HC Deb 11 November 1914 vol 68 cc5-36

(in Court dress): I beg to move

"That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

"Most Gracious Sovereign,

"We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

In rising to move that a humble Address be presented to His Majesty, I find myself in a very different position from that which is usually occupied by the Mover of such a Resolution. Ordinarily speaking, the Mover and Seconder of such a Resolution have to pick their way very carefully through the phrases of the King's Speech, and deal with highly controversial matters in such an extremely uncontroversial way that the Leader of the Opposition is ultimately able to strain his conscience to the point of giving them his blessing; but, today, the Gracious Speech from the Throne has no party controversy in it. Party controversy in this country for the time being is dead, or is in such a deep sleep that it will take the triumph of our Arms to awaken it again. When that time comes, and please God it may be soon, party controversy will again arise, but I think for some years to come, at all events, there will be a memory amongst us all of the way in which we have shown ourselves Englishmen in this time of trial and party feeling perhaps will not be quite so bitter as it has been of late years.

The Gracious Speech deals with one subject, and with one subject only. It is the War, the War which is what we think of by day and dream of by night. We realise that as we are speaking here, only 100 miles away, our gallant men are upholding the honour of our British Arms, and defending these coasts just as surely as if they were lined up on the very brink of our ocean. There was no room for anything else in such a speech as His Majesty has graciously delivered to us to-day. It meets all that we want, and all that we think about. We know that the King and the country expect us to do our duty like everyone else, and one and all I believe we are prepared to do it. His Majesty tells us that since we last met an old Ally of ours has joined the enemy. Misguided and miserable is the course which Turkey has pursued. Those of us who are older remember well the sympathy that was felt with Turkey in this country in our young days. The Crimean War was not an old thing then, and we all had a great sympathy for the Ottoman Power which we and our present Ally, France, had saved from our present Ally, Russia. And through all those years I think there has been a greater amount of sentimental feeling for Turkey than perhaps Turkey's career justified. But although, of late years, most of us have come to recognise that Turkey is out of place as a European Power, yet we still have a feeling of sympathy with her in her downfall, and we know that her ruin would be viewed with sorrow by a great many of our Mahomedan subjects.

Party drums have ceased to sound; jubilant and vibrant notes as they were they have no place in our present harmony. Only one drum sounds now, and it has only one note. It is the drum that sounds the note "Come and help your Country in its hour of need." I am glad the country is rising so nobly to that call, for we have a good case and a strong case. If our case had not been good I do not believe that in this country of ours, fair as I believe we are, you would have had this universal feeling. But we know our case is good. From the first day when my right hon. Friend below me (Sir Edward Grey) put our case in this House, reinforced with other evidence, I believe every man of us has known that we have striven earnestly for peace and had only been forced into war. And although I notice our opponents are equally convinced that they are in the right—not an uncommon thing—and although professors, philosophers, and divines have dragged together a most extraordinary lot of arguments to prove their case, we feel ourselves strong in this, that, whatever they may say, their preparations show that their condition of mind was hardly the same as ours before the War, and the judgment of the civilised world, which I think I may confidently say has been given in our favour, should show them, I think, as well as it shows us, that the case on which they rely does not satisfy the tribunal before whom they bring it, and that they must put up with being considered wrong by the whole world on the groundwork of this dispute. They only had, as far as I know, one outside friend. That outside friend has now become particeps criminis. Our case, then, is good. Outside judges say so. If you read what is said by our friends across the Atlantic it makes Englishmen feel very proud. A friend of mine wrote me and said, "We all admire the noble dignity with which England has met this crisis." I hope that is the feeling throughout the United States. There have been times when the British lion's tail could be twisted to the great public delight there, but that time is not now, and we know that the sympathies of the vast masses of the people of the United States are with us to-day.

We have noble Allies. Belgium could very easily have pursued the primrose path. She chose the more difficult way of honour, and she has passed down that to the admiration of the world. Would that our arm had been strong enough and long enough to protect her from the terrible disasters she has suffered—disasters awful and unspeakable. Their great King, their heroic people, must have felt a twinge of gladness when they read the words spoken by our Prime Minister last Monday at the Guildhall:—"Yes, we will not sheathe our sword until the wrongs of Belgium have been completely righted." God save Belgium.

France! France has been our Ally now for many years. We have had an affection for her for the last sixty or more years. France is fighting with us now—fighting a most gallant fight. She has everything to lose and much to gain. I hope she will lose nothing, and that she will gain all she wishes. God protect France.

And then the mighty Empire of Russia, formerly our foe, now our friend. She has astonished the world by her readiness. We knew she was strong, but the promptness with which she carried out her movements, and the great strategical ability displayed by her generals, fill the world with admiration. God save Russia.

And then our small Allies. Gallant little Japan, that has done such work for us in the East, Servia and Montenegro, who, after the terrible war in the Balkans, have girded their loins again to fight. Their economic condition must be very terrible out there, and I trust the great Allies may see their way to give these little Powers such assistance as they may require.

These are our Allies. We are proud of them, proud to work with them. Now let us speak of ourselves. The Gracious Speech has said how nobly our soldiers and sailors are fighting. It seems to me that our whole population has behaved in the very way which one would expect of all Englishmen and Englishwomen. There are very few women in England to-day who are not doing something for the cause. In manor house and cottage the work of knitting goes on, anything that can help the soldier or the sailor at the front. In hospitals, small and large, cottage hospitals, and great hospitals, Englishwomen are soothing and helping the wounded, and there is no man who does not have the soft hand and kind voice of woman to help him. And our civilian population, too. Everywhere you find the population better behaved than at any other time, notwithstanding the condition of excitement through the country. Every Englishman, or nearly every Englishman and Englishwoman feels that they have their duty to do, and nobly they are doing it.

Our sailors have always been the admiration of the world, and they have maintained their position in a way which we could hardly have hoped they would have succeeded in doing. The whole of the oceans, with the exception of two inland seas, are open to our merchandise. Our shores are safe, and a casual raid such as happened the other day only serves to show how difficult and almost impossible a serious raid would be. We thank, from the bottom of our hearts, our noble sailors for the work they have done.

And our soldiers. When history is written, I think it will say that no body of men ever went out from England who did better service for their country. We knew they were good, but hardly realised how good they were. Our enemies thought them "a contemptible little army," but I think they have found out their mistake. "We want more" said Lord Kitchener, "and yet more," and it is our duty to see that they have more. When our troops call out for reinforcements it is for us to see that they receive them. Some of our friends are disappointed at the pace at which recruiting goes on. Personally, I think that what we have done is very remarkable. You must recollect that when what you may call the recruiting boom was on it was found necessary—I have no doubt with very good cause—to put a check on the rapidity of the movement. A boom when damped down always has some difficulty in restarting. Perhaps the present rate is hardly sufficient for our needs. But do not mistake the patriotism of Englishmen. English, Scotch, or Irish: we all love our common land. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Wales!"] My hon. Friend adds "The Welsh," That gallant little country has done her duty at this crisis. We all love our country. We are a rambling folk, but we always speak of England as, "our home." Wherever we are, we want to lay our bones in England. Our Colonists, who have risen so grandly on this occasion and helped us in such a way look on Old England as their home. Men who never saw this country speak of it as home. A man whose father was born in the Colonies talks of this country as home, and when he comes here on a visit comes to see the "old folks at home." Patriotism is a virtue which is common to all lands, and we have it in our race. Did you ever see that little tomb at Père Lachaise where a young man is buried—a young man who fell in the Franco-Prussian War? When they found him they found a paper in his hand on which he had scribbled his last words, and those words are now engraved upon his tomb. I have not the exact words, but they were something like this: "France, my Country, I love you. I have given my life for you. Would that I could kiss away the blood from your wound. I love you France; take me for ever to your bosom." And for us we have a patriotic feeling as strong as any people can have:— What have I done for you, England, my England? What is there I would not do, England, my own? They call you proud and hard, England, my England: You with worlds to watch and ward, England, my own! Ever the faith endures, England, my England: Take and break us; we are yours, England, my own!


(also wearing Court dress): In rising to second the Motion moved in such eloquent terms by my hon. Friend I am encouraged by knowledge of the generous consideration which this House ever extends to those who have this duty to discharge, and that knowledge indicates to me that I ought not to attempt to speak simply with the voice of a Member of Parliament supporting the Government for the time being in power, but, so far as I am able, I am to give utterance to the convictions and determination of all sections and parties in this House upon the subject matter which we have under consideration. That duty changes into one of pleasure when I remember the patriotic attitude taken up by the Members of the Opposition and by other sections of this House immediately there came the first suggestion of the danger of the war, and when I call to mind the fact that many Members here, generally differing widely in judgment and in action from those who govern the destinies of this country, readily and gladly lent their personal assistance in the time of danger and of crisis. While I rely upon that indulgence, I do so with a full sense of the obligation that it places upon me.

The Gracious Speech from the Throne, in its first paragraph, refers to the concentration and the sympathies of His Majesty's subjects in the undertaking upon which we are engaged. It appears to me that one of the most remarkable things connected with the events of the past few weeks is the absolutely unanimous endorsement by the people of this nation and throughout this Empire of the action taken by His Majesty in the declaration of War. Difficulties at home, not to say dissensions among ourselves, disloyalty in our Colonies, mutiny in some sections of the Empire—these were factors calculated upon deliberately as leading to the impotence of this country in the event of war being declared. We know how such calculations have been falsified by the magnificent response that has come from every quarter of the globe, in the offers made by Canada, by Newfoundland, by Australia, by New Zealand, and by every Colony under the British Crown. Who of us who sat in this House, listening one autumn evening to the communication from India of the magnificent offers made by the ruling princes and the people there, whose hearts was not thrilled with the knowledge of what they were prepared to do to the extent of their personal and individual service? And who of us has not been gratified by the knowledge that the immense Mussulman population of His Majesty have proclaimed to him their adherence and their loyalty, in spite of the events of the past few days? Even if we go to the distant sphere of South Africa, we find there, with small exceptions, that the very men who were the brilliant leaders in the war against us are now leading the forces to support His Majesty's authority. From every quarter, abroad as well as at home, has come this unanimous endorsement of His Majesty's decision.

There is one topic, touched upon by my hon. Friend, on which I would like to say a word. The attitude of the women of this country has been a valuable asset in steadying the determination and resolve of our people. From the homes throughout the land, from the castle of the noble and the cottage of the poor and lowly, there has gone forth the manhood to defend our shores, leaving but the womanhood with heart assailed by doubts and fears, but with steady, resolute determination to do her share and her duty in the world, and so encourage the loved ones from whom she has parted, and strengthen the nation in its purpose. Of these we may say, They also serve who only stand and wait. The Gracious Message also refers, in terms of well-merited confidence and consideration—terms which will find an echo in all our hearts—to the conduct of His Majesty's Navy and Army. The Navy has kept our shores, as has been well said, free from any hostile invasion. It has kept open every sea and the great ocean routes along which pass the commerce and the food so vital to the life of this nation, It has kept us in such a condition that we, following the ordinary occupations of our daily life, have scarcely realised an interruption or that so serious a struggle was going on. We owe a debt of gratitude, the measure of which none of us can take, to the silent, almost unseen, but constant vigilance and activity of the Navy. In regard to our Army, words cannot be found to describe the deeds that have been done during the past few weeks in Belgium and in France. The most brilliant pages of our history do not record any deeds more heroic and more valiant than those that have been done during the recent weeks. We rejoice to know that our Territorial Force, through the action of the London Scottish Brigade, has given such brilliant evidence of its value as a fighting force in the defence of this country.

If I may, I would allude to one matter that I know will command the sympathy of every Member of this House. In referring to the large number of our colleagues who have placed their personal services at the disposal of His Majesty, I would speak in terms of deep respect and sympathy of the one, probably the first Member of this House, who, while sitting as such, has laid down his life in the interests of and for the protection of this country. The actions of the Army and Navy alike are such as the country expected from them, and glory we know has been put upon our records. The Gracious Speech moves from these matters to those of common every-day things. With regard to finance, I am sure that the House will assure His Majesty that the nation will not only willingly but gladly bear every financial burden that the needs of the nation make requisite, and none more so than in the due, adequate and, I would say, generous provision for those who are acting as our defenders, and for those who are dependent upon the men who have gone. The great object would be to remove from the minds of the men who are taking up this duty the natural anxieties as to what may follow to their own loved ones in the event of their death upon the field.

The Gracious Speech concludes with a paragraph expressing the confidence of His Majesty in the attainment of the object, of the great purpose on which we are set out. What is that great purpose? As we read of the events that have happened during the past three months, and as we look to the records that are coming to us of the purposes of Germany, we realise that our purpose to-day shall be unalterable, unchangeable, fixed and immovable, to defeat the Power which sets at naught its most solemn obligations, which tramples ruthlessly upon the rights of weaker and smaller nations, which sets up the doctrine that brute force is the ultimate factor in the decision of questions between nations, and of whom it may be truly said:— The children born of thee are fire and sword, Red ruin and the breaking up of laws. In the fullest confidence that by the valour of His Majesty's troops, by the watchfulness of his Navy, by the skill of his advisers, and by the bravery of our gallant Allies, that purpose will be attained—be the day long or short, it will certainly be attained—I second this Resolution.


I have never thought that Gentlemen who were entrusted with the duty of moving and seconding the Address were to be envied. The hon. Gentleman who moved it described very accurately the feeling of the Leader of the Opposition on such an occasion. I am glad to say, from my own comparatively short experience, that I have never had to stain my conscience in giving the compliments—which I dare say I should have given even if they had not been deserved—to those who have previously fulfilled their duty, and I am sure I am not straining my conscience now in congratulating the hon. Gentleman who moved the Address in a very interesting and eloquent speech, and I am sure also that I am expressing the feeling of the whole House when I say how much we appreciate the good taste and the good feeling of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who seconded it. Both those hon. Members have spoken of the unique circumstance in which this House meets, in that party strife is absolutely stilled. The Prime Minister also, two or three nights ago, said that no Government had ever more needed and no Government—I think he added—had ever more completely received the support of the whole nation. Both those statements are true, and the latter has never, I think, to the same extent been true in the whole history of the House of Commons, not even when as a nation we were faced with a danger almost, if not quite, as great as that which threatens us now. How could it be otherwise? It would be very strange and very discreditable to all of us if there were any other feeling. It does not require much imagination to picture to ourselves our sailors keeping their lonely, their anxious and, as events have shown, their dangerous vigil as their ancestors kept it one hundred years ago. It is not difficult for us to picture the condition of our soldiers, who, exhausted in the trenches, are every hour risking their lives for us. And one can well imagine what the feelings of this man would be it at a time like this we had any other thought in our mind than how we can most speedily bring to an end this horrible war. I remember, and I looked up this morning, a passage in a speech of John Bright's which has always seemed to me more eloquent, because it was so simple, than even the famous speech in which he spoke of the Angel of Death. I think the House will not object if I read the whole of it:— Here, sitting near me, very often sat the Member for Frome. I met him a short time before he went out, at Mr. Westerton's, the bookseller near Hyde Park Corner. I asked him whether he was going out. He answered he was afraid he was—not afraid in the sense of personal fear; he knew not that, but he said with a look and a tone I shall never forget, 'It is no light matter for a man who has a wife and five little children.' The stormy Euxine is his grave; his wife is a widow, his children fatherless. We have had the same experience. On the benches behind me there is one absent, whose face we shall not see again. He is the first—I am afraid he is not the last—of our own number who has paid with his life his debt of duty to his country. Around me are friends of my own—and the same is true in other quarters of the Houses; it is true, also, of a colleague in another place, with whom I am on special terms of intimacy—around me are those who have lost gallant sons, whose lives they would gladly have spared at the expense of their own. Such things bring home to the minds and consciences of all of us what this War means, and in such circumstances it is not the first duty of an Opposition to oppose. There must be discussion. There will be, and I think there ought to be, criticism, but it ought not to be, and I think it will not be, partisan criticism. We have now been three months engaged in this War, and at the end of that time I think we may all feel—I, at least, do—that we stand in a better position than at the outset. I never was one of those who cherished the delusion that this was a War of the rulers of Germany alone. To as great an extent as with us, and perhaps to a greater extent at first, for they realised it more fully, it has been a War of the German nation, and in spite of the methods with which that war has been carried out by them—abominable methods, which have alienated from them the sympathy of the whole world — it is idle to shut our eyes to the patriotism with which their citizens have flocked to the standard and to the courage with which they have fought in the field of battle. But the resources of the Allies, if they can be made available, are greater far than those of our enemy. The only chance, in my belief, of the ultimate success of the German arms was that she should win before these resources could be utilised. She has failed. On both fronts she has failed, and at this moment to one like myself, who has no military knowledge and no special information, it seems that in the struggle which is taking place to-day, every man whom we can send to the front may be worth many men who will be sent weeks or months hence. But it would be presumptuous indeed to dwell on that, for I know that it is realised quite as fully by Lord Kitchener as it can be by any of us.

But a great War like this is settled not merely by the clash of opposing forces. Napoleon once said, "Finance is the State." He had learnt it by bitter experience. He had learnt it by the know-ledge that, thanks to our insular position, to our command of the sea, to the fact that our business could go on, we in the end were able to beat him. The same conditions prevail to-day. We have reason to be proud of the financial position of this country. I do not allude specially to the particular measures which have been taken by the Government. Even if they had been as wise—and perhaps they were—as the mind of man could conceive, such artificial arrangements would have failed absolutely if the vital factors in the situation had been against us. The first of these is the belief entertained, not only by us but by the world, that in the long run we shall win, and the second is that we have been able to carry on our business.

At the very outset of this War I ventured in this House to express my own belief that if we could retain command of the sea we should find that our business went on much more on normal lines than was generally expected. That has proved to be true, and I think at this moment we are suffering as little, perhaps, as even neutral countries in regard to trade. That is our position. Let us turn it about, and look at the position of our enemy, and look at the effect of it upon them. Already the economic pressure is having its effect, as is shown, for instance, by the way exchanges have fallen against Germany all over the world. But if we can even maintain the measure of success which has attended our arms up to the present, I believe the effect will be infinitely greater, for it will become evident that, however long this War may last, Germany must be beaten, and the moment that is realised, all these economic forces will work with a pressure of which we have no conception. I am, therefore, sanguine enough to entertain the hope—at least the hope—that perhaps the War may not last so long as most of us are inclined to believe; but whether that be so or not, even if it be so, it is only another reason for straining every nerve to put every man into the field to bring it to an end at the earliest possible-moment We do not intend on these benches to press to a Division any Amendment, but there are many subjects on which, now that the House has met, it is certain there must be discussion, and I have suggested to my Noble Friend, who is our Chief Whip, and I hope the Government will agree with it, that it would be a bad plan to have the discusion on the Address itself, one speaker speaking on one subject, followed by another speaker speaking on another subject, and have recommended them to put down two or three Amendments, without intending to press them to a Division, so that discussion might be focused on the points which it is right to discuss.

I think it is right for me to refer to two or three subjects in which the public is chiefly interested, and I shall refer to them chiefly in the way of asking questions from the Government. Some of them I shall not expect the Prime Minister to answer now. He may prefer to leave them to his colleagues who are more intimately concerned. The first two of these questions have relation to the Admiralty. As in the nature of the questions they will suggest criticism, I wish to say at the outset that, so far as I can judge, looking at the whole field, the nation has little cause to be dissatisfied with what the Navy has done for us. Our enemy knew that war was coming. We did not, and I, at least, expected that in the first few months of the War the raids upon our commerce, in spite of the "Emden," would have been greater than they have been. I am sure we all rejoice to find that that vessel, whose adventurous career has surpassed in romantic interest anything that the novelist has ever imagined, has come to an end, and I am sure also that there is no one in this House or in this country who will grudge to our sister State, Australia, the honour which has fallen to her.

The first question which I will put to the Government is in regard to Antwerp. The country was greatly interested in it. We have had up till now no explanation except the address issued by the First Lord to the men who were there. I think the usual course has been for the Board of Admiralty to send out such an address, and I am not sure it is not the better way. That is the only explanation we have had, and I am sure that the House in all quarters will realise that we ought to have a fuller explanation. The two points which have seemed to me to require explanation are these. The defence of Antwerp was entirely a military operation. Being so, if it were necessary that the bead of one of our fighting forces should, go, why was it the First Lord of the Admiralty, who surely has plenty to do in his own Department? Why was it not Lord Kitchener, or someone delegated by him? The second question is, assuming it was necessary and right—and I do not suggest that it was not—to send this body of men, were the men who, from their training and experience, both on the part of the officers and the men themselves, were the best fitted of all those who were available in the country to be sent on such an expedition? I put these questions, and I await, and the House will await, the explanation of the Government before it decides whether any criticism is necessary at all.

The second question in regard to the Admiralty is in relation to the disaster the other day on the coast of Chili. It is certainly very disquieting that a fleet of the enemy should be concentrated anywhere in superior force to a British fleet in the same waters, and especially surprising that that should occur in the Pacific, where we have as an ally Japan, with a vast fleet which I should have thought might have been made available. I do not know what is the explanation. I do not assume that it was the fault of the Admiralty, but it certainly is a subject on which we have a right to expect a full explanation from the Government. These subjects are controversial, but I hope they are not party.

5.0 P.M.

The next subject on which I would like to say a few words is with regard to our treatment of alien enemies in this country. I know how difficult that question is—no-body better. There is no one in this House or in the country who wishes to act vindictively to the citizens of enemy countries because they belong to those nationalities. Nobody desires it. We do not desire to inflict any hardship or any injury upon them. All that we want to do is to make sure that they do not injure us. I deplore, and I think everybody deplores, the outbreak which occurred at one time against aliens in the neighbourhood of London. What I want to. know, and what I am sure the country wants to know, is what is the principle on which the Government are dealing with this subject? We wish to know that they are not being influenced—doing comparatively little one day and more the next—by clamouring newspapers. We want to feel sure that they have really carefully thought out this subject, and that they should tell the House the principle upon which they are acting, and, more than that, having decided upon the principle, that they are satisfied that it is being effectively carried out. That is important. Take, for instance, what was done at the outbreak of the War. Everyone thought it right that alien enemies near our shores who might by any possibility give any information against our Fleets should be removed. The Government decided to do that, but I know in regard to one part of the country—I am referring to part of the coast of Scotland—that has not been effectively done, and that we have suffered in consequence. What we want to be sure of is that the Government really are acting on that principle, and that they are determined effectively to carry it out.

There is another subject which is exciting almost as much interest as that, and that is the amount of information which is given to the country in regard to the War. There again it is very easy to find fault, and the responsibility must be the responsibility of the Government. But there is a general feeling which I share that the Press is more muzzled than is necessary for military reasons, and consequently, if that be so, it is disadvantageous from the point of view of every other interest in this country. It may be that the Government to a large extent are powerless. Our Army in France is only part of a much greater force, and it would be quite right that we should not do anything which by any possibility could injure the operations of that force, and which was against the wishes of the Government responsible for the chief part of the force. I quite admit that, but all that I would like to say, and I would like to impress it upon the Government, is that where there are not military reasons there can be no other reasons for keeping back information as to what our soldiers are doing.

It is bad in every way. It is bad for recruiting. One of the hon. Members opposite spoke of the action of the London Scottish. I think we are all proud of them, and I have reason to be to a greater extent than the Member who spoke. But they are not the only regiment. The effect of their action, I am told, was immediately to stimulate recruiting for the London Scottish. There are other regiments to my knowledge, representing other districts in the country, who have fought as bravely and suffered losses, and the people of those districts know nothing about them; but if the Government could give information, it would be of immense advantage to give those names to the people of the country. I am quite sure that nothing would be a greater mistake—I am not suggesting that the Government are acting upon this reason—than to suppose that there could be any disadvantage, apart from military considerations, in letting the country know that there have been heavy losses when such losses have taken place. On the contrary, it is good that we should tell them, and I think one of the things which as a nation we have most reason—so far as the civilian population is concerned—to be proud of is that what most stimulates recruiting in this country is not eloquent speeches, or anything of that kind, but the knowledge of the risks our soldiers are running. It is that which makes our recruits join the Army. All I say on that subject is that, personally, I should have preferred, if it were possible, to have accredited reporters at the seat of war. That may be impossible, but I do hope the Government will try to give all the information that can be given apart from military considerations, and that they will tell the House frankly the principle on which they are acting in regard to this whole matter.

In this connection there is another question, a very big question, on which I should like to say a word. I am quite sure that nothing could be worse than to conceal misfortunes, if we have any, from the people of this country. I do not mean that it may not be right to delay publishing any incidents, perhaps for a considerable time, for strategical reasons, but I am sure it would be wrong for us to do what may have been right in the case of Japan to conceal disasters until the War is over. I am sure it would be wrong for us, for this reason, that the only object, and for us, at least, the main object, would be to prevent panic, and, in my belief, one thing which would cause panic would be if the people of this country got the idea that they do not know the whole truth.

There is only one other subject on which I should like to say a word, but it is, perhaps, the one in which the country is most keenly interested, and which is at the moment, apart from the actual carrying on of the War, the most important, and that is the question of recruiting, especially as it is affected by the allowances of the men who are serving at the front. At the very outset of the War, I said in the very first speech which I made in connection with recruiting, and I said the same thing in the House of Commons at the first opportunity, that I felt that we did not perhaps—not merely as the Government, but as the nation—realise how completely the conditions under which we are asking the men to serve were different from those which existed, at any other time. The risks they ran were out of all proportion to the provision we were making, and I felt then, and I feel now, that the men who are risking their lives for us are taking risk enough—that it is our duty, as far as possible—I do not suggest that it is quite possible—to consider that that is a big enough sacrifice for them, and that we should try to save them from having to make pecuniary sacrifice as well. That is easily said, and I know it is very difficult to carry out, but, in my firm belief, the stopping of recruiting, to which the hon. Member who moved the Address referred—the end of the boom—is not due to any difficulty in getting all the men we need if they clearly understand that we need them. That is my belief.

There have been many causes which have interfered with recruiting. The change in the standard of height has made a great difference, and there have been other reasons, such, for instance, as the fact that these men know what is going on. They see that men who are enlisted cannot get uniforms, and they have the feeling—I do not think they are right—that we cannot be ready for them. In my opinion the two things which have most stopped recruiting, and which in themselves are the most unfair, are these. The dependents of the men have, in many cases, not got what was promised them by the Government. Every case of that kind, every wife left behind who does not get what she is promised, acts as an anti-recruiting agency, to an extent which no speeches can ever overcome. I know that was bad at first. I think it is not so bad now, but from the correspondence which comes to myself and from what my colleagues who receive similiar correspondence, tell me, it is bad still. No War Secretary in the world has ever had such a task as Lord Kitchener has now, and I would be the last man to find fault with him because everything does not run smoothly. It may be that this cannot be much remedied. I really do not know, but I am inclined to think—if I may say so without offence—that in that, as in some other respects, and in particular in buying what is necessary for our recruits, we have not utilised to the full what is our greatest national asset—the organising ability of the community at large. I think that more might be done in the way of devolution.

The second cause that has hindered recruiting is the delay and uncertainty as to what the Government meant to do for the dependents of the men who are fighting and for the men themselves after the War. The task with which the Government were faced was a colossal one, but I think they delayed too long with regard to this matter. I think really before you began to get your recruits, or immediately afterwards, one should have decided carefully, definitely, and finally what were the arrangements you were going to make in regard to this matter. That is my opinion. Take one instance of delay which I think ought not to have taken place. In the proposals which the Government have now put before us there is a suggestion that the widow of a soldier who has fallen should receive the existing separation allowance for twenty-six weeks. That was proposed openly in this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) at the very beginning of the War. If it had been carried out, it would have done a great deal to satisfy one class. If it had been done then, it would have been of great value. But that is not the complaint. The proposals which the Government have made do not seem to me now to be adequate. I say this with some hesitation. I know how easy it is to ask for more and how popular, but I can assure the Governmest that I am not influenced by that feeling. I am influenced solely by what I think is fair in the circumstances. Take one case. I am not going into the others. I have very carefully studied the question, and there are many other points. Take the one case, that of pensions to widows. In the White Paper it looks as if there was a change from 5s. to 7s. 6d. It is not anything of the kind. They got 5s. before, and they got 2s. inevitably out of the Patriotic Fund under the control of Parliament; so it is really only the difference between 7s. and 7s. 6d.

But apart altogether from any special interests, since the Government have delayed so long, I venture to make this suggestion to the Prime Minister. I do not know whether the House will consider it a good one, or whether the Government will consider it a good one, but it seems to me that the real way to deal with this question, even now, is to appoint a small Committee, a very small one, representative of all parties in the House, who will go into the matter and draw up a plan which the Government might accept. There are many things in which co-operation in that sense between the parties is impossible. The Government must have the responsibility, and it cannot be shared by anyone. But in this particular case there is, I am sure, no feeling or difference of opinion among any section of the House, and, least of all, with the Government. We want to treat these people fairly and generously, and I myself think that, as discussion is inevitable in any case—as it will take place in this House, if it does not take place before a Committee—it would be quicker in the long run to adopt the suggestion that I make. At all events, I put that before the Government as a suggestion which I think is worth considering. This is all that I want to say upon that subject.

From the beginning I have thought that this particular aspect of what we are giving to the men who are fighting was one of the most important things that this Government and this House had to decide. There was a great, deal of jocularity and of laughter at the pensions that existed in the United States after the war. There was, I think, good cause for it. I do not want anything of the kind to take place in our case, but I do say that if we are to make one mistake or the other I would rather that we should make the mistake of spending more than perhaps is good for the country, or than the country could easily afford, than see the dependents of the men who have died for us, or the men who are disabled on our behalf, ending their days in, abject penury.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

I join with the right hon. Gentleman in the congratulations which he has offered to my two hon. Friends—neither of them very young Parliamentary hands—who in circumstances of exceptional difficulty performed with good feeling and good taste an arduous task. We are accustomed on the first night of the Session, even in the stress of Party warfare, to adopt so far as we can a non-controversial tone. My hon. Friends have been happy on this occasion in that they have not had to bridle their tongues, or exercise any undue restraint upon their natural party feelings, because it has been their fortunate duty to give expression in felicitous language to sentiments which are entertained without qualification or reservation, and with equal fervour, in every quarter of the House. I think I may add in all sincerity to that tribute an acknowledgment of the tone and temper with which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has made his contribution to the Debate. I can assure him and the House that, now that we are all engaged in a contest unprecedented in its scale and scope, with regard to the justice of our own part in it there is not a shadow of difference of opinion anywhere in the country. The Government welcome, as we ought to do, criticism which is inspired not by the wish to create difficulties, but, on the contrary, by the desire that in the conduct of these great operations the Government shall not only receive the support of the country, but shall be able to count on intelligent and reasoned counsel in the difficult and burning emergencies which arise. No word of complaint will you hear from me, or any of my colleagues, with regard to criticism conceived in that spirit, as I gladly recognise that the right hon. Gentleman's criticism was.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that in the three months which have elapsed since this War began we have gone through moving experiences, and have learned unexpected lessons. First and foremost, we have witnessed not only a complete solidity of sentiment and action among all political parties in all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, but we have had a manifestation, for which there is no parallel in history, from every quarter of the globe, of the sympathy and support of our fellow subjects of every creed, of every colour, of every race, and in every clime. That in itself was enough, if it stood alone, to make this a memorable as well as a proud experience. But further, although it is true that both by land and on sea we have sustained grievous losses, the loss, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, of one of our own Members—a loss as to which I may venture, on behalf of myself and my Friends, to give utterance to a special message of sympathy—and the loss on the part of the Leader of the Opposition in another place of one of his sons. These are typical cases, and the longer this War lasts, the more these terrible experiences, which make us realise what war means, are brought home to almost every class, and almost every village in the country.

Despite all this, we have seen our troops maintain, with a heroism and a determination which have never been excelled in any of the best days of the British Army, positions of difficulty and danger. We see them now—I do not want to indulge in the language of excessive optimism, but I am speaking my own serious conviction when I say—we see them now in a position in which, in conjunction with our gallant Allies, France and Belgium, they have frustrated and absolutely defeated the first design of the German invader. It would ill become us in circumstances such as those to adopt the language of depression or want of confidence. The War may last long. I doubt myself that it will last as long as many people originally predicted, but that it will last long is certain, and we may take to ourselves this hope and this assurance, that the longer it lasts the more will those great reserves of strength which the British Empire possesses show themselves equal to filling gaps, replacing losses, maintaining positions and achieving ultimate and complete victory.

The Empire is on its trial. The experience of these three months not only encourages us to believe, but inspires us with the confident hope that the longer the trial lasts, and the more severe it becomes, the more clearly shall we emerge from it the champions of a just cause, and we shall have achieved, not only for ourselves—for our direct and selfish interests are small—but for Europe and for civilisation, and for the great principle of small nationalities, and for liberty and for justice, one of their most enduring victories. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me some questions in regard to various matters, which in the course of these three months have interested public attention, and have excited, as far as the Government is concerned, a certain amount of not ill-natured complaint, but of sincere doubt and criticism. The first point which he raised was in regard to the conduct of the Admiralty, first in the matter of the advance upon Antwerp, and next in the matter of the recent incidents resulting in the sad loss of ships and lives off the South American coast.

I am sure he will agree with me that these matters, and particularly the second, had better be dealt with at length and in detail by the First Lord of the Admiralty. But in regard to the first one, the proceedings at Antwerp, I feel bound to say, and I say it in the clearest and most explicit terms, that the responsibility for what was done there was the responsibility not of any individual Minister, but of the Government as a whole, that, in particular, the Secretary of State for War was consulted, and that everything that was done was done with his knowledge and approval, and although I do not think in the public interests that it is desirable at this moment to go in detail into the reasons which led up to the circumstances, I do say with the utmost confidence—and I believe that I am expressing the opinion not only of all my colleagues, but of our Naval and Military advisers—that that expedition was a material and most useful factor in the conduct of this campaign. I am sure that the more the facts are elicited and examined—and it is impossible for obvious reasons to do so now in detail—the more that opinion will become generally entertained.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to explain upon what principle we had dealt with what he admitted to be the very difficult problem of the civilian alien enemies in this country. It is a very difficult problem, and I am not at all ashamed to confess, certainly in my own mind, and probably in the minds of many of my colleagues, that there have been fluctuations in opinion and view from time to time as to the best way of dealing with it. But we have gone upon two very simple principles—I do not say we have always been perfectly happy and wise in the application of them, that may be a matter of opinion—but we have gone upon two very simple principles, each of which I think is unassailable. The first is, or was, at once, or as soon as might be, after the outbreak of war, to seize and place beyond the reach of mischief all those persons who, after many years of careful and continuous observation, we had reason to suspect of being, at least, emissaries and spies of our foreign enemies. I believe that operation was successfully conducted before the War had been more than a week or a fortnight old. But, of course, the ramifications of espionage are infinite.

It is a great mistake to suppose that, if you were to put under lock and key every German in this country, you would necessarily have got rid of the danger of espionage. At the best, it could but be a partial measure. This is the second principle on which we proceeded: We did think, as a precautionary measure, that it was desirable to intern those alien residents on our shores, not for the purpose of permanently imprisoning perfectly innocent people, but for the purpose of passing them through a process of sifting or winnowing in order to determine those whom it was safe to release and those whom, in the public interests, it was desirable to retain. That is the process now being carried out, and it is a very difficult and delicate one, and one in which mistakes must be necessarily made from time to time, but which, I hope, is perfectly consistent with the second principle, and which is certainly not being pursued, so far as we the Government is concerned, and so far as we can avoid it, with any excess of harshness or cruelty to the individual. But we quite agree—and who should be more anxious than we are to maintain that position—that, whatever inconvenience there may be, even if there be particular cases of hardship, the first consideration is the safety of the country, the first dominant and governing consideration, and by that consideration our conduct has been, and will continue, to be actuated.

Then the right hon. Gentleman raised another and even more difficult question, namely, the question of the duty of the-Government in regard to the circulation and dissemination of news about the War. It is essential, as everybody admits, that in modern warfare some kind of censorship should exist. If you have not a censorship, you would simply give away thousand of points of your case to the enemy. We here in this country, unlike-some other nations, are very unaccustomed to the duties of censorship. A free Press has always been one of our most cherished institutions, and it is no wonder that a Press which has been accustomed, subject to the limitations of the law of libel, to practically unlimited liberty, should chafe and fret under restrictions which the necessities of the time require. I am not complaining for a moment of that. It is felt quite as much among the readers of the Press as among those who are responsible for its conduct. But what is the principle which ought to govern us? I think it was laid down by the right hon. Gentleman Laterals to which I take no exception, that you should be ready to divulge everything, whether favourable or adverse, subject only to military considerations. I can say with the utmost confidence, that so far as we are concerned, and so far as we have responsibility in the matter, that is the principle on which we have acted throughout. Whatever has been concealed or rather withheld—for I quite agree there is a difference between permanent concealment and temporary postponement—whatever has been withheld, has been withheld simply because, in the opinion of our military and naval advisers and ourselves, it was inexpedient that for the moment it should be divulged lest it should give the enemy an advantage he would not otherwise have had.

I do not think anybody will dispute that that is the principle which ought to govern a censorship in time of war, under the conditions such as those which now prevail. Each case—and there are many difficult cases—must be judged upon its own merits, and having regard to the political and military exigencies of the moment. We should all like, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to know more than we do—I should myself—of the daily progress of the war, the achievements of particular ships, of particular regiments, of particular individuals That is a feeling which is prompted and fed, not by a mere sentiment of idle curiosity—nothing of the kind—but by interest in our combatants whether by land or by sea, by pride in their prowess and their devotion to our cause. But I must say, and I shall have the opinion of the House with me, and I hope of the country, when I add that we must keep steadily in view, that, under the conditions of modern warfare, and of this war in particular, which is unlike any war that ever preceded it, patriotic restraint is often one of the first duties of a loyal subject. As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, we have Allies, and in the war now going on in France, we must remember that our Allies, the French people, have a vastly larger army engaged than we have ourselves. Whatever is done must be done by conjoint action, and after due consultation between both the Allied forces. We must have regard to their interests and opinions just as much as to our own.


The French publish more than we do.


No; I think they have published a great deal less than we have. But I do not want to go into that. It is a perfectly sound principle that we must have regard to what they think are their interests, just as much as to what we think are ours. We must go side by side with them, and although I quite agree that, from the point of view of recruiting, in which, of course, I have special and direct interest, it is very desirable indeed that we should have those full, I was almost going to say full-blooded descriptions, with which the old special correspondents used to furnish us in wars gone by—special adventures and heroic achievements of this or that regiment in this or that stricken field. But when you are dealing with a war which extends over a front of a hundred, or even two hundred miles, with a multiplication of scientific developments, the telephone, the telegraph, and other means of communication, and everything you publish becomes the common property of the world, and therefore the property of your enemy, the obligations of reticence are far greater than they ever were before, and the field for this descriptive writing, admirable in its way, and a great incentive and a stimulus to patriotic feeling, is a field which is necessarily more curtailed than ever it was before. We all regret it, but we must accept it as one of the conditions under which we carry on this fight.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to the very difficult question of separation allowances and pensions. I can assure him that there is no subject which has given the Government more anxious thought and consideration, and I doubt very much whether the delay that has taken place in regard to the elaboration of the scheme of pensions is one which, to those who are familiar with the facts, is a matter for regret or surprise. Just let the House consider what the problem is. We have no motive of any sort or kind for failure in liberality of generosity. On the contrary, our motive is the other way. We want to get as many recruits as we can to the Colours, and therefore we, of all people in the world, are under the greatest possible stimulus to act with liberality, even lavish liberality, and I should be extremely sorry—a sorrow which I believe will be shared not only by the right hon. Gentleman but by my hon. Friends, members of the Labour party below the Gangway—if there appeared to be any competition in this matter between the different parties. It would be a shocking misuse of the tragic opportunity of the War to indulge in any kind of auction. Nothing could be worse, and I am certain nothing is further from the thoughts and intention of every party in this House.

I do not want to open discussion in this matter in detail now, but just let me point out the sort of problem which arises, one of the most intricate and most difficult with which I think any statesman could possibly have to deal. There is the problem, for instance, of the man whose wife does not need the allotment which, prima facie, on an average of cases, it is right to require every soldier to make. There is the problem—a very serious and difficult problem—of what are called the unmarried wives with illegitimate children. That requires a great deal of thought and care in working out. There is the serious problem of how to deal fairly with the men who have left occupations varying in remuneration. One man may make three pounds a week, another two pounds a week, another thirty shillings a week, and there may be some with less than a pound, like the agricultural labourer, for instance. All these men, under the patriotic impulse, flock together under the same standard, and enlist and become soldiers of the King. Everybody will agree with me who works the matter out himself that it would be impossible to have a scale of pensions or of separation allowances which is graduated according to the different earnings of the different people with whom we are dealing. You could not do it. The complications are infinite, and the justice of it would be very doubtful. The best you can do would be to take a rough average of the cases and then make such provision, and I agree it ought to be an adequate and ample provision to deal with the average conditions.

There is then the problem, the most serious perhaps of all, the problem of the childless widow, who is in most cases a young woman, a woman accustomed to work, and a woman who, under normal conditions, would work and go to work after she was unfortunately deprived of the companionship and support of her husband. It is very easy to talk about 7s. 6d. or 10s., or 12s. 6d. or a pound. It is very easy to talk about that and other things, but you must consider, and you ought to consider, when you are dealing with a matter of this kind, the effect on the labour market, on the conditions of female labour in particular, and the standard of wages which women generally earn in this, country. You must consider the effect upon them of letting loose, in competition with their sister women, a number of these young widows highly subsidised by the State. I do not want in any way to prejudge the question. I am speaking now of the childless widow. I am not speaking of the widow with children, but of the woman who has no incumbrances of any kind, and who can go freely into the labour market, and dispose of her labour without any burden at home to take up her time or strength. We have to bear in mind all these considerations. Unless you are very careful, you really might encourage this depression of wages of female labour, and give encouragement to sweating, which would be most deplorable in its general results on the conditions of the working women of this country. That is a consideration which one ought not to leave out of sight, and it is one which is very material and relevant to the question.

Finally, there is the problem that presents itself naturally, and to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, of how you are going to meet the enormous burden which, under the scheme as we have proposed it, is going to be imposed upon the resources of the country. First of all, during the War, although it is perhaps a comparatively small matter, it is a very big sum, but afterwards you will have an additional charge of something like from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000 per year on the revenue of the country, certainly for a period of ten years. The Government are all in favour of being generous, but we have to ask those who consider the matter to bear all those considerations in mind. It is not so simple as it sounds. It is easy to be generous, it is easy to be lavish, but, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman says, do let us think it out carefully before we commit ourselves to problems the expense and extent of which it is almost impossible to forecast. The right hon. Gentleman threw out a suggestion with which I find myself in very great agreement. He threw out the suggestion of an inquiry by a Committee representative of all parties.

Nobody I think could be more gratified than the Government to share their responsibility in the matter with such a body as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I say so quite honestly and frankly. Anything more invidious and distasteful than to be niggardly or grudging in acknowledging the claims of those who have disabled themselves in the service of their country, or of those who have been left behind unprovided for by men who have died themselves for their country, it is impossible to conceive.

The Government will only too gladly welcome the assistance and co-operation of such an inquiry as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I think there is the more reason to assent to that for this reason, that we have proposed that for the first twenty-six weeks, that is to say, for half a year after the death of a husband, the widows shall continue to receive their full separation allowance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) threw out a suggestion of the kind, though I do not think he ever went anything like so far as twenty-six weeks.


I did not mention any time in the House of Commons, but I did say six or three months—and better six than three—when I went to the War Office.


I do not want to quarrel about it.


I did not go to the War Office purely for myself. I went at the request of the Birmingham Citizen Committee. It was their proposal.


I thought at the time it was a very good suggestion. There was no date suggested. We have worked it out since carefully, and have come to the conclusion that half a year, or twenty-six weeks, would be a reasonable time for full separation allowance, and I think on the whole it is generous and liberal. It follows when a widow gets for twenty-six weeks, a half a year from the death of her husband, full separation allowance, that it is not a matter of extreme urgency to determine at this moment what the pension shall be which she is going to be paid. I am now upon fixing the amount. Therefore, as the precise fixing of the amount of pension is not a matter of extreme urgency, and as we all agree the twenty-six weeks for full separation allowance is a very reasonable provisional arrangement, I rather welcome the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of an inquiry. If the House desires, notwithstanding, to have a further discussion, I think the more convenient way of doing it would be not by way of Amendment to the Address, and I will give a particular day for the purpose. That will be more convenient. Nobody wants to divide on it; we want to discuss the matter as far as we can in a friendly and non-controversial spirit. Therefore I shall propose to give a day for that purpose. If that is generally agreed upon, we might put it on one side for the moment. As regards the arrangement for payment, I quite agree that there has been a great deal of confusion in the early weeks, but I hope matters are a great deal better now. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] I am afraid there is still a certain amount of legitimate complaint.


In the great ports.


I can assure the Noble Lord it is getting better. It is an enormous burden to be thrown on the Post Office, and the other persons concerned. We are doing our very best to straighten the matter out, and I hope that before very long the payments will be made punctually, regularly, and automatically. I only desire to add, for the information of the House, one or two words in regard to the business that lies before it. I trust we may with general consent, after what I have said with regard to giving a day for the discussion of this matter, bring the Debate on the Address to a conclusion, if possible to-morrow, and I shall propose a Motion then—which I hope will meet also with general consent—to take the time of the House up to Christmas for the purpose of Government business. It is no good beginning to ballot for private Motions under the conditions under which we are now carrying on our work. Then, upon Monday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement, more or less of an elaborate character, with regard to the financial situation and to his proposals in respect of it, including the question of the Loan which the Government is going to ask the House for authority to raise. That statement will be made on Monday, and in order to give the House time to consider it, we might take on Tuesday the Vote which I shall propose, or two Votes—a Vote of Credit of considerable dimensions for the further conduct of the War, and an additional Vote for men.

I do not know whether the House realises, but it is worth pointing out now, that the number of men authorised by the three Votes we have had during the present year for the Regular Army is 1,186,000. I am speaking only of the Regular Troops and not of the Territorials, and of that 1,186,000 all but short of 100,000 are already in the service of the Crown. That is rather a significant comment upon many of the complaints we bear about the slowness and reluctance of the people, and it is a most remarkable thing. If we include the Territorials, it becomes very much larger, but I am speaking simply of our actual Regular Troops of the Expeditionary Force with their Reserve units, and recruits who are now training. It is obviously necessary, therefore, that we should come to the House, and ask for a considerable Vote for more men, and that Vote I shall also propose to take upon Tuesday of next week. We shall then resume consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals, and with the exception of one or two Emergency Measures of considerable importance, but none of them I think of a controversial character, that will conclude the business which the Government propose to submit to the House during the course of the present sitting.


How can we discuss alien enemies?


I do not see why we should disturb our present arrangement. We might discuss that to-morrow. It is on rather a different footing from the question of pensions, and I think we might very well devote some part of the Debate on the Address to that. That is a summary of the course of business which the Government propose to submit to the House during this Sitting, which ought not to be of protracted duration. I have only to say, in conclusion, what I said before—and I say it with abundant sincerity on behalf of my colleagues and myself, arduous as our labours have been during these three months, and none of us had any holiday at all—we have been supported throughout by the most loyal co-operation on the part of the leading Members of the Opposition, who have taken a personal part in the not few important inquiries which have been going on. When I say leading Members of the Opposition, I wish to say, also, the leading Members of the Labour party, and no one more than my hon. Friend who is now leader of that party (Mr. Arthur Henderson), who has devoted time and energy without stint to the elaboration of many useful plans and schemes, and on behalf of the Government I offer them, and through them those whom they represent in the country, our most cordial acknowledgments for the patriotic and united front which they have enabled us to maintain.


May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do on Friday of this week?


The Motion for time, and I hope it may pass without much discussion.

Colonel YATE

When the pensions of soldiers' widows are being considered, will the pensions of officers' widows also be considered?


indicated assent.


I understand that it will meet with the convenience of the House if I move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).

ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]

Adjourned accordingly at one minute before Six of the clock.