§ Resolution reported,
§ 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £8,705,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army (including Army Reserve) at Home and Abroad (exclusive of India), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think it would be only fair to the Secretary of State for War that I should repeat here certain statements and criticisms which I have made outside in regard to the position of the Flying Corps in order that he may have an opportunity of dealing with them. I am bound to confess that on the last occasion we discussed this Vote, about three weeks ago, I made a semi-conciliatory speech, because I had been criticised for constantly criticising the Flying Corps, and because also I was half convinced by the conciliatory speech made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Hon. Members will recollect that on 25th February last the right hon. Gentleman made a statement for the purpose of showing that everything was in good order. That, of course, I was inclined to believe. I was pleased to think that things were much better than I had anticipated. It is now necessary to face the facts. I am convinced that all is not so well as the right hon. Gentleman suggested three weeks ago. There were many matters in his speech with which I should like to deal, but I will select three questions only—airships, aeroplane squadrons, and the accidents that have befallen members of the Flying Corps during the last few days. With regard to airships for the Army and Navy, I think we are entitled to a little more explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to what he means, and as to the programme in regard to airships. He told us three weeks ago that the handing over the Army airships to the Navydoes not mean that the Army has finally decided that it does not require airships at all. It is not the final conclusion now.If that is the case, we are surely entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman what his plans are in regard to airships in the event of war. He has told us that it has not 233 been finally decided that we do not require airships in the Army. I think it is common knowledge that the General Staff is constantly engaged in working out plans for war, and plans for mobilisation, in any eventuality of war with any other country. I wish an answer, yes or no, from whoever replies, whether the General Staff in working out those plans do or do not include the use of airships by the Army. If they do, how do they propose to get them? Do they expect to get them under the arrangements made with the Navy? This is very important in the event of war with another country. Is the Army Council quite confident that the arrangements they have made with the Navy are so satisfactory that in the event of mobilistion taking place and airships being required, the Army would be able to get these airships? Are they certain that the necessary airships will be available for the use of the Army? That is a point more of policy for the future, and the main question I wish to deal with to-day is that in relation to the squadrons of our aeroplane force. The right hon. Gentleman very frankly told us:—We see no advantage in keeping the number of aeroplanes secret.I am very glad that he has taken that line. He added:—at any rate so far as the squadrons and Flying School are concerned. We have now 161.I take that to mean that we have 161 efficient aeroplanes. So far as the Squadrons and Flying School are concerned, it would be insulting the right hon. Gentleman to assume that he meant anything but efficient aeroplanes. We found last year that there were certain machines which nobody could by any chance what-ever describe as efficient. I take it, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman desired to inform the House that he had in connection with the squadrons and the school 161 efficient machines. In order to find out what is meant by a squadron, I go back to the statement made on 4th March, 1912. He stated then:—The Military Wing will consist of seven squadrons. The Air Corps will be always on a war footing, and the peace and war establishment will be the same.What is a war footing? I wish to deal with this case, as I rather gathered front the right hon. Gentleman's answer to me this afternoon that it is not desirable to have all the squadrons up to date and full to the necessary number of machines until he has got all the eight squadrons in some kind of flying form. That was the 234 statement made by General Cowans recently at a dinner. I believe he read from a typewritten document, and I think it was apparent that he was speaking for the War Office and making what was the official answer of the War Office. It is clear that the answer is absolutely hopeless if the right hon. Gentleman was right two years ago when he stated that the squadrons should be always on a war footing. What was meant by a war footing was that the squadrons should have officers and men so that they should be able to start to-morrow morning. Of course, you may have a reserve of men and a reserve of machines, but the squadrons are detachments ready to go off to war to-morrow. A year ago the right hon. Gentleman was supposed to have eighteen machines per squadron. I pleaded that we should have an equal number of reserve aeroplanes—twelve to twelve. The right hon. Gentleman agrees with that now. Two weeks ago he gave twenty-five as the number per squadron. In last year's Memorandum this is what he said:—It was decided to begin the organisation by the formation of one Airship Squadron and three Aeroplane Squadrons in 1912–13. Fifth and sixth squadrons will be raised in the course of 1913–14. I look forward confidently to the establishment on a permanent basis during 1913–14 of six out of the eight units required to complete our Expeditionary Force.I wish to know if we have to-day five aeroplane squadrons complete for our Expeditionary Farce. Even if we had, I wish to know, when that Expeditionary Force goes out anywhere and takes these five aeroplane squadrons, what is left in the way of aeroplanes for the defence of this country, and for the use of the Home Army, which would inevitably require the assistance of aeroplanes. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it was a mere pious intention he expressed when he stated that with the present personnel five or six aeroplane squadrons would be available. On the 25th February it was stated that we had 161 efficient aeroplanes. I am not going to deal to-day with the question of transport—a very big question. All I desire to say is that, if my information is at all correct, the necessary transport is not ready for the whole of these five squadrons. We are told that all the aeroplanes that are needed to maintain the establishment can be got in England. I am delighted to hear that, but the inference throughout the right bon. Gentleman's speech was that these five squadrons were on a war footing. There are, I believe, about thirty-six or thirty-seven 235 machines in the Central Flying School. That leaves 125 machines out of the 161.
Let us see what we have really got for the five squadrons, or, rather, what we had within a week of 25th February this year. I will admit that the right hon. Gentleman has been getting more machines during the last fortnight, but when he made his statement he led the House absolutely to believe that we had 161 efficient machines and five squadrons on a war footing. I am going to give—I feel that I must give to the House—details as to the conditions of the five squadrons. I have received the details from his own officers. I think it only fair to say that I have not, spied on the right hon. Gentleman's machines this year. We had a controversy last year on this matter, and I admitted to the House perfectly frankly that I had sent people down to find out the condition of our aeroplanes, and I justified my position to the House. This year things are such that officers who are total strangers to myself have, without any communication from me, come to me and have written to me since 25th February with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I have been supplied with descriptions of the machines, and I propose to read them in order that the House may realise the condition of the squadrons within ten days of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. No. 2 squadron is at Montrose. There were two machines which were in course of reconstruction, and one, two, three, four, and five were in good flying order. No. B.E. 273 was condemned as unfit for flying, and B.E. 229 was in flying order. No. B.E. 217 was wrecked completely. There was one Maurice-Farman being reconstructed, and another Maurice-Farman which was old and only useful for instruction. It has been smashed very often, and is unfit to go to war.That means "—this officer goes on to say—all B.E.'s can only do three hours' non-stop flight, as petrol and oil capacity does not allow for more. B.E. 228 can only do thirty-five minutes, B.E. 218 can do eight hours, but it has got double petrol tanks, and, therefore, cannot take the passengers. The two Maurice-Farmans are old, having been smashed up more than one can count. They are very sluggish and slow and can only do forty-eight miles an hour in dead calm. The average B.E. machine does seventy-one miles per hour new, but only sixty-three miles per hour when over two months old. All machines up here are fitted with 70 h.p. Renault eight-cylinder stationary engines, foreign make, and at present there are only three spare engines, which means very often a machine is laid up because of no spare engine. Broken down engines are invariably held up because we are 236 unable to get spare parts at once … At this moment there are actually ready for flying to-day five machines. Others have temporary engine trouble which could be got over in under forty-eight hours.That makes seven machines out of twenty-five for Squadran No. 2. Now as to Squadron No. 3 on Salisbury Plain, B.E. biplane 203, which is of the same type as that which had the bad accident ten days ago:—Machine completely down for overhauling three weeks ago, unserviceable.S.E. biplane No. 2:—An inquiry should be immediately held into the state of this machine before it is allowed to be touched. This is very urgent, as all here believe it to be unsafe in its present condition.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is one of our own make. There are six machines in flying order; two more will be ready in two days, another is being overhauled. Altogether that squadron has seven machines ready for instant work. Four could be got ready in seven days' time. That is eleven machines. Then I come to Squadron No. 4 on Salisbury Plain, which is the only efficient squadron that the right hon. Gentleman has got. There are twenty-one machines of which, roughly, eighteen are ready for instant use. But of that number fifteen are of the B.E. type, about which I shall have something to say in a few minutes. I come to Squadron No. 5 at Farnborough, and this statement was made on 12th March, a fortnight after the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There is one Henry Farman, one S.E., which is known among the officers as Bullet—The machine is practically in an experimental stage. It was out of order during half the month, but was flown on several occasions.That machine has been moved into another squadron. The impression is that it is exceedingly dangerous, and the officers hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not make any more use of it. There are four Sopwith machines, three of which are out of order. Altogether at that time we get in this squadron two Farmans, three Avroes with 50 h.p. engines, which are totally oat of date, and utterly unfit for war purposes, whatever use they may be for instructional purposes. One Henry Farman, one S.E., and four Sopwiths. The number of machines flyable on any day during February in this squadron at its highest was only seven or eight, and it went down as low as one. The average daily number of flyable machines was about three or four. Only one cross- 237 country flight was made during the first three weeks of February, and that was not on a war machine. Then we have the No. 6 Squadron, which was only formed during the last few days since the right hon. Gentleman made the speech. It contains two R.E.'s, number 5 and number 1. Both are trial machines. Nobody is allowed to fly them except the Squadron Commander, and he is ill in bed at the present time. Then there are four B.E.'s, two old Maurice-Farmans, and one new Maurice-Farmans. I cannot give the figures up to date, but I am dealing with the machines which there were after the right hon. Gentleman had told us that we had got 161 efficient machines.
§ Colonel SEELY
Where did the hon. Gentleman find 161 efficient machines? I took great care on the occasion when addressed the House to explain that a very large number of machines, at least half, would not be ready to fly at any given moment. I gave the whole story to the House. The hon. Gentleman should not continue this discussion by assuming that I said that we had got 161 efficient machines. You may assume that if you are to have ten machines ready, you must have twenty in possession. I said 161 in possession, and I adhere to what I said.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman did go on to say later that you must have twenty machines if you want ten to be ready.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman might have interrupted me a quarter of an hour ago, when I suggested that he would not insult the House by saying that he had 161 machines which were not efficient.
§ Colonel SEELY
I think it a pity that we should pursue any game of cross purposes. I took the greatest care to point out that I did not say we had got 161 efficient machines. On the contrary, I made it plain in my succeeding sentences that we had got 161 machines in possession, but that we could not assume that we had more than eighty at any given moment efficient and ready to fly. Sometimes we have more and sometimes less. I definitely stated that if you wanted ten machines ready to fly you must have twenty in possession.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I will not bandy words with the right hon. Gentleman on that point. It really makes very little difference, because he has not got that number. Let us assume that when he said 161 machines he meant eighty efficient machines.
§ Colonel SEELY
No. I would not interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I want to get this on a proper basis. As I have just said, you may have many more than eighty efficient, or you may have many less, in accordance with the luck which you have in smashing machines and in the ordinary way of repair. There is nothing so uncertain as the number of machines that you may have ready to fly at a given moment. I have kept a close watch on it, and I know myself that there is an extraordinary variation in the number of accidents you may have, and the hon. Gentleman must not assume that I wished to make the House believe that we had eighty efficient machines on that day. We might have had 120 or only forty, so rapidly do they get broken and so rapidly are they repaired. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands what I did actually say, and that lie will pursue the rest of his arguments apart from any question of the House having been misled as to the number of machines.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman told the Pease that he had 161 machines, and whether there were 120 efficient or only forty he did not tell it.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
When the House is told that this corps is on a war footing, it must necessarily mean efficient machines. It is impossible for it to hare any other meaning. If the right hon. Gentleman has got 161 machines, and out of these eighty or 100 or 120 are not efficient, we are bound to know that. I have often said that if the right hon. Gentleman would only come down here and throw himself on the mercy of the House and say how difficult this business is, and how exceedingly difficult it is to get the necessary number of machines, but that he is doing his best, instead of telling the House over and over again that he has got so many, it would be better. This afternoon he has made a fuller explanation than ever he has done before.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. There is no suggestion in his statement that 161 machines might mean as low as forty efficient machines. Now let us see how many efficient machines there were ten days ago: Number 2, 9; number 3, 7; number 4, 18; number 5, 3; number 6, 5; or about forty-two machines, of which twenty-six were of the B.E. type. Suppose that the right hon. Gentleman has been adding a few machines to each squadron. Let me add to that number another eight B.E.'s. I cannot tell at any given date whether my figures coincide exactly with the right hon. Gentleman, but I will assume that he had fifty efficient machines in this flying corps ten days ago. Of that number thirty-two were of the B.E. type. This particular type the right hon. Gentleman has told us over and over again are the best type of machines in the world. I would ask how many B.E.'s are flying now? Has the right hon. Gentleman not issued an order to the Flying Corps during the last seventy-two hours, that the B.E.'s are not to be flown for the present? I state as a fact that an order has been issued from headquarters, that these machines are not to be flown for the present. They are put under a ban, as the right hon. Gentleman put monoplanes under a ban about a year ago after a certain accident. Some accidents have occurred on B.E.'s, and the right hon. Gentleman has taken the course for which I do not blame him of pntting the B.E.'s under a ban. Everybody knows that, after the House rose, as the result of the monoplanes being put under a ban, they disappeared. They were scrapped. Is that going to be the case with the B.E.'s? Four of the Sopwith's were also put under a ban. That leaves about fourteen or fifteen efficient machines in the five flying squadrons which are not under a ban. As one of the officers of the squadron said to me yesterday, "The Flying Corps is for the moment crushed out after the right hon. Gentleman's bans." That means that if war were to break out to-morrow either the Flying Corps has got to go to war without any machines, or has to go to war without machines which the right hon. Gentleman has placed under a ban, and which are not allowed to be used in times of peace.
A rumour has come to me from an hon. Member during the last half-hour that flying has been stopped altogether by the 240 right hon. Gentleman. I hope that that is not true, because there are some machines which there is no need to place under a ban, and which can perfectly well be used for flying. The House realises that the B.E. is the type of machine on which Captain Allen and Lieutenant Burroughs were killed, and it is the machine which, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is the best machine in the world. We would not complain if the right hon. Gentleman had not boasted from time to time of the product of his Royal Aircraft Factory, and if he had been willing to admit that many manufacturers of aeroplanes could turn out machines half as good as he could. It was always those two machines. The average speed, he said, of the B.E. aeroplanes in our possession, "is between sixty and sixty-five miles an hour, a speed much greater, as far as my knowledge goes, than the average speed in any other country." But that is not the case, either with regard to the machines of Germany, the machines of France, or even the machines privately constructed in this country. I do not know whether hon. Members went to the show last week. There were there two different types of English made machines which can fly, and have flown, ninety-five miles and a hundred miles an hour, and as slow as thirty-five miles and forty-five miles an hour. The machines can climb 1,500 feet or 1,600 feet in a minute, against 1,000 feet a minute by the B.E. machine. Hon. Members will realise from those figures that the machines of which I speak can climb four times as high as St. Paul's Cathedral in a minute. Such is the perfection of the modern aeroplane compared with what they were when we were debating this subject on former occasions. There is deep dissatisfaction among the officers of the Royal Flying Corps with regard to the products of the Royal Aircraft Factory. I do not refer to the gentleman connected with that factory; he is a man of position and high intelligence, with whom I have sat on a Committee; but there is something so wrong with the Aircraft Factory that your own officers have not confidence in its product. They have not confidence in the machines which that factory turns out, and they tell me that they cannot get repairs properly attended to.
The most serious question of all is as to the cause of these accidents which have taken place during the last few days. 241 There was an accident to Mr. Haynes, at Wittering, when experimenting with machine F.E. 2. I have a letter from a gentleman who examined that machine the day before the accident. I am prepared to give the right hon. Gentleman the name of the writer, who is general manager of the Cedric Lea Company, Aeronautical Engineers, Shoreham. He writes:—We had just concluded some private tests of our latest flying machines when the Aircraft biplane came on to the ground, and the machine was carefully examined by our several departmental heads. The unanimous verdict was that the workmanship and finish of the machine was eminently unsatisfactory. We should have been ashamed to have completed the work, and, if we had done so, we are quite positive that it would not have been accepted by any person qualified to pass judgment on aircraft. It seems to me that the inspector who passed the machine was in a hurry and ran riot with the 'approved ' stamp. He certainly had not taken any time in examination, and if he asserts that this contention is incorrect, then he should be discharged from his position, for he is quite incompetent for the work required.Another gentleman who examined that machine, and who is secretary to the Sussex County Aero Club, wrote:—When the F.E. 2 biplane arrived the engines and wires were covered with rust. The pilot openly stated that Mr. Haynes was afraid going up in the machine. The machine rose very sluggishly and left the ground flying dangerously low.On the following day the accident happened. The machine came down and this unfortunate man, Mr. Haynes, was killed. The next machine to which I will call the attention of the House was that in which the accident occurred last year to Lieutenant Desmond Arthur. The accident occurred on the 25th May last, with B.E. 203. On the 5th June, in this House, I called attention to the rumours which were flying about Aldershot with regard to the condition of the repairs of that very machine. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? Did he say he would make inquiry? No; he jumped up and overwhelmed me for having dared to mention those rumours in this House. What happened? A week after that the independent committee of the Royal Aero Club made investigations into this matter and declared that the death of that young officer was due to the faulty repair of the machine. The repair had been "so badly done that it could not possibly be regarded as the work of a conscientious and competent workman." The right hon. Gentleman overwhelmed me for having referred to those rumours, which turned out to be true, with regard to the workmanship and repair of that particular machine. In that speech nine months ago I stated that at Salisbury Plain there were two B.E. aero 242 planes which needed overhauling and were dangerous—that they were not machines which the right hon. Gentleman himself would like to go up in. I was so anxious, that I asked him not to go up in them. I have referred to my notes, and I find that those were the two B.E. machines, 203 and 204, and B.E. 204 was the machine in which Captain Allen and Lieutenant Borroughs were killed ten days ago. That is the very machine I asked the right hon. Gentleman nine months ago not to go up in. [An HON. MEMBER "Did he go up?"] He may have done, though the pitcher may go often to the well, but gets broken at last.
This machine had a bad history. It had been broken several times and repaired several times, as well as overhauled, but not, I believe, since the manœuvres of last autumn. [An HON. MEMBER "Is that a B.E. machine?"] Yes, one of our own factory's design, the machine which, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is the best machine in the world. Just before this accident there was an accident to Captain Downer with a similar type of machine, the wing of which broke. He was executing a difficult manœvre, but machines ought not to break when difficult manœuvres are being executed. It ought to be sufficiently strong, and can be made sufficiently strong, I am advised by experts, for manœuvres such as Captain Downer executed, when one of the wings broke and his machine came down. I wish to call the attention of the House to the evidence given by his commander, Major Brook Popham, who says:—There are three possible causes for the accident: First—the design of the machine may have been wrong and the strains miscalculated; second—the workman who did the job may, through ignorance or carelessness, have put in too weak a tube; third—the rudder-post may have been changed after reconstruction, and after it was handed over to the squadron. In any of these three cases there is evidence of criminal negligence. If it were done in my squadron, I am to blame. On the contrary, if the machine was handed over to me like this and nothing was done in my squadron, I hold the officials of the Royal Aircraft Factory responsible.Here is a letter from another officer of the Royal Flying Corps:—The machine left the sheds in absolutely still weather, did one circuit of the aerodrome and turned in towards the sheds from a south-easterly direction. It reached a height of 300 feet and was coming down slowly, turning slightly, and it reached 150 feet, when suddenly the rudder was seen to fly off. There was no strain at all on it, and the machine was gliding easily. Immediately the rudder flew off, the machine nose dived into the ground. We rushed over to the wreck but found them dead. The machine was in small pieces, and both bodies were in pulp, nearly every bone being broken. When we examined the machine, we found the following: The rudder-post had snapped off where it joined the fuzelage. The rudder-post was of metal, not more, as far as I could judge, than half a millimetre thick. This post, or tube, should have had a wooden 243 filing from end to end, but the smashed one had none and without the wooden support in it all its strength was gone. This was the whole cause of the accident, and the man who passed the machine is practically guilty of murder.That is the statement of an officer in the corps whose members have to fly in these machines, and it shows a serious state of things for those officers in regard to those machines. I read that letter to another independent member of the Flying Corps, who confirmed that view. What they ask for is an independent inquiry, and it is what they insist upon. I am not moving the reduction of the Vote. I am not asking for a hostile vote against the right hon. Gentleman; the matter is too serious to make party capital out of it. I am simply asking the right hon. Gentleman to give us a full and impartial inquiry with regard to two things—first of all, as to the number of efficient machines we have in readiness for the use of this Royal Flying Corps for purposes of war. This House is willing to give all the money that is necessary to provide efficient and sufficient machines. I think I am safe in saying that. This House has voted up to a million this year, and it is willing to vote another half a million, if necessary, in order to have our aeroplanes put upon an efficient basis. If the right hon. Gentleman wants more money let him come to the Table and say so, and I do not think any section of the House—for this is not a matter like the ordinary expenditure on the Army and Navy—would refuse another half-million. If the right hon. Gentleman asked for it, I am perfectly confident that the House would grant it. I am not, and many of us are not, satisfied that this money is being properly spent. We think that the administration of the Royal Aircraft Factory, with its inefficient inspection—I am not casting any reflection on the head of the Inspection Department, because the Department is not sufficiently established to keep pace with the work that there is for him to do—is not satisfactory. These machines, as I have remarked to this House before, are almost human in their individuality. They need the closest inspection and the most careful investigation after every flight, and every man who risks his life day after day in the service of his country is entitled to demand from the House and from the right hon. Gentleman that no stone should be left unturned to give them the most efficient machines. The House is entitled, on the other hand, to demand that no stone should be left 244 unturned to give the country efficient aeroplanes. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to grant an inquiry and satisfy the House on those two points. I do not want to make party capital out of the matter, but the right hon. Gentleman must convince us that we have an efficient Air Service on the one hand, and let him convince those young men who fly that the danger is reduced to a minimum, and that everything that can be done is being done, and that full inquiries will be made, and then I hope it will not be necessary to make any more of these accusations against him or the management of the Royal Aircraft Factory.
§ Mr. AMERY
I do not propose to follow on the very important question that my hon. Friend has raised, because at this moment I feel that the question of the discipline of the Army, which you, Sir, I understand, allow us to discuss, is a matter which transcends any other. The question of discipline in the Army, and of the. responsibility of the Secretary of State for War in maintaining that discipline, and in safeguarding the conditions under which alone that discipline exists, that responsibility is a very serious one. The Army is a national service. It exists for national purposes, to defend the interests of the country against foreign dangers, and, in certain emergencies, to preserve the stability of our social structure. It is an instrument that cannot be used for party purposes. The Secretary of State for War, like the First Lord of the Admiralty and like the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is in a peculiar position. He enjoys a certain immunity from criticism, not from all, but from partisan criticism [...]n this House, and in return for that he has very peculiar responsibilities towards this House and towards the Army. He is no more entitled to make use of the Army for party ends than the Foreign Secretary is entitled to send messages to his Ambassadors to act for party ends either. In this particular case, and I do not want to go into broad questions of policy which may be discussed to-morrow, the fact remains that for the last year or two the Government undoubtedly meditated using the Army to further a certain measure, which is a measure of bitter partisan controversy. I will say no more about that.
I venture to say that the responsibility of the Secretary of State was to represent to his colleagues the gravity of what they were doing, and to shield the Army from 245 the consequences of what they were desirous of doing. He knew—he must have known—what the effects upon the Army would be when the time came, if the Government meant to go on with their policy; he must have known what the general feeling of the officers was, and for this purpose it is entirely immaterial that the sentiment of the Army, as a whole, happens to be against the coercion of Ulster. Would the situation, as far as the well-being and discipline of the Army, be any better had the Army been divided into two bitterly hostile camps, one thirsting for the coercion of Ulster, and one determined to oppose it at all hazards? I venture to say the situation would have been even worse. It is a fortunate fact that the Army has been practically unanimous, which has saved us from the entire disruption of the Army in the last few days. Apart from the question of the right hon. Gentleman's duty there is the question of the practical fashion in which he has handled this question. As the officer responsible to his colleagues for the state of the Army, it was his business to inform them on the matter of fact what the Army was likely to feel, and what the Army might be likely to do in certain contingencies. What we know he did was to assure the Government, with that optimism which is so conspicuous a feature of his character, that they could always reckon on the Army as a blind tool for any crime that the Government meant to carry out. And it was only within the last two or three weeks, when the Secretary of State for War and his colleague the First Lord of the Admiralty were meditating their coup against Ulster, that rumours began to reach him that he might have difficulty. And how did he propose to deal with that difficulty? He thought if he made a beginning by terrorising some officers that he might achieve his end and terrorise the whole Army.
We were told yesterday there was a slight misunderstanding. The only misunderstanding there may have been was that General Paget used the same language to his officers that he heard Members of the Cabinet using in his presence a day or two before, and the only misunderstanding was that the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the temper of the officers and of gentlemen—[Hon. MEMBERS "Oh!"]—and of men who have risen from the ranks just as much as men who have not. When that threat was put to them by the instruction and by the 246 orders of the Government, those officers refused to be intimidated. We were given the suggestion yesterday that it was a handful of officers, and that it was trifling. It was a whole brigade of Cavalry, and a great many Line regiments as well, and there were at least 100 officers who refused to be intimidated by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. AMERY
You will see when the right hon. Gentleman produces his papers afterwards. What was the consequence of that act? These officers resigned, and they were to have been dismissed without a pension, and if he had continued on that policy he would have destroyed the whole Army. This is a matter that the House of Commons is entitled to know, and it is this: that if the Secretary of State for War had pursued yesterday the policy he was pursuing on Thursday and on Friday there would have been no War Office to-day, and there would have been practically no officer in the Aldershot Command to-day or in any command. We were told that those gentlemen, those officers, were brought over for explanation. Yes, but before those explanations were given certain other explanations were given to the Secretary of State, and what was the consequence—an unconditional and abject surrender on the part of the Secretary of State for War. [Hon. Members: "Shame!"] It is as well for the House of Commons to know the facts. General Gough and his officers have been reinstated. They were reinstated on assurances. Yesterday morning the Secretary of State for War gave General Gough a verbal assurance that he should not be required, he or the men under him, to go against Ulster. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who told you?"] He refused, very wisely, to accept a verbal assurance, and the Secretary of State—[An HON. MEMBER "Who told you?"] I have my own authority; I am stating facts I know to the House of Commons. I am making my statement, and the right hon. Gentleman can contradict it if he likes. After that other written assurances were given to General Gough, which were not good enough for him, and it was not until late yesterday afternoon that General Gough got the assurance, without which he would not have accepted his reinstatement, an assurance that neither he nor the troops under him were to be used to coerce Ulster to accept the present Home Rule 247 Bill, and, with that assurance in his pocket, he went back to his command, and that assurance he conveyed to his officers this afternoon. What a humiliation! How meanly has the Secretary of State sneaked out of the position into which he so proudly strutted a few days ago. What a thing for the discipline of the Army. What folly and what madness animated the Government that they could drive officers of our Army to take such action!
After all, our Army has never taken a partisan line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Our Army has kept absolutely out of politics. In none of the Debates on this matter has the question of the political leanings of the Army ever been raised. It is only when the Government by an act of madness forced such an alternative on the Army that they had to refuse that normal and ordinary discipline which is the life blood and the essence of the existence of the Army. I, for one, hold that these officers did the only thing they could do. I do not like what has happened. I would ask the House to believe that on this particular question of the Army I have taken an interest which has not been a party interest. Can anyone suggest that the fact that officers should take action of this sort can be a good thing for the Army in future? It is a fortunate thing the matter was not allowed to go further. It was a good thing that the right hon. Gentleman went to Canossa yesterday and prevented the evil spreading, but what an instance of decision! At the very moment the right hon. Gentleman was making his statement to General Gough, the Lord Chancellor in another House was stating that that officer was going back unconditionally to obey orders and do his duty.
The Government are now trying to make out that it was not a question of operations against Ulster at all, but a mere question of keeping order and guarding certain stores and preventing riots. The officers of the Army had never refused to do their duty in that respect, and they never will refuse. [An HON. MEMBER "In the Belfast Strike!"] I will refer to that later. What the officers of the Army may refuse to do is to be tricked and inveigled into operations against Ulster on the pretext that they are only required to keep the peace locally. It may be fortunate if General Paget made a mistake, and I do not admit that he did, and that he spoke the full mind of the Government, when they hoped that he would only do 248 something much more diplomatic than he did. Can anyone say that what was put before those officers was a mere question of keeping order? In the first place, is it a matter of keeping order to march troops out of Belfast, where disorder is most likely to occur, to Holywood? That is a very good move for strategical reasons, but the worst thing possible if you wanted to keep order between the Catholic and Protestant sections of the population. In fact, by doing that, the Government have practically admitted that the Ulster people themselves can keep order in Belfast. What they wanted to do was to be in a position of strategic freedom to fight against the Ulster Volunteers, if necessary. What stores were there at Newry or what stores were there at Armagh? Then there is that question about the exemption of officers domiciled in Ulster from taking part in these operations. How can that be reconciled with the ordinary duties of maintaining peace? The Prime Minister put up a lame case in that matter. It is perfectly true that sometimes it might be desirable that in the case of particular officers or of a regiment very intimately associated with a certain district to suggest that they should not be used for some duties, but nobody ever suggested that they should be allowed to disappear, and that they then might be afterwards reinstated without loss of rank. Does that look like the ordinary duty of keeping the peace? We know that in 1890 and 1891, and again in 1893, when there were riots and troubles in Ulster, Ulster officers and Irish troops were used in keeping and assisting to keep the peace, and did preserve absolute impartiality as between Ulstermen, Protestants, and Catholics—
§ Mr. AMERY
What these officers have refused to do is to shoot the working men of Belfast. Were not intimations given a few days ago that the Connaughts and Leinsters were to be prepared to serve in Ulster? Are not those regiments vitally interested in this particular controversy? On the right hon. Gentleman's own plea, that shows the absurdity of the whole contention. After all, what the Government are proposing to deal with is not a temper which might lead to local outbreaks. They might have talked about that two years ago when they first passed their Bill; but they know that since then, 249 with their connivance and toleration, a force of over 100,000 men has been organised, controlled, officered, and provided with all the things which The Hague Conference insists that a belligerent force shall have. They have their badges, Red Cross contingents, and everything that a belligerent force requires. The Government have allowed a provisional government to be constituted, ready to come into effect at any time. They know perfectly well that when it comes to action they have got to deal with Ulster as a belligerent force. They have to give them the rights of belligerents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Do hon. Members say that Ulster prisoners are going to be shot, or tried for high treason, or for murder, or for desertion? The fact is, the moment operations begin—and no one can deny it—they will be treated as belligerents, just as the forces of the South were treated as belligerents by the Northerners, and just as we treated the American Colonies.
That affects the whole of this question of the discipline of the Army. The officers and the Army undoubtedly, if they are in Ulster, will do their duty in suppressing any local rising or disturbance. But if it comes to the issue of civil war, as it might have done the other day as far as right hon. Gentlemen opposite were concerned, Ulster will be a belligerent force, and the Ulster provisional government will be responsible for keeping law and order in that area. The officers and the Army can only be asked to do one of two things — to act against Ulster in a belligerent capacity, or to stay out-side the area of Ulster altogether and take no part. What the Government are trying to do, and what I have no doubt they will do, or attempt to do, if they have been foiled on this occasion, is to trick officers into Ulster, to get them there on the plea of purely police duties; then, when the moment comes, to try and use them, first of all, in operating on the borders of Ulster, where there may be rioting as the result of the policy of the Government; and then, when they have used them first of all on the borders of Tyrone and Fermanagh, having got their blood up, to march them on against the Ulster forces. In doing that, the Government will embark on a course which can only end in the destruction of the Army. If they do succeed in inducing a certain number of officers, step by step, to fight against, Ulster, they will break the corps 250 of officers in two, and ruin the Army for a generation. What happened yesterday was serious enough, but at any rate it has not broken the Army in two. It lasted only a few moments or a few hours, and the Army has not been permanently injured.
What I ask the House to do is to impress upon the Secretary of State for War the grave responsibility which he has towards the Army, the responsibility of not increasing the mischief which has been done already, and of here and now frankly stating that there is no intention under any circumstances of using any part of the British Army to coerce Ulster. That is a question upon which we are entitled to, have an answer now—not a vague equivocation, such as the Prime Minister gave yesterday, as to there being no intention of moving more troops to Ulster under present conditions. We have no reason to believe that there is going to be in Ulster any trouble of a civil character that will require more troops than there are in Ulster at the present time. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have admitted readily that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), and those who are with him, have done everything in their power to prevent sporadic outbreaks. As far as that question is concerned, there is less reason to fear trouble in Ulster now than there was a year or two years ago, or in 1893. The only reason for which more troops can be moved into Ireland, or into Ulster from now onwards, will be the intention of having an advantage in a civil war which the Government mean to provoke. The one thing essential to be made clear in this House and in the country is what the Government mean to do, so that officers may not be tricked into a false position. That is all I need say this afternoon on that question. I think it may have opened the eyes of some hon. Gentlemen opposite to the gravity of what has happened. We are in a situation such as this country has not known for centuries, and one which we can only hope will stay where it is and not get worse.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Yes, Sir. I think it is necessary that, in a Debate of this description, the opportunity should be taken at once to present the other side of the picture to the House. The hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery) addresses the House as an authority upon military history, and he knows perfectly well that it is the history of almost every defunct State in the world that its decline and fall has begun the moment the military has interfered in civil affairs. You have only to read the pages of Gibbon, or any other great standard work relating to the history and government of the peoples of the past, to know that the statement is true that this country to-day is face to face with -one of the gravest problems with which a country can be confronted. We have here and now unquestionably to decide whether we are going to maintain the discipline of the Army as a neutral force to assist the civil power, and to maintain civil authority and law within these realms, or whether for the future this House, when elected by the people, must go to a committee of officers and ask that military junta whether this is a subject that will be allowed to be put into execution or carried into law if so decided by the House, or whether it is a subject with which they, as officers of the Army, think that we, as representing the people, are not entitled to interfere. That really is the principle underlying this discussion and the statements made by the hon. Member opposite. You cannot possibly pick and choose. If the Army is to decide what laws they will enforce when once they are laws, if it is to be allowed a discretion, then it is a moral certainty that, before the civil and military castes come in conflict with each other, you had much better first of all meet the military authority and discuss with them the subjects that you will be allowed to decide, so as to prevent the civil and military authorities coming into conflict afterwards. That is the only sensible course to follow.
If we allow these things to continue, it is really a declaration of absolutism. I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite who are smiling are delighted with the prospect; they are quite willing that such a thing should happen. I dare say that, if I belonged to the same class of society as they do, I might take their view. But I do not. I belong to the great democracy—that body of people who have struggled for ages to secure the rights which they possess to-day, whose rights 252 are contained in the Statute Book of the country and will be immediately destroyed the moment an aristocratic junta of military men are able to decide what the law of the country shall be. It is a most dangerous thing, from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, that they should allow this propaganda to continue. I would like to read, as the discussion is on this question of the discipline of the Army, two statements that have appeared, one yesterday and another to-day, in a certain journal published in this country. The first is entitled" Spoiling the Army Fetish," and, at the risk of clearing the House, I will read it. That article proceeds:—Rebels and democrats will follow with eager interest the efforts—of course unconscious—of Unionist leaders and pressmen to destroy the military fetish and break up the British Army. This is far and away the most momentous feature of the present political situation. On the avowed question of 'Ulster,' officers and soldiers are sedulously encouraged, if not incited, to think and act for themselves, which, it is assumed, would be in the way that the Unionist irreconcilables and their scribes happen to want them to act. Officers who resign and—it is coming to be hinted—soldiers who disobey are men and heroes. This is palpably a revolutionary new departure. It is the beginning of the end of the long standing conception of the Army as a vast machine which will automatically obey orders and deal out destruction without question. Now it is admitted that, on the 'Ulster' issue, the Army may be a human and sensitive entity, capable of forming its own conclusions. Any elements thereof that will 'refuse to be bullied' will find favour in 'high' and 'loyal' quarters.That article proceeds:—And after! Once the old idea of automatic and unquestioning obedience is broken, is it likely that the soldiers will relapse into slavery? Is it inconceivable, for instance, that they may refuse to be bullied into shooting their brethren who are struggling for social justice? The Unionist enthusiasts and inciters do not seem to be particularly keen psychologists. They have not considered the possible ramifications and consequences of an idea. Once it begins to work in the soldier's minds—they will find it exceedingly difficult to keep it in the way in which 'they' think it. should go. Others will get the benefit of it in due course. That members and parasites of the master classes have set themselves recklessly to play with and revolutionise that formidable engine of government. The British Army is a mighty irony; but it has a thrilling side. Watch and wait, brothers!
§ Mr. J. WARD
The "Daily Herald." [Laughter.] Yes, you and they are one! They want you to accomplish your object; they for their purpose, you for yours. Again to-day in that journal—because you see when once you begin to preach rebellion and the right to decide whether you ought or ought not to follow the command of your officers, you must not expect but that others will do it in their direction. Unquestionably as the hon. Member for Birmingham says, you have started to smash not merely your opponents on this 253 side, but the British Army. Let me quote again from the "Herald":—To the men in the British Army.—Comrades.—We appeal to you to watch carefully the doings and sayings of your officers in connection with the Home Rule question. At least one hundred of them are reported as declining—That bears out what the hon. Member for Birmingham says—to serve against the men of Ulster who may rebel. We do not want you to judge the rights or wrongs of the Ulster dispute, but we bid you remember that officers have claimed and have exercised the right to choose when they will or not obey orders. We ask you in all sincerity to consider your Gun position towards your brothers and sisters who are locked-out or on strike. Often you are called upon to fire on unarmed and defenceless crowds of men and women. You are asked to do so in order that your own flesh and blood may be bought and sold cheap that others may be rich. We therefore ask you now to resolve that from this day forward you will never fire a shot against your own class, that you will follow the example of the generals and other officers in Ireland who have refused to take risks against their class interests. In your case it is much more important than theirs, for you are first workers, and one day will conic back to the class you belong to, and will have all the same dread struggle for life as members of that class endure. So we bid you when called upon to fire on your brothers fighting for freedom to 'ground arms,' and refuse any longer to be the tools of the possessing classes. Your officers have shown what class solidarity means. It is for you to organise yourselves together, so that when the slay conies—you may, one and all, take as your motto 'Don't shoot.'That is the manifesto that is going to be distributed by the syndicalists—which hon. Members opposite have joined—to the British Army. It is quite true that you claim many privileges, but what right have you to spread sedition in the Army any more than these men? I am bound to confess that I am beginning to feel the blood course warmly, for I am not so certain that there are not many of the grievances mentioned in this article that it would be almost as well to decide at the point of the bayonet! If that is the means you want, you wealthy possessing people, if that is the means you want to employ, instead of constitutional action in the future to decide grave political problems, I am positively sure that my Friends and I are quite prepared to accept and employ the same means. I venture to say that hon. Members opposite, for mere party purposes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—merely for purposes of scoring off their opponents Why, the hon. Member, in his speech a moment ago, defended the action of officers who refused to obey orders.
§ Mr. J. WARD
There is not the slightest doubt that once this begins it is not only the officers who will have a conscience. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Oh, yes, poor men have honour.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I can imagine, if ever you get a majority, and are on this side of the House and are responsible for good government—I can imagine a great industrial dispute, where the speeches delivered by you men, by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, will be brought up to justify every common soldier, who is called upon to assist the civil authorities in saying, "These men that I am asked, it may be, to shoot down in the street in support of the principle of law and order, are members of the class to which I belong. I have a conscientious and honourable objection to shooting or to interfering with them in the struggle." What right, then, has either of the hon. Gentlemen who spoke yesterday to suggest that the private soldier has not a conscience—has not honour? [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Then, Mr. Speaker, let us understand. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite really agree that for the future in any labour dispute, in any dispute where the military are called upon to assist the civil authority, a private soldier has the right to disobey orders if he has a conscientious objection? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"]
§ Mr. AMERY
I pointed out perfectly clearly that in the question of supporting the civil power against riots, against disorder, against breaking up the ordinary law, these officers—every officer—was entirely prepared to do his duty. Where it is a question as to whether the Government, for party ends, is risking civil war, officers—and men—have a right to act upon their consciences in the matter.
§ Mr. J. WARD
What does it all amount to? It all amounts to this—that you are to pick and choose the time and occasion on which the Army has to obey. You cannot possibly do it in that way. Does the hon. Member suggest that, providing only the trade unionists—nearly 4,000,000 of them—will save their money, and secure at an immense expense a proper military organisation, that they should then practically decide whether or not the Army is to be used against them? Anyone can see that that only carries the thing a little further. 255 Take the test of discipline that one sees in Ireland to-day. Take the case of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Men belonging to that body are many of them Catholics. Many of them belong to the people whom they are called upon to hold in practical subjection. Yet at the word of command, and without the slighest hesitation, they support the Executive authority in maintaining order, no matter what the consequences may be. Take the case of the Dublin Fusiliers who were sent to South Africa. Everybody knows that they were absolutely hostile from top to bottom to the South African war. Yet they were soldiers. They were not officers! At the word of command these brave Irish lads went to shed their blood in defence of a cause in which they did not believe. They did it because, as soldiers, it was their duty to do it. Do you want to break down that discipline? As a matter of fact it is, as the hon. Member has said, a most interesting occasion. We have now to decide whether the people, through their representatives in Parliament, are to make the laws of the country absolutely without interference either from King or Army.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. WARD
And I think hon. Members have got to this point, that in raising this feeling as they have done, and raising the question, for the future, as to who is to decide the legislative policy of the country, and that it has to be submitted to a committee of the Army, they have done the greatest disservice to the best interests of the Empire for which they pretended to be so zealous.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made a most bitter attack upon the Cabinet, because the very fact that the Cabinet has permitted these officers to go back to duty, apparently upon their own conditions, shows that they think those officers had some right in doing what they did. I would just like to point out one other fact, that in the late autumn, when the First Lord of the Admiralty adumbrated proposals for the increase of naval armaments against foreign aggression, the Radical party and the Labour party abused him and threatened to oppose him; hut directly it comes to a question of the forces of the Crown being used against their own fellow-countrymen, then the whole of the Radical party support the Government. I would 256 point out it is not very wonderful, apparently, that this feeling about serving against Ulster is not only confined to the officers' corps in Ireland: it is not very wonderful that the feeling is almost universal amongst the men in the Army, and for this reason: First of all, I take the, case of a regiment quartered in Dublin at the present moment, one of the regiments concerned, the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. Men of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers on many occasions—almost universally—when they go into a public-house in Dublin, find either that all the hooligans get up and leave or, if they are sufficiently bold and blustering to overawe the soldier, they use abusive remarks about the King's uniform.
The hon. Member was rash enough to use the case of the Dublin Fusiliers in South Africa. Has he ever read the account given by the so-called Major MacBride. [Laughter.] You may well laugh, but this man was appointed to a high honour in the Dublin Corporation, and be described how in the first battle—the battle of Talana Hill—" Our Irish brigade had the satisfaction of pouring the first volley into the British rank!" And what were the regiments employed at that time in that part of Natal? There were the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal. Dublin Fusiliers, and there is not the slightest doubt that many of these brave Irishmen, fighting in the King's regiments, did undoubtedly meet their deaths at the hands of the Irish brigade headed by a present Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament. The less hon. Members on the other side bring into this discussion the names of those brave Irish soldiers, who have fought for us not only in South Africa but in other wars as well, the better for them, for not only were they shot down by their Nationalist fellow-countrymen, but afterwards, as we know, in the case of a military funeral in Belfast they were pursued with contumely in life and in death. Some hon. Members may have their views about the merits of Home Rule, or the demerits of Home Rule, but they are not entitled, I say, to back up men who always abuse the King's uniform against men who have always been loyal to the Union Jack.
§ Mr. ARTHUR BECK
The reproaches with which the hon. and gallant Member started his speech do not, at any rate, apply to me, because ever since I have been in this House I have consistently supported His Majesty's Government in their 257 armament policy, and I have stood up in my place and defended the full naval demands that were made by Ministers in charge; but, Sir, what we feel is this—and we say it to the Government as much as to the hon. Gentlemen opposite—that we have one of the most sacred duties which a representative House can have to discharge in this controversy which has arisen. We feel—we may be wrong, but I believe, on my conscience, we are right—that the whole of representative government is in danger on account of the action taken by those officers. I do not blame these officers, but I do blame, and bitterly blame the men who for three years have intrigued and wire-pulled in order to get officers to play that game. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!" and Interruption.] It is not necessary to quote names. [Interruption.] Every honest man knows the names, and that there have been written letters above the names of some of the highest signatures in the land which are nothing less than an incitement to these men to put the interests of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite first—[Interruption]—and the interests of their country second. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mention one name!" Interruption.]
§ 'Mr. BECK
I am trying, as far as I can, and I do think in all our interest, to argue this thing as the matter of the deepest principle. It is not necessary to quote names. To-day a covenant is being signed in this country which I think fully bears out everything that it is necessary, for this purpose, to prove. I do beg hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House really to consider what their duty is, and that is why I am compelled, as far as we know the facts, to blame my right hon. Friend below me. Here we are to-day, by an unfortunate accident, asked to vote Supplies for the Army which we are told by leaders in this country who to-morrow, or in a year or in a few years, may be holding the highest positions, is to decide the eventual policy of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] What are my hon. Friends and myself doing in this House if we have not only to send Bills in which we earnestly believe three times to another place, but if we have to submit them to the final revision of some gentlemen who are officers in the Army? Hon. 258 Members opposite say, "Try the people." Hon. Members opposite need not be afraid but that the people will be tried upon this question. What I am going on to say is this, and I do say it to any representative of the Government here, that many of us would rather resign our seats to-morrow and go back to the country over this question than to sit here to be dictated to by officers who mean well, but who cannot have the least opportunity of hearing more than one side, and that the most biassed. I quite admit that many of us here are in an awkward position. We have had to submit to grave unpopularity for supporting the Government in their action in the strike areas. We have said that the most sacred interest in this country was the interest of law and order, and now we have to go to the people of this country and say, "We said it was right to use, in the last resort, troops to maintain law and order in the strike area and to put down disorder, but now apparently the Government whom we have supported, have decided that officers may resign their commissions one day, run over to London and see the War Office authorities the next day"—
§ Mr. BECK
And may continue their duties upon what may be called contingent terms. I really do not think that anything need be added to the magnificent speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward), but before it is too late I do ask this House—[Interruption]—I do not want to be in the least offensive, but I always notice that it is the least responsible and youngest Members who are the noisiest—I do ask the House to think that the state of things we have embarked upon to-day, or this last week, are not things that will end to-day or tomorrow, but are things that will leave their mark upon the next ten years in this country's history. Hon. Members heard what was said last night from these benches. Do they know that the meaning men have placed upon it is that this system has shown that the whole officering of our Army is wrong. Men like myself, brought up as I have been, never thought of a thing like that before. We have listened to the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Amery), and all this wild talk, and we thought it meant nothing. We thought officers were pledged, whatever happened, to do their duty, but now we are told that it is a matter for their discretion. My hon. Friend the Member 259 for Sunderland last night pointed out that we are the centre of a great Empire. He and I both happened to have been born in the Dominions beyond the seas. We know—not like hon. Members opposite through a tour—in our bones what Colonials think, and I say to hon. Members opposite that there is not a Colonial in the Empire who will not be shocked to his soul by the events of the last few days. We have beard some talk to-day about the Boer war. We who were fighting the Boers reserved our warmest praise for General Joubert, who disapproved of the war; but when he was asked to do his duty, he went out and practically died in the field. He obeyed the Executive Government of his country, and now the British Empire sees officers resigning, and their resignation is not accepted, but they are told that they can go back on terms. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whose fault is that?"] We want to know whose fault it is.
I am not making a party speech, but I am saying that, rightly or wrongly, the people who think as I do, and the people who think with a great deal more fury about various things, have had all their conceptions of the foundations of this country upset by the events that have happened. We have now once again to face the question that was faced by our ancestors in the days of the Stuarts, whether it is desirable to have an Army, and, if so, whether it is desirable to have it officered in the way it is officered to-day. These were not the things we wanted to consider. We thought they were settled, but, like a great many events that have happened during the last. three or four years, we find ourselves once again going back to very fundamental and very ancient things. In my belief, the people of this country, whatever their party leaders may think, are as sound on these fundamental questions as ever their fathers were. You may say to-day as much as you please about this being a perfectly ordinary transaction, you may say that these officers merely misunderstood what has happened, and when they were a little reassured they went back to their duty, but you will never get the people of this country to believe it. They will believe, as my hon. Friend said last night, that this is one of the most glaring instances ever known of there being one law for the rich and another for the poor. The people will believe that men who have wealth and high connection were allowed to withdraw—
§ Mr. BECK
This question goes much deeper in my opinion than the bandying of words across the floor of the House. What I maintain—and what any hon. Member who thinks about it must maintain—is that the people will conclude that officers may do things which a private in time of trouble would be stopped from doing. That is what will be said, and I frankly confess that I do not know what answer is to be made to that charge. I hope that some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will give an answer to the proposition that was put to us. Really, it is a tragedy when efforts have-been made such as have been made from this side, that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should not hold out a single hand. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have."] I have sat and listened to every word in these Debates—
§ Mr. BECK
I quite agree that I was, rather deliberately breaking the Rules of Order, but this is a tragedy, and I cannot blame anybody fundamentally for it except the party opposite. I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War has shown deplorable weakness. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have every advantage under our constitutional system. They have wealth, they own great newspapers in this country, they have the plural vote, and all these props of the Constitution, and I say it is a tragedy that they should have allowed themselves to drag the Army into the field of party controversy—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who dragged it in?"]—and driven a gap which will not be closed for years between the commissioned ranks and the other ranks of the Army. Hon. Members opposite sneer, but remember it was only two or three years ago that a little printer was sent to gaol for printing and distributing leaflets to privates in the Army, and the Government did what we believe to be the fundamental duty of the Government, whereas to-day right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are the. heroes of every drawing-room because. they have preached to officers the same sort of sedition.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I agree with one observation made by the hon. Member who has just sat down in regarding the present 261 situation as a tragedy. I take an immensely serious view of the situation. Of course, hon. Members sitting below the Gangway think only of the advantage they can get out of this from a party point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] No doubt the hon. Member for Stoke is attracted to the idea that he will in that way secure a few more votes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] I say this without the slightest hesitation, for a party speech more fundamentally insincere than the one made by the hon. Member for Stoke never heard. The hon. Member read out as typical of the Labour opinion—
§ Mr. J. WARD
I especially called attention to the fact that this was the propaganda of the syndicalists' newspaper, and I said that hon. Gentlemen opposite were carrying on the same propaganda only with different objects in view.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
Then what is the object of it? Only to represent to the House that this was an important organ of working-class opinion. If that was not the hon. Member's object, what does he mean? If that is not his object, it is perfectly valueless, and he might just as well read from the "Suffragette" Either the thing has sonic importance or it has not. If the hon. Member believes that the "Daily Herald" has some importance, then all I can say is I think he must know that the "Daily Herald" is never tired of pointing out how lacking in courage and sincerity the Members of the Labour party are at all times. As for the hon. Member for Stoke as a leader of revolution, I assure him that he does not in the least terrify me, because I know he is not even able to vote for Motions which he seconds, and revolutionaries are not built of clay of that description. With regard to the speech which has just been delivered, I think it was animated by a very genuine feeling, and a very deep sense of the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves. But do not let us exaggerate. I am sure the hon. Member opposite and everybody else will wish that we should take an accurate view of exactly what has happened in this case. It is not the case of an officer refusing to obey orders; it is not, in fact, that case at all. As I understand the matter—and I speak only as one of the public, and know nothing except what has happened in this House, and what I have seen in the newspapers—somehow or another these officers were asked a question, Whether they would fight 262 against Ulster or whether they Would resign their commissions? I understand that was in substance the question which was put to them. I ask hon. Members of this House to put themselves in the position of these officers, sympathising profoundly from reasons quite remote from mere party considerations which hon. Members have attributed to them with the people of Ulster, after having seen the relative behaviour of Nationalists and Ulstermen in Ulster. Questions are constantly brought to our notice of the regrettable, but at the same time the undoubted fact that soldiers and officers of His Majesty's Army are profoundly unpopular in the Nationalist parts of Ireland.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. Member for North-East Cork denies that, but I was talking to a working man the other day, and he described to me the situation, and he told me how soldiers could not go out after dusk except six at a time for fear of being set upon in the streets of Dublin. MEMBERS: "Rot!"] He was there himself and told me so. Everybody knows that there are streets in Dublin to this day down which soldiers cannot go without fear of interference. That, at any rate, is the common opinion in the Army, and anyone who has talked to military men knows it. Compared with that you have the Ulstermen, who have always welcomed the soldiers of the Crown, regarding themselves as much interested in and as much a part of the Empire as the soldiers themselves. Can you wonder that there is a very strong and deep feeling in the Army on this question?
The question which presents itself to the officer's mind necessarily is this: Will you go and shoot down the Ulstermen? That is the way it presents itself to his mind. Not a question of protecting individual civilians from isolated acts of outrage or anything of that kind, but—Will you go and enforce this political measure by force of arms in Ulster? That is the question which presents itself to him. Will the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken address himself to that question? Supposing he had been an officer, and he had been put in that position, and he had felt deeply and profoundly—mistakenly, as he would say—that the Ulstermen were right in this controversy, and that they were going to suffer the gravest injustice, and supposing he had been asked to go and enforce that injustice at the point of 263 the bayonet, and to shoot them down if they resisted, what would he say? That is the way it presents itself to the soldier. It is not a question of obeying orders. The matter is presented to them in a different light. You can, by sacrificing yourself, your profession, your whole prospects of life, send in your papers and resign your commission, and free yourselves from a terrible responsibility. I cannot find it in my heart to blame the man who took the view that, under that very difficult circumstance, it was his duty to send in his papers and resign his commission, and I do not believe that there is a man on the other side of the House, or on the Labour Benches, not even the hon. Member for Stoke himself, who would have acted differently. Therefore, to tell me that these men who are acting from a strong sense of duty and absolutely in defiance of their whole personal interests are to be held up as they will be, I am told, on every platform to ignominy and contempt as men who engaged in a conspiracy to destroy representative government—why, I say that such a charge is absolutely baseless and untrue. The suggestion which the hon. Member, not in the best moment of his speech, thought it wise to make, that they have been wirepulled and intrigued, I say is absolutely untrue. My knowledge of intrigue may not be great. I can only speak of my own personal opinion and knowledge, and I say, on my own authority and speaking from my own knowledge, that, so far as I know, that is absolutely untrue. That is the assertion I make so far as my knowledge goes. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lough) says "The British Covenant." What has the British Covenant got to do with this? What has any phrase of the British Covenant got to do with this?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
There is not a word or syllable of anything of the kind. There is not the slightest suggestion of the kind. I signed the Covenant—I am not in the least ashamed of having done so—and I certainly never understood that was its meaning, and I am sure it is not. Do not let us exaggerate the affair, serious as I agree it is. I think it is a tremendously serious thing. I do not 264 deny it for a moment, but do not let us exaggerate it. Of course, it is too much to ask of a body of politicians not to make party capital out of it, because, of course, they will. I venture to think that the matter is so serious that it ought to be discussed in a temperate manner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I have expressed myself strongly, but I do not think that I have said anything offensive about anybody on the present occasion. Let me try and say a word, if I may, on the fundamental issues that are involved in this dispute. They are very old indeed. They go back in our history, at any rate, to the days of the Stuarts, and I dare say long before that. I have listened to these Debates, and really and seriously, without wishing to exaggerate, the language used by hon. Gentlemen opposite might as well have been used of Laud and Strafford in the days of Charles I. There are, undoubtedly, two great competing duties, and we cannot get over it. There is the duty of obedience to the law. I do not believe that there is anyone who puts that higher than I do. I think I put it as high as it can reasonably be put, but there is also, in the last resort, the duty to break it. The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. John Dillon) has broken it on grounds which seem to me wholly insufficient. I do not know that I have ever done so myself, but I can easily imagine a case in which I should do so. That is the old controversy which raged throughout the seventeenth century, as hon. Members will remember: Passive obedience on the one side, and the right to rebel on the other. That is still a controversy, and most people have really come to this conclusion: That circumstances may arise when it is your duty to break the law. That does not carry it very far. [An HON. MEMBER "What about the soldier's duty?"] I will say in answer to that interposition that if hon. Members will look at history they will find in every case of civil commotion, amounting to civil war, that soldiers, in fact, always have decided on one side or the other, and most commonly have been divided between the two. I can only remind the hon. Member who interrupted me that there are a number of instances—
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The North and South in America was one. [An HON. MEMBER "The French Revolution."] I do not think that I like taking any precedent from French history. There are far more 265 respectable precedents than that. There were, of course, a number of cases in the American war; and I think that if you will look at any case you will always find it so. There was the case of the celebrated defection of General Monk, but the cases are without number. The real difficulty is this, and I agree that it is an enormous and tremendous difficulty: What is civil war and what is riot? It is a tremendous difficulty, but it is a difficulty you have got o face. You have to face it in every war. It is similar to the distinction between piracy and privateering. All civilised nations agree that if a man is a pirate you hang him practically without trial. He is regarded as the enemy of the human race, and very properly so; but a privateer, who may be doing substantially the same thing, is entitled to be treated as a belligerent, with all the privileges of a belligerent. The real difference between the two sides is this: the privateer is fighting on behalf of an actual existing State or on behalf of some organised body of resisters, such as the Confederate States of America. He is not fighting for his own hand, but on behalf of some organised community. The pirate is merely fighting for his own hand, and is not entitled to any respect. I do not say that you can carry that analogy to its full extent when you get to land commotions, but its is substantially the distinction. I have thought as much as I can about this in the last few days, and, as far as I can see, it is the substantial distinction you have to make between riot and civil war.
If the riot is made merely for the purpose of personal gain we have none of us any difficulty about it. Take the case of Tonypandy, where there was a dispute between employers and employed—some mining dispute. There somebody—probably not the people engaged in the dispute, but somebody else—took the opportunity of the general confusion to run amuck through the town of Tonypandy, wrecking the shops and stealing the contents. No one can doubt that is riot. It was done merely for the purpose of personal gain, but cases may arise in which the two come very near together indeed, and then you come to the real serious difficulties which all of us may have to face—I pray Heaven that as far as I am concerned I shall never have to face them—and where he has got to make up his mind: Is this civil war? Is this a case in which I have got to make up my mind between two great opposing parties, or 266 is this merely a riot in which the people are only engaged in vulgar looting, which is entitled to no respect at all? And not only have we to make up our minds, but soldiers, like everybody else, have got to make up their minds. They cannot get out of it. It would be a very convenient arrangement of human affairs if there were some authority absolutely infallible which could tell us exactly what was right or wrong in political questions of great moment. But such an authority does not exist, and you may be faced at any moment with a position when you have got to decide what you ought to do as between two contending parties, when the thing is not a mere riot, but when it becomes a definite fight between two political ideas.
The question is, what is the situation in Ulster. Does anyone really suggest that it has any analogy to an ordinary riot? No one really does anything of the kind. Everyone knows that it is a real political controversy of a deep kind. We are told that the Ulstermen are not a nationality. It may be so, but I am quite sure that if this dispute goes on very long they will become a nationality. They are banded together in defence of a political idea. The other people are banded together in defence of their political ideas. It is the kind of dispute out of which civil war springs, and it is not the kind of dispute out of which riot springs. That seems to me to be the fundamental distinction between the two. I say quite frankly that, even in the case of civil war, a soldier is under a deep obligation to obey the authority by which he was enlisted, unless he is perfectly convinced that he cannot do so without losing his own self-respect, or without feeling that he is doing something which is shabby, mean, and despicable. I say he is put in an awful position when he has to choose between his heirarchial superiors and what, in his heart and conscience, he believes to be right. Then the unhappy man has to make a decision, and I, for one, will never be the first to throw a stone at him, whichever way he decides.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
May I try to put a point of view, that seems to be a sound 267 point of view, to the Labour party. Suppose that a Government was so mad as to bring in a Bill to withdraw from the working classes the right of combination, to abolish the Acts of 1871 and 1875, and to remove from them guarantees of liberty in which they profoundly believe. Suppose that were done, not for the whole of the working class—but to make it more like the present case—for a section only. Suppose they therefore banded themselves together and said to the Government which propose to commit this profound injustice: "We will set up a separate Government of our own, at the hands of which we shall not be exposed to this injustice." Suppose the Government acquiesced in their organisation for two years of an elaborate force, and apparently made no objection to it. Suppose they avowed in the most open and in the plainest language that there was no question of a secret conspiracy, but that theirs was an open organisation to enforce their ideas of political liberty. Suppose at the end of that time the Bill had become law and the troops were asked whether they would go and destroy the trade unions—destroy their leaders, irrespective of whether they were doing anything contrary to the law, or to that guarantee of liberty in which they profoundly believed and in which they thought was to be found their salvation. Suppose they said, "No, we shall resist." Suppose the officers and men were asked, "Will you act or refrain from acting, and give up your position in the Army? "Would the Labour Members blame them if they said, "No; we think the working classes are profoundly right; we think it is a grossly unjust and tyrannical act; we think they are perfectly right to resist before the employer gets a chance of doing an injustice. It is the guarantee of liberty in which we trust, and we shall fight for them." Surely hon. Members opposite would not blame them for coming to such a decision. I should say that in such a case no soldiers ought to be employed to enforce such an act as that, except with their good will. I say you have no right to so employ them; you have no right to employ soldiers to enforce what. is clearly political action against the deep-rooted convictions of a vast mass of your fellow countrymen. I am sure it cannot be done, and I am sure if it is attempted it will always produce that kind of disaster and danger with which we find ourselves confronted to-day.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
It entirely depends on the circumstances. If they were engaged in mutilating cattle, in shooting at dwelling-houses, and in conduct of that kind, and the only way of stopping them was the employment of troops, I should, in that case, employ troops. If, indeed, the Government thought that this was a treasonable conspiracy, undoubtedly it ought, two years ago, to have arrested the leaders of the conspiracy. Then a very different state of things would have arisen. It is the Government's own vacillation that has produced the whole difficulty. That is a fatal defect of the Liberal Government whenever placed in real executive authority. It was the defect which produced the death of Gordon and the loss of many lives. They never can make up their minds until too late, and when they do make up their minds they always do something blustering and crude. We are told, and hon. Members have cheered the assertion, that this is an aristocratic conspiracy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went down to Huddersfield to develop that thesis in his own peculiar fashion. He explained that the dukes were at the bottom of it. The dukes, according to the right hon. Gentleman, are at the bottom of everything. If his Insurance Act is a failure, if the People's Budget does not succeed, if a land campaign becomes necessary, it is always the dukes. He sees dukes everywhere as some people see snakes. I doubt very much if the right hon. Gentleman in his calmer moments would maintain that view for an instant.
These officers have formed a very strong opinion that the proposals of the Government are unjust and improper, and likely to do grave injustice to those among whom they have always found their warmest supporters and friends in life. They have been asked to make up their minds, and they have done so, and they have taken a decision for which I cannot find it in my heart to blame them. I respectfully say that they have shown an absence of self-seeking, which is, after all, no very common quality. Now they are told—I read it in a leading Radical paper—that the policy of the Liberal party is to be to break the Army. I gather from some inarticulate cries that not only the Army, but that even a more august institution is to share that fate. Yes, that is the Radical position. Whatever institution 269 stands in their way, whatever institution, however justly and however rightly, opposes itself to them even for a time, it is to be broken and taken away. The Radical party must not be hindered, whatever happens and whatever the consequences may be. That seems to he a disastrous policy, and hon. Members opposite will be bitterly sorry if they carry this party game to the extreme. This is a tremendously serious crisis. I will do all I can—I have, I know, no power, but I will do anything I can to prevent a repetition of such a crisis as we are now going through—anything I can consistently with honour. I feel that if hon. Members will free themselves from the violence of their party indignation—and can anyone doubt that such party indignation exists—if they will only try now, even at the eleventh hour, to find means of arriving at a settlement of this question, no one will be better pleased or more anxious to assist them than I shall be with whatever power I may possess.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I had not, till a few moments ago, the least intention of intervening in this Debate, and perhaps I should apologise to you and to the Noble Lord for interrupting. I take it that the point which has been brought forward in almost every speech, the real point dividing the two sides of the House at this moment, is as to whether these officers, who have taken the extraordinary action which has been described so emphatically to-night, received any encouragement from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Have not hon. Gentlemen opposite constantly incited them during the last two years to take action which a good many at least appear to-night to deplore? I wanted to ask whether there was anything in the British covenant—I was quoting from memory—which bound anybody to endeavour to persuade officers to take that action. I will read the words showing what every one who signs the Covenant does:—We do hereby solemnly declare that if the Bill is passed we shall hold ourselves justified in taking or supporting any action that may be effective to prevent the armed forces of the Crown being used to deprive the people of Ulster of their rights as citizens.I think every hon. Member will admit that I have read it frankly.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I put it perfectly fairly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it again."] 270 Really hon. Members can read any words they like. I will read it with pleasure.We hold ourselves justified in taking or supporting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read the whole of it!"] I assure the House I am reading every word.We do hereby solemnly declare"—I want to get at what they do declare, and I will read every word after that.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I shall have great pleasure in reading it all after that, but the words referred to were not in the declaration. They are:—Being earnestly convinced that the claim of the Government to carry the Home Rule Bill into law without submitting it to the judgment. of the nation. is contrary to the spirit of our constitution.That is the argument of hon. Gentlemen. I will now come to the declaration:—We do hereby solemnly declare that if that Bill is so passed we shall hold ourselves justified in taking or supporting any action that may be effective to prevent. it being put into operation, and more particularly to prevent the armed forces of the Crown being used to deprive the people of Ulster of their rights ins citizens of the United Kingdom.[Interruption.] We can get to perfect agreement in a moment or two. All that I say is, that any hon. Member of this House who signed that declaration cannot deny that, in certain eventualities, he would advise the armed servants of the Crown—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—Yes, I put it with great submission, that in certain eventualities—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—every Member who signed it did suggest that the armed forces of the Crown should not carry out the will of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and an HON. MEMBER: "Now they are running away."] I must say that I do not think hon. Members opposite have treated me very fairly, or have treated their own declaration fairly. Why are they afraid? Why do they not stand to what they have signed? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] I give the Noble Lord who has just sat down that credit, because he appears to go to the full length of the declaration, but I say to hon. Gentlemen who have signed this declaration that they cannot wash themselves clean of the stain of endeavouring in certain circumstances to get the Army to fail 271 in its duty. Why do I mention this declaration? We shall hear more of it. It was sent to me this morning by a constituent, and I was told that all through the Division I represent people have been asked to sign it, I shall have to say the same thing in my Division when I speak there that I am saying here in the House now. I shall there have to charge hon. Members opposite, as I do here, with this attempt to seduce the armed forces of the Crown. Why do hon. Gentlemen opposite try to get a scapegoat in this matter, which they call so solemn? [HON. MEMBERs: "What about the Government?"] Never mind about the Government. I read that in 10,000 places throughout this Kingdom this declaration may be signed. I say it creates a most solemn crisis, and that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be able to wash themselves free from the great responsibility they have undertaken in the matter.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
Were I disposed to make a controversial contribution to this Debate, I would remind the Noble and learned Lord behind me (Lord Robert Cecil), when he asks what tribunal is to decide these issues, that we are in the House of Commons, and not in a town hall, and that we are on the Report of the Committee of Supply, and it may well be said that those who pay the piper can call the tune. But I rise to no such purpose. I rise for the purpose of saying that when the Prime Minister this morning recommended us to pretermit this Debate until to-morrow, when we should have fuller information, I thought he was wrong, but, having listened to the Debate, I think he was right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will tell the House why. In the first place, it cannot be denied that if these officers have behaved in the way alleged, the Government have made themselves parties to their misconduct. Therefore any hon. Gentleman on the Liberal side of the House who attacks the Army attacks the Government, and I cannot believe, on such an occasion as this, that both the Army and the Government can be included in any conjunct condemnation. Logic, no doubt, or partisanship may maintain, in the absence of information, that there is only one way of looking at this case. I now see, having listened to the Debate, another possibility, and I trust the House will indulge me if, for once, I seem to offer counsel of conciliation.
272 The reason is this. Our country is being made the cockpit of party battle. Whatever happens, Ireland will suffer. Whoever is right, whoever is wrong, the battle is being fought over the carcass of our unfortunate country. I cannot help remembering, when General Gough's name is mentioned, that he comes of a gallant, family, of whose reputation we are all proud. I can well believe that upon a sudden presentation, perhaps given under mistaken circumstances, a hot-headed and gallant man may have thrown up his sword. and that his great influence and the great family which he represents may have induced other soldiers to follow him. These commands may have been given under a mistake. Surely this is not an occasion when a country like ours, that has given so many gallant men to the Army, should needlessly stand by and suffer from unjust attacks. I refer to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman above the Gangway (Major Dalrymple White) said with regard to the treatment of soldiers in Ireland. I am afraid that the Noble Lord, who has referred' to that matter has only spoken upon hearsay. I can assure the House, and certainly I have no reason for any concealment in the matter, that there is not a more popular force in any country in the world than is the Army in Ireland. I can say this, in addition, that the farmers of Ireland at the Autumn and Summer manœuvres give facilities to the Army which English and Welsh farmers refuse to give them. That I have from officers who have served in those manœuvres. Therefore it cuts me to the quick to hear these unjust charges, which are not merely charges of disloyalty that we could very well support, but which are charges of ungentle-manliness, unneighbourliness, and vindictiveness, for which I know, from the spirit of our people, there is no foundation whatever.
§ Major DALRYMPLE WHITE
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the statement that has been admitted by the Secretary for War, that military funerals are not allowed to go through the Nationalist quarter in Belfast?
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I am not an authority, thank God, on Belfast. I know nothing whatever about Belfast. I only spent twenty-four hours there in my life, and they were the most unhappy twenty-four hours I ever spent. I never knew anybody to leave Belfast who was not glad to be out of it. I do not know what are 273 the circumstances which affect Belfast, or on what military ground, in moments of excitement for all I know—especially if there has been firing and fusillades, and perhaps wounds and death—the military may, as a matter of precaution, direct the funerals to go by some other route. I am sure anybody might take the same course as a matter of precaution. What I am engaged in denying is that this a part of the sentiment of my nation. That is what I deny. I am going to make a suggestion to the House, which is this: In this matter the Irish stand most deeply either to win or lose. Do not fight this battle about the Army over our bodies. The Labour men have just cause for using these taunts, and for bringing up Tonypandy and bringing up Tom Mann, who, I remember, got six months only last year for asking the soldiers not to fire upon trade unionists. We are, however, engaged upon a wholly different struggle. Do not fight your English battles over this unfortunate country of ours, which is now precipitated into this tremendous conflict.
I appeal especially to the Liberal party, who are justly and naturally filled not merely with momentary feeling, but with the traditional feeling which springs from the old Commonwealth and William times. I appeal to them especially not to rub in this question at this present moment. I think, for my part, that if the information should be given to us to-morrow that a high crime and misdemeanour has been committed by this gentleman, no one would condemn him more strongly than I should, but if, on the other hand, we find that that high crime and misdemeanour has been condoned by the Government, what will be the position of Ireland? Does it not follow that we should say that you have given these miserable concessions to Ulster, but that you have followed them up by refusing to enforce the Act of Parliament. In all the circumstances, I appeal to the House to pretermit this matter until to-morrow. Admitting that I was wrong myself in wishing this Debate to continue, I do strongly say that in the interests of Ireland it is desirable that these arguments should for the moment be laid upon one side. May I, in conclusion, say why I took the view that the Prime Minister was wrong? I took the view that if we pretermitted at this stage that to-morrow it would be a combat between the Opposition backing up the soldiers and the Government and their friends engaged in self- 274 assertion or self-justification. I see that there is a third position, and being of that opinion, I say the occasion is one when it. is neither good for this House nor for this country, nor for this Empire, nor for the future of Ireland, that this acrimonious. Debate should continue in the vein in which it has been conducted.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
There is no Member of this House who can do other than appreciate the very human appeal the hon. and learned Member has made. If, as he alleges, this was a, mere question of an impulsive action on the part of General Gough, I could well understand that the matter might rightly be left there. But I want to submit that it is not quite such an easy situation as we suggest, because every speech from the other side has laid it down in clear and definite terms that not only was General Gough right in refusing to obey orders if he were called upon—
§ Mr. THOMAS
Every speaker has laid it down clearly that he is prepared to. justify General Gough and any other officer or men who for conscientious reasons say they will not take part in enforcing the new law against Ulster. I want to submit to the Noble Lord that, whilst he was asking us to believe that he was actuated by no party spirit or feeling, he ought to have displayed the same spirit in his summary of our position. He opened his speech by saying that he could well understand the action of the Labour party, whose only object in this matter was to seek party advantage,. I am not viewing this question from the. standpoint of Ireland or Ulster. I am viewing it as one in charge of an Army of not 100,000 men, but 350,000 men, and I want to answer the Noble Lord in saying that, at least, I am serious in this matter, and I have proved my sincerity in my opposition to this doctrine, or to any other-syndicalist doctrine, not by mere lip-service here, or statements in the Press, but by going and facing the men themselves and telling them they were wrong. It is because I am profoundly satisfied" that the support that Gentlemen opposite are giving and have given to this question cannot do other than shake the very foundations of society that I rise to make my protest. The Noble Lord said it appears to be 'the one desire of the party 275 on this side to smash every institution that stands in their way. I frankly admit that there is no institution in this country, however great or sacred, which I would not take my stand in smashing to atoms if it attempts to interfere with the constitutional liberties of the people. We have got beyond the stage when we should allow anyone to step in and say that we can override the expressed will of the people through Parliament. How is it proposed to be done? Shortly, the argument of the Noble Lord is this, that whilst it is true that it is the duty of the Army to obey any commands given, there are certain circumstances in which men would be actuated by strong conscientious objections, Ulster being one, and on those grounds they would be justified in refusing. That, shortly put, is the case as presented by the Noble Lord. Let me apply that to another circumstance, because whilst we may argue across the poor as to what happened in America, the ordinary man in the street will not draw any such fine distinction. The ordinary man in the street at this moment cannot understand, and is not likely to forget, that Tom Mann had six months' for doing what the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) has been doing for the past two years. When Crowsley distributed pamphlets to the soldiers, advising them not to shoot their fellow men, he was arrested. I was called upon to say whether we would provide legal defence for him, because he was a member of my society, and he said, "I did this conscientiously, believing it to be in the interests of my fellow working men. I did this with no other object than to help my own class, therefore I appeal to you, as representing my organisation, to provide a defence and to pay me out-of-work pay in accordance with the rules of the society." We did not do as hon. Gentlemen opposite did. I said, "Whilst I can understand the feeling which actuated you in taking this course, if this is pursued it will shake the very foundations of society," and my organisation not only refused to provide legal defence, but they absolutely refused to give this man a copper of out-of-work pay. We were condemned in all parts of the country. Hon. Members opposite agreed with my action then. I put it to you, if you agreed with my action then, is there any distinction between the conscientious feeling of Crowsley and the conscientious action of 276 the gentlemen whom you are now supporting?
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let me give another illustration. On 17th August, 1911, I and other colleagues met the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Foreign Secretary. It was then known that there was a possibility of a railway strike and all that it meant. I said on behalf of the men, "We do not want a strike. If you will only persuade the other side to meet us and talk the matter over, I believe we can conic to agreement." The Prime Minister used his influence, and he failed, and he came back into the room and said, "I have to tell you that the whole forces of the Crown, civil and military, will be placed at the disposal of the railway companies to see that the food supplies of the people are not interfered with." That is to say that the Prime Minister placed the interests of the State before anything else. I have never disagreed about it, and I agreed then, though I was on the opposite side. But I want to see what it means. Included in the military and in the Reserve were thousands of railway men who were striking for better conditions of service, and who conscientiously believed that the hours that they were working were too long. and that they were entitled to strike in order that their wives and families could live.
§ Mr. THOMAS
That means, of course, that it did not matter about them starving themselves, so long as they did not have to inconvenience anybody else. Some of these Reserves would be called up on the statement of the Prime Minister, not to shoot down strikers, not to protect property, but actually to run trains in order to ensure that the food supply of the people should not be interfered with. Then supposing they said, "No; as railway men we are on strike for better conditions, we are not going to work as Reservists under the service of the Crown in order to defeat our fellow railway men." Immediately there is dissent from that proposition, and if there is dissent, I ask hon. Members seriously to consider what position they are placing themselves in when by their very action they have practically shown it rests with the officers and men to distinguish as between one 277 position and another. General Gough may feel keenly the Ulster situation. Tommy Atkins will feel keenly the industrial situation. I said just now that I did not look upon it in a party spirit. We have given notices to the whole of the railway companies in the United Kingdom. Those notices expire on 1st November this year, shortly before Christmas, in the depth of the winter. On behalf of the 400,000 railwaymen, between now and November we have to anticipate what may happen. I hope, and I say with all the solemnity of my nature, that nothing that I can do will be too much to try and bring about an amicable settlement. I am not unmindful of the other situation. If the doctrine that you have laid down can stand, what is my duty? It is between now and November, Sunday after Sunday, to go to all the industrial counties, and say to the railwaymen, "I believe that the railway companies are going to resist your demand. I believe they are going to refuse to give you an eight hours day. I believe they are going to refuse to give you an increase in wages; and I believe they will use all the force at their command. In order to he prepared for the worst, if they resist., organise your forces. We will use our £500,000 of capital in our union to provide arms and ammunition for you. We have got a political idea and we can best accomplish that in the way I have indicated."
Will hon. Members opposite sit in their places day after day and listen to me preaching that doctrine and agree with it? If they do not agree with it, then I put it to them that they at least are conveying the impression that there is one law for the rich and another law for the poor. [Indications of dissent.] It is all very well to shake your heads, but I say that the ordinary man in the street will not draw these fine distinctions, and, viewing this question not as a party politician, not from the standpoint of Ireland, although anything I can do will be done in the direction of seeing that Ireland has justice, but viewing it purely as one who has got to face the masses of the country not with reference to what is popular or unpopular, and not with a mere popular cry that will make a popular hero, but always applying the one test, "Is it right and is it just?" I ask what is the situation of myself and other Labour leaders when we have to go to our men and say, whilst there is a political party in the House of Commons, largely of the 278 employing class, including railway directors—whilst there is a class that says that under certain circumstances the forces of the Crown must not be used—
§ Mr. THOMAS
It may not be the same thing to you, but the mere political distinction as to what these people call Nationalist rule for Ulster men is not more to a working man whose wife and children have not enough to eat. Not the same thing!If in a year or two's time the inevitable trade depression sets in and an unemployed man says, "I can not only not get work, but I have not even food to eat," is that not something to him? Is that not a, conscientious reason on his behalf? There is no limit to this question, and I am profoundly satisfied that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not realise where they are going, because I believe their action will shake the very foundations of society. I conclude by saying, regardless of consequences, regardless of individuals, whether they be high or low, we have got to take our stand and say that the liberty of the people is at stake, freedom has been interfered with, and therefore justice shall be done even if the heavens fall.
§ Mr. HUNT
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. H. Thomas), and the members of the Labour party, have been mixing up the position of railway men on strike with the position of Ulstermen. The defence of the employment of military in a railway strike is that the troops are used to protect life and property. The difference surely is that in the case of a railway strike soldiers are sent to protect life and property, and the food of the people.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I swept away that distinction, and I put the other—that the troops could be used in order to run the very trains that the men on strike refused to run.
§ Mr. HUNT
That does not make any difference. The object of using soldiers in a railway strike is to preserve life and property, and to prevent the people from starving. Does the hon. Gentleman mean to tell me that if the Army is to be used to shoot down Ulstermen that is for the protection of life and property? It is to drive out of political union with this country the most loyal subjects of the King. Let me say that, so far as I know history, such a thing has never been done before by any nation. Surely that is an 279 enormous difference, and the officers who refused to make war on the loyal subjects of the King were perfectly tight. I really think that hon. Gentlemen on the other side do not understand the position in Ireland. I have little opinion of most of them, but I think there must be some of them who would hesitate to vote for the Home Rule Bill if they knew really what it meant. It means that Ireland is going—
§ Mr. HUNT
I am sorry; I did not know that that subject was barred. I think we might ask the Secretary of State for War to tell us whether he could give an assurance, as there is so much unrest in the Army, that the Army will not be used for killing loyal subjects of the King in Ulster. If we could have that assurance, I am sure it would be a very great thing for the Army. The Prime Minister the other day lectured the Unionist. party on the part they have taken in this Ulster question. I really think that it is a pretty strong order for the Prime Minister and the party opposite to do that when everybody knows that they made a gambling Jew who got at the Jury, Lord Chief Justice of England.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member indulges in language of that kind, I shall have to take strong measures with him. This remark has absolutely nothing to do with what we are now discussing. The hon. Member should show some courtesy towards a Member of the other House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman chose to go out of his way quite unnecessarily to attack a Noble Peer in very offensive language.
§ Colonel SEELY
If I may make an appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House it would be this: I cannot very well make a speech on this subject or any state- 280 ment, as I explained at Question Time, until the House is in possession of the full facts which I have promised to give them. If we could dispose of this Amendment now, it would enable me to reply to the specific questions put by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will undertake to make a full statement to-morrow, after the House is in full possession of the essential documents in the case. I would appeal to hon. Members that. we might now proceed to dispose of the Amendment and get the necessary Vote.
§ Mr. LEE
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, in view of the appeal made by the Prime Minister at Question Time, in reply to a question by me, when he promised to produce the-full Papers to-morrow, it was reasonable that we should not have proceeded to discuss the question this afternoon. That is the way it struck me, and that is the one and only reason that I have not risen to take part in this Debate. But I must say this, that while I do not wish to enter into the merits of the case for the reason I have given until we have seen the Papers—and I speak now as an old soldier, as one who has spent thirteen of the best years of my life before I came to this House as a soldier and I am proud of it—I do feel deeply that daring the whole afternoon, though there have been a series of concentrated and venomous attacks made upon the British Army and upon its officers, not one single word has been said in defence of the Army by the one person whose business it is to defend them in this House. It is not my duty to stand here and defend the Army. I have not the prestige or the authority-to do so, but we do feel that when attacks of this kind are made continuously, we look to the proper defender of the Army, not to go into the merits of the political controversy, but at any rate to repudiate personal attacks upon officers of the Army. The Secretary of State for War has not had one word to say upon that subject. I do feel that the least the right hon. Gentleman could have done would have been to raise and resent and repudiate the attacks made upon the Army. If he does not feel in a position to defend the Army against the attacks made upon us this afternoon, all I can say is that he has no right whatever to maintain his position.
Amendment put, and negatived.
Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he proposes 281 to deal now, or at some future time, with the aeroplane question? I know that the Debate has got off it, and that it is difficult to get it back again.
§ Colonel SEELY
I think it would be more convenient to the House to make the statement some other time, in view of all that has happened to-day. I will undertake to make a full statement at perhaps a more convenient time, when I may be able to make a definite statement as to the request of the hon. Gentleman for an inquiry.
§ Mr. SANDYS
On this question there is one point to which I would draw attention. That is the Inspection Department of the Flying Corps which was created last autumn. Unfortunately, during last year there were certain regrettable fatal accidents to officers in the Royal Flying Corps. There is an impression in the country, amounting almost to a conviction in some cases, that everything possible has not been done, as it is the wish of this House that it should be done, to give the officers of the Royal Flying Corps the best possible equipment and organisation for carrying out duties which, under the most favourable conditions, must always be extremely hazardous. I am confident that the right hon. Gentleman must realise that there is a determination, no matter what the cost may be, that as we are a wealthy and powerful nation, everything possible must be done by the Government to see that these duties, which are so essential to the security of the country, are carried out by our officers in the most favourable conditions. My hon. Friend referred to the accident on 13th May last year to Lieutenant Arthur, who was flying on one of the factory machines. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no question of bad material or workmanship in the original machine, but that some accident occurred which was secretly repaired by an unauthorised person, who had not been discovered. Later on the same day he said that the strictest instructions are laid down for recording the repairs effected to Army aeroplanes, but that as regards the accident to Lieutenant Arthur, in spite of the most careful inquiry, it was impossible to ascertain by whom the repair was carried out. Then there was the report of the committee of the Aero Club, which my hon. Friend has already read.
One of the results of that accident last year was that the right hon. Gentleman explained to the House on a subsequent 282 occasion all the tests which the Government provided to ascertain whether a, machine was in proper condition to take its place in the Flying Corps. He told us about the loading tests, the strain tests, the landing tests, and the flying tests, and then he went on to the question of workmanship and material which must be to the satisfaction of the Royal Aircraft inspectors. Then he said:—Further, before all Army aeroplane makes its flight, it is inspected by the commanding officer of the place and every effort is made to see that everything is correct. Every test that we know is applied, and not until it is certified that it is fit, does the officer take a flight.The Inspection Department was, I take it, appointed last autumn. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it in the remarks on the Supplementary Estimates submitted to this House for the purpose of providing for the Inspection Department. As is explained in the Memorandum of the Army Estimates, this Inspection Department has been formed in order to test machines, whether they are made by contractors, or the Royal Aircraft Factory, and the tests applied by the Inspection Department, are equally put in force in the case of all machines. Then, unfortunately, there was that accident to Captain Downer on 10th March. Of course, in that case there was great doubt—there nearly always must be great doubt in connection with these disasters—as to what. actually was the cause of the accident. But one thing was perfectly clear from the evidence, namely, that one of the wings of this machine, the B.E. 2, from the Aircraft Factory, broke when Captain Downer was about 500 feet from the ground. Next day Captain Allen and Lieutenant Burroughs, also on a machine which had come from the Aircraft Factory, met with a, fatal accident.
At the inquest on these two officers Major Brooke Popham, who is the commander of that squadron, stated that there had been no entry in the log-book since the time the machine was delivered with the squadron on the 19th of September, 1913. As regards the repair of the rudder, the breaking of which was the cause of the accident, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend, some repairs had been carried out. to the rudder which were improperly done, and resulted in a serious weakening of the structure, which caused the accident. That officer summed up the situation with regard to this particular accident at the conclusion of his evidence by saying that there were three possible causes of this accident: the design of the machine might have been 283 wrong, and the strains miscalculated, or else the workmen who did the job, through ignorance or carelessness, had put too weak a tube in that place, or the rudder post might have been changed after reconstruction, after the machine had been handed over to the squadron. There is a strange similarity between this accident and the accident which occurred to Lieutenant Arthur. Those instructions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, as to keeping a detailed record of any repairs carried out to the machine, do not seem to have been followed in this case, and if, as the coroner concluded at the inquest, the filing away of the rudder post was done at the factory, I think that we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to make clear to us, if he can, how that machine, whether its fault was defective construction, or a badly carried out repair—whichever it was the result was the same—was passed as being in good order by the Inspection Department. I have gone into this matter with some care, and was surprised that no evidence was produced at the inquest from some member of this Inspection Department. There was a gentleman, an engineer in the Royal Aircraft Factory (Mr. Green), who gave evidence that he did not come forward making a statement, as one who did inspect the machine, or who was a member of the Inspection Department, though that would have been the most valuable evidence as to the cause of accident.
I cannot understand why there was no representative of that Department present to give evidence at that inquest, which makes it seem as if that machine had not passed through the Inspection Department at all. We are asked to vote a very considerable sum—and nobody would suggest that we grudge a penny of it—for this Inspection Department, £14,000 a year, for a Chief Inspector, an Inspector of Aeroplanes, another one of engines, three assistant inspectors, and some civilian subordinates, the number of whom is not specified. I do hope that the question of what are the duties of these inspection officers is being carefully thought out, because I cannot help thinking that this recent accident may. have occurred owing to divided responsibilities, the danger of which in connection with this Inspection Department was pointed out some time ago by the right hon. Gentleman's colleague. I cannot help thinking that something of the kind appears to have occurred 284 in this case. If the right hon. Gentleman sets up the Committee of Inquiry which my hon. Friend urges that he should do—and in view of what we have heard to-day, I certainly think that it is imminently desirable—I hope that one of the duties of that Committee, if it should be set up, will be to ascertain what are the methods under which this Inspection Department is doing its work at the present time, and also, I think, it might be desirable more clearly to define its duties and how those duties are to be carried out; because obviously when a corps is in many parts of the country, as the Royal Flying Corps is, it will require extremely careful organisation. Another point which was not dealt with by my hon. Friend is in reference to the Royal Aircraft Factory. I suggest, and I have reason for doing so, that it would be most desirable that the Committee should also inquire into the conditions under which work is carried on in the Royal Aircraft Factory. A great agitation is being directed in the country against the employer class, and against the capitalist class generally. Therefore I think that the Government, at any rate, should set up the standard that. we are entitled to ask of them, namely, that of being model employers of labour; otherwise, those who live in glass-houses have no right to throw stones. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is a great deal of discontent existing amongst the civilian workers of the Royal Aircraft Factory at the present time? I have had some opportunity of going into the matter, and I think that their hours are much too long. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman knows—I do not know exactly what is happening now; my information goes back a month or more—that at the Royal Aircraft Factory for a month or so back the men have been working a good many hours overtime, and in some cases they have actually been working on Sundays.
During a certain week in November one of the draughtsmen worked twenty-nine hours overtime, six of which were on Sunday; another worked twenty-eight hours, nine of which were on Sunday. During that same month men working in the factory shops were often compelled to work from 7.45 in the morning to 8.30 in the evening, and from 7.45 in the morning to 5.30 p.m. on Saturdays. In November of last year, the same month, the men in the factory shops worked close on 120 hours 285 in the week, and in some cases longer. Are these conditions which ought to prevail in a Government factory? This is the first time the matter has been mentioned; it. has been kept pretty dark. I think that conditions like those constitute a real disgrace to Government employment. Here is work of the most delicate and responsible character. How Can you expect it to be carried on satisfactorily? The men are compelled to give up their half-holidays, and they are forced to work on Sundays, or else, if they do not fall in with these extraordinary conditions, conditions which should not prevail in any Government factory, and which are a perfect scandal, they are obliged to leave their employment in the Royal Aircraft Factory altogether. I would urge that the attention of hon. Members of the Labour party should be directed to the conditions under which employment is carried on by the Government in the Aircraft Factory.
I look at it from the workmen's point of view. I also look at it from the point of view of the work which these men carry out. You cannot expect men to carry out this delicate and extremely responsible work under conditions like those. It constitutes a most unsatisfactory system of Government employment, and also a danger to the Service and to men's lives. With regard to the Royal Aircraft Factory, I know that under existing circumstances, at least, the right hon. Gentleman must have very great difficulty indeed. It must he extremely difficult all of a sudden to create a great and new organisation like this, of which neither he nor anybody else had any previous experience. That, I think, is one of the causes, probably, of the weakness, for there is a certain weakness, in the Royal Aircraft Factory organisation. There is another difficulty to which I think the right hon. Gentleman might give his attention. As things are at present the average civilian workman in that factory has not got really that complete sympathy for the Army and for Army requirements which is absolutely essential. He loses interest in the machine, or he has not got the same interest as if he. were an Army man. I do not wish to deal any further with these points, to which I think I was right in drawing the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, because they are rather serious. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can complain that either my hon. Friend or myself have imported anything in the shape 286 of party spirit into this controversy. I assure him that we are only actuated by the desire to see that this branch of our Service, which is so essential to the Army and Navy, should be placed upon the best possible footing, and that the officers. should carry out their hazardous work in the most efficient way.
§ Colonel GIBBS
My two hon. Friends have said a great deal about the number of accidents which have occurred, and I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the accommodation at Nether Avon Hospital is sufficient in the existing conditions? There is an increase in. the number of aeroplanes and a consequent increase in the number of men, and I wish to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that, if such is not the case at present, he will see that at a very early date there is sufficient accommodation at Nether Avon Hospital.
§ Mr. CROOKS
I only wish to know whether the number of accidents are abnormal in this Aircraft Factory compared with the number in contract factories?
§ Colonel SEELY
In reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite, I will at once take steps to see that the hospital at Nether Avon is completed. I was there not long: ago, and it was not finished, but I will at once take steps to look into that matter. In reply to the hon. Members. opposite, I acknowledge the spirit in which. they have brought forward various matters to-day, and I shall be able to make a full statement at a later date. In the meantime I will institute inquiry into the particular statements they have made with regard to the Royal Aircraft. Factory, the long hours, and so forth. I think that an inquiry would be welcomed by the Royal Aircraft Factory and by the. members of the Royal Flying Corps. As to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, from the figures. before me I cannot say that we have more accidents than others. Indeed, up to a short time ago we had far fewer, and we-have been very fortunate. In reference to the number of accidents to machines. built outside the factory, and those built in the factory, I do not think that there is. anything in the figures before me from Which an accurate conclusion could be drawn. They certainly would not show that workmen in the aircraft factory are more liable to risk than others.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions reported:—
- 1. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,791,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings, And Repairs, Lands, and Miscellaneous Engineer Services, including Staff in connection therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915."
- 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,810,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Rewards; Half-Pay; Retired Pay; Widows' Pensions; and other Non-Effective Charges for Officers, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915."
- 3. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,977,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals; of Out-Pensions; Rewards for Distinguished Services; Widows' Pensions; and other Non-Effective Charges for Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Men, etc., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915."
- 4. "That a sum, not exceeding £134,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Superannuation, Compensation, and Additional Allowances, Gratuities, Injury Grants, etc., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915."
§ Resolutions agreed to.