HC Deb 06 August 1914 vol 65 cc2073-100



Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £100,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary grants of Parliament, towards defraying expenses that may be incurred during the year ending March 31st, 1915, for all measures which may be taken for the security of the country, for the conduct of Naval and Military operations, for assisting the food supply, for promoting the continuance of trade, industry, and business communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, or otherwise for the relief of distress, and generally for all expenses arising out of the existence of a state of war."

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

In asking the Committee to agree to the Resolution which Mr. Whitley has just read from the Chair, I do not propose, because I do not think it is in any way necessary, to traverse again the ground which was covered by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary two or three nights ago. He stated—and I do not think any of the statements he made are capable of answer and certainly have not yet been answered—the grounds upon which, with the utmost reluctance and with infinite regret, His Majesty's Government have been compelled to put this country in a state of war with what for many years and indeed generations past has been a friendly Power. But, Sir, the Papers which have since been presented to Parliament, and which are now in the hands of hon. Members will, I think, show how strenuous, how unremitting, how persistent, even when the last glimmer of hope seemed to have faded away, were the efforts of my right hon. Friend to secure for Europe an honourable and a lasting peace.

Everyone knows in the great crisis which occurred last year in the East of Europe, it was largely if not mainly, by the acknowledgment of all Europe, due to the steps taken by my right hon. Friend that the area of the conflict was limited, and that so far as the great Powers are concerned, peace was maintained. If his efforts upon this occasion have, unhappily, been less successful, I am certain that this House and the country—and I will add posterity and history—will accord to him what is, after all, the best tribute that can be paid to any statesman that, never derogating for an instant or by an inch from the honour and interests of his own country, he has striven, as few men have striven, to maintain and preserve the greatest interest of all countries—universal peace.

These Papers, which are now in the hands of hon. Members, show something more than that. They show what were the terms which were offered to us in exchange for our neutrality. I trust that not only the Members of this House, but all our fellow-subjects everywhere will read the communications—will read, learn and mark the communications which passed only a week ago to-day between Berlin and London in this matter. The terms by which it was sought to buy our neutrality are contained in the communication made by the German Chancellor to Sir Edward Goschen on the 29th July—No. 85 of the published Papers. I think I must refer to them for a moment. After alluding to the state of things as between Austria and Russia, Sir Edward Goschen goes on:— He [the German Chancellor] then proceeded to make the following strong bid for British neutrality. He said that it was clear, so far as he was able to judge the main principle "which governed British policy, that Great Britain would never stand by and allow France to be crushed in any conflict there might be. That, however, was not the object at which Germany aimed Provided that neutrality of Great Britain were certain, every assurance would be given to the British Government that the Imperial Government"— Let the Committee observe these words— aimed at no territorial acquisition at the expense of France should they prove victorious in any war that might ensue. Sir Edward Goschen proceeded to put a very pertinent question:— I questioned His Excellency about the French colonies "— What are the French colonies? They mean every part of the dominions and possessions of France outside the geographical area of Europe— and he said that he was unable to give a similar undertaking in that respect. Let me come to what, in my mind, personally has always been the crucial and almost the governing consideration, namely, the position of the small States:— As regards Holland, however, His Excellency said that so long as Germany's adversaries respected the integrity and neutrality of the Netherlands, Germany was ready to give His Majesty's Government an assurance that she would do likewise. Then we come to Belgium:— It depended upon the action of France what operations Germany might be forced to enter upon in Belgium, but, when the war was over, Belgian integrity would be respected if she had not sided against Germany. Let the Committee observe the distinction between those two cases. In regard to Holland it was not only independence and integrity, but also neutrality; but in regard to Belgium, there was no mention of neutrality at all, nothing but an assurance that after the war came to an end the integrity of Belgium would be respected. Then His Excellency added:— Ever since he had been Chancellor the object of his policy had been to bring about an understanding with England. He trusted that these assurances"— the assurances I have read out to the House— might form the basis of that understanding which he so much desired. What does that amount to? Let me just ask the Committee. I do so, not with the object of inflaming passion, certainly not with the object of exciting feeling against Germany, but I do so to vindicate and make clear the position of the British Government in this matter. What did that proposal amount to? In the first place, it meant this: That behind the back of France—they were not made a party to these communications—we should have given, if we had assented to that, a free licence to Germany to annex, in the event of a successful war, the whole of the extra European dominions and possessions of France. What did it mean as regards Belgium? When she addressed, as she has addressed in these last few days, her moving appeal to us to fulfil our solemn guarantee of her neutrality, what reply should we have given? What reply should we have given to that Belgian appeal? We should have been obliged to say that, without her knowledge, we had bartered away to the Power threatening her our obligation to keep our plighted word. The House has read, and the country has read, of course, in the last few hours, the most pathetic appeal addressed by the King of Belgium, and I do not envy the man who can read that appeal with an unmoved heart. Belgians are fighting and losing their lives. What would have been the position of Great Britain to-day, in the face of that spectacle, if we had assented to this infamous proposal?

Yes, and what are we to get in return for the betrayal of our friends and the dishonour of our obligations? What are we to get in return? A promise—nothing more; a promise as to what Germany would do in certain eventualities; a promise, be it observed—I am sorry to have to say it, but it must be put upon record—given by a Power which was at that very moment announcing its intention to violate its own treaty and inviting us to do the same. I can only say, if we had dallied or temporised, we, as a Government, should have covered ourselves with dishonour, and we should have betrayed the interests of this country, of which we are trustees. I am glad, and I think the country will be glad, to turn to the reply which my right hon. Friend made, and of which I will read to the Committee two of the more salient passages. This document, No. 101 of the Papers, puts on record a week ago the attitude of the British Government, and, as I believe, of the British people. My right hon. Friend says:— His Majesty's Government cannot for a moment entertain the Chancellor's proposal that they should bind themselves to neutrality on such terms. What he asks us in effect is to engage to stand by while French Colonies are taken if France is beaten, so long as Germany does not take French territory as distinct from the Colonies. From the material point of view "— My right hon. Friend, as he always does, used very temperate language:— such a proposal is unacceptable, for France, without further territory in Europe being taken from her could be so crushed as to lose her position as a Great Power, and become subordinate to German policy. That is the material aspect. But he proceeded:— Altogether, apart from that, it would be a disgrace for us to make this bargain with Germany at the expense of Fiance, a disgrace from which the good name of this country would never recover. The Chancellor also in effect asks us to bargain away whatever obligation or interest we have as regards the neutrality of Belgium. We could not entertain that bargain either. He then says:— We must preserve our full freedom to act, as circumstances may seem to us to require. And he added, I think, in sentences which the Committee must appreciate:— You should … add most earnestly that the one way of maintaining the good relations between England and Germany is that they should continue to work together to preserve the peace of Europe. … For that object this Government will work in that way with all sincerity and good will. If the peace of Europe can be preserved and the present crisis safely passed, my own endeavour will be to promote some arrangement to which Germany could be a party, by which she could be assured that no aggressive or hostile policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia, and ourselves, jointly or separately. I have desired this and worked for it "— The statement was never more true— as far as I could, through the last Balkan crisis, and Germany having a corresponding object, our relations sensibly improved. The idea has hitherto been too Utopian to form the subject of definite proposals, but if this present crisis, so much more acute than any that Europe has gone through for generations, be safely passed, I am hopeful that the relief and reaction which will follow may make possible some more definite rapprochement between the Powers than has been possible hitherto. That document, in my opinion, states clearly, in temperate and convincing language, the attitude of this Government. Can anyone who reads it fail to appreciate the tone of obvious sincerity and earnestness which underlies it; can anyone honestly doubt that the Government of this country in spite of great provocation—and I regard the proposals made to us as proposals which we might have thrown aside without consideration and almost without answer—can anyone doubt that in spite of great provocation the right hon. Gentleman, who had already earned the title—and no one ever more deserved it—of "Peace Maker of Europe," persisted to the very last moment of the last hour in that beneficent but unhappily frustrated purpose?

I am entitled to say, and I do so on behalf of this country—I speak not for a party, I speak for the country as a whole—that we made every effort any Government could possibly make for peace. But this war has been forced upon us. What is it we are fighting for? Everyone knows, and no one knows better than the Government, the terrible, incalculable suffering, economic, social, personal and political, which war, and especially a war between the Great Powers of the world, must entail. There is no man amongst us sitting upon this bench in these trying days—more trying perhaps than any body of statesmen for a hundred years have had to pass through—there is not a man amongst us who has not, during the whole of that time, had clearly before his vision the almost unequalled suffering which war, even in a just cause, must bring about, not only to the peoples who are for the moment living in this country and in the other countries of the world, but to posterity and to the whole prospects of European civilisation. Every step we took we took with that vision before our eyes, and with a sense of responsibility which it is impossible to describe. Unhappily, if in spite of all our efforts to keep the peace, and with that full and overpowering consciousness of the result, if the issue be decided in favour of war, we have, nevertheless, thought it to be the duty as well as the interest of this country to go to war, the House may be well assured it was because we believe, and I am certain the country will believe, that we are unsheathing our sword in a just cause.

If I am asked what we are fighting for I reply in two sentences. In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation, an obligation which, if it had been entered into between private persons in the ordinary concerns of life, would have been regarded as an obligation not only of law but of honour, which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated I say, secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle which, in these days when force, material force, sometimes seems to be the dominant influence and factor in the development of mankind, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed, in defiance of international good faith, by the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power.

I do not believe any nation ever entered into a great controversy—and this is one of the greatest history will ever know—with a clearer conscience and a stronger conviction that it is fighting, not for aggression, not for the maintenance even of its own selfish interest, but that it is fighting in defence of principles the maintenance of which is vital to the civilisation of the world. With a full conviction, not only of the wisdom and justice, but of the obligations which lay upon us to challenge this great issue, we are entering into the struggle. Let us now make sure that all the resources, not only of this United Kingdom, but of the vast Empire of which it is the centre, shall be thrown into the scale, and it is that that object may be adequately secured, that I am now about to ask this Committee—to make the very unusual demand upon it—to give the Government a Vote of Credit of £100,000,000.

I am not going, and I am sure the Committee do not wish it, into the technical distinctions between Votes of Credit and Supplementary Estimates and all the rarities and refinements which arise in that connection. There is a much higher point of view than that. If it were necessary, I could justify, upon purely technical grounds, the course we propose to adopt, but I am not going to do so, because I think it would be foreign to the temper and disposition of the Committee. There is one thing to which I do call attention, that is, the Title and Heading of the Bill. As a rule, in the past, Votes of this kind have been taken simply for naval and military operations, but we have thought it right to ask the Committee to give us its confidence in the extension of the traditional area of Votes of Credit, so that this money which we are asking them to allow us to expend may be applied not only for strictly naval and military operations, but to assist the food supplies, promote the continuance of trade, industry, business, and communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk or otherwise, for the relief of distress, and generally for all expenses arising out of the existence of a state of war.

I believe the Committee will agree with us that it was wise to extend the area of the Vote of Credit so as to include all these various matters. It gives the Government a free hand. Of course, the Treasury will account for it, and any expenditure that takes place will be subject to the approval of the House. I think it would be a great pity—in fact, a great disaster—if, in a crisis of this magnitude, we were not enabled to make provision—provision far more needed now than it was under the simpler conditions that prevailed in the old days—for all the various ramifications and developments of expenditure which the existence of a state of war between the great Powers of Europe must entail on any one of them.

I am asking also in my character of Secretary of State for War—a position which I held until this morning—for a Supplementary Estimate for men for the Army. Perhaps the Committee will allow me for a moment just to say on that personal matter that I took upon myself the office of Secretary of State For War under conditions, upon which I need not go back, but which are fresh in the minds of everyone, in the hope and with the object that the condition of things in the Army, which all of us deplored, might speedily be brought to an end, and complete confidence re-established. I believe that is the case; in fact, I know it to be. There is no more loyal and united body, no body in which the spirit and habit of discipline are more deeply ingrained and cherished than in the British Army. Glad as I should have been to continue the work of that office, and I would have done so under normal conditions, it would not be fair to the Army, it would not be just to the country, that any Minister should divide his attention between that Department and another, still less that the First Minister of the Crown, who has to look into the affairs of all Departments and who is ultimately responsible for the whole policy of the Cabinet, should give, as he could only give, perfunctory attention to the affairs of our Army in a great war. I am very glad to say that a very distinguished soldier and administrator, in the person of Lord Kitchener, with that great public spirit and patriotism that everyone would expect from him, at my request stepped into the breach. Lord Kitchener, as everyone knows, is not a politician. His association with the Government as a Member of the Cabinet for this purpose must not be taken as in any way identifying him with any set of political opinions. He has, at a great public emergency, responded to a great public call, and I am certain he will have with him, in the discharge of one of the most arduous tasks that has ever fallen upon a Minister, the complete confidence of all parties and all opinions.

I am asking on his behalf for the Army, power to increase the number of men of all ranks, in addition to the number already voted, by no less than 500,000. I am certain the Committee will not refuse its sanction, for we are encouraged to ask for it not only by our own sense of the gravity and the necessities of the case, but by the knowledge that India is prepared to send us certainly two Divisions, and that every one of our self-governing Dominions, spontaneously and unasked, has already tendered to the utmost limits of their possibilities, both in men and in money, every help they can, afford to the Empire in a moment of need. Sir, the Mother Country must set the example, while she responds with gratitude and affection to those filial overtures from the outlying members of her family.

I will say no more. This is not an occasion for controversial discussion. In all that I have said, I believe I have not gone, either in the statement of our case, or in my general description of the provision we think it necessary to make, beyond the strict bounds of truth. It is not my purpose—it is not the purpose of any patriotic man—to inflame feeling, to indulge in rhetoric, to excite international animosities. The occasion is far too grave for that. We have a great duty to perform, we have a great trust to fulfil, and confidently we believe that Parliament and the country will enable us to do it.

4.0 P.M.


No Minister has ever fulfilled a duty more responsible or in regard to which the responsibility was more acutely felt than that which has just been fulfilled by the right hon. Gentleman. This is not a time for speech making, and I should have been quite ready to leave the statement which he has given to the Committee as the expression of the view, not of a party but of a nation. But as this, I think, will be the only opportunity which will be given for expressing the views of a large section of this Committee, I feel that I am bound to make clear to the Committee and to the country what is the attitude of His Majesty's Opposition on this question. There are two things which I desire to impress upon the Committee. The first is that we have dreaded war and have longed for peace as strongly as any Member of this Committee; and the second is that in our belief we are in a state of war against our will, and that we, as a nation, have done everything in our power to prevent such a condition of things arising. When this crisis first arose I confess I was one of those who had the hope that even then, though a European conflagration took place, we might be able to stay out of it. I held that hope strongly, but in a short time I became convinced of this, that into this war we should inevitably be drawn, and that it really was a question, and a question only, whether we should enter it honourably or be dragged into it with dishonour.

I remember that on the first occasion, after the retirement of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour), when I had to speak on foreign affairs, I made this statement, which perhaps is wrong, though I do not think so even yet, I said that if ever war arose between Great Britain and Germany it would not be due to inevitable causes, for I did not believe in inevitable war. I said it would be due to human folly. It is due to human folly, and to human wickedness, but neither the folly nor the wickedness is here. What other course-was open to us? It is quite true, as the (Foreign Secretary explained to the House the other day, that we were under no formal obligation to take part in such a struggle, but every Member in this House knows that the Entente meant this in the minds of this Government and of every other Government, that if any of the three Powers were attacked aggressively the others would be expected to step in to give their aid. The question, therefore, to my mind was this: Was this war in any way provoked by those who will now be our allies? No one who has read the White Paper can hesitate to answer that question. I am not going to go into it even as fully as the Prime Minister has done, but I would remind the House of this, that in this White Paper is contained the statement made by the German Ambassador, I think, at Vienna, that Russia was not in a condition and could not go to war, and in the same letter are found these words:— As for Germany, she knew very well what she was about in backing up Austria-Hungary in this matter. Everyone for years has known that the key to peace or war lay in Berlin. Everyone knew it, and at this crisis there is no one who can doubt that Berlin, if it had chosen, could have prevented this terrible conflict. I am afraid that the miscalculation which was made about Brussels was made also about us. The dispatch which the right hon. Gentleman referred to is a dispatch of a nature that I, at least, believe would not have been addressed to Great Britain if it had been believed that our hands were free, and that we held the position which we had always held before. That, at least, is my belief. Now what does this mean? We are fighting, as the Prime Minister said, for the honour, and with the honour is bound up always the interest, of our country. But we are fighting also for the whole basis of the civilisation for which we stand, and for which Europe stands. I do not wish, any more than the Prime Minister, to inflame passion, and I only ask the House to consider this one aspect.

Look at the way Belgium is being treated to-day. There is a report—if it is not true now, it may be true to-morrow—that the city of Liege is attacked by German troops, and that civilians, as in the days of the middle ages, are fighting for their hearths and homes against trained troops. How has that been brought about? In a state of war, war must be waged, but remember that this plan is not of to-day or of yesterday. It has been long matured. The Germans knew that they would have others to face, and they were ready to take the course which they took the other day of saying to Belgium, "Destroy your independence and allow our troops to go through, or we will come down upon you with a might which it is impossible for you to resist." If we had allowed that to be done, our position as one of the great nations of the world, and our honour as one of the nations of the world, would, in my opinion, have been gone. This is no small struggle. It is the greatest, perhaps, that this country has ever been engaged in, and the issue is uncertain. It is Napoleonism once again. Thank heaven, so far as we know, there is no Napoleon.

I am not going to say anything more about the causes of the war, for I do not desire to encourage controversy on this subject. But, if I may be allowed to say so, I should like to say this, that I read yesterday with real pleasure an article in a paper which does not generally commend itself to me, the "Manchester Guardian." In that article it still held that the war ought not to have been entered into, but it took this view, that that was a question for history, and that now we were in it, there was only one question for us, and that was to bring it to a successful issue. I have felt sympathy, far more than at any other time, for the Prime Minister and for the Foreign Secretary. I can imagine nothing more terrible than that the Foreign Secretary should have a feeling that perhaps he has brought this country into an unnecessary war. No feeling can be worse. I can say this, and whether we are right or wrong, the whole House agrees with it I am sure, that that is a burden which the right hon. Gentleman can carry with a good conscience, and that every one of us can put up unhesitatingly this prayer, may God defend the right.

I should like, if I may to go to another topic—this is the only opportunity I shall have, and I think it is worth saying—and to ask the House to consider the conditions under which this war is going to be carried on. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say the other day in answer to a speech by the hon. Member (Mr. Arthur Henderson), and he has developed it in describing the terms of this Vote of Credit, that he realised, as we all must realise, that in a country situated like ours the development of industry and the supply of food at home is just as much an operation of war as is the conduct of our armed forces. I do not wish to minimise our difficulties, but I am quite sure, as sure as I can be of anything, that there is no danger of a scarcity of food, and that the only danger is the fear of scarcity of food. Everyone who has been in business knows that what causes panic prices is not actual scarcity at the time, but the fear of scarcity coming, and this is a case where every one of us must do what he can to impress upon the people of this country that there is, as I believe, no danger. Here I should like, if I may, to give one warning note. Remember, at least I believe it, this war, unexpected by us, is not unexpected by our enemy. I shall be greatly surprised if we do not find that at first on our trade routes there is a destruction of our property which might raise a panic. That is inevitable, I think, at the outset. Let us be prepared for it, and let us realise that it has no bearing whatever on the ultimate course of the war. There is something else which I think, if I am right, it is important to say. We had a discussion yesterday about credit. That is the basis of successful war, as it is of every branch of industry at this moment. I think the Government have taken the right course. I have followed it closely, and I know that they have been supported by those who best understand the situation. I think the danger is minimised as much as it can be. But, after all, the question of credit really depends on what we believe is going to be the effect of this war upon our trade and our industry. I hope the House will not think I am too optimistic, but I do think there is a danger of our taking too gloomy a view of what the effects may be, and by taking that gloomy view, helping to bring about the very state of affairs that we wish to avoid.

Again, I wish to guard myself against seeming to be too hopeful. But let us look at the facts as if we were examining a chess problem. If we keep the command of the sea, what is going to happen? It all depends on that. I admit that if that goes the position is gloomy indeed, but of that I have no fear. If we keep the command of the sea, what is going to happen? Five-sixths of our production is employed in the Home trade. What goes abroad is very important, for, of course, if the population which supplied the sixth were thrown out of work, that would react upon the Home trade. But, after all, the total amount of our exports to all the European countries which are now at war is only a small part of our total exports. There is here no question of fiscal policy. We are far beyond that. It is a fact. Our total exports to all the countries which are now at war do not, in my belief—I have not looked into the figures—exceed our exports to India and Australia taken alone.

We shall have free trade, if the sea routes are maintained, with the Colonies and with the whole of the American Continent, and, unfortunately for them, both our allies and our enemies will not be competing with us in those markets. Look at it as a problem, and I think we have a right to believe, not that trade will be good, but that it will be much more nearly normal than is generally believed. I hope the House will not think that a useless thing to say. There is one thing more which I would desire to say. This is the affair of the nation. Everyone would desire to help. There is a great deal of work to be done which cannot be done by the Government. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has already asked the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham and my right hon. Friend the Member for the Strand. They gave it gladly. But I am sure that I speak not only for this bench, but for the whole of our party, when I say that the Government has only got to requisition any one of us and we will serve it and our country to the best of our ability.


If the House would allow me—[HON MEMBERS: "Agreed!"]—for a very few minutes to express my humble opinion, it is that I desire to give my heartiest support to this Vote of Credit for £100,000,000. At a moment of this sort I consider that there is not time for reproaches or for recriminations. We all should stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of a great national danger. I was profoundly moved by the speech of the Prime Minister, and the case as it appears on the White Paper is overwhelming. The war was not made from the correspondence on the White Paper. The causes of the war are far back beyond that, and I profoundly disagree with the policy that has been pursued and that has culminated in this war. I profoundly disagree with the policy of high expenditure on armaments, which has meant the continuance of the policy of the balance of power, which has been carried on by secret diplomacy. This is a diplomatists' war and not a peoples' war, and I feel that we are only confronted to-day with the disastrous and complete failure of that policy. Nobody can defend the policy seeing what it has brought us to to-day, but I feel that in this great crisis it is incumbent on us to do all we can, not only to help those of our fellow countrymen who have gone to the front, but also to see that suffering at home, which may be very extended suffering, is relieved as far as possible. It is difficult, when the nation feels so keenly as it does now, and when there is practical unanimity in the House, for anyone to sound a dissentient note. The time will come when the whole of the policy which has led up to this calamity will have to be reviewed very carefully, and to be analysed very closely. We shall have to have more Papers than the White Paper that has been presented. We shall have to see that we were committed to a friendship with France long ago, though declarations to the contrary were made to us. I regret very much that we should have been deceived on that point. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] When the time comes, I am perfectly ready to prove that we were. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!" and "Sit down!"] I have no intention of going further into criticism. I only wanted to say when I rose that I give my whole-hearted support to the Government proposals.


I hope that the House will allow me to say a few words on this occasion and for this reason, that for many years I have worked with other friends of mine for friendship between ourselves and the German nation, and I happened only this week to be sitting at the table with French and German and other individuals whose object was to assist in the promotion of friendship between nations. But I do not rise to refer to that now, nor do I rise in order to criticise the Government. I believe myself, from reasons and facts which came to my knowledge in Germany, that this war will be handed down to history as having been caused in the same way as every other war has been caused, by a mutual misunderstanding. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] But I do not want to raise that question at the present moment; I only rise because I hope that the House will give me the opportunity to say a few words upon the present situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Order!"] This is not the time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—for criticism or recrimination; we are in war, and we have to go forward with that war, and personally, as is the case with every man here, my vote and my voice, and every action of which I would be capable will be given to the support of our soldiers and sailors in this conflict. It is for this reason that I ask to be allowed to say a few words upon this occasion. Many of us have been labouring for years to bring about an extended friendship between the English and the German people, and with great respect I venture to think that we have succeeded. The sentiment of the mass of the German people towards us have improved enormously. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"]

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)

Hon. Members should listen to the hon. Member. He is entitled to be heard.


But the great obstacle that we have experienced has been the existence of a great and powerful military caste. A weapon which was formed for the purpose of defence has now become an uncontrolled instrument of offence in that country. It is a class that lives for war, that battens on the lust of aggrandisement, and is always aiming at and preparing for war. It has no regard for men's rights, and no respect for international rules, and its motto is that "Might is right!" That caste has acquired such strength that it controls not only the feelings and thoughts of the people, but even has too great an influence upon the wishes of its Sovereign, and Europe is now witnessing the results of the curse of conscription. This war has been, of course, foreseen, not only by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but by those who have been working for peace as between Germany and ourselves, and it is for that very reason that we have laboured in that direction. Our efforts have not altogether failed. They have not failed for ever, and later on we may still be able to establish that friendship between the two peoples. One of the reasons why I believe and hope that Germany will be beaten in this great conflict is that it will ring the knell of the great military supremacy of those who rule in that country. We are fighting that military caste, and not the people of Germany. The people of Germany have had nothing to do with this war. Of course, it is true that they are enthusiastic for it. I travelled through Germany on Monday last and saw enthusiasm similar to that which is to be seen in our streets now, due to war fever, and also to the more laudable sentiment, of sympathy with the men who are going out to fight for their country. But the people of Germany have no knowledge of why they are fighting this war, and in particular why they are fighting against Great Britain. They will, I am sorry to say, not read these Debates. They will be told that it is all our fault.

But I do think that, as far as we possibly can, we ought to tell them what is the true reason why Great Britain has interfered in this war, and we may hope that, if we win, we may lay down such conditions as will destroy that military supremacy which has brought Europe to the brink of destruction. [Interruption.] I want, with great respect to the House—I do not know why they do not listen—to make three suggestions. For one thing, I would urge very strongly that we should not lose our heads and lose all feelings of consideration for the Germans who are among us, many of whom have nothing but loyal and friendly feelings towards us. In the second place, I wish to ask that we shall watch for every opportunity of bringing about a satisfactory termination to the war. It will be a war involving great suffering and causing a torrent of blood in Europe, and therefore we should take every possible opportunity of seeing whether some arrangement cannot be arrived at so as not to carry it further than necessary. And lastly, we ought to be prepared with some plan of settlement. We ought to know exactly, and we ought to let Germany know exactly, what we are really fighting for. We are fighting for the status quo. We are not fighting for any territorial changes in Europe, one way or the other. I know the feelings of Germany. I know that their one fear is the possibility of a Slav domination over the Teutonic nations, and we should do our utmost to see that that result does not accrue from the war. I wished to say these few words to the House, because I feel that we are entering upon a terrible war. When that war comes to an end the problem will be only just begun, and it should be understood that at the end of the war our objects and intentions will be as honest as those which we entertain at the present moment.


As I do not want my country to be beaten, I shall certainly vote for this Vote of Credit of £100,000,000, but I wish to say two things on this subject. In the first place, it seems to me that £100,000,000 is a large sum to take from the savings of past years, and to be swept away in five minutes. I think the House should tolerate a certain amount of debate when it is proposed to take this money that we have saved with so much trouble. I do not object to the £100,000,000—or to the future hundreds of millions which may have to be voted in the months to come. What I object to is that, by voting this very large sum at one dose, we are thereby divorcing Parliament from the control of this war. To many people it may seem that that is a thoroughly desirable thing to do, but I do not believe that anybody who calls himself a democrat can regard it as desirable that a democratic country should not have some control over the actions of the Executive. It was only the other day—Friday week last—hon. Members on the benches opposite were denouncing the idea of giving a blank cheque for £3,000,000 to a Government Department. That proposal was denounced because it was a thoroughly undemocratic and uneconomical thing to do. I say that a blank cheque for £100,000,000, with no control over the Executive, is as undesirable in war as in peace. The serious aspect of the case is this: You must remember that this war may, and very probably will, be accompanied by severe distress in the manufacturing districts of the country. It is very possible that there will be bread riots, or out-of-work riots, in various parts of this country, and that martial law may be declared in those districts. If we vote £100,000,000 now, we enable the Government to carry on for six months, at least, without coming to Parliament for more money. It seems to me that that is a very risky thing to do, and, therefore, I wish to enter a protest against this Grant-in-Aid, because I believe the people of the country wish to have control of the war, and are patriotic enough to control it in the direction of the greatest efficiency, and not to hamper the Government when carrying on energetic war.

I wish the country would remember that there are two Germanys, and not one. We are fighting the Junkers and the Hohenzollerns, and I pray that this war may end by smashing them, and that the Kaiser and the Grown Prince may go on their travels for the rest of their lives. But there is another Germany—a lovable, peaceful Germany. We all know the people, and it was among them I was brought up. [Interruption.] Moderate, courageous. That Germany, as the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson) has said, has had nothing to do with this war, and I beg hon. Members in this House, and the people of the country, to remember that these men are being driven by the machine of the war—driven to slaughter—though they are as innocent as any Frenchman or Englishman engaged in this great struggle. Remember this, we shall not end the war until we have separated those two Germanys. The end will come. But if these two Germanys stand together—if there is no revolution in Germany—they are men of our own blood, and it will be a long war. They have a dogged pertinacity which would carry them through two and a half years of war, just as it carried the Boers through two and a half years of war. If they hold together, there is a long and stiff struggle in front of us. Do not let us begin by despising our adversaries. Before this war is at an end we may see conscription m this country, and every man between sixteen and sixty years of age will be enlisted. I shall not be one to ask the Government to stop the war and retire from the combat, even though such measures are found necessary to prosecute it. Let us not, as in the case of the Boer war, carry it out in a boastful spirit. Let us approach the task in an attitude of humility. It is murder. It is contrary to Christianity, and there is nothing to be proud of and nothing to boast of. I have seen men taken out of a battleship, seen and heard them—men wrapped up in cotton-wool—after an explosion. That is what is going to happen in our Navy. That is what war means. I have seen war in South Africa, and I know what it means to the peaceful population as well as to the fighters in the war; and there is nothing to be proud of in such a struggle. It is a thing to bring to an end at the earliest possible opportunity, and I hope with hon. Members opposite that the war spirit in the country will cease, and that we shall regard this war as something to be gone through doggedly, but looking upon it as a curse instead of a blessing.


I have been in communication with the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, and he points out that in that county there is a large number of Reserve men. During the Boer war their wives received 1s. 1d. per day. During the time of the Boer war there were county associations which enabled the wives of the men who had to join the Colours to live in their own homes, but, owing to the large number now being called up under the wholly different circumstances now prevailing, it would be absolutely impossible for the counties to make this provision to meet the necessities of the wives of the men who have gone to the front. I believe there is 2d. a day given in respect of each child of the men, but I think my right hon. Friend will see that the county associations cannot, as at the time of the Boer war deal adequately with the situation, and money will not be forthcoming in the same way now, because people have not really got it to give Trade is now more or less at a standstill. I have received telegrams from large collieries offering the whole of the ambulance staffs of the collieries for service in the field. These men are most anxious that the Government should avail themselves of their services, and I hope their offer will not be overlooked.


I think matters of that kind will be more appropriate, together with other matters, on the Appropriation Bill than on the Vote we are now considering.


I always address the House with great diffidence, and I know that it is almost useless, as well as very unpopular, to say much in the present state of affairs, but I feel strongly that I would be untrue to many of those who sent me here, as well as to myself, if I did not say a word or two as to what I feel at the present juncture. I hope the House will bear with me for a moment or two, however much they may disagree with me. If it were not true it would seem incredible that in a few short days we should be intervening in the affairs of and being asked for a Vote of Credit for a war in Europe with which we have no direct concern. This war was not forced upon us by any duty or obligation under any Treaty, as I understand the case, and I think it would have been much better if we had left these affairs alone, as Parliament hitherto has been assured, and was given distinctly to understand, they would be left alone. I believe the only sound principle and practice, especially for a country geographically situated as we are, is to have friendship with all nations, and entangling alliances with none. It seems to me that the neutrality of Great Britain would have been a far more important national and international asset for us than the neutrality of Belgium was, is, oil's likely to be. We have heard in the last few days a great deal about honour; we have heard something about morality and something about self-interest. As to honour, that is a very elusive term. I see nothing honourable whatever in our present proceedings. The House will remember a very true saying of John Bright, that "a nation dwells in its cottages." We are—or ought to be—the guardians, as well as the representatives, of the millions of people who live in the cottages of this country, and surely the greatest and most supreme of British interests for them, and for us, lies in peace, and not in war, and their happiness is more important than all the so-called honour in the world. As far as the morality is concerned, when we are engaged, as we now are, in organised murder, I think the less said about morality the better. All that is bad enough. What is as bad as anything, from my point of view, about it is that it comes from a Liberal Government, which I was sent here to support. One of the principles I was sent to support was Free Trade. Why, Sir there is no Protectionist tax which the wit of war could devise which would raise the prices of food and other articles to the same extent as a fortnight of serious war. Then I was sent to support—as I understood—a policy of peace, retrenchment, and reform. Where are they all now? All swallowed up in the bloody abyss of war! As to peace, there is no man, in this House or out of it, who has a more sincere respect and admiration for the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary and his noble efforts hitherto in that cause than I have, and, for that reason, all the more, I regret it. But my loyalty has been strained to the breaking point, and I cannot follow further upon this road to ruin. The people of this country will, no doubt, do the bidding of the Government, but they will do so, I am convinced, at best, with a heavy heart in action, the incalculable consequences of which, both for this and for future generations, no man and no body of men can possibly estimate or foresee.


Whilst I disagree profoundly with the policy of the last ten years, which I believe has led to this difficulty. I recognise very fully that this is not the time for argument, but that, whatever be our views, we must now address ourselves with unity of purpose—those of us who do not go abroad—to try and keep the commercial life of this country going, and to minimise to the greatest extent the loss to the country. May I express the most earnest hope that the Government will not allow the course of military events to deflect them from the policy which has animated them in the negotiations—I mean the policy of vindicating the public law of Europe, and of maintaining not only for themselves, but for their allies, the steadfast determination to resist all temptations to territorial aggrandisement, or to crush out the life of any nation. The "Times" said yesterday:— We go into the fray without hatred, without passion, and without selfish ambitions or selfish ends. Let us see that those words remain true to the very end. We have no enmity to the German people. They are the victims of the policy of their rulers, and, if they can bring their rulers to a better mind, we must seize the occasion in such a way as to save the workers of every country from paying, for an unnecessary hour, the terrible penalties they are now being made to suffer. The House is being asked to vote a sum equal to the whole of the reduction in the National Debt since this Government took office. The Prime Minister has indicated that this money will be devoted not merely to naval and military expenditure, but to prevent the dislocation of our civil and industrial life. That is a purpose which we, whatever our views as to war in general, and this war in particular, cannot but approve. I want to make this appeal to the Government under that head—and it is even more important than the provision of charitable relief—to use all possible influence in co-operating with the employers of labour to keep their people in full employment. What we want, if we can, is to keep the ordinary channels of commerce open; we want, if we can, to employ our people; we want, if we can, to preserve their independence; we want, if we can, to find them work, rather than to offer doles. I do appeal to my hon. Friends to give the most serious consideration to this question, and I am perfectly sure—and I share the view of the Leader of the Opposition—that if we can be of any service to the Government, or to our country in this respect, they have only to ask and to demand it. I hear that a hundred of our colleagues and our Friends have gone, or are shortly to go, to take their places in the fighting forces. May it be true, for the sake of our country, for the sake of preventing or alleviating the misery caused by the war, that every one of us from to-day may take our place in the fighting force.


I do not rise to make any criticisms, for I believe we all agree that we must vote this money, and that we must see our country through this crisis. But this money will not be the last; there will be many other millions to follow; and there is one gleam still not altogether shut out, and I, therefore, rise to call attention to the fact, and to ask for some assurance from His Majesty's Government that they will not ignore it. We find in the newspapers to-day that the head of our great sister nation, the United States of America, President Wilson has expressed his willingness to be of any service he can, either now or at any time, between the powers engaged in this terrible conflict. I do ask some assurance from His Majesty's Government that they will not turn away from that offer, but that they will do everything in their power to facilitate such mediation and do everything possible to bring it towards success. I know that this may be premature, but I venture to press it upon His Majesty's Government so that, before much blood has been shed, there may be some possibility of President Wilson's offer achieving some results, for if we wait until much blood has been shed it may become almost abortive. Therefore, I hope His Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to help forward that offer.


I should like to say that I heartily endorse the remarks, which have been made by the last two or three speakers. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) has raised a point of very great importance, and it is one which came under my notice little more than an hour ago, when I was addressing a number of workmen whom I employ. I said to them, in regard to reservists who had already gone to do what they believed to be their duty, that they would have their positions safeguarded till they returned from performing that duty. Any of them who may be required by the Government for service as engineers, as well as others, I stated, would be treated in the same way. I want entirely and heartily to endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). He has deplored, as I am sure we must all deplore, that the country has been, I suppose, dragged into or forced into this unhappy position, and that we are now at war. I do believe that had we had a different policy in the past we might have prevented this war. We have had offers and offers, again and again, from the great nation of Germany, saying that they want to be close friends with us, that they wanted to cultivate our friendship. In supporting the ideas and sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson), I believe heartily, from intimate knowledge of the people of Germany, that the mass of them, including many in high station and positions, have been entirely against this war. They have been, and' are friendly to us in this country, but they have been overborne by the military class who are dominating the position, and who have caused this war. They fear, and they fear not without reason, the great Slav population, who are double the number of the Germans, and who have been arming and preparing for this conflict for years. To Germany, with enemies right and left, east and west, it is a matter of life and death. They feel that they are in a desperate position, and, if you could realise their position, I think you would see that there is very much to be said for the hasty action that they have taken. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] They felt that the only opportunity they possessed was by striking quickly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I say that they have been forced into this position. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I believe they are entering into this war with deep regret, and certainly, on the part of the masses of the people, with great friendship towards us. I have been pained, most deeply pained, to hear the almost laudatory cheers, and to hear sentiments of gladness—almost of joy—that have been expressed by different Members on both sides of the House— [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—


I am sure the hon. Member would not like to make any reflection on the motives of his colleagues in this House.

5.0 P.M.


If the House will permit me to say so, the impression I gathered was [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I certainly withdraw any imputation against any individual Member, but I gathered from the cheers that went up, and they also gave me the impression that many in this House were going into this awful business with a satisfaction [An HON. MEMBER: "We are as sorry as you are!"]


If aspersions of that kind were made they might have to be made from two points of view, and that is most undesirable.


Perhaps I may be permitted to put it this way. In the enthusiasm of loyalty there are expressions often used, that make one almost weep with sadness to see with what alacrity we are ready to go and slay—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no" and "Sit down!"]


I must appeal to the hon. Member to give other Members of the House the same credit for sincerity which the whole House has always accorded to him.


I entirely withdraw anything against any hon. Member, but having just passed during the last thirty hours through the country where war is about to be waged, and then coming to this country and finding the same thing in our streets, and already almost we see the spirit of "Mafficking." [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no," "Withdraw," "Sit down!"] That is the impression which I have gained, and the point I wish to make is this, that we are entering on one of the most horrible acts in this and other countries of Europe that will have, effects and results, that we can in no way at the present moment estimate, war is of such a horrible character with the present weapons and with the machinery of slaughter to mow down men. I do not intend to Vote against this Vote. In entering on this war it should be with feelings of the deepest sadness, and with the prayer that it may soon come to an end, and with the desire that a generous and lasting peace may soon be agreed to.


I think it right on behalf of Members on this side who do not agree with much that has been said to say that we keep silent, because we think that the words of the Prime Minister require nothing to be added to them, and that any attempt on our part to discuss any phase of this question would only detract from the impressive effect in this House in our country, and throughout the whole civilised world, I desire to say for myself and for many others like myself, that we entirely endorse and support the action of the Government in this matter. We are fighting to maintain the peace of Europe, and I cannot understand people who make special profession of peace not being prepared to maintain it.

Resolution agreed to, nemine contradicente.