§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. LONG
There are a few observations which I desire to make in regard to the general situation. My first duty is to thank the Prime Minister for arranging to have the Third Reading of this Bill down to-day, as practically the first Order, in order to give us the opportunity of saying what we have to say. I am sure the House will realise that the Third Reading of the Bill is a more appropriate and convenient occasion on which to say anything that has to be said in regard to the situation than the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. I may also be allowed to say how entirely we on this side sympathise with His Majesty's Government in the an-announcement which the First Lord of the Admiralty had to make to the House to-day, and how deeply we sympathise with the relatives of those gallant officers and men who have offered their lives for their country, no less than those who have been engaged in actual combat. I believe that it is the unanimous opinion of everybody in this great Empire that this lamentable and terrible War should be brought to a conclusion, the only one conclusion that we choose to contemplate, as speedily as may be possible. To effect that desirable 1362 end it is also the unanimous opinion that a constant supply of men to our gallant Army at the front is absolutely necessary. More men, and more men at once, is the cry which reaches us from all that are engaged at the seat of war. That is an object on which I know the Government have embarked. I know that they are doing all in their power with unfailing energy to supply our Army in France with all the reinforcements possible, but if these reinforcements are to be sent, and if the supply of them is to be continuous, it is obvious that we must seek a continual supply of the troops; and in this respect I would venture to urge once again, because this is the last occasion on which it will be possible for us to make representations of the kind, the pressing necessity of giving to the country some further information than that which we have received. I know the difficulty, and fully appreciate it, to which the Prime Minister referred when he was good enough to reply to some remarks of mine a few days ago. I fully appreciate the difficulty of an embargo laid upon us by our Allies. I fully appreciate the difficulty of fearing to do anything which is contrary to their wishes. But I would desire most respectfully to suggest that there is all the difference in the world between our Army and the armies of our Allies. Ours is happily to-day a voluntary Army, recruited without any pressure, and in order that we may keep it as strong as possible we want first to keep up the enthusiasm of our people.
The news that we have received from time to time can hardly be called news. In the first place, it arrives as a rule very late in the day, and, secondly it is the most partial kind. I appreciate the difficulty to which the Prime Minister referred, and which is present in everybody's mind, namely, that we must do nothing which would play into the hands of the enemy. I believe that there is no sacrifice that the people of this country are not prepared willingly to make rather than give one fraction of aid to the enemy by receiving news or in any other way. But the news might be supplemented very largely without giving any possibility of advantage or even valuable information to the enemy. The other day there appeared in the newspapers an inspiring address by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, a most distinguished general, to the West Kent Regiment, of which he spoke in terms which I am sure were fully deserved. But what 1363 was the thought that arose in the mind of everybody who heard those inspiring words? It was not one of envy or jealousy? of the West Kent Regiment; it was not that they regretted that it had come in for a full meed of praise, but it was that, gallantly and nobly as this regiment may have done, still, in all probability, it was very little better than the conduct of any other regiment in the whole of the gallant British Army which is now upholding the honour of the country with so much credit and distinction. The mere fact of one regiment being mentioned makes it inevitable that others feel a longing for recognition. I do not mean the regiment themselves, and I am not speaking on behalf of the men fighting, for they put aside all questions of this kind; but I am speaking of the relatives and friends here, and I am speaking of the effect that this kind of news must have on people when we want recruits.
I am convinced it must be possible to give us news of a more ample character without any risk of giving information to the enemy, and I believe that until we do that you will not find that unanimous and general response on the part of the people in regard to recruits which is desired. Recruits we must have if we are to get a continuous supply of men sufficient in numbers to fill up our regiments at the front, and keep on filling them up until this War is ended. Therefore, I most earnestly hope that there may be a change for the better, and that we may be given fuller information. I venture to repeat the suggestion made the other day, namely, that some special correspondents should be sent out from this country to different parts of the scene of War, and to them should be entrusted the duty of sending to us information—at all events as to our own Army—information which would be welcomed here, and which I hope will be given. For a reason which I confess I fail altogether to understand, the Under-Secretary of State for War has up to the present declined to tell us what is the number of recruits. We have never yet had the information, and the right hon. Gentleman especially declines to give the figures in detail. The actual number can only be given as a general figure, because, of course, it naturally varies from day to day, returns not coming in, I imagine, regularly or simultaneously, and therefore the total figure could only be given approximately. But I think it is 1364 really of vital importance, if I may say so in the presence of the Prime Minister, that the figures should be given for certain areas of the country. I would like to see those areas made as small as possible. I will only take one case as a fair illustration, and any Member of the House will be able to supply similar cases from his own experience. This is one which has come within my own personal experience in regard to two villages, the population of which is somewhere about 800 or 900. Those two villages have sent to the Colours about 120 men—a very large percentage, and if the House deducts from the population the men over age and the boys under age, and the women and children, it will be found to be a very startling percentage of the available population that has joined the Colours.
Close by there are two other villages precisely similar in population, in their history, and in their surroundings. What do you find? You find that only one or perhaps two men have gone to the War. I have not the smallest doubt that there is a reason for this, and if this question of recruiting is thoroughly and persistently perused, those reasons may be met and the difficulties may be overcome. In the first instance, it is desirable to know what the various districts have done and are doing. I do not want to refer to any particular district, because one must look into the facts of each district before condemning a particular one for not sending up a larger number of men. It does not at all follow, because they have not sent up men, that they have not done so for some unsatisfactory reason; there may be very good reasons to account for it. I am sure the House will feel the force of this remark. You have got a great many recruits, but you are going on to get more. We have got to get men. We have written off the word "impossible"; it is taken out of the dictionary for this purpose; it does not exist for us at this moment. We have got to get the men. It is obvious that in those districts from which a very large number of men have been sent that the feeling should exist, as it does to my knowledge, that it is not fair to ask them to send more men from those districts until an effort has been made to bring other districts up to a level with them by sending larger numbers of men. We want to see what they are doing, and, if we had that information, I am convinced it would aid recruiting, and tell us what we do not know at the present moment.
1365 Therefore, I respectfully and earnestly urge on the Government that they should give us these figures, if only in an approximate form, and if they have no other effect they would, at all events, have this effect, that they would create a healthy spirit of emulation as between different parts of the country. What one district is doing will be heard of outside it and each district will at least try to do as well as the others, and this competition would aid us in the work in which we are engaged, namely, in getting enough men. The War has brought with it naturally and inevitably a demand for money. I am not going, I hope, in anything I say—certainly not in these remarks—to criticise adversely the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in finding this money. Enough has been said on that subject, and so far as I am entitled to speak for one of the greatest industries in this country, the agricultural interest, they are ready to bear, without a murmur, any burden placed upon them, and which they can bear in their strong desire to do at least their full share in helping the country to face the present situation. I regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not consider, when he was devising his taxation, the effect it was bound to have upon the agricultural districts. By putting an increase upon the Beer Duty he has—
§ Mr. LONG
I beg pardon; I understand that the subject is not in order, but I will pass on. I thought that it perhaps might be convenient to make my remarks at this time as leading up to a suggestion I am going to make, apart altogether from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course we are bound to contemplate the possibility of a raid by the enemy in this country, and whatever may be the view as to the possibility or impossibility of it, our duty, no doubt, is to make provision against that possible eventuality. I am not a soldier or a sailor, and therefore I only speak as a civilian in this matter, but I imagine that one of the duties which the Government would have to see carried out would be the destruction of foodstuffs in the immediate vicinity of the coast or for some distance on the coast where it was feared that a raid would be attempted. I wish to make this suggestion or recommendation to the Government, that they should at once collect the food supplies on the coast, which are now in stacks, and 1366 which could be threshed by the farmers at an average price to store in some of the inland cities, where they would be perfectly safe in the event of an invasion. In doing this the Government would not only be spending the money well, but they would be securing this very large amount of food supply against possible disaster in the future; because, if an invasion did take place, it is quite obvious that the destruction of these food supplies would have to be wholesale and immediate, and they would be absolutely lost to the country. It would be, of course, an advantage—I do not think a great advantage, but it would be an advantage—to the farmers in the particular areas if they sold their corn supplies at once at, say, an average price, and that food supply would be here for the country, and, if happily there was no invasion, it would remain in absolute security as a portion of the food supply that otherwise might have been lost altogether.
I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture in his place. I confess I regret that at this particular moment his Department have chosen to allow foreign cattle to come into the country, even under the precautions which he told us in the House they have adopted. Hitherto we have been saved in a most remarkable way in this country from disease. I have had myself to resist pressure brought upon me to allow this thing to be done, and I am very sorry indeed that it has been done at this moment, when every effort ought to be made to secure the interests of the agricultural community, who are so largely dependent upon that part of their industry. I regret that the Board have departed from a well-established principle, really the only one which is prudent and absolutely necessary in present circumstances, because it has occurred at a time when the country is in a totally different condition from what it was.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir Harry Verney)
The importation was made before the outbreak of the War.
§ Mr. LONG
Yes, but I understood the information given to the House was that 1367 the cattle were brought here and were kept for a considerable period in the river in quarantine. Surely the hon. Baronet knows that we have before now held up cattle and refused to allow them to come into the country. I am afraid I cannot allow that as an argument in variation of what has happened. I am not going to carry the question any further now; this is not the time, but I do profoundly regret that such a very large interest as the agricultural interest should be exposed at this time of all others to the undoubted risks to which we are exposed by what the Board of Agriculture has done. I desire to say one word about a question which has often been discussed here, namely, as to the action of the Government in regard to spies and alien enemies. The other day the Home Secretary made a speech which I confess, as far as I was concerned, did not leave me much wiser than I was at the beginning. It was very difficult to ascertain where the responsibility for dealing with this very difficult question really rests. But it was clear that the Home Secretary resented very much the attack that had been made upon him in newspapers, and he defended himself. I do not think the Home Secretary has been attacked with anything like the ferocity with which some of us have been attacked. Certainly I myself, nearly twenty years ago, was attacked not only, as the Home Secretary told us he is, by a section of the Press, but practically by the whole Press, and I enjoyed what I believe is the unique honour amongst all Ministers, and certainly has not fallen to his lot, namely, that a petition signed by 80,000 people was presented to the then Prime Minister praying that I should be removed from office. As far as I know, whatever may be the feeling about the Home Secretary, I do not think that he has been attacked in that way. But he and I adopt different methods. I read the attacks which were made upon me—some of them with great amusement, and some with great interest, and some with great advantage—but I never defended myself. The Home Secretary defends himself, but he does not read the attacks.
I venture to suggest to him that he should alter his policy, and that he should read the attacks upon him and should not defend himself, because I can assure him I know what an attack in a newspaper means. When people sit down to write articles, although I have never done it 1368 myself, as it does not come within our public life—when they sit down to write those articles about people they have a very strong grudge against for some reason, sometimes there is more ink on the pen than is absolutely necessary. Nobody is very much the worse for it so long as the person attacked is really doing his best to the utmost of his power and is confident that he is going to secure satisfactory results. That is the only question I think the Home Secretary has got to answer. What has been the complaint which has been made in the newspapers and which has been urged from these benches repeatedly? It is that there has not been a really definite policy, and nobody really and clearly responsible for the prosecution of that policy, and that there has been great want of energy in dealing with these people throughout the country. In the speeches of the Home Secretary, and in those which were made yesterday in another place, the mind of the Government seems to run eternally upon the spy. The spy is a very courageous person because he does his work under the most terrible difficulty and with the greatest possible risk. He must be a very clever person and a highly trained person to be of the smallest use in the profession he has adopted. But the alien enemy is a totally different person. I could not follow the Home Secretary the other day. He told us that in dealing with the herds and crowds of alien enemy that had been dealt with by the Government, and that had been swept into the enclosures where they are interned, that he had acted on the advice of the Secretary of State for War and not on his own initiative. Presumably the Secretary of State for War, holding the opinion that a large number of alien enemies might at some moment become a danger to this country by their presence in our midst, asked the Home Secretary to deal with them, and he consequently sweeps them into enclosures.
But in addition to the alien enemy there are undoubtedly in the country, and we are not singular to it, a great many people who are mere tools in the hands either of the spy or of the alien enemy who wishes to do this country harm. They are people who are subject at any moment to be employed by them for mischievous purposes. I read to-day an account of a Debate which took place in another place and in which the Lord Chancellor complained of the action of some of the Noble Lords there, and of many of us here and elsewhere, on 1369 the ground that our information is not sufficiently definite, and I rather gathered the other day from the Home Secretary that that was his view.
§ Mr. LONG
I thought you had taken that line, but it was clearly the line taken by the Lord Chancellor, and I say that it is a preposterous line for any Minister to take and for this reason: As the Government themselves have shown, investigation into allegations against individuals is a most difficult task, and if you are going to proceed on the lines that only those people are to be dealt with against whom a definite case can be determined, then I say you will not deal with the danger in anything like a practical or satisfactory manner. I began my remarks by referring to the work which our soldiers are doing abroad, and to the enormous strain laid upon them, and to the heroic character of their services. I submit with confidence to this House, and I believe that irrespective of party, in or out of this House, the great mass of my fellow-countrymen believe with me, that you ought to run any risk in interning or shutting up innocent people lather than run the smallest risk of exposing our men on sea or land to any additional risk, or any additional labour because of the machinations of men who are enemies to this country. I do not blame them, if they get the opportunity, that they would rather help their own country. I have never been able to see why that is thought to be an offensive tiling to say of those people. Surely all we mean is that when they have to make a choice between the two lands and the two causes their hearts and their powers and their brains turn to the soil of their own birth and blood rather than to the other side. I do not blame them for that, although I think it would have been better for them to have gone out of the country, though perhaps that was not possible.
I have said I do not believe that the policy of the Government in this matter is satisfactory, and for three reasons: First of all, they have not got a definite policy. That, I think, is clear to anybody who will read the speeches made by Ministers in this House and in another place. Another reason for failure is this: That the responsibility evidently does not rest on one set of shoulders. It is clear from the speech of the Home Secretary 1370 that the responsibility is divided as between the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Home Secretary. That is a thoroughly unsatisfactory arrangement. The whole responsibility for administration should rest with the Home Secretary. I should have thought that he was the proper person. No doubt he could act on the recommendation or at the request of one of the Ministers of Defence, but he ought to be the Minister, unless there was some reason why somebody else should be selected, responsible for the general administration of all the laws in regard to spies, alien enemies, or their tools. Below him there should be, in my humble opinion, one or more men appointed to do the work for which he was to be responsible in this House, and to them he would in all probability delegate the actual performance of the duties. What did we read in the account, rather fuller than anything we have had yet, of the Debate in the House of Lords. We were told that the Home Secretary is the Minister in control of the Metropolitan Police, and that he was responsible within the Metropolitan area, but that in the rest of the country the chief constables are responsible.
I do beg the House to realise what this means. In the Metropolis the position is satisfactory, thoroughly satisfactory, although I will give the Home Secretary one case, though I shall not mention names, which I think shows that in the Metropolis there has been a want of energy and want of care in the administration of the law. At all events, there you have got a Minister who has direct control over the police who act under his orders. The Chief Commissioner is directly responsible to him, and the Metropolitan Police is a magnificent organisation with a Minister in this House responsible to this House and having power to give them orders, and to see that things are done. As to the chief constables, to whom are they responsible? I have often said before in this House when we have been discussing local government that this is the most unsatisfactory part of our local government system. The chief constable is to all intents and purposes an independent person. He is not responsible to the Lord Lieutenant or to the chairman of the county council, or to the county council. He is nominally controlled by a body called the Standing Joint Committee under the Act of 1888. Is it suggested to us that we are to look to this Standing Joint Committee to meet 1371 from time to time and control the chief constable in dealing with the question of spies, alien enemies and their tools, because, if so, the machine would break down on the first attempt to try and get the work done in that way? I am only here dealing with statements which come to me in a general form, and I purposely refuse to investigate them, because it is impossible for a private individual, and particularly one who has a good deal to do, as I have, to go into these particular cases.
We have this constant evasion of responsibility. I do not wish to use an offensive word, but one is constantly engaged in trying to find the person who is really responsible. You are told the Home Secretary is not responsible, because he has no direct control over the country police. In fact, he has no control, because all he can do is to issue the certificate, or refuse to do so, and having done that he has no more control. They are essentially a local body. Since the Home Secretary has no control, you go to the chief constable. What has happened in a great many cases? People have gone to the chief constable and his answer has been, "I am assured that so-and-so is perfectly right and perfectly safe, and there is no reason why I should search his house or proceed against him." I do not think the chief constable ought to be approached by anybody. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I will say what I have done myself. I have, like most of us, got a few men who are of German origin who are friends of mine, or who were previous to the War, and I hope they may continue to be, though I will say nothing about that. They are men of German origin, and, so far as I know, they may not even have been naturalised. I can say in some cases where there has not been naturalisation they have approached me since the War and have asked me to approach the Home Secretary to endeavour to secure letters of naturalisation for them. I have declined to do so in every case. I have declined absolutely to take upon myself the responsibility of guaranteeing any man over whose general action and course of life it is impossible for me to maintain supervision. Why have I done it? What are the stories we have heard from Belgium and France? Are we not learning from them? There is a story which came to my knowledge the other 1372 day at first hand. A man said that one of his most intimate friends in Brussels was a man with whom he had been so intimate that not a week passed but on one or two days he joined him at some meal. He looked upon him as one of his most intimate friends, but we had not been at war a month before it was his duty as a staff officer to try that man as a spy and order him to be shot. It follows, from what we know about spies, if they are to be successful, that is one of the parts they have to play. They have to worm themselves into our private life, they have to appear to be our most reliable friends, they have to present to us and to all the world an appearance which will lead everybody to have confidence in them. For this reason, however firmly I may have believed in my friends, I have said, "No; you have taken upon yourself this liability; you have taken advantage of our land; you have come here, I presume, because it suited you; you have been able to prosper here; you have made full use of all your opportunities, industrial and otherwise; you have thriven greatly. Now comes the time when you regret having done that without having naturalised yourself as a British citizen. You are now suspect, not because of your own acts, but because of the accident of your birth or the previous circumstances of your life."
Whatever may be our opinion of individuals, we ought not to let them interfere with what is our bounden duty to-day, and that is to lay down a clear, definite policy and follow it up, whatever it may entail upon us in regard to those whom we consider to be our friends. I will give one case—it is one out of many, but it is one of the most remarkable. It is that of a gentleman who was the head of an institution well known both here and all over Europe. At the outbreak of war he was, as I am informed, interned for two days. He was then let out and he left at once, I imagine, for Germany. That shows, to my mind, the inevitable result of the lack of a definite policy and the absence of individual responsibility. This man may be perfectly harmless, I cannot say whether he is or not. But the circumstances are at all events suspicious. I defy anybody to have been able to say when that man was let out that he could be let out with absolute safety to the country. How could any man commit himself to a statement of that kind? The only time when you can say that this man is harmless is when the War is over, and you are able to say that he 1373 has not interfered at all. Therefore I maintain that our policy ought to be perfectly clear and simple, one which we can all understand, and one which is carried out by one responsible Minister.
Is it not possible to have such a policy? I do not know precisely what powers are conferred upon the Government by the Defence of the Realm Act, but I gather from various things that have been done and various communications made to me in my capacity as a magistrate that those powers are pretty strong, and that the Government could do almost anything they liked. I will say without any fear of challenge that if the Government, acting on their honest conviction that in the interests of the Realm it was necessary to do so, they could put the whole Front Opposition Bench into prison, and they would have the whole country behind them. I dare say many hon. Members would welcome such a proceeding. My meaning is that I am convinced that the country is behind the Government so long as the Government goes steadfastly forward in their policy of fighting this War with determination and doing everything that is necessary in support of those who are fighting for us. Are we doing everything that is necessary or possible when we are undoubtedly allowing a great deal which is unsatisfactory to go on in this country? We had evidence of this the other day. The Secretary for Scotland made a defence of his position. What happened? The very next speaker was the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel), who reeled off a whole series of facts to show that the policy of the Government had not been satisfactory in Scotland. There have been suspicious cases in England. I myself have sent more than one case to the Home Secretary. I maintain that if the powers were sufficient, if there was one Minister responsible, if below him there were one or two people responsible to him for dealing with aliens throughout the country, such questions as I have sent to the Home Secretary could be answered within twenty-four hours, either, as I should prefer, by prompt action being taken on the spot, or by thorough investigation being made. If the Government's policy is clear and vigorous, they will have neither criticism nor attack.
I have not spoken in the way I have because of any hostility to the Home Secretary. Nothing of the kind. Nor have I any hostility to the individuals who now 1374 come within the category either of spies or of alien enemies or their tools. I have spoken as I have because I believe it is the duty of this country to take prompt and energetic steps in this matter. There may be men in this country whose whole stake is here, and who, for their own interests, quite apart from their feelings and inclinations, would run no risk of doing anything that could be construed into aiding the enemy. But we have to remember that that does not exhaust the case. You have to think of their womankind, sometimes of their servants or their dependants, and those with whom they are corresponding abroad. I say, therefore, err on the side of too much precaution, but do not err on the side of letting anybody live in any part of the country who is likely in any way to be able to aid our foes. I hope that even now the Government will see fit to centralise the authority in the hands of one Minister, and, if necessary, to take further powers—they could get a Bill through the House in one day—enabling them to control the chief constables and the police in the provinces as they do the First Commissioner and the police in London. For heaven's sake let us have a definite policy, and let it be understood that that policy is going to be vigorously pursued. Let one Minister be responsible I am not dealing now with the joint responsibility of the whole Cabinet; but let one Minister be responsible in this matter, just as one Minister is responsible for the Army or for the Navy, and let him have one or two people below him to conduct the general work.
If you had such a policy and such a Minister, I believe that within a fortnight you would put an end to what is certainly an unsatisfactory state of things in some parts of the country. If it be that there is only suspicion, it is wrong that at this moment of supreme crisis there should be even a suspicion as to what is going on in some parts of the country. This would be prevented if you centralised the authority in one Minister and took powers, if you have not got them, enabling you to apply the same policy to the yhole country without fear or favour, above all, avoiding what I am sure has not been intended, but is none the less obvious from what has happened recently, the suspicion of favour to those who are better off. I am not charging the Government with this; I am not making charges of any kind; I am not here to make charges. It is the inevitable result of the lack [...] a definite policy. 1375 While you have been putting waiters, hairdressers, and other people of that sort into wire-enclosed pastures, or whatever they are—racecourses and other places—it has not been apparent that the same policy has been pursued in regard to those who are better off. Let there be no appearance of discrimination and, above all, no want of energy, and I am satisfied that the whole House will support the Government, and the country will feel that they are making a determined effort, which will be a successful one, to get rid of a pest which we ought never to have suffered and of which, if we are wise, we will now rid the country for ever and a day.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) in the earlier part of his remarks thought it right to go back upon what he had already said in regard to the absence of information about the operations of our troops at the front, and to criticise, as I understood him, the policy of the War Office and of the Admiralty in this respect. I understood him to differ from the policy of those two Departments which think it right to use such an economy of statement, as I think it has been called, with regard to what is happening to our troops. The Government are about to draw down the blinds—to-morrow, I suppose—and for two or three months they will be carrying on their business in camera, free altogether from any criticism which might come from the House of Commons. That is my excuse for troubling the House for a few moments on this subject. I do not want to see the War carried on in camera. Its fortunes and misfortunes should not be hidden from us. Thousands of incidents of bravery and heroism are achieved by our soldiers, by men who are our friends and neighbours, men who have gone from our side, men from the streets of our villages, men with whom their neighbours have worked side by side at the loom or the lathe: I want their deeds of bravery and heroism to be known in detail to the public. I do not want these things to be hidden from public knowledge as far as Whitehall can do it. The parents, relatives, comrades and friends of our soldiers, are all hungering for this news. I read in the "Times" this morning a short article upon the life of Benjamin Disraeli. In that article this sentence occurs:—If Disraeli had lived in this crisis, he would have laboured to make the heroism of our arms, not a mystery, but a spectacle to us all.1376 I agree very much with that observation. I am not going any longer to criticise the Press Bureau. Time after time we have been told that it is not their fault. I presume that the Press Bureau is only an instrument to prevent mischievous, erroneous, and indiscreet news or opinions which would be injurious to us and helpful to our enemies from appearing in public print. None of us, either on this side of the House or on the other want, I am quite sure, anything to appear which would help our enemies. But I suggest, taking that argument, that by inference anything which would not have this effect of helping our enemies ought to pass the Censor. The journalist should not be made a victim in the matter; he ought to be allowed to explain his eloquence in the columns of his newspaper. There is a tremendous thirst for news. Everybody wants to know. You see evidence of that in all our streets, which are crowded with persons wishful to know what is going on. Most of us have relatives at the front. They are in great danger. We are being protected by them. Why may we not know what they are doing? The right hon. Gentleman suggested—and I think it was a very wise suggestion—that the policy of refusing officially accredited newspaper correspondents to go to the front should be reconsidered. I understand that the German authorities give every facility to the war correspondents, and certainly, the Germans are most diligent in disseminating news, which I am afraid sometimes is mainly put together in their own interests. Our public are not getting the news of their dear ones, or they are getting it, as the right hon. Gentleman said, belated, meagre, and scrappy. None of us want to help the enemy. Journalists of reputation are just as anxious to serve their country and not to injure it. I do not want these brilliant deeds of bravery to go officially unrecorded. The Archbishop of York, speaking I think at the recruiting meeting in York the other day—and the right hon. Gentleman laid emphasis on the fact that this dearth of news was a hostile influence to the recruiting which we all desire to see successful and increase—the Archbishop said:—The only way to get the real strength and the real self-sacrifice out of the British democracy is to trust it and let it know the facts.I agree with that. So long as you muzzle the mouth and deafen the ears of the public you will have a great deal of dissatisfaction. There is another point which perhaps has been sufficiently referred to 1377 in Debate—public criticism of the Government, which the Government has taken great powers to check. I am a great believer in the perfect freedom of the Press. Experience of past wars does not encourage us to put a blind faith in Government Departments, and some of the rumours which have been creeping into the newspapers already about Government contracts take one's memory back to the rather bad revelations of the past. Public criticism is a searchlight which is a great safeguard to the public, and is a stimulant to right conduct on the part of the authorities. A free Press is the oxygen of party politics. The only effect of denying news to us is to produce a crop of guesses, speculations, and rumours. There is no easier way of creating false news than by withholding true news. Erroneous impressions, if they are conveyed, have to be answered, and if they are neither conveyed nor answered then their place will be taken by whispers, and matters will be whispered about and magnified and distorted. In that way we are reduced to relying upon club gossip, dinner table conversation, and what I think Disraeli called coffee-house babble. I would, in conclusion, plead for a reconsideration of the present restrictive, conservative, and obscurantist policy in regard of the War, and criticism of the operations of the Government, which has been adopted by the two great spending Departments of the State.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
I entirely agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down, and with my right hon. Friend, in one criticism of the censorship of the Press. It is most desirable, especially in a War of this character—a War that has never had its equal in history so far as the heroism of our men, or any men—that the gallant deeds of our regiments should be made known to the country. It is only fair to the men and to the officers. Everybody likes appreciation. Those at the front are risking their lives by thousands. Thousands have been killed. The least we can do out of respect to their memory is by recording the gallant deeds they have performed. The present situation is made more particularly invidious because unintentionally one regiment has been mentioned. I can tell the House this, after many years' management of men, that if you hold a regiment or a ship up to great praise and make it invidious to the other regiments or the 1378 other ships, which have done the same, the regiment and the ship resent it themselves because they know it is unpopular. Their chivalrous sentiments resent it. I do hope that the Home Secretary, or whoever represents the Press Bureau, will see that in justice to the officers and the men, and in justice to our own countrymen here who want to know of the gallant deeds of our gallant regiments, that these would be made public more than they are at the present time.
I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman a few words on the question my right hon. Friend took up. It is a question which I consider even a more vital danger to us than the bullets of the enemy. We can face the bullets and provide for them, but you cannot face a danger which amounts to being stabbed in the back—which the spy danger really is There is no doubt, and I acknowledge it, that something has been done, but I maintain, as opposed to the Home Secretary, that that something has been done by the irresistible force of public opinion, and I do not think that enough is being done. I think that public opinion ought still to exert its pressure to remove this what I believe to be a very dangerous state of affairs in our midst. I consider that safety of the country is imperilled by the spy danger. I am perfectly certain of this, that although something is being done, there is great uneasiness in the country at the present time, the people believing that enough has not been done. I put it down to mismanagement. My right hon. Friend has spoken of divided responsibility. In any circumstances divided responsibility is bad. But in the serious circumstances in which we are it becomes a danger, and a very vital danger. I understand the responsibility is divided between the Home Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Chief Constable. When the Home Secretary was tackled on this point he tried to throw the responsibility on one of the other Departments.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Will the Noble Lord quote the words in which I tried to throw the responsibility on someone else?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I do not think I can quote the right hon. Gentleman off-hand, but the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to throw the responsibility on the War Office. He said, if I remember rightly, "I have nothing to do with that: that has to do with the 1379 War Office." I call that throwing responsibility on another office, and on the chief constables. Anyway, did or did not the right hon. Gentleman say—
§ Mr. McKENNA
Will the Noble Lord quote the words in which I tried to throw the responsibility on another Department? The implication of that language is that I did so wrongly. One does not use the words "tried to throw responsibility" unless the Noble Lord means to imply that I did so wrongly.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Really, the right hon. Gentleman must not lose his temper. I do not want to make any invidious remarks; if I did, I should do so in a more amiable way. It was just the same the other day. The right hon. Gentleman lost his temper when he was asked about something. This is a very serious question. We want to keep our tempers. We do not want any personalities or anything of that sort. I think I am within the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman said that certain circumstances which we asked him to account for he was not responsible for. I think that is correct. I do not want to say anything offensive in the matter; it is far too serious for that. This is not the time to be offensive. But it is difficult for any of us to know, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, whether the War Office is responsible or the Admiralty or the chief constable or who, and those of us who take an interest in this matter—and a great number in the country do—desire to know which one of these officers we should approach. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House under what law he has to take action in regard to these spies? I do not think that it is clear to anybody. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if the War Office had martial law they would be directly responsible, and I believe it would be an easier method of settling the case than the present method. The Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) showed the House the other day how easily spies can act. They have only to get a passport to Holland, and when they arrive in Holland have only to get a passport back again. Anything they have got to say is far better said verbally than by way of paper or pigeon post, or whatever other methods there may be. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy of his own knowledge showed the House how easily information could be conveyed to 1380 the Germans from this country. I ventured to say some time ago that I was satisfied that three cruisers and 1,400 men were lost through the action of spies. The evidence, as far as we can get it, goes in my favour, and the common sense of it goes in my favour, but all the right hon. Gentleman says to me is, "You are wrong," but he never produces any evidence that I am wrong. It is a case of one opinion against another. The common sense of the matter is that we knew there were spies upon the coast, we knew that there would be rough weather, we knew that the torpedo-boat escorts did not go out, and the information could easily be brought over on the liners, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy suggested. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman said to me that I made most terrible charges against him and that I charged him with making widows and orphans, I must tell him I did nothing of the sort, but I still maintain that the evidence and common sense of the matter—moreover, after the evidence of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy—is more in my favour than in the favour of the right hon. Gentleman. That there are spies everybody knows. The right hon. Gentleman is taking precautions, but my point is that his precautions are not enough. The right hon. Gentleman is always asking for evidence. What evidence? I maintain you have the evidence. You have the spies, and surely when you are at war and you find men going about the country saying they are going to do so-and-so, as has been said by German writers, it is not wise to wait until they do those deeds before you lock them up. It is not fair to our officers and men who risk their lives that some Department of the Government does not take proper precaution to prevent their losing their lives. I have now got the passage to which I referred in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He said:—I begin with that because throughout the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech in every particular there was hardly a single matter in which I am responsible—hardly a single point. He seems to be quite unaware that the civil authority has not initial responsibility either for the internment or the release of any aliens; it is purely a military matter.I am very sorry if I misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman, but I think these words bear out what I intended to say. I certainly never intended to say anything offensive. May I make a remark about that passage in his speech? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. Supposing a soldier sees a light in a house, and thinks it is a signalling light—it may 1381 not be—he has got to call the nearest policeman before he can do anything. The soldier can do nothing without the police, and therefore the eventual responsibility is with the right hon. Gentleman, and I quite agree with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) that there should be no question as to who is responsible. There ought to be one person responsible when it is a matter which affects the safety of the nation.
I turn now to the question of naturalisation of Germans. The naturalised German is really a far more dangerous man here than the one who is not naturalised. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, he is able to get into a number of places in society and military, naval, and Governmental circles, where, owing to his position, his ability, his education, and very likely his wealth, he can get to know things. We have no right to let these people go about so freely. A friend of mine knew a man in Antwerp. For forty years he was in good society in Antwerp, he was a member of all the clubs, and people absolutely regarded him with affection. He was a generous subscriber to all the Belgian charities, and he was what we would call in this country "a really good fellow." Directly the Germans came he turned round and gave them all his local knowledge of military and naval affairs, and politics, and was eventually more use to the German Army than the ordinary hairdresser or waiter, or somebody in a subordinate position could be. Having seen these things occur in Belgium and the shocking and awful state to which Belgium is reduced now, owing to the local knowledge of those naturalised people in Belgium, we have no right to allow any false sentiment or idea of friendship to influence us. I have lots of friends amongst those naturalised Germans, but I put my country before my friendship. I would not treat them harshly. All I would say is, "You must be interned until the War is over, and we will make you as comfortable as we can." That is the view I hold and I believe it is the view my countrymen hold. It is for these gentlemen's convenience that they come over here and become naturalised. I ask, is it for our advantage or theirs? If they become naturalised and events occur such as this War, they must be, to put it perfectly straight, either traitors to their own country or to ours. Whichever course of conduct they take they are naturalised over here for their own advantage, they 1382 cannot be for ours, and if they remain here for our advantage they are traitors to their own country.
On the other hand, if they do as this gentleman in Antwerp did and use the advantages which naturalisation has given them, to our hostility, then they are traitors to us. The best way is to remove them all, and have them secured, to do nothing brutal, but, on the contrary, to be generous to them until the War is over. May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that one of those naturalised aliens is a man named Ernst. He was naturalised, and swore allegiance to the Crown, yet he got seven years penal servitude. I do not want to be ungenerous, but I would have all spies shot; they are not cowards, they are gallant men who undertake a duty for the advantage of their country, just as much as a man who goes into the field, with this difference, that man who goes into the field may escape, but a spy cannot, whatever plan of campaign, either the Navy or the Military may make, the spy can upset that plan of campaign, and by his knowledge make it an absolute failure, resulting in tremendous loss of life for officers and men. I do not wish to say that if an English spy is caught in Germany, he should not be shot. I think he should, just the same as a German spy caught over here. No doubt some of our own people are spies, German gold has bought them. They are more contemptible than the German spy and they ought to have a very short drumhead court-martial. The work of the spy has gone on for years. The man who used the most of them was Napoleon, and they always knew in those days that penal servitude was not sufficient. By their action they risk the lives of our people; it is a back-handed action; but the spy is not devoid of pluck, but he should be tried by court martial and shot the next morning.
I do not think that naturalisation can change a man's nature. I want to know why do a number of those people change their names, as the right hon. Gentleman knows they do. Is that for our benefit? Of course, it is not, and it is very suspicious. Why should they not hold on to their German names? They ought to be just as proud of being Germans as an hon. Gentleman in this House should be of being English, or as I am of being Irish. I am not attacking individuals. I am attacking a system. We ought to make our system stronger, and 1383 we ought to have one person to carry it out. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy advocated a spy bureau, with branches in various centres. What could be more common sense than that? The Prime Minister, in reply to a question of mine, said it would not take the responsibility from other people. That is just what I would do. Put a gentleman at the head of it with legal knowledge—he would not do all the work himself, but the bureau would have the right to arrest and inquire, and then, rather on the lines of courts martial, they would send to the right hon. Gentleman the result of their inquiries. I think you would thus stop this spy system all over the country far better than you do at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman has always said he would like concrete cases. I have here a number of concrete cases, and I want to give them to him. I want to know why Julius Koch, an officer of the German Army, general manager of the Olympic Company, Selby, was arrested, taken to New York, and then let out again?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I protest most strongly against the principle of a man being arrested by the authorities, then let out by another authority, and then, owing to a public protest in the locality, arrested again. Surely that is very bad. It is very bad to have an authority in this country which, through its system does not satisfy the people and which then, when the people protest says they are right and has their protest given effect to. The result is you will have people taking the law into their own hands. I asked the right hon. Gentleman early in September whether he would not consider it deplorable if the people took the law into their own hands. After all, that is the most awful thing in the world. They would assault, burn, and kill the wrong people, but you will have mob law and you will have the people taking these things into their own hands if you go on arresting people, then letting them out and then, on a protest by the locality, arresting them again.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Yes, I believe he was an officer of the German Army. When I spoke about the people taking the 1384 law into their own hands the right hon. Gentleman said he would deplore that, matter, but Deptford took the law into its own hands over this spy question. If I am wrong, let the right hon. Gentleman show me where I am wrong. I say it is a deplorable thing that such a course should be followed. Then there is August Reich-wald, of Finsbury Pavement, London, one of Krupp's agents in this country. Why is he allowed to carry on his business here? Next I would mention the case of Mr. Hatze, of the Station Hotel, Wick. He is naturalised, and at the time of mobilisation he was suspected of harbouring German spies. I have inquired personally into this case. When the police arrived at his place he declined to allow his premises to be searched without a warrant. The police went back to get the necessary warrant, and on their return all these Germans had gone. There is the case of Mr. Erridge, of Exeter, who took in paying guests. One of them was a German, a very suspicious character. His suspicious manner was reported to the chief constable, and two constables interviewed him. The next day he packed up all his maps, glasses, etc., and went to Plymouth. Why was he allowed to go to Plymouth, because he could do just as much harm at Plymouth as at any other place? [An HON. MEMBER: "More!"] Then there is the case of a man named Rosendale, near Norwood. His son is fighting with the Germans now, and this man has a refreshment room at Norwood. There is also the case of Mr. Lionel Pitt Taylor, of Rock-ferry, Cheshire, who communicated with the Intelligence Department of the Board of Trade. Mr. Taylor is the manager for an English firm which supplies composition for ships' bottoms, and he received the following answer from the Board of Trade in a letter signed "W. J. Glennie.":I am unable to undertake the investigation of the nationality of the directors or shareholders of firms, or their finances.That was from Mr. Glennie, and the letter went on to say:—And I may add I am unaware of any distinction between a naturalised British subject and a British subject by birth.If that is the sort of way the Board of Trade are treating this question, then it is not the proper way, and I do not think even the Home Secretary will dispute that fact. Then there is the case of the Royal Hotel, Dundee, which is occupied by British officers. The manager of this hotel was a German, and many of his 1385 employés were Germans. I want to know have they been removed yet? From this hotel they can look over a submarine base. The place where the "Niger" was blown up off Deal is within easy view of the Guildford Hotel, the proprietor of which is a German, although he calls himself a Swiss. There were seven or eight German waiters there at the same time, and it is believed that there was communication between a so-called Dutch ship off Deal which was supposed to be a battleship. It is believed that the submarine which blew up the "Niger" was alongside this ship, and that this so-called Dutch ship may have been supplying petrol to the ship that blew up the "Niger." You may say that there is no evidence of this, but I say that there is the evidence of common sense. The "Niger" was blown up; the Germans were in the hotel opposite, and the ship which was lying off Deal had Dutch colours, and went to sea nert day in a gale of wind. There is the case of Mr. Metzen, the manager of the powerful electric pumps and plant at Tilmanstone Colliery. He was ordered to move, and he has had an extension of immunity from the 16th to the 30th November. I should like to know why? I would like to ask if the German Consul at Grimsby has been removed and, if so, when?
Here is another very important case—that of the Hull and Grimsby trawlers. Four magistrates were appointed as an advisory Court in conjunction with the military to deal with alien enemies, and they detained two skippers named Dettmore and Swolle. They were afterwards released, but they returned again to Hull, but a public protest had the effect of ordering them to leave that district. Where did they go? That is not the way to deal with aliens, and they ought to be locked up and interned. If the right hon. Gentleman had possessed a proper bureau those two German skippers would have been locked up. I believe that most of the mines in the North Sea have been dropped by men of that kind hoisting neutral colours, and the result has been that we have lost an immense amount of life and property, and this will continue if that sort of manipulation is allowed to continue. Mr. Bamburgh, of Exmouth, has been under police supervision, and he is a very suspicious person, but his house has not been searched. Hon. Members are aware of the case of Baron Schroeder and Julius Rittershaussen. Is it likely that Baron Schroeder, who has a son fighting 1386 in the German Army, will have sentiment, favourable to this country? These people should be interned. Baron Schroeder was naturalised three days after the War.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Yes, he is very wealthy. I think the Prime Minister ought to give us more information about Baron Schroëder, who represents the wealthy class. He was naturalised three days after the War, and the right hon. Gentleman said that this was "clearly to the public advantage to naturalise him." I expect he will say that Baron Schroeder being a very rich banker if he was interned other people would suffer. I think we are all prepared to suffer from this War, and therefore that is not a good argument. No matter how rich a man is you ought not to allow any person to be at liberty who can put himself in the position of a dangerous spy in the present acute crisis we are in with regard to this War. Now I turn to the case of Mr. Thor, the chief engineer in charge of a large benzol plant at Littleburn Colliery. He was recently arrested, and he was afterwards liberated. Why was he liberated? There is the case of Mr. Swartch, the chief engineer of Messrs. Pease and Partner, who also have a large benzol plant at Littleburn. Ha was arrested on the outbreak of the War, and he was then naturalised. After this he was let go, and he has been recently re-arrested, and I understand that he has been again set at liberty. A public protest came, and now he has been arrested again. I think that is a most unsatisfactory and a most unsafe method to adopt. Then there is the son of the Sunderland German Consul who has been summoned for trial for high treason, and I believe he is at liberty. If that is so, I should like to know the reason why?
My right hon. Friend spoke about arresting alien hairdressers, waiters, and other people. I think all these people should be arrested and interned. I have no personal enmity against them, but I do think that they are the most dangerous people you have got, and no hon. Member can deny that after what we have seen taking place in Belgium, and particularly in Antwerp. I think the poor wage-earners have every right to say that they are being persecuted whilst rich contractors, bankers and financiers escape, although they are by far the most dangerous to the nation. There may be a little more injustice in their case if 1387 what I suggest is carried out, but it is better to have a little injustice than have the chance of something terrible happening to our nation in the event of an attempted raid, or if we had a reverse. These things are possible, but do not let us have the danger at our rear and on our flank while our men are fighting for us away at the front. I think there ought to be a clean sweep of these people. The people on the East Coast recognise this danger, and they have taken action. In some cases lords lieutenant and chief constables have been far more active than in other cases, and those areas which have been inactive are more likely to contain the danger spies.
With the proposal which has been put forward in force, this state of things could not occur, because you would have your Cabinet Minister in this House responsible for these bureaus in all these places, and they would all act in the same way, with the same fairness and justice. I am glad to say that there has been no more threatening papers. I thought that the threatening of the "Globe" newspaper was a great mistake. I am sure it was done honestly, but it was a mistaken policy, and was altogether wrong. I have been violently threatened myself on this question, and I laughed about it. It was on the spy question. I do not think these threats are any use, and I do not think any strong minded man or any patriotic man would take the slightest notice of them. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that I have not made a single remark, either personal or threatening, or in a bad-tempered way. I think this question is most serious, and I am anxious as far as I can to help the right hon. Gentleman and to convince him how serious the matter is. I wish to strengthen him with all the power at my command, and I wish to have a system in which there is direct responsibility, under which the right hon. Gentleman can have a bureau or what he likes under him and under his authority, and by means of which the whole of this question right through the country will be conducted on totally different lines to what it is now conducted, and conducted similarly in all our ports so that we may get rid of this danger of public protests instead of locking these people up simply when the public take it into their heads that a man should be locked up. By taking the course suggested we get rid of all that danger, and 1388 if the right hon. Gentleman takes that view I will do everything I can to support him. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise how serious this question is and how very differently he ought to act.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long), who raided this question, made a speech for which I desire to thank him. It was extremely helpful and it brought into a narrow compass the issue upon this matter, as far as there is any issue at all. I know he will appreciate the fact that all Departments of the State who have anything to do with the perils which undoubtedly exist from the presence of a large number of enemy aliens in this country must be as fully determined and anxious as any member of the State to preserve us from those evils. No steps have been or will be left unturned in order to secure safety upon certain principles. I put in those words "upon certain principles" because I observe that there is some element of difference as to what those principles should be. I take great blame to myself if in any previous speeches upon this matter I have failed to make clear the principle upon which the Government is acting, as well as the various Departments who are immediately responsible for the different measures which have to be taken to secure the public safety. When a speaker is not understood, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is his own fault. I will endeavour quite briefly to remedy the mistake if I can this afternoon. The civil responsibility for protecting the public against all forms of danger rests, of course, upon the civil authorities. The Home Office is generally regarded as responsible for the safety of the public throughout the country, and the Home Office so far as it can accepts and acts upon the principle of that responsibility. But let me explain to an indulgent House the difficulties under which the Home Office acts. The instrument through which the safety of the public is secured is the police. In the Metropolitan area the Home Office is the head of the police, but when you leave London and get into the outside areas, whether county or borough, the Home Secretary has no real power. Let me give an instance to the House. Naturally, I regard it as my duty to take a constant survey of the manner in which local chief constables are carrying out their business, and recently I came to the conclusion that in one area—I will not 1389 name it—it would be advisable that there should be a change in the chief constable. He was an excellent man I have no doubt, but I did not conceive that he was quite equal to the special responsibilities and duties at the present time. I communicated to the Standing Joint Committee my opinion that another chief constable should be appointed. I received a reply from the Standing Joint Committee that in their judgment it would be inexpedient to make a change at the present time. There was an end of the correspondence. I have no power to remove him.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The change would not give me the power. It would mean a very large Bill, a very big Bill indeed.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am dealing with things as they are at the present time, and endeavouring to clear up what has been doubtful as to the degree of responsibility, where it lies, and how far matters are outside your power.
§ Mr. McKENNA
So much for the general responsibility for securing the safety of the public. Now you get a time of war, and a new element of danger arises which has not before existed. You have got the peril to life in the presence of enemy aliens, many of whom may be spies or a danger to the State in the event of a raid, or may in other forms injure us, and you have got to consider what steps you can take to deal with that peril. As far as the civil authority is concerned, and the police through whom the civil authority acts, they can immediately deal with all cases of suspicion. Where there is a case of suspicion, either brought by outside persons to the notice of the police authorities or detected by the police themselves, it is the duty of the police authorities to immediately inquire into it, and, where innocence beyond question is not proved, to take action. That is the civil responsibility of the police. I would ask the House to consider for a moment how far the police have carried out their immediate duties in searching and detecting dangerous cases. They were mentioned last night in another place, and, if the House will allow me, I will repeat the figures now. Since the War we have 1390 in the Metropolitan area investigated 120,000 cases of suspicion, and, when the House remembers that the War has not lasted for 120 days, it will be readily seen that means that an average of over 1,000 cases a day have been investigated by the police in the Metropolitan area alone. As the result of these investigations, 342 persons have been interned—that is to say, they have been handed over to the military authorities and interned by them. They were not cases in which the evidence I will not say would not have justified prosecuting, but they were not cases in which it was desirable to take the course of prosecuting the persons charged. They were, however, cases in which there was sufficient evidence to warrant immediately handing the person over to the military authorities. In addition to that, no less than 6,000 houses have been ransacked, and in other forms every step has been taken by the police in the Metropolitan area to trap, hunt out, prosecute or intern any dangerous person. The Noble Lord named a number of cases. They were very interesting, and a great effect—a natural effect, and a proper effect—is created by the enumeration of those cases. If the Noble Lord had only been so good as to send me the names beforehand, I would have been able to give him an explanation or an assurance with regard to every one of them.
§ Mr. McKENNA
If I had only had them for half an hour, I would have been able to give him a reply in every case.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I would have told him what we were doing, or what we would undertake to do, but I cannot do it, because I cannot pretend to carry them all in my mind. Some of them are familiar to me. The first I happen to know has been interned, and one or two others are known to me. He referred, for instance, to the case of the spy Ernst who received seven years' penal servitude, and he quoted him as an instance of the danger from naturalised Germans. He was not a naturalised German. He was British born, and his offence was committed before the War.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Noble Lord has not heard the last part of my sentence. I said that the offence was committed before the War. He was tried by the civil Court for an offence committed in time of peace. He therefore came under appropriate law, and he received sentence of seven years' penal servitude. There would have been no power to shoot him. He had committed no offence during time of war. Another case the Noble Lord referred to was that of Baron Schroeder. Let me assure the House—I hardly think the assurance is necessary—that he was not naturalised because he was Baron Schroëder, or because he was a rich man. Baron Schroëder was naturalised because there would have been very grave injury to great and material British interests if he had not been naturalised. I do not think it needs a very extensive knowledge of City affairs to understand that if the doors of Messrs. Schroëder had not opened on the morning after Baron Schroëder was naturalised, as they would not have opened if he had not been naturalised, there would have been very serious consequences to the City of London.
§ Mr. McKENNA
That would not do it. I went into that question, and I was informed, and I believe it to be a fact, that if he had not been naturalised the doors of his firm would have remained closed.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
This matter has excited a great deal of attention. Could not the case have been dealt with in the same way as the foreign banks were dealt with?
§ Mr. McKENNA
They were licensed afterwards. I may say that until that day not only did I not know Baron Schroëder, but, so far as I know, I had not even seen him. It was a mere name to me; but his firm was well known to me. It is a very large, I believe the largest, accepting house in the City of London, and the very highest commercial authority in the City represented to me that it would be a disaster—no less word was used—if the doors of Baron Schroëder did not open on the following morning, and, unless he had 1392 been naturalised at once, they would not have opened. I had no interest in Baron Schroëder.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Why is it suggested that he was naturalised because he was rich? I had no interest in his wealth or in him, not the very slightest. Nobody I knew had the slightest interest either in him or his wealth, and nobody that I knew or by whom I was advised would be, so far as I was aware, or could be in the slightest degree concerned with the fact that Baron Schroëder was a rich man. I have to labour this point because the statement is always received with cheers when it is alleged that the Government have shown favour to the rich as against the poor. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Walter Long) even in his very fair speech made some allusion to that point, and said that there had been discrimination against the poor in the arrests.
§ Mr. LONG
I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to misunderstand me. I did not say that there had been discrimination, nor did I suggest that there had been any favouritism in consequence of wealth or poverty. I said the Government could not complain of the suspicions that had been aroused owing to the fact that, whereas poor men had been interned in crowds, rich men had received naturalisation.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I can show the right hon. Gentleman the whole list of naturalisations, and give him the history of every case. He will see that far more poor men have been naturalised than rich, and as to the men interned, if he will go any day to Olympia he will find the men there divided into three classes. Poverty is always more numerously represented than wealth, and, as you might expect, there is the largest class which is called "the Public." Then there is the smaller class which is called "the House of Commons," and finally there is the class of the select few which is known as "the House of Lords." If the right hon. Gentleman knew the numbers of each class at Olympia he would be aware that the proportion which exists outside is fairly represented. It is quite a mistake to suppose that only the barber and the waiter are interned. There are men interned who belong to some of the 1393 oldest families of Germany and Austria, and there are certainly some quite rich men. I will not, however, deal further with individual cases.
I come to the question of principle. I do see a certain divergence between the views held by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) and the Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford) and by the Government. The view of the right hon. Gentleman and the Noble Lord is that we should run any risk of interning innocent aliens rather than run any danger to our troops and sailors, and they go so far as to say that every enemy alien, without exception, should be interned. I do not know whether they confine it to males, but the word "every" would include the female enemy alien, so that our principle is to go to the extent, in order to avoid a risk which must always exist, whether they be interned or not—to reduce that risk, we should intern all Germans and Austrians, men and women alike. But there are certain considerations which must not be left out of mind. I, at any rate, cannot leave them out, because they are very frequently brought before me. We have at this time in Germany and Austria a large number of English men and women, and I get letters and applications from their friends in this country—
§ Mr. McKENNA
They locked up a few early this month, but my information is that, at this moment, the greater part of them are still at liberty, and I know of no case in which a woman has been locked up. I get representations sent me constantly from the Embassies and otherwise, begging me not to intern all the Germans and Austrians in this country, because English people are not being interned in Germany and Austria.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I mean the Consuls. You said you had representations from the Consuls. I want to know if they are Britishers.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I said I heard from the Embassies. At any rate, that is what I 1394 meant to convey. I get these communications brought to my notice through the Embassies, and I also get communications from the friends of these people in this country, begging me to remember that any harsh measures that we may inflict upon enemy aliens here will be retaliated upon our own people in Germany and Austria. I also get very strong representations from neutral countries, and I do not think we ought to leave entirely out of account the impression which our action creates abroad. That is worth considering and bearing in mind. Let me add this point: The definition of "enemy alien" is really a technical definition. If I were to go on the principle suggested by the right hon. Gentleman and the Noble Lord I should have to hand over to the military authorities for internment large numbers of people who are no more German or Austrian than the Noble Lord himself—people who by mere accident have been born in Germany, who know no German parentage, who were brought here a few months old, and who cannot speak a word of German; and people, again, who have lived here for fifty years or more. I know of one case where a German here has seven sons fighting in our Army; he is as British as any Member of this House. He has lived here all his life. These are technically enemy aliens; they have married English wives, and their wives are technically enemy aliens. It is so.
§ Mr. McKENNA
And that is my trouble. My difficulty in getting hold of the principle on which to act is that, unless you admit exceptions to the principle, you are going to do a gross injustice—a quite useless gross injustice. Many cases have come before me, not individually, but scores and hundreds and thousands, in which there is less risk than there is from the ordinary bad Englishman. If you are going to safeguard your troops from danger of espionage you had much better lock up every bad Englishman on suspicion than many of these people who are technically German but otherwise are good English. The moment I have to begin to make exceptions I find those exceptions are very numerous. The classes are so 1395 large that the principle disappears altogether. I find, for instance, amongst the Austrians whole sets of nationalities: Slavs, Poles, Italians who hate Austria. [An HON. MEMBER "More than we do?"] Well, certainly, they appear to hate it with a longer and more acid venom than ever we have done. There are, too, the Czechs, and all these classes have to be considered. Consequently I find that the principle, stated in its broad terms, is unworkable and I come back to the question, how far we should intern in order to secure military safety. I am sorry that at an early stage I interrupted the Noble Lord. He thought I had lost my temper. I really had not, neither then nor on a previous occasion, but I only wished to bring home to his mind, if I could, that, in endeavouring to state what are the facts, I am not trying to shift any responsibility from my shoulders to those of other people. I only want to tell the House in order that they may know the facts. I answer attacks in this House. I have never answered a single attack outside, but here I must answer them, and I want to explain what are the limits of the responsibility of my Department.
On the question of internment the military authority has the deciding word. It is right it should be so. Internment is a military measure under the law of nations, and all I can do is to arrest. When I have arrested I hand the prisoner over to the military authorities who decide how many I am to arrest and how long I am to go on arresting. They tell me when I am to stop. If I arrest I cannot hold. In the case of a civil offence, by bringing a charge against anybody I arrest, I do hold the prisoner; I keep him in the prison cell, and I bring him up for trial. But a military prisoner stands in a different position. I arrest him, but I have to deliver him over to the military authorities, and if they say they do not want him I have to let him go free. That is the law of nations.
§ Mr. McKENNA
You cannot alter it, unless you are going to break The Hague Convention. Prisoners of war taken in war, and civilian prisoners interned in military prisons, stand on the same footing. We have committed ourselves to that principle. All I can do is to arrest them: the military must keep them.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what there is in The Hague Convention which prevents him from interning or releasing alien enemies?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am rather under the impression that I gave the hon. and learned Gentleman the authority on the occasion of the last Debate.
§ Mr. McKENNA
It lays it down that, while these prisoners are detained, they are subject to the laws and regulations of the Army of the State in which they are.
§ Mr. McKENNA
These are prisoners of war. I quite admit this subject is not familiar to everybody, but I am advised, and I cannot do more than accept such advice as I receive, that these civilians are prisoners of war, so much so, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me when I remind him, that all civilians of military age have been taken by Germany from Belgium and France, interned in Germany, and kept with the others as prisoners of war, and they are included in the returns of prisoners of war with the soldiers who have been captured. I do not think I have the power which the hon. and learned Gentleman appears to think I have. There is no discordance of policy between the different Departments of the Government—not the slightest. The House will agree, I imagine, that the military authorities are the right authority to balance and determine the degree of danger which is suffered, in a military sense, through the presence of these enemy aliens. I think they are the right authority to determine that, and, when they have done so and settled on the action which should be taken in consequence of the degree of danger they recognise, then the Home Office places the whole of its powers at their disposal. I am sure no Minister could have been served with greater zeal or energy or goodwill than I have been served by the Metropolitan Police. They have done everything humanly in their power to track down alien enemies, and I hope the House of Commons and the public outside will be relieved in their minds of any anxiety that dangers are being unnecessarily run. Have the military had proper assistance from the police all 1397 over the country? Upon that point I can show this, that I think, over the whole country, the police are efficient in a high degree. I agree that here and there some have not been very efficient. Such steps as we can take to remedy the defect we are taking. The moment the evil becomes serious, however, you have always got this safeguard, that the military in the district themselves have complete power. The military themselves have an organisation covering the whole country, and in every district where they think that the police are not efficient for carrying out their duties the military can step in and themselves enforce it. I see that my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) shakes his head, and is doubtful of that.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Under our Regulations, which we have the power to issue to the local police authority, no enemy alien is allowed to remain in a prohibited area, which covers now the whole of the East and the greater part of the South Coast, unless the chief constable, who is the registration officer, has given a permit, and he is required to exercise the greatest care in the issue of permits. Secondly, he is required to consult the responsible military authorities in the district in any doubtful case. I would remind my right hon. Friend that there are now responsible military authorities in every district, for the whole country is divided up into districts. Thirdly, he must supply full particulars of any enemy alien permitted to reside in a prohibited area to the War Office. So that in every case there is a direct injunction upon the local chief constable to exercise personal care; secondly, he has to consult the responsible military authorities; and, thirdly, he has to communicate in every case with the War Office whenever a permit is given. Therefore the facts are well known. They are known to the military authorities, and in this respect the military authorities are directly over the civil authority, so that we have that second safeguard where the police is inefficient. Personally, I would not shrink for one second from accepting full responsibility for the internment or for the relief of the prisoners, and I would not shrink for one moment from accepting full responsibility for the police all over the country, but I cannot get the first, as I understand international law, and I cannot have the second 1398 without a very great Bill. We can never destroy espionage. When war breaks out, how can you get rid of the danger of a spy of your own nationality? If I wanted to employ a spy in Berlin to-day, is it conceivable that I should send over an Englishman? Will it enter into the mind of anybody who wanted to employ a really dangerous spy—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
But in that time he travelled over a good deal of the country, as appeared from his own evidence.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, but he had not been here long. He was caught very soon, and, as a matter of fact, he was almost instantly discovered.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, he posed as an American citizen and he had an American passport. I only say this to remind the House that to free ourselves from all danger of espionage is impossible. I do not think that we have suffered such an amount of evil from espionage over and above what we must inevitably undergo as would justify a change which could only be made by breaking, as we understand them, the recognised rules as laid down at The Hague. I would give, if the House would allow me to say so, anything I possess or do anything in my power to reassure the public mind upon this point. If I say I am in a difficulty in the matter; if I say that everything is being done, then I am told that I am blind. If I say that we have been successful here and there in detecting espionage and in bringing the culprit to trial, but beyond those cases nothing has been brought before us in which we have detected anything which would justify a court-martial, then I am told that the Home Office is complacent. After all, you have got to look at the total volume of work that is being done and see how little real proof has been forthcoming and what immense efforts have been made to guard in advance against the evils of espionage. If you take the whole into account together, and look at 1399 the work of four completed months, and remember all the expectations there were before the beginning of the War, as to what would happen on the outbreak of war from the organised German gangs who were supposed to be in this country, and when you compare the forecast with the fulfilment, I think that this House ought to do justice to the action of the police. They have been assisted, fortunately, by a most admirable body of special constables—a body who, by guarding all the principal bridges and waterworks, and, in fact, guarding London and the suburbs in their entire extent, have left the regular police free for other duties. We owe great thanks to them. I think we owe great thanks, also, to the police force. I trust that the House will assist me to dispel any unnecessary alarms in the public mind, while I can give them on my side the assurance that we will spare no efforts to get rid of any danger that may rise from espionage.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly made a strong case so far as his own personal position is concerned. It is very satisfactory that we can conduct a Debate of this kind without any suggestion of party feeling or personal attack. The right hon. Gentleman has had his full share of attacks for some time, and I think he was too long silent about his own personal position in regard to this matter. It is only fair, when he has been made the subject of so many attacks for so many reasons, for us to remember that it is to the right hon. Gentleman that we owe the credit of having the Navy in the satisfactory position it is to-day. That fact is too often forgotten, in view of the time that has elapsed. I am sorry to say that, strong as his case has been, he has not convinced me that our case does not remain unanswered: I mean the case for a radical alteration in the present system with regard to alien enemies in this country. The right hon. Gentleman admits it himself. What does his speech amount to? He says. "I have no power; I have no policy; I have no responsibility." In effect it is that. The right hon. Gentleman says, and to some extent truly, that this is a military matter. Will he pretend that the military in this country have an organisation which can deal with this vital matter? They have not got it. I can point him to places—places you never hear mentioned, places you can 1400 hardly find on the map—which, if I were in charge of the German Navy, are the places I should go to in spite of the right hon. Gentleman, where there are no soldiers, where you may have your local Territorial Force of men who live in the neighbourhood, but who are not in the true sense the military. They have no more idea of looking after spies, and have never heard of one, than they have of flying to the moon. There is no organisation. There is the local police constable, but no organisation whatever by which the military could take action or deal with the matter. It is right from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view to say that it is a military matter, but when he says that he is condemning the present system. It is the system we are attacking not the man. We say that in this matter there is no organisation in this country at this moment which can deal with this vital matter, and until there is that organisation there is good ground for anxiety and want of confidence on the part of the public. The right hon. Gentleman says that 120,000 cases of suspicion have been investigated since the War began.
Sir H. DALZIEL
That is splendid! No one has said anything against it. Everyone admires the splendid work the police have done and the way in which they have been assisted by the special constables. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of 120,000 cases of suspicion does he mean that those cases were investigated because of special information having been conveyed? I do not think so. I think he has in mind that 120,000 calls were made by the police on supposed aliens.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Does he suggest that every case he has referred to as being suspicious was a case specially investigated?
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, 120,000. The matter is rather important. I can tell my right hon. Friend that we had 120,000 cases of special investigation, on special evidence, about particular people.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Very good. That only shows how efficient the London police are, and it also shows how the country and the public are thinking about this matter. The public must have given the information in most of the cases, because in over three hundred cases evidence was given and they were interned. It is reasonable to assume that those three hundred cases were cases of dangerous persons, otherwise they would not have been interned. It is not, however, a question of how many cases have been investigated. The right hon. Gentleman makes the admission that three hundred dangerous people, supposed to have been spies, have been arrested in London since the War started. It means that there have been three hundred people looking round London for information to give to the enemy. That is a very large proportion, and it justifies what has been said that if you carry that all over the country it is a very large proportion of the foreign population. What we are apt to forget is the importance which Germany attaches to this spy system. For ten years I have spent over a month in Germany every year. I know German officers, and I know their minds. From beginning to end the spy system is their first line of attack.
Sir H. DALZIEL
In their own country and this country. We have the admission of the Home Secretary that he was watching, I think, 500 spies for five years in this country. Is it conceivable that, with 500 spies employed by the German Government in this country for five years, to the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman and watched by him, even if every one of them is interned to-day they have not got an organisation in this country which is likely to be useful to Germany at present? It is inconceivable, with the money which was being spent, that they have not made such arrangements that if they themselves were arrested there was still someone else to carry on the work.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Memorandum says that we arrested immediately before the War—I think the figure is twenty-two. 1402 These were men against whom we could have brought charges. Then later we arrested 200 or 300 people against whom there was suspicion, but it must not be understood that in every case of suspicion there was proof. I do not think, in fact, that anything like 500 or half that number of persons were employed by the German Government here before the War.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I assert that the Memorandum issued by the right hon. Gentleman states that to the knowledge of the Home Office there were hundreds of agents of the German Government in this country, and that they were being carefully watched.
Sir H. DALZIEL
It is in the Memorandum, and there is no doubt about it. Is it conceivable, in view of the amount of money at their disposal, that all these agents covered up their tracks, so to speak? In the event of themselves being arrested, there were others—Britishers if you like, because I believe it is true unfortunately, and the right hon. Gentleman says—and they made such arrangements that the information with which it was arranged should be conveyed to Germany should still be conveyed.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have the statement here.Accordingly on the 4th August, before the Declaration of War, instructions were given by the Home Secretary for the arrest of twenty known spies, and all were arrested. This figure does not cover a large number, upwards of 200, who were noted as under suspicion, or to be kept under special observation. The great majority of these were interned at, or soon after, the Declaration of War.
Sir H. DALZIEL
It comes to the same thing. There were some hundreds under suspicion, being watched all the time by the Government. I should like to ask, suppose my right hon. Friend had supreme power at this moment. Suppose he were dictator. Would he keep this question exactly where it is to-day? I am afraid, with his vigour and his zeal, he must come to the conclusion that the present system is unsatisfactory. It cannot be otherwise. He proposed in the first part of his speech to explain to us what his difficulties were, and he told us of the wrestle he had with a Chief Constable somewhere with no result. That is our whole case. He has no power over the Chief Constable, though I believe if he were to exercise it probably he would have a pecuniary 1403 power. He might stop grants and that kind of thing. However, that is a far-off step. But, in effect, he has really no power over the Chief Constable, and the Chief Constable is very often, quite rightly so, a very popular man, and it takes a good deal to shift him. The right hon. Gentleman, with all the power behind him, was not able to succeed, and therefore he proves the case that he really has no power at all. He can send a letter, but it makes no difference whatever, as the Chief Constable may or may not act on it. That is the weak link in the chain of the organisation. To go a step further take the chief constable in my own district. He sent Germans to the military authority with solid ground for suspicion. They were kept, some 24 hours, some 48 hours, and sent back without a word of explanation. Did the military authority know more about these people than the chief constable? I allude to that to show how difficult it is. You cannot have the two authorities, because the military have not got the organisation and the police have no power.
No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that this question is not satisfactory. He says, representing the Government, that there are at this moment no spies along the East Coast, but will he take the responsibility of saying that any disaster we have suffered was not due to spying? I do not think there is any Member of the Government who would say that. We have reason to be anxious about this. We say the organisation does not exist. The military are too full of their own work, which really does not touch a question of this kind. You cannot leave this question to the soldiers. Their minds are not the same. They have not the local knowledge and they have not the time to give to it or to deal with it. It is a very serious matter. We have admittedly places in Scotland built for the purpose of guns. There is no doubt about it. That shows the extent of German preparation and organisation. We have concrete floors in Scotland. Only in yesterday's paper there are two separate cases of petrol having been supplied to foreigners, and they were fined £25. There was another case only a day or two before, and I know another case in which no action has yet been taken. There are four cases of petrol being supplied. Whose business is it to look after it? If you had a proper system to look after aliens, and see what German sailors 1404 are doing in nearly all the ports of Scotland at this moment, and going back on alien vessels, an organisation such as we have suggested would deal with the matter of spies, with passports, and all the ramifications of possible information to the enemy, and would give a centralised control.
Why are the Government so obstinate about this? I really cannot understand. They have had support such as no Government have had before. We have had hardly a whisper of discontent and there has been every desire to help, and they have done nothing. The only two things they have failed in is this question and the manner in which they have treated the censorship. They cannot deny that there is a great body of public opinion that is against them. Why not even stretch a point and conciliate that public opinion? I do not see any difficulty about it. You admit that that section of public opinion exists, and it is the duty of the Government, even if it thought it might not be extremely wise, to try and conciliate it. We only ask that there shall be an authority in this country to deal with this question. There is no authority. That is not satisfactory in a vital matter of this kind.
Those of us who are dissatisfied with the present system have asked from the commencement that the Government itself shall appoint a Committee representative of the different Departments with different counties represented, and so forth, and with a head authority. It would give confidence if it would do nothing more. If they will not do that, if their great idea of dignity would be insulted by the suggestion of a policy of that kind, why do not they have an advisory committee of half a dozen head constables and heads of the detective services? That some step is necessary to satisfy public opinion I am satisfied, and so long as they refuse to do it, so long are they taking a great responsibility which I hope will never come home to them, but I am afraid may, because it is everybody's business and it is nobody's business. Up to the present they have really not acted in this matter as they ought to have done. The things that they have done in this short Session ought to have been done three months ago. Take the question of tea going to neutral countries. They ought to have stopped that in the first week. They have no settled policy with regard to many of these vital matters. They have no policy whatever in regard to the question of arresting 1405 prisoners on neutral vessels. They allowed it to go on and took no action until the mischief had been done. The right hon. Gentleman says, with regard to the treatment of prisoners in this country, that representations were made by the Embassies. I assume he must have meant the Embassies of neutral countries.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Letters from Germany came to me through the Embassies. I have had representations also from neutral countries.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The right hon. Gentleman gave an altogether different impression to the House. What he originally said was that our Consuls in foreign countries had made representations. Then he corrected that and said Embassies.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I interrupted, that unfortunately our Consuls in those countries are all foreigners, as some British found to their cost when the War broke out, and they had to go to foreigners to get assistance. No one wants to do anything unjust. On the contrary, everyone recognises that there are Germans in this country who are perfectly good citizens, and were no more responsible for the War than the humblest citizen in the land. They ought not personally to be made to suffer for it. But when the right hon. Gentleman says, "let us treat them well because of Britishers abroad," Britishers abroad have been treated much more harshly than Germans have in this country. Take the question of men of military age. When the War broke out we did not prevent them going back to Germany, and they went back in thousands. Why was that allowed? Why were they not stopped the day war was declared? I should think, if we had a proper committee we should have said to the thousands who were rushing back to Berlin, "stop here a little bit." These are the men we ought to have kept in and not the hairdressers. We ought to have stopped them going back in neutral vessels long before we did. I wish to impress upon the Government that after all it is conceivable that there may be some slight element of wisdom even outside the front Ministerial Bench, and I want them to contemplate the possibility if it is possible. The hon. Gentleman opposite and representative men in the other House have pressed the Government to take some steps and almost every organ of public opinion 1406 on both sides of politics has expressed dissatisfaction with the present system and called upon the Government to do something. Why this obstinacy? It is a matter for great regret, and I still hope the right hon. Gentleman will use the influence to get something really practical done.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I think hon. Members will all be of opinion that a very strong case has been made out in favour of some such course as has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel). If I may try to put what the mere onlooker feels, it is that there must always be profound misgiving and profound dissatisfaction as long as there is no one person who is responsible who can be hanged if something goes wrong. That is the whole foundation of administrative efficiency in the matter. As to the Press Bureau, we feel that it is difficult to criticise, for when we say that the Press Censor ought to have done this or that, the hon. Member says, "It is the naval or military authorities who are responsible." In the same way, when we raise the subject of spies or alien enemies and question the action of the Home Office, the Home Secretary says, "I have acted in accordance with the suggestion of the naval and military authorities." That is not a satisfactory system, and I venture earnestly to join in the appeal made to the right hon. Gentleman to amend it. May I remind him that in every foreign country the whole of these matters are put under the military authorities, who are the absolute masters with respect to them. I think that is possibly the only solution in this matter. I see the difficulty of putting any military authority under a civilian authority, and I see the difficulty of getting a united authority unless you have the military brought into it. I think it is a matter well worth considering whether the matter should not be put under the military authority, the police being instructed to act under that authority, and the matter treated, as indeed it is, as one affecting the safety of His Majesty's Forces by land and sea.
I did not rise really to continue this particular discussion, but because I was very anxious to bring to the notice of the House certain questions connected with the treatment of our sick and wounded. Let me say at the outset that I have no intention to make any attack upon, or even criticism of the Government in this matter. It is possible that on another occasion, 1407 when we are able to speak more freely than now, some criticism may be possible. But I think that at the present moment, it would not be desirable to make any criticism as to what has been done in the past. I rose for the purpose of asking some information as to the treatment of the wounded in the hospital—I do not know whether I use the right technical term—in the stationary hospital outside the firing line altogether. I do not want to go into any technical discussion. I mean the hospitals outside of the immediate influence of the actual fighting. So far as they are concerned a very large number of people would like to know what is going on. I am quite ready to accept the very high eulogy passed by Lord Knutsford on the arrangements of the hospitals. I need not say that I am not in a position to dispute what was said by Lord Knutsford, who is a greater authority than I can pretend to be on such a subject. But I am inclined to wonder whether his absolutely unqualified praise was really justified. Still I do not rise to say anything about these hospitals at all. Besides these hospitals, which are what may be called base hospitals, there is a great deal which very closely affects the successful treatment of the wounded. The House is perfectly well aware that when a man is wounded in the firing line, he is first of all taken to a dressing station where the wound is dressed, and ultimately he is taken to what is called a clearing station, which is a building immediately behind the firing line, and within a few miles. He is afterwards sent on to a proper hospital where he can be treated with all the appliances of modern science.
I should like to know as to one or two points in connection with the treatment of the wounded before the time when they get to what we call the base hospital. I am sure everybody in the House will recognise that it is a vital matter, because a wound is necessarily in a very large number of cases liable to be, and indeed must be, a poisoned wound. It is inflicted under conditions which lend themselves necessarily to septic poisoning, and all depends, in the first place, on the way it is treated immediately, and secondly, on the speed with which you can get the wounded man to a hospital where he can be treated with the full appliances of science. I should like to know, in the first place, as to the treatment up to the time he leaves the clearing hospital. Is the 1408 right hon. Gentleman in a position to assure us—I dare say he is—that there is now an ample supply of members of the Royal Army Medical Corps? Let me say—it is almost impertinent for anyone to say so—that it is absolutely out of my wish to make any criticism of the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Amongst all the corps which have done heroic service to the State there is not, I believe, any that have done more heroic service than the members of that corps. Their courage and devotion is absolutely beyond the possibility of praise. All I ask is, are there enough of them? I want to know another thing about the clearing hospitals. Are there nurses enough? That is a matter I venture respectfully to think is of great importance, and I know that there are high medical authorities who take that view, not only because of the high skill which an English trained nurse possesses, but also because the actual psychical effect of having a woman to attend a wounded man is a very great element in the satisfactory progress of his injury. I think I am right in saying that at one time enough nurses were not at these hospitals, and I should like to know whether there are a sufficient number at the present moment.
The other main question I wish to ask is this: After a man leaves a clearing hospital he is brought down to another hospital, and an immense amount depends upon the rapidity with which that is done. If there is poison in the wound it is working all the time, and it may not have been possible to have it entirely dealt with up to the time of leaving the clearing hospital, and it may be fatal to have delay. It is of vital importance that the wounded man should be treated with the greatest possible speed at a hospital properly so-called under conditions such as I have tried to describe. I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to tell us whether everything is being done—I am sure it is—to secure the greatest possible speed in bringing these men down from the clearing hospitals to the base hospitals. I wish to know whether every use is being made of the motor ambulance, whether, so far as it is in our power to control it, the train service is working properly in those respects, and whether, in fact, there is a reasonably short interval between the infliction of the wound and the treatment of the man in the base hospital? I am sure the House and the country will be grateful to the 1409 right hon. Gentleman for any further information he can give on this subject. I feel, as I suppose everybody feels in this country, that we should all do something to help those who are fighting, and I think one of the things we can do is to take care that when they are wounded they shall be treated with the greatest possible skill. I am sure the House will feel strongly that no expense or trouble should be spared to secure that end.
Many Members of the House must have had opportunities of talking to wounded men in the hospitals, and I am sure they will agree with me that great as is the heroism of the troops in the field of battle, it is equalled by their heroism in the hospitals. You will talk to these men, suffering from terrible injuries, and even suffering acute pain, and you will find that, although they have been fighting necessarily under conditions which gave them painful experiences, even when they are wounded and when they have had to undergo inevitable delays—because there must be some delays under war conditions—they will not make a complaint. After describing what they have been through, they will wind up by saying that everything was done for them that could be done. I have had opportunities of talking to a number of these men, and I have never known a private soldier or a noncommissioned officer say anything otherwise. It seems to rue that the astonishing patience and amazing courage of the men puts upon us a tremendous duty to see that everything is done that can possibly be done to alleviate their sufferings, at whatever expense or trouble, so that, at any rate, they shall know we are not ungrateful for the great services they have given.
§ Mr. DOUGLAS HALL
I should like to ask one or two questions as to the care of the wounded. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary, first of all, whether antiquated horse-drawn ambulances are still used for bringing troops from the trenches? Nearly everyone who has experience in these matters would say that motor ambulances could go up farther than they do now. In many cases the roads are good up to the trenches where a great part of the fighting takes place. But at the present moment a poor wounded soldier is first of all taken from the trenches to the regimental dressing station. From there he is taken on one of these horse ambulances to a field dressing station; from there he goes to a clearing hospital; from the clearing 1410 hospital he is taken to the railhead, and from the railhead he is taken to the base hospital. All those movements are a source of great pain to him and should be made as quickly as possible. It would be a good thing to make those moves as long as possible, so as to do away with one of them. For instance, to take away from the field dressing station to the clearing hospital and put them far away from the fighting station. Many of the field dressing stations which I have seen are houses in a village where there are no means of carrying the wounded owing to the narrow, staircases, and there is every sort of inconvenience. It would be a very great matter if these antiquated horse-drawn ambulances were only used when it was necessary to go over the fields, and that, wherever there is a road, motor ambulances should be used, so that men may be conveyed a greater distance. What the Noble Lord said about nurses being employed in the clearing hospitals is very true. Until quite recently there were no nurses employed, only hospital orderlies. The sympathy of women would be a good thing to men whose nerves very often have been shattered.
Then I would ask why are there not more chaplains sent up to these clearing hospitals? I have seen these poor men dying off with the hospital orderlies simply waiting to take them away to bury them, and it would be a good thing if a chaplain were there to give some consolation and take down a few last words, and perhaps tell the people of these men where they have been buried. In a great many instances they are buried simply by the French authorities. I think that if this suggestion were adopted it would do a great deal of good, and I do not understand why the chaplains are not allowed to go up to these hospitals. Then as to the selection, especially in this country, of these hospital orderlies, the R.A.M.C. is one of the finest corps in the British Army. The men work under tremendous difficulties and with great skill, but they have only poor tools. Sometimes at the last moment in order to get the necessary assistance, they have to enlist men who are little better than labourers, and have no training whatsoever in conveying and carrying the wounded. I have seen a lot of these men at work. They do their best, but you cannot expect a couple of rough navvies to know how to lift men in and out of ambulances very carefully, when these men have such wounds as a 1411 shattered thigh. I think that in time of peace there ought to be some big reserve from which the R.A.M.C. can draw orderlies, as required in time of war, so that they shall not be obliged to pick up whatever they can get from wherever they can get it, in order to do the work. In reference to hospital trains it is all very well for Lord Knutsford to say that he has seen good hospital trains. There are some good ones, but I have seen dozens and dozens coming in with these poor men still lying in horse boxes on straw. I think that a great effort ought to be made to get more hospital trains fitted up. I am told by doctors that straw is one of the worst things on which a wounded man can lie, because the germ of tetanus, which is such a horrible disease, is a horse germ which is contained in manure or dung, and if you are not very careful when conveying them in that way, men are very apt to contract that disease, and though straw may be a very comfortable thing to lie on, still it is not a suitable thing to send the wounded down on.
There is another thing which I would like to ask. Have the R.A.M.C. ever considered all the means of conveying the wounded which are available to their hands? A great maxim in fighting is, that the fighting man comes first, and the wounded man must take his chance second. In time of peace it is the other way about. But it constantly occurs that hospital trains are delayed for from 10 to 20 hours, owing to the railways being used for bringing troops up to the front. That is very natural according to the present arrangement; but I would like to know why the wonderful waterways of France, its canals and rivers, are not more used than they are now? France has one of the most splendid systems of inland navigation which exist. They have very fine locks, lit with electric light, in which you can put ten or twelve barges. All up through the fighting area, Bethune, La Bassée and Ypres, there is one of the finest systems of canals through which you can evacuate wounded to Calais and Dunkirk. All along these rivers and canals you can see hundreds of barges lying idle. In every single course which the R.A.M.C. doctors go through the conveyance of wounded by barge has been laid down as one of the most ideal forms of conveyance. Why do they not adopt it? The Red Cross Society fitted out one barge which I had the pleasure of towing. This barge 1412 we had fitted for fifty wounded. We had operating tables, beds and every comfort. That has been used on the Seine. It was inspected by all the highest Army authorities who approved of it, but nothing has been done. They say they are going to do something. The great advantage of this mode of conveyance is first, that you do away with one of the necessary movements of the wounded. First of all, you take him away from the line of communication, which is necessary for your fighting troops. You take him through a line of route which is not wanted for troops. It is too slow for troops. The wounded man is in no hurry; he does not care whether he is lying in a barge or whether he is lying in hospital. When these barges are comfortable, as they are, great barges 120 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 10 feet in depth, they make, an absolutely ideal means of conveyance, and with eight or nine of these barges, and the necessary nurses and doctors, you have a floating hospital for over 400 wounded. These barges can be towed to the docks or quays at Havre, Calais, or Dunkirk, and can wait there until the hospital ships are ready for the wounded to be put on board.
At present even if he has only to wait an hour or two for the hospital ship the wounded man has to be taken out of the train and conveyed to hospital, and then taken to the ship for conveyance across the Channel. By means of the barge they can be brought down to the base or dock, and can remain on the barge until the hospital ship comes in, when the barge is towed alongside and he is gently lifted on. This saves an enormous amount of suffering to the wounded, and I hope that the authorities will not consider this merely an academic idea and as simply the most ideal way of transferring the wounded, but that they will do something in the matter. I trust also that they will do it soon because, owing to the railways being practically entirely used for troops, a great many of these barges are being used instead of the railways to carry coal, and if this matter is not taken in hand at once, we shall not be able to get anything like the nice clean barges which we can get at present. I may also draw attention to the fact that in a great many places they are still continuing to use tent hospitals. There are three or four hundred of our wounded who have been left in Rouen in tents. Why on earth cannot they requisition French houses for the 1413 wounded? I believe that there are plenty of houses. I believe that the French would gladly give these houses if they were requisitioned. It is not a question of giving them, because we pay the French for every house we requisition and for every train we use to convey our wounded and our troops. I would like to know, therefore, why it is necessary to keep these men in these tents. I got a letter only the day before yesterday from a man in one of these tents, in which he tells me that the whole of the huge tent was blown down on top of them. You can imagine what that means to wounded men with fractured thighs and other awful injuries. Some of these tents have been put in the coldest places possible. In this particular instance they were put upon the racecourse. It does seem to me a wrong thing that you cannot arrange in this cruel, foggy weather to get more billeting for the wounded, if not in that place, then in some other place.
I think also that some arrangement might be made for paying the Customs Duties to the French. It is a pity that now and again things like X-rays and medical stores should be held up because the Customs have not been paid to the French Government. That is a matter which might be looked into. I do not believe that it is the fault of the French—it is the fault, possibly, of some French clerk—because the Government are willing to do everything they can. But in one of our bases, I heard, they could not find the X-ray apparatus in the hospital, and they went down and found at the station that the clerk said the duty had not been paid. That requires looking into. There ought not to be hitches like that at all. I think there ought to be more inspection of hospital trains, and then something should be done to see that they are fitted with light and water. Very often trains come in with absolutely no gas in them at all. There ought to be somebody to see that those things are properly replenished. I do not think that it is altogether the duty of Army officers. They have a great many R.T.O. officers, who are what are vulgarly called dug-ups, who go on there, but are not trained men. Why not send out some of our trained railway officials who know about trains? Let them go out and give their services and look after those trains. They will do it infinitely better than any soldier could, for they have got the necessary training. They will see that these 1414 terrible delays do not occur, and that things would not be as they are now when very often there are no means of finding out when a train gets in. They would see that proper signalling arrangements were made so that when a train does come in the Red Cross and the Army nurses would be there to meet it instead of, as at present often happens, having the train come in hours late when there is nobody there to receive the wounded, and they have to remain there until they can telephone the hospitals and get the ambulances down. When a man gives his life for his country the least you can do is, when it does not interfere with the military affairs of outfighting forces, to give him every possible luxury and assistance that you can.
Of course out there the heads of Departments or the heads of the Army are really too busy in fighting for their country and in carrying on the War to a successful issue. The wounded, doubtless, are an encumbrance to those in the fighting force, but there is need certainly of a of supervision in that way. I should like to say a word or two about the Red Cross Society, which is recognised by the Government, who give it a certain amount in grants for the care of the wounded—2s. or 3s.—in the hospitals. The Red Cross Society have an enormous fund at their disposal, and I believe they do their best, but there are a great number of amateur administrators who look after it, and I think it would be a very good thing if some Government official were appointed to represent the Government in this great society which, though a private organisation, has now become almost a part of our Army Medical scheme. You might also, I think, put in somebody who would audit the accounts on behalf of the Government, in order to show the subscribers, often men and women in strained circumstances, who have given up their little and stinted and half-starved themselves to give something to the Red Cross Society, how the money has been spent and whether it has been administered as economically and as efficiently as possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I notice from those cheers that my remark is received with a certain amount of approbation, and it leads me to believe that others, like myself, realise that there has been a good deal of extravagance and waste in the way this money is spent.
I think it would be a great relief to subscribers if there were some sort of 1415 supervision. I myself have seen numbers of people engaged. I have seen thirty doctors waiting in Paris—each paid a large annual sum by the Red Cross Society—for three weeks with no work to do at all, while being paid out of the subscribers' money. It is not because they do not wish to work the society economically; it is because they have not got the requisite knowledge to do it. The people in charge of the Red Cross Society—I am not speaking of Members of this House; I am speaking of the people out there—are not sufficiently businesslike in management, and there is a good deal of waste. I think that the War Office ought to be very careful to see that all members of the Red Cross Society who have any official positions in that association are English, and that no slur should be put on the society by employing people with German names and German sympathies: first of all, because it gives offence to our men; and, secondly, because it does not tend to good work. All that might be gone into by the Government if they appointed a representative to the Red Cross Society to look after things. The Red Cross Society are a very huge body; there is no getting at any of their accounts or of looking after things, and certainly there is much need of supervision. I trust that the Under-Secretary of State will carefully consider these matters, as this War may be a long one, for the comfort of the wounded so enormously depends upon successful management.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I wish to ask the Under-Secretary of State one or two questions, though I should like it to be understood that I make no attack, nor do I pass any criticism, on the Royal Army Medical Corps, whose heroism I quite recognise. A large number of the wounded, after receiving first aid, are taken down to what is called the clearing hospital. The result has been that a certain number of them, who have not been very seriously injured, have been passed on without having any further attention given to them, and sent down to the base hospital, or even to Boulogne. The case I have specially in mind is that of an officer whose wound was not dressed until the third day. The wound was slight, but a piece of cartridge cloth was found in it, and blood poisoning set in, causing the officer's death. If the wound had been properly dressed he would not have died. I believe there have been many cases of 1416 that sort. I think, possibly, that might be remedied by the engagement of a larger number of nurses and doctors, sent as nearly to the firing line as possible. I quite understand the difficulties, I do not want to underrate them; but I think something of the kind I suggest might possibly be done. I know at any rate that for some time after the War there were no female nurses at the clearing hospital; there may have been reasons for that, and, as a matter of fact, I do not know whether they are there now; at that time they were not there. With regard to the hospitals in hotels at Boulogne, I do not doubt that they are very efficient and extremely well managed, but I fear that they are not sufficient to cope with a sudden influx of wounded. I am told that a sudden influx of wounded resulted in so many being brought that, in one case, they were lying so close together as to make it impossible to walk between them. I have taken considerable pains to verify that statement, for I did not see it myself.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member saw it, and I have taken pains to verify my information, and I am sure it is correct. I am informed that there are two other hotels in Boulogne which might be taken in a sudden emergency, causing a large number of wounded to be forwarded, after a big action. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not endeavour to make arrangements, so that the first matter that I have mentioned may be avoided as far as possible in future; and that in the second case, namely, the hospitals at Boulogne, further houses may be taken so that, in the event of a sudden influx of wounded, they may receive proper attention.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I desire to call the attention of the Under-Secretary for War to another portion of our fighting forces which everybody admits deserves profound sympathy and compassion—I allude to the condition of the British prisoners of war interned in German prisons. We have stories from American correspondents, which go far to show that British prisoners have not enough to eat, that they are suffering in health very much from want of meat, and, according to the correspondents, they have not enough to keep them indecent health; they are living in the most insanitary camps, and their general treatment is not at all up to the standard of that which we very properly 1417 give to German prisoners in this country. I would like to ascertain whether there is a Department at the War Office which is specially detailed to look after the interests of the thousands of British prisoners of war. These men deserve sympathy, because they are not in the field, but have been taken prisoners while perhaps defending the most advanced trenches in difficult positions, or in performing some brilliant feat in despatch riding, and still more brilliant feats as aviators, to whose knowledge, and daring our Forces owe so much. These men have been made prisoners, nd they are suffering, and naturally must suffer, being prisoners of war. Their position must be irksome and disagreeable beyond anything almost we can conceive. We ought to see that, through the War Office, everything is done that can be done to alleviate their condition in their present very painful position. I should like to ask, for my own information and the information of others, whether the pay of prisoners of war is stopped from the time that they become prisoners, or is it a duty incumbent upon the War Office to get money through to those prisoners so that they may be in a position to buy some store additions to their scanty meals and some warm clothing for the winter.
The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, said the sum of £3,000 had been sent out to the American Embassy to be spent in extra winter clothes for these prisoners of war. If the sum of £3,000 can be sent out in that way, may I ask whether further sums of money can be sent out through the American Embassy for the purpose of supplying extra food and clothing where needed? I should further like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether any voluntary organisation could be usefully set on foot with a view to assisting the prisoners through the American Embassy, or, by other means, to communicate with prisoners of war and give them information as to their wives and families and people in whom they are especially interested in their own country? I ask whether such an association would be of any assistance to the War Office? Further, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be possible by some arrangement with Germany to have representatives in the nature of wardens in all these camps of prisoners, in order to protect the interests of our 1418 men in that country, and that the Germans should have similar representatives in this country, to look after the interests of German prisoners here. I further ask, by way of suggestion, whether it would be possible that representatives appointed by neutral countries could not look after the prisoners in all countries in which prisoners of war are interned? I think that might be possible, and I do not see why the German Government should object to it. It would be equally advantageous to all nations if relatives could learn, through representatives appointed by neutral countries, how prisoners of war are treated, and the information could be communicated to the homes of those prisoners. The friends of officers in this country have, of course, sufficient knowledge to enable them to communicate with members of their families, and I know that in certain cases they have been able to send out money with which the officers were in a position to purchase extra clothing and food in the country where they were interned. But the relations of private soldiers in this country have no such knowledge, and naturally they are ignorant of how to communicate with prisoners. I suggest that some organisation should be set on foot, if no such organisation exists, which might endeavour to put itself into communication between the prisoners interned in Germany and the relations who look with such anxiety for their safe return.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
A number of questions have been raised to which I must give my attention, and to which I ask the attention of the House for a few minutes. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has asked me about the treatment of our officers and men in Germany, and he has asked me what is the condition under which they are paid. Under The Hague Convention officers receive pay and not the men. The officers receive the pay of their rank in the country in which they are interned. Our pay for officers is very much higher than that of Germany. Intelligence reached us, unofficially, that that pay was not being paid to our officers in Germany, so that we called a conference together, and we decided in this country to give cash payments up to half Infantry rates to the prisoners of war in this country until we heard that the full rates were being paid in Germany to ours.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The men are not paid under The Hague Convention, only the officers are paid. When the information reaches us that Germany is paying full rates, then, of course, we shall pay the officers in this country their full rates. While they are receiving half rates the officers are being given free messing, but when the full rates are paid they will have to find their own messing. The right hon. Gentleman also asked me what measures are taken by the War Office to secure good treatment for and to make the lives of the prisoners more tolerant, or, at least, as tolerant as may be. Mr. Gaston, of whom I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman has heard, has been doing very admirable work in this connection. In his report, which I dare say the right hon. Gentleman has seen, and if he has not I can let him have a copy, Mr. Gaston says that the German authorities are making efforts to remedy the condition of things of which complaint had been made. There were complaints that there was lack of food, and that the quarters were not clear, and, in fact, that they were verminous. We understand that in Germany they hope to move the prisoners to huts in a very short time, or, as the report put it when it was issued, in less than a week. We are also told that there will be ample bathing facilities by means of shower baths. We have not information which can make one positive that the amount of food is really as good as one would like. I will endeavour, through the American Embassy, to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that money that can be transmitted shall be transmitted, in order to put that matter right.
The right hon. Gentleman also made another suggestion, which is that we should have wardens appointed by us in Germany and by the Germans here to safeguard the interests of the prisoners. The right hon. Gentleman and the House will realise that that is a matter which it is impossible for me to give any absolute assurance upon. All I can say is that I will communicate with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and see whether something of the kind can be arranged between the two Governments by means of the intervention of the American Embassy. The right hon. Gentleman also asked me whether there were facilities for the men, as well as the officers, communicating home. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is so. There is an article in The Hague Convention 1420 dealing with the subject of whether any organised voluntary effort to help in the organisation of these camps would be tolerated and admitted. Article 15 of The Hague Convention says:—Societies for the relief of prisoners of war. If properly constituted in accordance with the law of their country, and with the object of serving as the channel for charitable effort, shall receive from the belligerents for themselves and their duly accredited agents every facility for the efficient performance of their humane task, within the bounds imposed by military exigencies and administrative regulations. Representatives of these societies, when furnished with a personal permit by the military authorities, may, on giving an undertaking in writing to comply with all measures of order and police which they may have to issue, be admitted to the places of internment for the purpose of distributing relief, as also to the halting places of repatriated prisoners.That would seem to cover the question of wardens, raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I think if we could put any machinery in motion by which such a voluntary organisation could be launched, we would be doing a great public service.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the question as to whether any portion of the men's pay might not be set aside, and then some methods adopted of transmitting the men's pay through either the American Embassy or some other way, so that the men as well as the officers may have some extra money in order to purchase food?
§ Mr. TENNANT
Certainly, I will consider that, and I think it is a most reasonable proposition. I come now to the other question which has been raised by the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil), namely, the subject, the most interesting, and indeed the most enthralling, of our treatment of our brave soldiers returned from the war. May I offer the thanks of the Army Council to the Noble Lord for the admirable manner in which he has been discharging the most onerous duties in helping the British Red Cross Society, and may I say that I understand that a continuance of those services will be very much appreciated. The Noble Lord had asked me what are the arrangements for the treatment of the wounded at the front, and whether immediate steps are taken upon a soldier being wounded for his proper and careful treatment. I am sure the House will realise that that can only be answered on the supposition that military exigencies of the case admit of the men being taken away from the firing line at the moment of injury, and then treated, so that the question of the immediateness or otherwise of the treatment is really a military question, and not 1421 a medical one at the moment. The Noble Lord has borne eloquent testimony to the wonderful courage with which the officers and men of the Royal Army Medical Corps have discharged this duty, a testimony which I am sure the House will wish to endorse, and work which we in the War Office cannot praise too highly. Therefore, I think, we may carry some hope in our mind that everything possible is done in order that the wounded shall be treated, and treated effectively, at the earliest possible moment. I should like to give the assurance to the House and to the country that we have an ample number of Royal Army Medical Corps, officers and men. The medical and surgical treatment of the troops is in very high and competent hands, as the Royal Army Medical Corps supply a number of officers of the most highly skilled and trained character, and they produce as fine surgeons and doctors as any other branch of the medical and surgical service.
We do not limit ourselves entirely to the military and medical profession. We have numbers of distinguished members of the medical profession from the civil side as well, distinguished physicians with whom are associated clinical authorities. In addition to that, we have becteriologists engaged in endeavouring to solve some very very difficult problems. In this connection, I think the Noble Lord will be interested to know that the wounds are inflicted almost entirely by shrapnel, and as everybody knows, the vast majority of the wounds are wounds of an almost novel type, and nothing like them has been seen during the recent history of medical science. You have to go back to the days of the Crimea to find anything like the treatment. In the course of the treatment of these wounds there have been differences of opinion on scientific grounds, as to what that treatment should be. There is, as the House knows, an antiseptic school and an aseptic school. The aseptic school at the beginning of the War was in the ascendant, and now we have had to go back to what was considered a rather antiquated form of treatment by many people. I do not pretend to presume to give any opinion, but the antiseptic treatment is being used so much, that we are now engaged in sending out to every soldier, private as well as officers fighting, a small amount of iodine in order to give immediate treatment to the wounds when it is possible for the men to do so.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman just now, and would prefer to continue in my own way. Nor have we limited ourselves to conducting this work in the established hospitals. We have established a travelling bacteriological laboratory and also a small laboratory for sanitary purposes. Bacteriologists have been doing work which is bearing great fruit. I would like also to mention that the Royal Army Medical Corps are working in close connection with the Lister Institute and the Research Committee of the National Insurance and other institutions. Let me deal for a moment with the question of nurses and clearing station. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Douglas Hall) I think made out one move more than I could account for in anything which we know of at the War Office. When a man is wounded his wound is dressed as near to the firing line as may be, and he is then taken to the clearing station, and from the clearing station to the train which takes him to the base. Thus there are three moves and not four. I think if the hon. Member has different information from that, it must have been in the early stages of the War. It is perfectly true things did occur in the early stages which, as I am sure the Noble Lord knows, do not occur now, and, no doubt, on a tremendous military occasion of the most dangerous and difficult nature which occurred in the early stages of the War, that degree of precision of treatment which you can have when you have fixed trenches could not be attained under such circumstances. I feel sure that that will be fully appreciated both inside the House and outside of it. There is an ample number of nurses in the clearing station. They do not get nearer to the firing line than the clearing station. Not only is there a sufficient number, but there is a waiting list. There are in France, I may say, roughly speaking, because I am not certain of all places, nurses held in reserve.
§ 8.0. P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am afraid I cannot give the date. I will get the information. There is an ample number now. I should like to make it quite clear that we have an ample supply both of personnel and of materiel, because I have seen it stated that subscriptions are being raised in order to 1423 secure articles like chloroform. I have here a telegram received yesterday from the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Mr. A. Lee), who has been doing very fine work for the State in inquiring into and reporting to us upon this very subject of the treatment of the wounded. It states:—I am informed that the St. John's Ambulance Society has issued an appeal for £100,000 to purchase chloroform and other medical stores, stating that operations on our wounded are being performed without anæsthetics. Can assure you on the highest authority this allegation is totally untrue, both as regards the present and the past. Suggest it should be denied in Parliament today, in order to allay public anxiety and to stop subscriptions to quite unnecessary fund.I think that that statement, coming from the source it does, and so immediately, will carry conviction to the minds of the House. Not only are all demands complied with, but they are anticipated. The next point is the removal of the wounded from one place to another, and the circumstances in which it occurs. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Dougles Hall) asks why we have so many horse ambulances. I may inform the House that we have three horse ambulances for every seven motor ambulances. The necessity for having horse ambulances is that there are parts of the country that horses can get over and motors cannot, because of the mud. You really cannot get mechanically-propelled vehicles over some parts of the country which can be traversed by horses. Therefore we have horse ambulances in that proportion. We are now replacing nearly all the horse ambulances by motor ambulances from the front to the rear. It has been suggested, not in this Debate but in the Press, that we have refused motor ambulances. It is not true that we have refused them. All we have said is that we are not ready to accept them just now. We shall no doubt be willing and ready to accept them in the future, and we have told those kindly disposed persons who have been so good as to offer motor ambulances that if they will renew their offers in a month or two months' time, we shall be very glad to avail ourselves of them. Hospital trains have been supplied and have been very much improved since the date to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I can assure him that they are very comfortable at present. Three others are being prepared. We are indebted to Lord Michelham and the Red Cross Society for these trains. 1424 That brings me to the conveyance of the wounded—to the question of straw and tetanus. I have a report from the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham saying that tetanus is extremely rare—remarkably rare—in the Army at the present time. With regard to straw, I think that has now been abandoned owing to the improvements in the trains which I have mentioned, but I will make inquiries. I never heard of the straw before.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication as to the time that elapses normally between the clearing hospital and the base hospital?
§ Mr. TENNANT
That depends on the train service. I was coming to that and the barge conveyance suggested by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight. It is very difficult to give a specific reply to the Noble Lord's question, because the time varies enormously according to as and when vast numbers of troops and other necessaries are going up. Moreover, the House ought to remember that all the railways are in the hands of the French Government, and when the hon. Gentleman suggests that we should send over from here officers and men versed in railway service that is not a possibility. We cannot insist upon the French Government taking our servants when they have their own servants there. I would ask the House to appreciate that.
§ Mr. D. HALL
What I suggested was that they should do work which certain other officers do now—that is, to keep the French officials up to the mark and to get what they want. Railway officials know much better than Militia officers what is requisite to make a train comfortable.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am afraid we cannot absolutely insist upon the French Government accepting those whom we choose to send over. At the beginning of the War we did select certain officers who had had experience of these matters, for the most part Army Service Corps officers; they were accepted by the French Government, and are, I believe, doing excellent work now in endeavouring to expedite the trains. Of course, the difficulty is prodigious. When you have these enormous masses of men and not very great train facilities, it does not require very much imagination to see what a difficult operation it must be. With regard to 1425 the Indian wounded, who are necessarily detained in England previous to their departure for India, we hope in a few days to have 3,000 beds at Brighton. In the meantime they are comfortably housed at Brockenhurst. Everything is being done to ensure the comfort of the Indian sick and wounded.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Is there in the hospital any trouble concerning the food of any of the Indian troops?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think it is being perfectly done. There has not been any complaint, so far as I am aware.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am glad the hon. Member does not. Of course, they have everything specially constructed and a special personnel. We are arranging for the use of mobile hospitals during the winter, which we think may be particularly useful. The barge suggestion, I confess, is quite a new one to me. I shall be glad to lay the hon. Member's suggestions before my medical military authorities, by whom I am sure it will receive the consideration which it deserves. Whether it is possible or not is another matter.
§ Mr. D. HALL
A report on the system has been sent to some of the authorities, and they have approved of it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I hope we shall be able to put it in force. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) informed us of a very distressing case, which I am afraid is only too true, as a wounded officer who came home without having had his wound dressed except for the initial dressing after it was inflicted. I can only express the hope that with the more perfect organisation which we now have there will be no recurrence of such a case. With regard to nurses I hope I have said sufficient to satisfy the House. I will certainly convey the hon. Baronet's statement to the medical authorities, and if there is not room in the other houses, the two hotels which he has mentioned shall be utilised. The House may be interested to learn that up to the beginning of November 1,736 wounded arrived at Boulogne, and the average will be somewhere about 500 or 600 a day. That will give the House and the country an idea of the amount of work which has to be overcome by the medical authorities.
I would say one or two words upon a phase of the medical activities which I 1426 think the country will consider as important as those with which I have already dealt. I mean the question of sanitation. Every effort has been made to preserve the health of the troops in the field, and so far, I may say they have been entirely successful. The sanitary difficulties, of course, increase as the course of the campaign proceeds. We are now endeavouring to see in advance what our requirements will be and to meet them. In this connection we are preparing divisional sanitary companies, which will consist of sanitary inspectors and men. Yesterday Sir A. Keogh, the Director-General of the Army Medical Service, saw the members of a sanitary committee whom he had sent out to the front to examine into a phase of the situation which I told the Noble Lord opposite, in private conversation, was causing me anxiety. That committee has just returned from a tour of inspection, and they assure us that nothing could exceed the sanitary condition of the actual trenches at the front. That, of course, is where the danger occurs. I would like to relieve the mind of the Noble Lord of any anxiety that I may have caused him in that particular. I can assure the House that I myself was very greatly relieved by the information brought back by that committee. Of course, every precaution which science, and the experience of these gentlemen, can suggest has been taken, and the task—I hope it will be fully realised by the House—has been admirably conceived and well carried out. The proof of that is that we have had very few cases of enteric. I do not wish to go more fully into details as to the steps which we have taken to preserve the sanitary conditions of our soldiers at the front, because I am informed that the statement might be copied by the enemy, and no doubt it is part of the military situation. If they are inefficient in their sanitary arrangements, we will not regret it. Therefore I do not wish to go further in case I should be aiding the enemy.
But who is not liable to lie awake at night thinking of the terrible hardships through which our troops have to go and are daily and nightly undergoing in the titanic struggle which is now going on. Our troops have all the horrors which they have before their eyes, with frost bites at night now added; and if the horrors of disease are to be added to all this, then indeed it would be that we were not serving the State in the manner in which the State has a right to expect. We cannot 1427 always be certain of these matters, especially as the campaign goes on, and, as I have said, the dangers which confront the troops in the field become greater and greater, almost from day to day, particularly when our troops move to the ground which has been recently occupied by the enemy, and where there may be all the horrors of decomposition going on. I feel that the House realises the task which lies before us. They will know that these are anxious times. I think that Members will be glad to know that so far as this phase of the situation goes, we have been successful. We have been successful through the skill, energy, activity, and scientific knowledge of the Royal Army Medical Corps, under Sir Arthur Sloggett. I should like the House not to withhold the meed of praise where it is due to men like Sir A. Sloggett and Sir Alfred Keogh.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I am sure that the discussion upon the Bill relating to the treatment of our wounded soldiers has been highly interesting. The observations which have been made, both by those who criticise the Department, as well as the hon. Gentleman who has just made his defence and explanation of what has been done, shows that the Department has enormously advanced and improved this side of its work since the time that I went campaigning thirty years ago. The improvement must be something enormous. I am sure everybody has been delighted with what has been said. There will be a certain amount of confidence in the statement which the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary has been able to make and the information which he has been able to give. One of the saddest things that we can contemplate is the hardships of wounded men stricken down defending their country, especially now in the winter. Even when you have done everything which organised science can suggest there is bound to be an immense amount of suffering that under ordinary circumstances could be alleviated, but which under the circumstances of active service it is impossible that you can assist. While I am able to give the Department praise in that direction, I am afraid my business to-night for a little while is to deal with a subject where the Department does not profit by past experience, but where, as a matter of fact, if we can take what one sees in the Press at the present time, it seems to go from bad to worse.
1428 I wish to refer once again—as it is the last opportunity that I shall have before the House adjourns at this part of the Session—to the subject that I mentioned the other day—that of contracts. I have had an enormous mass of correspondence dealing with the subject since it was first ventilated in this House. Some of it is very queer stuff indeed. There are an enormous number of contractors, or districts, who complain. I am not concerned about that at all. I hope the Financial Secretary will not imagine for one moment that I am concerned in the slightest degree to whom his Department gives their contracts, or how they give them, so long as they get value for the money, and get their work done, and their material and the things required supplied at the price that other people could have got the same thing done for. I do not mean could have got them before the War, but could get them now while the War is on. Unfortunately there is not the slightest doubt that the public has a great suspicion of the War Office because of past experience relating to it. We have had Commission after Commission—in fact, it seems as as though it is impossible for the country to come to any war without an enormous suspicion of corruption relating to the operation of this Department. Instead of getting better it gets worse. I have received a pamphlet relating to the subject, and it is surprising the different Commissions that have been held. There was the Farwell, the Gray, and the Butler Commissions, and another held relating to the canteens.
Each one of these Commissions have deplored the fact that there was a certain amount of corruption, and a certain amount of favouritism which leads to corruption, and they suggested methods by which matters might be improved. Each one of these Committees has made some recommendations of this description. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will be obliged to confess that none of these Committees' recommendations have ever been accepted. If we come to the present time it is just the same old story to that prior to the South African War, only a bit worse, because it is a bit thicker. I cannot for the life of me—and I would ask soldiers who are present here, and some of whom have themselves been administrators—believe that corruption is a necessary and absolutely essential part of waging war. I believe, as a matter of fact, that these things could be got, and 1429 these things could be done if the recommendation of these previous Committees were adopted. I feel certain that this part of our business could be managed in just as straightforward a way as any other Department of the State. It is not because everybody does not give the Department warning. The "Economist," the moment war was declared—I believe within some forty-eight hours—made the following observations, which to a large extent practically sum up what I wish to say:—The only measure adequate to prevent scandal is to immediately establish a strong independent committee with the power of scrutinising the control and supply of the commissariat department, and all War Office contracts. By this means a real check may be placed upon fraud, incapacity, bribery, and waste. If we fail to take measures of prevention there is no cure open to us after the event. The responsible officers must know that their contracts are being checked and examined by a superior body, and that any departure from the plain path of duty will be severely visited. Subsequent inquiry of the way the nation's money has been squandered is no better than a feeble attempt to close the stable door after everyone knows that the horse has bolted with the money.That is an unfortunate situation. We are going to muddle along I am very much afraid in spite of the experience that we have had. We had a Commission of Inquiry after the Crimea; we had another after the Mutiny; and we had another Commission of Inquiry into the corruption of the War Office after Egypt; and another inquiry into corruption after South Africa; and we shall, as certain as Fate, unless this Department does something, have another inquiry into corruption in Government contracts after the War in which we are engaged. Surely all this experience should be of some value to guide us, and to prevent us getting into this difficulty in the future. The worst of it is that statements made by representatives of the Department give us no idea that they even understand in the slightest degree the position of affairs. They seem to imagine that everything is as good as it possibly can be in any possible set of circumstances, and that if they cannot do right, it is impossible for anyone else to suggest a better way. I venture to say it will be necessary to overhaul all these contracts and all this business in the future. I do not mind confessing openly to the House—even if it is an advantage to Gentlemen upon the other side: they can have it for what it is worth—that I believe the Liberal party to which the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office belongs will go down under the weight of scandal that will be produced before this War is over unless some 1430 Committee has the matter in hand to regulate affairs, or unless Lord Kitchener—in whom I have absolute confidence, if he would only pay attention to it—takes action, because he would soon hang or shoot somebody, and that very likely would stop the business and things would be right. But I do not know that he knows anything about it, and I should not be surprised if he were shocked when he finds what is done in the course of his administration in another year or two when the subject comes to light. That is an unfortunate situation.
I make these criticisms: they are not attacks—they are quite friendly. I do not suppose for one moment that you could have set up a Committee before now. I do not suppose you could attack the case at all when sending out the Expeditionary Force and preparing the necessary equipment up to now. I would give an absolutely clean sheet for everything done in the emergency up to now, and I am sure the country would, but it will not do so for the future. And now, when you can take your bearings properly, and when you understand what the situation is and what you have to contend with, and the gang of sharks that are trying to fasten themselves on to you from day to day, as my own personal experience is able to show, you will be held accountable. I venture to say, therefore, when one comes to consider all the circumstances, that its does seem to me one of the most remarkable things that representatives of the War Office still sees nothing wrong, and never saw anything wrong, and contends that there could be nothing wrong with the Department with which we are dealing. I am sure that is not the feeling of the country. You have only to read some of the trade journals I have here—the "Iremonger," and other papers relating to the business—to see what is going on. Take the "Engineer." The "Engineer" of this week gives attention to this business, and those trade journals know for a positive fact that there are things going on in connection with this business which cannot be defended. The Government is being squeezed. The State is paying in some cases nearly double for everything they require merely because the people who have these things to sell know that the State require them. But is it so? Surely we are not at the mercy of these men. I understand that under the Defence of the Realm Act you are in a position to show that those 1431 people could not resist your demand for the commodities you require, and that if they attempted to refuse the things necessary you had the right to possess yourselves of them as long as they are in the country.
It is quite clear that the House of Commons is armed with ample powers to prevent the State being robbed in the way it is robbed at the present time. I will not refer to matters in detail, because it would take too long, but if the hon. member representing the War Office will only refer to the "Daily Chronicle's" statement made in detail from day to day as to huts, boots, corrugated iron and all manner of things, he will see what is going on. I have a letter here which indicates that there has already been a great meat scandal, that some great stores of meat intended for the Army have been declared to be unfit, and would, if used by the Army, have caused that enteric which the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary was so delighted to say had not attacked the Army. Taking all these things into account, I have seized this opportunity of giving my warning in regard to the matter. I will not pursue it any further. The House is going to adjourn for a few weeks, and may be for a few months, and criticism will be stilled. But if the hon. Gentleman or his friends imagine that that is the end of it, they are greatly mistaken indeed. I am speaking here for no one interest concerned. I do not care where you place your contracts, or whether you give them to one set of men or to another; I do not care how you do it, so long as you do not do wrong or allow yourself to be squeezed into paying away the taxpayer's money without getting full value for the money spent.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
There can be only one feeling in every section of the House on this matter, and that is that we are earnestly anxious that we should go through this War with clean hands in every department of the public service. I have not risen to make any attacks upon I any manufacturers, whether manufacturers of khaki with which to clothe our troops or manufacturers of boots. But I do say that we should see that our brave troops at the front who are fighting the battle of their King and country should be warmly and well clothed and well shod. I have devoted some time during the last two months in obtaining information in 1432 regard to the kind of clothes our troops were gétting. I have not arrived at any conclusion hastily. I have had an opportunity in many parts of the country of coming in contact with Kitchener's Army, which has been comparatively newly enlisted, and also with the wounded soldiers who have come back from the front. The other day I met thirty wounded soldiers, all Regulars. Not more than two out of the thirty were in one regiment, and therefore they were very representative of the forces at the front at the present time. I conversed separately with each one of those thirty men. Slightly more than half of them said they had no complaint to make about the quality of the khaki supplied to them. Nearly half of them, on the other hand, said the khaki with which they had been clothed was rotten stuff, and that after a few days in the trenches the trousers were practically in rags and tatters. These brave fellows were one and all willing to go back again to the front when convalescent, and I assured them that I would raise my voice in this House in favour of having them warmly clothed and properly shod.
They had grave complaint also to make of the quality of some of their boots. But I was not content merely with what these men told me. I met on the promenade at Bournemouth the other day a lot of men of Kitchener's Army. Some of their boots were in a very dilapidated condition. There were at least twenty men walking two and three together, and I stopped them. I was told that in some cases these men came from a camp at the edge of Salisbury Plain, which unfortunately had been placed on a clay soil, with the result that they were often 8 or 9 inches deep in mud, and consequently they had to be transferred to Bournemouth. They told me that in some cases men who had had new boots served out to them found that the soles parted from the uppers in a week. I was not content with getting this information from these men, but I stopped three of their officers in order to ascertain whether the statements of the men could be relied upon, and I got confirmation from the officers. As a taxpayer I do not care what the cost is, but I say that if this flimsy, shoddy khaki which has been made into clothes for our troops has been of that description because it was cheap, unhesitatingly I say that it is the duty of the Government to pay a higher price for a strong, durable, warm material with which to clothe our troops to face the 1433 rigours of a winter campaign. I shall be glad to hear that this matter will receive the earnest attention of the Financial Secretary.
I hold in my hand a sample of the khaki which, three weeks ago, to my certain knowledge, was being made into clothing for our troops. It is thin, flimsy stuff, with cotton warp and shoddy weft, a flimsy kind of material totally unfit to clothe our troops with, especially with the rigours of winter before them. I am not maktng any charge of corruption or fraud against the manufacturers of this material, because I imagine that the authorities are perfectly cognisant of what it is made, and they have fixed their price accordingly. What I contend is that it is our duty as the House of Commons, and the duty of the Government, and it is also true economy in the interests of the country, that we should buy the strongest, the most durable, and the best material we can, and ensure that our men are warmly and properly clad while fighting as they are fighting in the trenches. With regard to the boots, we should remember that often our men are standing in water and mud or slush in the trenches, and surely nothing is of greater importance for the comfort and health of our brave fellows than that they should be well shod. I would approve of the Government paying a good price for boots, taking care at the same time that they get value for their money, rather than give to the men boots of the description that I saw on their feet on the promenade at Bournemouth. These men told me that practically they had to take whatever boots were handed to them, and they could not even choose sizes to fit them, and they got their boots either too big or too little, with the result that on their route marches their feet were badly skinned.
I know what an emergency we have been passing through; that we have had to clothe and supply with boots an enormous number of men—far above anything this country ever had to do before—and that therefore, up to now, probably the Contract Department has been obliged, in order to get material with which to clothe these hundreds and thousands of new recruits, to take whatever material they could get all over the country. As the previous speaker has already said, very soon the time of extreme emergency will have somewhat passed away; and I earnestly hope for the benefit and in the interests of the soldiers at the front, as 1434 well as for those who are kept at home for Home defence, that the Government will be willing to put on a number of experts to go round the manufactories which are producing the khaki, and have a careful inspection of what goes into the khaki, in order to see that they get the right quality. I hope the same will be true with regard to boots in the future. An enormous majority of the manufacturers of khaki and boots would not defraud the State and the Government, and would not lend themselves to supplying inferior material in the shape of khaki or boots. I would, however, ask whether the Government have got a correspondingly large number of experts to visit these manufactories to see that we are getting good value for our money. This would be no insult to the manufacturers. In the iron and steel trades, railway companies frequently send representatives to live in the works and test every piece of steel that goes into the steel rails. Therefore this must not be looked upon as any charge of dishonesty, for it is only a common businesslike policy, and there ought to be an inspection of these goods. I would ask the Financial Secretary whether he imagines that our Army Clothing at Pimlico can by any stretch of the imagination have properly inspected the vast amounts of khaki and other Army requisites which have been purchased since the War began.
I was told by General Sir John Stevens, the head of the Army Contracting Department, that this flimsy khaki probably had been bought by the Territorial Associations, and not by the War Office; but my answer to that is that the 30 men I met the other afternoon, and talked with, did not belong to Kitchener's Army or the Territorials, because the clothes supplied to them had been supplied through the War Office. Leaving the faults up to now entirely alone, I contend most strongly that the Government should take immediate and strong steps to secure that the taxpayers of this country shall get value for their money; that they shall admit freely additional manufacturers as contractors to the War Office, and guard against any firm being given orders several times larger than the total amount they can produce in their own factory, and they should not allow a manufacturer to sub-let his contract. This is in the interests of keeping the trade of the country normal, and I believe the Government 1435 have expressed their intention of subdividing these orders. I admit that this means a little extra cost in the way of inspection, but I think it is in the interests of the country that the Government should get out of the usual ruts. There is a certain district in Yorkshire known as "the home of shoddy." I should be disposed, as far as winter clothing is concerned, to go to a district where better material is used. I make no charge against the manufacturers in "the home of shoddy" district, and, if they will undertake to leave out the shoddy material and put in good material, why, then, you might let them have a contract. I trust that the question having been raised now in this way will lead to steps being taken to remedy all defects, and that we may have the comfort and satisfaction of knowing that our men at the front will be warmly and well clothed and shod to face the rigours of the coming winter.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Harold Baker)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has raised what I think all the House must regard as a very serious question, the question whether our troops at the front are, in his phrase, "warmly and properly clad" for the work they have to do. I can give him an absolute assurance—and I will give reasons for it—in spite of the evidence he has quoted, that that has been the case from the moment the Expeditionary Force went from these shores. I can only conjecture from the personal interview my hon. Friend had with these returned soldiers that neither he nor they have altogether gauged the stress that is placed upon even the most durable cloth during the life in the trenches which these men have to live. I spoke with confidence as to the assurance I could give to the hon. Member, and I do give it. From the moment the Expeditionary Force went away we have had daily reports from the Quartermaster-General with that force, reports characterised by the most complete frankness, and reports which could not conceivably be biassed by any disposition to gloss over shortcomings, because they were reports sent home solely in order that shortcomings might be remedied. Every day the Quartermaster-General with the Expeditionary Force visits a corps and makes his report, and, if one looks, as I have, through a series of 1436 those reports, one finds it stated over and over again that there are no complaints, except possibly from the inevitable occasional growler, and everyone feels that they are well done in every respect. Of course, it sometimes happens that wagons with fresh supplies do not come quite close to the fighting line. That is an incident and a temporary matter; but, generally speaking, that is the report we have, and it is a report, I am perfectly certain, in which the House may place the fullest possible confidence. My hon. Friend produced a sample of khaki, and he said it had been suggested to him that it came not under a War Office contract, but possibly under a contract made by a Territorial Force Association. As I have re minded the House on several occasions, there are many contracts for clothing being made for troops in this country not only by the War Office, but also by Territorial Force Associations and by local committees.
§ Sir J. WALTON
This was a War Office contract, and not a contract made by a Territorial Force Association.
§ Mr. BAKER
I should be very much obliged if my hon. Friend could give me the true genesis or that sample of cloth he holds in his hands, and its history before it arrived in his hands, so that I may make investigations. The inspection of cloth at Pimlico is naturally not carried out on the exhaustive peace scale. This is utterly impossible if anything in the nature of rapid delivery is to be made, but inspection that I think is effective is carried on regularly and without delay My hon. Friend put in a strong appeal for an extension of the list of firms of contractors. He probably is not aware of the vast change that has been achieved in that respect. There are just 200 firms making khaki cloth at the present time for the War Office, apart from all the local contracts going on as well. My hon. Friend said that he thought the War Office were in danger of falling into a dangerous state if they did not call in more help. Some time ago we called to our aid the best expert in cloth, a man of the best scientific attainments, respected in the whole trade, and we have had the inestimable services of that gentleman at our disposal for many weeks past. I do not think full justice is done to the efforts which the War Office is making in respect of contracts. The speech of the hon. Member, with the tone of which I make no complaint at all, and the motive of which I fully appreciate, is 1437 at the same time an example of that. The two main complaints he made against us are complaints which ceased to have any basis some weeks ago, even more than a month ago. It was a little difficult for me to follow the hon. Member in his oscillations between the troops in the trenches at the front and the troops who have joined the new Army at home, and who are, of course, in quite a different position. No one would contend that the recruits of the new Army are properly clothed and equipped in the way in which you would clothe and equip troops who are actually engaged fighting the enemy. We have, and everybody realises it, to deal with an unprecedented emergency, and no one pretends that clothing or boots of the, strong stereotyped Army quality have been immediately available for these troops at home, but proper steps have been taken, and long before these troops have to go to the front they will be provided with army boots that are up to the standard we use for active service. My hon. Friend complains of the boots that have been used at the front, and there again I am happy to have the most convincing evidence with which I can refute what he said. That Sanitary Commission which was brought to the notice of hon. Members by the newspapers, and which went out to examine the state of affairs at the front, returned only yesterday and brought with it pairs of boots which I have seen. It stated that in their opinion the present boots being used by the troops at the front could not be beaten.
§ Sir J. WALTON
My remarks with regard to boots related not to the soldiers at the front but to the Territorials and Kitchener's Army at home. [An HON. MEMBER: "The King's Army!"]
§ Mr. BAKER
I still venture to think—and my recollection is fresh—that unintentionally the hon. Member did apply his remarks to the troops at the front as well as at home. I trust, after the very strong evidence I have put before them to the contrary, that hon. Members will realise, at any rate as far as the troops at the front are concerned, that any such complaint is utterly unjustified. Questions have been asked from time to time as to 1438 whether various supplies were reaching the troops at the front. Again I can assure the House that no demand yet made upon us in the way of clothing or equipment for the troops has failed to be met to the satisfaction of those in charge of headquarters in the field. The House is about to separate and may not possibly meet again for some time, but I hope that what I have said in this respect will be accepted, and that the great danger which has arisen from my hon. Friend's speech will thereby be prevented.
I pass next to the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward). He has dealt with this subject before, and when he last did so I ventured to complain of there being an air of vague generality about these allegations, and I said I wished they had been supported by more definite evidence. The hon. Member pictured the War Office as surrounded by gangs of sharks of the worst character that could possibly be gathered together. He said he had had personal experience. I wish, in the course of his speech, he had given us some of his experiences, because one ounce of personal experience—that is, fact—would have been worth a ton of the vague denunciations in which he indulges. Indeed, I thought he relied entirely on the evidence of newspapers which he himself discredited at the beginning of his speech. The hon. Member has referred to this subject before. He referred to specific cases which had had a very wide circulation in certain newspapers. At the risk of being tedious to the House, I am afraid that, in the interest of the great Department I have the honour to represent, and in the public interest too, I must deal with both specific cases, even if thereby I occupy an undue share of time. The first of those cases, which has been very widely advertised, is the case of the supposed combine for corrugated steel sheeting, which is said to have exercised a powerful influence on the Contracts Department of the War Office. Let me explain, as briefly as I may, the position in which we stood with regard to this matter at the outbreak of war. There was then an ordinary running contract of the normal type put out in competition for tenders for the supply of such quantity of this sheeting as we required.
At the outbreak of the War there was a certain deficiency of spelter, one of the main ingredients used in galvanising these sheets. The deficiency was caused by the 1439 fact that the main sources of supply were Belgium and Germany, which were then cut off, and such quantities as were in this country were all required by the Government itself. To meet that difficulty the War Office, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, placed an embargo on the export of corrugated sheets. It was a very serious matter indeed for the ordinary trade in steel sheeting—serious because their exports, on which they mainly relied, amounted to 50,000 tons per month, and they feared that if the embargo were continued it would lead to the closing of their mills. When they realised the danger before them they opened up negotiations with the Government in order to get the embargo on corrugated sheets removed. They called together a conference of sheet-makers. Early in September that conference met, and as a result they said that if we would remove the embargo they would hold at the disposal of the War Office 20,000 tons for the next six weeks and 100,000 tons for the following six months. That was an amount sufficient to give an adequate supply for our hutting requirements at that date. They said they would guarantee that supply at a maximum price, not to be exceeded during that period, of £9 per ton for black sheets, and £14 per ton for galvanised sheets. At that moment the market price for galvanised sheets was £15 per ton, and, therefore, their maximum was £1 below the market price. They added that for our own convenience, and to ensure speedy delivery to us, all orders should be sent through the secretary of the conference—which was the firm to which my hon. Friend alluded—the firm of Messrs. Wenham Brothers. That was the offer put before us. It was accepted by the War Office, but with this further understanding, that the War Office were not bound to any specific quantity but had full liberty to get adequate supplies in other ways if they chose. I want to make the whole thing perfectly clear, and, therefore, at this point, I will insert the fact that, soon after that offer had been made and accepted, the price of spelter fell and the price of galvanised sheeting to us was reduced to £13 10s.
At that time this conference was supposed to represent the whole trade in sheeting, but, at a later stage, it was observed that some of the hutting contractors 1440 were getting rather better terms than the War Office, and that other firms were making offers at lower rates, although not necessarily for sheets of the same quality, but at any rate for galvanised sheets. The War Office pressed this matter on the attention of the conference which, in reply, pointed out the very heavy obligations they had undertaken in maintaining the supply for the War Office. Still under our pressure they further reduced the price to £12 10s. per ton for galvanised sheeting. The next move made by the War Office after having discovered that the conference was not fully representative, was to consider how to bring in outside firms. It turned out there was only one which really mattered in any degree, and we wrote to that outside firm a letter telling them that if they would communicate with the firm of Sir John Jackson, Limited—and I will explain presently the position that firm occupied—they might get orders for steel sheeting. On the same day we sent a letter to the firm of Sir John Jackson, Limited, asking them, if possible, and if prices permitted, to allot some part of their orders to the outside firm. I do not know, nobody at the War Office knows, if, in fact, the firm did so, it turns entirely on the price quoted and the quality offered. But these two letters show that the moment the firm was discovered the War Office did everything in its power to give it an opportunity of tendering and of securing some part of the Government work. That was the effort which was made by the War Office. At the same time the conference, representing practically the entire trade in steel sheeting, arranged with individual firms composing the conference that they could contract with the War Office separately and individually, if they pleased, and not at the fixed rate which had been arranged in the agreement at the early stage of the War.
Let me now return to the question of price. The suggestion that has been made in the newspapers is that the War Office, through incompetence or something worse, is paying too much for its sheets. I have been asked whether or not I am prepared to deny the statement, quoted from some other source, that the present price is believed to be from £13 to £13 7s. 6d. I have already stated that the price since an early day in November has been not £13 to the War Office or anything like it, but £11 10s. for galvanised sheets and £8 for black sheets.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether those are the prices for the standard guage or any other guage?
§ Mr. BAKER
The War Office speculation has not been altered during the whole of the time. Whether the sheets which were offered at the same date for £11 5s., as is suggested in this newspaper, were sheets according to the War Office specification is very much open to doubt. The question has been raised how it was that the members of this conference, in replying to an inquiry directed to them by another firm, quoted two prices, one for the Government and one for the outside inquirer. I have no knowledge of the inquiry which was sent to the makers of steel sheeting. I should be taking too much upon myself if I ventured to suggest an explanation, because it is something rather for the manufacturers themselves to explain. One possible and, indeed, probable explanation is that in regard to the War Office they were endeavouring to recoup themselves for the very high prices at which they had to buy raw material, in order to maintain the supply they had undertaken to maintain for us in the early stage of the War, and that the lower prices which they quoted to other people were based on the lower prices of raw material, current at the date on which those lower prices were quoted. I suggest that, and I suggest again, as I have already done, that it does not at all appear, and it is to some extent improbable that the sheetings for which the lower prices were quoted were of the same quality as that demanded by the War Office in its fixed specification. The House has been generous to me and will perhaps allow me to summarise the course of events, which was this: At an early stage of the War the export of this steel sheeting was stopped at the instance of the War Office and with the co-operation of the Board of Trade. The hardship caused by this led to a conference of manufacturers who asked for the embargo to be removed. The conference represented all, or nearly all, of the makers in the country, and it was not a combine in the strict sense that it exhausted the whole trade and eliminated all competition.
§ Mr. BAKER
I said there was only one firm which could be said to make a difference. I might have said there were 1442 more, but I preferred to put the case against myself as severely as I could and I said there was one which could be considered. The conference offered, in return for the removal of the embargo, to maintain a supply to the War Office. The War Office has mostly, but I think not entirely, got its supplies by that means, and it has done so at prices in many cases below the market rates, and all the time limited by a maximum price. Just consider what the War Office has got. Instead of being squeezed by a combine, as those who so very unfairly and with insufficient verification represent it to be, the War Office got covered against excessive prices that might very well have gone up in war time, as the prices of many things have done. It got what was of vital importance for the hutting of the vast number of troops gradually being raised; it got a certain and adequate supply of steel sheeting; and, in addition to that, it got what was no less important, not only a certain supply, but rapid delivery.
I am told, although I cannot vouch for it, that the makers have mot done well and are extremely dissatisfied with the bargain they did make. The whole of the time the War Office, so far from being tied, had complete freedom of action to buy from any individual firm at different prices, or to buy from an outside firm. If that transaction, in the light I have put upon it, is fairly and squarely looked at by hon. Members who have been tempted to judge rather hardly of what is called the incompetence of the business section of the War Office, it will be seen that, so far from being a bad bargain, it is an extremely good illustration of the proper way to treat a very difficult situation, a situation not merely of going into the market and making a purchase of so much stuff, but a situation complicated by conditions of export and the immediate necessity of having, first, a supply to use for hutting at once, and, secondly, the certainty of a supply for carrying on that operation for a constantly growing number of troops.
I would willingly omit some of the matters which I must mention to the House, but the challenge has been public and direct, and it touches the honour of the Department which I represent—it also touches the honour of those who make the charges—so that it is my duty to deal with them. Another challenge is in connection with barbed wire. With regard to barbed wire, it is said that we 1443 were paying £14 a ton, and that there again there is ample evidence that we have been bullied and coerced like children into paying out the taxpayers' money. The orders for barbed wire have been given not at £14 a ton—though that might have occurred—but at various prices. To suggest that that is the price we are giving now is not merely an inaccurate but a wild statement. There are certain reasons why I should not disclose what the exact price is. They are reasons which will enable us to continue to act with economy in respect of barbed wire. For that reason I hope the House will respect them. In so far as there has been a difference of price between the earlier purchases and the later purchases it may have been due mainly to the fact that the higher prices were paid for quite a different class of wire—good wire which would last ten years. It was found afterwards that by looking to a different source of supply and by getting wire of a different degree of galvanisation, but quite sufficient to be used for entanglements to keep out the enemy, we could buy at lower prices. Therefore that partial and ill-informed attack on the War Office has failed. We are again accused of being at the mercy of a combine in regard to stoves. There may be a combine. I believe there is, but there is no sign of it in the prices tendered to us. We have given large orders. They have all been placed by competitive tenders and every firm in the list has been invited to tender. Nails are another on the list of charges against us. Most fantastic statements have been made about nails. We do not buy nails at all. They are included in the building contract. We are not tied to any particular kind of nail, neither is the contractor, who can get any kind of nail he pleases. Having dealt with nails I have answered one section of the charges which have been brought against the War Department in various newspapers during the last few weeks.
I notice that in one paper, after having made these various allegations, all of which, I think, I have fairly disposed of in regard to steel sheeting, the article followed with a list of various officers, for no other purpose that I can suppose than it w-as to them that the responsibility might be attributed. Will the House believe it—I ask the House to notice this as an example of the carelessness with which these statements are 1444 made, and they are very dangerous statements, as the speeches which have been made show already—that not one of the officers in that list is in the War Office at all, and if they had been at the War Office in the positions in which they were given, not one of them would have had anything to do with the contracts named. The lists given are entirely wrong. Most of these officers, I think, are with the Expeditionary Force, and have been for some time. Colonel Morgan, to whom special attention is directed, is not in the War Office. He is Director of Supplies with the central forces in the country, but his duty is not making contracts, but is purely administrative. But the supply directorate itself has only to do with food and forage. It has nothing to do with huts or the materials of which the huts are made, and that is a mistake which anyone who was not perfectly acquainted with the rather complicated organisation of the War Office might pardonably make. But the supply directorate does not make contracts at all.
§ Mr. BAKER
No. There is not a contractor anywhere near the Expeditionary Force at ail. Not one. There is not a man contracting with anyone in the Expeditionary Force. Everything it needs is being sent out from this country by contracts made in this country with people in this country. I think the carelessness with which that list of officers was given may dispose hon. Members perhaps to attach some credence to the disintegrating process to which I have subjected the earlier allegations in that newspaper article. I fear there is one other case which, owing to the wide publicity which it has received, I must also deal with. I mean an article which has been published in a large number of newspapers again regarding huts—an anonymous article contributed by a leading trade unionist. I invite the House to recognise that these hutting operations which we have been compelled to carry out were perhaps the largest building operations which have ever taken place in this country. You have four new Armies, you have the troops from the Dominions on Salisbury Plain, and you have a large number of coast defence troops for whom provision has had to be made round our shores, and the great object that the War Office has had before it all the time has been to get the men 1445 in quickly and to save them from what are supposed to be the discomforts of canvas, even if it must be before the huts themselves are quite complete.
I think most of the criticisms which have been passed on the huts, in this article at any rate, were criticisms, not on the finished product as it soon will be, but on the unfinished hut into which, for the reasons I have given, we have thought it expedient to put the men with the least possible delay. There are several types of huts. They vary, of course, according to situation. In a more exposed situation you want a stronger type, and in a sheltered situation you can use a rather lighter form of construction. The suggestions made about the holes in the roofs, and the absence of lining and the want of surface drainage are all incidents of an inchoate condition in the huts, and they will all be removed in the shortest possible time, and are intended, and have been from the beginning intended, to be removed when the hut is a perfect and complete product. You cannot, of course, expect the same standard of comfort in a hut as you can in those magnificent barracks which have been put up at Redford. But in the best, type of hut, those who visit them will agree that the accommodation is not merely good, but is extremely good. There is a charge that there has been a great deal of sub-letting in connection with the huts. There cannot have been very much, unless it was under some local contract of which we have no cognisance, because only about a quarter of all the vast number of huts that we have put up have been put up by contract. All the rest have been put up by direct labour under Government agents. That brings me to the references to the firm of Sir John Jackson. He is not alone. We have had a signal example of how patriotic many employers can be in the case of these large contractors. When war broke out and it was obvious that we should need a great number of huts, they offered their services free and for nothing for the Government. That free and patriotic offer was accepted, and an enormous quantity of work has been carried out, not by Sir John Jackson, Ltd., alone but by seven large firms as well. They have thereby rendered very great service—not merely a possible saving of money, though for certain extra work which they have undertaken we intend to give them some remuneration at a rate far below that which they would have got in the ordinary way. 1446 The services which they rendered of putting their large, skilled, and experienced staffs at our disposal at a time when it would have been impossible for us to find such staffs enabled us, as I think those who have visited the camps will admit, to build them, not so rapidly as we could hope, but still with extreme speed.
That is the position with regard to contracts. Another charge was made with regard to framing and fixing. There again there was a complete misstatement of the true facts. It was suggested that contractors were scamping their work, and that they should be compelled to give a rebate. The fact is that the War Office specification has always asked for cheaper fixed work and not for framed work. In spite of that, in a great many cases, contractors are using framed work, and are making no additional charge. Another allegation was that very luxurious huts were being put up for the officers and very bad ones indeed for the men. The men are being put into huts before the officers because they are men and are not officers. The officers are being kept out and the men are being put in first. As to the huts themselves, they are all of precisely the same type for officers and men, and if one becomes more luxurious than another it is simply and solely because the inmates choose to make it so. Then there is the question of price. The original War Office estimate for these huts, at scheduled prices, that is at pre-war rates, was £115. That is equivalent to £140 now. The actual prices have been from about £100 to £200, varying according to the difficulty arising from the nature of the situation.
§ Mr. BAKER
Finished. This newspaper article with which I have been dealing suggested by some amusing computation that £85 was enough. The committees of locally raised battalions, who build according to War Office plans and specifications and consist of business men, just those men whom so many Members have been advising us to use as our coadjutors and helpers, drawn from large corporations with full knowledge of local conditions, have hardly in any case been able to build at a cheaper rate. These committees are men who have been patriotic enough to raise battalions and house them. You may be quite certain that if they could do it more cheaply they 1447 certainly would. The fact that they have failed to do so must be taken as very strong evidence that the War Office specification certainly does not err on the side of extravagance.
I have dealt with these specific cases, and I will pass to one or two general observations on the criticism which has been levelled at and the advice which has been offered to the War Office. It seems to be presumed that the War Office has done nothing to meet this present emergency. The War Office certainly does not advertise its merits. It is not one of the great advertising Departments, and it patiently bears the criticism passed upon it. I say nothing of the enormously increased staff we have in the War Office itself. Let me say one word in regard to the new system. My hon. Friend recited a list of Committees which sat after the South African War and said they had all been despised, ignored, and set at nought. My hon. Friend really is misinformed on that subject. I can speak with some knowledge, because I myself spent a very laborious time of more than a year as secretary to one of these Commissions, and during that time I acquired some experience which I hope has been of some value to me since. If he looks at the Reports of the Commissions, he will find that nearly all their recommendations have been carried out, and not ignored by the War Office. That was done long ago in time of peace. But on the outbreak of the War we developed what may be called a new organisation. A very valuable public servant, and one who has rendered great public service, was compelled by ill-health to withdraw from the work of the Contracts Branch. He was replaced by a man of great ability who came from the Board of Trade, and whose services we still have. He came from the Board of Trade, where he had the great advantage of studying the general industrial conditions of the country. It was recognised long ago that the task we had to undertake was not the piecemeal purchases one has in time of peace, but it was the task, and nothing less, of organising several of the largest trades in the country, estimating their total capacity, estimating their output, and securing that the speediest deliveries should come to us, and that the goods did not go to other destinations.
There were many difficulties to be overcome. We have overcome the difficulties 1448 with many employers by repeated conferences. There have been many trade disputes, not serious disputes, but a large number of slight ones, and we have overcome these in many cases by the help of the trade unions themselves. But more than that, as I said in reply to my hon. Friend, we have long ago taken many of the steps which have been urged upon us day after day during the last fortnight. We have had at the War Office for some time buyers, and besides buyers, advisers, who, I may say parenthetically, have nothing to gain by their operations, in regard to all the large branches of trade—men of wide experience whose knowledge is of great value, men who do not give, and do not accept, contracts, but men who furnish just that element of special business experience which it is said we need so much, and have taken so little trouble to seek. I will not go through the list of names. There is no secret about them, and I have no doubt that they are known to many Members of the House. I do trust that hon. Members who claim that we have gone on with the narrow and restricted system which existed in time of peace will recognise that we broke these bounds long ago, and that for a long time past we have been enjoying the very best advice which can be got in all the branches of trade concerned in War Office supplies.
I must say one word about the suggestions, insinuations, and rumours, without which, I think, my hon. Friend would not have made his speech to-night, or his speech the other day. I would ask the House to distinguish between charges of what I may call bad business and charges of corruption. They are very different things, and the distinction between them is not sufficiently made. The hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) took me up with undue severity the other day because of a remark I made that contractors to the Government wanted more from the Government than they charge private individuals. I really meant nothing more than that contractors always will be contractors, just as I suppose newspapers always will be newspapers. I meant that, in regard to contracts, they looked upon the Government as persons to be treated with considerable commercial severity. But I did not intend to suggest that the War Office accepted the suggestion in the slightest degree that they overcharged the Government. I do trust that the two examples I have been able to put in detail this evening will show that 1449 the War Office in difficult circumstances have driven some extremely good bargains. Many of the other cases of supposed bad bargains—I pass no judgment whether they were bad or not—have nothing to do with the War Office at all. They were contracts made with local bodies. We are taking steps to limit the powers of competition which local contracting bodies at present enjoy. It is difficult to deal with, but we are doing our best to carry that out. We are endeavouring to cope with the possibility, of having to pay excessive prices because of the fact that the necessity is ours and the opportunity is that of the contractors. We are doing that by, I think, the only means in our power. It has been suggested over and over again that if a contractor proves unreasonable, we should have him shot or hanged at once. That I may say has been considered, and it has been decided, without much delay, that such a course would be likely unduly to restrict the number of those who tender for contracts. What we have done is to take powers under the Defence of the Realm Act yesterday to commandeer at a fair price the whole of the output of any factory, or, in a further stage of necessity, to take over that factory and work it ourselves. We have taken that step in order to secure the power of applying a check to any tendency to squeeze the War Office by charging excessive prices.
I do ask that before these allegations are made some attempt should be made at precision. When you make charges against anyone, the thing which certainly may be asked is that the charge should be precise. But I do think that there are statements made in the Press and in this House with respect to which I may fairly complain, that there has not been more verification before insinuation. An atmosphere has been created—an atmosphere which I fully admit is intended to avoid certain dangers, but which may prove detrimental to the supply of the Army. The suggestion that things may be wrong now because they were wrong ten years ago, and that anybody may be a rogue because there was a rogue ten years ago has, I think, a very detrimental effect on the public service. If you wish to remedy these matters, a definite charge should be based upon ascertained facts. But if anything, however false, is to be stated against an official, then it simply means that what has sometimes been called "red-tape" at the War Office, or any public office, would 1450 be multiplied a hundredfold. It is quite right that my hon. Friend should enforce the lesson of the South African war, a very important lesson that has been largely learned; but I do now, once for all, deprecate these general slanders against individuals or departments, whether in newspapers or in speeches, and I repeat that if there is any such information as will support them, let it be given, and the fullest and most immediate investigation shall be made. I have occupied some time, but the subject is one of very great importance, and I think that I have shown that considerable injustice has been done to a large body of officers and officials who are now working both night and day in the service of their country.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made a speech for the length of which he apologised several times. I do not think that he need have done so. I think the House recognise that the matters with which he was dealing were of the very greatest importance. I am sure they were glad that he entered in such detail into the specific cases which have been mentioned in various places, and I am sure that the House and the country will look upon that speech with a great deal of satisfaction and that it will make them reassured about the matters with which he dealt. In great contrast to that speech was the speech delivered this afternoon by the Home Secretary. It is in regard to the matter with which he dealt that I want to say a few words. I feel no hesitation in referring to the question of spies and suspected persons, because I feel so very strongly about it. As this will be the last opportunity before this Parliament adjourns of raising the matter, I feel it my bounden duty to say one thing about it. I raise the question again for this reason: I think that it is a duty which we owe to ourselves to leave no stone unturned to put an end to this system of spies. We, who are obliged to stay at home, can do precious little to help our gallant soldiers and sailors, but in this respect I think that we can do something. My second reason is this: Communications have come to me on all hands, not only from London but from different parts of the country, which show me perfectly clearly that there is a great deal of anxiety about this matter in the country. Speaking for myself, the speech of the Home Secretary, instead of diminishing that anxiety has increased it. I 1451 go further and say that, so far as I am concerned, the speech which the Lord Chancellor made yesterday in another place was the one thing above all others which caused me the greatest uneasiness, because we had it from him—it seems to me, at all events, reading this speech—an explicit admission that very valuable information had leaked out and been of great use to the enemy. If that be the case, I do not think that I need offer any apology for raising this question once more in the hope that the Government may even now listen to what we say about this matter.
The case which the Home Secretary made to-day, perfectly plainly, was that this matter could not be dealt with satisfactorily so long as there was divided authority. The Home Secretary, to my mind, absolutely proved the case. He crossed the t's and dotted the i's, and proved conclusively that there was divided authority, and that in many respects he was entirely powerless. He said that he could not get responsibility for the whole of the police in the country. That is exactly what we have been saying to him. We know perfectly well that under the present system he is not responsible for the whole of the police in the whole of the country. He himself only is personally responsible for the policemen of the Metropolitan police. What we want him to do is to get responsibility for the whole of the police. We know perfectly well that in ordinary matters he cannot know the local conditions. Therefore the chief constable of the county or borough must be under the control of the county council or the watch committee, as the case may be. But the suggestion has been made, which I wish to emphasise with all my power, that in this question of spies and suspected persons the Home Secretary—or at all events, some other Minister, or some body or central authority, should have controlling power over the whole of the country. I am sure that it ought not to be difficult to get that. The Home Secretary holds up his hands and complains that he has not got it. We have been passing Emergency Bill after Emergency Bill, for I do not know how long, both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament, and if he has not got the necessary powers, for goodness sake let us give them to him.
We are all perfectly willing to sit here another week, if necessary to do so, in a case of this kind. We are led to believe 1452 that this House is going to adjourn tomorrow. That may be so or not. But if it is really necessary for the Home Secretary to have greater powers than those which he now possesses, the Government should ask the House to sit longer and give him those powers. I am perfectly certain that as long as you leave the matter in the hands of this or that chief constable—I am not saying a word against any of them, they are all probably doing their duty to the best of their ability—until you have got some system upon which everybody can work, which is directed by one central authority or one central body, you could never get this matter settled in a proper way. My humble suggestion to the Government is that they should appoint one man. I do not care who he is. He may be the Home Secretary, or if the Home Secretary has got too many duties to attend to, appoint another man altogether. Get the best man in the country and put him at the head of a central body, let him attend to this business, and this business only, and if it is necessary to give legislative powers, let us give them. We are all prepared to sit here and give them. I urge the Government, even now, before it is too late, to consider this matter. There have been appeals made to them by my Noble Friend who spoke here this afternoon, by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from below the Gangway in a most impressive speech. Surely the Government is going to look into this matter. I do not believe that there is a single Member of this House who is not of the opinion that, at all events, with regard to this matter, things are not satisfactory. I have said this simply and solely because I feel very strongly about it myself, and because I could not have gone home with a quiet conscience, feeling I had done my duty, if I had not got up and asked the Government, even at the last moment, to reconsider this matter.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton) has displayed a piece of khaki cloth which is presumed to represent the quality which is being used in the manufacture of soldiers' clothing. No doubt it is perfectly right that we should take the hon. Baronet's word that the cloth is what he said it was—part of a soldier's tunic and undoubtedly is partly composed of cotton and the remainder is almost exclusively of shoddy. I think I would not 1453 be doing my duty as the representative of a West Riding Constituency if I allowed it to go forward, without protest, that that is the kind of cloth which is being manufactured for our men at the front. It is more than likely that the particular sample that has been shown to the House was simply part of a suit which had been bought in a time of emergency in large quantities, when the need was so great that the suit had to be bought ready-made. If that be so, then, of course, we must clear the Government of any responsibility, in an emergency of that kind, in getting whatever they could lay their hands on, but we have a right to demand that the material which is used under present contracts shall be good and sound, and I can say to this House, with perfect confidence, that the khaki cloth which is being turned out in the West Riding of Yorkshire to-day is fit for anybody, no matter whether soldier or civilian.
I want to say a word or two on another aspect of this question. We all of us know that there are camps up and down this country where the men have been for a considerable time without uniforms. It does not need any strong imagination to realise that men drilling in all kinds of clothing, some with one kind, some with another, some of them shabby through no fault of their own, cannot tend towards a proper feeling of dignity, respectability, and esprit de corps, and the sooner these men get into a uniform the better, in my opinion. But it seems to be suggested that we cannot produce the clothing. I was astounded that anybody should suggest such a thing, for I am certain that if the machinery, the resources, and the energy at the disposition of the mills in Yorkshire were properly organised, not only the whole of the soldiers of this country could be clothed, but the civil population as well; the output of the mills would be so prodigious. I hope the House will forgive my making a little, technical explanation in regard to the manufacture of cloth. Khaki cloth is made of thick yarn, and the more the machinery is put on to thick yarns and plain material the greater the output. Fine spun yarn requires a lot of energy, and they have not the weight, but so long as the mills make thick yarn khaki cloth, great quantities can be turned out. But alongside of that there is at present the ordinary trade going on. There is the Bond Street cloth for fashionable clothing, and 1454 far more energy in these times is being concentrated on the ordinary catering for fashionable people, with their finicking taste, than ought to be the case.
I want to suggest that the whole of the spinning and weaving mills ought to be commandeered by the Government in order to make sure that goods of the kind they require can be turned out in great quantities to supply not only the soldiers, but the ordinary requirements of civilians. If that were done, if the machinery and the energy of the workmen were utilised economically in the way I have tried to indicate, then I have no doubt whatever that we should no longer see men waiting for their uniforms for the length of time that they are at present waiting, and that the whole of the soldiers would soon be supplied. I would submit one further consideration regarding this matter. I plead with the Government for the control of production, because in my opinion, young persons are unnecessarily working longer hours than they have any need to work. I do not think the House is aware, though none the less it is a fact, that in mills of the West Riding of Yorkshire girls under sixteen years of age are working from 6.30 in the morning to 8.30 at night, with the necessary breaks for meals, and in some places I am told that they work even longer than that. That is the kind of thing that may be tolerated without much fear of injury for a few weeks or for a short time, but I submit that it cannot go on month after month, or for the length of time that this War may possibly continue, without serious injury to the young persons concerned. For that reason, as well as for others I have given, I do earnestly appeal those who are in control that they will endeavour to so order the method of production, so organise the class of material that is produced, bearing in mind that class which can be quickly produced, as to make it unnecessary to employ these young persons for long hours.
I have said something about quality and quantity, and as to price I can assure the House that the materials which are required for Army clothing are so simply constructed that with the help of a little expert advice the Government need be under no uncertainty whatever as to whether they are being charged extravagantly. The price of wool, for instance, is well known. Any expert with a very small margin of error can tell the amount to be produced from a given quantity of wool. 1455 With attention to one or two simple factors like that I am sure that the Government can protect themselves against any danger of exorbitant prices. The story is told of one blanket manufacturer who interviewed a War Office official and offered his goods, which were taken immediately. He was a rough Yorkshireman doing business in a small way, and, his goods being taken so readily, he could scarcely believe that the matter was all right. To some friends outside who asked him what had occurred he said, "They have taken the lot," but, he added, "Do you think t' brass is safe." Apparently he had some doubt as to the financial standing of the country, or thought there was something wrong. On the question of price, I suggest that the real crux lies in getting control of the raw material, a large amount of which comes from our own Colonies. There are suggestions, and I do not know to what extent they are well founded, that wool is held back from sale, which, of course, increases the price of the small quantity that is offered, and all the competitors are well aware that the bulk of the material will in the end be cloth to be paid for by the British Government. It is not a healthy kind of thing to have knowledge of that kind, and one can easily guess that in certain emergencies certain speculators will not care how high the price goes when they know the Government has to pay. I make the further suggestion that the Government should endeavour to get hold of the wool supplies at the source, and the other operations are so simple that with very little expert advice the price can be so arranged that it would be quite fair to the Government and to all concerned.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Colonel YATE
May I say a word in support of the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Appleby Division (Mr. Sanderson) to the Government to give reconsideration to the question of alien spies in this country, and to other representations that have been made in to-day's Debate. The Home Secretary, on the 12th November, said:—I conceive in my humble way that the military and naval authorities are far and away the best advisers as to what precautions are necessary in safeguarding us, either against espionage or against panic.To-day, speaking on the question, he told us that the military authorities had to decide as to internment, and that it was 1456 right that they should do so. Again, he said that in every district where it is thought that the police are not doing their duty the military authorities will step in. I would ask the Government who are the military authorities that will step in? I am speaking as a soldier and on behalf of soldiers. Take the case of an ordinary officer commanding a detachment, guarding some small port on the East Coast of Scotland, which was the place under discussion. That officer's duty is to prevent submarines entering the harbour, and to repel invasion or attack of any sort, and what does he know, or can he know, of the inhabitants of the district? He knows nothing about them, and has no organisation whatsoever to deal with spies who may be working in the harbour immediately behind him. We have in this matter divided control. The Home Secretary tells us he has no authority on the East Coast of Scotland, or anywhere outside London, and he says, apply to the naval or military authorities, or the chief constable. I do ask that this question should be put on a proper basis. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) said you cannot leave this question to the soldiers. I agree with him it is impossible to do so, and that the soldier is not the man responsible, and has no knowledge or organisation with which to deal with the matter.
The Home Secretary laid great stress on representations he had received from residents abroad not to intern German residents in this country for fear that they should be interned abroad. I must enter my protest against that. What possible comparison can there be between an alien spy in this country and a British resident abroad. What possible harm or damage can a resident in Germany do by spying there. They cannot give notice of ships going out or of how they can be torpedoed, or of how submarines can act, or of how they can get a supply of petrol. There is no comparison whatever, and I do not think that the Home Secretary's argument on that point should carry any weight whatsoever. Finally, I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for War on the very satisfactory statement he was able to give us about the medical arrangements at the front, and especially I thank him for the arrangements he has made for the sick and wounded Indian soldiers. I know we have a number of scientific specialists 1457 working for the good of the soldiers at the front and who are doing so at great sacrifice to themselves. I would ask whether a larger number of young doctors could not be sent to the front to aid in dressing the wounded men between the clearing stations and the base hospitals. We know that an enormous number of civilian doctors are volunteering for service, and all I recommend is that an extra number of volunteers should be taken, so that there may be no possibility of any complaint on the part of wounded men of their wounds remaining undressed for a day or an hour, whatever the time may be.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.