HC Deb 23 April 1914 vol 61 cc1253-60

I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."


I desire to take this opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a pamphlet recently issued by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, which contains, in my opinion, very regrettable attacks upon Army life and discipline. I may say it is a matter of regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War is unable to be present to-night. We all know he has many multitudinous duties, but, having assumed the responsibility of this important office, it is, at any rate, unfortunate that when an Army matter comes up he finds it impossible to attend. This pamphlet is especially regrettable from the point of view of recruiting. We know from the statement made by the late Secretary for War in introducing the Estimates this year that special efforts have bad to be made by the Army authorities to deal with recruiting during the last six or eight months. Cinematograph entertainments have been organised, a large sum of money has been expended in advertising in the Press, and a special booklet has been issued to place the advantages of Army life before the young men of the country. So far as the Territorials are concerned, the position is even worse. There is no possibility of ever obtaining sufficient number of men to bring the force up to the establishment which was originally laid down, and from the statement which was made by the Secretary for War in introducing the Estimates it seemed that we should have to anticipate that the position would be even worse during the next few months.

Under these circumstances I think it is most undesirable that Members of the Government should in any way associate themselves with attacks upon military life and discipline. The publication which I refer to is one issued under the authority of an organisation known as the National League of Young Liberals. I gather from information contained in the last page of the pamphlet that this is an organisation which has over 500 branches, and the President of the Board of Agriculture is also President of the League, the objects of which are twofold—first, to train young people for politics by promoting systematic study of the problems of citizenship; and, secondly, to create a force of active workers for Liberal and Progressive principles. I understand that this organisation busies itself with the production of pamphlets of this kind, and apparently is anxious that these pamphlets should obtain as wide a circulation as possible, because I find there are specially reduced prices for large quantities for distribution. The particular pamphlet to which I am drawing the attention of the House is one entitled "Democracy and Compulsory Service." The outside contains an excl-lent portrait of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, it gives his name as the author, and appends his Government position, and consequently gives an authoritative element to this pamphlet. I am not concerned with the attacks which this pamphlet contains on the principles of national service, nor have I any fault to find with the references which the hon. Member has made to the Bill which I had the honour to introduce into this House last year advocating the introduction of national service in the Territorial Force. But I may point out to the hon. Member that, having done me the honour to examine my Bill, and to make some criticisms of my proposals, he might have taken the trouble to see that in the various references made to me throughout the pamphlet I was correctly described. In view of the very strong views taken by hon. Members opposite with regard to the necessity of strict discipline in the Army, with which I am in complete agreement, it is rather remarkable to find that the hon. Member appears to have nothing whatever to say in favour of military discipline, but condemns it root and branch, and describes it by saying:— Of all forms of subservience short of positive slavery, military subservience is by far the worst. Statements of that kind, contained in pamphlets which are intended for very wide circulation, are not likely to produce the strict military discipline which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have in view. It is not so much from the point of view of discipline that I desire to criticise the hon. Gentleman's pamphlet, but rather the point of view of his regrettable attacks upon what I may call Army life. It is most unjust and unfair upon soldiers who are members of His Majesty's Army, and must have a deterrent effect upon recruiting when the pamphlet is distributed among the young men of this country. It is extremely regrettable that the hon. Member should have thought it desirable to cast a slur upon the class from which our recruits are drawn at the present time. He referred to them as Lads drawn from the poorest of our population. He goes on to say:— It is no longer the neglected, the ill-nurtured, the unemployed who are going to exchange their slum home for the regiment. Is that the way in which the hon. Member thinks it desirable to refer to the present class of—


It was very largely quoted in the National Service pamphlets.


I think the hon. Member is under a complete misapprehension in that respect. There are no quotation marks in the portion of his pamphlet to which I am referring. It is most undesirable, and must produce a very bad effect in the Army when they find that one who ought to be a responsible Member of the Government casts this undeserved slur upon men who are doing their duty and providing for the defence of their country. There is another matter contained on the same page to which I should like to refer. This is one of the hon. Member's observations:— It is not the business of an army to be moral, or to make character. It is its business to teach soldiers to fight at the expense of every other result upon them. Great Generals may be advocates of temperance, and the War Office may seek remedies against disease which is decimating regiments. I consider that that is a horrible statement and a horrible insinuation to make against the men of His Majesty's Army. It is completely and absolutely untrue as the hon. Member would have ascertained for himself had he taken the trouble either to attend the Debate when the late Secretary of State for War introduced the Estimates this year or had taken the trouble to read the statistics which were published I think only a few months ago. What will the opinion of the young man of this country be into whose hands this pamphlet falls when at the same time probably from some other source he has received the pamphlets issued by the Secretary of State for War dealing with the advantages of military service? Which of these is he to accept, the terrible state of things depicted by the Secretary to the Board of Education or what is stated in the pamphlet issued by his fellow Minister? Never have conditions under which the soldier lives been more pleasant than those which surround him now. Never has the Army offered greater advantages. Army conditions have of late years been so vastly improved that the soldier's life is nowadays the most healthy and fascinating occupation that young men can adopt. Which of these is supposed to be true in the considered opinion of His Majesty's Government? One, of course, is written to obtain recruits and to induce young men to undertake the patriotic work of defending their country. The other is written merely in order to get a party advantage against their political opponents. I suppose we are to understand that this pamphlet is part of the campaign of the people against the Army. And yet hon. Members on the opposite benches who are responsible for these sort of statements appear to be surprised that they are not popular with the men of His Majesty's Army. Doe3 not the hon. Member realise that pamphlets of this kind, widely distributed throughout the length and breadth of the country, find their way into the barrack rooms of the British Army? Has he no idea how bitterly resented these kind of false statements are by the private soldiers? Does he know that they despise and hate the men who are capable of these cowardly attacks, because the men of His Majesty's Army have no opportunity of replying to them? Under the circumstances can they be surprised to find that their authority is weakening and that discipline is impaired? I hope that in view of all that has occurred, the hon. Member may see fit to withdraw this pamphlet from circulation altogether, and that, at any rate, the Secretary of State for War and the other Members of the Government will take some opportunity of dissociating: themselves from this publication.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman, whose title I regret I did not correctly cite in my pamphlet, apparently thinks that this pamphlet is likely to have a serious effect upon recruiting. Of course it is very gratifying to me in my position at the Board of Education to think that large numbers of young men of the recruiting age are accustomed to read 33-page pamphlets, for presumably this is not the only pamphlet which they have been reading. I am glad that the standard of education is rising in the way of political education at so young an age. I can reassure the hon. and gallant Gentleman with regard to the effect of the pamphlet. I have inquired where the pamphlet has had most circulation, and it is in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Northumberland. I am glad to say that last year the recruiting in both those counties has gone up. There is another direction in which the pamphlet had some sale. The National Service League purchased a good deal more than a hundred copies, and they have been writing about it ever since, and that is really what is moving the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I cannot imagine that he really supposed that a political pamphlet of this kind does fall into the hands of many people likely to be recruits in His Majesty's Army. The hon. Gentleman has made a perfectly baseless accusation against me in relation to this pamphlet. He says I have attacked the British Army. I have done nothing of the kind. I have been stating the arguments against compulsory service. Everyone knows that one of the chief arguments which is depended upon by the National Service people is that it is going to improve the morals and health of the British people if we have compulsory service. That is a perfectly legitimate opinion to hold, but it is not the opinion held by the mass of Englishmen, and certainly not by all Englishmen, and I am perfectly within my rights in arguing that the health and morals of barrack life are not so good as the health and morals of home life. Against the British Army I make no accusation; in fact, the very passage which the hon. and gallant Member read is proof of my complete appreciation of what is done by the British Army. I have listened to the Debates to which my hon. and gallant Friend alludes, and I have heard my own colleagues speaking about the British Army. I am sorry that I have not the literary faculty of all my family, but what I meant when I wrote this sentence, "Great generals may be advocates of temperance," was—and when I republish this pamphlet I will write—" As far as the British Army is concerned, I am aware that Lord Roberts is a great advocate of temperance, and has done a great deal for the British Army. "That is what I mean. When I wrote" and the War Office may seek remedies against disease which is decimating regiments, "what I meant—and it is perfectly well known—was that there has been disease in British regiments in the past, and that the War Office has been doing what it can in order to prevent it, and that it had to a great extent succeeded. When I republish the pamphlet I will say: "Such efforts at moral training or paternal care are liable to be conflicting, and can never alter the main facts of the life." That is the argument upon which I insist. [An HON. MEMBER: IS that the insinuation?"] The argument which I am putting forward here is that barrack life is liable to be dangerous. I have no doubt that there are large numbers of people in this country who think that barrack life is the most healthy life possible, but there are large numbers of people afraid of it. I am not talking exclusively of England. Here in England we have now a voluntary Army, and there is one very strong motive in a voluntary Army to see that the conditions of barrack life are good, a motive which would not exist when the military authorities could get what men they liked as recruits.




Is it open to the Noble Lord to interrupt?


It is not open to any Member, Noble Lord or otherwise, to interrupt. It is a most reprehensible practice, and I should be very glad to stop it if I possibly could.


If hon. Members say that barrack life is good for the morals and discipline of the people they must learn to expect us to reply that we believe that to be untrue. We may be wrong. They may be wrong. But if the hon. Gentleman had gone on to read the passage to which I refer he would have seen that I do not treat it as a chose jugée, but simply state that there are two sides to the question, and there are a large number of people who believe that barrack life is not a good thing for the whole community. I also say that the question is not settled in France. It was only the other day that I was reading a series of opinions from all sorts of Frenchmen collected in one of the most responsible magazines of France in which they asked for a general judgment with regard to barrack life in France. I admit that among them there were a certain number of views given which bore out the views of the hon. Gentleman, but there were just as many, or rather more, that led one to believe that the minds of the people in France were extremely anxious about the results of barrack life on the whole of the population. That is the proposition that I want to put forward, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have no right to object to the question being discussed as to whether, under compulsory service—not voluntary, but compulsory service, an entirely different thing, it is likely that you will get the same kind of good results that you get in barrack life in England to-day. Of course we admit, and we are proud, that the results in recent years have been better; but what we are compelled to consider when we are asked to become a conscriptionist nation ourselves is: Are the results in conscriptionist nations so satisfactory as to lead us to follow other nations who have adopted that system?


We are not asking for conscription. That is absolutely untrue.


The hon. Gentlemen say that they are not in favour of conscription. We are discussing a proposition which we think would lead to conscription. If the hon. Gentleman is going to raise all these points we may "very day have a discussion on some one point in this infinite controversy, but on the main point which the hon. Gentleman raises in the question, whether a political pamphlet is going to have any effect on recruiting, I really think that he has exaggerated its importance and that he might well have left it in the comparative obscurity in which, I have no doubt, he wishes it to-remain.

Adjourned at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'clock.