§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £58,595, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge 62 which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906, for the Salaries and other Expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, including Expenses in respect of Advances under The Light Railways Act, 1896."
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
If I depart from the single precedent which we have on this Vote and begin its discussion by a statement, it is because that, having listened to the debates which have taken place earlier in the year on subjects connected with both the Navy and the Army, it seems to me that probably it would be convenient to the Committee if I should endeavour to give some account of the conclusions we have arrived at on some of the most important subjects which have come under the consideration of the Committee of Defence.
I may, perhaps, fitly begin by endeavouring to remove a misconception which certainly has no justification in anything I have ever said or suggested, but which has taken deep root, and which I shall feel it to be my duty to contradict and to dispose of as often as I hear it. This error consists in supposing that the Committee of Defence is a new executive Department, added to the existing organisation of the Government, which has in some way the duty thrown upon it of supervising the Departmental work entrusted to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War. Now that is not the case. The Committee of Defence is not an executive Committee; and if it were an executive Committee instead of being a consultative Committee it would be in the highest degree inexpedient that it should deal with matters of purely Departmental interest. If the Committee were to be treated as a Court of Appeal— and some hon. Gentlemen have endeavoured to say as much—against the decisions come to in their own Departments either by the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Secretary for War, in the first place the Committee would be hopelessly over-burdened, and in the second place, the efficiency of the 63 Departments which it is supposed to supervise would be destroyed and the responsibility of the Ministers at the head of them would be absolutely shattered. Our functions are not, indeed, less important, but they are of a wholly different character from those which a particular class of critics suppose. It is not for us to advise, much less to determine, what type of battleship, or armoured cruiser, or field gun shall be adopted, or what military organisation or naval distribution shall be accepted by the Government, by the House, and by the country. But, although these are not within the purview of our functions, I think that the longer our labours have gone on the more convinced, I believe, is every member of the Committee, every Minister who sits on that Committee, of the necessity of the work which the Committee carries out. I say that in no spirit of criticism of our predecessors, because we, for the most part, are ourselves first in this movement. But my sense of astonishment is a growing sense that we should ever have got on without some kind of organisation such as we have now.
Of course, from time to time the sort of questions with which this Committee has to deal have been confided to successive Committees appointed ad hoc, consisting of eminent sailors and soldiers, and no doubt in many cases with a strong civilian element. These Committees—and this is the main point to be remembered—kept no continuous record. They dealt with a single and isolated subject apart from other questions; and although their labours remained for all time in the Report which they gave to the Government or to the House, a series of Committees appointed ad hoc is a different thing from one having a continuous existence, and leaving behind records of its decisions, or it may be indecisions, for the instruction and use of those who from time to time are called to the service of the Crown as responsible Ministers. That want is filled by this Defence Committee as it never could be filled by a temporary Committee; and I venture to go further and to repeat what I have said before— namely, that as time goes on I am convinced that the various Colonies of the 64 Empire will bring before this Committee matters in which they feel special interest, and will send to this Committee their representatives to act in respect of these matters on perfect equality with the members of the Committee who sit week after week in Whitehall. I do not venture to prophesy of what colonial developments this Committee may prove itself capable; but we have sown a seed which may bear great fruit, and we have already been enabled to lay foundations on which a noble building may be erected. Of that there is no question at all.
But the real and main function of this Committee comes in, in the first place, where two Departments of the home Government are concerned—like the War Office and the Admiralty, or the Foreign Office and the War Office and the Admiralty as often happens; and secondly, where the home Government and a Colonial Government have a common purpose to serve in connection with defence; and thirdly, to bring into coordination the Indian Government and the British Government for the purpose of common Indian defence. There is nobody who is at all acquainted with the history of the Anglo-Indian problem of Indian defence but has had it most forcibly brought to their minds how great has been the lack in past times of some body of this kind, and how exceedingly difficult it is even for this Committee to work with perfect smoothness and rapidity through the complex problems which the Governm of India and of this country have to face in common and have to deal with on some common and accpeted plan. I need not say that the number of topics that come under one or other of these I heads is very great. Some of the topics themselves are comparatively small. For instance, there is the question of how the ports, commercial and other, of this country may be best defended. That is a question not for the Army alone or for the Navy alone, but a matter of common duty between the two; and there may be differences of opinion between them. It is I only the Committee of Defence who can settle this question; and I may remark that the actual result of long and anxious deliberations which we have had on this subject is to reverse the hitherto accepted policy as to the advantage of defending 65 our ports by the use of submarine mines. The Admiralty are of opinion, and the Committee of Defence agree in thinking, that the submarine mine is, at all events as far as this country is concerned, a very inexpedient method of attempting to secure the safety of these ports. It is a method more likely to produce an injury to the defenders of the ports or to the commercial interests concerned than to the enemy; and other methods should be substituted for this method which, in our opinion, is not only antiquated but dangerous. Some hon. Members may not have given attention to this subject, and therefore I remind them that in speaking of submarine mines I am not referring in the most distant way to the blockade mines, as they are called, which are playing so important a part in the Far Eastern War now going on. In regard to the use of the blockade mines, we are not going to allow ourselves to fall behind what we understand other nations are doing; but I cannot forbear expressing my opinion that the use of blockade mines is a subject that must and ought to come under the consideration of some intertional tribunal, that the damage and the danger to neutrals which must result from sowing broadcast in the waterways of the world these undirected engines of destruction is so great that I do not think civilisod mankind can in the future allow them to be used in a haphazard fashion.
I propose, to-day, to confine my observations to the broader issues of national defence. I shall venture to divide national defence into the three branches—home defence, colonial defence, and Indian defence; and the House will recognise that when I mention these throe great divisions, I cannot from the very nature of the case attempt to go into anything like every detail that each may suggest; and that I can only indicate in somewhat broad outlines the conclusions at which the Committee of Defence have arrived.
The first of these great divisions is home defence, and it is certainly the most important. If home defence be ill-secured, the British Empire, though it may be a magnificent structure, a magnificent monument, rests on feet of clay. We are perfectly useless for purposes of 66 defence in far-off seas if the very centre and heart of the Empire is really open to serious invasion. But though everybody recognises that this is the central problem of Imperial and national defence, we go on year after year with something; in the. nature of a profitless wrangle between the advocates of different schools to which the puzzled civilian attaches himself either on one side or the other, and which leaves in the general mind of the country an uneasy sense that, in spite of the millions we are spending on the Navy and the Army, the country is not after all secure against some sudden and unexpected attack levelled at us by neighbours with whom certainly we do not wish to quarrel, but who for some reason or other may desire to shatter the great fabric of our Empire. It seemed to us that this long-standing quarrel was the first matter with which we had to deal. And remember, this division of opinion goes far beyond the living memories among us. It goes right back to Elizabethan times. You will find the same two opposed schools urging the same arguments far back in the tune of Drake. You will find that great soldier in the sixteenth century believed the invasion of England possible—great Continental as well as great British soldiers; and you will find that British sailors did not believe it possible. If you go down the stream of time, you come to an exactly similar state of things during the Napoleonic Wars. There is no doubt that Napoleon conceived that invasion of these islands was possible. No man studying the facts can accept the hypothesis put forward by some historians that the materials, the men, and the ships which Napoleon assembled at Boulogne early in the last century were merely a feint to distract some other Power. It is certain that Napoleon believed invasion to be possible; and it is equally certain that Nelson believed it to be impossible. You come to a generation later, and you find the Duke of Wellington, in the forties, in a very famous communication which was made public at the time, expressing the most serious alarm, in terms almost pathetic in their intensity, as to the safety of these islands from invasion from across the Channel. Sailors, I believe, have been unwavering 67 in their opinion. I am not aware of any considerable naval authority who has ever held that serious overseas invasion is a thing of which we need be greatly afraid. But that was the state of things which we found unaltered when we took up the subject; and it appealed to us, I do not say that agreement could be come to, but that something nearer agreement might be come to than ever had been come to before, if we could lay down a specific and concrete problem for discussion by our expert advisers— a problem which, if extreme in its character, should be extreme against this country, and should assume things far worse than they are ever likely to be; but a problem which should not belong either to the hypothesis advocated by the extreme military or the extreme naval school.
I will endeavour to explain what the hypothesis was which we devised in order to attempt to bring this matter, I will not say to a conclusion which would satisfy everybody, but which would at any rate satisfy every practical man who chose to devote his mind to the subject. We thought that we were going far enough in devising a hypothetical state of things adverse to this country if we assumed that our Army was abroad upon some oversea expedition and that our organised fleets were absent from home waters. I do not see that we could be asked to go much further than that. Then the question arises: What exactly do you mean by the Army being occupied in some oversea expedition, and what do you mean exactly when you say that your organised fleets are absent from home waters? How do you translate these two statements into concrete figures?
We thought that we could not be going far wrong as regards the Army if we assumed our military position to be what it was during the few days—for it was not more—at the very worst moment, from this point of view, of the South African War. As the House is aware, that war threw a strain upon our military resources quite unexpected in its magnitude, and the end of February or the beginning of March, 1900, was the lowest point reached during the whole of the war from the point of view of military defences at 68 home; and as we were at the moment straining every nerve in meeting the unexpected crisis 7,000 miles away, it did not seem to us that that was otherwise than a reasonable hypothesis to take as showing the lowest depth which we were ever likely to reach in the matter of home defence. The actual state of the home Army at the beginning of that week—because the position improved afterwards—was as follows: We had 17,000 infantry and cavalry, and twenty-six batteries of artillery; and that was the Regular Force that we had at home in organised units. We had 141,000 Volunteers who would, under the existing organisation, be used for garrisons; there were 85,000 Volunteers remaining; there were regiments of Militia, and there were soldiers under age, soldiers ill, and soldiers insufficiently trained, who were not in any organised units at all. As regards the Volunteers, their number was large, but from the point of view of a field army they were not organised, and there was not in the country at that moment any machinery for organising them. There was no headquarters staff and no sufficient arrangements for instantaneously using them as a field army. Though no doubt, with sufficient notice, that organisation could be improvised more or less, it did not exist at the precise psychological moment to which I ask the House to direct its attention. That is what we mean by saying that our Army is at sent on an oversea expedition.
But what do we mean by saying that the Fleet was away—had wandered off somewhere into space—and what degree of maritime helplessness did that leave us in? I ought, perhaps, before answering my own question, to say that this idea of our organised fleets being lost in obscurity, in some unknown ocean, is a very extreme one to take, and it is not one which I can bring myself to pretend to the House comes very much within the region of reasoned probability. But let us take it that the Mediterranean Fleet, and the Atlantic Fleet, and the Home Fleet, were, like the China Fleet, faraway from these shores, incapable of taking any part in repelling invasion of our shores. It may be worth reminding the House that even if the Home Fleet of twelve 69 battleships and the Atlantic Fleet of eight battleships were away, we should, under the new Admiralty system, have ready for sea in a comparatively few hours—I believe that six hours would be sufficient—six battleships, and six first-class cruisers in reserve, with nucleus crews ready to put to sea at very short notice—as soon as the fires are lighted, in fact—and capable, when they put to sea, of taking part in an action, because, as the House knows, they will be manned by crews thoroughly acquainted with them, who do not come as strangers, and who have gone through all those peace evolutions which are the necessary prelude to war. We should have at home, besides, irrespective of the organised fleets of which I speak, the twelve cruisers which cruise in home waters; there would be twenty-four destroyers in commission; and there would be in reserve with nucleus crews, ready for very rapid action, no less than ninety-five more torpedo craft, some of them destroyers, some of them torpedo-boats proper. That would be the position if our organised fleets were away. But I am ready to take the hypothesis even at a lower level than I have put it; because, when this subject was first examined by the Defence Committee, the new Admiralty plan was not in operation, and the reserve squadron ships, though they existed, could not be counted on at that time for rapid action and mobilisation—rapid action and mobilisation being action and mobilisation measured not in days but in hours. I have omitted from that enumeration submarine boats, on which, no doubt, expert opinion may differ, but which, I believe, are destined to be of great importance, if not in naval warfare generally, yet in that part of naval and military warfare which consists in an attempt to land soldiers in crowded seas upon a hostile coast.
I have now described the actual condition of Great Britain and Ireland at what seems to me its moment of greatest possible weakness, a moment of weakness which we did reach for a few days as regards the Army during the South African War, but which we have never reached, or nearly reached, I am glad to say, as regards the 70 Navy. At all events, the problem, it will be noticed, is a precise problem. The question that we could put to our military advisers was a precise question, and it was this: Given that Great Britain was reduced to the position which I have described, what is the smallest number of men with which, as a forlorn hope, if you please, some foreign country would endeavour to invade our shores? Observe I say, "What is the smallest number of men?" That may seem a paradoxical way of putting the question, but it is really the true way. We are apt in comparing the defensive power or offensive power of Great Britain and her great military neighbours to compare the number of our soldiers with the number of theirs, and to say, "If they can get across the sea, how could we hope to resist the masters of these innumerable legions?" But, Sir, that is not the problem. The problem is how to get across the sea and land on this side; and inasmuch as that difficulty, which thinkers of all schools must admit—the extreme military school will admit it as well as the extreme blue-water school—inasmuch as that difficulty of getting men over increases in an automatic ratio with every new transport you require and every augmentation you make to the landing force, it becomes evident that the problem which a foreign general has to consider is not, "How many men would I like to have in England in order to conquer it?" but "With how few men can I attempt the conquest?" Very well, I have made that clear to the House. The answer which was given by Lord Roberts, and accepted by all the other military critics whom it was our duty to consult, was that he did not think it would be possible to make the attempt with less than 70,000 men; those men to be lightly equipped, as regards artillery and as regards cavalry, because, of course, horses and guns are the things which most embarrass the officers responsible for transport, embarkation and disembarkation. Now, I make no pronouncement upon that figure of 70,000 men. I am not in a position to do so; but Lord Roberts was distinctly of opinion that even with 70,000 men to attempt to take London—which is, after all, what would have to be done if there was to be any serious impression or 71 crushing effect produced—he was of opinion that that was in the nature of a forlorn hope. The Committee, therefore, will see that we have got one stage further in the argument; and the problem now is, is it possible, with the Fleet and with the military defences in the state I have described, is it possible to land 70,000 men on these shores?
Sir, may I be permitted to interrupt the argument in its most direct shape—but not to interrupt it with anything which is irrelevant—to point out here that in this way of stating the problem we avoid all the controversies raised by what are called the blue-water school, because we assume that there are home defences, and it is necessary that we should assume that there are home land defences. If this country can be conceived as being as helpless as, let us say, some island in the South Seas, where the inhabitants know not even the humblest arts of war, why, I suppose 5,000 men, if they could get on shore, if they could squeeze a way through the Navy, could march from end to end of the island, as white men have marched from end to end of Australia, unresisted by the blacks. But, of course, that is a state of things which does not exist, and cannot exist. Some people put a dilemma. Either the Navy can absolutely stop an invasion—if so, why do you ask anybody to learn the use of the rifle; or else the Navy cannot stop an invasion, and then you must have a force at home competent to deal with a foreign force. But those dilemmas are very misleading. And not only that, but they lead in this case to a completely false impression. The difficulty of invasion depends upon the men that have to be landed, the number of men that have to be landed depends chiefly on the difficulties they will find when they come to be landed, and therefore some home force is an essential part of the argument I am advancing, and, however little I may personally believe in the possibility of evading the British Fleet, I do not ask them to accept any conclusions on that point at all; I do not ask them to accept the doctrine of the blue-water school in any shape whatever; but I ask them to take the problem as I have given it, namely, an insignificant, 72 body of Regular troops here, and an unorganised body of persons with some knowledge of arms, while we suppose that the enemy will require at least 70,000 men in order to reach London.
If the House agree with the Committee they will assent to the view that we have stated the problem in a very concrete and very moderate shape, and yet a shape which, if answered satisfactorily from our point of view, will relieve everybody's mind. Having got so far let me observe that since the days to which I have alluded earlier, the old days of Nelson and Wellington, there have been great scientific changes which all, I think, make in favour of defence, and I particularly notice two of them. One is the use of steam and the other is the use of wireless telegraphy. When Napoleon was collecting his legions near Boulogne the British Fleet was, of course, watching him, but it was no doubt possible for the panic-monger of those days, if panic-monger there was, to say, "If the Fleet can reach the scene of action in time no doubt they will absolutely prevent any landing on these shores, but suppose a dead calm or head wind prevented the Fleet from coming up, how do you know Napoleon could not land a sufficient number of men to make resistance impossible? "I will not argue whether that could happen in those days or not, but it certainly cannot happen now. Steam makes for concentration, and concentration can be effected with infinite facility now by means of wireless telegraphy. It is not necessary now that our ships should be in port or near a land telegraph station, or should be kept in close touch with the shore; it is sufficient if the cruisers which I have described as always remaining in home waters should always keep within the range of wireless, telegraphy in order to concentrate at any moment at the point of danger. But that is not the only change. There are two other changes introduced by the torpedo and the submarine which must qualify the extreme doctrine of the command of the sea which used to be held, and perhaps is sometimes still held, by the so-called blue-water school. The command of the sea at one time really meant the command of the sea, of the whole of the ocean right up to the shore, 73 and superiority in battleships gave that command. But it does, not give it now in the same full sense; and I do not believe that any British admiral, even though our Fleets rode unchallenged in every part of the world, would view with serenity the task of convoying and guarding during hours of disembarkation a huge fleet of transports on a coast infested by submarines and torpedo boats, And lot it be remembered, no strength in battleships has the slightest effect in diminishing the number of hostile torpedo craft and submarines. A battleship can drive another battleship from the sea, but it cannot drive a fast cruiser because a fast cruiser can always evade it. A strong and fast cruiser can drive a weak and slow cruiser from the sea; but neither cruisers nor battleships can drive from the sea, or from the coast, I ought to say, either submarines or torpedo destroyers which have a safe shelter in neighbouring harbours and can infest the coast altogether out of reach of the battleship, which is very likely to be much more afraid of them than they have reason to be of her. Those are great changes, and they are changes which nearly touch the particular problem on which I am asking the Committee to concentrate its attention—the problem whether it is possible, under the conditions named, to land 70,000 troops on the island.
To proceed now to the precise difficulties which an invader will have to deal with. He has first got to get transport for 70,000 men. I am obliged to suppose from what follows, whether I like it or not, that our enemy in this case is France, because, as the problem is one of invasion, I am bound to take as the potential invader the great nation which is nearest to us and from which invasion would be most easy. I need not tell the House that the last thing in the world I regard as possible is an invasion by France, but everybody will agree that in taking a concrete instance I am obliged, whether I like it or not, to take that country, friendly though it be. How is France going to get the transport for 70,000 men? If it is a matter of long and open preparation, then it is clear that we cannot suppose that our fleets have gone on this wild-goose chase. We must suppose, therefore, that it is a 74 fairly rapid proceeding. On a particular day in last year it appears there were in French ports on the Channel and on the Atlantic, steamers of about 100,000 tons under the flag of the French. I do not quite see how if the matter is to be a matter of surprise, the French Government could count on more than the ships they actually had in port at the time. But 100,000 tons is absolutely insufficient to carry 70,000 men. The calculation that the Admiralty favour is that for such a force you would require 250,000 tons. I am informed, however, that some experiments made by French authorities a year or two ago indicate that perhaps that estimate may be too high, and that it would be possible to carry out the operations with 210,000 tons. I do not know whether the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean differs from that calculation.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
I only say the Turks send all their reinforcements on a very different scale.
§ MR A. J. BALFOUR
I am dealing with the information supplied to me by those whom I have cross-examined and who, I think, are well qualified to judge, and they think 210,000 tons is a low estimate of the amount of tonnage required. Whether that be right or whether that be wrong, it is plain that the steam tonnage in the Atlantic and Channel ports of France at any given moment is wholly insufficient to carry that number of men. I do not believe-it would carry more than half. It is no small matter to collect those transports, even if they had them in some harbour. The nearest harbour available is Cherbourg, which is a very bad harbour in which to make such arrangements, because it is entirely exposed to view, and operations could not be carried on in 75 secrecy. Brest would offer very much better facilities Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with, me?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then Brest is quite as far from any place whore a landing is likely to be attempted, and every mile you add to the distance exposes this huge fleet of transports—if you have them—to the attacks of torpedo-boats, and that irrespective of the strength of the convoy. It would be quite impossible to carry out the operation of transporting 70,000 men from Brest, or even from Cherbourg, in daylight. Soma hours of darkness there must be, in which protection would be almost or quite impossible against the species of attack to which they would then be exposed. Assume them to have reached our coast. I ought, perhaps, to say that by the time they reached our coasts the alarm would long since have been given to every ship between the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar, and every ship available, every cruiser, torpedo-boat, destroyer, every craft that could be made available for resisting invasion, would be concentrated at the point of danger; and when this huge convoy reached the point of danger, what is it to do? Disembarking 70,000 men on a coast like the coast between Portsmouth and Dover is not a very easy operation, and, above all, it is not a quick operation. I do not believe anybody will estimate the time it would take at less than forty-eight hours. My advisers say that is a most sanguine estimate. Forty-eight hours involves two nights. Then calm weather is required. The operation cannot be carried out or attempted except in calm weather. That is exactly the time at which, if torpedo-boats or submarines get their chance, they have that chance in the greatest perfection. How does anybody imagine that this fleet of inexpert transports, which could not be provided with nets, because nets cannot be improvised, as the ships have to be structurally devised so as to bear them—how is it possible that this helpless mass of transports could escape the attacks of these torpedo-boats and 76 submarines, putting out of account everything that cruisers, battleships, or any other naval weapon at our disposal could accomplish? The thing is impossible. Conceive the position of the invading soldiers—the pick, no doubt, of the invader's Army. It is not as if they were fighting for glory on a stricken field. Packed in these transports, commanded not by men of the French Navy, but by ordinary merchant captains, not knowing when, or where, or how the attack would take effect, knowing only that if it did take effect it would mean the sudden hurling into infinity of a whole helpless regiment of soldiers—does anybody think that is an enterprise which would be undertaken by any sane person? I do not know whether we have the right to measure the courage of our opponents by our own, or their readiness to take responsibility by that of our own naval officers, but I am certain there is no admiral in the British Fleet, and there never has been an admiral in the British Fleet who would undertake a task such as I have supposed. If a French admiral were to have committed to him the expedition which I have endeavoured to draw in imagination, he could not protect the transports, he could not even protect his own ships, if they were obliged to lie there in positions perfectly well ascertained, absolutely known, within a few miles of torpedo stations of our own, two days and two nights. Why, it is not the transports alone that would suffer loss and destruction in that time. If the protecting fleet itself did not suffer some great calamity while they were lying helpless off this shore, naval authorities have very greatly over-rated the efficiency both of torpedo craft and the submarine.
The Committee will, perhaps, think I have gone into sufficient detail. I have missed out some details, but I think I have said enough to show that we have really endeavoured to put to ourselves the problem in a very concrete form. We have not gone into generalities about the command of the sea or the superiority of our Fleet, or this difficulty or that difficulty; we have endeavoured to picture to ourselves a clear issue which is very unfavourable to this country, and have 77 shown at least to our satisfaction that on that hypothesis, unfavourable as it is, serious invasion of these islands is not an eventuality which we need seriously consider. I am not sure that I have made the matter as clear as it can be made, but I think, at all events, I have to-day put forward, in adequate outline, what I have endeavoured to embody in the Memoranda which will be available to any gentleman who follows in office.
I have now finished the first branch of the task which I set myself. I will be very quick over the second. The second dealt with our Colonies and what is called the problem of concentration. It seemed to us with the changes in naval warfare, with the changes in the seat of sea power of other nations, a redistribution of both our Fleet and our Army was desirable; and we have gone upon the broad line that, as the British Fleet and as the British Army should be available for the defence of the British Empire in all parts of the world, our force should be as far as possible concentrated at the centre of the Empire, from which it could be distributed as each necessity arose to that part of the Empire which stood most in need of it. I have to acknowledge that this has rendered unnecessary expenditure which has been undertaken under a different view of our military needs. I mention that because it is a subject which has occupied the attention of the Member for the Forest of Dean. The most notable case is the case of St. Lucia. The general problem was considered by a Commission, of which Lord Carnarvon was the head, and it was in deference to Lord Carnarvon's recommendation that St. Lucia was made a great naval base. One of the reasons for making it a great naval base was that it was not further than eighty miles from the French naval stations in those seas. What was a reason for having such a base at St. Lucia in Lord Carnavon's time is a reason for not having it there at the present time. We have to take into account the theory of torpedo-boats. It is a distinct disadvantage for any harbour required as a place of repair, refitting, and refreshment that it should be within easy reach of a hostile or potentially hostile Power. There is more in the abandon- 78 ment of St. Lucia than that. The Defence Committee, who have considered the matter with the advice of the Admiralty and War Office, do not think St. Lucia is likely to be the scene of any great naval operations. It is not a place which we think could be with advantage used, or is likely to be required to be used for our purposes; and with the modern battleship there are strong reasons for thinking that, in so far as we required any place of coaling and refitment in those seas, both Jamaica and Trinidad would be better. The harbour of St. Lucia, though sheltered, is not very convenient, and does not hold a large fleet. These are the reasons why St Lucia ceases to be regarded as a great naval station. This is all in obedience to a trend of opinion which Lord Carnarvon's Commission were strongly in favour of— namely, that we should cease to scatter our forces in small isolated bodies throughout the world, and that we should concentrate them in important tactical units, have them under our hand, and be able to use them in places where they would be most likely to control the hostile forces of any enemy we are likely to have to deal with.
I pass from that, which is comparatively a small matter, and address myself to the question of India. The invasion of India has been the dream of many military dreamers in the past, and the bugbear of successive Governments in this country. Napoleon certainly thought it could be accomplished, and I believe he thought it could be accomplished even after his abortive expedition to Egypt. The Emperor Paul had a plan for accomplishing it; and there is no doubt the development of Russia towards India has caused great alarm from time to time in this country; and we have endeavoured, quite in vain, by diplomatic arrangement to prevent that expansion, which I will neither justify nor criticise, but which we have to take as an accomplished fact, and accept, whether we like it or do not. I think the anxieties of our predecessors were in one sense most unreasonable, and in another sense had real foundation in truth and fact. They were unreasonable because the idea of invading India from the Caspian, or any place close 79 to it, in the absence of railways and means of transport for any large force is, I believe, totally illusory; and therefore, much of these previous terrors were, I think, ill-founded.
But it is true, and unfortunately it remains true, that the steady progress of Russia towards the borders of Afghanistan, and still more the construction of railways abutting or closely adjoining the Afghan frontier, which we can only regard as strategic railways, place the whole military situation in the East on a totally different footing, and we have in all seriousness to consider what can and cannot be done by our great military neighbour in the Middle East. Here, again, I may say, although the invasion of India is a topic much debated among Russian officers, it is not, I believe, any part of the scheme of the Russian Government. As I said in the case of France, this is a matter which we have indeed to consider, and which is of pressing importance, and may become of still greater importance; but I am talking now of the general problem. I am not intending to lead the House to suppose that I shall come down to them next week, or next month, and say a war with Russia on the North-Eastern Frontier is either possible or probable. The real new features in the case are these two lines of railway which I have mentioned; but I think possibly an exaggerated importance might be attached to them, important as they are, by those who read too hastily the lessons of the war now going on in Manchuria. In Manchuria there is but a single line of railway, and it might seem as if on that the Russians have been enabled to feed and supply at the front an enormous body of men. I do not know that we have authentic information as to the exact numbers, but they certainly are very large; and it might be supposed that, with two lines of railway, something like double that effort could be made on the frontier of Afghanistan. I need not tell the House that is not the case. The Manchurian Railway is a railway which goes through, and has always gone through, to the front of the Russian position wherever that may be. They have always been able to bring up on that railway men to the extreme position 80 they wish to occupy. In Afghanistan the railways have yet to be made.
One of the most important considerations in connection with the problem forced upon our attention is that these railways, if they ever have to be made, must not be made in time of peace. The House is well aware that the invasion of India can only lake place, speaking very broadly, through the two lines of Kabulon the North, and Kandahar on the South. There are, of course, other lines which have to be considered. Small bodies might penetrate north of Kabul through the almost impenetrable mountains which lie at that end of the Hindu Kush, and it is conceivable that another force might even come through Baluchistan; but I do not mean to complicate the problem unnecessarily, and perhaps the House will permit me to assume, for the sake of the exposition of the general situation, what I think nobody will deny, that the two main lines-of advance must be through either Kandahar or Kabul, or both.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My hon. friend's opinion is a very natural one, but I am not absolutely sure it is correct, and I will tell the House why. It is much easier to make a railway, no doubt, from the Kush Post, which is the nearest place on the Russian line of railway, through Herat to Kandahar than to make it upon the northern line, where the railway will meet almost insuperable difficulties. But supposing a British force repulsed at Kandahar, and defeated at Quetta, and an advance successfully made along that route which my hon. friend thinks the best, I must remind him that, after having surmounted these great military difficulties, the invading army would find itself in a most unfortunate position for a further attack upon India. It would finditself upon the right bank of the Indus, in a desert country—in a very sparsely-populated country—with Karachi at the South always open to us, with the power of bringing troops down from the North and from the more thickly-populated parts of India. It could not advance that railway men to the extreme position due east because it would meet with the 81 great Sind desert; and I am not at all sure any invader in the future would not follow the example of his predecessors in the past, and prefer leaving the immense difficulties of the Kabul route for the apparently easier ground which would be Traversed by an army approaching from Kandahar and Quetta. At all events, it must be one of the two; and it is to be remembered, with regard to the northern route, if we are to assume, as I think we must, that no invasion in force is possible without the assistance of railway transport, that making a railway through the plain of Afghanistan up to Kabul is a most tremendous operation, and that there are no less than 200 miles of mountain where rock-cutting and other immensely difficult and laborious processes would have to be undertaken by the invading army. I may observe that the Afghans are not likely to welcome these railway makers in their fastnesses. I quite agree that the Ameer would probably find it quite impossible to resist in detail the attacks of the disciplined forces of Russia; but they would become very formidable opponents indeed when the approach was made to their mountain fastnesses and when they obtained, as they certainly would obtain, the assistance of the British in preserving their independence.
I have assumed, perhaps without sufficient argument, that railways are a necessity in dealing with India on a large scale; but I will mention one concrete fact which I think proves it conclusively. Lord Roberts informed the Defence Committee that during the eight or nine months in which he occupied Kabul in 1879–80 he had the utmost difficulty in feeding 12,000 British troops. Whereas Manchuria is a country rich in foodstuffs, and, above all, rich in transport, Afghanistan is poor both in foodstuffs and transport. It is, therefore, quite inconceivable that any large bodies of men should come into collision at any early stage of a war between the two countries. In fact, the problem I am now discussing of Indian defence is precisely the converse of the problem of British defence. An attack on these islands, impossible as I think it, is only conceivable if it is something in the nature of a surprise and rush. No 82 surprise and no rush is possible in the case of India. The problem of Indian defence is difficult enough, but India cannot be taken by assault; and that is the cardinal fact which the House I do not suppose is disposed to forget, but certainly ought not to be allowed to forget. We may assume, therefore, I think justly, that the problem of war with Russia on our North-West Frontier is a problem of transport and supply more than of anything else.
It follows from that as an inevitable consequence that in trying to estimate at what period of a war between the two countries there could be a collision of magnitude between their main forces the main point to consider is the rapidity of railway construction. Now, I do not pretend that this question of railway construction has been much debated by Lord Kitchener, the Indian Government, and ourselves. I mean the rapidity of construction that might be expected in view of the difficulties that lie in the way of the railway makers on both sides of the frontier, and therefore I have no conclusion to offer to the House on this question. I am sorry that is so, because, after all, it finally rests upon that—not, perhaps, the number of men which would be required, but the rapidity with which they would be required. The speed with which they would be turned, out does depend upon that, and on that I cannot offer on behalf of the Imperial Defence Committee any settled definite conclusion. It is an unfortunate thing that we have in the case of India necessarily to discuss these difficult questions by correspondence, which carries with it delay on both sides. I cannot help feeling that if we had Lord Kitchener on this side of the water for a fortnight we could do more to settle all outstanding problems, as far as they can be settled in this way, than we can do in a corresponding number of months when we have to carry on our communications by letter. But, though I should not be justified in giving the exact time in which, in the opinion of the Imperial Defence Committee, the reinforcements would be required in India, Lord Kitchener's view is that in addition to drafts there should be available in the relatively early stages of the war, which if it is to be conclusive must be certainly 83 a very long one, eight divisions of infantry and other corresponding arms. I have not the least doubt that Lord Kitchener's demands are not too great. But what I am not sure of is the exact time in which they would be required That is the doubtful point. But even in the extremist view it is quite impossible for me to believe that more than that could be required in the first year of the war. I think the House, may take it as a most safe estimate that not more than that would be required during the first year of hostilities with Russia. That, broadly speaking, is the exact condition of the question as it now stands between us and the India Government so far as the reinforcements from this country are concerned.
The only moral I would draw out side the strictly military moral I have just pointed is that, if we are to sleep in peace over the Indian problem, it can only be on condition that we maintain un-diminished the existing difficulties which a hostile force would have to meet. As transport is the great difficulty of an invading army, we must not allow anything to be done which would facilitate transport. It ought, in my opinion, to be considered as an act of direct aggression upon this country that any attempt should be made to build a railway in connection with the Russian strategic railways within the territory of Afghanistan. I have not the smallest ground for believing that the Russian Government intend now, or, I hope, at any time, to make such a railway. But I say that if the attempt were made, remote as it might at first seem from our interests, I think it would be the heaviest blow directed at the very heart of our Indian Empire that we could conceive. If this country is prepared resolutely to say that railways in Afghanistan may indeed be made, but they shall only be made in time of war and not in time of peace, then I think it is not at all beyond the military power of this country, without any fundamental reorganisation of its forces, such as would be implied in conscription, or any similar device, to make absolutely secure our Eastern possessions, as I hope we can make secure not only the shores of these two islands, but all the Colonies which depend upon us. If, however, by 84 laxity, by blindness, by cowardice, we permit the slow absorption of the Afghan kingdom in the way that we have necessarily permitted the absorption of the various Khanates in Central Asia, if Russian strategic railways are allowed to creep closer and closer to the frontier which we are bound to defend, then this country will inevitably pay for its supine ness by having to keep on foot a much larger Army than anything which any of us can contemplate with equanimity. Foresight and courage will obviate these dangers. Without foresight and without courage they may come upon us; and if they do come upon us, we shall be throwing upon our children, if not upon ourselves, the greatest military problem that has probably ever confronted the Government of this country.
I most sincerely apologise to the Committee for the long time I have occupied in this statement. But I am not sure, looking back upon what I have said, so far as I can remember it, I could with advantage have cut down my remarks to any narrower limit. I have endeavoured to give an outline, not an account, of the work of the Defence Committee, or, at all events, some account of their work and their conclusions in those great and fundamental departments of national life which are concerned with the defence of the mother country, with the best use of our forces for the defence of our possessions oversea, and last, but not least, for the defence of that great dependency which only within the last few years can in any true military sense be said to have become conterminous with one of the great military monarchies of the world.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I desire at once to congratulate the right hon. Gentle man, and with him the country, upon having been able to make the important statement which be has put before us of so reassuring a character. I do not think the latter part of the statement was quite in harmony with some of the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman himself has made on the subject of the defence of India within the last few years. But, at all events, 85 as to what the right hon. Gentleman has said now we agree with him that the whole tendency of that deliverance to the House is to remove the great apprehension which has been aroused in this country as to the danger of an invasion of India, for which not only our present military organisation, but almost any conceivable military organisation, would be inadequate.
The right hon. Gentleman, speaking of the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence, said it was much misunderstood in some quarters. If that be true, it is because the operations were not properly understood. We understood certainly that the Committee of Imperial Defence had a supervising power over the military and naval Departments, but the right hon. Gentleman has repudiated that. We are now told that the Committee of Imperial Defence has nothing to do with the organisation of the Army; that the Prime. Minister and the Cabinet are, of course, supreme in such matters, and that the Committee is only brought into play as a sort of Court of Appeal where the two Departments are involved; that their function is to hear the views of these Departments, to co-ordinate and to reconcile them, and finally to decide the question. I am considerably relieved of some constitutional qualms which I have had about the functions of the Committee by hearing that account of their work.
But I come to what is of far more importance—the question of the defence of these islands, the Colonies, and India. I recognise that the right hon Gentleman, in dealing with the invasion of these islands, was in a difficulty as to two courses, for, while it was desirable and even necessary to give the House of Commons full information, yet the giving of that information might do some mischief. But I think his statement as to the impossibility of an invasion of these islands upon a large scale will have a greatly reassuring effect upon the country, and I trust it will have a very material effect also upon our military expenditure. At the same time, if I am to criticise— and I freely recognise that this is a subject in which to the utmost possibility of our power we ought to act together—I 86 think the right hon. Gentleman's elaborate reference to the possibility of invasion by France was a little overdone. I admit that his statement would have lacked picturesqueness and the full satisfaction it gave to Members of the Committee if this had been omitted. At the same time, his elaborate exposition of what would happen in a certain eventuality, which eventuality is of all others the one we least desire, and we hope the French people, at all events, least desire—may, in evil hands, and especially if dealt with by evil pens, do harm to the relations between the two countries—though not the official relations—and the feelings, especially of the French people, towards us. I gladly say that I am sure the right hon. Gentleman had no such intention, and that the whole people of this country would share his desire. But we have seen day after day foolish speeches made, and quite recently, in regard to another country; and although the right hon. Gentleman made it plain enough that he was only doing what was absolutely necessary in taking some concrete instances of possible invasion, yet I hope attention will be directed to the fact that he was not contemplating the likelihood of any such invasion and had no such suspicion in his mind.
The right hon. Gentleman went back to the days of Drake and the remote past, when he traced the history—evidently with great interest and enjoyment, showing how completely at home he is in the subject—of naval power and military power, and he dealt with general considerations; but the one figure which he gave was the figure of 70,000 men, which would be the least number with which any one in their senses would think of invading this country, and he put that on the sole authority of Lord Roberts. Now Lord Roberts is a man for whom I have the highest admiration and esteem; at the same time that is just the sort of thing on which differences of opinion may arise, and I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have given us some wider estimate upon that point.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I mentioned Lord Roberts because the question was particularly put to him. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that there are 87 other military members in the Defence Committee, and there is no difference of opinion, I believe, upon that point.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
But there has been in time past great difference of opinion among the highest military authorities upon that point. I am, however, merely noting the fact that he only quoted one authority. What has always seemed to me the proper policy in regard to the defence of this country is to see that our force is sufficient not only to overcome the smallest number who might in any circumstances be thrown upon our shores, but that there should be so much additional strength as will compel the foreign Power to contemplate sending a larger force than 70,000, and therefore put it out of the question that they should come at all. The way to prevent invasion is to have, within limits, overwhelming force, such as would compel the invader, if he is to come at all—I am going to put it in an Irish way—to come with such force that he will not come. The right hon. Gentleman, as I say, has, I believe, greatly pacified the alarms of this country with regard to our own shores.
I pass now to Afghanistan; and there again I think that he has taken a moderate, and many of us would think a reasonable, view of the question, not using words or arguments of panic, and recognising that there are limits not only to the power of this country, but to the necessities and dangers to which we are exposed. We have had a remarkable proof provided for us of the extraordinary difficulty of the invasion of India by a most interesting account in The Times some weeks ago of a journey by an Indian officer who accomplished the distance in a shorter time than ever before by way of Seistan across the desert to India. I think anyone who reads the account of the country through which that gallant officer passed will have a better appreciation than before of the immense difficulties that any large invading army would have in finding supplies. I need not go into the details; but the right hon. Gentleman said enough, so far as I am concerned, to satisfy me that he is not one of the alarmist school in regard to the North-Western Frontier.
88 The right hon. Gentleman, however, has, after all, not contributed, out of the wealth of his knowledge and argument, to the point we all wish to be informed about—What are the military necessities of the country? How many men do we require? Now there was a curious little episode, which the Committee may remember, in connection with the Royal Commission, presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, to inquire whether the Militia and Volunteers were adequate to the military necessities and defence of the country. They asked themselves—What are the military requirements of this force? They applied to the Admiralty and got no answer. They applied to the War Office, and after a long delay certain figures were given to them. There was a delay of a week or two, and then they were told that the figures supplied were not to be taken as authoritative, and they were further told that the matter was under the consideration of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Then they took heart of grace and wrote to the Committee of Imperial Defence. They were told the matter was still under consideration, and that it was impossible to give them any answer, and they never got an answer. I expected we should have the answer to-day. It is most necessary we should know what numbers are required for the military purposes of this country. What is the good of the Secretary of State for War telling us his views, which he has done with great force and fulness, with regard to the Regular Army, the Militia, and the Volunteers? We have never heard what the view of the Cabinet was, and we are invited to form our opinions, and to vote money and do all the other parts of our duty without having the fundamental notion of what the wisest and highest authority in the country declares should be the number of men required for the defence of the country and oversea obligations. Now, without any desire that the right hon. Gentleman should pin himself to any particular figure, still I think it would be satisfactory, if we are to think out this thing for ourselves at all, that we should know roughly how many men are required for the oversea and home obligations of the Empire. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman will, 89 I hope, lead to one good result, which will be a considerable reduction in military, and possibly in naval, expenditure; but whether that be so or not, in so far as he has pacified the minds of the timid, and perhaps checked and controlled the minds of those who are more adventurous and ambitious in their ideas, we are under obligations to him.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said he had listened, and the whole House had listened, with intense interest and the greatest admiration to the speech of his right hon. friend the Prime Minister, and he could not help feeling, when he thought of the debates which had taken place in this House during the last twenty years, that one of the great by-products of this Committee of Imperial Defence had been the conversion of the right hon. Gentleman himself, because the arguments he had used, and the grounds he had adopted as the basis of the new policy, had been contested by the right hon. Gentleman in this House for years. It was most interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealing with invasion, because the arguments used there were just those which he in opposition to War Office theories, had used so often in respect to that very question. It was an enormous gain when they found a body set up, to judicially examine naval and military opinion, and to determine on principles of high policy; a body on which experts were to be heard and statesmen were to be the assessors and the judges. That was an enormous advantage, and the House and the country ought to feel indebted to the Government for having called into existence a body which had incidentally an educational function, and had already produced in the minds of Ministers an appreciation of the teachings of history.
There was considerable force in what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had said with regard to numbers, but they would make a very great mistake if they supposed that, at the very commencement of its career the Committee of Imperial Defence could come to absolutely definite conclusions on matters of 90 that kind. Of course it must come to that in the end; it must come to the point of actually fixing the numbers and nature of forces which the necessities of our position required for different purposes. All he wished to point out was that the numbers and nature of forces they had at present on the Estimates were the accidents of the spasmodic action of a Department and not determined by reference to any settled principle at all. They must go cautiously, and having fixed the broad principles of their policy as defined by the Prime Minister to-day, they had not to create but, to adapt and to do away with the vast expenditure upon works and vase, numbers of unorganised units which had been produced under a false impression of what was necessary for the defence of this kingdom. They could not sweep them out of existence at once, but must by degrees eliminate what was in excess of what they needed. Therefore he thought some persons misappreciated the magnitude and difficulty of the problem with which the Government were confronted in bringing about the change in their system and the arrangements necessary for the safety of this Empire in time of war. It appeared to him that the Committee of Imperial Defence was entirely fulfilling those functions for which its creation was advocated. They were now beginning to feel some hope that military policy, instead of being tossed from one side of the House to the other amid much talk without knowledge, would be carefully and scientifically determined upon facts, and that common-sense conclusions would be arrived at; that no matter who was in office there would be a settled policy of defence which both Parties might expect to see continued and developed.
While it was clear that one of the wisest and greatest steps had been taken that could be taken, he considered that those who were really earnest in the House and looked at this problem with a full sense of responsibility must get rid of past prejudices and be content to be guided by the principles now laid down by the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had covered the ground so admirably and completely that it was neither necessary nor desirable to point 91 out where he could have made his case even stronger than he had, for he had made it strong enough, and the great advantage of his speech to-day would be its educational effect on the minds of the House and the country. His right hon. friend had fecussed this question in so perfect a manner, bringing it within the understanding of the meanest capacity in the country, and had thereby advanced in the true direction towards a common-sense understanding by the people.
He quite agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman had said as to St. Lucia, but with regard to that there was one point that he had not mentioned, namely, that the staying power of ships now was infinitely greater than it was in the days of the Carnarvon Commission, and obviously as the staying power of ships increased the necessity for numerous coaling stations all over the world decreased. Therefore St. Lucia, owing to the circumstances of its geographical position and the general effect of modern progress, had ceased to be essentially necessary as a naval base. The increase of speed as well as wireless telegraphy facilitated greatly the power of concentration, and vessels could now be concentrated within any given sea area in a far shorter time than they could in olden days. The whole muddle and mess into which the military policy of this country had got was caused by misappreciation of the effects likely to follow the introduction of steam. That was how it started, and that was where the country went wrong.
His right hon. friend had dispelled any illusion there was that the Committee of Defence was to be anything more than a consultative body, and had repudiated the notion that it was created for the purpose of interfering with Admiralty and War Office administration. He had made it perfectly clear that all the Committee was to do was to investigate problems of high policy. It was, however, questionable whether the influence of the Committee ought not to be exercised over the Admiralty with regard to such big questions as the sale of warships because they were not completely up-to-date, whilst they continued to subsidise mer- 92 chant steamers which were older still and not fitted for war.
With regard to the question of the Auxiliary Forces in reserve, Minister after Minister at the War Office in dealing with this question had always seemed to proceed upon the assumption that such forces in reserve must be fit in all respects to go straight to the front immediately war broke out. This opened a large question of high policy. Their real first line for active service was certainly the Regular Army, and if they took the latest dispositions of the Regular Army they found at home 156,000, in the Colonies and Egypt 61,000, and in India 75,000. Regular forces amounting in all to 292,000 men. Some portion of those forces were garrison forces, but still Regular troops were effective and ready to take the field. There were, therefore, stationed out of India more than double the actual number in India. But they could not be so moved, unless relieved by forces in reserve. Surely, as a broad principle of high policy rather than as a Departmental matter, in dealing with Auxiliary Forces intended for use in war over-sea the object should be to train those forces sufficiently to take the place of the Regular troops at home and in the Colonies, in order that all Regular field troops might be released for active service while they themselves had time to complete their organisation and training so as to form an effective Reserve.
He rejoiced at having lived to hear an explicit statement from a Prime Minister upon principles of policy, giving clear and distinct reasons why those principles should be followed. Too much attention could not be paid to the delicate and difficult question of colonial co-operation for the defence of the Empire as a whole. That question would have to be dealt with, but it must not be unduly hurried. He believed that the Committee of Defence realised the magnitude and gravity of the question. The war in the East emphasised in a remarkable way the importance of the co-operation of all parts of the Empire for Imperial defence, and the more the fundamental lessons of that war were taken advantage of for the purpose of 93 inviting the attention of our fellow-subjects across the seas to this question the better. It was not so much a question of a mere cash contribution by the Colonies—either naval, or military,—for the assistance of the mother country as of the general discharge of obligations to the Empire by the mother country and by all the British Dominions beyond the sea, according to their means and in pursuance of common objects. Looking at the present struggle in the East, one could not help recognising that the efforts now being made by Japan in self-defence could not have been made without long and steady preparation on definite principles and at great national sacrifice. When it was remembered that Japan's revenue before the war was only £28,000,000, and that her naval expenditure was £3,000,000 in the year before the war, while the Imperial revenue of this Empire was in the aggregate close upon £300,000,000, it could not be said that with an expenditure of £30,000,000 on the Navy our Empire had reason to complain of the burden. But the Empire, not these islands alone, should bear it. It was for the Committee of Defence seriously to consider, seeing the magnitude to which the requirements of war had grown, how long we could go on attempting to make adequate provision for the defence of the Empire on the resources of the United Kingdom alone. He was delighted, therefore, to hear the Prime Minister's view, that upon the somewhat unpretentious structure of the Committee of Defence there might grow up something worthy of, and necessary for, the Empire, namely, a great scheme of organised preparation for its defence. The Government which had inaugurated that beginning, and had thus far so wisely developed it, would live in history as having taken the greatest step towards the preservation of the interests of all parts of the Empire in war.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite was so pleased by the adoption of a large portion of his views that he appeared in the unusual light of a thorough-going apologist for the speech of the Prime Minister.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that, at any rate, in his joy at the abandonment of the policy of the Military Works Bill as regarded naval bases, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had left out of sight what could not be forgotten, viz., the gigantic waste of money which had been going on right up to the present time. He welcomed most heartily the portion of the Prime Minister's speech dealing with India, though there were one or two criticisms of detail which he would make—not as criticising the right hon. Gentleman himself, but rather as supporting him against those who might be inclined to attack him—such, for instance, as the hon. and gallant Gentle-min the Member for Stepney. In the last debate on this subject, when he himself ventured to use the arguments and to ask the Questions which the Prime Minister had put forward to-day, the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Stepney instanced an invasion by the Seistan route, and overwhelmed him by arguments which could hardly be employed to-day without being employed against the Government.
As to the speech of the Prime Minister as a whole, why did not the right hon. Gentleman make it earlier, say before the first consideration of the Army or Navy Estimates.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
pointed out that the Vote for the Committee of Defence was included in the Civil Service Estimates.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that was a technicality which could have been easily got over. The statement might have been made on the Address or volunteered on any day. The question of Indian defence lay at the very root of the whole of the Estimates of the year, and the statement of the Prime Minister to-day had given him every satisfaction. All he would say was that if that statement had been made at the beginning of the session there would have been very different debates on the Army Estimates, and possibly on the Navy Estimates, from those which took 95 place. The statement ought certainly to have been made before the important Votes dealing with the men and pay of the Army were taken. It was no use now until next year, and the statement made by the Prime Minister, reassuring as it was, had come somewhat late.
He was going to appear in the unusual, totally unexpected character of a defender of the right hon. Gentleman's views about India instead of an assailant or a critic. He had never held extreme views upon this question. The Prime Minister in his introductory remarks perhaps gave himself a little into the hands of the school of critics represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Stepney, who took an extreme view with regard to the invasion of India. Those views were almost predominantly represented in the Press, and the Prime Minister—playing into the hands of those who would now become his critics—when he spoke of the Russian strategic railways being two in number and distinctly strategic, almost led the House to believe that they were actually on the Afghan frontier. As a matter of fact there was only a single line of any Russian railway—the Murghab branch—which came within 180 miles as the crow flies off the Afghan frontier. As a humorist once remarked, the crow did not fly in Afghanistan, and the straight line was entirely imaginary. It was 200 miles by rail from the Afghan frontier to the junction of the two Russian railways of which the right hon. Gentleman had spoken, namely, from Merv to Kuskh. The Murghab branch was the only Russian line to the Afghan frontier. A new line—the Tashkent-Orenburg Railway—had been made which, eight years ago, they knew would be made, because all along they knew of its construction, and its completion had taken place when they anticipated that it would be completed. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had slightly played into the hands of those who would be his opponents by using language in regard to the construction of railways and interference with the Afghan frontier on the part of Russia, which seemed to imply that there was some new movement of which they had not heard. He used the phrase "the 96 steady advance of Russia." During nineteen years the Afghan frontier had been secured by diplomatic arrangement, and it had not been interfered with. The pillars put up had not been interfered with, and there had been no advance; and they were not in possession of any facts which showed any intention of Russia committing; the dangerous act which the construction of further railways would involve; and therefore he thought the language of the right hon. Gentleman was not quite so well chosen as it might have been to support the admirable character of his argument.
Might he be allowed to answer not the Prime Minister but those who might attack him? There was a conflict between declarations which had been made on behalf of the Government on previous occasions and those which had been made to-day. They did not need to dwell upon alarmist statements, and he welcomed what had been said by the Prime Minister. The whole question of reinforcements for India was affected by a question which touched the second of the Prime Minister's headings. The point he referred to was the possibility of convoying and sending out these troops in an emergency. There had been an extraordinary double change since the Defence Committee had been in existence. Some years ago the Prime Minister told them, speaking on behalf of the Army scheme of the present Secretary of State for India, that it might be necessary to send out three Army Corps at once. At the time he raised the question as to whether the Admiralty would undertake to convoy them, and the Prime Minister threw some doubt upon it.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said if the right hon. Gentleman would refer back to his speech he would find that was so. He admitted very frankly that there was a doubt on the part of the Admiralty as to whether they ought to be called upon to convoy such a force to India. In consequence of this difficulty about convoying, those who took the alarmist view substituted the South African garrison for the reinforcement of India 97 as against the garrison at home. They remembered the memorable debate on that subject in which different views were taken, and the South African view was thrown over, and they reverted to the idea that the Army Corps should be sent from home. This question of convoying troops from England as reinforcements at the beginning of a dangerous war affected the whole of what the right hon. Gentleman called concentration, and he should have to say a word or two upon that matter later on after he had disposed of the Indian case.
The hon. and gallant Member for Stepney's statement was alluded to by the Prime Minister when he spoke of the various routes by which some alarmist Gentlemen thought India could be invaded. The hon. and gallant Member opposite argued against him the other day when he put forward similar views to those which the Prime Minister had stated to-day, and he argued against him as to the possibility of a rapid invasion of India by the Seistan and Balkh routes. The Seistan route was put out of sight by all Russian authorities themselves and also by that eminent geographer Sir Thomas Holdich, who rejected the Seistan route mainly on account of its waterless nature, and he had also rejected the northern routes through Balkh, which alarmed certain people at the present time, and which were perhaps used by the Russian Government from time to time when they wished to scare this country. Sir Thomas Holdich further rejected every route which could be called direct, on account of the difficulty of the country and the fierce hostility of the tribes, and he pointed out that the only route by which a railway could be constructed and by which a formidable invasion could ever be made was the circuitous route by the Persian frontier, the Herat-Girishk-Kandahar route, a route of 360 miles, past our great station of Quetta and our double line of railway, a railway of a very different carrying power from that on which the Russians would be obliged to rely. No, the whole argument had been disposed of to-day, as he hoped, for ever. The Prime Minister had adopted a sensible and reasonable view as to what would be likely to be the attitude of the Afghans themselves in case 98 the Russians tried forcibly to construct railways through Afghanistan, which was the view which every one of the four Russian authorities themselves had always taken. Some very interesting words exactly endorsing these views appeared in M. Lebedeff's book Vers l'Inde published in 1900, in which he says—The subjection of Afghanistan is a difficult job: it will be a new edition of the conquest of the Caucasus, but under conditions exceedingly less favourable, as the English will furnish to the enemy instructors and improved arms.That was the view of the Prime Minister as expressed to-day, and it seemed to him to be a sensible and reasonable view But the Prime Minister had so completely disposed of all the alarmist arguments on this subject, that he felt they would now have to stand there as his defenders and prevent India being used as a ground for maintaining in this country a force larger than that which they would otherwise be disposed to maintain. The Prime Minister had spoken of the possibility of having to send eight divisions to India. That was an Army on the scale to which they had been accustomed in the past. It was now twelve years since they were told that three Army Corps should be sent out.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that a total reconstruction of our Army system will be necessary, and I am afraid that we cannot look forward to any great reduction.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said what he spoke of was an Army on the scale to which they had hitherto been accustomed.
He would now leave the pleasant task of congratulating the Prime Minister on the Indian portion of his speech, with which he was in complete agreement, and he would deal with the second portion. That agreement was sufficient to make it unnecessary for him to go into extreme detail which might have been necessary had there been anything in doubt. The second part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech lent itself to a definite and detailed statement, and although it was no use merely regretting the money that had been wasted and thrown into the sea 99 when a policy had been changed, yet he thought the House of Commons, as the body representing the taxpayer, ought to take note of the enormous waste that had been going on through clinging to a system which had now been abandoned. That led to the suggestion that there must have been a considerable margin of time during which these changes could have been gradually brought into existence. It could not suddenly become right to make sweeping changes, reversing the arguments addressed to the House as recently as two years ago, and reversing the policy which had led to the enormous expenditure that had been going on, and was going on up to the present time. He asked the Committee to remember how far the responsibility for all this expenditure had been on the present occupants of office. He believed that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was created by Lord Rosebery at the end of his Administration in 1895. That was the first form of the Committee. Immediately the new Government came in it assumed its second form, and the Defence Committee of the Conservative Government, formed in 1895 under the presidency of the Duke of Devonshire, lasted for many years, and was composed of substantially the same Gentlemen as were in power now. It was constantly vouched to the House as the great co-ordinating authority, and as the body responsible for expenditure on an enormous scale on principles diametrically opposed to those now held. The third form of the Committee was that which was adopted when the Prime Minister acceded to his present office. The right hon. Gentleman came to this House and at once explained the new form of the Committee on March 5th, 1903. He explained, as he did now, that it was to survey the whole of the strategic needs of the Empire, and he went on to say that there had been differences of policy on the part of successive First Sea Lords and Commanders-in-Chief. But there had been differences of policy in successive Secretaries of State, and there had been differences of policy in the Defence Committee as a whole. There had been a complete change—black to white, A to B—which had involved the country in great cost.
The Committee had heard to-day the extent to which invasion at home was 100 still believed in by the Defence Committee. Those who heard the account would see that it was confined within narrow limits. The bugbear was not terrifying; the bogey had become feeble indeed; and although there had been no reference to-day to the figure 5,000,named by the Secretary of State for War on the authority of the Defence Committee on three occasions, still this little invasion from Brest by ships which were to get here without being noticed was an invasion on that scale. But two years ago invasion was vouched for on the authority of the War Office as a thing against which we had to prepare ourselves at home. In the Memorandum laid before the Colonial Conference on behalf of the War Office invasion was put forward as a thing which was seriously possible. No doubt the grotesque differences in the opinions of the Admiralty and the War Office had produced the change which they now saw. The one had followed the other, but these changes of policy had undoubtedly led to great cost, which in one or two instances he should like to describe.
The fourth and present form of the Defence Committee had led to the change of the Estimates which was so welcome to the House generally last year, but in the welcome extended to this item there was a hope expressed in regard to co-ordination—to use a word which was rejected in the Irish policy, but which was accepted to-day in this matter. Co-ordination in the Irish debate was increased power of the bureaucracy, but he supposed that co-ordination in the naval and military sense had an altogether different definition. Co-ordination, at all events, was a blessed word; it played a part in regard to education, and now it was employed in. connection with military affairs. The opinion was undoubtedly expressed on the Opposition Benches last year, and also in other parts of the House, that co-ordination ought to lead to some reduction in expenditure in either our military or naval Votes. It was firmly expected from the moment that the Government announced their naval view that the reduction would be under the military head, but instead of that 101 the reduction had been on the Navy Estimates, and that had not been accompanied by a reduction of the Army Votes. That had been the amazing effect of the co-ordination looked forward to last year. Not only had the reduction in expenditure been upon the Navy rather than the Army, but there was a tendency to vouch that the Navy was stronger that it was, and to justify the further diminution on the Navy, which; seemed more probable than a diminution on the Army at the present time. The facts which led the House to expect the contrary seamed likely to continue in future from the arguments which were being used. But in the Return for this year the Government were counting the Navy as consisting of fifty-three first-class battleships. They were counting into that list battleships which they had officially declared in the Return before the House as of small fighting value, and which were struck off the list of effective ships of war. His main point was that, by our sudden conversion, we had become aware of the fact that we had wasted enormous sums of money in the last few years.
Had any Member of the Committee calculated how much money had been wasted in the last nine and a-half years by the non-adoption in 1895, when virtually the present Government came into office, of the policy which had been adopted now? The Prime Minister and the Admiralty had answered that question in regard to the past. They had put it in the Memorandum, but he confessed that it read like an after-thought. It was said, "We are making a sweeping change, and we must have a thought-out argument to justify it." The fact that the squadrons were covering larger areas was a found argument, so far as it went, but it did not cover the whole case. The facts were not suddenly new, and the change ought to have been gradual. His main argument was that the Government had broken the pledge that there should be, in consequence of the change of doctrine which had been adopted, a large reduction of military expenditure. The Secretary of State for War, in a book published when he was a private Member, protested against the demand made upon us for unconditional adherence to different and 102 contradictory dogmas within the previous dozen years. But now we had had these changes within the last two years and we had been asked to adopt absolutely contradictory dogmas, with the result that there had been enormous waste. Let them take as a concrete instance the very large reduction that was taking place at the present time in our expenditure at Hong-Kong, where until quite recently an enormously increased expenditure was justified to the House in respect of transactions which were taking place in China. The northern station of Wei-hai-Wei had been abandoned. All these arguments had been pressed on the House in much detail, and now suddenly a reduction took place at Hong-Kong. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Well, there were formerly two battalions of infantry in the garrison. One of these had been taken away altogether, and the other had been reduced. That was a startling concrete instance which had not been explained. One set of arguments were addressed to the House in favour of increased expenditure, and shortly afterwards another policy prevailed. One could not help wondering whether reasons of economy had not entered into such matters—the desire to effect savings to meet increases of expenditure.
There were three Military Works Acts still running. He would show briefly by quotations from the speeches of Ministers the grounds on which these three Acts were passed. The present Secretary of State for India, in presenting the Bill of 1897, said on January 24th—We have been obliged under urgent pressure from the Admiralty. … The opinions of our naval advisers.Speaking on July 27th, 1899, in regard to the second Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover said that "acting on naval advice" the Government made the proposals which, were then brought forward. Referring on August 14th, 1901, to the third Bill now running the Pos master General said the War Office were "bound to accept the judgment of naval experts." The argument that naval opinion required these works was urged on each occasion, and great sums of money had been spent in consequence. Take Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Lucia, and Wei-hai-Wei, 103 and see how much money had been spent on these works in addition to the money from the Votes. On Jamaica it was £32,000; on Bermuda £80,000; on St. Lucia £203,000, in Addition to £70,000 secured from the colony; and on Wei-hai-Wei £53,000; or a total of £368,000. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the great strategical importance of Jamaica compared with St. Lucia; but from Military Works Loans only, in the last two years, there had been spent on St. Lucia £133,000. On March 27th this matter was raised in the House of Lords and Lord Lansdowne said "very large sums of money had been spent on St. Lucia." And on February 23rd a Minister, in answer to a Question in the House of Commons, used these words—St. Lucia will be abandoned as a defended station, and the garrison withdrawn.In the West Indies alone £1,500,000 sterling had been spent since the second form of the Defence Committee came into existence. Although, no doubt, there had been only a gradual adoption of the views which had led to the discontinuance of that expenditure, yet that expenditure ought to have been gradually rather than suddenly discontinued. Now, it was admitted that the expenditure of that money for some years past might have as well been thrown into the sea. The expenditure on the naval bases had been incurred under the Defence Committee since 1895, and most of it since 1897. When the Military Works Bill was before the House in 1899, the hon. Member in introducing it declared that—The greater portion of the money (£3,000,000) would go to naval bases, coaling stations, etc.Now, as to the cadre heresy, the change had not been frankly made, because it involved the view that at the beginning of a war—the most dangerous moment—the Fleets would have to be employed in guarding across the sea the men and machinery to these naval bases. He called that not a frank abandonment of the old conditions. How did the right hon. Gentleman think the Fleet would like to have to convoy these garrisons, dockyard men, and machinery in the event of the outbreak of a war? [An HON. MEMBER: And colliers.] Yes, and colliers. 104 On March 31st the First Lord of the Admiralty used these words—We do not propose to use the dockyards a Halifax, Esquimalt, and Jamaica in time of peace. If war broke out we could at once send out the necessary men and machinery.And on March 13th the Secretary to the Admiralty said that—The establishments at Jamaica and Halifa would remain without men, and stores could be sent out when necessity arose.He contended that that was a heresy; to convoy men and machinery across the sea at the most dangerous period of war! That was a direct reversal of the naval doctrine that the Fleet should be kept free to discharge its primary duties On June 21st, 1899, the hon. Member for Dover spoke of the "readiness of bases in advance being essential to the mobility of the fleet "; and the present Postmaster-General stated on August 14th, 1901, that that was "essential for the safety of the fleet." That doctrine of the mobility of the fleet had always been maintained and had not been with drawn. Here, again, the desire for economy under some heads in order to meet increased expenditure on other might have had something to do with this change in policy. On March 13th the Secretary to the Admiralty said that the new policy had "increased the fighting efficiency of the Navy and his decreased the Estimates." But he we on to say that "the reduction for store arose directly from the reduction of the bases." So that it was the reduction the bases that had effected this economic, At all events the Government had re frankly accepted the new policy, and we now putting before the House the vex dangerous policy of convoying garrison and cargoes of machinery and stores the outbreak of war.
His last argument as to the tent to which the Government here failed to carry out their police bore on the question of the garrison artillery. Their policy was to reduce naval stations; to withdraw the garrison to depend much more than formerly the Fleet; to keep the Regular Army this country as a striking army, and put the necessity of our fixed defence the Militia and the Volunteers. Look the inconsistency of the Government 105 attitude! During the debates on the Works Bills the House was constantly sold that it was necessary to make a large increase in the garrison artillery. One would have supposed that the change of policy would have involved a reduction of the garrison artillery. In the Army General Annual Report "prepared by the Army Council," the Regular garrison artillery before 1899 was over-stated by 16,000. But, taking the real agures, the Regular garrison artillery before the South African War had risen no 19,000. On October 1, 1903, they numbered 23,000; on October 1, 1904, 4,500; and taking the Militia garrison artillery at 13,500, the number at the present moment was 38,000. That number was altogether out of proportion so what it should be under the policy how announced by the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister had given no excuse to the House for the suddenness of the change in policy which ought to have been foreseen years ago before the Government had incurred this enormous waste of expenditure. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That Item E (Committee of Defence, Salaries, etc.), be reduced by £100."—(Sir Charles Dilke.)
§ *MR. PEEL (Manchester, S.)
said he did not know whether it was not rather ungrateful to say that he would have been glad if the Prime Minister had said one or two words more on the second subject touched upon, viz., the question of colonial defence. He should have been further glad if the right hon. Gentleman had been able, after laying down very fully and clearly the general ationnel of Imperial defence, to show the House the necessity for the increase or decrease of the Regular Army, and the distribution of the particular kind of forces required for the defence of this country. As to the question of the defence of India, the Prime Minister spoke of it as being, at the present moment, satisfactory, and one that did not demand any great change, although on a very short time that position might become unsatisfactory and might demand very serious consideration. Now, what would be the effect of a position of the 106 latter kind? At present we had an Army fully equal to the difficulties in India, but in these days changes were rapid and there might be a demand for an increase in the Indian Army. That pointed to the necessity of our having a large Army Reserve, and also to our having, as well, a considerable number of men, a little trained if one liked, who could be converted into a citizen Army.
He wanted to say one word generally upon the new principles that had been described that day by the Prime Minister, because, of course, a full acceptance of all the general principles, which he might roughly call the blue-water school, made a vast change in the policy of this country. He thought he might be pardoned if he lagged behind in this matter both the Prime Minister and the Committee of Defence, and might be strengthened in believing that he took not too presumptuous a view when he recalled that a contrary opinion had been held by the very greatest military authorities. He remembered that only two or three years ago, when the present Secretary for India was introducing his scheme, he spoke of the subject in hand in a very different way. The right hon. Gentleman said you could not run the Empire on the "off chance." In the new principles which had been broadly laid down by the Prime Minister the question of the "off chance" had been, perhaps, to some extent forgotten. We had to look at these matters not only from the point of view of fine strategy as viewed by the Committee of Defence, but from the point of view of the ordinary man in the street. We had not only to consider them calmly as we did when there was no war in being or in prospect, but we had to consider the result on the nation when we were in a condition of disturbance or in a condition of war, and it might be that the principles which we could lay down rigidly for our Army in time of peace might be found a little more difficult to act upon in time of disturbance and in time of war. Governments could not always act upon high principles of strategy. That this was so could be proved by going back to the South African War, during which questions of strategy were often sacrificed to political exigencies. Take the 107 policy of Dundee, the action in regard to which was condemned by all generals and strategists, but which was nevertheless adhered to in deference to the opinions of the people, who were not generals and not strategists, but who in time of war would insist that their will—ignorant as they might be on these matters—must prevail. Therefore he looked with some anxiety to the application of this doctrine. There had been no changes since the speech of three years ago which should induce him to make this change, except that event at Clacton-on-Sea which had made such a deep impression upon the Secretary for War.
It was impossible to say what we should do, or any other country would do, incase of invasion. It was clear that the prize involved by the invasion of this country was so tremendous that it would not matter to France or Germany if they lost 100,000, 200,000, or 300,000 men. The price of that kind which would have to be paid would be absolutely trivial to countries which could command so large a number of men. Allusions had been made as to the enhanced possibilities of invasion because of wireless telegraphy, the improvement of other appliances, and soon, but surely those considerations applied to the attacking force as well as to the defending force, and what could be used by one could be used by the others. Information of that sort would be very useful if one knew where it was. Apart, how ever, from the question whether invasion was or was not possible, how was the matter to be brought closer home to all the people of this country? The Prime Minister by a close argument sought to show that invasion was not possible but he did not seem to have covered the whole of the possibilities. Let them take the hypothesis that when an attack was made the Regular Army was out of the country and the Channel Fleet was required in other than home waters; he was very much afraid that the country would not be thoroughly satisfied with proclamation or pronouncement of the Commissioners of Defence. He was very much afraid that the country would exercise the most tremendous pressure upon the Ministers of the day, and that that might possibly have the effect of preventing the Fleet 108 leaving our shores, although it ought on strategical considerations to go. That would have the effect of preventing the Fleet from being used upon what might be the right strategy. It might therefore be that through the popular feeling of the country acting upon Ministers, they might not carry their conclusions to a logical or clear conclusion.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said he wished to join in the expressions of satisfaction which had been heard on that side of the House, and on the other side also, in regard to the speech of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had done much to reassure them, and his declarations had been in sharp contrast to a great deal which had been said during the last few years as to the necessity for increased expenditure, and as regarded the North-West Frontier of India his declarations had differed a great deal from some opinions which he had expressed before. On the subject of the possible invasion of this country he had only one remark to make. It was not altogether unimportant to observe that the practical conclusion drawn from history was that this country was not likely to be exposed to any foreign invasion, and it was confirmed by the fact that since the landing of William the Conqueror there had been no invasion of this country by a hostile force. That was to say that there never had been any invasion of this country which had not been invited by friends in this country. It was an obvious remark that the conditions had entirely changed. It was true that steam and other scientific discoveries had made a great difference; but they had made a great difference both ways. They had made differences in regard to defence as well as in regard to attack, and, therefore, he thought the general conclusion which should be drawn from history in regard to the invasion of this country against the will of its own people remained true of the future as of the past. The difficulty of invasion remained as great as ever, founded as it was partly upon geographical conditions and partly on the character of our people. Even the landing of William of Orange was done at the bidding of a large party in 109 England who received him with open arms. Therefore he had to congratulate the Prime Minister on arriving by his Committee of Defence at the same conclusion which students of history had come to when they had considered all that history had to say on the subject.
As to the North-West Frontier of India, the right hon. Gentleman had reassured them very much as regarded the views of the Government. He had dealt with appropriate weight, and not more than appropriate weight, upon the enormous physical difficulties which would prevent an advance of Russia through Afghanistan. In addition to the physical obstacles which would be interposed in the way of such an advance, there would be the opposition of the Afghans themselves to be encountered. No more warlike people existed in the whole world, and there was no race winch was more disposed to resent the intrusion of any invaders, as we knew so our cost. The difficulty which would be encountered by an enemy advancing through the Afghan territory to the British outposts would be almost as great in traversing British territory as it was in Afghanistan itself. Their difficulties of transport over the 150 miles to our outposts would be enormous. Those who had long paid attention to this question would be reassured by the words which the right hon. Gentleman had spoken. He wished to know if they might take it that the conclusion arrived at by the Imperial Defence Committee betokened a reduction of Indian expenditure upon the defence of the North-West Frontier and upon the fortresses, which had been an enormous source of expenditure during the last twenty-five or thirty years. That expenditure had been very largely drawn from the resources of the people, and a good deal of it, he was afraid, had been wasted. He understood the Bolan Railway had now been abandoned as it was not regarded as being any longer needed for strategic purposes. But those who remembered the Russian scare in 1885 would remember that enormous sums of money were spent on new railway construction both before and after that time, and particularly upon that line which traversed the Bolan Pass. One would like to know whether all that 110 expenditure had come to an end, because it had been a very heavy drain upon India, and he was afraid a good deal of it had been wasted. If this heavy drain for military expenditure could be stopped a great deal could be done for the internal development of India. He should like to emphasise the extreme importance of keeping taxation at the lowest point possible.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the Committee had heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister a most interesting statement, and one, which, on the whole, would be received with satisfaction by the House. But it had certainly illustrated in a special degree the danger of treating in the House those high questions of strategy which must be entertained and decided by such a body as the Committee of Defence, but which in their essence and more acute forms should be restricted, he thought, to that Committee alone. It was impossible to discuss frankly and freely in the House questions of strategy without very great danger of arousing susceptibilities that had better be left untouched. It was probably unavoidable that, in the right hon. Gentleman's statement, he should have had to take the concrete instance he did of a possible invasion of these islands by a specific Power and the possible invasion of India by another specific Power. At the same time it was calculated to give rise to some misapprehension, and he thought it was well that some Member of the House should emphasise the fact that the Prime Minister only took these as supposititious cases and that no further notice need be taken of the matter. It would not be, he knew, by the Governments of the two countries interested, and he hoped that would be the case also with regard to the Press of both countries concerned. It would be most unfortunate if an impression got abroad that the Prime Minister or any Member of that House apprehended that we were in danger of an invasion of India by Russia or of these islands by France.
There was one passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which certainly was of very great concern; that was the passage in which 111 he referred to railways in Afghanistan. The right hon. Gentleman said that railways in Afghanistan must not be made in time of peace, and that any attempt to build railways in Afghanistan would be looked upon as an act of aggression towards this country. As that phrase stood it applied not merely to the building of railways by Russia, but to the building of railways by the Afghans themselves. The right hon. Gentleman, however, made use of another phrase which he hoped put another complexion on the matter. The right hon. Gentleman said the Afghans would certainly obtain the assistance of the British in defending their independence. Therefore, what he understood the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with reference to railways in Afghanistan to mean was that there was supposed to be some risk of Russia putting pressure on Afghanistan to obtain concessions for making railways in that country by Russian capital and Russian hands, and that if that were pressed to such a point as to require further assistance towards resistance by Afghanistan such assistance would be given by Great Britain. If that was the right construction to put on the right hon. Gentleman's statements, he welcomed them. He hoped it was understood in India that the best way of defending the frontier was to leave the quick-set hedge of Afghanistan where it was, between us and Russia, and that, if we were to move at all in Afghanistan, it should be in the direction of assisting the Afghans when they wanted assistance, and of avoiding any interference on our part tending to anything like the conquest of that country.
He wholly agreed with the view of the Prime Minister that a serious invasion of these islands was impossible, or at any rate impracticable, though he did not entirely agree with the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman had given for that conclusion. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman placed too little reliance on the battleship and the cruiser, and too much reliance on the submarine and the torpedo-boat destroyer His own firm conviction was that belief in the submarine had been far too much ex- 112 aggerated. He would not say that the submarine was useless, but it was extremely restricted in its uses, and he should be sorry indeed if the impression were to go abroad that it was no longer the battleship and the cruiser we were to rely upon for our naval defence, or that we were to put them practically aside in order to place our chief reliance on the submarine and the torpedo-boat destroyer.
He also agreed with the Prime Minister that an invasion of India was impracticable. During the right hon. Gentleman's speech he ventured to suggest to him that the Kandahar route was the one which had to be watched. That was the route which conquerors of India had followed in the past, and which would-be conquerors of India would have to follow in the future. But the main defence of India, lay in the fact that we held, as he trusted we should, the command of the sea and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and it was from the sea by Kurachee that the relieving armies would come if it was necessary to reinforce the garrison of India. Here he came to what he thought was the most serious development of the debate. Since the existence of the Committee of Defence there had been a complete reversal not merely of our naval policy, but of the very conception upon which that policy was founded. Ever since we took Gibraltar the basis of our policy had been the obtaining of stations at useful strategic points in various parts of the world, and as the world became larger so our desire for coaling stations increased. The recent action of the Admiralty, which must have been taken with the concurrence and after the consideration of the Defence Committee, involved the abandonment of our naval bases almost all over the world with the exception of Gibraltar. The abandonment of Jamaica was a very serious matter, inasmuch as Jamaica was taking upon itself at the present time, in consequence of the proximate construction of a Panama canal, a far greater importance than it had ever before possessed. Let the Committee think, too, of our long Eastern line of communication. We had a station at Aden and another at Hong-Kong. The principal strategic point between those two stations was Trincomalee, which was one of the great strategic points of the whole world. 113 We had been at great expense in fortifying Trincomalee; it had the most perfect deep-water land-locked and defensible harbour in the world, but without a word of explanation it was now being disarmed and the buildings put into the hands of caretakers. It was no use saying that we had Colombo on the other side of Ceylon, for as Colombo was an extremely bad harbour, indefensible and undefended, and so open to the south-west monsoon that the small guns had to be taken away along the mole when the monsoon broke. He was not prepared to say that this policy was wrong, but it was such a fundamental reversal of the naval policy pursued by successive Boards of Admiralty for over two centuries that he was surprised no explanation or defence of it had been given.
Another great alteration in naval policy was represented by the getting rid of obsolete ships. He believed that course of action to be right, but the Committee ought to be told upon what grounds so serious a step had been taken. Parliament had a right to ask why at this moment, after successive Boards of Admiralty had been adding to the Fleet and keeping the old ships, a resolution had suddenly been arrived at that ships which we formerly thought to be useful were now considered wholly mischievous, and that it was better to have few ships of modern date than to have a large number more or less obsolete. It was all the more necessary that the principle upon which this step had been taken should be stated, because since the decision had been come to it had been claimed that some of the vessels held to be obsolete were not obsolete at all, but were useful for many purposes. He regretted, therefore, that no explanation of this change of policy had been given.
This question of the naval bases had its most strange example in the case of Rosyth. That base was decided upon and the land bought in 1903 after the Committee of Defence came into existence; therefore it must have been with the concurrence of that body. The intention must have been to make Rosyth a great naval base, as it would have been utterly indefensible to spend so large a sum of 114 money if it had been intended to make it a mere coal hole. Why, then, the alteration?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. PRETYMAN, Suffolk, Wood-bridge)
§ MR. PRETYMAN
I absolutely deny it. I do not know whence the hon. Gentleman derives his information. I have never said so.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he was speaking not of what the hon. Gentleman had said, but of what was being done. He was dependent for his information upon the usual sources. If the hon. Gentleman declared that the gentlemen sent to Rosyth to prepare plans for a great base had not been taken away, and that the works were being proceeded with as originally intended, that would touch what he was saying.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
The work has been done exactly in accordance with the principle that was laid before this House on the introduction of the Naval Works Bill. In the first place, a staff was to be sent to Rosyth to prepare plans, and not to start constructing works. That staff has been sent there, and plans have been prepared; and, so far as these plans are concerned, there is no further necessity for the work to be continued. That the works arising out of those plans have been abandoned is a pure myth from beginning to end. It appears to be a habit in the newspapers in this country to follow the movements of certain individuals, and then to draw totally unwarranted deductions from them. This deduction is totally unwarranted. It will be the duty of the Admiralty, in due course, to lay before this House proposals regarding Rosyth, 115 and the suggestion that because certain individuals who have been preparing plans there have finished their work and left, therefore Rosyth has been abandoned, is absolutely without foundation.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he gathered from the hon. Gentleman's statement that Rosyth wad still to be a great naval base, and that all the works necessary for that purpose were to be constructed in due course. If that were so, he seriously regretted it. He had hoped that the Committee of Defence had put a stopper on this most foolish and unstrategic expenditure of money on a place which was not so good as any one of our existing great naval bases. The coast of Europe from Ushant to the Elbe might be regarded almost as a straight line, with its centre at Calais, while the British coast line from Calais up to the Firth of Forth was not parallel with the coast of Europe, as so many people seemed to imagine, but at a right angle to it. That being so, it would be seen that the nearest point and the most advantageous position from which to act upon the coast of Europe was not Rosyth but Chatham, which was nearer to any coast against which we might have to operate, was just as near to any of the seas in which we might be concerned, and was far nearer our own other bases of Portsmouth and Plymouth. Consequently there was no strategic advantage in having another base in the position of Rosyth. The selection of Rosyth as a great naval base was, in fact, a grave strategic mistake, and he had strongly hoped that the Committee of Defence had recognised the fact and remedied the mistake. He was extremely sorry to hear that that was not the case, but that these most useless and unnecessary works, from a strategic point of view, were to be continued.
He had come down to the House expecting to hear something about the constitution of the Committee of Defence and its working, instead of which the Committee had had a most important and interesting strategic speech from the First Lord of the Treasury. He thought they were entitled to hear something more of the Committee of Defence than they had yet heard. In February, 1903, 116 when the Committee was introduced, it was done in the shape of an abstract Resolution, and they were then told that it was a tentative proposal. The Prime Minister repeated that on August 2nd, 1904, when he said that the Committee was still tentative and embryonic. Had it now ceased to be tentative and embryonic, and had it taken such a form that they might reckon upon it as a permanent institution for deciding strategic questions? If he understood the Prime Minister aright, he was looking forward to the time when the Committee of Defence would include representatives from the Colonies. His own private opinion was that they had better keep their strategic Committee to themselves. Although it might be advisable to bring colonial representatives before the Committee of Defence they ought not to form part of the Committee, but should be called before it, as the Attorney-General was, simply to give advice, and should not form a part of the Committee itself. If they were to form part of the Committee of Defence, great difficulties would arise, for they would have to have representatives from each colony. But the Colonies differed in material and in strategic importance. The strategic importance of Australia, for instance, was very great, and the problems that would arise in regard to the defence of Australia would be of far greater import than the problems of defence in connection with other colonies and smaller places. How, then, could they have colonial representatives on the Committee on equal terms with equal power?
The right hon. Gentleman had dwelt at great length upon the question of a possible invasion of these islands, and he had demonstrated clearly that it was impracticable. He had also dwelt upon the question of a forcible invasion of India, but he gave the go-by, perhaps for want of time, to the question of the defence of the Colonies. Now that was one of the most difficult of all the questions with which the Committee of Defence had to deal. He did not allude to the question of expense, although that was serious enough, but when they had to consider the defence of colonies such as the Cape, Australia, Hong-Kong, Canada, to the Western coast of North 117 America, they raised questions of the highest strategic importance. These were questions as to which he was sure they would have been glad to hear something.
He had not himself been entirely satisfied with the constitution of the Committee of Defence. Members should remember that it was formed in order to supplant the old Cabinet Committee of Defence. It now consisted of eight persons, four of whom were still Cabinet Ministers, two others were the Military Commander-in-Chief and the Naval First Sea Lord, and the remaining two were the heads of the Naval and Military Intelligence Departments. Therefore, they had a body composed of very unequally graded officers, and he conceived a great difficulty in getting, for example, the head of the Intelligence Department to stand up against his superior the First Lord of the Admiralty. Those inequalities ought to have been avoided in the constitution of this Committee. One point his right hon. friend had insisted on was that this Committee should not be executive in any respect, and that it was, and ought to be, only an advisory body. He thought that was quite right. But one essential advisory element was still lacking. He had always urged that on this Committee there ought to be an international lawyer to answer questions which he was sure the Prime Minister would agree constantly arose in discussing the practical questions involved in war. He also still thought the Committee should have a permanent secretary and archivist. It was all important that some element of permanence should be given to this Committee, because the four Cabinet Ministers were here to-day and gone to-morrow, and the other four officials on the Committee, at the most, only served an average of five years in their particular positions. Consequently, they had a changing body without a sufficient element of permanence. He agreed, however, that the present Committee of Defence was undoubtedly an improvement upon the old system of having merely a Cabinet Committee. That was simply a section of the Cabinet which advised itself. He understood that still further improvements were to be made, 118 and certainly they had, on the whole, reason to congratulate themselves to-day upon the very serious and important conclusion the Defence Committee had arrived at with regard to the invasion of these islands and to the defence of India.
§ *MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said he thought that a good deal of this debate had travelled on ground which had not much connection with the Committee of Defence. Various interesting topics had come before the Committee, but this new element in our Constitution had received rather less attention than it deserved. Speaking for himself he could not regard the various military and naval hypotheses discussed that afternoon as nearly so important or tangible as the real question before the Committee. The Committee of Defence had to deal with problems greater than any other Department, greater than those of the Army and Navy, and they required to be handled with the very highest naval, military, and civilian skill which could be brought together for that purpose. The Prime Minister, in his very interesting speech, raised a corner of the curtain and gave them some indication of the kind of work which the Committee of Defence was doing. He thought the most powerful criticism made on his speech came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, who pointed out what the consequences of even two years of this sort of close examination might achieve. It was clear that in the past millions of money had been thrown into the sea, and still more millions had been expended on useless military works, and, if the kind of attention now being given by the Committee of Defence had been given to the matter in years gone by, the country would have been a good deal richer thin it was at the present time.
He thought they were very much indebted to the Prime Minister for the consecutive sketch he gave of the work the Defence Committee had been doing. It was obvious that in the framing of that Committee the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to very great credit 119 the idea which underlay his conception of it had been that they could not govern any more, in the vast problems to be dealt with, entirely by Departments. There must come in questions which were too big for any one Department and which must be handled by the Government as a whole and by the head of the Government. In order to handle them the Government must have expert assistance on a scale which it never could have in any mere Departmental inquiry. A further element at the bottom of the conclusion to which the right hon. Gentleman had come must have been the point of continuity. That was a very important point in this connection. If they were going to work out problems of naval and military strategy they must have available for future Ministers some record of the deliberations and the decisions come to. In other words, an element of continuity must run through Imperial policy, however great Party changes might be. It would have been better if we had had continuity in the past. Look at the enormous contrast between the position in which we stood to-day, and the position in which we did stand. In another place a Motion was going to be made for the printing of the famous letter of the Duke of Wellington as to the invasion of these islands. If they looked about they could find half-a-dozen declarations of the most eminent soldiers of the most alarmist character, and they might find an equal number of declarations of admirals from Lord Nelson downwards in a contrary direction. Up to now there had been no record of the systematic consideration of them, and no examination of them by anybody able to deal with them. It would be useful to know what the Defence Committee thought in 1905, in 1910, and in 1915. By having this record they would have something very much more reliable than anything open to them up to the present moment. On a Committee of this kind they could get expert assistance such as could not be got in any mere Departmental arrangement. One did not wish to mention individuals in this connection, but he might be allowed to say that Sir George Clarke was a valuable functionary in work of this kind, and 120 he could bring to the work an amount of knowledge which would not be easy to find if he was bound by the traditions of the Department to which he belonged. In addition to the best naval and military talent, they got in the Defence Committee business talent, which, in his opinion, counted for a great deal. For that reason alone he thought the Committee would be a valuable one. He was not sure that it was an example that should stop with naval and military matters. A good deal could be said for a similar arrangement in the administration of the Colonial and Foreign Offices, and also in connection with questions which concerned our foreign relations and involved so much that they could not be relegated to one Department.
§ *MR. HALDANE
said he knew it was so in regard to colonial defence. Take, for instance, for the sake of a concrete illustration, such a question as that of Alaska. That was a matter that concerned the affairs of the Dominion Government, and not only the Colonial Office or the Foreign Office. One would have thought that was a matter which a Committee with a wide survey—an Imperial Committee and not merely a British Committee—would be capable of handling with great force. It would be extremely interesting to learn from the Prime Minister that even the germ of such an idea had been attained. He did not think the matter stopped even with such things as these. He believed that right through the organisation of the Executive of this country there was room for co-ordination and for bringing out the power of expert assistance in a manner they would never have so long as they looked to the Department itself. He felt that the example of the Defence Committee was one which this Ministry or future Ministries might do well to follow up with the view to bringing the Executive of the country into considerably better condition than it was at present.
The question of Indian defence was a most thorny and difficult one, and he felt there was very much force in the remark 121 of the Prime Minister that one fortnight of Lord Kitchener at home sitting with the Defence Committee was worth months of despatches. When they got to the supreme problem of the relation between the military and naval defence of this country they had a question which had been engaging the attention of successive Governments for a quarter of a century past. For the first time they had something like a chance of getting an intelligent view of the relations of these two branches of Imperial defence. If we had had these things before no one could doubt that we should have been enormously better off. We should have had an Army scheme by this time, and we should have had a saving of that money which had been thrown away by following out a ridiculous and antiquated policy. A Committee appointed in Lord Palmerston's time had given rise to a tradition under which more money had been thrown away on military works than had happened under almost any other head. They might have had something of a clear view as to what was to be the nature of the distribution of the naval forces of the country. They had got this great change in the nature of things that there was hardly a sphere in which this Committee of Defence was not important. He assented to the doctrine of the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean, that although they had had some interesting announcements in regard to Indian defence, which, if studied alone, would have justified all the trouble taken in starting that Committee, it was not until their work was done that they should know what they were going to open. For his own part he believed that they should owe much to that Committee, and that it would increase in importance.
He believed that in respect to the scientific organisation of Executive Government the example of that Committee could not be put into force too soon. Take, for instance, the subject of public health. New diseases were appearing; the very question of the air breathed by soldiers at the higher altitudes and by miners in the depths of the earth had to be investigated; and that was a subject which no Department was at present fit to deal with. What was wanted was expert Committees to deal 122 with all that group of questions. His own belief was that they would not have the best standard of Executive Government unless some such bodies were constituted to which could be assigned all these subjects and which should work under the Prime Minister directly. Now, the Defence Committee was the first step in that direction—a step which might be followed in the future with great advantage. He regarded the debate they had had that day as one of the most interesting to which he had ever listened, and it gave an illustration of the working out of a new principle with which they would be very familiar before the country was much older.
§ *MAJOR EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
said they had had from the Prime Minister a statement the importance of which it was impossible to over-estimate. They had heard a great deal in regard to the larger subjects with, which the Committee of Defence had had to deal; but he would like, only in a spirit of inquiry, to know what the exact position of that Committee was, not only in time of peace, but in the very critical and anxious time that immediately preceded the outbreak of war. There was no subject more important to be considered when it was remembered that it was at the junction-point between the politician and the strategist that the most serious breakdown took place in the arrangements connected with the South African War.
The Defence Committee as now constituted was the outcome of a long series of demands made for, (1) a new co-ordination of political and military forces; (2) of military and naval forces, and (3) a new conception of the purposes for which our Army, Navy, Volunteers, and Militia existed. As to the relation between the political and military elements, the change was en-bodied in the creation of the new and reformed Defence Committee. That for the future would be the apex of our military organisation and the principal point of contact between strategists and politicians. It was at this junction-point in the military and political machinery that the old system broke down, and, 123 while not wishing in any way to rake up past controversies, he did think it of the utmost importance that we should closely examine the new system by the light of past experience with the old, and, if possible, profit by that experience.
The history of what occurred during the summer of 1899 was highly instructive. Then, as now, there was in the first place a Defence Committee, but it met seldom and had no very clearly defined functions or responsiblity. It was, however, a purely advisory body and decided no point. Next they tried the Commander-in-Chief, who, at that time, was entrusted with the duty of preparing strategical schemes. The Intelligence Department was directly subordinate to him. There was then the Army Board which, allowing for the change made by the abolition of the Commander-in-Chief's office, and the substitution of a Chief of the General Staff, had a composition closely resembling that of the Army Council. The Minutes of the Army Board during the period up to September, 1899, made it clear that in the opinion of that Board the main difficulty was the refusal of sanction to the expenditure of £640,000 on preliminary preparations. The demands of the Board were disregarded until too late, and it might be said broadly that the opinion of every responsible military adviser was overruled in deference to political considerations. Everybody knew how costly this eventually proved to be, and how nearly it led to complete disaster. No lesson of the war seemed to him to be more important, and their time was not wasted by asking themselves how far the position of to-day was an improvement upon that of days gone by.
They had now, as before, the Committee of Defence, but it had been reorganised beyond recognition, and had had added to it a permanent military secretariat. Its functions were to—Deal with questions of national defence, and to foresee Imperial requirements.while the Army Council—Freed from routine, will find the time and the means to direct military policy, to foresee military requirements, and to frame the measures of organisation, the neglect of which in time of peace entails disaster or ruinously expensive improvisation in war.124 Important as the controlling power of the Army Council was under this definition, it concerned only one of the services and was, therefore, necessarily subordinate to the coordinating head of all the Departments concerned in the conduct of, and in the preparations for, war. What he was afraid of was that between these two bodies, the Army Council necessarily more or less subordinate to the Committee of Defence, there might be, as there was before, a conflict of military opinion with regard to preparations, and, therefore, the shifting of responsibility from one body to another with the disastrous results that they knew occurred in 1899.
He would endeavour to forecast how this system and machinery would work in actual practice. Apparently, if a campaign were probable, the plans matured by the military general staff, under the supervision of its chief, would be presented to the Army Council, in order that the heeds of the Departments might express their opinion and explain their requirements under the scheme. It did not follow that the plans would be adopted. If the strategical scheme proposed were accepted, it would come under the consideration of the Defence Committee, who would have the task of co-ordinating it with naval plans, and, possibly, of bringing it into accordance with the views of the India and Colonial Offices. At this stage it might be modified, held in abeyance, or rejected; and it might conceivably have to meet the competition of plans that had been independently devised by the professional advisers of the Defence Committee, who would probably prefer their own ideas and criticise others in a damaging way even if they did not oppose them. If the scheme of the military general staff were adopted, it would be remitted by the Defence Committee as an advisory committee to the Cabinet, and, if it had the cordial approval of the Secretary of State for War and the Prime Minister, it would doubtless be accepted by the Government, unless the financial objections of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were held to be insuperable. But in the course of these three processes there was so much opportunity for division of opinion and for the lapse of responsibility that it 125 seemed doubtful whether the safeguard which a military general staff ought to supply to the nation would really be obtained. To make sure of that advantage, the best possible plan for a given contingency must not only have been thought out beforehand but it must be put into execution unfalteringly at the right time. To repeat what he had said before, the military organisation provided by the Committee of Three in their Report seemed to be almost above criticism, but there appeared to be no adequate security against a dangerous breakdown "at the old place—the junction-point of the military and political machinery." Personally he would have preferred to have seen the responsibility of strategical preparations thrown upon the general staff of the Army as in the case of the German general staff. He would far rather have seen fewer links in the chain—fewer opportunities for the evasion of responsibility. The Continental plan of organisation seemed to him preferable. In Germany the great general staff was alone responsible for the preparation of all strategical plans, and when the soldiers had to be called in there was one recognised authority who was looked to for advice. A multiplicity of advisers in the varying powers, influence, and authority, was, he thought, bad. Apart, however, from that criticism he did feel that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet had done, and was doing, enormously valuable work, and he rejoiced in its appointment.
With regard to the question of an advance on India, he was bound to confess that in the most important and weighty remarks made by the Prime Minister on the subject it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman was somewhat optimistic. He did not think the Prime Minister in what he said meant to go so far as some of the inferences drawn from his remarks in the course of the debate seemed to imply. The right hon. Member for Aberdeen had taken advantage of what the Prime Minister had said to express a hope that military expenditure in India would be immediately diminished, and that the taxation of the people would be reduced, and the hon. Member assumed that all danger in India was at an end. He was quite sure that the Prime Minister 126 entertained no such view as that, and he should be very sorry to feel that any such inference could be drawn from his remarks. He thought this optimism was based upon certain misconceptions, one of which was that the Russian difficulties with regard to supplies were insuperable. That, again, was based upon the idea that Russian troops would require the same sort of elaborate supply and transport that our own troops required. It was nothing of the kind. In that country Russian troops would travel very lightly, and nothing approaching the supply and transport that we should require for the Indian Army would be required by such a force as they would use. Then, again, there was a misconception with regard to the Tash Kent line. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean seemed to imagine that that line was built as a strategic line, but its main purpose was to tap the inexhaustible wheat fields in Western Siberia. The almost insuperable difficulties in regard to supplies which formerly existed were now therefore at an end. This was one consideration which he was sure would enter into the calculations of Lord Kitchener.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he contended that time was the essence of this thing. His whole point turned on the time.
§ *MAJOR EVANS GORDON
said that was a very important question, but he himself had never said anything about rapidity. He had always had regard to this danger, but if it came it must come slowly. The Khusk terminus of the Russian Railway was exactly the same distance from Herat as was the terminus of our railway from Kandahar. It was admitted that if Russia pushed forward Herat must fall into her hands, they would then push their railway on to Herat. What was this country under those circumstances going to do? If we were going to fight Russia he did not suppose we should sit down and wait for her to come down the Indus line, therefore we should have to advance to Kandahar. If we were going to let her take Herat and establish herself in 127 Afghanistan, and were going to wait for her to come down the Indus line, then goodbye to India. In his opinion that altered the situation enormously, and therefore he viewed any reduction in our Army with very great alarm. It was perfectly possible for such a situation to come about and if ever it did it would be necessary to have immense Reserves in this country to guard against the blow which might be aimed by Russia against the heart of India.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)
said the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down could not have remembered what he himself had said in that House some time ago on this subject, when the sole ground for the then proposed increase of the Army was the defence of India, because he then pointed out that the invasion of India if it came at all must come slowly, and that there must be a reduction of the Army because it was impossible to keep up the expenditure on the Navy and Army too. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on that occasion argued that it was precisely because the Indian problem was pressing and urgent that we must continue with the Army Corps scheme which the hon. Member and some other Members on the Unionist side were then condemning on the ground that the number of men demanded by the scheme was far too great. The only reply they got to their criticisms was that it was necessary for the defence of India. The problem of India did not now appear to be so pressing and urgent as it was at that time. Were they now to assume that the whole situation was changed?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he was afraid he saw no chance of diminishing the number of troops in the Indian Army.
§ MAJOR SEELY
said the result of that was that the reinforcement of the Indian Army was the real reason for keeping up the Reserves.
As to the Committee of Defence, he could not say a word against its formation as he was one of those who, with Lord Charles Beresford, urged that such a body should be constituted, but Members had reason to ask what the 128 Committee had done since its establishment. The Prime Minister had laid down three propositions, viz., that invasion was impossible, that concentration was desirable, and that the Indian problem though dangerous was not pressing. Those propositions were all arguments in favour of reducing the Regular Army and increasing the Navy, and yet the Prime Minister, while laying down those propositions, had not said a word in justification of the fact that this year the Army Estimates were increased and the Navy Estimates reduced. They might listen to what the Prime Minister said, but it would be better to regard what he and his Government did. Personally he did not agree that there was no danger of invasion, but, if the view of the Government was correct, by so much the more was it necessary to decrease the expenditure on the Regular Army in order to have more to spend on the Navy. According to the right hon. Gentleman the country was to rely upon submarine boats, torpedo craft, and battleships, and yet the number of our ships was being decreased to an unparalled extent, both by the direct reduction of the Navy Votes and by the getting rid of obsolete vessels. In view of the statement made on behalf of the Committee of Defence, he strongly protested against the increase in the Army Estimates and the reduction in the Navy Estimates.
He was inclined to doubt the wisdom of accepting the decisions of the Committee of Defence as unimpeachable In 1902 the Prime Minister declared that the great difficulty with such Committee was that the experts were always wrong In the case of the South African War the right hon. Gentleman said the military experts without exception were wrong. I now appeared that the Committee Defence were going to rely upon the sailors. The right hon. Gentleman would hardly deny that most of the proposition he had that day laid down were furnished by his Admiralty advisers, and would not have been agreed to by his military any visors, at any rate a few months ago. But were the naval advisers general right? Before their views were whole accepted it would be well to look at the record. On every occasion, when the 129 Admiralty had been appealed to for advice, they had been utterly and helplessly wrong. When steam was first introduced into the navies of the world the Admiralty in a Memorandum declared that—They felt it their bounden duty on national and professional grounds to discourage to the utmost of their ability the employment of steam vessels, as they considered the introduction of steam was calculated to strike a fatal blow at the naval supremacy of the Empire, and to accede to the request preferred would be simply to let in the thin edge of the wedge.So bitterly was the introduction of steam into the Navy opposed by the Admiralty in 1834! Then, in regard to armoured ships, the Admiralty were unanimously of opinion that it would be most unwise to put armour on ships, and it was not until on two occasions it had been proved that unarmoured ships were absolutely at the mercy of armoured vessels that they altered their view. The Admiralty were equally wrong in their decisions with regard to breech loading guns, torpedo craft—both boats and destroyers, submarines, and cap shot. Possibly the result of their opposition was not so serious at the time in the matter of submarines, but in the other five instances, at any rate, this country was put in a state of naval inferiority through the refusal of the Admiralty to recognise modern inventions and discoveries. These were the men upon whom complete reliance was now to be placed, and the Committee was asked to adopt a principle which for a seventh time would leave the country absolutely defenceless if Ministers had their way. He hoped the Prime Minister would give some indication of what he really meant to do with the Regular Army.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.