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he said, destroyed the unity of policy which it was vital to preserve in foreign affairs, and gravely imperilled the success of the impending negotiations. The announcement of Mr. Montagu's resignation was greeted with an outburst of cheering in the House of Commons. Mr. Chamberlain was pressed to set apart a day for a general debate on the subject, but he deprecated such a discussion before the Paris Conference took place.
Mr. Montagu defended his action in a speech at Cambridge on March 12. He said that he had been accused of outraging the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility, but he never thought, and he still did not think, that the question of publication was a matter for discussion in the Cabinet. The head of the Government, he said, was a Prime Minister of great but eccentric genius. He had demanded the price, which it was in the power of every genius to demand, and that price had been the complete disappearance of Cabinet responsibility; but he had now brought out this doctrine at a convenient moment and made Mr. Montagu the victim of his new creed. He asked what had happened to the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility in the Admiralty Memorandum on the Geddes Report. Cabinet responsibility, he said, was a joke. The country had been governed by a dictator. The real cause of the commotion was the dislike of the Diehard Conservatives for Mr. Montagu himself. The Prime Minister had done for them what they could not do for themselves, and had presented them with Mr. Montagu's head on a charger. Mr. Montagu dealt with the particular circumstances in which he authorised the publication of the telegram of the Government of India. He stated that the telegram had been circulated to the members of the Cabinet along with the request for publication, and that at the last Cabinet meeting he had informed Lord Curzon of the fact that he had authorised publication. If Lord Curzon had then objected, and had laid his objection before the Cabinet, there would have been time for the authorisation to be countermanded. Lord Curzon, Mr. Montagu added, “maintained silence in the Cabinet, and contented himself that evening with writing to me one of those plaintive, hectoring, bullying, complaining letters which are so familiar to his colleagues and friends, which ended with a request not to discuss the matter in the Cabinet, but in future not to allow publication of such documents without consultation with him."
Lord Curzon replied to Mr. Montagu in the House of Lords on March 14. He expressed the view that it was intolerable that he should have to go to the Conference at Paris while a subordinate branch of the British Government 6,000 miles away dictated to the British Government what lines it ought to pursue in Thrace. Lord Curzon spoke of the surprise which he felt when he learned from Mr. Montagu's speech that he was deemed to have connived in some way at the injury which had been done to the public interest. Referring to the conversation in the Cabinet with Mr. Montagu, he said that he was so dumbfounded at Mr. Montagu's avowal that he closed the conversation forthwith. He assured the House that had Mr. Montagu given the slightest hint that there was still time to cancel or postpone publication, or had he regarded such a suspension as possible, he would at once have brought the matter before the Cabinet. Lord Curzon complained that he had received no reply to his letter, and that Mr. Montagu, instead of following the ordinary procedure of making his explanation in Parliament, had gone to his constituents and publicly referred to and travestied both his private conversation and private letter, vilifying a colleague whose advice he had not ceased to solicit and receive in unstinted measure in recent years.
Some difficulty was experienced in finding a successor to Mr. Montagu as Secretary for India. The Unionist Party was so sharply divided in its support of the Coalition that prominent Unionists hesitated to accept the post, and there was no question of its being held by anyone but a Unionist. The office was declined in turn by Lord Derby and the Duke of Devonshire, and ultimately accepted by Lord Peel, with Lord Winterton for Under-Secretary in succession to Lord Lytton.
Sir L. Worthington-Evans, the Secretary for War, referred on March 20 to the crisis in the Coalition in a speech at Wandsworth. He hoped that the Coalition would continue in existence, and that if the Prime Minister were forced by doctor's orders to retire or take a prolonged holiday, the Coalition Liberal members of the Cabinet might still give their assistance under a different leader. He regarded Mr. Lloyd George as one of the greatest assets that the State possessed. There was no reason for Conservatives to throw over the Coalition Liberals when they agreed with them on main issues of policy. The Government were still reducing expenditure, and by the time the next Budget came they might look forward to some relief from taxation.
Mr. Churchill likewise pleaded strongly for continued cooperation between Liberals and Conservatives in a speech at Northampton on March 25. He said that it would be a great disaster to the country if the Conservative Party were broken up as the Liberal Party had been. We must preserve a strong national unity. He could not see why Liberals and Conservatives could not continue to work together as they had done during the last seven years. He had no patience with the doctrine that the Labour Party were to be calmly allowed to go about the country attacking 400 seats.
Lord Carson, on the other hand, speaking at Burton, made a strong attack on the Coalition, saying that it was time to return to the party system. This speech called forth a rebuke from the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords. He laid it down firmly that no judge had the slightest right to go on a platform in the country and make political speeches. Lord Carson expressed his dissent from this view. Speaking in the House of Lords on March 29, he denied that he had consciously or unconsciously broken any rule or any tradition of the House of Lords. The relation of judicial members to party politics raised many more questions than the alleged breach of conduct on his part. He did not object to inquiry nor to a change in the law, and he was willing to retire if he had done anything wrong.
The Lord Chancellor then declared that the claim made by Lord Carson that the judges had the right to intervene whenever they chose in party politics in the House and on public platforms was a doctrine as novel as it was revolutionary. The result would be that, when a Prime Minister had to make an appointment as judge, he would have to consider the question of a man's political opinions and not his ability. Lord Dunedin expressed himself against judges taking part in politics, but Lord Finlay said it was not competent for the Lord Chancellor to lay down a rule, and he did not believe there was any convention such as had been suggested.
The Army estimates were dealt with in the House of Commons on March 15. Sir L. Worthington-Evans, in presenting them, said that they would total 62,300,0001. for the year, and represented a saving of 16,500,0001., against the Geddes recommendation of 20,000,0001. The net result would be that, exclusive of the Indian establishment, the Army would number 152,000 of all ranks, against 172,000 in 1914. In the latter year there was a reserve of 146,000 and a militia of 55,000. At present there was a reserve of 65,000 and no militia. He proposed to strengthen the Reserve by the enlistment of key men and the restoration of the militia.
Both the Minister for War and Sir Donald Maclean dwelt upon the improved situation in Europe as compared with 1914, but Sir Henry Wilson, formerly Chief of the Imperial General Staff, expressed the view that the situation was not more hopeful but more threatening. Europe had now been broken into a number of small States, and the change had not lessened the military danger. In spite of the reduction of the German and Austrian Armies, there were as many armed men in Europe now as there had been in 1913. The way to preserve peace was to have an Army sufficiently strong to prevent war.
If the estimates placed before the House and the reductions in the fighting troops contemplated were carried out, we should have an Army not sufficiently strong either to prevent or win a war.
The debate was resumed on March 22, and the Minister of War had to face considerable criticism regarding the reductions which he proposed to make in the strength of the Army. He announced that, on reconsideration of the estimates, he had found it possible to confine the infantry cut to twenty-two battalions. No regiments, except those associated with Southern Ireland, would be destroyed, but regiments of four battalions would be reduced to two. These, however, could expand again when the emergency arose.
The North Irish regiments and the English county regiments would be preserved. Ulster would have four battalions instead of six. He said he thought also that he had found a plan to avoid the destruction of any cavalry regiments, thus bringing back the four cavalry regiments which had been disbanded in 1921, one squadron representing each regiment.
The Navy estimates were dealt with on March 16. They showed a contemplated reduction in expenditure of 15,348,0001. The Geddes Committee had suggested a further reduction on those estimates of 21,000,0001. Mr. Amery, defending the Admiralty Memorandum, vindicated the administration of the Board from a charge which was either one of gross incompetence or complete indifference to the national need for economy. The Geddes Committee thought they had discovered an excess of 35,000 officers and men. That meant to say that more than a quarter of the whole Navy was not needed at all. The whole of this alleged excess, he said, was a statistical delusion. After quoting some of the economies effected, he said that the total administrative savings to be carried out in compliance with the Geddes Report amounted to nearly 3,000,0001. Further savings, due to the continued fall in prices and wages, amounted to 1,600,0001. This was the utmost by which the estimates could be reduced before the Washington Conference. The Washington economies were still contingent upon the ratification of the Naval Treaty by all the powers concerned, and might have to be reconsidered if the Treaty miscarried. The Admiralty, however, had felt justified in re-interpreting the one-power standard on a definitely lower plane, and they had carried out a further scheme of drastic reduction, carrying economy to the utmost limit. They could not go further unless they were to abandon the one-power standard and drop to the rank of a second-or third-class naval power.
. The question of the future of the Air Service was raised by Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Hall on March 16, who moved a resolution calling the attention of the House of Commons to the serious position of the Admiralty in not being in control of their own Air Service, and asking that the Naval Air Services should be put under the command of the Board of Admiralty, for the full development of the efficiency of those services, for their better co-operation with the Navy, and for the most economical administration and expenditure. The present system, he contended, was not in the interests of efficiency.
Mr. Chamberlain then announced that the subject of cooperation and co-ordination of the services had been carefully investigated by the Standing Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The following recommendations had been made:
1. The Air Force must be autonomous in matters of administration and education.
2. In the case of defence against air-raids the Army and Navy must play a secondary rôle.
3. In the case of military operations by land or naval operations by sea, the Air Force must be in strict subordination to the General or Admiral in supreme command.
4. In other cases the relations between the Air Force and other services should be regarded as a matter of co-operation rather than of strict subordination, which was necessary when aeroplanes were acting merely as auxiliaries to other arms.
Mr. Chamberlain said that the Government had not yet found time to consider the recommendation of the Geddes Committee for the creation of a Ministry of Defence. They had decided, however, to appoint a Committee to examine carefully into the system of naval and air co-operation, and advise how we could best secure that the Air Force should be enabled to render to the Navy, in connexion with the Army, all the services that the country might require.
The Air estimates were considered on March 21. Captain Guest, Secretary of State for Air, said that aircraft was powerful enough, if sufficient in quantity, to defend our shores from invasion. He believed that in the next few years powerful aircraft would progressively expand the areas in which enemy ships could not move with impunity. As those controlled sea areas increased in size and number, so the remaining ocean areas in which fleet action could take place would become more and more restricted, thus bringing forward the possibility of further economies in ships of war. One bomb could sink the most powerful battleship in a few minutes. As to gunnery, whereas the range of a ship's gun was 20 miles, there was a range of 200 miles with the aeroplane bomb. He prophesied that in ten years' time the combat between the forces of the air and the sea would become entirely one-sided. It would also be possible to transport by aeroplane small forces of artillery and infantry for minor operations.
On March 29 Dr. Macnamara moved the second reading of the Unemployed Insurance Bill, the object of which was to continue the present benefit insurance, and the benefit given under the provisions of the Dependants Act of the preceding November up to June, 1923 ; also to extend the borrowing powers of the Minister of Labour from 20,000,0001. to 30,000,0001. Dr. Macnamara contended that the Bill was necessary to mitigate the present distress. He was hopeful that the slight improvement would continue, but he warned the country that industrial disputes would throw us back into the gloom from which we were emerging. Mr. J. H. Thomas protested, on behalf of the Labour Party, against this method of dealing