder from private manufacturers at a cheaper rate than they had been able to produce it themselves, and this admission alone was sufficient to show that the Government were doubtful as to the keeping properties of cordite and were afraid of keeping too large a store of it in reserve for fear that it should deteriorate. An ample reserve of ammunition was absolutely necessary in these days, when no nation waited whilst their antagonists got ready for war. ["Hear, hear!"] In order to be sufficiently prepared for 1693 emergencies we ought to have a reserve of at least 500 rounds per man. Seeing that the private firms referred to by the hon. Gentleman had only just begun the manufacture of this new powder, we could not expect any very largo output of it from them. He trusted that before this debate, was finished they would have some statement from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that he thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had last spoken had been somewhat unfair to the Department over which he had the honour to preside in reference to this subject. Did hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish him to give them figures in relation to this question which had never been given before, and which, he thought upon the whole, it was most undesirable to give to the world? He would not refer to what had been done in relation to this question by his predecessors in office, because he did not think that the public service would be benefited by recriminations between the two sides of the House, and because he objected to tu quoque arguments. All that he could say was that he was advised by his responsible advisers, as the right hon. Gentleman had been a few years ago, and that he acted upon that advice. He had shown the figures which he held in his hand to the Adjutant-General yesterday, who had assured him that in the matter of reserve small-arm ammunition we occupied a perfectly sound position. It must be remembered that only a small proportion of our total production of cordite was required for our small-arm ammunition. With regard to the supply of cordite, he stated that the proportion used was only 50 tons for small arms out of 1,000 tons required for the general service of the Army. It had usually been, the case, certainly according to his experience, that when the responsible Minister stated on the authority of his responsible military advisers that the supply of ammunition was sufficient, the statement was accepted.
§ Mr. R. W. HANBURY (Preston)
said, he had no doubt there was not a single button missing in the British Army; that was also the official statement which was made before the French war. He believed the country would never have a sufficient supply of stores 1694 until they had some standard fixed, and some guarantee that that standard should be rigidly adhered to. His right hon. Friend had spoken about Party recriminations, but he thought one Party was no better than the other in regard to this.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he desired to go beyond Party reciminations. The evidence given before the Stephen Commission was that Party Leaders for their own purposes did in times of stress, when they wanted to economise, cut down the supply of stores very much. Lord Wolseley had said most distinctly that this country, within his own knowledge, had often been placed in considerable danger because the supply of stores had been cut down. There was practically nothing else that could be cut down on these Army Estimates. They ought to have a much better guarantee that the country had an adequate supply of warlike stores in hand. The recommendation of the Committee had been that there should be an independent authority to see that the standard which should be fixed was kept. He did not say that the standard need necessarily be made public, though he believed much of the talk of the danger of making it public was all nonsense. He ventured to say that in foreign war offices it was known what our stores were. When by going to the Appropriation Accounts they were able, no doubt a year late, to get the money value of these stores, what could be the objection to stating what the actual amount was. What were, the reasons given them for the depletion of the stores this year?
§ MR. HANBURY
said, that on the contrary, the Government were reducing the Vote for this year, and were making no estimate for reserves. The reason that the Financial Secretary had given for the smaller Vote this year was a totally different one from that given in the Estimates themselves. It was that we were producing cordite so much more cheaply; to his mind that was a very suspicious statement. They had no statement yet from the Front Bench 1695 that even their own equipment regulations had been carried out. The reason in the Estimates was partly that they had accumulated a stock of rifles, and also that they were not manufacturing rifles so rapidly. There was not a round of cordite ammunition amongst the militia, the yeomanry, or the volunteers. He was afraid there was another reason—the difficulty of supply. For cordite there were only two sources of supply, Waltham Factory, and Kynoch Factory in Ireland. In Waltham Factory there had been explosion after explosion during the last two years, and an explosion might occur which would make it impossible to manufacture cordite there for four or even six months; buildings were being put up in the same dangerous condition as they were before the last explosion. He hardly thought that Ireland was the very best place that could be chosen for the manufacture of cordite.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, there were such persons in Ireland as Fenians, and he thought Ireland a most unfortunate place to have chosen for a special manufacture of this kind. There was no security whatever for an adequate supply of cordite to our Army, especially as the whole supply of cordite to our Indian troops fell upon this country. In the old days means of supply were open to us, even from our enemies, that were now no longer available, and therefore we had to face this difficulty—that not only had we fewer sources of regular supply, but we were deprived of sources on which, to some extent, we could formerly rely. His hon. Friend had made out a good case, and yet had not received any answer from the Government. The War Office had their equipment regulations, and those regulations provided that there should be a certain amount of reserve ammunition in hand. Could the Government assure the Committee that those regulations were carried out?
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, the hon Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had introduced a new and very irritating feature into the Debate. Upwards of £20,000,000 were spent in England every year for the manufacture and purchase of warlike stores and armaments, but very 1696 little indeed in Ireland. As to the manufacture of cordite ammunition in Ireland, it might have been begun there, but to a very insignificant extent, and yet the hon. Member for Preston would urge the Government to stamp out its manufacture altogether in Ireland. If they were going to shut out the manufacture of warlike stores entirely from Ireland, why on earth should she pay anything towards them?
§ MR. HANBURY
said, what he stated was that the only source of private supply was in Ireland, and that there should be other sources elsewhere.
§ COLONEL NOLAN,
continuing, said, that on the main question he wished to state that although he was an Irishman he desired to see a proper supply of ammunition in reserve in the United Kingdom. The prevailing anxiety in this matter was owing, to a great extent, to the fact that ordinary Members of Parliament, and the public through them, could get little or no information from the authorities. The Financial Secretary of the late Government said two or three years ago that the ammunition was expended as fast as it was manufactured, and that there was a comparatively small supply. He said also, and the Secretary of State for War agreed with him, that hitherto they had relied upon the State supply which could not overtake the demand, but that they hoped in future the trade would assist in the supply. The War Office now went on another tack. They took up the position that it was not for the interests of the State that full information on those matters of ammunition should be published. That was a matter of opinion, but if the Secretary for War could only state that there was enough ammunition in the country, it would be to some extent satisfactory. It was the secrecy observed by the Department, and the knowledge of certain facts by the public, that created uneasiness. There was no harm in having plenty of ammunition, and the Department ought to set about its manufacture as hard as possible. The Adjutant General would incur very serious responsibility if, in case of emergency, it were found that the country was short of ammunition, and he urged that the letter or Report of the Adjutant General ought to be read out to the Committee 1697 stating that there was sufficient ammunition to meet any contingencies of the country. The question of cordite ammunition was a very difficult and intricate one. The cordite powder we manufactured was different from that manufactured by other countries, and it was different from every other powder, He very much doubted whether we had a good supply. The powder was suspected of not having good keeping qualities, and perhaps that might be one of the reasons why a large reserve of it was not maintained. It was suspected of other bad qualities, among which were change of velocity and, what was very serious, injury to the rifle after a certain number of rounds. However, in any case, it was a very serious thing for any nation to be short of small arm ammunition, and he was sure the country generally would not rest satisfied until some definite and reassuring information had been given to it by the responsible authorities as to the supply of ammunition in reserve.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, there was not a single Member of the Committee who would not gladly accept the assurances of the Minister for War if he felt he could do so. But facts had been given in the Debate which rendered it impossible for any man to accept those assurances and to go home without misgiving in his mind. Two of those facts had been adduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, and the third was adduced by the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and that third fact supplied the only missing link to the chain of arguments brought forward by his hon. Friend—arguments which were absolutely convincing in spite of the assurances of the Minister for War. His hon. Friend directed attention to the fact, that, during the first year the Government held Office, they spent on small arm ammunition £100,000 less than they felt it their duty to ask for, in view of the enormous deficiency in the reserve of ammunition. The second fact was, that in the second year of their Office Her Majesty's Ministers admitted that they were not satisfied with that reserve, and the Minister for War declared only in July last that he would not be satisfied with the supply of small arm ammunition at that time. But his 1698 hon. Friend could not tell whether the Government had or had not, made up any lee way during last year. All they had to go upon was the sum in the Estimates for which the Government asked, and the Members did not know whether that money had been expended or not. But the Financial Secretary to the War Office told them that owing to the explosion at Waltham last year the Government had again failed in the second year of office in expending the money on this ammunition which they thought it was their duty to ask for. Therefore they had it that when the Government came into office they found that there was not an adequate reserve of small arm ammunition; that in the first year of office they failed to spend £100,000 to remedy the deficiency; and that in the second year they were again prevented from remedying the deficiency owing to the explosion at Waltham Abbey, and were dissatisfied with the then existing state of things. But the Minister for War now came down to the House and told them that the Government were perfectly satisfied.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said he understood that the Financial Secretary spoke on the authority of the Adjutant-General.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the Adjutant-General was not responsible to that House but the Minister for War was. If they were overwhelmed by some national disaster, and it was due to any extent to neglect in the supply of ammunition, the Adjutant-General might not be shot, but the Minister for War would be held responsible for betraying the country, and every Member of the Committee who, if he entertained misgivings on the, matter, did not endeavour to bring the Minister to a sense of responsibility would also be responsible to the country for not having done his duty The Committee could not treat this matter in a leisurely and dilettanti spirit. If for two years running Her Majesty's Government had failed to make good an admitted deficiency in the reserve of small arm ammunition, the Committee must know how and by what miracle the Government had made up the deficiency during the few months of the present year. What facts had the Government brought 1699 forward to induce the Committee to believe that this miracle had been accomplished? The Secretary for War said we could now look to the trade for a portion of the necessary supply—that private manufactories could now turn out this small arm ammunition, and that the Government would no longer be entirely dependent on the State factories. The Financial Secretary, only on the very day of the Estimates, told the Committee that he had then learned that cordite had actually been introduced, and could be supplied by private contractors. From the tone in which the hon. Member spoke, the hon. Gentleman might have been supposed to be referring to the introduction of a new gas, or something of the kind.
§ * MR. WOODALL
explained that he had said that one of the contractors had completed their factory machinery and were in a position to supply cordite immediately.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said, that was the second string to the bow of the Government, and apparently it only came into operation on the day of the Estimates, and then only on an insignificant scale. In view of those facts, and in view of the serious qualifications expressed by the Secretary for War in his statement, he contended that the Committee were justified in urging again and again this question on the Government, and in demanding an answer to it—had the troops with rifles the number of rounds reserved—namely, 480 per man, which the highest military authorities had laid down were necessary to provide against any sudden emergency?
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that in response to the appeal made to him by hon. Members opposite, he would endeavour to give a somewhat more definite statement than he had done, and in doing so, he did not think he should infringe the rule, he had laid down for himself. Hon. Members had spoken of the reserve of ammunition as being deficient. But the position was this, and he hoped his statement would be regarded as satisfactory. Instead of being depleted, there was a reserve of ammunition which had been steadily increasing. It was better this year than last, better last year than it had been the year before, and would be considerably better at the end of the financial 1700 year than it was now. It was the practice of certain Army newspapers to sneer at everything connected with the administration of the Army, and they often declared that, notwithstanding all the money lavished on the Army, the Government could barely turn out a single army corps. As a matter of fact they could mobilize three army corps, amounting to 110,000 men. Things had very much improved during the past two or three years, and a great deal had been done in developing our resources. Besides the three army corps of 110,000 men there was a large force for the defence of certain places in case of invasion, numbering about 110,000, and a force, of 170,000 men for garrison purposes. That was a large number of men, and we had sufficient ammunition for the whole of them. [Col. NOLAN: "White powder ammunition."] Well, some of the force were Volunteers, and it would be no advantage to have the new ammunition for them, because at present their rifles were the Martini-Henry, and of course it was necessary that they should have the ammunition suited to their weapons. In a few years it might be necessary to provide them with the new ammunition for other rifles. This then was their position—that they had the regulation amount of ammunition for the number of men he had stated. An hon. Member opposite shook his head, but he could assure the hon. Member that he had the facts before him, and that they were as he had stated. Under those circumstances, though he had laid no particular figures before the Committee, he thought he had given enough information to relieve the great tension of anxiety which, after all, seemed to be strongest in the minds of certain hon. Members who had in their constituencies either a Government or a private factory which was capable of producing small arm ammunition. He hoped the other Members of the Committee who took an independent view of the question would regard the statement he had made as reassuring.
§ In reply to COLONEL LOCKWOOD,
§ * Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said the quantity of ammunition he had mentioned did not include that for the annual course.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said that the right hon. Gentleman would doubtless acquit him of having a manufactory of cordite in his constituency; nor was there such a manufactory in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dover, and he was not aware that there was one in that which the hon. Member for Preston represented. So that there was very little ground for the sneers which the right hon. Gentleman levelled in the latter part of his speech at those who had taken part in the discussion. He did not often intervene in an Army debate, but he rose to speak on this occasion because his hon. Friend near him (the Member for Guildford) had shown him confidential figures which he had gathered in his former experience at the War Office, figures which he could not use in that House, but which showed that it was absolutely impossible that there should be at present in store a quantity of small arm ammunition equal to the regulation amount of 480 cartridges per man. On the question of secrecy he did not wish to press the Government to give, without consideration, facts winch, he admitted, it might be unwise to publish. But, at the same time, the discussion had shown that little was gained by hiding facts, which embarrassed nobody but the critics of the Government, and, least of all, foreign nations. We made public property of the number of men, the number of ships, the amount of equipment and clothing, and the number of rifles we had, and why a line should be drawn by the War Office against publishing the number of cartridges we had passed his comprehension altogether. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might on this occasion very properly break through the traditions of the War Office in regard to this secrecy—traditions which he did not invent and for which he was not responsible—and give the Committee some, further information. By doing so he would tend to quiet men's minds and at the same time put the Committee in possession of facts which were necessary to enable them to criticise the acts of the Government. He had no desire that it should be thought he was casting any discredit on the right hon. Gentleman or on his Office when he said that he entertained some suspicion with regard to facts which were concealed from Parliamentary criticism, and not 1702 less so in regard to this very question of Military stores. His noble Friend at his side, who was the late First Lord of the Admiralty, had told him that when the Naval manœuvres first began it was found that the deficiency in ammunition for the Fleet was of the most startling character, and would have been of the most dangerous character in the event of war breaking out. At that time the War Office was responsible for providing the Fleet with ammunition. Soon after that time changes were effected, and the Navy then became responsible for the supply of its own ammunition. Since that time it had been found necessary by the Navy to enormously increase the quantity of ammunition which had been previously regarded as an ample supply for our ships. That fact, however, was now a matter of past history, and might be stated openly without giving much information to foreign powers, but it was a fact which was calculated to fill them with a certain distrust, and to make them extremely anxious to have full information as to the present condition of things. And his anxiety had not been diminished by the figures given by the Financial Secretary. This was a financial question, and hon. Members were bound to criticise the Government with regard to it more even than with regard to a question of general policy. One of the arguments of the Financial Secretary was that cordite could now be produced at 2s. lb. instead of 4s. 6d. lb. as before, the result of that cheapness being that though the sum taken in the Estimates for small arm ammunition was less than that which was taken last year, yet a great deal more ammunition could be obtained for the, amount. They had been told that only 50 tons of cordite were required last year for small arm ammunition. Now the saving of 2s. 6d. a lb. on 50 tons of cordite would amount to £14,000, so they were told that a saving of £14,000 on an Estimate of £300,000 would produce such a material change in the supply of small arm ammunition that the item in the present Estimate would give them a much larger supply than the amounts in the Estimates of former years. It would, no doubt, be said in reply to the arguments that had been urged on the Government to give further information, that the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for War, had 1703 already given the Committee an explicit assurance, upon his responsibility, that that there was unquestionably sufficient small arm ammunition at present in reserve to allow 480 cartridges per man for a force of 390,000 men. That assurance was undoubtedly of a satisfactory character.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he stated that there was small-arm ammunition according to the equipment Regulations for the several forces for 400 rounds per man—that was, for the Regulars in the three Army corps. For the others the amount was less—he meant by the equipment Regulations.
§ MR. BALFOUR
said, he was not aware that the Regulations drew a distinction between the Army corps and the other forces; but, of course, he would accept the statement made. He assumed that the right hon. Gentleman meant that there were 400 suitable cartridges per man for the 110,000 men in the three Army corps. His hon. Friend near him (the hon. Member for Guildford) knew what was the quantity of small arm ammunition in existence when he left Office, and he also knew the amount which had been taken each year since by the Government for small-arm ammunition; and from the figures he confessed it was absolutely impossible to find out how the Government obtained the quantity of ammunition they now said they had. They did not spend last year the amount they took in the Estimates, in the final appropriation accounts they had not been able to spend it. How, under the circumstances, having only this Vote of less than £300,000, not merely to supply the annual waste of forty or fifty millions of cartridges which takes place every year in the ordinary process of military manœuvres, but to make the enormous addition indicated, was a matter that really required explanation. This was ground upon which Members were bound to offer criticism, for this was a financial question. How could the financial question be explained, that with the estimates diminished rather than increased during the three years the Government had held office, the amount of the reserves had been augmented and to an enormous extent? He hoped the Government would, not merely in the interest of military 1704 administration, but in the interest of financial administration, explain this paradox. Some explanation was due and ought to be given before the Committee passed from this subject.
§ Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
said, he believed he was the first Member who had risen who had any kind of connection through his constituency with the manufacture of cordite. He did not think the cordite was actually manufactured in Birmingham, but the firm of Kynoch & Co., whose headquarters were at Aston, a suburb of Birmingham, were cordite manufacturers, and therefore he had the legitimate interest in the matter which, as representing his constituents he might be expected to have. In the first place, he wanted to ask a question of the Secretary for War, who, he understood, did not go so far as to say that the present situation was entirely satisfactory. He imagined the right hon. Gentleman would not commit himself to any such statement, or that he would hesitate to admit that he would like to see the reserve material increased. He understood the Secretary for War looked for that to take place through Kynoch and Co., and by means of the factory established at Arklow in Ireland. But what orders had the right hon. Gentleman given to Kynoch and Co.? There could not be any objection to stating that. What was the extent of the orders given to Kynoch and Co.? and what had that firm undertaken to deliver?
§ * MR. WOODALL
said, Kynoch and Co. had accepted a contract to deliver 400 tons of cordite within two years, and they had also undertaken to deliver five millions of cordite cartridges in this year, and five millions in the year following, as an experimental supply.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he had some suspicion of what the answer would be. Did not this show the grotesque absurdity of the statement, made in order to allay the anxiety of the Committee? It appeared that this great source of supply, which was to afford relief from all anxiety, was only to produce five millions of cartridges this year, or less than 5 per cent. on our present supply during the present year, and only ten millions in the course of two years! It was perfectly evident that, supposing 1705 our present condition was unsatisfactory, it would not be made more satisfactory by the knowledge of what Kynoch and Co. could do under existing circumstances. Then he had another question to ask. The Secretary for War said he was prepared to give an assurance that the supply was satisfactory, having regard to the number of men. It was a very curious commentary on the policy of secrecy that the Secretary for War had now put the Committee in possession of the whole information asked for, and foreign nations would have the advantage of knowing, by making a simple sum in arithmetic, from the figures supplied by the right hon. Gentleman, the exact amount of ammunition we have in reserve. The Secretary for War had told the Committee he could mobilise three army corps of 110,000 men. The regulation ammunition was 400 per man, and he said we had a sufficient supply. Multiplying 110,000 by 400——
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said he would adopt that figure. Multiplying 90,000 by 400 the result was 36 millions of cartridges. But then they were told by the Secretary for War that there were 170,000 Volunteers. How many should be taken off for them? Assuming the same amount of ammunition was required for them, that gave 68 millions. Adding the 68 and 36 millions the total was 104 millions of cartridges. That was the simple calculation he made as he listened to the Secretary for War, and therefore he might take it as agreed that we had a reserve of, roughly speaking, 100 millions of cartridges. He asked the Committee if that was the case, was it a satisfactory position for us to be in? He had been told, but of course he had not access to authentic information that when the Japanese went into the recent war with a regular army about the size of ours, and not having the volunteers we have to provide for, they had 700,000,000 of small-arms ammunition. Surely, if it was thought necessary or desirable that Japan should have 700,000,000 of small arms ammunition, it appeared perfectly clear that we, with 100,000,000 millions of cartridges, were altogether behind the mark?
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
said, the case was really stronger than that which had been just before the Committee, for it was only in 1894–95 or last year that the Secretary for War gave an assurance that the condition of the reserve ammunition was unsatisfactory, and to change that unsatisfactory condition of things the expenditure in the intervening period could be traced. It had not been sufficient to produce the change from an unsatisfactory to a satisfactory condition, not sufficient even to create any reliable store. The Committee were in possession of the absolute facts. On the authority of the Secretary for War it was stated a year ago that the position was most satisfactory, and since then money had not been spent to bring up the position to what it should be, and yet the Committee were now asked to believe that the situation was eminently satisfactory. The Committee had heard of differences in the military equipment of one part of the forces and another, but all Her Majesty's forces should be so equipped that when called into the field they would have an ample supply. Could it be supposed that when the Regulars, Militia and Volunteers were called into the field there would be any ridiculous distinction in the amount of cartridges necessary for one part of the force as compared with another? Every fighting man would want his full amount of ammunition. The Financial Secretary talked of 5,000,000 cartridges in twelve months. Why that would be only sufficient for skirmishes during twelve hours. What was required was that our whole force should be able to depend on being able to fight at full strength at short notice. He could not conceal from himself that the position in which we stood at this moment was absolutely perilous. The Committee ought to be assured that there was in this country an ample supply of reserve amunition for all possible purposes. A very short time, he was informed, sufficed to deteriorate this powder, and it would be found that if they used ammunition issued two or three years ago at anything like long ranges, the accuracy of the rifle would lie absolutely upset. There could be no doubt that those who were going to vote for the amendment would be voting in the true interests of the country.
§ Captain BETHELL
said that what had happened that night had happened frequently on several occasions, namely, that the responsible Minister had risen and assured the Committee on the responsibility of professional advices that certain things were satisfactory, and yet that the Committee had cast doubt, not on the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman, but on the accuracy of his reply. That disclosed a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, which called most loudly for some rearrangement of our system. He suspected that the explanation would be found in the fact that the professional advisers were not called upon to hold themselves personally responsible for the advice that they gave. He, however rather doubted the wisdom of making public the amount of these supplies of amunition. He did not believe foreign countries knew all about the reserve we had in store, and it certainly would not be wise that the reserve of ammunition in all our forts and fortresses should be disclosed. He wished to ask a question in relation to the sister service. He believed that, although the Admiralty had to supply their own ammunition, they got it from the War Department, and he wanted to know whether the War Department was able to supply the Admiralty with all the cordite they required.
§ MAJOR DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
wished to know what was the state of the ammunition reserve for sending abroad—was there in England a reserve for sending out to fortresses like Gibraltar and Malta; and also whether there was in England any reserve for military purposes in India. They had had no explanation from the right hon. gentleman either as to the great fortresses or as to India, and they ought to know whether the supply of which he had spoken was entirely independent of what was for the troops in these fortresses and in our great dependency.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, the one unmistakable fact in the discussion was that the War Minister knew that we had not sufficient reserves of ammunition. If we had the right hon. Gentleman would be quite ready to tell the world what it was, for the knowledge that we had enough would have a pacifying effect on those who might otherwise be disposed 1708 to test the point. Who would hold, in these days of the magazine rifle, that a supply of 480 rounds per man was sufficient? It must be at least 500 rounds, and even that only amounted to a supply for five days' fighting. Was the right hon. Gentleman content to leave the country in that position? But granting that 500 rounds were sufficient, there were 390,000 men, and, therefore, the minimum required was 195 millions of cartridges. The right hon. Gentleman said he had enough. Well, had he got 195 millions of cartridges? He admitted that he had not. He had only enough cordite for 110,000 men—about one-fourth of what he ought to have. What was the reason of this extraordinary state of things? Clearly that the right hon. Gentleman had not been able to get his cordite manufactured. He would advise the right hon. Gentleman to make a clean breast of his difficulty rather than to hide his head, ostrich-like, in the sand. Foreign Powers knew quite well what our reserves were; and the House must conclude from the right hon. Gentleman's hesitation that they were not what they ought to be.
§ * MR. WOODALL
said, he had not understood that the demand had been made with all the responsibility attaching to it from the front Opposition Bench for the actual figures. But he might go so far as to say that the figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Brodrick) were not only maintained but exceeded in the returns which he had before him, and which he should be happy to submit to the hon. Member for his own satisfaction. [Cheers.] But the apprehensions that had been expressed had turned so much upon the question of cordite, and their powers of obtaining it, that he would repeat and amplify what he had said before on the subject. He was perfectly prepared to make a clean breast of the whole subject, and to say that, so far as the information which reached the War Office went, they had no reason to apprehend that either by storing, by keeping, or by changing the temperature from that of Canada to that of India, cordite would suffer in the way suggested. The most careful trials had shown that in ever respect it was as durable, as reliable, and as perfectly satisfactory an ammunition as powder had ever been proved to be. In fact, 1709 it was notorious that powder did suffer by being kept in store, and had sometimes to be recalled and replaced by other powder of more recent manufacture. So far as he was aware, no such experience had yet been realised with regard to cordite in any part of the world. At the present moment the factory at Waltham was capable of and was really producing 600 tons a year; and in several weeks recently they had been producing at the rate of 1,000 tons a year. Of that large quantity 50 tons only were required for small arm ammunition for the Army. India would take about 100 tons, and the balance would be required for the large guns in the land service and for the Navy, which was now making very large demands upon them. As to the supply from the trade, he said that there were two contractors who had undertaken to deliver in the course of the year 400 tons in addition to the Government's supply of 600 tons. They had in reserve another manufacturer who was very anxious to come to the service of the Department, and to undertake to supply almost an unlimited quantity. He was speaking now of the great firm of Nobel, which was producing cordite, and was prepared to do so to order, while also producing it for other customers in different parts of the world. He was justified in saying, therefore, that in face of the demands for all possible purposes, including naval requirements and the wants of India, the Government possessed ample, facilities for production. With regard to the danger in the manufacture of cordite, he said that there was less danger than in the manufacture of powder. He noticed that an incident a few weeks ago was heralded in an alarming way in the newspapers as "Another Explosion at Waltham." It could scarcely be called an explosion. It was the firing of a small lump of cordite in the midst of a mass, and when it came to be examined it was found that the only place affected by the explosion was limited to a small particle, the whole of the mass being undisturbed. [Colonel LOCKWOOD: "That is the finished article."] He was speaking of the paste. The production of nitro-glycerine required very great care, and in the reconstruction of the factory at Waltham great care had been taken. 1710 So prudent were they that this material was used up as quickly as it was made, and the Government hoped that they were guarding against any accident. But in order to be perfectly sure in regard to the future supply, the Secretary of State for War, with the approval of the Treasury, had sanctioned the construction of a duplicate factory for nitroglycerine which would be placed beyond the range of danger to inhabited dwellings. Even at the time when the Government works were in ruin the Department was able to obtain a supply of cordite paste from the trade so as to satisfy all demands. He hoped that what he had said would satisfy hon. Members that, with regard to cordite and the powers of obtaining it, the Government were in a satisfactory position. They had secured the assistance of two firms, one of them the National Explosives Company, who had satisfied the Department of their capacity to supply what they required. If it were found that they were able to produce more than the quantity confided to them, and if the Government required their aid, there would be no difficulty in getting their co-operation; but the Government had still another source of production enabling them to add 50 per cent. easily to the productive powers he had indicated. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham spoke slightingly of the 5,000,000 cordite cartridges which were to be supplied during the current year by a Birmingham firm; but he thought that this was a very fair experiment to make. He could assure the hon. Member for Preston that the Government had more offers from private manufacturers for the supply of cordite than they had deemed it expedient to accept. The Department had considered it to be prudent to limit themselves to large firms, because they were familiar with the charges and complaints made by capitalists who were encouraged to put down plant in order to meet Government requirements. He trusted, therefore, it would be accepted by the Committee that the alarmist views expressed were altogether baseless. The figures he had before him showed that the aggregate reserve of small-arm ammunition at home, abroad, in the course of production in their own factories, and the supply of 1711 the trade far exceeded the figures which had been quoted by the hon. Member, and indicated that the supply was ample.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, the impression which the Debate had left on his mind did not at all correspond with the concluding observations of the hon. Gentleman. He approached the subject with an open mind, and he was only too anxious that the Government should make a statement and reassure the country with the object of removing doubt. He regretted to say that this was not the result which had been produced. On the contrary, he had come to the conclusion that using the word "reserves" in its ordinary sense the country had no reserve at all. [Cheers.] He understood that the regulation for the equipment was 400 rounds per man; but if the country were engaged in hostilities it would be bound beyond that equipment to have large stores of a real reserve of ammunition which could be brought into play as occasion might arise, and of that reserve the Committee had heard very little. No answer had been made to the statement that, looking to the conditions of modern warfare, 400 rounds per man was a very small amount, and might be shot away in a short time. time. The Secretary of State for War took 180,000 men, and for this number he said that he had a minimum equipment of 400 rounds; but this was only one-fifth of the total fighting force of the country. [Cheers] It appeared to him, therefore, that the stock was extremely low. The Secretary of State for War had not yet explained the discrepancy between the view he took a year ago, when he admitted that the stock was unsatisfactory, and the state of things now, which he had described as quite satisfactory, and which the Financial Secretary considered to be even more satisfactory than the right hon. Gentlemen himself. The last speaker relied mainly on the powers of production, but the time in which the combinations of modern warfare developed was so short that he deprecated relying on those powers of production except to a slight extent. [Cheers.] Looking at the danger attending the manufacture of this compound, what would become of the country if one of those manufactories on which they relied for production was to meet with some accident 1712 during the few weeks in war time when its services were most needed? [Cheers.] Whatever the result of the vote, he thought that his hon. Friend had rendered a service to the country by calling attention to the subject. ["Hear, hear!"]
Whereupon Motion made, and Question put, "That Item A be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Secretary of State."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 132; Noes, 125.—(Division List, No. 139.)
(rising immediately) said, I beg to propose that you report progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed,
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I wish to ask what the Government propose to do. Do they intend to do any further business tonight?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Yes; there are Bills on the Paper that I think are not very contentious Bills. I do not know whether the next Order, the Fisheries Acts Amendment Bill, is contentious. ["Most contentious" from the Opposition Benches.] Well, then there is the Naval Works Bill. I do not know whether there is any reason why the Naval Works Bill should not be taken.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
So far as I know, there is no reason why the Naval Works Bill should not be taken.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. J. BRYCE) Aberdeen S.)
I do not gather that the issue at stake here is in the ordinary sense anything of the nature of a Party controversy. There are three or four Members who object to the Bill. Those who object to it are really very few, and I, therefore, hope the Second Reading will be allowed to be taken.