§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
rose to call attention to the Report of the War Office Reconstitution Committee, and to ask for information. He said:—I beg to call your Lordships' attention to the Report of the War Office Reconstruction Committee. Many of the recommendations of the Committee have already 645 been acted upon by the Government, I but we are not aware if it is their intention to adopt the whole of the Report. Business-like in its brevity, the Esher Committee spares details. Consequently it requires explanations which can be best elicited by questions. I agree with the Committee that their scheme of administration must be taken as a whole, and that, loyally worked, it will succeed, but that "interference with the principles upon which it is based will necessarily destroy its benefits." I sincerely trust that the Government may be able to inform your Lordships that it is their intention to adopt the Report in its entirety —a hope not inconsistent with a wish for information and for assurances on certain points which seem to call for safeguards.
I must remind your Lordships of the sequence of important events which preceded the appointment of the Esher Committee. First, the outbreak of war in October, 1899; then the general election which took place in November, 1900, when the Ministry was recast, Mr. Brodrick succeeding to the War Office. In December, 1900, the Clinton Dawkins Committee was appointed to inquire into the administration of the War Office and they reported in May. 1901. A year after, in May, 1902, peace was declared. The Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the military preparations and other matters connected with the war in South Africa in September, 1902, reporting in July, 1903. I find in the Report of the Royal Commission on the South African War the following reference to the Report of the Clinton Dawkins Committee—The recommendations of the Clinton Dawkins Committee can hardly be said to have been carried out until the permanency on which it insisted is more fully secured.That reference is made especially to the War Office administration. The Commissioners, referring to the whole military system, express regret that—they are not satisfied that everything is being done to place matters on a better footing in the event of another emergency.Added to the Report are two notes, one by Lord Esher suggesting the reconstruction of the War Office, and one by Sir George Goldie. Sir George Goldie writes—I heartily concur in the hope expressed in paragraphs 270 and 272 of the Report that the 646 state of affairs in 1899 cannot recur. This hope on my part is a wish and not an expectation.The opinions I have quoted were recorded nearly four years after the commencement of the war, and two years after the Report of the Clinton Dawkins Committee. It is clear that the War Office needed reconstruction, but that, if left to the War Office, reform would be postponed till that convenient season which always comes too late. July, 1903, when the Royal Commission reported, was not a moment when the nation could sit down and rest. Last summer signs were not wanting of the storm which has now burst in the Far East and will revolutionise all the problems of naval and military strategy in that quarter of the world. Under these circumstances the Government decided to tolerate no further delay, but at once to rebuild the War Office on a cleared site. I cannot agree with the criticism that the Government has acted with undue haste. On the other hand every single circumstance called for immediate action, and I desire to thank the Government for their promptitude.
Coming to the Report itself, I would begin by referring your Lordships to Table A, which is on the third page of the third part of the Report. Table A is described as a diagram showing the proposed system for dealing with questions of Imperial Defence. Commencing at the very head, we have the Sovereign, Parliament, the Cabinet, the Prime Minister (President of the Committee of Imperial Defence), then the Committee of Defence with its two sub-headings. The first sub-heading gives the members representing the. Army, the Navy, India, and the Colonies, etc., the etc. opening a wide door. The second sub-heading shows the secretariat for the collation of information for the Defence Committee, and for the maintenance and custody of records. The evidence given before the South African War Commission has, of course, a very direct bearing on the changes proposed by the Esher Committee. One of their most important recommendations, and one which has been adopted, is the abolition of the office of the Commander-in-Chief. Mr. Brodrick, in his evidence before the South African War Commission, expressed the opinion that this office must be retained, and that 647 there is no possible substitute for the supreme power of the Commander-in-Chief. In the right hon. Gentleman's own words—The sentiment of the Army is and always has been to look to the Commander-in-Chief.I altogether dissent from that view, and I cordially concur with the emphasis laid by the Esher Committee on the allegiance of the Army to the King. It is the King whom the Army serves. It is the King's Commission officers hold. It is the King's shilling that recruits accept. It is to the King alone that the Army looks as its national Commander.
Alike to Crown and Parliament the Secretary of State for War is responsible. But has not that responsibility which Parliament demands from the Secretary of State for War been affected by the recommendations of the Esher Committee. In the first place it is affected by the interposition between Parliament and that Minister of the Imperial Defence Committee, of which, so far as I can make out, he is not necessarily a member. I say "not necessarily" because the Esher Committee insist on the absolute discretion vested in the Prime Minister as to the selection and variation of the members of the Defence Committee. (Report, Part I. p., I.) In the second place it is affected by the association of the members of the ArmyCouncil with him as colleagues. I quote paragraph 5, page 5, and Part II. of the Report—The responsibility of the Secretary of State for War to Parliament and to the country for the administration of the military forces will in no sense be diminished, but it will be shared by the members of the Council.How can the military members of the Army Council share the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War to Parliament? No doubt the Secretary of State will speak with his military colleagues at his back, and this association will strengthen the authority of his utterances. The point is whether this addition to his authority has not been secured by dividing his responsibility. We all desire decentralisation, but decentralisation must not lessen the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War to the Crown and Parliament. I trust that the Government will be able to assure your Lordships that none of the changes impair the constitutional safeguard that the Secretary 648 of State for War is individually responsible to the Crown and Parliament for every detail in the administration of his Department, whether he knew the facts or was ignorant of them.
Parliament alone can determine the question of the principles of our military policy. All depends on this. It is a point which has baffled the War Office in the past, and will, if not decided, baffle it in the future. To illustrate my meaning I cannot do better than quote the evidence of General Sir Coleridge Grove, before the Royal Commission—One thing I hold to very much is that whatever is determined should not be a confidential matter between the Government and the War Office authorities. It should be a thing that is received and adopted by the country and is known in exactly the same way as we have the naval programme.The position to-day is that we have no settled military policy at all. All is uncertainty, indecision, inconsistency. In March, 1901, Parliament accepted Mr. Brodrick's view of home defence expressed in these words—In the first place, when talking of homo defence, let us not confuse our minds by considering the position and action of the Navy. The Navy is obviously our first line of defence, and if in matters of war there could be any certainty we might dispense with an Army for home defence altogether. It may be that invasion is an off-chance, but you cannot run an Empire of this extent on an off-chance.The right hon. Gentleman then asked the sanction of Parliament to the maintenance of military forces here at home amounting to 680,000 men, 435,000 of whom were enlisted for home service only and could not be sent abroad. That was the military policy of three years ago, based upon the principle of not confusing the mind by considering the position and action of the Navy. In March, 1904, Parliament agreed to the Prime Minister's opinion of home defence stated as follows—It is true indeed that many of us have come to the conclusion that invasion of this island by a large Regular force capable of undertaking its conquest is, if our home forces are kept in anything like an adequate state, and, above all, if the Navy is kept in anything like an adequate state, for after all this is really a naval question, that invasion is a dream, an illusory danger, and not one of the contingencies against which it would be right or proper to ask this country to make costly provision.That is the military policy of to-day, which calculates the naval and military 649 resources of the country not upon their respective but upon their joint merits. It is idle to expect economy, efficiency, or reform in War Office administration until Parliament sanctions a well-defined military policy and accords to that policy the same measure of continuity which has been allowed during past years to the naval programme.
Continuing down Table A, I come to the Cabinet. I assume that nothing can alter the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, and that no Committee of the Cabinet appointed for a particular purpose can have any responsibility separate and distinct from that of the whole Cabinet, and if this applies to the new Defence Committee it can have no responsibility of its own. The Cabinet, as a body, has not the time for continuous consideration of questions of Imperial defence. For this reason Lord Salisbury established the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, presided over by the Duke of Devonshire. From the first an air of mystery hung about the meetings of this body. We have it in evidence from the late Director of Military Intelligence, General Sir William Nicholson, that he was never summoned to attend its meetings; that, in his own words—So far as ho was aware, nobody attended them, and he knew nothing of the Committee, except that he believed the Duke of Devonshire to be its President.The new Defence Committee created by the present Prime Minister will discharge very different duties. It is to foresee Imperial strategical requirements, to harmonise naval and military policies, to co-ordinate Imperial defence in relation to such different Departments of State as the Admiralty, the War Office, India, and the Foreign and Colonial Offices. It is by far the most important outcome of the Esher Committee. At present we do not know very much about the constitution of the new Defence Committee. The Prime Minister is the President, and he can summon to its meetings any Minister or servant of the State, apparently at his absolute discretion, although it seems that associated with him on this Committee are the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. We are not aware, however, if the Foreign 650 Secretary is a member or not, but we do know that diplomacy and military and naval preparations ought to be interdependent. It would be well that the country should be informed what Ministers, if any, will attend the meetings of the Defence Committee ex officio regularly and as a matter of course. It would seem that to this Committee will be summoned members of two kinds, namely, Ministers who are members of the Cabinet, and members of the Defence Committee who are not Cabinet Ministers. I presume that members of the Defence Committee, not being Ministers, cannot vote on the decision of any question, but will merely state their views as expert advisers.
Our Imperial strategy is far more complicated than that of any other country, and therefore the Esher Committee proposes to attach to this Imperial Defence Committee, which not only varies with each change of Cabinet, but may fluctuate with the predilections of its President, a permanent secretariat, and this proposal has, I believe, been accepted by the Government. The secretariat is composed as follows:—(1) A permanent secretary, appointed for five years and renewable at pleasure. (2) Under him, two naval officers, two military officers, two Indian officers, with, if possible, one or more representatives of the Colonies, their appointment being limited to two years. In reference to the two Indian officers, are they to be necessarily officers of the Indian Army or officers of the British Army in India, or may they be what is known in India as military civilians?
I recognise the need for a Defence Committee and the very great advantage of having the Prime Minister at its head. The problems which the Defence Committee will have to consider involve not only naval and military questions, but also Colonial, Indian, and international questions. Naval strategy is a question for the Intelligence Department of the Admiralty. Military strategy is a question for the General Staff, but national strategy, in its broadest, most comprehensive aspects, is a matter for the Imperial Defence Committee. In theory, then, the duties of the Defence Committee appear distinct and self-contained. 651 but in practice it will not be easy to draw a line between military requirements which appertain to the Defence Committee and military requirements which are the particular province of the Army Council. Hence there seems to me some danger that this staff of the Defence Committee will overlap and conflict with the Chief of the Staff of the War Office. Will the dividing line be drawn by the Prime Minister (President of the Defence Committee) and the Secretary of State for War, for would it not be dangerous to leave the definitions to their respective subordinates?
I am puzzled to know how the Defence Committee and the Army Council will work together. Lord Esher's Committee organises for war and not for peace. Assume therefore that before a campaign the Defence Committee requires plans from the Army Council. The Army Council submit a plan, which I will call plan A. The Defence Committee reject plan A on international and diplomatic grounds and require another plan from the Army Council. A second plan is submitted, plan B which the Defence Committee accept. War ensues, and plan B proves to be a failure. With the wisdom which comes to us after events, we see clearly that plan A ought to have been the course adopted. Where would the responsibility for the adoption of plan B rest?
I now pass beyond Table A and come to the Army Council. The Army Council which has been appointed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, consists of four military members and three civilian members. I accept with confidence and without any question the allocation of duties made amongst the military members by the Committee. It is to the changed position of the three civilian members to which I would draw your Lordships' attention. Beginning with the Secretary of State, I gather that the Secretary of State is no longer the dictator but merely a colleague presiding over colleagues. He can no longer overrule his Council, which, from evidence before the Royal Commission, appears to have happened in the past. If he dissents from a decision taken, has he to resign office as the other members are expected to do in accordance with para 652 graph 7, Part II, page 5, of the Report? This paragraph reads—The decisions taken will stand, and the Council's orders will be issued in the name of the Council as a whole. It thus becomes the duty of any military member or members of the Council, who may dissent from a decision taken, either to resign or to accept a share of the responsibility for the action involved. While, therefore, loyalty to the service should prevent any member from retaining office if what he considers the vital principles of the policy is contravened, loyalty to colleagues will prevent the opinion of individual members from becoming known outside the Council room. Dissent by any member, who does not thereupon resign, is by that fact annulled and he must accept his share of the consequent responsibility.By whom are the members of the Army Council appointed? If the Secretary of State for War recommends them for appointment his colleagues are really his nominees. By whom are members of the Army Council removed? There are failures everywhere, and there must inevitably be some upon the Army Council. I cannot accept the doctrine of the infallibility of the Army Council. What, then, is the procedure by which an inefficient member can be removed?
The Under-Secretary of State, who has not apparently hitherto taken any active part in the War Office administration, now becomes the civil member of the Army Council. In the words of the Report of the Committee—The absence of any administrative duties must be exceedingly distasteful to any energetic Under-Secretary, and, where a capable and experienced occupant of the post is available, force is unnecessarily wasted.I am sure your Lordships will agree that that paragraph is highly applicable to the present Under-Secretary of State for War. As regards the Financial Secretary, he is now transferred into the finance member of the Council. But I doubt whether in practice it will be found that the Financial Secretary becomes the mere colleague of the other members of the Army Council and that he ceases to occupy his former position, described in the Report as that of—an independent critic with special powers of access to the Secretary of State.I cannot help thinking that he will remain, in spite of his change of name, the Financial Secretary. I am sure that the following paragraph is full of importance, but as I cannot make out its meaning I 653 must refer to the noble Earl for an explanation—The Finance Member is the equal of his colleagues on the Council, his subordinates are those of all other members as their subordinates are his.It reads more like a creed than a constitution.
We learn from paragraph 13, Part III. of the Report, that the Army Council as a whole is responsible for the welfare of the soldier. At the same time I note the reply given by the Secretary of State for War to a Question put to him in Parliament before Whitsuntide regarding the tent accommodation for the Militia. Nothing affects the comfort and the welfare of men in camp more than the character of the tent accommodation. But the Secretary of State for War replied that that was a matter for the general officer to settle locally and that nothing was known about it at the War Office. Here is an instance of decentralisation relieving the Secretary of State and the Army Council of all responsibility in a matter concerning the welfare of the soldier. If the Army Council is to be really responsible for the welfare of the soldier there must be a link between them and the men in the ranks. I suggest that that link should be supplied by means of District Advisory Boards composed of Commanding Officers, whose duty would be to report through the General Officers Commanding in Chief to the Army Council any circumstances concerning the welfare of officers and men under their command which, in their opinion, should be brought directly to the notice of the Council. Reports so made should be forwarded by the General Officers Commanding in Chief with comments, but without alteration or delay.
At first sight I admit that the need for such Advisory Boards is not obvious. I therefore support my suggestion by quoting from the evidence of General Sir John French before the South African War Commission. General Sir John French, when asked his opinion by the Commission as to the value of the present cavalry sword, replied—I think the present cavalry sword is the very worst that could be used for any mounted troops at all.Sir John French had commanded a regiment, but as Commanding Officer he 654 had never disclosed his opinion of the weapon on which the men under his command would depend in action. It would not have been consistent with his duty as a Commanding Officer to have said to his superior officers that which he stated in evidence before the Commissioners. Is that desirable in the interests of the service and of the men? I submit that it is not. Hence my suggestion for bringing officers commanding regiments into close touch with the Army Council.
Admirable as Lord Esher's scheme is from an administrative standpoint, we must not forget that our Army is a voluntary one, dependent for its existence upon its popularity with the people of this country and with the men serving in the ranks. We learn from the Report who is responsible for the various items which make up Army administration. But we learn nowhere who is responsible for making the Army and the conditions of service popular. But until the Army is made popular with the friends and relations of soldiers—and it is not so now— you stand a chance of having created a brilliant and elaborate military administration for the purpose of administering a numerically insignificant Army.
THE UNDER - SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Earl of DONOUGH-MORE)
My Lords, I think no one in your Lordships' House will deny the right of the noble Duke who has just addressed us to raise this subject, and I desire at the outset to personally thank him for the kindly spirit towards the War Office which he has displayed. The noble Duke prefaced his remarks by expressing a hope, which was also expressed by Lord Esher's Committee, that the Government would adopt the Report which they had made in its entirety. It may be convenient if I state briefly how far we have been able to carry out that Report up to the present time. Of course I do not wish it to be understood that the Government regard the Esher Report as a written constitution for the War Office, but in its broad principles we have been able to carry it out to a very great extent. Inside the walls of the War Office we have practically organised the institution upon the principle recommended in the Report.
655 The Defence Committee has been constituted on the lines recommended by the Esher Committee, and the nucleus of a permanent secretariat has been appointed. What has not been done, and what cannot be done as yet, is to organise the local staffs of the Army on the lines recommended by the Esher Committee. That organisation depends on a larger question still under the consideration of His Majesty's Government—the organisation of the Army itself; and until a decision has been come to on that point we are naturally unable to proceed with the organisation of the district staffs, But a small start has been made. Three brigadiers have been appointed to the Aldershot command. There are some exceptions to the recommendations of the Esher Committee. One is the arrangement for the organisation of the Auxiliary Forces, and the other is the decentralisation of the work of the Military Secretary at the War Office. The latter decentralisation cannot take place yet, for the obvious reason that the new district staffs do not yet exist. But a Committee has worked out the scheme of decentralisation in detail, and their Report is now under consideration.
The noble Duke asked whether the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War has not been affected by the interposition between him and Parliament of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The answer is most emphatically No. The Defence Committee is a Committee of the Cabinet which assembles to permit the whole intelligence of the nation to be placed at the disposal of the Prime Minister, who is, and always must a, be, the real Minister of Defence. The Prime Minister is the Chairman of this Committee of the Cabinet, and the Secretary of State is a member of the Cabinet; and his power, therefore, cannot be unduly interfered with. As to whether the responsibility of the Secre- tary of State will be weakened by the association of the members of the Army Council with him as colleagues, the reference to the Esher Committee was to organise a system at the War Office on the lines of the present Admiralty system. Broadly, the Government will certainly follow that system. The Board of Admiralty is constituted by Letters Patent, which would tend to take away 656 the responsibility of the First Lord by making his colleagues share it with him. There is however an Order in Council giving to the First Lord of the Admiralty certain powers and assuring him of pre-eminence among his colleagues. That system has always worked well. At the War Office there is a patent naming the seven members of the Army Council and the Secretary of State as President of the Council. It is proposed to have an Order in Council for the War Office which will do nothing to affect the administrative responsibility of the Army Council. All orders will be issued in their name, but nothing will be done to impair and everything will be done to preserve the sole responsibility of the Secretary of State.
The Order in Council is now in draft, but its final form has not yet been determined. I am authorised to say, however, that in that Order in Council the Secretary of State will have preserved to him certain specific business and a general supervision of all business and he will be empowered to distribute the business at the War Office among his colleagues. I cannot better explain the object we have in view than by reminding your Lordships of Part I., Section 2, paragraphs 9 and 10, of the Esher Report, which I will read—The Hartington Commission stated (§ 82) that 'the complete responsibility, to Parliament and the country, of the Secretary of State for the discipline as well as for the administration of the Army, must now be accepted as definitely established.' At the same time, it was premised that, in practice, the responsibility of the Secretary of State appears to be still, in some aspects, less real than that of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is now clear from the evidence given before the War Commission that real power ha3 been divorced from responsibility, with results injurious to the military advisers of the Secretary of State, and fatal to his authority with his colleagues in the Cabinet.We consider that, as a first step in the reconstruction of the War Office, the position of the Secretary of State should be placed on precisely the same footing as that of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and that all sub-missions to the Crown in regard to military questions should be made by him alone.We adhere to the policy suggested here and fully intend to carry it out.
In the past there have been certain statutory powers vested in the Secretary of State and in the Commander-in-Chief 657 A Bill will shortly be presented to Parliament to bring those statutory powers into accordance with the new order of things.
With regard to the Government's policy of home defence, we adhere absolutely to the declarations of the Prime Minister; and I am authorised to say that in principle we shall adopt the suggestions made by the noble Duke as to the reduction of the Regular Army at home. We hope to compensate for the reduction of numbers by an increase of efficiency. The question of the Auxiliary Forces I cannot enter into now, as the situation has been considerably altered by the Report recently presented. It would be unreasonable to ask His Majesty's Government to make a definite pronouncement at the present moment. As to the constitution of the Committee of Defence, the freedom of action of the Prime Minister in summoning the Committee will be preserved. There will be no regularly attending members of the Committee at all, except the Prime Minister, and he will be free to summon anyone he likes to the meetings of the Committee. It is inconceivable that anyone having special knowledge of a subject about to be discussed by the Committee would not be summoned to the meetings. As to whether members of the Defence Committee who are not members of the Cabinet will be able to record their opinions, the opinions of individual members of the Committee are not recorded now, but only the decisions of the whole Committee. The decisions of the Committee as such have no legal force, but only when they become the adopted decisions of the Cabinet. It is now intended to appoint only one Indian officer to the Committee, and I cannot say how this officer will be chosen; we shall take the best man wherever we can get him.
The noble Duke has suggested the danger of disagreement between the secretariat of the Defence Committee and the Chief of the Staff at the War Office. But that is not a probable danger. On questions which do not concern the War Office there can be no risk of conflict and on questions that do concern the War Office it is impossible to suppose that the Chief of the Staff would not be I present at the meetings of the Defence 658 Committee. There will be, I know, no legal obligation to summon him, though it is difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister would refrain [from doing so. The Chief of the Staff when present as a member of the Defence Committee, being allowed to give his opinion, is on a perfect equality with the other members of the Committee. There are two purposes served by the secretariat—first, to record decisions, and, secondly, to place specialised knowledge of previous proceedings at the disposal of the Committee. There are hardly any opportunities afforded for the quarrelling to arise. But I do not deny that if General Smith and Mr, Jones in the future want to quarrel they will doubtless be able to find opportunities, and no possible safeguards that you could provide could prevent it. The hypothetical case put forward by the noble Duke is not one likely to be forthcoming. If any particular plan is rejected by the Defence Committee that rejection gets no force whatever unless it is endorsed by the Cabinet, and the Cabinet have a perfect right to override a decision. The Cabinet are responsible, and it is right constitutionally that they should be.
It was asked also in respect of the Army Council whether in the case of dissent from colleagues the Secretary of State should resign. I think not. There are two precedents that can be argued from. In the case of a difference in the Board of Admiralty the members of the Board resign and not the First Lord, and in the case of the Cabinet the Prime Minister does not resign, though his colleagues do. I imagine that the same rule will obtain in the Army Council. The noble Duke asks by whom the members of the Army Council are appointed. They have been appointed by Letters Patent, on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, who is thus the mouthpiece of the Cabinet. I presume that if it ever becomes necessary to dismiss a member of the Army Council, the proper procedure will be to issue Letters Patent revoking the previous issue, or to issue fresh Letters Patent containing different names. As regards the Financial Secretary, I know that in that particular we have departed from the precedent of the Admiralty, but we 659 believe that the arrangement we have made will work perfectly well, and that it will be of assistance to us to have the Financial Secretary at our meetings as a colleague. So far, I can assure the noble Duke there has been no friction between us such as he appears to fear may arise in the future. As regards the sentence quoted by the noble Duke, that the Finance Member is the equal of his colleagues, and so on, I confess I have some difficulty in satisfactorily explaining that somewhat cryptic phrase. What I imagine it means is this. I can conceive two possible explanations of the sentence. One is that, individually, members of the Council have no authority whatever. We do, I confers, sometimes give decisions off our own bat, but everything is done in the name of the Army Council, and all subordinates in the War Office are subordinates and officials of the Army Council, and not subordinates and officials of any particular member of the Army Council, although for the purpose of transacting the business they are put in certain departments under certain definite heads. That, I think, is the meaning of the sentence in the Report to which reference has been made. Possibly some more ingenious person may be able to find another explanation, but it has not struck my mind up to the present. Your Lordships will understand that the Financial Department at the War Office has been considerably split up. Every member of the Council now has a financial official to whom he can refer all financial questions. Technically, it might be said, therefore, that whilst, let us say, the financial department connected with the department of, say, the Adjutant-General consists of a number of individuals who are the subordinates of the Adjutant-General, at the same time they are subordinates of the Financial Secretary, because they are in the financial department, the financial department being very firmly linked on the military side to the Department whose affairs they have to look after. It is possible that I that proposed reform may have been in the mind of the Commissioners when they wrote that sentence, and that is a reform which is being carried out.
The last point raised by the noble Duke was as to the difficulty of maintaining the popularity of the Army in the country, 660 and he suggested a system of District Advisory Boards. My Lords, I hope that such a system will not be necessary. According to the recommendations of the Committee, the officers will be circulating a great deal more between the War Office and the districts than they have hitherto done. Moreover, it will be the duty of the Inspector-General to go about the country, to be "our eyes and our ears" as it has been said, and he will be able to keep us thoroughly informed of what is going on in the districts. That, combined with the ordinary intelligence of members of the Army Council—which I am sure the noble Duke will not deny to us, although he denies us infallibility—should ensure our being kept properly in touch with the Army, and I have no fear myself that any system of District Advisory Boards such as he has advocated will be necessary.
I think I have now dealt with all the points raised by the noble Duke. I should like, in conclusion, to say a word on a matter purely personal to myself. The members of the Esher Committee have recommended some great and far-reaching reforms, especially in the Financial Department, and they have given as a reason for those recommendations a picture of what I might call "financial irritation," of the existence of which I have not been able to find any great evidence. They have said some very hard things indeed about the Civil Department of the War Office. Though I am very grateful to the Commissioners for outlining the particular scheme which we have been able largely to carry out, I wish to dissociate myself from the reasons they have advanced for the reforms recommended by them in the Financial Department of the War Office. I have been at the War Office but a short time. and I confess that when I went there last October I had ringing in my ears the stock statement that certain unthinking people are only too ready to make, condemning the civil side of the War Office, and maintaining that every useful reform must necessarily be met with a solid block when it reaches that Department. A very few days at the War Office convinced me of the absolute error of that view. I found, if possible, more keenness for reform on the civil side than in any other part of the Office. When you have a body of intelligent men, selected from 661 the best you can get by the stiffest examinations, and when they find that they are part of an institution not organised on the most businesslike lines, surely it is but natural that they should be only too eager to alter the system of administration with which they are connected. Bearing in mind the belief that certainly exists in many quarters that the officials connected with the civil side of the War Office are not a body of devoted public servants who make the public service their chief interest, I thought it would be wrong of me to allow this opportunity to pass without dissociating myself from the statements to which I have referred.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I think the House will be very grateful to the noble Duke for having raised this question, and for the way in which he has dealt with it. He touched on some of the most important points connected with the Report of the Esher Committee; he asked for information and explanations with regard to those points; and I think I may also say that the House listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, who endeavoured, in an extremely frank spirit, to reply to the questions of the noble Duke, and gave a great deal of very interesting information for which both this House and the public outside will be grateful. I cannot quite accept the optimistic views of the noble Earl as to how the details of the new scheme are going to work, but I think I may most fairly express the opinion of all of us when I say that we are very glad to recognise the spirit in which the Under-Secretary spoke as testifying to the general spirit in which the Government are about to give effect to the Report of the Esher Committee. We were also very glad to hear the remarks of the noble Earl with regard to the financial side of the War Office. I also felt that undue criticism and condemnation was passed on the civil side of the War Office; I know that it has caused very great soreness—I think justifiable soreness—and I cannot help believing that the remarks made by the noble Earl, speaking, as he does, as the representative of the Government, will do a great deal to alleviate that feeling and to facilitate the working of the Department in the future.
662 I should like to ask for a little more information on one or two further points. This Esher Committee is the answer to the Report of the Commission presided over by my noble friend Lord Elgin. It is really an acceptance of the Report of the Commission; it represents the acceptance of the views put forward by Lord Elgin and his fellow-Commissioners; and the Esher Committee was appointed in order to find a remedy for the condition of affairs which Lord Elgin's Commission found so seriously to demand the attention of the country and of the Government. But the Esher Committee was also something else. It was an admission of the failure of the system of Army organisation suddenly adopted when we were still in the throes of war. The basis of the recommendations of the Committee is, as stated by the noble Duke, the adaptation to the War Office of the system in vogue at the Admiralty. I have no doubt that there is great justification for such an adaptation, as the Admiralty has undoubtedly worked much easier and better than the War Office. But I do not think that you can quite assume that because a certain system has worked well in connection with the Navy it must necessarily work well in connection with the Army. You must always remember that there exists an enormous difference in the conditions of service in the Army and in the Navy. In the Navy the spirit of the service is the spirit of the service as a whole. The Navy is not divided, as is the Army, into regiments, garrisons, and so on. The spirit largely proceeds from the fact that so long as officers and men on a particular ship are together, they work together loyally and frankly and cling together, but when the ship goes out of commission and they cease to be attached to that ship they have no longer the sentiment of the ship: they are again merged in the service as a whole. Then there is another point. In the case of the Navy, you have your officers and men continually serving under conditions similar to those that they would experience in war. They are continually running the same risks, and they are continually having thrown upon them vast responsibilities for the non-fulfilment of which they would be visited, and most properly so, with the severest penalties. That 663 is a condition that you cannot obtain in the same way in the Army. Small expeditions there may be from time to time, but the great bulk of the Army in time of peace cannot be subjected to the tests to which officers and men would be subjected in time of war. Consequently it is much more difficult to select men, to give responsibility to the people who deserve it, to get out of the groove of promotion by seniority, and to give full weight to good service and proved capacity properly to discharge duties. Therefore, while I welcome the adoption of the pattern of the Admiralty, I wish to put in a word of caution against the idea that because a particular system is adopted therefore all will go well in future.
Now, my Lords, there are two or three points to which I wish to refer, one of which has been dealt with by the noble Duke and also by the noble Earl, while the other two have not. The first point is the question of the supremacy of the Defence Committee. I thought the noble Earl in that respect drew rather too glowing a picture of the absence of friction that was certain to be found in it, and that he somewhat minimised the amount of responsibility which might be taken off the shoulders, not only of the Secretary of State for War, but also of the First Lord of the Admiralty—because, I take it that the Defence Committee will be just as influential with regard to the desires and actions of the Admiralty as those of the War Office. If you establish this most important body— and it is evident that the Esher Committee think it most important, because it crops up continually throughout their Report—if you strengthen it, put upon it all important Ministers, make the Prime Minister its chief, and appoint to it permanent chosen members representing the Army, the Navy, the Colonies, and India, it is quite evident that all really important matters both of the War Office and of the Admiralty will be taken to the Defence Committee for consideration and ultimate decision, or at any rate for approval. But if that is the case, will not some responsibility necessarily be taken off the shoulders of the Minister at the head of the Admiralty and of the Minister at the head of 664 the War Office? In the very nature of the case it must be so. The responsibility will no longer be as between the particular Minister at the War Office or at the Admiralty and the Prime Minister; it will be with the recommendations of the War Minister or the recommendations of the Naval Minister as accepted or modified by the Defence Committee, and the responsibility will lie with the Defence Committee when that decision is accepted by the Cabinet as a whole. I quite admit that you keep your Cabinet responsibility. I do not dispute that; but I do think that the individual responsibility of the Ministers of the two particular Departments concerned must necessarily be affected, as I think for the worse, and that it will make them, in some cases, less careful of decisions to which they may arrive within their own Departments.
Then the noble Earl scouted the idea of possible quarrelling between the secretariat or the permanent department of the Defence Committee and the War Office. There again I do not take so cheerful a view. By your scheme the Prime Minister is to be the head of all these matters—head not merely as head of the Government, but as head of the Defence Committee. He will be the person with whom all this permanent staff of the Defence Committee will be in constant communication. Is it not likely that when a plan is proposed or is about to be proposed by, say, the Admiralty, that the secretariat of the Defence Committee will have some sort of views on that particular subject, and that it will go, in the first instance, direct to the President of its own Committee—that is, of the Defence Committee—with its views before the Admiralty itself has had an opportunity of putting forward its side of the case? And in the same way with regard to the War Office. Then supposing you had a subject taken up by the War Office and the Admiralty together, you might have the secretariat differing, and I cannot but think that there would be considerable friction in the daily working of the scheme. I am not in love with the idea of making the Prime Minister ex officio President of this Committee. It may be that from time to time you will have a Prime Minister who is interested in Defence matters, but in other cases 665 you may have a man who is not only not interested in them, but who looks upon questions of defence as questions to be decided only in one particular way. I do not think that that would lead to smooth working between the Defence Committee and the two Defence Departments. It would be far better to keep the Prime Minister in his present position of supremacy over the Cabinet, as being the last authority to whom reference can be made when matters of dispute arise. For instance, supposing there was a difference between the Admiralty and the War Office and the Defence Committee. To whom would you refer the question? The Prime Minister, as President of the Defence Committee, would necessarily take the view of the Defence Committee. Hence there would be no independent appeal at all from these three bodies supposing a difference of opinion arose. Personally, I think that the greatest blot on the Esher Report is to be found in the proposals for the constitution of the Defence Committee, and particularly in this proposal that the Prime Minister should be the perpetual President.
Now, my Lords, I pass to a subject which the Under-Secretary of State put aside on the ground that there was another Report on the matter before your Lordships' House, namely, the Report of the Norfolk Commission. But the question of the Auxiliary Forces was also an important subject dealt with by the Esher Committee, and the part of the Report already adopted and acted upon; has made a great change with regard to the position of the Auxiliary Forces, a change of which I, for my part, am not at all disposed to approve. It is rather a curious fact that on the 17th February of this year the Auxiliary Forces were for the first time given an independent representative at the War Office. Within a few weeks—I forget the exact number—the Report of the Esher Committee came out, and the privilege which the Auxiliary Forces had enjoyed for only a few weeks, but which even in that short time had been a great advantage, was taken away. Under the recommendations of the Esher Committee the Auxiliary Forces were deprived of this special representative and were put back under the Adjutant-General.
666 The whole history of the management of the Auxiliary Forces by the War Office shows that there is always great friction between the representatives of the Auxiliary Forces and the Adjutant-General. The Adjutant-General is a professional soldier, and for the greater portion of his time he is obliged to look at the work of the professional soldier from a professional soldier's point of view. The Volunteers and the Auxiliary Forces, however, are not professional soldiers, and must be regarded from a somewhat different point of view. In the first place there is an enormous difference between the conditions of one Volunteer regiment and another. You have one regiment formed of clerks in a great city; you have another composed of artisans; a third consists mainly of labourers in a county, with the various companies scattered over a large area at a vast distance one from another. You cannot apply one general rule to the Volunteers, or lay down one particular way in which to deal with them. There must be great elasticity with regard to the requirements imposed upon Volunteers. There is, for instance, the question of camps. It was laid down that all Volunteers were to go into camp for fourteen days in the year. That is an excellent thing provided you can get them there, and provided they can afford to go there, but to make that an absolute condition of efficiency involves the loss of large numbers of good Volunteers who would prove themselves extremely useful. You must not deal with Volunteers on any hard and fast lines. The proper system to adopt is to judge them by results. Let the commanders of the various volunteer regiments bring their regiments to a proper state of efficiency by whatever means they choose, provided they do bring them to a state of efficiency. If they can produce their men properly efficient and properly trained I do not think you ought to hamper them by strict regulations as to the particular number of days they are to spend in camp, or as to how they shall attain that efficiency. The Volunteers are the cheapest of all our forces; I believe they cost less than £7 per head per annum. The encouragement of the Volunteer Forces becomes all the more necessary in consequence of the Report of the Norfolk Commission. That Report not darkly 667 hinted that we should have to fall back on conscription. The Government at once stated that they had no idea of conscription, and that they were not going to propose it. That being the case it is all the more necessary to make the Volunteers as numerous and as efficient as you can, and to give them all the encouragement possible. A great deal can be and I hope will be done for the Volunteers. Proper ranges and sufficient ammunition with which to practise, the opportunity of organisation in units, local training grounds near the particular parts of the country to which they would be sent in time of war—these are the sort of things which ought to be done for the Volunteers. They cannot be done without money, but I believe the first thing you have to do, if you are to give permanence and encouragement to the Volunteers, is to see that they are properly represented at the War Office, and that in the War Office they have a department of their own, presided over by a man who understands their condition as well as the ordinary routine of the professional soldier. I go even further, and say that the Volunteers have a right to have a representative on the Army Council itself. It may be that it is not possible to add to the number of professional men on the Army Council. If that be so, I would suggest that you take one at any rate of your civilian members—say the Under-Secretary of State—and let him represent the Volunteers on the Army Council, so that they may have a representative on that important body in the future.
There is one further point of criticism which I think is a sound one, because it is a matter in which you have departed from the precepts of the Admiralty, and that is in regard to promotions. It seems to me that it is an extraordinary thing when you have formed this new Army Council, having upon it four military men carefully chosen as the most capable men available for the purpose, together with the Secretary of State, the Financial Secretary, and the Under-Secretary of State, that from that Council should be withheld altogether the question of promotion. That is not the case at the Admiralty.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The Earl of SELBORNE)
I beg my noble friend's pardon. The First Lord of the Admiralty is solely and exclusively responsible; for promotions.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
But that is not so here. In this case you have a special committee. The difference is this. In the Admiralty there is no special committee appointed to deal with promotions. In the case of the Army, what is now proposed is that four generals-commanding and the Inspector-General shall deal with promotions. In the case of promotions under the rank of major, the generals commanding in the various districts will deal with the promotions. Consequently you will have the general commanding a particular district responsible for the promotions in the regiments under his charge which may be abroad. In cases of promotion over the rank of major, the duty is given to s committee formed of the four generals commanding, plus the Inspector-General. It does seem to me to be a curious thing that you should give the control of the Army to this new board, and take away from it the whole duty of the rewarding of merit, and the duty of making itself acquainted with the value and the respective merits of the different soldiers in. the Army. As I understand it the present system is that in the case of the higher promotions, the Military Secretary sends three names to a specially appointed committee of three officers, and that committee recommends to the Secretary of State who is eventually responsible for the appointment. Under the system recommended by the Esher Committee, the system I have just described is the method of promotion. It departs from the method followed in the Admiralty, and as it seems to me it departs from that method to no advantage, because it will diminish the authority of the Board by setting up an imperium in imperio.
I do not pretend to have put forward any very connected criticism of the Report which has been laid before us, but I hope what I have said has been in a fairly reasonable spirit. I assure your Lordships that it has beer, said 669 entirely with a desire to facilitate the working of the War Office under its changed conditions, and not in any way with the object of putting stumbling blocks in the way.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I am sure the House is greatly indebted to the noble Duke for having raised this discussion, and I believe the country will profit considerably when it reads the very practical remarks which have been made from both sides of the House. I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a moment. I wish merely to ask one or two practical questions with regard to the constitution of the Army Council. I understood the noble Earl to say that in the first place the constitution of the Council is defined by a patent and that the distribution of the duties is hereafter to be laid down by an Order in Council. That, at all events, was the recommendation of the Esher Committee. I venture to hope that His Majesty's Government will consider the matter very thoroughly before they pass an. Order in Council distributing the different kinds of business to different members of the Council. Observe what will happen. If you distribute the work in this way you will stereotype the exact position of individual members of the Council. I believe the practice at the Admiralty is—I know it used to be— that the distribution of the business to the members of the Board depends entirely on the First Lord, who can distribute business to or take business away from any particular member and attach it to another, according as it seems best to himself. I think the position to be given to the noble Earl the Under-Secretary is that of supervising fortifications.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The supervision of new barracks, and, I believe, of chaplains. I am quite sure the noble Earl will supervise barracks with the same ability that he will manage chaplains, but I would venture to suggest that it would be far better to leave it to the Secretary of State to divide the business in the War Office as he thinks 670 best, and that he should not he bound hand and foot by an Order in Council.
Then, my Lords, there is another point on which I would ask for information, and that is with regard to the financial position of each member of the Council. I The Esher Committee attributed great importance to the fact that each member of the Council should be able to expend; his own Votes, and, as I understood the noble Earl to-night—and I think it was proposed by the Esher Committee—that he should be able to send for financial assistance if he required it. Of course it is a much simpler thing that an individual member of a board should have complete control over the money matters connected with his Votes, and under such a system business would naturally proceed much more rapidly. It is apparently intended, or at all events it is possible I under this proposed plan, that there should be no financial check on any member of the Council in regard to the Votes I with which he is charged. I merely wish to know whether that is the plan which it is proposed to adopt. I do not think it is the system prevailing at the Admiralty at the present time; I know it used not to be. In former days when any proposal was made for, say, an increase in the number of men, or for raising the boys, or for anything of that sort, it was for the Naval Lord to put forward his proposal, then the Civil Lord, it being a matter of personnel, had to say where the money was to come from, and that enabled the Board to arrive at a decision I as to what should be done. The difference according to the plan now proposed, if I am correct, is that a certain member I of the Board would be able not only to I make a proposal, but also to carry it out and to spend the money involved without consulting his colleagues unless he should see fit to do so. I merely put the question; I daresay I am wrong; but I want to know exactly what will be the financial position of each member of the Board.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I do not propose to go into all the important subjects which have been raised tonight, but there is one point upon which I wish to express my opinion, and it would probably be fairer that I should do so before my noble friend opposite replies. There is very little to add to 671 what has been so well said by my noble friend behind me in respect of the question upon which I wish to make a few observations, viz., the proposal that the Prime Minister should always be the President of the Defence Committee. I have not a word to say against the Prime Minister being President of the Committee when he chooses to take upon himself that position, but having, unfortunately, lived to see a great many Prime Ministers, I have not discovered that the majority of them would either have desired that position or perhaps been very fit to take it. Putting aside a great soldier like the Duke of Wellington, I really do not remember any Prime Minister in my lifetime who would have had a particular taste for the special duties involved in the position of President of the Defence Committee except Lord Palmerston and my noble friend Lord Rosebery. That being so, is it desirable that you should by a regulation or Order in Council, or whatever it may be, tie down the Prime Minister to take this position, thus imposing upon him very j grave and responsible duties? I think not. In my opinion, it would be far better to allow the Prime Minister, who must have a controlling hand over this and all the other business of his Cabinet, to decide for himself whether he should take that position or not. The position of the Prime Minister in the present day is one of extreme difficulty. The amount of labour thrown upon him is very great indeed, and it is almost impossible for him to exercise that general supervision over the whole administration of the country which it is so very desirable the Prime Minister should exercise. I doubt whether the duties of the Prime Minister in respect of that general supervision have been fully discharged as they ought to be since the time of Sir Robert Peel. We know that Sir Robert Peel himself said that he found it almost impossible to discharge the duty. It is true that Mr. Gladstone in his first Government carried out that superintendence to a large extent, but, so far as I know the manner in which public affairs have been conducted, I do not think that since that time the supervision which is so essential for the proper working of the Government of the country has been exercised by the 672 Prime Minister, or that it possibly could have been. If there be anything in these remarks, surely it is not wise to enact that the great labour involved in the position of President of the Defence Committee should necessarily fall upon the Prime Minister. I understand that that is the proposal. I doubt whether in any case the Prime Minister would be the best person for the post, and I am certain that the holding of the position would inevitably interfere with the discharge of his proper duty, viz., that of the general superintendence of the administration of the country, in which, of course, is included the administration of the Army and Navy. On these grounds I venture to express the gravest doubt whether you will promote good administration, either generally or in the Army and Navy especially, by providing that this duty must necessarily be undertaken by the Prime Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lord, my noble friend beside me dealt so fully and sufficiently with the points raised by the noble Duke behind me that I do not propose to travel over the same ground. I wish, however, to notice a few of the observations that have fallen from noble Lords opposite since my noble friend addressed the House. In the first place, I wish to say a word as to the question of promotions, on which the noble Lords opposite made some remarks. I understood him to express considerable alarm at the idea that promotions up to a certain rank were to be handed over to general officers commanding districts. I understand that the decentralisation of the work which has hitherto been performed in the Military Secretary's office has not yet been carried out, and that for the present that work is being done at headquarters. But, whatever is done, I think the noble Lord, may take it that the business of the officers who command in the districts will be not so much to make actual promotions as to recommend officers to the Secretary of State for promotion. However, the point is one which has not yet been finally disposed of and I do not, therefore, desire to say more upon that subject.
The noble Lord spoke with great conviction of the necessity of adequately 673 representing the Auxiliary Forces at the Secretary of State, and it is certainly our War Office. I think there will not be two opinions on that point in the House; and I am almost tempted to remind the noble Lord that when I had the honour of being connected with the War Office I was responsible for the appointment of an officer, who, I believe, was eminently persona grata to the Auxiliary Forces— General Turner, and who has enjoyed their confidence for some years past. I cannot, however, agree with the noble Lord that it is desirable that the Auxiliary Forces should have a special representative on the Army Council. I think that proposal argues a certain want of appreciation of the principle upon which the Army Council is formed. The Army Council represents the whole Army. The work is divided according to the subjects—the different branches into which Army work naturally falls — but the Army Council does not consist of members who can in any sense be regarded as the representatives of different arms or sections of the Army. On the other hand, in the new organisation, provision is made—I think adequate provision—for the representation of the Auxiliary Forces. There is to be a high official under the Adjutant-General entitled the Director of Auxiliary Forces, and that high official is given direct access to the Secretary of State in regard to questions concerning the Auxiliary Forces. Under him are three subordinate officer representing respectively the Yeomanry, the Militia, and the Volunteers. I am able to add also that it is the intention of the Secretary of State to appoint a certain number of officers belonging to the Auxiliary Forces to serve on the general staff as well as in the department of the Quartermaster-General. I think, therefore, that the House may rest assured that the interests of the Auxiliary Forces are not likely to be overlooked.
Now, my Lords, for a moment I pass to what has been said with regard to the position of the Secretary of State. I think it is fair to say that there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the language of the Report of the Esher Commission upon that subject; but there is no doubt in our minds as to the position which should be assigned to the 674 Secretary of State, and it is certainly our intention that nothing in these new arrangements should in any way derogate from the responsibility which belongs to him as a member of the Cabinet and as a Minister of the Crown. He will not be merely one member of a Board with six colleagues, but he will be, as, indeed, is the First Lord of the Admiralty, in a position of well-defined and assured superiority. I thought that the noble Lord opposite was correct when he told us that it did not follow necessarily that because a particular system succeeded in the administration of the Navy that system was bound to succeed equally in the administration of the Army. There are points of essential and deep-seated difference between the two services, and it does not follow that because a certain arrangement is good for the Navy it must therefore prove successful in the case of the Army. But there is this undoubted fact, that the Admiralty system has worked well, and has inspired a great amount of public confidence; therefore I think it was only natural that the Esher Commission should recommend that the Admiralty system should, so far as possible, be adopted in connection with the Army.
Noble Lords opposite have expressed considerable apprehensions with regard to the results of the existence of the Committee of Imperial Defence. They will remember that the Defence Committee has been for nearly ten years in existence, but I take it that the particular point to which criticism is directed is the fact that the reconstituted Defence Committee is to be given a small permanent secretariat of its own, which will give it a continuous corporate existence which did not belong to the old Defence Committee. It is, in the first place, apprehended that the existence of such a Defence Committee, with its permanent secretariat, will create friction between the Committee and the two great Departments of defence—the War Office and the Admiralty. The idea seems to be that the Prime Minister, fortified by the assistance of a body of experts who will be placed immediately under his direction, is likely to override the two Departments which have hitherto had the management of military and naval questions. As my noble friend said, if you 675 have tactless and quarrelsome officials you will have friction and bad blood. But I do ask your Lordships to consider whether there is not another aspect of the case which should be taken into account. So long as the Admiralty and the War Office and the Treasury were not brought together in this way, you were always exposed to the kind of sparring which goes on between rival Departments which are not brought into close immediate contact. It seems to me that the great advantage of this newly-invented machinery is that it brings together at one table, under the presidency of the Prime Minister, representatives of the Treasury, the Admiralty, and the War Office. The different members of the Government have really a very much better chance of obtaining fair and full discussion for their proposals than they had so long as these controversies were carried on upon the old lines of inter-Departmental discussion and correspondence, terminated perhaps by a hurried conversation round the Cabinet table. I feel bound to say, so far as I have been able to observe the new machinery at work, that it promises not to increase friction, but to diminish it, and to conduce to a much more effective conduct of public business. The noble Marquess who spoke last told us that in his opinion it was most undesirable that the Prime Minister should be President of the Defence Committee.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, I think the answer to that is that I am not aware that it is necessary that he should invariably be President of the Committee, though I hope he always will be.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I must ask the noble Marquess not to assume that every proposal within the compass of the Report of the Esher Committee necessarily represents a proposal of His Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess will remember that for a time 676 the noble Duke on the Cross Benches (the Duke of Devonshire) was President of the Defence Committee; and it may be that at some future time the Prime Minister of the day may prefer to devolve those duties on some colleague rather than assume them himself, but that is a matter as to which I will not undertake to prophesy. I quite agree with the noble Marquess that the calls upon the time and attention of the Prime Minister are enormous, and that we should shrink from taxing his powers of work so far as we possibly can spare him, but I do not know that of all the important duties which the Prime Minister has to perform any is really more important than the work which this Committee has to undertake, and unless for personal reasons, owing to his particular idiosyncrasy, he feels himself unfitted for work of the kind, I for one shall continue to believe that that work is more likely to be performed with advantage by the Prime Minister himself than by anyone in a less responsible position.
Now I must ask your Lordships to bear with me while I say a few words in support of what was said by the Under-Secretary of State for War at the close of his speech in reference to that part of the Esher Report which describes, or purports to describe, the relations existing at the War Office between the military and the financial officials of the Department. I find that the Report of the Esher Committee states that the existing arrangements have led to the control of military policy by the civilian branch of the office; that the financial department has wielded the power of finding available funds when a policy is favoured, and of suggesting difficulties in other cases; that the War Office is divided into two camps whose occupants regard each other with mutual suspicion; that the responsibility of the military heads has been rendered nominal, and that the Secretary of State has been led to give decisions upon a partial presentment of a case. My Lords, that picture is one which I regard as a distorted one, and which has been much resented by, I believe, both the camps to whom reference is made. It is naturally most resented by the members of the financial department, and upon two grounds. In the 677 first place, I suppose, owing to the circumstances under which the inquiry was conducted, no evidence was produced in support of these complaints, and in the second place these complaints were accompanied by the proposal that a large number of the gentlemen thus attacked should be deprived of their position in the War Office. I have had some opportunity of watching the manner in which these gentlemen have been in the habit of performing their duties, and I say unhesitatingly that nothing has, at any rate of recent years, been further from their thoughts than to claim any right of controlling the military policy of the War Office. But to quote the opinion expressed by the Dawkins Committee, which has been referred to this evening, it is absolutely necessary that the Secretary of State should have under him a staff for the purpose of watching and controlling the military expenditure. If that staff is really to assist the Secretary of State it seems to me most unadvisable that its action should be fettered by too pedantic an insistence on the necessity of all civilians abstaining from any criticism of what can be described as in a sense military policy. It is not, after all, so very easy in all cases to draw a sharp and clear line to show where financial policy ends and military policy begins. The most important questions are often mixed questions, and have to be decided with reference not only to military, but also to financial considerations; and considerations of the latter class have to be very much borne in mind when we remember the manner in which our military and naval expenditure has been growing during the last few years. Now, I believe that it would be very detrimental to the interests of the public if you altogether barred the civilian side from offering their criticism upon the ground that that criticism touched, in no matter how slight a degree, questions of military policy.
After all, in the past—and it is in regard to the past that this complaint has been made—just consider what has been the position of the soldiers and the civilians in the War Office. You have had distinguished soldiers brought in to take up these headquarters appointments after, no doubt, a very brilliant military career, but in many cases without any special aptitude 678 for or experience of administration in the proper sense of the word. On the civilian side you have had men who have perhaps been fifteen or twenty years in the office, highly trained officials, thoroughly knowing both the military and the financial side of the work, who have been able to point out the pitfalls with which all schemes of Army reform are surrounded, and who have naturally felt it their duty, when they were able usefully to do so, to warn or to make suggestions. I fear that if we interpret too strictly the desire to exclude the civilian element from all voice in these matters the military side of the office will lose much useful guidance and the public will suffer. There is yet another consideration. You may make what arrangements you please, but you cannot get away from civilian control at the last; and if that control is not to be found within the War Office it will have to be found outside the War Office, at the Treasury, which is much less sympathetic and a much sterner taskmaster than any Accountant-General at the War Office, and which certainly will not allow itself to be warned off on the ground that its criticisms involve some slight inroad on the domain of military policy. I can only say, so far as the personal question is concerned—and I am sure I shall be borne out by others who have served in the War Office—that the officials on the financial side—I will mention particularly the Accountant-General, Mr. Marzials, and his subordinates—were gentlemen not only of the greatest ability and financial knowledge, but also of great tact and of the most considerate character, who were quite incapable of obtruding their criticisms as to military matters, if the ever made them, in a manner in the least aggressive or offensive to their military colleagues. That is the way, moreover, in which they were regarded by their military colleagues who served with them and who, as I have said, read with considerable regret the charges made against these gentlemen in the Report of the Esher Committee. I can only express my hope that under the new system the Army will be as well and as faithfully and tactfully served by those entrusted with its financial administration as it has been 679 in the past. I will not further occupy your Lordships' time, but I felt that I could not do otherwise than say a few words in defence of gentlemen whose excellent services I for one have had many opportunities of appreciating.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, to Thursday next half-past Ten o'clock.