National Expenditure. – in the House of Commons on 1st March 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

On the question of the Army, the Geddes Committee recommend a reduction of £20,000,000 on the provisional Estimate, or £22,500,000 if we include the Middle East. But again I have this remark to make, that there is no full specification which will give a figure of £22,500,000. As in the case of the Navy, so in the case of the Army there are £7,000,000 of recommended reductions which are not specified in the Report. Therefore, so far as specified reductions are concerned, the position is that, including the Middle East, the reduction recommended is £15,500,000. In response to the inquiries of the Committee on National Expenditure, the Secretary of State for War made a great and valiant effort in the War Office for a reduction of its Estimates. He was assisted by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, in so far as he was concerned with the operations which are going on in the; Middle East, but in the result the War Office suggested a reduction of £17,000,000, as against the figure of £15,500,000 specified by the Geddes Committee. It is true that that £17,000,000 is not entirely comparable with the £15,500,000. In some cases the War Office give reductions where the Geddes Committee do not suggest any. In other cases it is the other way about. £1,500,000 are got by taking advantage of Appropriations-in-Aid for the troops on the Rhine, but roughly, in so far as they are specified, the War Office are giving the same reductions as are recommended by the Geddes Committee.

The difference, in so far as it exists, between the Committee and the War Office arises, just as in the case of the Navy, on the question of numbers. The Committee recommend a reduction of 54,000 men. The War Office accept a reduction of 33,000 men. After an examination of the figures, it was discovered that the 54,000 recommended by the Geddes Committee was based upon a misapprehension, not due to any fault of the Committee, but due to a change of mind, after evidence had been given, on the part of the Indian Government as to their necessities in the shape of British troops. That factor alters the whole calculation, and upon the basis of the calculation which the Geddes Committee was making, by which they arrived at a figure of 54,000, the number was reduced to a figure of 39,000. So the War Office is offering a reduction of 33,000 men as against a reduction, of 39,000 based upon the calculations of the Committee on Expenditure.

I would ask the House to see how far the War Office and the Government have gone in meeting the demand for a reduction of expenditure. The reduction by the War Office amounts to cancelling 24 battalions of the line and the equivalent of five cavalry regiments, and it reduces the artillery by 40 per cent. Some idea of what this means will be obtained if I make two observations. In the first place, the size of the Army now, in so far as it is composed of British troops not stationed in India, and exclusive of Colonial or native troops, will be reduced from the pre-War numbers by 20,000 men. There were 172,800 men in the Army before the War. These will now be reduced to 152,800 men. The result is that, instead of the six divisions which we were able to send overseas at the beginning of the War, we should only be able to send now two divisions in the first month if any emergency arises; the third, fourth, and fifth divisions, obviously would take some time to get together. But I am sure that, when these figures are looked at, no Member of the House will be inclined to say that we have not gone far enough in reducing the military forces of the Crown.

Photo of Sir Robert Horne Sir Robert Horne , Glasgow Hillhead

We have to remember the great obligations which rest upon us to-day. We cannot forget the unrestful condition of the world, and the disturbed condition of many of the great regions in which the British Empire is especially interested at the present time. With these obligations in view the Government are not in a position to recommend any further reduction in the expenditure of the War Office.