§ Question again proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, 4th January."
§ [Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.]
§ Sir C. HENRY
(resuming): I was stating that my object in bringing forward this question has been dictated by the unsatisfactory replies of the Prime Minister as regards the manner in which the Government propose to deal with the question I am raising. I suppose no one who has asked the Prime Minister has received a direct answer. The Prime Minister is equally as dexterous with the parry as he is with the lunge, but the policy of the Government in connection with this matter seems one that has characterised it for a very long time past. The Prime Minister has informed me that the matters will be relegated to a body of permanent officials, drawn from the Board of Trade and the Foreign 648 Office, assisted by business men. I am gratified that the President of the Board of Trade is now in the House because, perhaps, he will be able to give me some information which I have been unable to-obtain through question and answer. I would like to know definitely whether there is a Committee, when it was appointed, of whom it consists, how many sittings they have had, and the scope of their investigations and their work. I think it is absolutely necessary that the House of Commons should be informed about that. The Prime Minister, in an answer to my proposal that a Select Committee should be formed, said:A great deal of preparatory investigation is already taking place, but much of it is naturally unsuited for public discussion at present. For this and other-reasons, I doubt if the precise machinery suggested in the question is best suited for the purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1915, col. 1767, Vol. LXXVI.]I do not ask for public discussion at present, but what I do ask for is this, this is a matter that should not be relegated to permanent officials, but should be left to a Committee of the House of Commons to investigate. I think I shall get general support for the statement that it is evident more and more each year that the Government desire to ignore the private Members. I am certain the President of the Board of Trade will not assert that there are not in this House men sufficiently well versed in business and finance in order to investigate this question, and I would urge upon the Government, through the President of the Board of Trade, not to continue to ignore the fact that that material exists, because if they do I am certain that it will be no advantage to the Government, and certainly not an aid to the efficiency of Parliament. The time may come, if the present course is followed, when there will be a general movement on the part of private Members to adopt the system prevalent in the French Chamber, and that is that every department is supervised by a Commission composed of the Members of the Chamber. There is something very much to be said for it. I see no reason why such a Commission could not be formed from this House on the same lines as the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee, and I am certain that if it is the idea of the Government that Members of the House of Commons are not able to do work which is properly their function, there will be a strong agitation to adopt that course.
649 There is no reason why a Select Committee of Members of this House should not be formed. The investigation need not take place in public, but the Committee should be in a position to call evidence so as thoroughly to investigate, and then to make a Report to the Government embodying their recommendations. As I stated before, I think it would be inappropriate now to dwell on details, but the scope of such a Committee should be wide, and it should have the power to look thoroughly into the commercial and financial position—I am not now dealing with an industrial commission, because I think that that should be another body— and on the evidence they receive, and the investigations they make, they should be able to give valuable help to the Government in very difficult and intricate problems with which they will be confronted after the War. Therefore, I do urge upon my right hon. Friend not to minimise the importance of this question, and to recognise, that it is a function that should devolve upon Members of the House of Commons, and that a Committee should be appointed from their number to deal with this question. I feel certain that by adopting such a method much more practical results can be obtained than by that outlined by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. STUART - WORTLEY
Like the hon. Member for Wellington (Sir C. Henry), I ventured to put a question to the Prime Minister on this same subject, and I did so because information had reached me from a fairly well-informed source that there was a suggestion early in the present year that there had been an intention to set up a Committee for the purpose of investigating the subject, and that steps had advanced so far as the appointment of a chairman, but at that time there was a cessation of this highly desired activity and nothing further was done. In answer to the questions of the hon. Gentleman and the question I ventured to put, we were told that this subject was going to be dealt with by existing officials in the public Departments, with a certain amount of assistance from experts outside, and I am bound to say that method of dealing with this supremely important question did not strike me as the best that could possibly be adopted. It must be obvious to everybody that at the present time the public Departments must be working up to their fullest 650 capacity. Their own numbers are depleted by enlistment, and only less important war duties than that. Their own duties are increased in number and in urgency, and the result is that you have at the end of every day probably an overtired machine, and you cannot expect from an organisation such as that the one thing which is necessary for the purpose of investigation such as those raised by the question of the hon. Member, namely, the element of initiative, of curiosity, and the necessary activity, without which you cannot have an enlightened forecast of the necessities we shall find ourselves up against in this matter at the end of the War. It may be that a Select Committee of this House may not be at the present time the most suitable organism for the purpose of making these inquiries. That may be so, but I may say from my own experience that if a subject has to come up for Debate in this House—and you may expect in vain that this subject will not come up for discussion in this House when the War is over—that discussion always gains from the fact that the subject has been before a Select Committee of this House, if such has been the case, because then you have the assured presence in the Debate of a certain number of Members whose minds are enlightened, whose enthusiasms possibly are chastened, but in any case whose impartiality is fortified by having been brought up against an array of facts which has been brought before such a Select Committee.
That is my opinion as to the want of initiative and the denial to this House of a very great deal of information which might otherwise be given. You must add to that the fact that the mere knowledge that a Committee, departmental or any other kind, exists, tends to attract evidence, information, statistics, and all the other material without which it is impossible for an investigation of this kind to go on. Then there is the magnitude of the interests involved. At the present time there are all sorts of tremendous preparations being made by Germany upon assumptions which, we hope, are only too ill-founded. Nevertheless, we know that these preparations are contemplated, and are being made, and we know a great deal which, although we may have known it before, if we did know it we pretended not to know it. We should pay more attention to the methods of Germany in peace time as 651 well as in war. That unscrupulousness and unfriendliness, often of a fradulent character which characterises German trade is aimed for the purpose of capturing the political organisations of foreign countries, and defeating our commercial operations there. This makes it supremely necessary that after due time, in concert with our Allies and with full knowledge of the ideas believed to be entertained this country should be forearmed to meet the necessities which we now find ourselves faced with.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
This is a small House, but I have never listened to two speeches which have proved more interesting to me than those which have been made by the hon. Member for Wellington (Sir C. Henry), and the right hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley). I have felt ever since I have been in this House that this is one of the most important subjects for the House of Commons to consider and deal with. We have never been able to get any interest taken in this subject because before the War the Government and the parties were so busy contesting with one another on the great political issues of the day, and now the War is fully occupying the minds of everybody. I am glad that this question has been raised, and I give my support to what has been said in general principle. Anyone dealing with this subject would, of course, speak on the various topics which Committees of this kind would have to deal with; but this afternoon we are taking the opportunity of ventilating a principle which I believe will have to be debated sooner or later by the House. While we have every reason to desire some organisation of this kind in peace time, we have learned many lessons through the War which have made some such organisation absolutely imperative and necessary if this Parliament is to take its proper place as a responsible representative assembly. The more the work becomes political, the greater the danger of the whole thing getting into the hands of Government officials, and the modern developments of our public life dictate the adoption of some such course as that which has been suggested. We cannot get on without making some change. Changes are taking place in all directions and it is a world of change, and why cannot the House of Commons make a change? Have we become so sub- 652 servient in our habits that we cannot adapt ourselves to new and modern conditions? One of them is that greater use must be made of the House of Commons. There ought to be something else for Members of Parliament to do than either to support or criticise the Government. That is a wrong idea for Ministers to get. We come here day after day and either we are to sit and support the Government or criticise what they are doing. That ought not to be our function. I do not hesitate to say that four-fifths of the Debates in this House are almost unnecessary, and we should be much happier if we were better occupied.
I suggest that the time has come when a more practical use should be made of Members of both Houses of Parliament. This is not a matter for the House of Commons alone. A more practical use must be made of the Members of both Houses if you are going to keep up a real interest in political life, and not let this Parliament become a place for professional politicians. That is what you make us if we are going to be purely a debating class, with nothing to do but talk. I think there is a good deal of nonsense surrounding the phrase "Business men, business Cabinets, and business Governments." I am a business man, and I can understand people objecting to the phrase so often used: "Oh! I am a business man, therefore I ought to be able to do this and that." I have no greater confidence in the business man than any other man, but the business man has an experience of life and affairs outside politics which he should bring into his work as a politician. The mere fact of his being a business man does not prove that he is a competent administrator or politician. But if you had some such Committee of this House as that which has been suggested you would find out the business man if he was on a Committee giving practical work to the House. You would then find out whether he was a practical administrator, and by Committees of this kind you would produce a business man of the right sort who should be able to find his way on to the Treasury Bench by work and by knowledge, and that work and knowledge should be ascertained by his colleagues in the quantity and quality of work which he could be given to do by the Government from time to time in learning his work as a public man, and then you get the real value of the business man. The business man may be an expert in his own 653 business and yet he may be perfectly useless in politics, but in the business man, trained in administrative work, as many hon. Members have been before they come here on municipalities, and with all sorts of other experience, who comes here and works on Committees, I can see great advantage to the State. I believe that this system must come about. You may have a Cabinet who do not realise it today, with all the work they have to do, that this is so near, but I am perfectly confident that we are very nearly within reach of this change in our Parliamentary organisation. The time will come when some Prime Minister will propose this change, and, even if it is refused now, I am perfectly certain that it is bound to come, and that in the near future some Prime Minister will make the change, and when it is made everybody will say, "Why did you wait all these years before you made use of Members of Parliament in this way?"
I can understand permanent officials objecting, and I believe that is where the principal obstacle lies. I think they are making a mistake and taking too narrow a view. They take the view that so long as there is a Cabinet Minister appointed at the head of their Department, then they should do all the rest; everything can be left to them in the Government Department. We know what Government Departments are. We say that the Cabinet Minister is to be responsible for everything, but we know that the principal work in which the Cabinet Minister is engaged is that which is uppermost in the mind of the House and the public at the moment, and there are a great many other things on which Parliament is not pressing him which are left to be dealt with by subordinate officials in the Department. We can go and search, and we shall find probably some estimable gentleman, with a good education no doubt, tucked away in some back room in a Government building who is dealing with matters of the greatest possible importance to the country. There is my right hon. Friend who is now on the Front Bench (Mr. Runciman), in whom everyone has confidence, knowing the great work that he has done, and who everyone desires to support in every possible way. It does not do, however, for the House of Commons to attach too great importance to a Cabinet Minister, because the invariable practice is that as soon as he becomes a pastmaster in his work he is shifted to some other Depart- 654 ment. We do not know how long my right hon. Friend intends to stay where he is. It is absolutely essential in the general interest of the whole of our public work that we should have a change. I believe the permanent officials themselves would find that they would be doing a good thing for themselves if they insisted on sweeping away this barrier and became more the servants of the whole of the State through Parliament, rather than that they should pursue and continue the old out-of-date policy of Cabinet Minister, permanent officials, and House of Lords and House of Commons merely to discuss and approve. I hope my right hon. Friend will see what we desire. I believe in the near future this great change will be brought about.
§ Mr. BRYCE
There is no doubt of the great importance of this question, and the House ought to be obliged to the hon. Baronet the Member for Wellington (Sir C. Henry) for bringing it forward. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) truly said that other countries are already planning for what is to happen after the War and we alone appear indisposed to do so. The Germans have already bought some £23,000,000 worth of goods in the United States to be ready for delivery when the War ends, so that they may be at once in a position to deal with the requirements of their trade which they think are going to arise then. They are continually studying, as I know, with the exercise of their immense power of organisation, the problems which are going to arise at the end of the War. We alone are not doing so. The French are doing so. They have made up their minds what their policy is going to be. The Italians have made up their minds what their policy is going to be. Have we any policy? Is there a policy in this matter any more than there has been in any other matter since the War began? We know that the continual variations in the attitude towards aliens and alien trade seem to show that the Government has not made up its mind yet what attitude it is going to adopt with regard to this question of enemy trading. The Home Secretary told us the other night that he is going to produce another Bill on the subject. I shall be curious to see the details of that Bill. Do we want to make things easy for our enemies after the War, or do we want to make things difficult for them?
655 The French, as I said a moment ago, have made up their minds. During the War they are carrying out a continual process of eliminating the German influences in France. I heard the other day that the managing director, a naturalised German, of one of the most important French banks, has been made to give in his resignation. In Italy the same process is being carried out. Both the Italian and French Governments are making arrangements now by which after the War there will be no more German elements so far as they can help it in the conduct of their trade. I do not say that we should do the same thing. It is for a committee such has been suggested to inquire what attitude we should adopt towards enemy trading after the War. It may be, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Wellington said, that we shall have some fiscal changes. I should be very far from saying that the conditions of the War and the opinions of the various Powers, our Colonies and our Allies, may not make such a change necessary, but that again is a matter which could be inquired into by such a committee if it were appointed. Our Allies, the Italians, the French, and the Russians, all intend after the War to adopt these methods of preventing a further penetration of Germany in their trade. We must remember, therefore, that the attempt of penetration in our trade by Germany will be all the more acute, because if so large a proportion of the world's trade is cut off from them in the future it will be necessary for them to be more active in endeavouring to secure a larger share of that which is left.
I do not think the House knows the extent to which these German methods of penetration are carried on. I have had occasion lately to study the methods of Germans in Italy. It is extremely interesting to find the extraordinary intelligence and the extraordinary power of organisation and at the same time the extraordinary unscrupulousness with which they proceed. There is a bank in Italy under German influence, called the Banca Commercials d'Italia. That bank was started about twenty-two years ago with quite a small capital, entirely raised in Germany. It gradually grew by able management. There were subsequent increases of capital, through subscriptions from France and Italy, but the management remained entirely German, and remains entirely German to this moment, although it is now managed by Germans who are naturalised 656 Italians. This is the curious way in which this thing is practised. This bank makes advances to manufacturers in Italy. They, of course, have to follow the standing and business of the manufacturer, who has to show them his balance-sheets. They get to know by the invoices which pass through their hands who his customers are in foreign States. Suppose there is an electrical manufacturer sending goods to the Argentine. This bank gets to know who are his customers in the Argentine, and they inform their headquarters in Berlin, the Deutsche Bank, of the names of all these customers, and then the Deutsche Bank says to the manufacturers in Germany, "Here is So-and-So in Italy manufacturing for such a customer in the Argentine or in Brazil; you had better look into it and see if you cannot get the trade." They do get it, and the unfortunate customer of the bank in Italy eventually loses his trade altogether. That is the kind of thing which has been going on in France and Italy for many years past under this German system, and that will be what will go on to a large extent here and in our Colonies—it already goes on to a considerable extent, but it will go on to a very much larger extent—after the War.
I would like to know what the attitude of the Board of Trade is on that question. How do they intend to counteract these things? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield truly said they are just as much war as the war of ships and guns which is now going on. We do not seem to have any policy in this matter at the moment. There has been a little Bill introduced to have a black list of people in neutral countries with whom we are not to trade We have, in China, a general prohibition against dealing with enemy firms at all. But in England we are allowed to deal with them with freedom; we are allowed to deal with firms and with enemy companies which exist in large numbers, and which would not be allowed to exist in any other country under similar circumstances. The French have shut down altogether enemy concerns, and in France those which are partly enemy and partly French are controlled. In Russia, too, I believe, all enemy firms have been shut down. In Italy they are still allowed to do business, because Italy is not at war with Germany; but still, the influence of the Italian Government is used against them in every possible way. But here we are pursuing a different policy to that which we are pursuing with regard to the 657 enemy in neutral States, and it absolutely passes the wit of any man to understand the policy of the Government in regard to this matter. Some of these firms are said to be controlled, but everybody knows that the control and supervision is of a most slight and perfunctory character, and after the War these enemy concerns in this country will start with a new life, with all their connections unimpaired, and with the prestige of having been allowed to continue business during the course of the War.
Is that policy being pursued by any other belligerent country? As regards Germany and Austria, you will find that the English companies in those countries are not allowed to continue their business. An English firm is shut down, or supervisors are appointed, and there the supervisor conducts the business; here he does not, and that is all the difference. These are some of the questions which ought to be submitted to a Committee such as has been suggested by the hon. Member for Wellington and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield. But what are these Committees going to be? They must not be Committees appointed by the Government. If they are to be of any good at all they must be Committees appointed by the House of Commons. There is an essential difference between Committees and Commissions of this House and Committees and Commissions of the French Chamber. Committees and Commissions of the French Chamber are not appointed by the Government; they are appointed by Members of the Chamber, and that is why the French have conducted the War so much better than we have done. In the early days of the War, when the French Parliament was sitting at Bordeaux, the French Government was in absolute control, and a great many mistakes were made by our Ally. But when, in January, the Chamber returned to Paris, the Members of the Senate and of the Chamber made up their minds that, as things were going so badly Parliament must reassert its powers, and so the Commissions for War and for Marine were enlarged and came into active operation. From that moment affairs began to get better on the French side. The question of munitions was soon satisfactorily settled. It was a question which had dragged on for months. Here we have the Minister of Munitions attacking the Government and the War Office, although, as a Member of the Cabinet, he is as responsible as is the War Minister himself. But instead of that being the 658 case in France, we find that from the very beginning of the active interference of the French Commission the munitions question was placed on a satisfactory footing.
Two months ago I asked the Prime Minister whether he had considered the question of the appointment of such Commissions in this country. He replied that he had, and he did not believe it would be a good thing to do. I can quite understand why he would not like it, because, of course, it would involve a delegation from the powers of the Cabinet, powers which, for the last thirty years, have been growing more and more until ultimately, as has been said by the hon. Member for Wellington, the position of Parliament has become practically a side issue. That must go on so long as Parliament fails to assert its authority and to insist that the executive powers shall not continue to increase. I trust, therefore, that this very important question of trade, taken in connection with the assertion of the power of Parliament and of the House, will not be lost sight of, The hon. Member who spoke last referred to the use which might be made of business men. I entirely agree with all he said about the humbug we constantly hear talked with regard to management by business men. It docs not follow that because a man is successful in making money he is therefore competent to control a great undertaking. I believe that in a great majority of cases it will be found that failure has been due to the lack of necessary experience. The powers of administration and the powers of political management which exist in the business man in embryo are best brought out by such practice which would be obtained by membership of these Commissions. The knowledge of administration and the political knowledge which would be gained on these Commissions would help to bring out the necessary qualities, and I believe my hon. Friend is perfectly right in anticipating that you would find men for the highest positions in the State whose experience had been gained in the active exercise of their powers as members of these Commissions, which would be much more than mere committees; they would have much more definite things to do.
It has been due to the Commissions of the French Assembly that there are so many people capable of taking political office in France. It is just the practice on these Commissions which assures that 659 so many more men are capable of becoming Ministers. In France we know they change the Ministry every few months, and it is found that there are an enormous number of men who are capable of taking part in the Government. We had a speech the other day by a Minister in which it was admitted that the Government was incapable. Why does the Government still exist? Is it because it is supposed there are no people outside who are capable of taking its place? It is a difficult thing to experiment in Cabinet making, but I do believe that, if we adopted in this country the principle of the Government acting under the authority or under the control of Commissions appointed by the House itself, you would soon find that there are a lot of people who could be substituted for this present incompetent and incapable Government. I am not referring to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman). We all know he is absolutely capable in his own Department, and he is one of the very few people in the Government in whom I have any confidence at all. But he is only one of twenty-two, or twenty-three, or twenty-four, whatever the number is now, and, of course, he has to look after his own Department He has not been a member of the Inner Ring, as we call it, which makes troubles and makes a mess of our affairs, and so he will not mind when he hears some of these things. If we had had this kind of thing we should have found lots of people now upon whom we could fall back, and out of whom we could make a good Government. This question, of course, has been ventilated in the House, as the newspaper expression is, for many years past. There was a strong attempt to get a Commission on the Budget. That would have been a most important thing to have had in existence now. If it had been, we should not have had the horrible mess we have had over our financial affairs, the shocking mess over the American exchange, the Excess Profits Tax, and the various things of which we have had to complain. The Government opposed it, and it dropped, and now we only have the miserable Public Accounts Committee as a kind of simulacrum of what there ought to be. I hope the Government will, in the immediate future, consider the menace referred to by the hon. Member who spoke last, that these Commissions will be forced on them. If they had been in existence 660 now we should never have had the horrible waste we have had in every direction. As hon. Members probably know, the Commissions have the power of calling in officials before them. They can summon the Minister of War, the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Minister of Marine, and everybody else— even the generals in the field—before them, cross-question them, and ask why they have not done this or why they have done that. It may be carried too far in France. I dare say it is. But we, with our experience of political life, should probably know how to control this matter. The proceedings are held so that no knowledge useful to the enemy gets out, and that would get over the difficulty, which has been before us now for so many months, of having information. The House does not get information because it is known that if information is; given to the House at large it will necessarily get to the public and the enemy, and might be the subject of danger. In these Commissions, however, they get all this information, but their sittings are held in secret, everyone is sworn to secrecy, and the result has been that no information of value to the enemy— although France is much more infested with spies than this country—has got out from the discussions in these Commissions of the French Parliament. I am sorry to have taken up the time of the House for so long, but I do hope that the Government, after the warning given by the last hon. Member, will again consider what I believe to be the immediate necessity of setting up some organisation such as is provided by the Commissioners of the French Chamber.
§ 2.0 P.M.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
I should at the outset like to associate myself with the last hon. Member who spoke in his tribute to the ability of the President of the Board of Trade. I think we are all agreed that he, at any rate, is the right man in the right place. I should like to bring to his attention what I must call the crying scandal of the shortage of tonnage in South Wales. I think the President of the Board of Trade will bear me out when I say that there is no portion of the country in proportion to its size and population that contributes so much to the sustenance of the life of this country as South Wales does. But here we have collieries being closed up on account of the deficiency in transit. We cannot get trucks, 661 the railways will not take the stuff, and, further, we have the question raised today by the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge). The tinplate and steel works in South Wales are in danger of being closed because of the difficulty of obtaining transit both on land and sea. The commercial and industrial life of Wales is in danger of being strangled. I understand that in regard to tonnage the difficulty is twofold. First of all, there is the Admiralty, and I quite understand that it is outside the jurisdiction of the President of the Board of Trade. In reply to a supplementary question I put to-day, it was stated that the Admiralty are working in co-operation with the Board of Trade in this matter—that they are working together—and if my right hon. Friend approached them I think he might be able to secure the release of a number of vessels not being used by them. Then we are told that the Welsh shipowners are taking their boats away from the Welsh ports because of the better rates to be obtained elsewhere. My right hon. Friend is in active association with the shipowning community. He knows them, and they have the most implicit faith in him, more than in any other Member of the Government, and I am quite sure that a friendly word from him would have the desired effect. I think he himself declared on one occasion that at the present crisis coal was as valuable as gold in this country, and for that reason, when you are having Welsh collieries closed down on account of a shortage of tonnage and of deficiency of transit, I appeal to him to do something. With regard to transit on land, we were told to-day by the hon. Member for Gorton that the railway companies have refused to come in. There was a conference, I believe, convened by the Board of Trade yesterday and the railway authorities were invited to take part in it, but declined to do so. I am very surprised to hear that, especially now that the railway companies are under the jurisdiction of the State. I conclude by appealing to the right hon. Gentleman to take a personal interest in the matter. I am not content to leave it to his Department. We get sterotyped replies from his Department in regard to the shortage of tonnage and the deficiency of transit, but if he will only give the matter his attention I am quite satisfied that something will be done.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
The subject to which my hon. Friend has referred is one of constant anxiety to us, and I assure him that, so far as I am concerned, I am never out of touch with the Railway Executive Committee, of which I am formal chairman. The difficulty of land transit is not only that we are placing a far greater strain on our railway service, rolling stock, and railway servants than ever before, but we are having to do it with a diminishing staff, and to a large extent with rolling stock that we cannot for the time being renew. The same topic was raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He asked whether it was true that some 10,000 wagons were out of action because they were not restored to a fit state of repair for regular goods traffic. I have no means of verifying those figures out of hand, but I am assured that every efficient wagon that can be safely run on our lines is now at work, and I am sure that neither of my hon. Friends would wish that we should run any risk of putting on our lines—especially on the main lines—wagons inefficient or likely to break down. The restoration of rolling stock is a matter of great difficulty at the present time, because so many of the shops of the various railway companies have been taken over for munition purposes. The first extension of work, outside the Government Departments, for the making of munitions was in the railway shops, and ever since the changes were first made there they have been working day and night in order to assist my right hon. Friend who is now responsible for the supply of guns, shells, and other equipment of war. So long as that goes on it is impossible for us to restore our rolling stock, but I can assure the House that even on this subject we have not been prepared merely to accept the facts as they are and we are trying to bring back to railway work a large amount of the equipment and some of the establishments which ought to be working now on railway stock, and keeping that rolling stock up to the mark and filling up the deficiency as far as possible. I hope by these means we shall do something to relieve the congestion on our railways. But even when that has been done, we must not forget that about 140,000 railway servants have gone into the Army. We have replaced them to some extent by labour drawn from the outside, and by a con- 663 siderable number of women; but the pressure which is now borne by our railway service is so great that an idea of the limitation of hours has been for the time waived by them. I am not quite sure that in some directions we have not gone too far in placing too great a strain on the individuals, a pressure which they have willingly borne and a pressure without which it would have been impossible for us to conduct the necessary traffic.
My hon. Friend asked me whether something more could not be done to provide tonnage for the carriage of coals from South Wales. I wish it were possible to provide more tonnage. We must not overlook the fact that we have at the present time employed on purely military and naval purposes a gigantic Fleet, nearly three times the size of the whole of the German mercantile marine put together, which is now conducting for us the whole of the supply services upon which the whole Army and Navy depend, and upon which to a large extent the French and Italians depend. That has brought about a great depletion of the cargo-carrying capacity of the vessels available for the South Wales and other coal trades. At the same time, there has been an enormous addition to the amount of tonnage necessary for the carriage of material necessary for munitions—metals, and chemicals of various kinds. The whole of this strain has to be borne with a merchant fleet which is actually less than that with which we operate in peace time. The truth is that we have not enough merchant ships to go round. That is the simple explanation that I can make to my hon. Friend. We are now having to take the choice as to what trades will have to do without a certain amount of tonnage. It is quite clear that we cannot dispense with tonnage for the supply of food-stuffs for the country; that has the first claim. We cannot dispense with the tonnage requisite for the carriage of the munitions required for this War. All other carriage must, therefore, take third place. I could not promise that we would divert tonnage from other trades where the requirements are so great—so great that gigantic prices are paid for the carriage—to South Wales. The only thing I can promise to my hon. Friend, and to the hundreds and thousands of people who are dependent upon the South Wales and North Country coal trades, is that we shall do what we can to induce vessels to take cargoes out, rather than to run out in 664 ballast in order to bring cargoes home. We shall do all that we can to induce them to do the double journey. That, I hope, will bring some relief which will be appreciably felt in the districts my hon. Friend represents, which are undoubtedly, I believe, suffering from a shortage of tonnage.
Will it be possible to divert British tonnage from neutral ports? There is a good deal of British tonnage going between neutral ports and escaping British ports altogether.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My hon. Friend must have overlooked the fact that under the Order in Council of November we allow no vessel to trade between foreign ports at the present time—not neutral ports only, but foreign ports as well—without a licence, and by withholding licences we have already diverted a large amount of tonnage into British trade and the trade of the Dominions, because we are naturally treating them on the same footing as ourselves. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh also asked me a question about the crowding of railway trains, especially the through trains from Scotland to England. We are having fuller inquiries made into this subject, and I cannot give him a definite answer at the present moment, but I can assure him that I have brought it to the attention of the railway companies, and I have pointed out to them that especially for the carriage of soldiers —very large numbers of whom are now travelling on the lines, passing to and fro seeing their friends when they get leave—there should be some increase in the accommodation if it is available. I regret to say, however, that we are a great deal limited in the amount of the accommodation we can provide. The House will be interested to know that, in addition to the purely military traffic, the traffic which is paid for on the lines is far greater now at the end of 1915 than it was in peace time at the end of 1913. That explains to a large extent the reason why the accommodation has been inadequate.
I now come to the main question which has been discussed upon the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellington (Sir C. Henry). He asked particularly whether any inquiries were being made, and if so, what were the steps being taken by the Government in preparation for the reorganisation of industry when the War is over, and for preventing that penetration of English industry by German enterprise 665 which has been one of the facts largely before our minds during the last two or three years, and which has become very patent during the War. His request was mainly that business men, and especially the business men in this House, should be given a larger share in the study and discussion of these topics. I need hardly say that I share with him entirely the view that when you are dealing with these special topics in which experts are necessary, it is absurd to leave them in the hands of either politicians or permanent officials I think that the Board of Trade is probably as free from the charge of leaving these topics to the bureaucracy as any other Government Department. From the very first there has not been a single industry or trade with which we have had to deal, where we have not taken full advantage of the best advice we could get. Of course, we have not called in every business man in every trade, and I suppose that those we have left out no doubt think we have done the work very badly. But we have selected the best men we could find. It is very often difficult, when you are selecting the best men you can find, not to select someone who has rather conflicting interests. All these points have to be taken into consideration. From the time we began to deal with the subject of trade, we always took care to get the best advice we could find from the Baltic. I should like to take advantage of this occasion to thank Sir George Saltmarsh, who actually went out of his business in order to give us the benefit of his advice, and he has done so up to the present time.
In regard to cotton we have had the advantage of the assistance, not only of the best men we could find in Liverpool and Manchester, but actually we have had sitting at the Board of Trade, working alongside of us and acting practically as our cotton assessor, a man who made a considerble fortune out of cotton, but who is now retired from the industry, and has no clashing interest in it, although he has a great deal of knowledge of it. The same thing is equally true of the way in which we have dealt with such special topics as that on which my hon. Friend has more information than I have, namely, nickel. There is no metal which has given us more anxiety, with perhaps the exception of copper, than nickel. None of us at the Board of Trade, be we permanent officials or politicians, imagine that we can handle these difficult topics without assistance from outside. We not only get assistance 666 from outside, but when we asked for advice from men whom we trusted we took care to follow that advice, and that is about as much as a Government Department can do-even when they have to extemporise their organisation. Not only on these specially difficult topics do we follow the advice and counsel of business men, but when we have such complex questions to deal with as the trade relations between England and Sweden, for instance, it was not a Foreign Office deputation we sent out, it was not a selection of gentlemen from the Civil Service, but we sent out a team of business; men who spent some five months in Sweden working for us on these special topics, and' what harmony now exists between Sweden and ourselves in industrial and commercial questions is largely due to the assistance they gave. The Board of Trade has certainly not ignored the immense advantage which comes from business advice and' business experience. My hon. Friend went further than that. He wanted such inquiries as were conducted by the Government made by Select Committees of Parliament.
I will not go into the topic which was; discussed by the hon. Member (Mr. Bryce) as to whether or not we should not better conduct our business by following the French example. From what I have seen of the conduct of Government Departments on both sides of the Channel since the War, I am not prepared to have the French model held up to us as being so excellent that we should abandon our own methods. I go no further than that, but, in so far as this House can be taken into confidence by the Government, the more that is done the better, and looking over what has happened in the last eighteen months I think we may occasionally have erred on the side of caution in stating too little rather than in stating too much. But when we come to the matter of secrecy, secret as are the committees over in France, I should like to point out that such inquiries as we should conduct now, for instance, into the trade relations between ourselves and our Allies, the connection which German syndicates and the German Government itself has had with great industries, we should have to have absolute secrecy in order to be effective in our investigations and in the results which we obtained from them. Whether that would be best attained by a Select Committee or by a Joint Committee of the two Houses, I am not prepared to say at present. That must be dealt with by 667 others, and any pronouncement made on the subject had better be made by the Prime Minister, but secrecy is of the very essence of these inquiries.
The assumption has been drawn in many quarters that we have not been looking ahead, that we have not made preparations on a great many subjects for the resumption of normal trade when the War is over. That is entirely a mistake. There is scarcely a single Department of commercial life where we have not been constantly thinking of what is likely to happen when the War is over, and how now we can best prepare for such contingencies. I should not like it to be imagined in France or Italy or Russia that in doing that we were contemplating an early peace. I should be only too glad to see an early peace, but like the rest of my colleagues, I would repeat that there is no peace, however early, that I could be a party to that in any way conflicted with the interests of the Allies, that we stand together and none of us ought or should make peace separately, and no indication or suggestion or hint should be given by any one of the Allies that they were hankering after peace before the main end had been attained. It is the attainment of the main end to which we are loyal; and I think I ought to make it quite clear in this House, if what is said here travels elsewhere, that any investigation conducted by us, or any preparations made for the return of peace are not made with the idea of abandoning the harmony which now exists between the Allies or in any way hastening the return of peace at the cost of the main object for which we are fighting. That is one of the risks which we undoubtedly run in discussing these subjects in public. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Already I have seen indications on the Continent which, no doubt, have not come to the notice of my hon. Friend, that in looking ahead we, as a great commercial nation, were inclined to think of the return of our commercial prosperity, and that we were running a risk in doing that of not throwing ourselves heart and soul into the main object which we all have in view. I believe that to be totally untrue, and I altogether deprecate the idea that either in France or in Italy or in Russia we have not our hearts as fully in the successful conduct of this War as they have. Such investigations as we have conducted have been conducted, it is true, behind closed doors.
668 Do not let us imagine that we have only to deal with one or two topics. My hon. Friend referred, for instance, to finance. He said something about the advantage which is taken by aliens of our company laws. I have no doubt he had in his mind very largely the foreign control over the metal industry, of which he knows so very much. All these things were, no doubt, in his mind, but they do not exhaust the list. I have only recently, out of pure curiosity, and largely, I think, for the information of my colleagues who have not been making as wide a list of the activities of which they were conscious as I have, though they themselves were bearing a full share of the burden, been making a list of the subjects which are now under discussion or which are being considered behind closed doors. My hon. Friend will be surprised to hear that in print they cover two foolscap pages. It is not one or two topics. Practically every item of our commercial life must come under review. Everyone knows that when the War is over there is not one of these things which will start off in the same position it was in when the War began. In every one of them the relationship of Germany and of Austria—of what might be called the Central Powers Zollverein—is bound to conflict with our interests. There were some special subjects of a highly technical character which we were not prepared to investigate fully in the Board of Trade ourselves. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that at times we are tired, but I can assure him we are not tired out. We do our work as well as we can, but we still devote a very large amount of our work every day to looking ahead and making preparations long before the contingencies arise. There were some of these topics over which, for my own part, I was not prepared to spend a great deal of time at this stage, for the simple reason that I cannot spare the time. There were some topics for which we were not well equipped. I referred them to a very small team of business men outside. I have no doubt what my hon. Friend had in his mind was an investigation conducted by one of these sets of gentlemen. They are not the only ones. They cover a great variety of subjects. But let me mention three or four of them. First of all there is the use made by Germans of the English financial system—an extremely abstruse and difficult subject into which to inquire. Then there is the use made of British ports by German tonnage, and the use made by German owners of British companies 669 which own British shipping and which claim the advantage of our British ports and our flag, though they are really German concerns. There is the question of the ownership of real property by aliens in this country. I take the case, for instance, of coal fields. I know one coal field in the Midlands which has actually been held up by a German who was trading under an English title—a registered company which in itself was doing nothing at the time and which prevented other people exploiting coal fields which might have been valuable. That cannot go on after the War.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The hon. and learned Gentleman need not be at all afraid of that. We are taking good care that we allow no German to stand in our way in England. In reference to some remarks made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Bryce) as to German companies or German firms being allowed to exist in this country, the only consideration which affects the Board of Trade in these matters is that of British national interest, and everything else is sacrificed to it. Do not let him suppose that, having said that, that we have got a simple formula that will solve every consideration and every problem put to us. He seemed to think there were some British firms in Germany that had been seized and taken over by the Germans, and had entirely ceased to be British property. We shall see about that when the War is over. For the time being I know certainly, at least, of two or three enormous concerns in Germany, which are owned by British capital, which are going on just as before, and I hope that when the War is over and the terms of peace come to be settled we shall secure that the whole of that property remains, I will not say under British control, but that the capital shall be secured to the British owners. I am not going into a discussion of the whole question of enemy companies in this country. I only mention a few of the topics which are now being inquired into by some of the gentlemen whom the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) has heard about.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Will the right hon. Gentleman take care that the Bill which is promised to be introduced will proceed upon the simple principle that only Ger- 670 man firms and companies shall be allowed to go on which it is in the interest of this country should go on?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not think that that formula can be applied to every individual case. The Bill is being prepared, and it would be improper for me, on the Motion for the Adjournment, to state any of its terms. I can, however, assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are not going to be specially tender to Germans. Our object is to protect British interests. I will mention another topic which the Board of Trade and those who work with us have not the time or the specialised knowledge to inquire into. Take the question of oil finance. One of the most remarkable romances in industry has been the skill with which the Germans have gathered together the control of the financing of the oil-fields of Europe and to a large extent in the East of Berlin. The way, for instance, in which certain companies are controlled by another company, and that other company is controlled by a smaller group, and that smaller group finds its headquarters either in Austria or in Germany, is one of the most remarkable romances that can be produced. The question is how far this raw material, which is of vital necessity to us as a mercantile people, and having regard to the fact that trade will depend more and more upon oil in the future, shall pass out of German control, or at any rate into British control to such an extent that our interests may be safeguarded.
Mr. S. SAMUEL
Can the right hon. Gentleman mention any single oil company in the East or in any other part of the world controlled by Germany or by German interests? I do not know a single one myself, and I am in the oil trade.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the hon. Member will put a question down on the Paper for the 4th January I will give him some information. I have mentioned a few of the subjects which have to be dealt with. They are innumerable. Is it really in the best public interests that these subjects should be under discussion by Select Committees of this House. I am not arguing against Select Committees, because many Select Committees have done admirable work. But my experience of the Board of Trade has been that the best work has been been done by extremely small teams of highly specialised men, who devote the whole of their time to it morning, noon, and night. In doing that you get the best 671 results, results far better than by a Select Committee calling formal evidence and producing long British Blue Books, and then arriving at a compromise. I would point out that we are not only looking abroad, but we are looking ahead. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Bryce) mentioned the case of Italy. The Board of Trade already have on the way to Italy an excellent representative who is gathering for us a great deal of information on which we shall be prepared to act, not with the idea of capturing the trade in Italy from the Italians, but taking over in Italy some of the trade which has been done previously by the Germans. There is the Banca Commercials d'Italia, which is one of the largest organisations, semi-commercial and semi-financial, in Italy, which he said had some influence upon the spread of German trade in Italy. We are not unconscious of its influence there, and the fullest inquiries are being made about its activities. On that subject I would rather say nothing further.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the hon. Member will let me have the information we will make use of it. He seemed to think that in comparison with Germany we are rather evading our duty, and he suggested that something like £20,000,000 has been spent by Germany in America for the purpose of collecting raw material which they will make use of when the War is over. I would point out that £20,000,000 is nothing like what we shall spend when the War is over. We are going on spending every day far larger sums than that. I am not quite sure as to the £20,000,000 mentioned by the hon. Member being spent by the Germans. With the German foreign exchange at a discount of 20 per cent. in the United States, I have some suspicion about £20,000,000 having so far been paid. These goods have not been bought by German merchants or German commercial houses except at a huge premium.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am not disputing that, but I am sure the hon. Member will allow me to be suspicious about the success of these particular German commercial activities. I think, so far as commerce is concerned, Germany is a beaten nation, and our object is to see that she 672 does not get her head up and carry on the same activities when the War is over. All these topics are difficult to discuss. It is obvious that anything that is said here is bound to be repeated elsewhere, but I will say that a great deal of investigation has been conducted by us up to the present time and will be conducted with greater activity when the War is over So far we have been able to do it without arousing suspicion. Of course, we have to consider the susceptibilities of our Allies, but we should remember that we should not tell the Germans what we are doing or every step we are taking in order to take from them some of the great commercial and industrial advantages they had before the War. In so far as they have penetrated into our own trade, I think we shall succeed in taking it. In so far as they have succeeded in capturing the trade of neutral countries, especially South America and the East, I think it has received a serious blow during the War, and it will be our business to see that our own commercial men, and those who manufacture goods for our commercial men to export, shall be given every advantage the Government can place at their disposal.
§ Mr. PETO
The subject to which I wish to draw attention is closely allied to that with which the right hon. Gentleman has been dealing. He has been dealing mainly with the commercial policy of the Government and commercial questions connected with this War and what will happen afterwards. What I am interested in is the movement of ships for Admiralty purposes, military purposes and commercial purposes, during the War. There can be no more important question connected with the prosecution of the War than this. I would like to give the House a simple illustration of what is going on. Of course we know that we have lost a very considerable amount of tonnage. We also know that the Admiralty has had to requisition an enormous percentage of the total tonnage both of cargo vessels and of passenger vessels which are in peace time available for the business of the nation. Against that we have, fortunately, a considerable number of enemy ships which are employed in the trade of this country. But we have not got any complete returns of this balance and loss account. There is on the Paper to-day a Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Burns) calling for a Return showing the number and the net tonnage 673 of British merchant ships and fishing vessels reported to the Board of Trade as totally lost between the 4th August, 1914, and the 31st October, 1915, by enemy action and by ordinary marine casualties. It is obvious that the figures which will be given in that Return, together with the other figures to which I have alluded, the Admiralty requisitioning, and an account of the enemies' ships which are available, are facts and figures which are absolutely essential to the proper control and the economic use of the tonnage which is available for all purposes. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, and also the First Lord of the Admiralty, to seriously consider whether it would not be better, in giving the return, to deal only with the percentages. I think it will be a very startling return, and one likely to be repeated in neutral and enemy countries, but I frankly admit that it is essential the Admiralty should deliberate as to whether it would not be better to abstain from giving totals. There is no doubt that the country are increasingly interested, and naturally so, in this question of the economical use of the available tonnage possessed in connection with the prosecution of the War. I include in this subject, of course, our dealing with sugar, and other imports, our dealing with wheat from the Argentine, meat from the Australian Colonies, and the like. We have got to feed our population, and the point I want to put is this, that although these matters appear, superficially, as probably belonging to the Board of Trade, yet they are distinctly war measures carried on under war conditions; and I want to lay down the principle, which I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will controvert, that this vast business of managing a fleet of over 2,000 ships, controlling their direction, loading and unloading, and every detail of their voyage, cannot be carried on under a divided authority; it cannot be divided between the Admiralty and the Board of Trade.
One or other of the two Departments must take control, and that control must be exercised by the men who in civil life have to make their living out of this business. The management of a shipping business, I think, is a fine art. I would point out that the men who have control of the movements of ships, the loading and unloading, and the working of all the complicated questions of how far they are to go with this cargo, and where they are to take up the next, and the like—these are 674 the men who should be invited to help. They are men who have had to make their livelihood out of the management of ships in time of peace, and I ask who can better advise the Admiralty, or form a Board or Committee, or central authority, than they who have had to live by this work for years and years in time of peace. A livelihood in time of peace to the private individual is absolutely the life of the nation in time of war. We will have to economise the tonnage available, there is no doubt of that, whatever the result of the returns. We have got to see that every single ship, be she tramp or other merchant vessel, shall be used to the utmost possible advantage, and I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, if he can, to make some reassuring statement to the House and to the country, and not merely that this question is being considered. We have heard of too many questions that are being considered, and what we want to know is that it has been decided to take a strong and definite line, that you must have undivided control in regard to the whole of this vast organisation, and that you are going to bring to the country's needs the best possible practical and business ability connected with this great business of shipping which you can possibly command. I will give the House one illustration of how it will affect every individual in the country. The freight for wheat before the outbreak of war from Argentina was 12s. 6d. a ton; on 29th November last it was 90s. a ton; on the 2nd December, 105s.; on the 11th, 117s. 6d. or 24s. a quarter—4s. 4½d. a quarter equals ½d. on the 4 lb. loaf, so that the freight from the Argentine accounts for 2½d. on each 4 lb. loaf.
These facts are becoming known to the great mass of the people of the country, and in regard to food, they see that if it is to be brought into this country it necessitates undivided and absolutely business control of this great question. I desire to refer to one other matter. Others of my hon. Friends will deal with the shipping question with much more expert knowledge than I can claim to have. A great many somewhat wild statements are made with regard to the department of the Director of Transports. The other day, in one of our morning papers—I think the "Morning Post"— there was a statement illustrative of the mismanagement of our shipping. There was a horse ship at Cardiff, and at Avon-mouth, at the same time, there was a collier, each being properly fitted for the 675 cargo it had to transport. The story is that the collier was turned into a horse ship, and the horse ship into a collier, instead of changing the two ships from one port to the other. I do not believe that there is any truth in that story, and I should like to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty say that it is not true, and, secondly, that if it were true, it was not carried out by the Director of Transports. There is the almost classic case, which we know is true, under the administration, not of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but under that of the late First Lord—I refer to the case of ten oil vessels which were converted into transports. The holds of these vessels had been adapted for the purpose of carrying oil, being divided into tanks, which were filled with empty barrels hermetically sealed. The alteration of these vessels was carried out on the responsibility of the late First Lord. The experiment cost over a quarter of a million of money, yet no single one of the ten ships was ever used for the new purpose to which she was devoted, and money was spent in reconverting the vessels to adapt them for carrying out their original duty of conveying oil. Perhaps the First Lord of the Admiralty will make some reference to these matters. I do not want to rake up an old grievance or anything of that sort, but I do think it is desirable that the public, at any rate, should know that the Director of Transports is not responsible for many of these things.
There have been complaints of quite another character. In the Press it has been pointed out that there are a great many colliers apparently being held up. I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, if he can, to assure the public that the functions of these Fleet colliers are laid down by responsible experts who have control of the whole of our naval operations. It is remarked often that certain colliers in various ports are apparently doing nothing. They are doing nothing; but what would those who make this outcry say if we heard that the operations of our Fleet, perhaps at a critical and vital moment in a naval battle, were impeded, or the battle possibly even lost, because we had not got the necessary colliers ready with coal, and in the most mobile form possible to serve the Fleet, able to get their steam up at a moment's notice? I think the cry would be all the other way.
676 I mention these three types as the sort of complaint that is going about. They are my justification for rising upon this question, because I think it very desirable that the First Lord should be able to make some public statement. We have not had very many statements from the First Lord lately, and we welcome the one he is going to make this afternoon all the more on that account. I ask him to address himself especially to what I regard as the urgent question of the moment. I want him to be able to tell us there is no conflict or dividing interests or ideas between the Board of Trade and the Admiralty, and that the Admiralty are going to take complete control of the requisitioning, and that there is only going to be one requisition authority for all purposes. I ask him to tell us that the direction and the control of the movements of this vast fleet—and it will have to be bigger still, in the course of next year—is going to be done from one centre, and that that centre is to be arranged by the greatest experts in the business of moving shipping which we possess in this country. There is no country in the world that possesses such great knowledge on the question of the movements of shipping as this. That is my second point. I ask that this central authority to be installed at the Admiralty shall be in close touch with the daily and hourly requirements of our Fleet and of the military authorities, and that, above all, there shall be an ample supply of clerks. That is very important. Clerks who are shipping clerks, from the youth upwards, know every detail of this business, and if the First Lord will just consider that the management of a fleet of, say, a dozen vessels in time of peace requires an expert office, supplied in every detail with men trained to the business, he will realise the sort of expert staff he will want in order to control the whole vast fleet in these most complicated circumstances of war—a fleet of over 2,000 ships. The country wants to know that our great expert shipping knowledge is going to be directed aright, and that the Director of Transports especially shall be able to go to the Central Control Board and say, "We want on such-and-such a day such-and-such ships."
The whole problem should be worked out as part of the great interlacing problem of munitions, which I understand is to be a vast business next year, and must be undertaken by requisitioned ships. Nearly 2,000,000 tons of sugar 677 alone has to be brought from oversea. These interlacing problems must touch and impinge one upon another, and should all be managed by one expert central control board. It is quite impossible to divide one section of this business from another. You cannot allot certain ships to Admiralty purposes, certain to military purposes, and certain for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture of munitions and the feeding of the country. It is impossible to do that if you are going to use your expert knowledge, because on parts of the same voyage the same ship will be engaged on perhaps three of those different operations. Therefore the last argument that I put before the House and the right hon. Gentleman is that it is quite useless to say you are going to allot a certain number of ships to one thing and a certain number to another, and that you are going even approximately by that means to bring about economical use of the tonnage that is available. You must have the control of each individual voyage in order to be able to make the best of the shipping that is available. I am sorry to have to detain the House so long, but I have not had many opportunities of raising a question of this kind when I knew I should be able to get a reply from the First Lord, which I feel quite confident will allay a great many misapprehensions. If it is in the form in which I sincerely hope that it will be, it will give a great deal of confidence not only to the shipping community who are closely touched by this matter, but also to the general public throughout the country.
Mr. S. SAMUEL
I am deeply interested in this question of the control of shipping by the public Departments. The whole commerce of the country and the world is more or less identified with the shipping interest, and the whole of our finance as well as food supplies are to a great extent controlled by what we have often heard called the invisible profits which come from the international commerce conducted in British ships. It is very easy indeed to criticise the management of the vast undertaking which has been' taken up by the present Government. We all know that for military and naval purposes a vast number of ships are required, and I believe that the country has the greatest confidence in the Admiralty and in the way they have conducted the transport service, and the millions of men they have had to send 678 away and the requirements of our fighting Fleet, But the country has not the same confidence, and, I feel, justly so, in the assumption by a Government Department of the commercial operations of the mercantile marine for the purpose of assisting in great commercial speculations. The commercial community not only in the City of London but in the provinces feels that there is not that necessary knowledge in conducting transactions of this kind amongst the officials. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that they have taken the counsel of expert advisers on all these matters. I am not going to criticise because I do not know who their advisers are, but we had a statement from the Minister of Munitions two days ago in which he told us that the expert advisers at the War Office had told the Government —and I can vouch for this because they told our people—that the days for high explosives were past. If that was the experience of the expert advisers of the War Office it gives some idea of what reliance may be placed upon so-called experts. We business men have to take a different view of conducting mercantile transactions. We employ experts, but we should never think of consulting our experts except for special technical advice; for carrying out mercantile transactions we consider they are superfluous.
I come back to the point under discussion and that is the advisability of placing under a public Department the handling of the mercantile marine of this country. As the last speaker said, this requires a knowledge which can only be got by years and years of study and experience. We have the trade of the world divided amongst us. There are certain shipowners who have for years run their boats in various trades which they fully understand, and they combine the outward and the homeward voyages. They have in the past had to cater for the whole trade of the world. It is perfectly true that we have had the assistance of foreign steamers of all nationalities, which have been employed in carrying goods to this country; but against that we have had to supply tonnage which has been employed in carrying goods to all other countries in the world. We have had lines of steamers running across the Pacific, from China and Japan, to the Western Coast of the United States; we have lines of steamers running in every direction, and since the outbreak of the War a great many of those lines have been discontinued for the steamers to be employed by the Government. If the enor- 679 mous fleet at the disposal of the Government had been properly handled, we should not have seen the great rise in freights that we have seen in the past. I attribute the entire panic in the shipping world to the want of knowledge and experience displayed in the handling of these boats.
There is another matter of great importance which could alleviate to some extent the enormous scarcity of tonnage from which we are suffering—it requires bold action, I admit, because we should have, I am afraid, the opposition of Members below the Gangway on the other side—and that is, if the Government would take drastic steps to supply the necessary labour to clear off the congestion which exists in all our ports and which is absolutely diminishing the quantity of tonnage by from one-half to two-thirds. I will give an example. The company of which I am managing director have a steamer in Hull at the present moment. She arrived on the 27th November. In normal times that boat might take six or seven, perhaps eight, days to discharge. She is only 5,400 tons, but she has been there close upon a month, and it will be the end of this month, and possibly early in January, before her cargo is cleared. If we had had the assistance which could be rendered to the shipping community that boat would have been out again at her loading port, probably loaded, and on her way home during the time that has been wasted. Another steamer that we have under charter—the — "Clan Macfagan"—arrived in London last week. She could not get into the docks; it was six days before she could get even a wharf to go to at which to discharge. All these delays are capable of remedy.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Balfour)
Does my hon. Friend suggest that the Admiralty are responsible?
I do not know who is responsible. The responsibility is divided, I suppose, amongst various Departments. I am talking of the Departments who are chartering the boats. I am not blaming the Admiralty; I am blaming the Government.
§ 3.0 P.M.
Because they are taking up the boats. The reason the Government are responsible for this congestion is that in a moment of panic various 680 Government Departments entered into commercial transactions. We had first of all their sugar speculation and their grain speculation. They brought over to this country enormous quantities of goods, and the whole of this merchandise, which in normal times is spread over perhaps six or eight months, they tried to bring in in about one-third of the time. Not having the experience of merchants they crowded into a short space enormous business transactions. That was the initial cause of the great congestion from which we have never recovered. In the City of London and other commercial centres it is difficult to find out who is responsible. There is such secrecy, such invisibility, if I may so put it, in the various Departments of the people with whom we have had to deal. The Government were holding up in different ports transhipment cargoes which came to this country for the United States and elsewhere. Everything that came here was held up. It was landed on the quay and sometimes remained there for weeks and months. That was the original cause of the great congestion from which we are suffering at the present moment in the various ports of the country.
I wish to suggest from a practical point of view, and from experience in other countries, a remedy for that congestion. The Government might authorise the commanders in different districts to invite volunteers from the recruits, who would help, in the first instance, to clear off the accumulation of goods at the various ports and so leave room for steamers to discharge their cargoes, and, in the second place, to handle those cargoes when the steamers arrive here. This is work for which the shipowners and merchants are quite prepared to pay trade union rates of wages. I am absolutely certain from what I have seen in other countries, that you would have an unlimited number of volunteers ready to work in this connection, because they would realise that they were assisting to cheapen the articles of food and the necessaries of life which the poor people of this country require. We shall, of course, be told that the troops are not intended for this work. I would point out that it is a splendid training for those who wish to learn, because in foreign countries to which our steamers are going at the present time, I understand the troops are being employed to do this work. We know perfectly well that there are 681 large numbers in our new regiments who are not armed at the present time and are doing physical drill and exercises of that description. I suggest that the Government might ask for volunteers. It would not be necessary for them to be engaged on this work every day: they could take it in turns. I am certain that if the matter were presented to the Labour party and to the recruits, you would get all the volunteers you want, and within a very short time be able to relieve the congestion at present existing in all our principal ports. We know now perfectly well that this is practicable, because it is being done in other countries.
I will come back to the question as to the employment of the mercantile marine. We realise that it is not the function of the Government, nor is it desirable, that they should control the ships which are necessary for the transport of merchandise. I believe that the shipowners who have been bred and born in this trade are able to do far better than any public department. We have in the past, as I have mentioned, been able to provide for the necessary transport of merchandise all over the world, and I think that, on the whole, the country had every reason to be grateful to the greatest ship-owning community for the services they have rendered. If the Government had more confidence in those gentlemen who have conducted that commerce, and if they would take them more into their confidence, they would find they would get much better results. It is impossible for a great body of men, however capable they may be, to control and manage a large fleet of steamers all over the world. I would again make a suggestion: that is, that a Committee, who would be shipowners, should be formed, who would be in communication with the central authority, and that they should be allowed to employ the steamers to what they considered the best advantage of the trade of the United Kingdom and her Colonies. They should be told frankly—the information, of course, to be kept secret—the requirements of the Government. The Government, that is, the naval authorities, would have absolute control of the boats specially required for transport services, for all troops, munitions, and war material, and the coaling of the Fleet when necessary. The other various Government Departments, the commercial departments, ought to be treated the same as any other merchant is treated. They would be able to 682 charter their boats in the open market. I will undertake to say that if the proper measures were taken to communicate to the Committee the requirements of the commercial departments in the Government, and if assistance were given at our ports to relieve the congestion, much better results would accrue.
There is another suggestion I am going to make. If merchants were left free to do business for themselves, the Government, which has a double object, might encourage those merchants as far as possible to charter steamers under neutral flags for the commerce of Great Britain and her Colonies. The effect of that would be that you would take away from the neutral countries the capacity which they at present have, because nearly every ship outside the British flag at the present time is being utilised by neutrals. You would deprive the enemy of the services of those ships to take their cargoes to them by way of the neutral ports. The more you can control the shipping of the world, the greater you have in your hands the power to prevent the enemy getting contraband through neutral countries. If that had been done at the commencement of the War, we should not have seen the great difficulties we have had, or have been compelled to make various merchandise contraband. I know, as regards contracts made by the Government f.o.b. for merchandise, that people who own their own steamers, under the neutral flag, were anxious at the beginning of the War to charter those steamers and would have been perfectly willing to sell on a cost and freight basis. The Government Departments preferred to buy f.o.b.; nobody knows why. Those ships were chartered by Germans to carry cotton at 140s. from the Gulf ports, and were allowed to go into Germany without let or hindrance with cotton for our enemy. If we had had commercial people in charge of these transactions I think a good deal could and would have been done to prevent the great rise in freights which has taken place.
One other thing I would like to touch upon, because it was mentioned a moment or two ago by the President of the Board of Trade. He said that there was a large number of oil-producing companies in the East and elsewhere under German control. I am not ashamed to admit that I am connected with the oil business. I represent one of the greatest oil companies in the world, and have been associated with it 683 since the commencement. To my knowledge there is only one oil company, of comparatively small importance, that is controlled by Germany. That company is the Steaua Romana Petroleum Company of Rumania. The control is in the hands of the Deutschebank. The company is a producing company in Rumania, perhaps the largest producing company in Rumania. Its directors have also a controlling interest in one of the American companies. But I do not know a single company trading or producing oil in the East that is either controlled, associated with, or connected in any shape or form with any German firm or company. So far as the United States are concerned, I believe that there are very few indeed. In fact, German companies do not at the present time, and never have bad, control of any of the large oil companies. It is, therefore, surprising that a gentleman in the position of the President of the Board of Trade, who ought to be acquainted with so important an industry, one which he states is vitally necessary to the mercantile and naval departments of the country, should be so misinformed upon a topic of this importance. It shows that the Department must be exceedingly badly informed on commercial matters. Nobody who had any knowledge would make such misleading statements in the House of Commons. Some investigation ought to be made into the composition of the Intelligence Department of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade also mentioned the financing of German undertakings in this country. No doubt the commercial community of this country have learned a great deal from the methods of German financiers. We know perfectly well that they have utilised the money markets of England in the past, and I admit that the merchants who have been interested in the export trade of this country have learnt valuable lessons from the methods adopted by our enemies. But I quite agree that in the future, so far as the German international commerce is concerned, we ought to take precautions to prevent them from deriving benefit from the markets of this country. I do not want to enter into the financial position, because I have no doubt it would be out of order, but I hope that the Government, so far as the freight question is concerned, will do what they can to relieve the congestion at the ports and to leave the control of the commercial department as 684 much as possible in the hands of those men who have created and maintained the commercial supremacy of the British mercantile marine.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
I think the House generally will agree, especially those who know anything of the business connections of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that he speaks with very considerable authority on the two questions of shipping and oil, and they will have heard with gratification his reply to the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade. We shall await with considerable interest the reply of the President of the Board of Trade to the question he suggested the hon. Gentleman might put on the Order Paper for the first day of our resumption. May I turn attention to the consideration of that part of the hon. Member's speech which dealt with shipping? Though I agree in the main with practically every one of his statements, I could not agree with the conclusions he drew from those statements. There is no doubt about it that the shipowners of this country do know their business, and they have prosecuted it, particularly during this War, with marvellous results, so far as their own interests are concerned. I observe that the hon. Member suggested that our shortage of tonnage should be made up by chartering foreign boats—those, of course, owned by neutral Powers. I was very much interested in that matter, because I received from the Board of Trade yesterday some statistics which showed what had happened to some portions of our tonnage previous to the embargo placed by the Board of Trade on the sale to neutrals of British tonnage.
I happen to have by me the return for one month alone of the transfer of British tonnage to neutral flags, and I am amazed at the supineness of the Board of Trade, having regard to the heeds of this country, that I should be able to tick off ship after ship transferred to neutral Powers, doubtless at high prices, which it is now suggested should be taken back, I suppose, on a basis of charter which should have regard to the price paid by the shipowner for the said tonnage. Let me quote one or two examples from this one list, which only covers one month, namely, January of the present year. Here is one steamer, of 3,000 tons gross tonnage, sold to Greece, and Greece has been a good customer. The United States has also been a good customer. Here is a ship, for 685 example, of 3,000 tons. I have taken nothing less than 3,000 tons. Here is Greece again—a steamer of the gross tonnage of 3,794. All these are steel steamers. Here is another to the United States, 3,180 tons; another to Greece, 4,302 tons; one to Holland, 4,769 tons; another to the United States, 4,375 tons. There is a long list of these ships sold to other Powers by our shipowners. I count this something short of patriotism, but I blame the shipowners less than I blame the Board of Trade for its weak-kneed policy. I agree we should have business men to run these concerns, and the Board of Trade has had a business Committee composed, apart from the Deputy-Speaker of this House, of shipowners, I understand.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
Yes, advising the gentleman who is supposed to be a business man, the President of the Board of Trade. I call the attention of those who shout for the control of our Departments by business men to this fact, that while we have an Advisory Committee of this sort, consisting of shipowners with a President of the Board of Trade presumably a business man and trained in shipping, this thing has gone on month after month, and invaluable tonnage has been transferred to neutral flags, while to-day we are in the unfortunate position of having cargoes of coal held up in South Wales which we cannot send out to the Argentine. I do agree that the shipowners, from their point of view, know their business, but I very much regret that there has not been such a bold policy of the Board of Trade as would have prevented a considerable amount of unrest in this country which is due to enhanced prices, directly traceable to freights. Let me give a figure or two in support of what I say. Previous to the War—in July, 1914— a reasonable freightage from the Argentine to this country was in the region of 8s. to 12s. per ton. Fifteen shillings per ton freightage from the Argentine to this country represented an excellent transaction to any shipowner who was able to get such a charter. Will the House believe that for the same type of charter 120s. per ton is being obtained—a rise represented in the price of wheat per quarter of 25s.? Is it any wonder, then, that shipowners who, after placing huge sums to special reserve and insurance, could pay 15 per cent, in pre-war periods, are now to have, I suppose, the delightful prospect of 686 seeing their shares gradually rise, while British Consols decrease. Gilt-edged securities guaranteed by this country are on the downgrade, yet the price of shares in shipping companies, due to the exploitation of the public—I do not blame ship-owners so much as the Board of Trade— are steadily rising. Let us analyse it from the point of view of prices alone. Every halfpenny on the price of a 4 lb. loaf means. 4s. 4½d. in the price of a quarter of wheat. To-day 2½d. of the price of the 4 lb. loaf is represented in freightage, and almost all this might have been prevented. The price of wheat to-day in Argentine is 34s. per quarter, and the price of maize 18s. per quarter. Why, to get that quarter of maize to this country you have to pay 25s.!
Is it any wonder that our farmers are up in arms at the huge price of the necessary feeding materials for their cows and pigs? Is it any wonder that the price of meat stands where it does to-day, while the prospect of a further increase in the price of meat is, in my view, not remote, but near? This could have been prevented if the Board of Trade, instead of dealing with the matter in a piecemeal and timid fashion, had dealt with the shipping of the United Kingdom as it dealt with the railways. Is it any more important to have easy means for the transport of troops, say, from Scotland to Southampton than it is that we should have easy transport from the Argentine to London? If the Board of Trade had taken 200 ships of about 5,000 tons each they could have brought over to this country all the wheat and the maize necessary to maintain us and keep prices down. I suggest to the Board of Trade that what it could have done is not too late to do now, and they should say to the shipowning community that a reasonable freightage from the Argentine to this country would be 30s. per ton. Surely a rise of 100 per cent, would cover the increased cost of coal and labour and increase of demurrage. The Board of Trade, having regard to the legitimate interests of the owners of ships, would then be able to commandeer those vessels and immediately bring down the price of wheat by 10s. per quarter. If the ships are now engaged in the Argentine trade those ships would be commandeered.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
If so, then all the greater reflection on those who directed the Board of Trade when shipping was 687 being sold from under our flag. I regret to hear that those ships are not available, but surely 200 ships of the size I have indicated is not an impossible proposition. I am wondering whether the Admiralty, if it took a proper account of the needs of the country, could not release some of the tonnage it now has under its control. If we had Government control of these ships the question of the outward cargoes would again be partly solved, because those ships would take what the Argentine particularly needs, which is coal; then if that possibility was realised all the coal now stored in South Wales could be taken out to the Argentine to preserve the exchange rates of wheat which is stored there, an abundance of which could be sent back as a result. I want to quote one instance given upon excellent authority that a ship sailing from San Francisco was chartered for £80,000. Probably she was a very large steamer, and may have been in the region of 10,000 tons, but my information is that at that rate of charter she probably paid for herself in that one voyage. If that is the type of thing that has happened, the facts will gradually leak out, and we shall require an account as to why this kind of thing has been allowed to go on. This is the very root of the unrest which results in the demand for higher wages. I know some of the causes of the increased cost of food, but the chief cause is the increased freights, and the Government has fallen short of its duty in not having attended to this matter. It will be useless to reply that we shall get back again part of these profits in the Excess Profits Tax on these transactions. If 200 per cent, profit is made, and this is no exaggeration, an enormous percentage still remains for the shipowners. The Excess Profits Tax does not touch this matter, and the only way to touch it is for the Government to do what it has done in the case of the railways, that is commandeer the shipping and get patrioitic shipowners—and there are such—to join the Advisory Committee and give expert knowledge as to how the shipping so commandeered can be utilised to the best advantage. If the Government will do this even at this late stage, I am sure it will be greatly appreciated by those who are now paying enhanced prices, and this at least is the obvious duty of the Government.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I am not going to take up the time of the House for more 688 than a few minutes, but I am anxious to endorse the views of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) and the suggestions made to the First Lord of the Admiralty regarding central control. A great many mistakes have been made in the past. Many of them had to be made owing to new circumstances arising for which we were not prepared, but this is not the time to try and apportion the blame for them, but it is rather a time to try and take our lesson from them. The Transport Department to-day is dealing with a vast business of shipping. The successful shipowners in the past—the men who built up great businesses—have generally been men of general initiative and of brains, who have not only started the business but have created and built up great organisations to carry on the business which they have started. To-day the Department which is running this great business undoubtedly has at its head men of great brains and men of honesty, but they have not got behind them the proper organisation for carrying on a great shipowning business. They have not got the skilled clerks or men who have been brought up in the business and understand it. They themselves have not had the experience of shipowning or ship-managing. We are told that that is going to be put right by appointing an advisory committee of shipowners, but I suggest to the First Lord of the Admiralty that he would not be satisfied to send an Oxford Don, no matter how clever he might be, to command the British Fleet and say that his inexperience would be rectified by giving him a committee of admirals to tell him what he should do.
We want to have a business committee of shipowners to look after this shipowning and ship-managing business, and anyone the Government appoints should be given control not as advisers, but let the Government put upon the board of directors or the committee, whatever you like to call it, a representative of the Admiralty and a representative of the Board of Trade to see that the Committee is getting ready to carry out the policy of the Admiralty, and that that Committee has the power at all times to find the necessary tonnage that may be needed by the Admiralty for carrying on the transport of troops and munitions and things of that sort. If these men were on that Committee and the Committee were given that power, I believe a vast sum of money can be saved to the country and our ships could be used not 689 only for war purposes, but also to carry on our trade and reduce our freights. I should also like to suggest that that Committee should have the power of chartering neutral steamers and of treating the whole freight business as a business, so that we might reap for the country the profits that the shipowners have made for themselves in the past.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I should like to preface my remarks by expressing our great appreciation at the presence of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour), and to say with what great pleasure it is that we see him here to-day. My hon. Friends and I during the past few months have had this question prominently brought before our notice, and have been very much impressed—I do not like to use so strong a word as "dissatisfaction"—with the feeling which undoubtedly exists in business circles that it is eminently desirable to have greater touch and control in this matter by those who really understand the business of shipping than exists at the present time. I remember some eminent friends of mine some years ago spending some time in trying to find the seat of real responsibility in a great nation as distinct from the nominal responsibility. They did ultimately find the real seat of authority. It dwelt in a back parlour in one of the streets of one of the cities of that great State. We have made many efforts in the past months to discover where is the seat of real responsibility with regard to many of these questions with which we have to deal. I do not think that we have taken an unreasonable view. We are in a state of war of gigantic proportions, and it has forced many new and unheard-of problems on the Administration. We certainly got the impression that there was a great deal of overlapping that might be prevented.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth (Mr. Samuel Samuel) talked about the Admiralty and the Board of Trade in relation to the control and movement of ships, but as a matter of fact I think that there are other Departments which have a say in the matter. I do not think the people we have seen are quite convinced that there is due co-ordination between the different Departments which have a say in these very important matters. They universally desire that there should be greater unity of administration. I am no great friend to the logical completeness of the German system. Every German 690 administrator, of course, looks for unity of administration, with due co-ordination of the different grades of authority, as the essence of rapid and efficient management. We do not feel that there is quite sufficient unity. We want to preserve as much elasticity as may be necessary, but the feeling amongst those whom we have consulted is that there is not quite so much unity in administration as there ought to be. We would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how far it is possible to meet those critical views by any changes that might be taken in hand. We are not making these observations in any hostile spirit.
§ Mr. HEWINS
It is simply that we want to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's notice the views of a large number of people, who are not in any way disloyal or hostile, but who are frankly anxious and wish to have these business problems managed in the most efficient manner. Finally, I should like to ask how far the right hon. Gentleman thinks it is possible to accept the suggestion made by my hon. Friends to set up a board of control, consisting of shipowners and other people connected with that great industry who are really acquainted, from day to day experience, with its control and organisation. I should like to know how far it is possible, talking the present state of the Departments, taking the confusion that there must necessarily be in a state of war between one Department and another, to organise during the War such a board of control, and to what degree it is possible to give satisfaction to my Friends. I can assure my right hon. Friend that there would be very few things which would give greater satisfaction to the business community, and, as the speech of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Goldstone) shows, to the working classes of the country, than to feel that this problem of freights and shipping was really under efficient business control so as to secure the result which we all desire.
The primary and great cause of the rise in freights is the shortage of ships, and any means by which a considerable number of ships can be released for our foreign trade to bring food, munitions and necessities to this country must be of the greatest possible good. The scheme we intend to put before the Admiralty and the Board of Trade is a 691 great and very simple scheme. We believe, those of us who have investigated the question and have had the advantage of consulting a committee of shipowners, that much can be done by this system of a board of shipowners and shipbrokers. Shipbrokers are just as necessary as, or more necessary than, shipowners — such shipbrokers as are accustomed to organise cargoes for various ships throughout the world. There are plenty of loyal shipowners and shipbrokers ready, no doubt, to place their services at the disposal of the State. They should form themselves into a central board and control the shipping, and they should divide themselves into subcommittees for certain purposes. This board of control, first of all, would arrange that the Admiralty should get their ships from day to day as they required them, and its second duty would be so to arrange that there would always be a large reserve of ships upon which the Admiralty could call whenever necessary. It would be like a bank, where you have money in the till, and large reserves behind on which you can call with confidence. They would, of course, always be in close touch with the Government. Their next duty would be to keep in touch with and control all the merchants' ships from the West Coast of America. There would be a sub-committee for that special purpose and nothing else, consisting of skilled men who understood that particular trade and knew the difficulties of shipping the different kinds of cargo. Then there would be a special committee to deal with our trade with Australia, and such other sub-committees as might be necessary for other purposes. Under those circumstances, most of the difficulties would disappear. The board would keep in constant readiness for the Admiralty ships for all their requirements. Then you would get rid of the chaos which at present reigns, and you would have a large saving of ships. My hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth (Mr. Samuel Samuel), who is a large shipowner and a practical man, and other shipowners, tell us that you could release some of the ships that are at present employed by the Admiralty.
That is the scheme we intend to put before the Government, and it follows on the lines laid down in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and of other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. 692 Goldstone) has quoted a number of figures which I know are true. He stated it was a scandal that freights should have risen from 15s. before the War to £6. That represents a rise of 2½d. on a pound loaf. We never dreamed of such a rise in the price of bread Think of the old age pensioner who has only 5s. a week to live on; he is over seventy years of age! How is he going to do it? The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) struck the nail on the head, not intentionally perhaps, but for the purpose of upsetting the arguments of the hon. Member for Sunderland. He asked, "Where are you going to get the 200 ships from which will be required to carry the wheat, maize, oats and barley that this country requires?" He thought the hon. Member would be unable to answer that. I can give him the answer. It will be the object of the scheme I outlined to release those 200 ships, and even more, for the purpose of carrying the freights which the hon. Member for Sunderland has shown are necessary in the interests of the poor people of this country. Freights are going up; they have been as high as 140s. They will probably go very much higher, and the price of bread, which was 4½d. before the War and is 9d. now, may reach 10d. or 11d. Think of the poor people! Think of what might be done for them and think, too, of the enormous improvement it would be if the Admiralty were quite sure they had a practical board of experienced men on whom they could rely to supply them with everything they could require in this respect!
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I am sure that this Debate is one that ought to take place, because it is quite clear that there is a good deal of misconception as to the position of the Admiralty. That is one reason why I rather welcome it. Another reason is that undoubtedly the rise in freights has had the consequences pointed out by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone) and by my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Denniss). Both they and other speakers have pointed out that the inevitable result of the rise in freights is that such necessaries of life as are transported across the sea have risen in price and must rise to a high level, and be kept at that high level, so long as freights remain undiminished. I do not pretend that I can in any speech I can make this afternoon really give an adequate survey of this very difficult and important question. It is only accidentally an Admiralty question, as I 693 shall show directly, and anybody who listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth (Mr. Samuel Samuel) and the hon. Member who has just sat down, as well as other speakers, must be well aware that their criticisms, in so far as their speeches were critical, were directed really against the Board of Trade and not against the Admiralty, and it is perhaps more just to say they were directed neither against the Admiralty nor the Board of Trade as Departments, but rather against the organisation of Government business under which those two Departments carry on their work. I need hardly say I do not mean to try and escape from the criticism which has been offered in this Debate by saying that one of my right hon. colleagues is the person responsible.
There are aspects of it on which I am not qualified to speak and have not detailed information upon; nevertheless I will venture to try and give a more general aspect to what I have to say than purely departmental considerations would suggest. The hon. Member who has just sat down made, at the very beginning of his speech, the really governing proposition which everybody must keep in mind when they try to deal with this subject. Freights have risen; they have not risen because shipowners have been specially greedy, or because they have tried unfairly to take advantage of public necessities to force up freights against the consumer. They have risen, I understand, simply because the demand for freights has outrun the supply. It is the limitation of tonnage which is really the cause, and not the redistribution of business among Government Departments, and you cannot put it right unless the redistribution economises the tonnage which is being used. That observation has a bearing on the criticisms put forward by the hon. Member for Sunderland, who pointed out to the House that if the Government had at the beginning of the War forbidden the transfer of tonnage from the British to neutral flags, the amount of available tonnage would have been greater than it is. I think the hon. Gentleman is in error in that respect. Broadly speaking, we must deal with the mercantile tonnage of the world as a whole. It does the same work, whether it is carried under a neutral or under the British flag, and must have an important bearing on many economic questions connected with this country—such things, for instance, as the value of our invisible 694 exports, as they are called, and analogous economic considerations which really make no difference to the particular point we are now considering, namely, the rate which is to be paid for tonnage, whether the tonnage belongs to a neutral or whether it is British owned. At least, so it seems to me.
Before I come to the more fundamental question of the economy of tonnage which really, as I have said, lies at the root of the matter, let me touch upon one or two subsidiary points which have been raised. The hon. Member for Wandsworth, for example, attributed a great deal of the difficulty from which we now suffer to the congestion of the ports, and he said that the congestion of the ports was largely due to the bad management and handling of the ships in port and of the goods taken out of them. But he did not suggest that that bad handling was due either to the Board of Trade or to the Admiralty. It certainly is not due to the Admiralty. He proposed as a remedy that volunteers should be called for from our New Armies to clear the docks and give us a fresh start. That is a suggestion evidently which must be considered by the Board of Trade and by the War Office rather than by myself. But I certainly venture to suggest that if you are to use all your exertions to obtain recruits, and then, directly you have obtained recruits, you ask them instead of going through the training necessary to make them soldiers to go and remove goods from the docks, it would, from a military point of view, I should have thought, leave a good deal to be desired; and I do not think, somehow, that that observation, however relevant to a Debate on this subject, would sound very good strategy if it were brought forward in an Army Debate, or in a Debate on the advisability or inadvisability of compulsory enlistment. Let me, however, go into what is the fundamental point; that is, the use of tonnage. The criticism, as I understand it, made upon the Government, and especially upon the Admiralty, is that the Admiralty Transport Department first appropriates tonnage compulsorily, and then misuses it, or at all events fails to use it with proper economy. The further suggestion, or criticism, is made that if at the Transport Department there were shipowners of experience who could really control the matter, waste of tonnage would be avoided. I think there is a double fallacy, if I may say so, in that contention. In 695 the first place, let me say that we have at the Transport Department most valuable aid in the shape of shipowners of the highest possible standing and the greatest practical experience; that they have worked with the Transport Department since February last in the closest touch and most absolute harmony; and that I do not believe there is the smallest difference of opinion betwen these expert advisers and the head of that Transport Department as to the way in which the powers of that Department can be, or ought to be, used. That is the first error, I venture to think, among those who criticise the Department. The second is a much more fundamental error; it involves a complete misconception, as I venture to think, of what the Admiralty Transport Department does, or legally can do. It is a Department, and nothing but a Department, for obtaining for the Army—and for the Navy in a secondary degree, but primarily and mostly for the Army—the shipping necessary for the conveyance of troops and supplies. No doubt it has to do analogous work for the Navy; it has to take up the colliers necessary for the efficiency of the Fleet, and to supply our ships abroad, and so forth. But, broadly speaking, the enormous strain thrown upon tonnage in this country during the War is done on behalf of the Army, and is done by the Department of the Admiralty simply ministerially. The Army say, "We want such-and-such ships," or rather they say, "We want so many thousand men conveyed from such-and-such a place to another place. We want, for the supply of those troops, so many tons conveyed, so many horses conveyed, and so many hospital ships pro vided, and all the Admiralty Transport Department has to do—and it is no light matter—it is very difficult and responsible work—is to provide that tonnage, and pro vide it as far as it can with fairness to the shipping trade—a very difficult opera tion—and with as little inconvenience to those who are engaged in carrying on the shipping industry as may be. The inconvenience, mark you, is very great. War is not like peace, and the conditions are inevitably more difficult. Inevitable in justices must occur, and all that can be asked from those Departments or any other is that they shall, so far as possible, lighten the inevitable burdens, and spread them as fairly as possible over those who have to bear them.
696 4.0 P.M.
Therefore, I quite agree that the responsibilities of the Department are very heavy, and the burdens thrown upon them are great; but what is not thrown upon them—and that is what I want the House and the country to understand—is the responsibility for seeing that the tonnage which it is required to provide is used in the most economcal fashion possible. They have no control of that. No doubt the Director of Transports is perpetually impressing on those who use the tonnage to utilise it economcally, and that this and that transport may be used with all speed and returned as soon as possible in order that other troops may be conveyed or other stores awaiting transport may be put on board. But it has no power to order; it has no power to control. It is the Army which requisitions the Army, and the Admiralty regarded as a fighting part, which requisitions. It is the Army and Navy which manage the loading of the transports at home, and their unloading abroad; their retention, when they are retained. It is not just or fair to throw on a Department that has no power to deal with this question any responsibility for such wastage as may occur. I do not want to waste the time of the House in defending unnecessarily any of my colleagues at the Admiralty, to whom I am sure the House desires to do full justice—I am sure it does—but it gives me, as an old official, some disquiet to hear a particular section of a public Department held up, I will not say to obloquy because that is not suggested, but even to severe criticism. After all, it is the Admiralty as a whole which is responsible for its work, and the persons who, by immemorable tradition, ought to be abused when anything goes wrong, or is thought to go wrong, is not the head of a Department, but the Parliamentary head or heads of that Department. My hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) and myself are the people to abuse; it is one of the things for which we are paid. We are quite ready to bear our share of the criticism, but I venture to suggest to the House that we are perhaps lapsing a little from the old and sound traditions which never attacked the permanent Civil servant, but recognised that he is outside criticism, and that the persons to abuse are those who have a seat in Parliament, which undoubtedly has the right practically to dismiss them. If the House has followed me so far, let me go a step further. I hope I have shown that it is not merely an error, 697 but that it entirely misses the point, to say that the Transport Department are responsible for such waste of tonnage as may occur in meeting the needs of the Army. Really they have nothing to do with it. Then you will say, "Who has to do with it? You are quite right"—some hon. Gentleman may say—"to defend the Members of your Department who are not responsible for this, but who is responsible?"
I would ask the House to consider that question. These are transports ordered by the Army to carry soldiers, to carry military stores, and to do for the Allies that which the enormous and intricate system of railways does for the Central Powers of Europe at such a time. It is upon the British fighting Fleet primarily, and upon the British merchant fleet in the second place, that the whole possibility of carrying on the War at the present moment rests. Of course, I do not desire to minimise the great share taken by our Allies in the Mediterranean, but outside the Mediterranean, in all the oceans of the world, the communications depend, broadly speaking, upon the British mercantile fleet and the British Navy. It is a military line of communication, and it is the only line of communication between this country and the Continent, between France and Britain on the one hand, and the theatre of operations in the East on the other. It is all done by sea, and if not altogether done by British tonnage it is almost all done by British tonnage. Who must control that tonnage? If I rightly understood—and I am not quite sure that I did—the proposal made by some of my hon. Friends opposite, it is that they say, "Why do you not set up a central department, largely composed of and wholly advised by shipowners, who shall manage this vast mass of tonnage requisitioned by the Admiralty Department?" Perhaps they think that their criticism is strengthened by the fact that, as I have just explained, the Transport Department has not got the control of the management of the tonnage, and therefore here may be all the more necessity for this central control at home under civilian expert shipping management.
If you are dealing with soldiers and sailors, and if you are dealing with soldiers and sailors engaged in difficult military operations, it is soldiers and sailors who really must control the means of communication. For example, take a transport that comes into Mudros Harbour and stays there an undue time according to any 698 ordinary commercial standard. How are you going to put that right by having here at Whitehall a body of the most expert shipowners in the world? They may write out and say, "You are keeping a ship of 5,000 tons burden at Mudros, and keeping it too long," or they may say, "You are putting all the cargo on shore in one place in order to get a part of the cargo which is at the bottom of the ship, which is a most economical way of unloading and dealing with the ship." Then the general reply is, "I want the goods which are at the bottom of the ship, and not the goods at the top of the ship. I am dealing with a military necessity. If you ask me why I am keeping the ship here, it is because I cannot find on land a convenient place to store the goods and I cannot allow the goods to go away." I do not doubt for one moment that there has been a waste of tonnage. If you had an angel from Heaven managing the tonnage, you would not have been able to carry on this War work with the sort of economy with which you carry on the work of the Port of Liverpool or even the Port of Hull, as described by an hon. Member opposite. That you cannot expect. What is Mudros? I take that as an example, because it is a very important example. Mudros is a great natural harbour, so large that anything in the nature of strong winds will make it impossible to use lighters with safety or convenience, and totally without any apparatus on shore in the shape of quays, cranes, and modern appliances which make the loading and unloading of great merchant ships rapid and economical. In control of that harbour you have — and you must have — naval and military authorities; in other words, you have men who are trained to work utterly outside the ordinary commercial work connected with ships. Not only are they altogether untrained in that particular work, but their interests are in their military and naval operations, and not in the saving of tonnage. After all, if a shipowner is not economic of tonnage he goes bankrupt. It is a simple and natural, though somewhat tragic, consummation of an error in carrying out his proper business. But the proper business of a general or an admiral is not to save tonnage, but to win battles. He thinks, and is trained to think, that the one primary thing is that every ship of war should be ready to fight directly it is required, and every soldier is supplied with 699 all that is necessary, and everything is secondary to that. That is the problem you have to deal with. The Department of the Admiralty is not and cannot be made responsible for the fact that a particular transport is kept three weeks when she might have been kept, perhaps, only a week. The result is serious, but it is not the fault of the Admiralty. It is not the fault of the Board of Trade. It could not be cured by all the shipowners of the world sitting at Whitehall. I have not yet discovered a thoroughly satisfactory method of dealing with it, and I am not quite sure that a thoroughly satisfactory method is possible. I think something has been done—something is being done—but it can only be done through the people responsible for the military operations. I do not think there is any way of getting out of it. If a general says, "I am very sorry this ship should be detained, but detained it must be in the military interests of the expedition," what is anyone to say? What am I to say? What is the Secretary of State for War to say? What is the Transport Department to say; and what is the Board of Trade to say? They cannot say anything. They can only write out and say, "Please be as economic of the tonnage as you can, because it is of national importance that there should be as much as possible available for the general purposes of the campaign."
I hope the House will see that I have been perfectly candid with them, and have told them exactly where, in my view at all events, the shoe pinches. If any hon. Member can suggest a method of dealing with the situation which gets over the difficulty I have suggested I should be most happy to consider it. I do not think it can be dealt with by improving the central control here or even setting up a central control. There is no central control of the actual loading and unloading of the ships at foreign stations, and I do not think there can be. When transports are used for military purposes their use must be subordinate to what the generals on the spot conceive to be the military necessities, and all that can be done is to impress, as far as possible, upon those who have to conduct these military operations the extreme desirability of using every means in their power to save tonnage in the general interests.
That is the military and naval side of it, the only side on which I have any title, as the head of a Department, to speak at 700 all. But it is not the only side that has been touched upon in the course of the Debate. Suggestions have been made that it might be done in the way of dealing with the mercantile side of the problem, as distinct from the military and naval side of the problem. I do not think there has been any unanimity shown, so far as I can judge, with regard to the methods by which an improvement can be obtained. If I understood rightly the hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel), he held the view that the Government ought to leave more than they leave at present to the actual free play of ordinary supply and demand and the ordinary motives which actuate shipowners and shipping companies in times of peace. On the other hand, the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone) wanted precisely the opposite course adopted. He wanted the whole of the merchant shipping to be taken over by a Department of the Government and then allocated, as I understood him, between the different parties and the different needs and the different industries and the different classes of the community depending upon the transport of oversea goods. I think there are objections—I do not go further than that—to both courses. The rise in freights, for example, has made it extremely difficult to convey certain kinds of cargo at all. The owners of ships, being in the advantageous position of everybody asking for their services, can pick and choose as they like, and there are some necessities of the Munitions Department—I need not go into details—for which, if you left it to the natural play of supply and demand, the freightage would be such that you could hardly get the articles at all. Therefore, I do not think we could follow the advice of the hon. Member for Wandsworth and say there should be no Governmental interference with shipping, and that no ships should be requisitioned outside the purely military and naval requirements, in order to import into this country.
On the other hand, the rival scheme advocated by the hon. Member for Sunderland is obviously open to considerable objection. I do not say that it ought not to be considered, but it is a tremendous affair to take over the whole of the mercantile marine of this country and distribute it according to the comparative needs, in your estimation, of all the consumers. Certainly the Department with which I am connected could have nothing whatever to do with a transaction which we 701 quite recognise we are wholly unfitted for. It is not our business to say that it is more necessary to get wheat from the Argentine than pyrites from Spain, and so on. That could only be done either by the Board of Trade or by some committee connected with the Board of Trade of the character suggested in this Debate. Certainly on such committee, if it dealt with the question, it is obvious that shipowners must be represented. The duties of such a committee would be extremely difficult. In the speeches which we make in this House we are apt to say that the Government must see that freights are lowered, because if you get freights at their present level the necessaries of the poor man are raised in price, and that is a very serious thing. The matter is not really as simple as that.
I have a case in my mind, though I am not sure that I should lay it before the House. There is a British commodity which for munition purposes the Government require; it is a raw material which is not easily transported; it is a kind of cargo which owners of cargo vessels do not run after; and you may say that is a clear case in which you ought compulsorily to take over ships and bring the commodity required at a reasonable freight. Yes, but when you have brought over the raw material it is not merely used for munitions, but it is used for many other purposes, and if you do that you give a direct bonus to the user of it. If it was purely a Government affair, the thing would be comparatively simple. But it is not. The consumer is not a poor man. The first consumer is the manufacturer, who turns the raw material into a finished article, which is then required for munitions or for many other purposes. Observe what difficult problems you raise by questions like that. I do not at all assert on behalf of the Government that we should reject the proposal of becoming practically, for the time being, the owners of the entire merchant fleet. I do not reject it as absolutely impossible, but I do say the difficulties are quite enormous, and far more complicated than think most Members I am addressing, and who have not given their minds to it in the first instance; you do not solve the question by saying prodigious profits are being made by shipowners, and that the result of those profits is that the poor man has to pay more for his bread. I dare say both statements are true, although no shipowner I have ever spoken to desires to keep up the rates. Everyone desires to see them lower.
702 While it is perfectly true that the market rate does increase the price of necessities to the poor, yet it is not a simple matter to say that we will take over shipping as we took over the railways. I think we should be very cautious, and that we should look all round the question before we come to any decision of that kind. On the other hand, I am quite sure the opposite theory, that you ought to leave the thing absolutely to the free play of supply and demand, is, under war conditions, not a possibility. That has to be rejected. So far the Government have taken the course which is in many ways the least easy of all to defend—they have gone betwixt and between. In cases of real necessity they have commandeered ships for other than purely military purposes, but they have never gone the length of saying that the whole mercantile marine must be under central Government control. I do not know whether it would be proper to go a little outside the course of this Debate and make an appeal to the House with reference to the passage of a Bill which, unfortunately, did not finish last night, and which has a very close bearing on this question, namely, the Munitions Bill. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is entirely a question of the scarcity of tonnage. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I have had many anxious consultations as to how that can be remedied or how it can be mitigated. One of the ways of mitigating it is to encourage an industry which has really practically almost ceased since the beginning of the War, namely, the building of merchant vessels. A Clause was put in the Munitions Bill which would enable us to say that that was carried on as war work, and war work I believe it is. I am not sure, Mr. Speaker, that I am not irregular in referring to a Bill on this occasion, but, if the irregularity may be pardoned, I do hope that the House will, without delay, let that Bill through. Every day that passes delays the completion of a merchant ship; by delaying the completion of a merchant ship, it diminishes the amount of our possible tonnage; by diminishing the amount of our possible tonnage, it maintains freights at their present terrible level; and by keeping freights at the present level, it certainly increases the price both of necessities of life to the poor and many things which are necessary to the Government in the proper conduct of this War.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I apologise for troubling the House which has just listened to the 703 right hon. Gentleman, whose rare appearances here give us so much pleasure, and I still further apologise for changing the subject to the Central Control Board. It is said that the trade is most powerful, but my experience in this House is that the teetotal interest is so much more powerful that it is really difficult to get a fair hearing in regard to the trade. With regard to the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) with reference to the want of facilities of travelling at present, I desire to say, as one who travels at least once a month over the whole Great Northern system, that I believe that railway excels itself in the pains and care and attention it gives to soldiers and all others who travel over its system. And I believe I am voicing the opinion of many when I say how grateful we are to the directors of the company for the facilities they supply. That, however, is a matter I did not intend to refer to. I want to come to the Defence of the Realm Act, and the Commission under the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke). That Commission was appointed to inquire, determine, and report what sums ought to be paid out of public funds to applicants in respect of direct and supplemental loss incurred by them by reason of interference with their property or business in the United Kingdom through the exercise of powers by this Board. The Prime Minister was asked whether the powers of this Commission included the assessment and payment of loss caused to brewers, spirit manufacturers, and licensees by the action taken by this Board. The Prime Minister replied that His Majesty's Government are of opinion that regulations which are of general application are made for the purposes of the national interest and ought not to be regarded as justifying compensation, although individual and exceptional interference is so regarded. There was no such limitation attached to the charter of the Central Liquor Board. It is without any limitation. When the Defence of the Realm (No. 3) Bill was before the House I several times protested that it was a blot upon that Bill— that it gave no allowance of compensation to the licensed trade. I was assured that that compensation would come under the general provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act, and would be dealt with by the 704 Commission under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for Exeter. I was not satisfied with that, but I could get no more. Now the Prime Minister distinctly whittles away that assurance, and so far nothing confirming it has been got from the Minister of Munitions or his representative. Those who are aggrieved were invited to refer to the provision for the repayment of Licence Duty in the Finance (No. 3) Act. But that only provides for a rebate of Licence Duty to the extent of one-fourth of the year's duty paid by the retailer in respect of the curtailment of licensed hours. Nobody would suggest that that is compensation. There is some saving when the hours are less, but that is not compensation for what the retailer loses while his house is open and plying its trade. Are not the Orders which have been issued by this Board to be regarded as of general application and constituting an exceptional interference with the property of the individual licensee? The first thing a Member of the House does is to go to the Library to get a copy of these Orders. They are not in the Library. I have obtained one by sending out into the highways and byways. The Order of the 2nd August appointing the Commission directed the Commissioners to determine and report as to loss or interference, without any limitation whatsoever. I should like to know what satisfaction licensees are to get in this behalf. Speaking generally, when this Defence of the Realm (No. 3) Act was introduced, the Minister of Munitions said that its object was to provide for the removal of an obstacle in the way of an increased output of munitions and armaments. He assured the House that that was the only consideration in his mind. He said that at that moment, when he made that statement, in many places there was nothing of which to complain. Portsmouth was one; Portsmouth has since been scheduled. Plymouth and Pembroke were similar areas; they have since been scheduled. Sheffield, which he admitted to be satisfactory then, has since been scheduled. There are three areas scheduled which do not come within the scope of what the right hon. Gentleman avowed to be the purview of his Bill. He said:—We propose to take powers for the duration of the War only—I hope the House will remark that—to close or to make use of any public-house whose presence is prejudicial to the output of munitions and to suppress the sale of spirits and heavy beer.705 So satisfactorily has the suppression of the sale of heavy beer been accomplished that the stuff now sold has no bite in it at all, and is commonly described by those who drink it as a species of hogs' wash. The Minister of Munitions at that time proposed an immense increase in the duties on beer and spirits, but, owing to the fact that the House would not stand them, he had to drop his proposals, and he said that he would not proceed with anything that was controversial. Could anything be more controversial than these Orders? They raise every point of controversy in the liquor trade. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Board would not declare an area unless they had local sentiment behind them. They do not discover local sentiment. I have had furnished to me by a gentleman best qualified to judge, statements, which I can produce if necessary, saying that local sentiment has not been consulted. The right hon. Gentleman said, "A great scheme of nationalisation is entirely outside my intention." If you look at the areas scheduled—twenty-two, I think, and eight the scheduling of which is proposed—you will find that if it is not national it covers almost all the great centres of population in the United Kingdom, and is very rapidly approaching that which the Minister of Munitions expressly stated it would not approach. I have nothing to say about the composition of the Commission except in one regard. I believe they are all gentlemen well qualified to exercise their functions, with one unfortunate exception—that is, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). It is always considered that a judge, or anybody exercising quasi-judicial functions, should be absolutely impartial. The hon. Member is a teetotaller, and he is proud of it. I am not saying anything he would not admit, for he is proud of his teetotal proclivities. He made a speech saying that the result of these restrictions was so beneficial that he could not believe that they would only remain till the end of the War, but that they would become permanent. Yet, in spite of my request that he should be removed, he still remains a member of the Board which has to decide between the trade and the public in regard to the operations of this very drastic Act. I submit it is a positive scandal. I am not attacking the hon. Member; the fault is with those who put him on the Board and keep him there. I say nothing to his detriment.
706 Who is the authority really responsible for the actions of this Board? It appears that the Minister of Munitions initiates action by conveying his wishes to the Board, then the Board proposes certain areas of which the Minister of Munitions approves. I see that Mr. Terrett, a gentleman well qualified to speak of this Board, as the hon. Member knows, says that Lord d'Abernon, the Chairman of the Board, said that it was the Minister of Munitions who had asked the Board to make the London Order; that General Sir Francis Lloyd, who commands the London district, did not ask for it. It is a very serious matter. Are we really living under the orders of the Minister of Munitions, or under the orders of Parliament? Is it really the case that this remains of an Act, which the House would not pass because it was too drastic, and passed, I understand, because it was not to be controversial, that this Act is to be enforced by the Minister of Munitions himself? I would speak of the right hon. Gentleman with all respect. I believe he is doing great public service now. I make no sort of an attack upon him, but, like the hon. Member for Blackburn, he is a great and conspicuous teetotaler. It is an unfortunate thing, in view of the importance of the personal equation, and the way in which the liquor trade is perpetually oppressed, that this should be the case. I would urge upon the hon. Member (Dr. Addison) to press upon his chief that it would become him to remove the hon. Member for Blackburn from the Board in order to give it that semblance of impartiality which I really believe attaches to the other members, and let the public know who really is responsible for scheduling these areas. Is it the Minister of Munitions, or is it his Board?
The other night the hon. Member did not meet me, or I would not now trouble the House. He apologises, and so do I, for he has been most courteous and I make no complaint, but he did not meet the matters I brought forward. The authorities in London, we understood, were perfectly satisfied with the first Order prohibiting treating. Application, not by the municipal authorities, without their concurrence, without the borough councils being consulted, was made, and this drastic Order is now in force throughout this enormous area, which contains a population between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000. The London inquiry was not a fair hearing. I submit that none of these inquiries 707 are fair hearings. The proceedings are private, like the Star Chamber. Why? When the hon. Member for South Kensington asked that the evidence should be laid before the House—a request which I wish to enforce—the hon. Member opposite said he would consider the request. I hope he will announce that his consideration has resulted in compliance. When I questioned the Minister of Munitions on this subject he said that at the inquiry opportunity was given for all leading sections to be heard—local optionists, and for consultation with interested parties. I asked then if this included the liquor trade. He said, "Yes," and doubtless meant it. I learn that that is not the case. Those interested tell me that it is not the case, that they have not been invited to attend these inquiries, but that they have sometimes been invited to speak after the inquiry was over. Take the inquiry at Hull as lately as 10th December. The application of the representatives of the licensing trade to attend was refused, and not only were they refused leave to take part in the inquiry, but they were absolutely forbidden to be present as listeners.
It is noteworthy that all the Orders are practically similar—at any rate, the difference is very slight, and that, I think, only in the case of one area. Districts like Westmorland and Cumberland are subject to all the same drastic restrictions as the areas in the Midlands, on the East Coast and elsewhere, which are really and truly munition areas. I protest against that. The object should be to introduce as few restrictions as possible, and only those which are absolutely necessary. The practice is to introduce them broadcast—to throw the net out and let everybody be dragged into it. I do not think for a moment the House of Commons which refused to pass the right hon. Gentleman's Liquor Bill—I was one who took an active part against it and moved Amendments—would have passed this if they had been aware of the wholesale manner in which it would be introduced. I am informed also—and I tell the hon. Gentleman this without myself asserting that it is the case, but it shows the impression that has been made by the action of the Board—that the London police had instructions—I must confess I find it rather hard to believe—after the Order came into force in London not to arrest drunken persons if they could help doing so. I will not make myself 708 responsible for that, but it shows the impression. Liverpool has been stated as proving the beneficial effects of this Order. I do not think it does: it is very doubtful. Let those who doubt it examine it for themselves. I will quote the case of Manchester, where we have not the figures of a paltry week or two on which the Board relies, but the figures of ten months, which show that drunkenness fell off 38 per cent, in 1915 as compared with 1914. That knocks the whole stuffing out of the figures put forward to show the beneficial effects of the Board.
Then we were told that as little disturbance as possible was to be caused in working this Act. What is the result? Not even cash upon delivery is allowed—not even in London. Anyone who orders liquor now has to send the money or a cheque with the order. Credit is not allowed even for the time the goods are in transit from the seller to the buyer. It is a monstrous restriction. If a similar restriction were placed upon credit all round, the great commercial system of this country would fall to the ground. I can see no object in it. I believe that if anyone orders a bottle of light French wine made by our French friends, and if he has not sent payment for it, he is liable to a fine of £100 and a certain amount of rigorous imprisonment, together with the seller of the bottle of wine. This is destroying the trade in beer and wine. Most respectable firms, who have never been accused of any impropriety in this respect, are likely to become bankrupt. People who wanted to drink in moderation are driven to lay in stocks, which they are much more likely to consume in large quantities than when subject to the moderate and reasonable restrictions previously in force. This is not done to stop hawking, which was always illegal and remains illegal. As to the areas they have now under consideration in which to apply these exceedingly drastic, and, as I think, tyrannical orders, they are places like Gloucestershire, Salisbury, Sussex—agricultural areas in which, I submit, none of these provisions are at all required. The fact is, this Board is becoming a sort of general licensing authority armed with all those powers which Parliament has always refused to grant at the urgent insistence of the teetotalers on any previous occasion. The chairman, Lord d'Abernon, is very admirably, no doubt, carrying out the purpose for which he was appointed chairman of this Board. He said the limits of the 709 jurisdiction of his Board were strictly laid down, but once he has issued an Order of this sort he has such powers as Parliament would never have granted, and has never granted, to any licensing authority whatever. They are not acting at the request of the military and naval authorities, because they were already endowed with plenary powers under the Defence of the Realm Act and other Acts which contain extremely drastic provisions, but which are nothing compared with the powers of the Central Control Board. I submit that already that Board has gone very far beyond the spirit of its instructions. I do not blame that Board, because it is admitted that it is acting under the direct instigation of the Minister of Munitions. One really hesitates to say anything as to the absolute merits of the liquor question, but since I have sat here heaven knows how often I have heard the drinking of a glass of beer described as a mortal sin. On this point, perhaps, I may be allowed to quote the opinion of a professor of hygiene, Dr. Earle, who in a lecture stated that the British soldier had always taken alcohol, and Nelson's sailors and Wellington's soldiers consumed larger quantities than the present generation. The same authority also stated that taken in moderation alcohol is a valuable food, especially in the case of men who are fatigued.
With regard to workings men, can it really be believed that under no circumstances it is proper to have a drink before twelve o'clock in the day? Take the case of a man who has been up all night baking. In that case twelve o'clock is very late. If a man is a munitions worker it is equally hard, because by about five o'clock in the morning many working men are out and about and they like a drink even then. But supposing they had to go without until twelve o'clock; I think that is positively monstrous. One cannot say what particular habits become particular classes, but I remember a case of a Member of the other House who was a Governor, and he went into the aides-de-camp room and asked for a glass of port and he was told, "We do not keep port here." He replied, "What, no port at eleven o'clock! Aides-de-camp must have port!" and ever after that port was to be had there at eleven o'clock. If aides-de-camp may have port at eleven o'clock, why should a working man not have a glass of beer before twelve o'clock? In this matter you are dealing with men earn- 710 ing their living with the sweat of their brow and keeping up the supply of munitions, and why such a rule should apply to them passes my comprehension. I will not give any figures, but a temperance association lately tested the shooting of some of the men who were moderate drinkers, and the test showed beyond all doubt that the men shot a great deal better after having a drink than they did without. As a big-game shooter myself, I thoroughly agree with that conclusion. A sort of fanaticism seizes the House whenever it attempts to deal with the drink question, and in the present case, if the Minister of Munitions is not directly responsible, by concurring with the action of the Central Board, he is running a very grave danger of creating discontent amongst those upon whom we have to count. At Deptford the London Trades Union Protest Committee, representative of the bakers and coal porters, deny vehemently that this agitation is in any way financed or instigated by brewers. They state that they deeply resent the accusation of drunkenness brought against their class. Similarly, at Canning Town, Stratford, Acton, and many other places. Already the very Board that does all this has had to make an exception of transport workers. Why? Because they are hard worked and their work is wanted. Why are they to be the only exception? The exception proves that stimulant is good and ought to be had when a man deserves it. I would not have said a word now if the hon. Gentleman bad met my case better the other night; but he did not deal with the case I brought forward, and he did not refer to this monstrous order of payment before the goods leave. I am very glad that the Minister of Munitions is not here, because I believe that any Minister—at any rate, the right hon. Gentleman—is better occupied at his work going about the country than sitting in the House of Commons, but since he has left the hon. Gentleman to represent him I hope that he will represent very fully to his chief anything with which he feels he cannot satisfactorily deal.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY OF MUNITIONS (Dr. Addison)
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice of the points which he proposed to raise, and he has given me an opportunity of consulting the Chairman of the Control Board upon some of them. The hon. Member, in referring to the Minister of Munitions in respect to the question of 711 compensation, has directed an inquiry to us which we are not in a position to answer at all. We are not, as he knows well enough, a legal body in any sense.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It is not we who are at all responsible for the decisions which may be given with respect to compensation by the special tribunal that has been set up to deal with those matters. I myself have every confidence that both in the letter and in the spirit the public pledge given in this matter will be carried out, but I will take care to represent to the Chairman of the Control Board the contentions which the hon. Member places so clearly before us with respect to compensation matters. In other respects, I am afraid that the hon. Member has been somewhat misinformed in many important particulars. It is quite true that from start to finish my right hon. Friend has never felt it part of his business as Minister of Munitions to "goad," as the hon. Member expressed it, the Board of Control to schedule areas. He is far too fully occupied in the exceedingly laborious and responsible work of his office in providing munitions to go out of his way to urge the Control Board to take any special course of action.
The procedure is strictly in accordance with the Act of Parliament and with its intention. The Minister of Munitions is responsible for sanctioning a proposal to schedule an area as a munition area, but the operations of the Control Board within the area are matters for the Control Board itself. If any responsible body objects and raises any question affecting its area it is carefully considered. The chairman told me this morning he is only too anxious to receive practical suggestions whereby what are found to be real grievances can be fairly met. But it is not helpful simply to declaim against the Control Board or the Minister of Munitions generally. What would be most useful and serviceable would be to put forward practical suggestions to remedy grievances which have been really experienced, and I can assure the hon. Member that in regard to two or three matters he has raised the chairman will be very anxious to meet those cases as far as he can.
Just one word with respect to the London area. The hon. Member has repeated— and I am glad he has done so, because it 712 affords me an opportunity of putting the matter right—suggestions which have been made outside, that the Minister of Munitions, and even some higher people, have gone out of their way to influence the decisions of the Centrol Board with respect to the London area. We have not sought to influence the decisions of that Board at all. The proposal that the London area should be scheduled came to the Minister of Munitions as a unanimous recommendation from the Control Board, and at the time it was received by him he had been far too busily engaged with other matters to have taken any action in respect to it. The Control Board arrived at its decision to advise the Minister of Munitions that the London area should be scheduled on the strength of evidence placed before it, and after it had heard a large number of public and other authorities, and after members of the Hoard had undertaken a prolonged investigation. I can assure the hon. Member, without any shadow of equivocation of any sort or kind, that the Control Board arrived at its decision to make this unanimous recommendation to the Minister of Munitions entirely uninfluenced in any shape or form by the Minister himself, and it did so partly on the evidence placed before it and partly on experience of the operation of similar Orders elsewhere.
The usual methods of the Control Board were followed in the case of the London area. It has been and is their practice to hear members of public bodies and responsible officers who have no financial or religious interest in the question. They do not, for instance, hear teetotal bodies. They take evidence, as a rule, from munitions committees, from the military and the naval authorities—and in the case of London both the military and the naval authorities expressed their entire concurrence with the issuing of the Order—and they also hear representations from civic bodies, licensing authorities, associations of employers and trade unions, and other responsible persons. With respect to the licensing trade, the practice of the Control Board, I am informed, has been this: They regard the licensing trade as having an interest in the matter, just the same as the teetotalers have an interest, and they make it their practice to try and arrive at their decisions on the case put before them by bodies who have no such interest. With respect to any modifications or adjustments of the Order, the chairman will be most anxious and very glad to hear what 713 the representatives of the licensing interest in the London area or any other persons have to say. They have heard a very great many of them, and have made many modifications in consequence. I quite admit that it is conceivable that in many directions the particular Order to which the hon. Member referred is open to serious reconsideration in some respects. He dealt with the question of the sale of spirits by the quart. There are very many reasons for that Order that do not quite appear on the surface. If you make an Order the obvious intention of which is to restrict the consumption of drink, it is not fair to the public or to the publican to undo the whole value of the Order by allowing people quietly to purchase small quantities to take home and drink there. The Order would be stultified. The amount fixed is a quart, but the Board is prepared to hear representations on the matter as to whether the amount should be altered. Some of the areas the hon. Gentleman mentioned he described as agricultural areas. They are agricultural areas in time of peace, but not now. There are scores of thousands of soldiers in them. Some of them are crowded with soldiers—some of the counties he mentioned—and it is because of the soldiers in these areas that they have been scheduled, and even at the urgent and often reiterated desire of the military authorities. The hon. Gentleman referred also to another grievance which was felt, and that is the Order which restricts the sale of beer from carts and barrows, and things like that. I understand that the object of that Order is to prevent a process of touting that goes on in certain districts. It appears that there is a practice in some places where people go round touting for orders with a barrow, or something or other of that kind, with beer on it in the streets, and it is to prevent touting of that kind that this Order is made. They have no desire at all, however, to limit or interfere with legitimate business in dealing with this particular type of trade.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes, and the Board expressed a wish, I think, to a deputation yesterday on the subject of their action, that practical proposals should be placed before them with respect to that particular matter, which, while eliminating touts, 714 will not damage legitimate business. If practical proposals which will meet that case are put before them they will be very glad to consider them, but the object of that particular Order is apparently to get rid of touting which may bring the whole Order to nought. I have nothing to say of the criticisms the hon. Gentleman has made as to the constitution of the Board. When you are dealing with a matter of this kind, I think if the hon. Member himself were to nominate a board which he could justify he would think it right and proper that all sections of opinion that were seriously and properly intended should be represented on that Board. The hon. Member should bear that consideration in mind before he criticises adversely any single member of the Board. The hon. Member suggested that the effects of these Orders have not been appreciable in respect to the output of munitions. I assure him that he has been misinformed on that point, so far as we have any reliable evidence at all. I should like, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to correct one misapprehension under which the hon. Member labours, and which I think has also been applied by some people, similarly misinformed, to myself. He described my right hon. Friend as'a great, conspicuous teetotalerI know my right hon. Friend has been a teetotaler since a certain period in the War when His Majesty decided that he would set a good example to his people, but before that time, although my right hon. Friend was a very abstemious man, it is true to say that he was not a teetotaler. In respect to the London Order, representatives of the licensed trade were heard before the Order was made. So that particular point of the hon. Gentleman was met.
Finally, may I say a word as to the influence of these Orders upon the output of munitions? I have here a statement from the chairman of the Licensing Committee in Birmingham, who incidentally is a manufacturer of munitions of war. He says:—At present the Order is working admirably in Birmingham. There has been a little grumbling, but everyone has now settled down to it. Manufacturers tell me that output has increased and that the timekeeping has improved. I know this to be so in my own factory.That is a very important statement. We have also to consider the financial soundness of our country. I am sure we are all deploring any wasteful expenditure. 715 Although the Orders cause inconvenience and hardship to some people, we have to remember that we are in a great War, and that we cannot go through a great war without hardships and inconvenience. It is no use pretending that we can. The hon. Member can rest well assured that the Ministry of Munitions will do all they can to alleviate them. The question is, Is the nation getting a substantial return for the imposition of these restrictions? If it is not, the restrictions are not justified; but if it is, they are. The time is a little too early to judge yet, but we have some returns. In Birmingham the average convictions before the Order came into force were 59; for the four weeks since the Order they have been 18; in Bradford, before the Order they were 14, since the Order 7; in the West Riding of Yorkshire, before the Order 102, since the Order 52; in Doncaster, before the Order 18, since the Order 1. Nobody can look at figures like those without seeing that something very material has occurred. The hon. Member might truly say that it does not follow that because less people have been convicted for drunkenness therefore everybody, or perhaps the community in general, is drinking on the average less. You may make a ease on that, but I do not think it is a case which can be carried very far. It is a fair assumption that if you get an enormous drop like this in the number of people who drink too much a great number of people are drinking materially less than they did before. In these munition areas, so far as I have been able to look through the reports, although there has been a very widespread experience from many places of inconvenience, and a good deal of complaint and grumbling, which is quite natural and human, and what everyone would expect, unfortunately the regret is that it all reflects on the Minister of Munitions. But that the returns up to the present justify the action of the Government there is no question. In Sheffield three weeks before the operation of the Order the number of convictions for drunkenness was sixty-five. For the three weeks up to 11th December the number was thirty-three. It is one of the greatest and most important munition areas in the country, and our report is that though there have been grievances and complaints, on the whole it has had a beneficial effect. The same applies to Leeds and many other places. Finally, I would 716 put this consideration to the hon. Member, which I am sure he will not forget to represent to those who instructed him on the matter, that we ask them to recognise that this Board has been constituted by Parliament and given this work to do, and that they are sincerely desirous of exercising their functions in the public interest and of causing as little inconvenience and irritation as they can. I would urge those who feel themselves aggrieved to come to the Board not with a proposal to sweep away the whole thing, because they are bound to rule that out of court, but with proposals which will meet grievances in a practical way as far as they can be met, and I can assure the hon. Member that the Board is only too anxious to give every attention and the fairest consideration to any businesslike representation on those lines which is brought before us.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I should like to address two questions of general interest to the Government. The first concerns Lord Derby's Report. I do not, of course, intend to introduce any controversial matter concerning what that Report contains. My inquiry is limited to asking what the intention of the Government is in regard to the publication of it. The Government have stated that they do not propose, as at present advised, that the Report shall be published. I suggest to them that they might reconsider that position. If it cannot be published now I suggest that it ought to be published at a later date, at a time fully approved of by the Government, and I do so for various reasons. In the first place, Lord Derby's position might, I think, be described as an extra-Governmental position. He is not, in the ordinary sense, a Government official. He is acting more in a national capacity, and his Report, as I understand, is a Report to the public quite as much as it is to the Government. I should hope, therefore, in the first place, that we may have an assurance from the Government that they will consider the question of publishing Lord Derby's Report as it has been presented to them at such time as they may consider proper. If rumour be true, the Report is not a long one. I think we may reasonably suppose with respect to the figures, that Lord Derby has qualified them so far as their importance is concerned, and I do not think there need be any fear that the public will be misled in regard to any importance which may be attached to them. We do not wish to hustle the Government in regard to the general question 717 during the short interval which is going to elapse before we get the promised statement from the Government. I think another point is well worthy of consideration, and that is whether, if they cannot publish the Report immediately, they can authorise an authoritative summary of the figures. The Report does not concern so much the question of principle in regard to future enlistment as the question of arithmetic. Rightly or wrongly the Government have narrowed the issue down to the point whether or not a sufficient number of available single men have responded to the national call. Therefore, I think the public would be just as well able to form an opinion on that point as the Government itself. I have some difficulty in understanding the position of the Government in regard to this matter, and I think private Members have some reason to complain as to the general attitude adopted by individual Ministers in regard to it. The Government, after full consideration, and at their own free will, decided to make this test as regards single men and married men, and yet we had the President of the Board of Trade the other night, practically speaking in a derogatory fashion, as I understood it, of the distinction which had been made. I think on that ground we are entitled to have the figures as early as possible; indeed, without a moment's delay.
There is another reason why I urge the necessity for the publication of an authoritative summary, and that is that some of our colleagues in this House are already acquainted with the figures and have supplied them to the Press, and they have been published in the Press. The Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) who speaks with authority as a member of the Recruiting Committee, and whose work in connection with this matter we are all acquainted with and are deeply gratified for, has issued to the Press the result of the inquiry, and I suppose my hon. Friend's colleagues below the Gangway have been informed of the result. In any case, they will be informed of the result if they read the newspapers. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary for War whether the Report on the result of Lord Derby's campaign, as published in the Press over the signature of the hon. Member for East Leeds is correct. I am referring particularly to that part of the Report in which he says:The first Report of the Committee, giving figures up to 30th November, whilst showing good results, was 718 not altogether satisfactory. The last week was an exciting time, and the figures jumped from 74,000 in one day to 336,000 on another day. On Sunday the 12th, which was the last day of the campaign, 325,000 men turned up to attest: in fact, during that last strenuous week no fewer than 1,539,000 men attested During the nine weeks of our joint campaign, something like 2,500,000 of our fellow countrymen signified their willingness to make this great sacrifice.I think we ought to know whether those figures are official or not, now that they have been published in the daily Press. My hon. Friend goes on to say:During the nine weeks, the number of men that directly enlisted was over 270,000, or an average of 30,000 a week in direct enlistments alone.These facts were published in the Press, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether he could not have an official summary published which would solve any doubt in the minds of the public as to the exact result that has been obtained. At any rate, I think we ought to know whether these figures are accurate, and whether they are approved by my right hon. Friend. One other brief question I would like to address to the Under-Secretary for War. I would like to press him to give us a more definite statement than he gave us a few clays ago as to the publication of Sir Ian Hamilton's Report in regard to the Dardanelles. Strong language has been used with regard to the delay in the issue of that report. I think the language has been fully justified. No one suggests for a moment that Sir Ian Hamilton is in any way desirous of delaying the issue of the report; in fact, I know that to be directly contrary to the truth. But, at the same time, the public are greatly interested in the operations of the Dardanelles, and many of them have lost relations there. They are really anxious to have the report as soon as possible. Therefore, I would urge again on my right hon. Friend whether he could not hasten the report as much as possible. The right hon. Gentleman explained the other day that delays in these matters were bound to occur, and explained the delay by the fact that Sir Ian Hamilton was "polishing his periods."
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
It was a little bit of badinage.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, on reconsideration, would not allege that as a cause of delay. If I am correctly informed, the report has been in the hands of the War Office for several days, and it might be issued practically at once. I presume the right hon. Gentleman will have no hesita- 719 tion in giving the assurance that the report will be published exactly as it is received, and if, therefore, the report is not to be revised at all, there seems to me to be no reason why it should be delayed. Of course, it is the case that an important report by Sir Ian Hamilton was altered, as if part of it had been published it might have been of assistance to the enemy. Therefore the War Office decided that it should not be made public. That will not be the reason at the present time.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I should have thought it would be so, in view of the changed condition of things. At any rate, that is a matter in which the right hon. Gentleman is in a better position to judge than I am. I hope that the report will be published in full, and that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us, as far as he is concerned, that he will assist its publication without the least possible delay. My main purpose in taking part in this Debate is to bring another matter under the attention of the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I think before the House adjourns, the Government ought to give us a stronger statement than it has yet been able to do with regard to the work of the blockade. I do not know yet whether the Government realise fully the enormous amount of dissatisfaction which exists outside the House in regard to the general manner in which this matter has been handled from the first day of the War. I need hardly say I am not referring to any part which the Navy plays. We are all agreed as far as the Navy is concerned they have acted splendidly, and done everything which has been suggested; but the hands of the Navy have been tied to a very large extent. I do not propose to go into details of the whole matter to-night. My intention is rather to invite the Under-Secretary to make a statement.
I will take one point alone, which will show in my opinion the weakness of the Government in regard to the general policy of blockades. Take the question of the Government allowing military men to go back to their own country in Germany to fight against us, signalling to the Fleet that if they happened to see a neutral ship which contained some hundreds of our enemy on board of fighting age that they are not to interfere with it, but 720 were to allow those men to join the ranks of the enemy in order to fight against our men. Happily that was checked. Public opinion has stood a good deal, but it could not stand that, and therefore the Government were forced by the strength of public opinion to cancel that signal and to alter the policy. The right hon. Gentleman (Lord R. Cecil), of course, was not at the Foreign Office at that time, and he is in no way responsible for it. Still, we have to consider this question in the general light of how the Government have been dealing with the matter. I pass from that to ask the Under-Secretary whether he is satisfied with the present condition of things in regard to the blockade. Can he tell us that so far as he and his officers are concerned everything has been done, and is being done, to stop supplies going through to the enemy? That is what we want to know at the present time. We look on, we see the increasing exports to neutral countries bordering on Germany, as much goods going in a week as used to go in a year before the War. We know they are not consumed in those neutral countries; in fact, we have abundant evidence to know they are going straight through to the enemy. That is a thing the average man in the street has some difficulty in understanding. He cannot understand, as we are fighting Germany, why we are not fighting her in every direction and in every possible way in which we can do her injury. Therefore he fails to comprehend why we have allowed all these increased exports to flow through to neutral countries. I believe—in fact, I might almost say that I know for a certainty—that the greater portion of them are finding their way into the enemy's country.
I am not going into questions I have raised before in connection with this matter. I will take the one question I raised a short time ago, the question of linseed oil. As I said before, it is a very important local matter, so far as I am personally concerned, because linseed oil has jumped up day by day to an extraordinary price. It went up £5 the other day, and I think I informed the House before it has meant over £100,000 to my Constituency alone. I want to press the Noble Lord to give us, if he can, a more definite statement than he has been able to do up to the present moment upon this matter. Hon. Members probably noticed a letter from Sir William Ramsay the 721 other day in which he proved that in eleven months 18,000 tons of ammunition was practically supplied to the enemy by the fact that linseed oil had been so exported. The last time this question was raised the Noble Lord, as far as I remember, suggested that it was required in Holland for margarine. I have been informed since on behalf of several large margarine firms that the best firms do not use it to any considerable extent. Of course if the Noble Lord tells me that so far as Holland is concerned it is so used, I at once accept his word. I cannot personally vouch for my statement. All I can say is that I have been so informed by several important firms. I suggest that the Noble Lord, if he is not thoroughly satisfied, and I do not think he can be, ought to have still greater investigations than he has yet had into the whole question of the exports to neutral countries bordering on Germany. Action on the part of the Foreign Office ought to be more vigorous than it has hitherto been, as there is real anxiety in regard to this matter. I might extend my statement to other articles but I have taken the case of linseed oil in order to invite a statement of general policy in regard to it.
With regard to Serbia, I am not going into the general policy or want of policy of the Government in regard to that unhappy country, but I have received from a number of Serbians, who represent that they are acting with authority, communications saying that it "would help Serbians very much indeed if the Government made a statement to the effect that some of the people responsible for the terrible atrocities in that unfortunate country would be held responsible after the War is over. I have here a batch of cuttings, not only from the neutral Press but from the German Press, which leave no doubt whatever that the state of things in Serbia is even worse than it was in Belgium some time after the Germans occupied that country. It would probably have a good effect, more especially with regard to Bulgaria, if the Government would say here that in so far as they are able after the War is over they will hold responsible the Bulgarian generals and officers who have been responsible for outrages as bad as any of which the world has ever heard. As I have not given notice with regard to this particular matter, if the Noble Lord is not able to give an assurance now, perhaps he will promise to consult with the Secretary of State with a view to 722 making it clear to these men that, as far as the British Government are able to ensure it, a day of reckoning will come to them after the War is over.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
One of the matters uppermost in the minds of the people today is the tragedy of the Dardanelles. As it is held that this is largely due to the failure of our diplomacy, I want to ask the Noble Lord if he can give some information with regard to acts recently made public in another country, and if he can tell me who is responsible to this House for our diplomacy in the Near East? Certain facts have arisen which have naturally caused a doubt on that subject. I want particularly to refer to the Debate which took place on 3rd November last in the Greek Chamber. A shorthand report of that Debate appeared, according to my information, in a paper published in Athens, in French. In the course of this Debate there was a speech by M. Venezelos, which developed largely into a verbal contest and discussion between himself and M. Gounaris, who, the House will remember, followed him in the Premiership from the time of the initiation of negotiations with Greece as regarded her participation in the Dardanelles enterprise. In the course of his speech M. Venezelos said that Greece had offered to participate with a landing force in those operations. He said that he had sent out soundings to the three Powers concerned, but that before replies had come from those Powers he had left office. He asked M. Gounaris what replies had been received. M. Gounaris said that the replies were these: One of the Powers replied that she would ask the participation of all our forces in the enterprise; another, that our proposal was not very acceptable, the participation not being in harmony with public opinion in her country from the moment when she had as a goal the capital of the neighbouring empire. M. Venezelos rather confirms that, because he, according to the report, goes on to say: "I know that one of the Powers was not favourably disposed towards the participation of Greece in the enterprise, but I know that the two other Powers, which were conducting the enterprise, were favourably disposed, and undertook to bring pressure to bear on the third one." That is the point I wish to raise, and it is rather an important one, for it is obvious, in view of present happenings, that the participation of Greece was objected to by Russia.
723 The reason I think it is well that this matter should be brought up now, and that it should have a good effect, is this: Russia, we know, asked us to undertake the Dardanelles enterprise. We have that from the statement made some time ago by the British Ambassador at Petrograd. A clamour was raised in Russia that Britain was not doing her fair share. We know that this was an effort made by the pro-Germans in Russia to exhibit Britain as not doing her fair share. We find, therefore, that this enterprise was in the first place undertaken at the request of the Russian Government, and that the Russian Government, for certain reasons, did not desire the participation of Greece in the enterprise because Russia had set herself to the conquest of Constantinople. It is obvious if that is so that our provision of a land force and the great sacrifice entailed upon us in so doing is something that should be brought to the recognition of the Russian Government, and should be regarded as a great sacrifice for the common cause. I see to-day an article in the "Times" by Mr. Stanley Washburn, in which he points out the state of public opinion in Russia. One of the sub-headings to this article is "Russia unaware of our sacrifices." The writer in the course of his article says:I believe that the heart of the Russian people is as cold as stone towards the West.We have a right to point out that this enterprise, so great in its loss to this country in soldiers, including many of my fellow Colonials, is something which ought to be put to our credit in the aid we have given to our common Ally, Russia. I find that the failure of our diplomacy at this point is alluded to in a very remarkable interview with the present Prime Minister of Greece published to-day by the "Daily Chronicle."
I think it is very necessary that we should have regard to the question of whether our diplomacy then was a failure, seeing that there are certain people in this country desirous by armed force of violating still further than we have done the neutrality of Greece—of bringing further pressure upon it. If we had entered into such a policy as that, without having regard to the position in which Greece was brought by the failure of our diplomacy, we might be doing an act of very great injustice, and find unwittingly, perhaps, as a consequence that very little distinction might be drawn 724 between our action with regard to Greece and the action of Germany in the invasion of Belgium. The Prime Minister of Greece said:—The time has come when truth should be known: when the British public should have the opportunity of forming an unbiassed judgment concerning Greece's attitude and Greece's policy.He goes on to say:—I am speaking in general terms of the Quadruple Powers which have failed in their duty towards their respective countries, and towards Greece.Then he says:—If the Allies had come frankly to Greece, if they had said, 'Come in with us, we want your aid, you may count on clearly-defined recompenses at the end of the struggle,' Greece, I affirm, would not have hesitated for a single minute—with this or any other Government in power.Instead of this, England and Prance began by demanding sacrifices from Greece. We were asked to co-operate with the Allies in the Dardanelles; and at the same time we were asked to relinquish Kavalla and Seres to our bitterest foes—to give up, in fact, those, our richest, provinces, which have been won by Greek blood.We were free to shed our blood in the attempt to force the Dardanelles; but we were warned that on no account were we to dream of marching to Constantinople in the event of an Allied success. In fact, it was expressly forbidden, in the event of your success, for the Greeks to show their national flag within 50 miles of the ancient Byzantine capital. Greece, too, nourishes her national dreams and ambitions; and if our eyes turn from time to time eastward, who shall say this aspiration is an unworthy one because it emanates from Greek hearts?That is a confirmation of a statement made by M. Venezelos—that a difference of opinion between the Powers at the point when the first Dardanelles enterprise was being embarked upon led to checking of Greece's intervention with an armed force. Towards the conclusion of the interview M. Skoulondis said:—You have bullied us: we have simply turned the other cheek, meekly and uncomplainingly. We honestly sought to aid you and proffered you aid— which you rejected.That is a very serious indictment of our diplomacy in the Near East at this momentous juncture with such grave matters hanging upon it. Now I come to the point as to who is to be regarded by this House as entirely responsible for our foreign diplomacy. One would naturally suppose the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but then I find in this Debate this extraordinary statement of facts arises. M. Venezelos, still continuing his controversy with M. Gounaris, points out that later the intervention of Greece with the Fleet alone was suggested, and M. Gounaris says, "That was a later matter." Then M. Venezelos said—this is the point to which I wish to direct particularly the attention of the Noble Lord—It is not later. I remember well during the first days of your coming to power, two or three days after 725 my departure, you received a dispatch from London from an official personage who was not our Minister in London. It transmitted to you a confidential communication from the then English Minister of Finance (Mr. Lloyd George) relating what had passed at the Cabinet Council. I regret that you considered this communication as unworthy of attention because it did not emanate front the Minister for Foreign Affairs.Then he goes on to say:—Later on you have carried on negotiations for participation of the Fleet alone, which shows how serious was the information of Lloyd George which you regarded as unworthy of attention because it did not emanate from Sir Edward Grey.And so we find the statement that on a most important point in our diplomatic conversation with this Power as regards the great question of their intervention with the land forces at the Dardanelles, that the Minister of Munitions, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer then, carries on diplomatic activities with the Greek Prime Minister which have fallen into the hands of his successor, and we find M. Venezelos stating that the Prime Minister pays no attention to this communication because it does not emanate from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. My object in raising this point is to inquire whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs is entirely responsible to this House for the conduct of our foreign affairs. Later on we shall have the correspondence as regards what has happened, and then we shall have the correspondence which emanates from the Foreign Office. It is a very serious matter when we find negotiations are going on, not through the Foreign Office, but through another office altogether, and if this kind of thing goes on you will never be able to form a judgment as to who is responsible for our foreign diplomacy. A great responsibility is going to attach to some people in the future as regards the Dardanelles tragedy, and we want all the light we can to-day upon that question, because high-placed individuals and their reputations are at stake. When the late First Lord of the Admiralty made his speech there was one part of it which I regretted. After there had been the first failure of the naval attack the First Lord stated that he desired another attack to be made, and it was decided to have the weighty co-operation of the land forces. The impression left upon my mind was that the late First Lord of the Admiralty threw responsibility upon Lord Kitchener with regard to the land forces. I regret that, because it shifted responsibility for the provision of the land forces on to Lord Kitchener. The failure to find those forces may rest more with those who were carrying on the diplomatic enterprises at that 726 time than upon Lord Kitchener. When reputations are at stake in this matter and great sacrifices are made the whole truth must be brought to light and the responsibility fixed. There is at this moment a section of people in this country who desire to coerce Greece on the ground that she has not fulfilled her obligations or shown herself friendly to us by not assisting us with armed intervention in this War. There is at the same time this suggestion that there is a feeling among the people of Russia that we have not contributed our fair share of the sacrifices. It is therefore well that we should ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to throw some little light upon these matters that I have raised.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I think the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) is doomed to disappointment if he conjures up in his mind any serious hopes that when this War is over the whole history of our diplomacy during the War is going to be brought fully to light. He might bear in mind one very important matter in this connection. We have no official Opposition in this House, and when the War is over there will be no machinery, except that of individuals who are not at present banded together for any good purpose, to bring pressure to bear upon the Government and to insist not only that the necessary facts and history of this War shall be brought to light, but further, that this country and this House shall by proper investigation learn to the utmost from the experience we are now going through.
I desire to make some observations with regard to the administration of the Foreign Office, and, if I speak frankly, I hope the Noble Lord will believe that I am actuated only by a desire to try and impress upon him that which I believe and feel strongly, and which he and his colleague the Foreign Secretary do not sufficiently bear in mind. The administration of the Foreign Office, from almost any point of view that we choose to take, are at the present time creating in the mind of the public and throughout the Press very great suspicion as to what is actuating them and why they do certain things. I would like first to refer to the question of the blockade. The Members of this House and the public generally are able to-day to take a much more accurate view of our possibilities in this War than they were able to do in the earlier stages. We have all learned a great deal, and, if we have learned one thing more than another, it is that if this War is going to be 727 won outright, as we are determined and anxious it shall be, it is going to be won with the weapon of the Navy rather than with the weapon of the Army. There may be a good explanation, but so far as we can judge the Navy is practically rendered impotent in achieving that great stroke towards victory of which we all believe it capable. This matter and, indeed, the general policy of the Foreign Office, has been taken up very strongly within the last few days by two or three papers which have a large circulation in the country. I do not think there is any Member of this House who would wish to make any strong criticism of the Foreign Office, or who would appreciate reading any articles published by any paper, if the facts upon which those criticisms are made and those articles are written are inaccurate. The Foreign Office ought to make clear to the House, to the country, and to the Press, that that about which we are feeling suspicious, and that about which the Press is writing, is not true and is ill-founded.
§ Sir R. COOPER
Two well-known papers have published very strong articles within the last ten days on what is called "The Unseen Hand."
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am referring, first of all, to the "Financial News," of Tuesday week, which probably has been brought to the notice of the Government. Secondly, I referred to a leading article in the "Daily Mail" early this week. I can assure the Noble Lord I do not take any pleasure in reading articles in that paper, but I do take an interest in knowing whether or not there is truth in what is contained in them. If the statements are not true, then, I submit, it is the duty of the Government to crush the paper, and thus stop such articles appearing.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say I am very sorry that neither of those articles has been brought to my notice. I shall be very glad indeed to look at them.
§ Sir R. COOPER
If the Noble Lord will permit me, I will send them to him. I feel sure he will not disagree with me when I say that all we desire is to get the truth, and we do not desire to see 728 false statements and false impressions laid before the public. Speaking broadly, if the statements are false, the Government should take immediate steps to prevent them being circulated right and left. Let me come back to the question of the blockade. I think I am not very far wrong if I suggest that the neutrality of Holland, Denmark, and Sweden is absolutely vital to the interests of our enemy. They may exist, if they do not get the neutrality of those countries. But it is necessary in order to get the necessary material to enable them to carry on their campaign, and, in proportion as the neutrality of those countries is necessary to our enemies, then I think the converse must be more or less true, and it is equally damaging to ourselves. So far as questions have been, asked in this House, the Foreign Office invariably protects itself, and perhaps quite rightly, by putting forward as a most important and necessary policy to be followed that we should have the greatest consideration for the maintenance of the neutrality of these various countries. For my own part, so far as I am able to form an opinion, it does seem to me our task would be very much easier if we had all these three countries linked up with our enemy, for then you could put an effective blockade over the whole North of Europe, and prevent material going to our enemies from those roundabout sources as is the case at present.
The Under-Secretary for War was very angry with me on Tuesday night because I made the statement that, on the one hand, the Government were asking for an additional 1,000,000 of men for the Army, while, on the other hand, they were knowingly assisting our enemy to get materials into his country with which to destroy those men. It was a strong statement, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) said this afternoon that it was absolutely true that there is, through Holland and Denmark at the present moment, pouring into Germany a large quanity of material vital to her for munitions and for carrying on the War. On Tuesday night—when the Chairman of Committees very properly said he could not allow the Debate to go into that reason that night—I was going to refer to the question of glycerine, and to point out that we had sent into Germany, through Holland and Denmark alone, enough fats to make 3,000 tons of glycerine. That glycerine is essential and vital to 729 Germany, and the Government knows it is going in, and therefore they must know that they are allowing our enemy to import material wherewith to destroy our Army and Navy. I might add one more significant fact, and that is that whereas some 2,500,000 lbs. weight of tea have annually been imported into Holland, Denmark and Sweden in the years before the War, at present we have some 35,000,000 lbs. being imported into those countries. The same figures, closely, are true with regard to cocoa. Does anybody suggest that this increase of 1,200 per cent, in the imports of tea and cocoa into these neutral countries is required for consumption in those countries? They never wanted it before the War, and we know very well that this material is going right over into Germany. I can make this statement founded on dependable knowledge, that on the roads and on the canals going from Holland into Germany there is at the present minute ten times the traffic that there was before the War broke out. In face of facts like this, how can any hon. Member of this House, or how can the public help coming to any other conclusion than that the Government are having too great a consideration for the neutrality of these countries, or even being driven to the suspicion that there is some influence at work to give an undue consideration to our enemies. The fault for this suspicion, which I say in all sincerity is getting hold of the minds of the people right through this country, and is increasing rapidly, is entirely due to the Government. I would like to make one reference on this occasion to the subject of our diplomacy. I have asked one or two questions with regard to Bulgaria and our Minister Plenipotentiary in that country up to March last, and the answers that are given by the Foreign Office I venture to suggest are really very unsatisfactory and unfair to Members of this House. Up till March or April last, during some nine months of the War, the same Minister representing His Majesty's Government has represented it since the year 1910, and one cannot suggest that this Minister was not worthy of the confidence of the Government, but he was removed under circumstances which it is very difficult to understand from what the Foreign Office have vouchsafed to me. I asked on the 25th November why this Minister was recalled, and the answer was that he was not recalled, but granted leave of absence. 730 I felt sure that that statement was not in correct accordance with the facts, and on the 8th December I asked on what grounds the British Minister at Sofia was granted indefinite leave of absence, and on what date he left Sofia. I got this reply:—His Majesty's Minister at Sofia was granted leave of absence and left on the 9th July. The diplomatic negotiations in progress at that time had reached a stage at which a change in the person of our representative was considered desirable.That is not the same thing as giving leave of absence, and, as a matter of fact, I may tell the House this, that the real truth is that that Minister tendered very strong advice in the month of March to the Government. The Government thought it right not to act upon or to accept it, and he asked to be recalled. He made the request himself to be recalled, and he was subsequently recalled, but this is the important fact as it affects the War, that that Minister was perfectly right in the advice he gave in March, and the diplomacy followed out by the Foreign Office during this summer and autumn with regard to Bulgaria has been nothing but a long series of blunders right through. That is the simple fact that everybody knows is true. What particularly interests Members of this House in matters of this kind, when we are engaged in a War which is a matter of life and death to this country, is that the men, whoever they may be—I do not know who is responsible—ought to be removed. What happens to an officer in the Army or Navy who makes any mistakes of importance? The matter is at once inquired into, and if he is to blame he has to sink into oblivion for the rest of his life. Apparently, from the way the Government are acting, you have only to blunder badly to be a hero. On Tuesday night, how many Members, especially from the opposite side of the House, complained about the enormous blunders that had been made by the Government in general, and that no one person since the beginning of the War had been brought to book. How does the Government think it can act in the best interests of this country when it knows that many of its colleagues have blundered, and that some of the officials have blundered, yet all that it does is to shield these people and support them on every possible occasion? That is not the way to win any war; that is not the way for the Foreign Office to get the best result from its diplomatic service.
As we know, not only in the case of Bulgaria, to which I have referred, but originally in the case of Turkey, and now 731 in the case of Greece, the diplomacy of the Foreign Office has been most lamentable and disastrous to the country. Here we are at this present moment, this great British Empire, practically grovelling at the feet of the Greek Government, not knowing now whether our troops in that country may not be annihilated. It does not say very much for the administration of the Foreign Office when nobody is brought to book, nobody is to be removed, but apparently heroes are going to be made of them in the future as in the past. I cannot help speaking strongly on this matter. Our first duty is loyalty to the country rather than to the Government. I desire as much as any man in this House to be loyal to the Government and trust them as far as one possibly can. I tried to act on that principle on Tuesday, and therefore did not move an Amendment to the Vote for the 1,000,000 men, because the Prime Minister made an earnest appeal to the House. As I have frankly stated in this House on many occasions, I do not trust the Government; I never have done so right through the War. I make no bones about it. As the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) said this afternoon, if we ever can get at the facts history will support the conclusion to which I came long ago and which I hold at the present time, that unless there is a great and immediate reform in many directions in the administration of this State, you may get through the War—I do not say we shall not; I am no pessimist; we are going to get through it—it will be of the utmost importance, if we are going to get through, that we should do so during the next two or three months, otherwise it will go on for the next year or more, as more than one Member of the House has already suggested.
§ Mr. KING
I have always admired the courage and energy of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper), and in many ways I share his point of view. I believe in the necessity of criticism and plain and open speaking in this House. I honour him for the stand he has taken on those lines, but at the same time I must say I am very sorry that he has brought forward, as he has done, the case of our late Minister at Sofia. I went into this matter months before he took it up. I asked a question of the Foreign Office on 20th October, and I believe I know the whole of the facts. The less said about the 732 retirement of Sir Henry Bax-Ironside from Sofia the better. It is perfectly obvious that when under certain circumstances the diplomatic policy pursued in any one capital has to make a change, or through a change of circumstances elsewhere to take a different line, a gentleman who may have ably and enthusiastically thrown himself in favour of one policy is, on that very account, undesirable to initiate a new policy. I would only throw out that hint and say I believe the Foreign Office is entirely right in connection with this official, and that it was part of what, unfortunately, was not a successful move, but was justified by all measures of prudence, foresight, and probability, that Sir Henry Bax-Ironside left Sofia.
I am induced to enter into this Debate largely because I have listened with some pain and surprise to the remarks which have been made in this House, especially by my hon. Friend (Mr. Booth), during the last two or three days with regard to our policy in Serbia. I know that the attitude taken up by my hon. Friend represents, unfortunately, a very large body of opinion outside this House, and I am sorry to see that one of the papers to-day, a paper which claims to have the largest circulation in London, has made some remarks made yesterday by the hon. Member the very centre of its leading article, and in language which is stronger than the hon Member's, I admit, but pointing just in the same direction to this conclusion, it makes the charge in effect that this country has proved traitorous to the cause of Serbia, that we have neglected Serbia in her dire need, and that it is due to our Ministers and our policy that she is enduring terrible sufferings at the present time. I have followed Balkan affairs as closely as I could for probably as many years as the hon. Member has followed them for weeks, or days. He has prided himself again and again that he had nothing to do with foreign politics and took no interest in them.
§ Mr. KING
I will modify my language in this respect. I want to go along as far as I can in agreement with the hon. Member. But the point is clear, however we put it, that the hon. Member charges the Government with the misfortunes of 733 Serbia at the present time. In my view, the Government of this country, and the Foreign Secretary in particular, have done everything they possibly could to support and save Serbia, and if they have not succeeded to the utmost of their wishes or our hopes it is not the fault of the Foreign Secretary; it is not the fault of any of our diplomatic agencies; it is the fault of a set of circumstances over which, unfortunately, we have no control. I will indicate one or two points which, I think, are most material in this connection. First of all, no country in the whole of Europe has supported Serbia during this War as we have. We alone have supplied her with money again and again. We alone have supplied her with munitions again and again, and if the story of the splendid and heroic way in which the Serbians a little over a year ago cleared their territory of the Austrian invaders was known it would be found to be due to this, that it was British munitions, sent lavishly when we were short, and coming up in the very nick of time, that enabled the Serbians, when they were in the very direst extremity, to succeed in thrusting the invader from their land.
That was due to our lavish gift of munitions at the very time when we were short ourselves. I may refer to the splendid work done by our naval men in Serbia, and certainly they have done great and noble service. Without mentioning the sacrifices that we have made for Serbia, there are men who appear to be emissaries from certain agencies in London going about speaking as if we had betrayed Serbia. It makes my blood boil within me. Much as I think there have been mistakes made in the Balkan policy by the Foreign Office—mistakes which were possibly bound to be made—I maintain that to throw upon the Foreign Office or this Government the accusation that we have betrayed or neglected Serbia is shameful.
Having said this, I want to add that, very unfortunately, the Government does not allow itself to be seen at its best or to do its best work. I am very serious about this. I sit on this side of the House, not because I am entirely and utterly opposed to the principles of right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Government Bench, but because I want to be in the position of a candid critic, and as independent and as free as possible to say what I think. I repeat that the Government has not done justice to itself. For reasons which possibly it cannot state, it is not able to say 734 as much as we think we have a right to expect. Especially in connection with our diplomacy, there are questions which we have a right to expect information upon, but which for some reason, through some hidden hand possibly, the Government are prevented from giving us. There is the question in regard to our commitments in the Dardanelles and Constantinople. The Prime Minister of Greece appears yesterday to have given an interview in which he states that though the Greeks were asked to come in and help us in the Dardanelles, and though they were actually ready and desirous of doing so, they were told that they must, not march with us to Constantinople, and that they must not plant their flag anywhere within fifty miles of Constantinople. If that is so, it is only due to one reason, and that is that the Russian authorities have not been able to be drawn into line with our policy. Anyone who knows the feeling in the Near East at the present time must realise what must be the effect there when the Russians or the Entente appear to be saying that the Greeks must fight for them to win Constantinople, but must not enter its gates; those gates which the Greek nation look upon as representing their former captial and home. We tell them they can come and fight for us, but they must not enter those gates. If that is stated throughout Greece it means that instead of a volume of enthusiastic support for the cause of the Allies the Greeks will say, "We will stand aside. These people want us to fight for them, but our national aspirations and traditions they do not understand, and when we represent those aspirations and traditions to them they will not listen. Therefore they must fight themselves. We will stand aside." Having studied Greek politics and Greek problems, as far as I can, I believe I am representing to-night what the average national sentiment of the Greeks is. Therefore, when I see newspapers which have signalised themselves previously as ignorant of foreign politics, taking upon themselves to lecture the Greeks upon what they ought to do, and telling them they are traitors to our cause, I say give these men, at any rate, the right to be heard.
Therefore a public service has been rendered in the publication of that illuminating article and, at the same time, extraordinary interview with the Greek Prime Minister. The story of the Dardanelles and our failure with Greece is 735 due, we have been told, to the fact that we could not exert the influence which we ought to have done, and still more to the fact that there was no proper unified policy amongst the Allies. The Central Powers have been all the time pulling together, while we, in the conduct of the War, at one time had left it to the Russians, while we stood aside, or left to the French, and at another moment they have stepped aside, and it has been the Britons who have been taking the whole weight. That is bound to happen where we have a united force on the other side, yet it is wondered that we are losing ground. Let me tell hon. and right hon. Members on the Front Bench frankly this, and I am going to give them the best advice I can, and certainly I believe that no more candid advice has been given: Until you begin to get a policy in which the Allies will unitedly pull together and can be agreed on the adoption on a policy, defending one another to the world and Europe, the neutral nations will not be got to come in with them. Unless you can do that you will make no progress with the War. I believe that a united policy is more necessary to the successful carrying on of the War than another 1,000,000 of men; but if you go on with this disjointed, inconsistent, vacillating, and wobbling policy, instead of a straight, clear, and united policy, you will only be making other homes sonless and squandering the lives and resources of this country.
I am not done yet; I am going to bring it nearer home to right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench. What is the effect of not having a united policy amongst the Allies? It reflects itself upon the Cabinet here. I suppose the explanations we have had from Ministers during the last day or two have been unexampled in the history of Cabinet councils. I have certainly been a student of the constitutional history of our country, having read authorities on that subject, and I have always thought that Cabinet government was Cabinet unity and joint responsibility. I ask the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) to get up and say that the Foreign Office has been conducted on those principles, after the revelations made by the hon. Member for Hanley just now as regards the Minister of Munitions carrying on negotiations on one side and the Foreign Office carrying on negotiations on the other, showing no unity or joint responsibility shown—the old principles of consti- 736 tutional usage and administrative work, which, I must say, are things we have a right to expect. I go a step further and ask what is the great and striking event in the Parliamentary life of this week? It has not been even the additional 1,000,000 fighting men to our Forces. It has been the extraordinary and sensational statement made by the Minister of Munitions. Now brought down to plain language and stripped of all its magnificent rhetoric and fine patriotic appeals, what did it all really mean? After the Minister of Munitions has been a member of a special Cabinet Committee for over a year, and has acquired special knowledge thereby of the necessary munitions and supplies for carrying on the War, he comes down to the House and makes a great speech, in which he gives a story of energy, of development and of resource But what does it all really amount to? It amounts to this: "I have taken this out of the hands of the War Office, and the War Office has been too late, too late, too late, but I have saved the country by taking it away from my colleagues." It is no doubt a very patriotic and wonderful performance and the country must be very much obliged to him, but is that joint responsibility in a united Cabinet? We are at the present time as united a Parliament as any Parliament has ever been. As a nation we are as united as any nation has ever been, and as an Empire we are united, and it is the greatest and most wonderful unity of Empire, covering the whole world. But what about the Cabinet which is carrying on this War? Can one of its members get up and say that the Cabinet is united or that it has been united for months past? We are going away for our Christmas holidays, and I would like to go away with the hope that when I come back in a fortnight's time the spirit of peace and good will that Christmas brings is going to obtain in the Cabinet. If I could think that, during all the misfortunes of my country, amid all the losses of friends and relatives which I and my family have sustained during the past year, I should go home singing hallelujahs indeed. United as an Empire, united as a Parliament, united as a country and a nation as we are, there is one thing we cannot say, and that is that we have a united Cabinet which is carrying on the affairs of this country.
§ Lord R. CECIL
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made an extremely eloquent and interesting speech. He has 737 told us a good deal as to what is going on in the Cabinet, and, of course, I am unable to contradict him because I am not a Member of the Cabinet. No doubt he is, or certainly ought to be. But as to this allegation that the Cabinet is disunited, all I can say is that the only evidence that ought to be taken of disunion in the Cabinet is the resignation of one or more of its Members. Until that takes place everyone is bound to accept, as I do, that the Cabinet is united in the main outlines of its policy. To expect a number of gentlemen of ability and character to agree in regard to every point of the complicated questions which are brought before them is, of course, absurd. That never can happen and it is not at all desirable that it should happen. All that is essential for our system of government is that the Cabinet should be agreed on the main lines of its policy, and, until some disruption of the Cabinet takes place, I think that the safest course is to accept the view that Cabinet Ministers feel themselves bound by that constitutional unity. The hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with saying that we have a disunited Cabinet; he went on to explain that we have a disunited alliance. I am sorry he said that. His speech was in many respects pitched in a tone of high patriotism, and I feel that it was designed to be of assistance and not the reverse to the Government. But I think that observation was most unfortunate. In an alliance where you have free and independent nations, governed by free and independent Governments, to expect that on every point of policy they will always see absolutely eye to eye is an absurdity; but I say that there never has been a time when there has been any difference of opinion which seriously threatened the continuance of this alliance. They have carried on a War which, if you look at history, is a really unexampled performance with a unity of design and consistency of purpose which may well form a model for all alliances in the future. I think the hon. Gentleman really did not make any criticism of the Government beyond his general attack on their want of unity.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am sure the hon. Gentleman was very explicit, as he always is. The speech of the hon. Member for 738 Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) also dealt with Greece. I am not quite sure what the criticisms amount to. The hon. Member referred to statements made by Greek statesmen, probably in the Greek Chamber. I was not clear myself when I read the reports of that Debate what exactly was referred to or intended. Necessarily, I can only speak of what has happened at the Foreign Office since I have been there. The suggestion apparently is that the Foreign Office has rejected the assistance of Greece. As far as I know that is absolutely without foundation. About what passed previously I have always declined to speak. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has an unrivalled knowledge of these matters, will be back in his place I have no doubt on the first day after the Adjournment, and it is far better that he who has personal knowledge of all the negotiations carried on by the last Government should deal with them, so far as he thinks it consistent with the public interest to do so. I will only say that since I have had anything to do with these matters I have had interviews with a very large number of persons. People come to see me, and no doubt other more important members of the Foreign Office administration, and if they talk about Balkan affairs they are almost always vehement partisans of one or other of the nationalities concerned. They represent that the particular nationality in which they happen to be interested is the only honourable, the only brave, the only disinterested nationality in that region, and that all the other nationalities are not only wanting in those qualities, but absolutely the lowest and the most lamentable of mankind. It does not matter what particular nationality they take up, their attitude is always the same; they are always equally vehement, and always equally angry with me or whomever they are talking with if their view is not at once accepted.
§ Lord R. CECIL
No. The hon. Member is temperate and careful in his statements. My right hon. Friend has said in this House that the whole keynote of his policy has been for years past to attempt to produce in the unhappy Balkan States unity in place of discord. Surely that is no unworthy ideal for a Foreign Minister of this country? Surely any one of us who looks back upon the history of these 739 countries for the last few years must view it with the most profound disappointment and discouragement. Here were Christian lands under the tyranny of a Moslem State. We were called upon year after year to view with commiseration and with indignation the Turkish methods of government. By a great, common effort those States were freed from Turkish rule, and the only result has been that since that time a series of bloody wars and desolations have been cast over many of the fairest lands in the Peninsula. Seeing that, I myself do not see what other line would have been worthy of this country except to strive to restore unity to that much distracted land. I am not going to be led into a discussion in detail of any of the negotiations, or any of the diplomatic proceedings that have taken place within the last few months. The time is not yet that such discussion can take place with fairness to or in the public interest. The hon. Member who has just sat down has complained bitterly of the secrecy of our foreign policy. I am quite certain that if the right hon. Member were inside the Foreign Office a week he would see that so long as you have to co-operate with foreign Powers you cannot do it in the light of day, and on terms that you are to be allowed to say everything that they say to you in confidence. Secrecy is a thing very easy to deride and to denounce. I am quite certain that a measure of secrecy, as little as can possibly be achieved, is desired by everyone who has anything to do with foreign affairs. But secrecy in a measure is absolutely essential. Those who think it is not, show that they really have never had any practical experience of dealing with these matters.
There is one matter about which two hon. Members spoke. There has been some statement about what is alleged to have been a mysterious message of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions, which seems to have been referred to in some debate in the Greek Chamber. The hon. Member opposite attached great importance to this. I have not the slightest idea to what he refers. Whether any such message was sent, when it was sent, what it was about, I have no more knowledge of than any hon. Member. All I feel confident of is this: that no trace of any such message has passed through the Foreign Office during the time I have been a member of that Office. Whether some casual observations—after all, there 740 is a certain amount of talk—of my right hon. Friend have been mistaken as a message to the Greek Chamber—which I think is exceedingly likely—and telegraphed out by some enthusiastic supporter of Greece, or what actually happened, I really do not know. So much for that part of what I have to say.
The only other point was that raised by the hon. Member who began this Debate in reference to blockade. He again raised the question of linseed oil. I have again looked into the matter and find there has been no export of linseed oil from this country for months past. I have asked over and over again, and it is really beyond a doubt that there is no export of linseed oil at all. It is quite true—I want to be perfectly fair—that that does not really deal with the gravamen of the difficulty, the uneasiness which is felt, because it may be quite true that, although linseed oil has not been exported, there are many other oil-bearing substances which might have reached neutral countries in undue quantities, and that is really the vital matter with which we have to deal.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Linseed is one of them. There are a number of others, such as copra, palm-kernels, and soya beans, which all produce these vegetable oils that are used very largely for making margarine and for other purposes. As to that, it is a matter to which we have really paid the utmost attention, and I do not know whether I shall succeed on this occasion in explaining the view which, at any rate, it is right for me to put forward, and which is the true view, although I have tried on previous occasions and apparently totally failed. Our blockade is a blockade of Germany. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper) indeed suggested, so far as I understood his speech, that we should not be satisfied with that, but should have a blockade of neutral countries and should go to war with them.
§ Lord R. CECIL
You must blockade Germany effectually; you cannot do it without going to war with all those neutral countries; therefore you ought to go to war with those neutral countries. I say frankly that is not the policy of His Majesty's Government, and I hope profoundly that it never will be, because a more insane policy was never propounded 741 in the House of Commons. If you do not have that policy, and if your policy is to blockade Germany, then you have got to recollect that you can only stop goods on the sea which you have reason to believe are going to Germany, and if you stop goods, as to which you have no evidence at all that they are going to Germany, and put them in the Prize Court, the Prize Court would be bound to release them. That is the central fact. I do not deny it is a great difficulty. It is often extremely difficult to get—not complete evidence—but any evidence at all that goods when they are in the ship have a real enemy destination. That is the central difficulty, which has never arisen before in any blockade, and which has faced us for the first time in the whole history of the world. It is a great difficulty with which not only the Foreign Office but all the Departments of State are faced. It is to cope with that difficulty that all the devices which have come up for discussion in this House have been resorted to to find some test to distinguish goods with an enemy destination from those which are intended generally for consumption in neutral countries. If that is not granted, then hon. Members really do not understand the difficulties with which the Government is faced. I do not propose to go into all the steps which the Government have taken with a view to obtaining such a distinction between those two kinds of goods, which is the real foundation of their whole policy on the present occasion. The hon. Member reminded the House that we have promised to lay upon the Table a Parliamentary Paper in which that and other things connected with the blockade will be discussed, and as far as we are able to do so we will make it clear to the House. I do not mean to say in that Paper, or in any other, it will be possible to go into details of this or that step. I have already expresesd my view that it is impossible for us to do it, but I do hope that when the House sees that Paper hon. Members, at any rate, will have an opportunity of understanding what it is the Government have tried to do, and what are the methods by which they have tried to do it. If, after they have seen it any person inside or outside the House can suggest that some steps could be legitimately taken which we have not taken I hope they will do so, and I can promise them that as far as I am concerned I will give any such suggestions 742 the most careful and anxious consideration. There is one other thing I want to say. My right hon. Friend asked whether everything was being done that could be done. I say, certainly; everything as far as we know that we can legitimately do we are doing. The idea that we ever, in any circumstances, spared or let go a cargo destined to Germany against which we have evidence that it is destined to Germany is absolutely and totally without foundation. I wish I could stop there, but I am bound to say a few more words, because my hon. Friend opposite (Sir R. Cooper) thought it right to give currency to certain charges which I thought until he mentioned the papers in which they appeared, were confined to the prolific imagination of Miss Christabel Pankhurst. He would not assume to retail to the House the suggestion that someone in the Foreign Office—I do not know whether it is myself or my right hon. Friend, or possibly some unhappy permanent official who is unable to answer for himself—but someone is supposed to be under a suspicion, I suppose, to put it quite plainly and bluntly, that he is in the pay of Germany. Is that what is charged?
§ Sir R. COOPER
I have suggested nothing of the sort. I say that the suspicion is growing up in people's minds and in the papers, and the two cases I have referred to have not been contradicted. It is an inflamed state of the public mind, and I want to stop it.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I accept my hon. Friend's observation. I want to know what is the charge. Is the charge that there is somebody who has anything to do with the Foreign Office that is moved by money, or by affection, or by partiality, or by prejudice, in favour of Germany? Is that the charge? Well, I say if it is, then it is a grotesque and disgraceful charge that ought never to be made.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I accept my hon. Friend's statement. I am only making a passing observation that people should be careful even in retailing such a charge as that. If that is the kind of suspicion which is to grow about people who are really honestly trying to serve their country, it shows that there are some people who are unable to stand the stress of the War, that they are mere hysterical neurotics, and that because things are not going right for the moment they think, in defiance of all 743 the best traditions of this country, that the proper thing is to turn round upon those who are trying to serve their country and say, "You are traitors; we are betrayed; you are the friends of our enemies, and it is for that reason that we are not succeeding." I say that is a disgraceful state of things, and it is utterly destructive of the morale of this country, and it is the duty of every patriotic man to stamp on people who say that. I observe that several hon. Members made more or less a direct attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It would ill become me to defend my right hon. Friend. He requires no such assistance of mine. I do say this: It is an instance of the mutability of human affairs. A very few months ago there was no man who was more generally respected and admired throughout the country. There was scarcely anyone—I do not think there was anyone—who was regarded as more truly representative of all the best traditions of this country. I believe that reputation well accorded with the facts, and, if some people, driven by the stress of war, have tried to throw the blame for our misfortunes, such as they are—though I do not myself think they are so great or so grievous as some people seem to imagine—upon my right hon. Friend, then I say that, will not operate to his discredit, but to the discredit of those who have taken up a cowardly and un-English course.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I rise in order to repel the j attack made upon my position by the hon. Member opposite. I am rather surprised that the Noble Lord made no reference to the subject of that attack, namely, the conduct of the British Government with regard to Serbia. I, therefore, take it that the hon. Member, who is the only champion that the Government have had, has put forward the defence of the Government. According to the hon. Member, any complaint about this matter is out of place. Where does he think the Serbian Army and the Serbian population is at the present time? What does he suggest is the measure of assistance we gave to Serbia? How anyone in this House could make the speech that was made by the hon. Member without uttering some sympathy for a population dying of starvation and for an Army bleeding to death I cannot imagine. I merely put my question in order to get a statement from the Government. When I first put the point, a Cabinet Minister got up and appealed to me not to raise the question. That is all very well. The Gov- 744 ernment take a line of defence which consists of two sections. They say, first, with regard to certain subjects, "You must not say anything upon them because of the present situation." You wait, and then a little later they take up the defence, "As the thing is past and gone, why raise it or why trouble about it?" Any Government can get over its mistakes that way.
I will just conclude by pointing out to the House what is the definition of the attitude of the Government, accepted in silence, if it was acceptance, with regard-to Serbia. They supplied them with ammunition about a year ago, and for that the hon. Member tells us the Serbian nation is deeply indebted to us. I do not deny that, but I wish that they had had ten times the ammunition and a lot of men as well. The hon. Member said that lately we have sent some Forces. Why did they go? If our Forces were landed to help to save the independence of Serbia, did they succeed? They have come back to the coast. The hon. Member seems perfectly satisfied with this march up and march back again. I ask myself. How does this appear to a poor nation like Serbia, sixteen months after we had announced that we had started on this War with the full determination to fight for small nationalities? I merely asked the Government what they had to say about it, and whether they intend to give any opportunity to this House for hon. Members to put themselves right with that little nation. I ventured to say we would have imported men, money, and munitions without stint in order to save the independence of our Ally. But the only answer I got was that given by the hon. Member, which, however, found an echo in the speech of the Noble Lord, that we must treat all nations alike. Serbia is only a favourite of mine because she is fighting for us. Why should we stab her in the back? Whatever friendship hon. Members may have for Greece, and I am sorry to note that some hon. Members on this side appear to have also a misguided affection for the Bulgarians, there is no reason for stabbing Serbia in the back. The Cabinet is, on its trial in this matter. They are, so to speak, in the dock, and their answer is that they do not want the trial to take place now; they want it postponed until a more convenient season. That is all the answer one can get.
I put a question to the Under-Secretary for War during the all-night sitting. It was not a night of obstructions, for the 745 principal speeches were made from the Irish Benches opposite and three from the Front Bench here. The Debate was so prolonged that I got no chance till half-past four in the morning, and then in about ten minutes I put the case as regards Serbia, yet the representatives of some papers, who were not in the place and probably got their information outside from cabmen on ranks half a mile away from the House, state that hon. Members sitting on these benches were obstructing the proceedings. The hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) was rising from about five o'clock the previous evening, and yet he could not get in until a quarter to four in the morning, and he, too, is charged with having made obstructive speeches, although his first speech was made at that hour.
§ Mr. BOOTH
At any rate that is the charge made. I did raise this point in the Debate and no answer was given, except an intimation that it was not a subject on which I was entitled to speak on account of my ignorance. The Under-Secretary for War heard me press the question again on Report stage, yet in his speech he never referred to Serbia at all, and neither did the Noble Lord who has just spoken. It may be I shall have to go on for some considerable time, but go on I will as long as my health and strength permit, and I will not rest until we get some explanation of the treatment by this country of the Serbians. There must be some answer given. There is no reason or justice for the rebuke administered by the hon. Member opposite. I simply asked who is responsible—is it the Foreign Office, is it the military command, or is it the War Office? At any rate the position is a very unsatisfactory one. As the hon. Member has suggested, if the Government are conspicuous for one quality more than for any other, it is the quality of wobbling. Of course, the hon. Member, believing that thoroughly, is an admirer of the Government's Serbian policy.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not intend to deal with the high topics of foreign politics with which the House has been concerned during the past two hours, save to make two observations. One I should gladly have made in the presence of the Noble Lord, because only a few nights ago I had occasion to attack him with some acerbity, 746 and I should have liked to congratulate him to-night on the eloquence, cogency, fairness, and general excellence of his speech. But I wish to express my sympathy with the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract in regard to the position of Serbia. I think everybody in this country deplores the position of the Serbian people and the Serbian Army, and at the same time there is an uneasy feeling throughout all ranks of our people that a heavy share of the responsibility for their plight rests with the Government of this country, and we shall continue to believe that until the Government offer us a defence in this House of its action or inaction in that field of policy. I desire, however, to direct the attention of the House to certain methods of Army administration relatively of lesser importance. There are, indeed, many matters in relation to the War Office which, I think, deserve the attention of the House. Some of these matters were raised in the course of the All-night sitting, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract referred. Serious attacks were then made upon the War Office administration, to none of which has any reply been forthcoming. We had attacks upon the War Office in regard to various phases of the War, in regard to the Dardanelles, in regard to Suvla Bay, in reference to nearly everyone of which both the House and the country have been denied all information.
I pass from that. As I said, my main object in rising was to call attention to a smaller subject, but one of vital interest, alike to our armed forces and to the civilian population, and that is the employment of medical men on the service of the Army, and the further drafts upon the civilian doctors which are at the present time being made. This question was raised last night on the Report stage of the Vote for 1,000,000 men for the Army by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, with special reference to the position of those who are insured under the Insurance Act. But it has an even wider interest than to that particular class. The depletion of the supply of civilian doctors is becoming a serious matter for the whole civil population of this country. Obviously, as we have now granted authority for raising 1,000,000 more men for the Army, a large number of further doctors will be required for the service of these men, and it is natural that we in this House should ask 747 whether the War Office are going to recruit medical men for the new forces on the same scale as they have recruited them for the Armies already raised, and whether their services are to be used as wastefully and as uneconomically as the doctors who are at present in the service of the Army. I am quite aware that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will challenge the description which I have just given of the present employment of doctors in the Army. He will, I have no doubt, assert, as he has asserted on former occasions, that the services of medical men are being used with the utmost economy and efficiency. I am going to endeavour to put before the House a case which will bear examination, even if it is not a complete proof of the proposition which I have put forward. I will only deal with certain branches of the subject. At the present time there are many field ambulances in this country, all with a full complement of medical officers, and the great majority of those medical officers are doing practically no medical work—at least their medical work is negligible in quantity. The great majority of them have nothing to do but to attend to the feet of recruits. I say that that is a most wasteful use of the services of skilled medical men. These ambulances could be dealt with by a much smaller number of skilled medical men, and if the skilled medical men who are thus being uselessly employed were set free their services would be at the disposal of the civil population, or at least some of them could be withdrawn from their present units and employed for the purposes of the still further 1,000,000 men who are to be raised.
I know, as a matter of fact, that in relation to these 1,000,000 men—it is a matter which possibly I should have mentioned earlier—appeals are being made in various parts of the country to civilian doctors. I know of one district in London where, only ten days ago, a meeting of all the medical men was called on behalf of the British Medical Association and it was there intimated that it was the desire of the War Office that all medical men under forty-five years of age should put their services at the disposal of the Army. If that is done, there will be a famine of doctors for the civil population. That is a situation which we should not allow to come to pass. It is not only in regard to the field ambulances in this country; there is a similar situation in regard to field ambulances abroad. It is true that these field ambulances are extremely busy 748 when attacks take place or when our Forces have a push against the enemy, but at other times the medical officers attached to these ambulances are largely idle: they have no employment. With regard to the base hospitals the situation is the same. There are, in normal times, far too many medical officers for the work which they have to do, and when a period of hard pressure comes the services of the medical men are needlessly taken up with clerical work and with surgical dressings, which could quite well be done by those who have no medical qualifications. I have had complaints from medical officers, not, it is true, from the regular Royal Army Medical Corps, but from civilian doctors who have been recruited since the beginning of the War, complaints as to the enormous number of forms which have to be filled up by the medical men and which could quite-well be filled up by a clerk. Obviously, when you are taking away so many doctors from the civilian population, you should see that the time of the men whom you are employing should not be taken up in this needless, unskilled work, in other words, that the doctors whom you enlist into the Army should devote their energies and attention to the care of the sick and wounded, which should be their sole work. That, I think, is unanswerable. There is no doubt that at present, owing to the faults of administration, owing to their defective organisation, there is this uneconomical and wasteful use of the medical officers
There are many other details upon which the medical organisation is open to criticism. I am told, on authority which I regard as very good, that there are large numbers of specialists whose special knowledge and special training is not being used by the Army Medical Service for the work that they are specially fitted to do. These specialists, many of whom were in important positions in civilian life are now being employed for ordinary medical work. Men skilled in regard to the throat, men skilled in regard to the eye, and other specialities of medical science, instead of being used as specialists, are being used, as it were, as mere general practitioners. All these things constitute a case for inquiry and for reorganisation. I do not wish to criticise the normal organisation of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I believe it has been carefully devised and well thought out under peace conditions, but we are face to face with problems nobody attached to that service ever thought he 749 would be called upon to face. They have now, in addition to the Regular Service men, large numbers of civilian doctors who have been trained in other methods and brought up in a different school, and who naturally do not take kindly to the red tape methods which seem to be essential to every branch of the Service. These men should be taken into council, they should be consulted as to the new problems, and their brains should be used for the purpose of perfecting a more elastic organisation. There has been at the War Office what is called a Medical Advisory Board, consisting of eleven distinguished medical men. The Under-Secretary has been questioned on many occasions as to whether there has been any consultation with this body. From the beginning of the War up to the present time there has not been a single meeting of this Medical Advisory Board.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is all the worse. I do not believe you can get good results by consulting men singly. We have had far too much of that in other branches of administration. Why was it that we went to Gallipoli? Because men were consulted singly and not together—because the Cabinet did not get their collective advice. It is only by getting the collective advice of trained men that you can get an organisation that is absolutely satisfactory. I know another excuse offered by the Under-Secretary has been that many of these men are serving abroad. I quite agree, but there are men in the country equally distinguished who could be elected substitutes for the men who have gone away, and their minds could be brought to bear upon the problem. I believe if their minds were brought to bear upon the problem the organisation could be made infinitely more elastic, that the services of the men at present at the disposal of the Government could be more economically employed, and that as the result of the more economical employment of the present medical officers there need be no further depletion of the medical men at the service of the civilian population.
§ Mr. DOUGLAS HALL
I feel I must endorse what the last hon. Member has said as regards the uneconomic use of doctors at the front. A great many surgeons out there never do anything but administrative work. The R.A.M.C. is so 750 dependent upon other services, such as the Ordnance Corps and the Army Service Corps, that an infinite amount of this administrative work has to be done. There are many doctors there, highly qualified men, who never go near a patient and never go into the operating room at all. They are simply there as clerks to fill up endless forms and to administer the discipline of the orderlies. I have been five months out there, and I have had to do with a great many hospitals. In every hospital there are one or two medical officers who spend nearly all their time in office work. I think it might be seriously considered by the R.A.M.C, or, rather, by the War Office, whether it would not be possible to allocate some of these duties to some officer who has not got the high medical skill which these officers have got. I think anyone who goes out to one of our large bases will be surprised at the number of doctors who at one time are doing no work at all, while other places are crowded for want of doctors. I do not know whether that can be avoided, but it seems to me that there might be some better system for distributing the doctors where they are wanted.
We know how short we are in England of civilian doctors, and how difficult it is in some cases to get Government Departments to allow their doctors to enlist. I have known of cases in the Home Department, and I know of cases in my own Constituency where, although the civilian doctors have offered to take the work of the prison doctors off their hands and do it very well with their own practice, up to now the prison authorities have not seen fit to allow the doctors who attend the convicts to be sent out to the front. The consequence is that a convict gets regular medical attendance while the unfortunate civilian has to take what he can get. I do not think the man who has been convicted and is in gaol is a very fit subject for this extra consideration. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to seriously consider that if the old red tape—and there is more red tape in the R.A.M.C. than anywhere else—could not be done away with, so that some of the administrative work of the hospitals could not be done by some other officers than highly qualified medical men. I was in charge of some hospital barges, and I did a great deal of this work myself, and the doctor was left to do the ordinary medical work. In some of these large hospitals you could 751 release a good many doctors by appointing someone to do this administrative work. I know very well that the doctors rather like administrative work. I think they like orderly room work, and that sort of work, which is a relief from their medical work, and gives them a certain amount of importance, which they rather like; but we must consider the good of the country. The brains of these gentlemen are essentially medical brains, and should be used for the purpose for which they were trained. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consult with his advisers as to whether it would not be possible to compulsorily relieve the doctors of the class of work in question. I say compulsorily, because you will find that the doctors do not particularly wish to give up this work. They do it, for one thing, because it gives them more time to do other things; they are not so tied down if they do this sort of work. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider whether it would be possible to allocate this class of work to officers who are not so highly trained.
§ Mr. M'CURDY
I rise, not for the purpose of following the last speakers on the question of medical service in the Army in regard to which I am hardly qualified to follow them, but to call the attention of the Under-Secretary for War to a matter which is very urgent at the present time, and is certainly causing anxiety in many thousands of families throughout the country. I refer to the policy that is going to be adopted by the Government with regard to the exemptions, or the provisional exemptions, of the men who are now being called up in Classes 2 to 5 under the group system. These classes consist exclusively of single men, and in the course of the next fortnight there will be many thousands of appeals made by the men so called up to the local tribunals which have been established up and down the country—appeals for the postponement of their being called up—and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider most carefully whether it is not absolutely essential that some general principle should be laid down for the guidance of the hundreds of local tribunals that will have to deal with this great number of cases. The position of the single man under Lord Derby's scheme appears to be a little anomalous, because while he is enlisting as a volunteer he really does not seem to be given the same security or 752 the same consideration as he would receive in a conscriptionist country. In France, for instance, I understand that it is not a matter of discretion, but a matter of right that certain classes of single men—for instance, the eldest of a family of orphans, the only son who is at home, the only son of a disabled father, or one of a number of brothers of whom the rest are either in service or wounded and disabled —are entitled as a right to postponement or exemption from active service.
Surely the single man who has volunteered in the service of his country is entitled to at least as much consideration as he would have received as a right under a system of Conscription. I do not think that the Government, nor do I criticise them for it, have found time in the midst of the multifarious cares which weigh upon them at present to fully consider what will be the position before the local tribunals. In the first place, the local tribunals are elected by urban councils, district councils, and county councils, and besides these three types of members, other members are co-opted, and the composition and character of these tribunals, looked at from the point of view that they are to exercise a judicial and important function, should receive careful consideration. If any instructions have been issued to the local tribunals beyond those issued by the Local Government Board some few weeks ago, I should be very glad to hear about them from the right hon. Gentleman. But at present, so far as I am informed, the cases of the men—those connected with industries are being decided with great authority—to whom I refer involve personal and private reasons, such as the fact that a man is the sole supporter of his widowed mother, or that his business would be wholly sacrificed if he went to the front, are left to the unfettered discretion of the local tribunals, without any guiding principle being laid down.
§ Mr. TENNANT
It will shorten the discussion if I inform the House that we have got most elaborate Regulations, of which I can send a copy to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. M'CURDY
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I occupy a short time longer in expressing the hope that the new Regulations to which he refers are such as will meet the considerations which I have adumbrated, and that he will take 753 all possible steps to make those Regulations widely and publicly known. At present there is undoubtedly a very widespread sense of grievance on the part of single men, and on the part of their dependents throughout the country. They feel that they have not been treated quite fairly in this matter. Whereas during the last few weeks married men have received either a fresh pledge or a fresh promise every few days from someone in authority, for the single men there has been no sympathy expressed and no consideration shown. There is one other question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman on the same point. I do not know if he can throw any light upon what is to be the policy of the Government with regard to ascertaining the method that is intended to be adopted by the Government with regard to inquiring as to what proportion of single men, still unenlisted or unattested under Lord Derby's scheme, have no valid or substantial reason for not having offered their services. The matter is very important, and at the present time is in a position of considerable obscurity. The Government, as we are told, have Lord Derby's Report before them, and upon the view which the Government form as to whether there is or is not a substantial number of single men unenlisted, and not possessed of any valid grounds for not offering their services, depends the proposals which they may or may not make to this House before introducing a measure of compulsion.
Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light upon the method by which the Government are going to judge whether there were or were not valid reasons in the case of unenlisted men? The matter has been referred to both by Lord Lansdowne, speaking on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords on the 19th November, and in the letter which Lord Derby wrote to the Prime Minister on the same day. Both references seem to me very obscure. In the House of Lords—quoting from the report in the "Times"—attention was called by Lord Ribblesdale to Lord Derby's pledge to recruitable married men, and he inquired what the Government intended to do if sufficient unmarried men failed to respond to Lord Derby's appeal. Lord Lansdowne replied:—The Government would be ill-advised if they laid down a minimum figure or a minimum percentage of the married men and declared that the scheme was a failure unless such a number enlisted. Much would depend upon the decision of the local tribunals.Lord St. Davids pointed out that the local tribunals would not begin to act until the 754 men affected had enlisted, to which Lord Lansdowne replied that the decisions of the tribunals might affect the total number of men eligible for service in the Army very considerably. The reference in Lord Derby's celebrated letter to the Prime Minister on 2nd November constituted the last official text of the numerous pledges which were given to married men in the course of the campaign. After referring to the local tribunals and to their examination of the claims of men alleged to be indispensable, Lord Derby proceeded as follows:—If, after all these claims have been investigated there remain a considerable number of young men not engaged in these pursuits who can be perfectly spared for military service, they should be compelled to serve. On the other hand, if the numbers should prove to be, as J hope they will, a very negligible minority there would be no question of legislation.Two or three things appear. The first is that it is not obvious to the ordinary man how the local tribunals can possibly inquire into the validity of the grounds upon which a single man has not offered himself for enlistment. It is also clear that until the Government have by some means satisfied themselves that no valid grounds exist in regard to single men who have not offered themselves, they cannot be in a position to form any satisfactory judgment upon Lord Derby's Report. In the third place, both Lord Derby himself in the letter of the 19th November and Lord Lansdowne speaking in the House of Lords on the same day, make it quite clear that the decision of the Government with regard to any compulsion to be applied to single men is to be taken after the machinery of the local tribunals in the investigation of claims has been employed. At present it is all to me rather serious, and it is out of no idle curiosity that I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the House and the country some clear explanation of what is intended in this matter. My own experience in the canvass was such that for my part I do not believe in the existence of any considerable class of men, married or single, who could with any fairness be described as slackers or shirkers. I am confident that if proper instructions are given to the local tribunals this scheme may be made to work quite harmoniously. The spirit of every one in the country is a strong desire for unity and harmony on all these matters. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to remove, by the publication of the new Papers to which he has referred, or by what he may say this evening, the 755 doubts and the anxieties felt by mothers and dependants of single men and by the single men themselves as to their position at the present time.
§ Mr. HORNER
I wish to urge upon the War Office the desirability of giving the survivors of our first Expeditionary Force a prolonged rest at home. Another hon. Member and myself have put questions to the right hon. Gentleman on this subject, and the purport of his reply was that the matter rested in the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief. We, of course, knew that. My point then was and now is that the matter should be put specifically before the Commander-in-Chief by the War Office. After all, it should not be necessary for a Member of Parliament to call attention to this matter. I do not know the exact number of the survivors of this Force; the right hon. Gentleman, of course, can find that out. If the numbers which have been furnished to me are all approximately accurate, I think they would startle the House. At all events I will say that they form a very insignificant part of the whole of the British troops now in arms, and that that insignificant part is being slowly and steadily wiped out. It is universally admitted, I think, that this first British Expeditionary Force was the best equipped, the best disciplined, and the most efficient Army that ever left our shores. The German Emperor referred to it as a "contemptible little Army." Whether contemptible or not, that Army will live in history. We cannot forget that it was this little Army—the men of Mons, of the Aisne, of the Marne—that stopped the German invasion of France, that saved Calais, that probably indirectly saved the invasion of this country, and that certainly turned the whole current of the War. I submit that the survivors of this gallant Army deserve exceptional treatment, and they deserve it without special pleading on the part of any Member of this House. After the questions to which I have referred, I was the recipient of a vast amount of correspondence from all parts of the United Kingdom. I have some samples of it here, though I do not intend to read or quote extracts from any of these letters. I shall be pleased to show them to the right hon. Gentleman or to any Member of the House; but I may say that it is the saddest reading that it was ever my lot to peruse. These letters came from almost every rank in society, from 756 the wife of the private soldier to the colonel who lost his only son a few days ago. These letters show that many of that first Army have never had one day's leave since the day they first left these shores in August, 1914; that many others have only had a few days' leave, and many others only a few hours, the rest of their leave being taken up in coming from and going to the front. I took the liberty to write to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War, and he was good enough to send me a reply which, with his permission, I will read to the House. The letter was from the War Office, and was dated the 9th December. It said:—I have received your letter of the 3rd instant with reference to the grant of extended leave to the survivors of the First Expeditionary Force. I fully sympathise with these men, and I am not unmindful of the heroism they have displayed or of the sufferings and hardships they have so cheerfully borne. At the same-time I must point out that leave during war time is not the right but the privilege of the soldier, and that in the South African War, as indeed in previous wars, no-leave has been granted to soldiers. The present is the first war in which our soldiers have been permitted to return home on leave. I am afraid, therefore, that I can only refer you to the replies which have been given to the House, both on the general question of leave, and on the particular question of leave for these survivors.I never claimed, and no one ever claimed, that leave was the right of the soldier; but I take the liberty of saying that the nation claims that its fighting men should receive such treatment as will best fit them for their duties. There is no parallel whatever between the Peninsula War, the campaigns in India, and the Crimea, or the South African War, and the present War. In previous wars there were not the present nerve-racking and agonising conditions, the trench warfare or high explosives of this War, and the right hon. Gentleman is scarcely serious, I think, in saying that the South African War, where men were five weeks away from this country, can be compared for a moment with the present War, where our men are a. little more than five hours from London. Apart from other considerations, it will be good business to give these men the holiday for which I am now asking. They would act as the best recruiters we have. Send them to their homes; they are scattered all over the United Kingdom. I cannot imagine a better recruiter than these men with their war experience. Secondly, you can use these men during three or four months in drilling the New Armies, and you can stiffen up those New Armies by making them non-commissioned officers. You can do this because their places can be filled without in any way 757 interfering with the efficiency of the Army at the front. We have enough trained men now behind the lines in France or in camps in this country trained and armed and ready to go to the front. After the figures given by the Prime Minister the day before yesterday it is no exaggeration to say 100 men could be supplied for every one we bring back, and that without impairing the efficiency of the Army at the front. There is a tone of deep indignation running through the whole of this correspondence that these men are not being fairly treated. We are now appealing for new men. Most of us have been addressing recruiting meetings. Can we expect men to come cheerfully forward to join the Colours if the feeling gets out, as it undoubtedly is getting out, that we are asking these men to go abroad without a hope, or only a small hope, of their ever returning to this country? No one who has ever had the pleasure of writing or speaking to the right hon. Gentleman can doubt for a moment his sympathy with these men, but what I should like to do is to stimulate his sympathy into action; that he will induce the War Office to place this matter definitely and specifically before the General Staff or the Commander-in-Chief at the front, so that these war-worn men should receive a well-earned holiday.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman as to the claims of these war-worn heroes to whom he has directed attention, but I should like the House also to realise that military exigencies are of paramount importance, and that it might not be possible at any one given moment to send home a large body of men. It is quite true that the original Expeditionary Force has been sadly diminished in numbers, but it was the original Expeditionary Force which was, as the hon. Gentleman quite truly said, the most remarkable in equipment and training in every branch which has ever been representative of this country in any theatre of war, and no doubt the Commander-in-Chief in France attaches great importance to the retention of many of the units of that original Expeditionary Force in the Army in France. The hon. Gentleman said he wished he could stimulate my sympathy into action. As I have certainly told the House more than once, I have been in communication with Sir John French on this very subject of leave, and have represented to him, both by letter and in person 758 when I myself was in France, that there were numbers of units, not necessarily of the original Expeditionary Force, although. I admit their claims would seem to come first, but units like the 4th Seaforth Highlanders, who went out in October, 1914, and whose original numbers have been, reduced somewhere from 1,020 to something like ninety. Other units like the 4th Camerons—I need not specify them— which have been reduced in this terrible-manner, were deserving of the same consideration, or very nearly the same consideration, and it would be desirable that they should come home to rest, refit, and recuperate. Sir John French was perfectly alive to that desirability and he said, "I cannot spare time." That is exactly the position to-day so far as I know, but I will make this promise to the hon. Gentleman since he has brought forward the claims of this splendid Army, to which we all feel we owe a deep debt of gratitude, that I will communicate with the new Commander-in-Chief and ask whether he can see his way to give that special consideration to the original Expeditionary Force which the hon. Gentleman asks for.
My hon. Friend asked some questions about the publication of the recruiting-reports He asked whether Lord Derby's Report would be published in toto as it stands, or whether a short report would be published. I do not think the hon. Member will expect me to say "yes" or "no" to that question, but I will communicate with the Prime Minister, in whose hands such a decision lies, and I will suggest if he sees no insuperable obstacle that the Report in its entirety be presented to the House. My right hon. Friend said he thought there was greater reason for that action being taken inasmuch as figures had been published in the Press by an hon. Member of this House. I need hardly inform my hon. Friend and the House that any figures published in that manner are wholly unauthorised and unofficial. It does not necessarily follow because that is the case that they are inaccurate, and I have not seen those figures. I know the right hon. Gentleman read out some of them, and I dare say they were fairly near the mark; but I do not say that they were either accurate or inaccurate. All I say is that the hon. Member had no authority to issue figures of that kind. I understand he published those figures without consultation with his colleagues on the Committee, and therefore I think we may leave it at that.
759 I will now turn to the Report of Sir Ian Hamilton. Since I made a few jocular observations about that Report, I have had the advantage of seeing the gallant general himself, and I informed him of the necessity of doing everything in his power to secure a speedy presentation of Ms Report. I was entirely convinced that is was through no fault of Sir Ian Hamilton that delay had occurred. He had to receive reports from the commanders of Army Corps and Divisions in his command, and he was waiting for those reports before he could actually issue his own. He was also anxious—and hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will be interested to hear this—to get the names of certain regiments which he knew had done splendid service, particularly Irish regiments, and he was anxious to have that correct, and, of course, an official Report must be correct. Those are the facts as regards that Report, and I can only repeat the promise I have made before, that I will endeavour to see that that Report is issued as soon as possible. It does not rest with the War Office, but with His Majesty's Government, and I am sure my right hon. Friend realises what that means. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) made some remarks about me not having answered certain indictments against the War Office, delivered the day before this Debate in this House. I am not cognisant of having omitted any particular charge in the replies which I gave during the last two days. I do not really want to recriminate, and I am prepared now to give him my reply upon the subject which he has raised, namely, the subject of medical services both in this country and abroad. The first point which I should like to make very clear to my hon. Friend and to the House is that in all the actions that have been taken by the medical authorities in the War Office in the administration of the medical services in the Army there have been constant and continuous association and conference with the civil medical services of this country. The closest touch has been kept with the civil medical profession, and, when my hon. Friend complains that the Medical Advisory Committee has not met, I really must say once again that it seems a little absurd to criticise the War Office for not having had formal meetings of the committee when the members of that committee are meeting the authorities and those responsible for 760 the administration of the medical services of the Army day by day and almost hour by hour. That does seem to me a charge which it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. Member to make.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not follow that observation. My hon. Friend says that there ought to be more medical men in the field ambulances. That is one of the objections which he has to the present system. I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that it is not only desirable but essential that there should be a sufficiently strong professional medical element with each field ambulance. That must be admitted to be a necessity. If field ambulances should be happily out of work and at rest, not tending the wounded, then, naturally enough, the doctors and the professional element are also, as it were, at rest. It is a little like the soldiers at the front, who have so many days in the trenches and so many days in reserve. It is not a very unnatural circumstance or an improper fact that doctors now and again do get that amount of rest. I have been in communication with my Army Medical Department recently and have discussed these matters with them. I suggested, and the suggestion was received very well by my medical advisers, that during periods of lesser operations the actual professional element might be reduced somewhat further than it is at the present time so as to allow some of the officers to be more freely occupied with medical cases and so relieve the strain of which my hon. Friend complains. He complained also—and in this complaint my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight joined—that there was a good deal of unskilled work, clerical work, and other duties undertaken by highly-skilled, trained medical men which might be done by clerks That has often been suggested, and I have made it my business to inquire whether really clerks could do the work suggested. I am assured that the filling in of forms, which my hon. Friend called unskilled work, could not really be undertaken by, shall I say, stockbrokers' clerks, or bank clerks, because it requires real professional knowledge to deal with them.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am assured by the authorities that is really not so, inasmuch the the forms contain complicated medical details, and to deal with them needs knowledge acquired by training in hospitals and in clinical work. But I will return to the charge and see whether some degree to elimination of the doctor from the form-filling work cannot be achieved. I want to say this about the alleged deficiency of medical men for the civil population in this country owing to the Army having taken so many doctors. My figures are rough, and I do not wish to be bound by them. But, roughly speaking, there are 36,000 doctors on the list in this country, and of these only about 30,000 are in actual practice. Of the 30,000 we have taken 10,000, or one-third. That leaves 20,000 for the civil population. I would not say that the whole of these 20,000 are doing no sort of the work for the Army, because many do part-time work for it in their respective localities. But they are not really servants of the State. I am informed in France—this is not official information, it is unofficial—that instead of taking one-third of the doctors of the country, as we have done for the Army, the French Government has taken two-thirds, or just double, and, as soon as they take a man, they send him straight away from the place in which he practices, and put him into a unit some distance away, in order that they may claim the whole of his time.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it not the case that the French War Office has reorganised its medical service recently?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am afraid I cannot answer that. I dare say they have tried to, but I do not think that that necessarily involves my statement being inaccurate. I do not know if my hon. Friend suggests it does.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I want my hon. Friend also to realise that we have a Medical War Committee, which sits constantly in particular areas to see whether there is or not any real shortage of doctors for the civil population of that particular area. Those areas we call for our purposes proscribed areas. In these areas no doctor is taken for the Army. That Committee sits quite constantly. I do not know that there is any other point of detail which my 762 hon. Friend raised and which I have not dealt with. But, generally speaking, I should like to say this, that I could not help being a little surprised at my hon. Friend's tone in dealing with this subject, because I thought it was a matter not only of common knowledge, but of universal acceptance that the medical services during this War have been a really remarkable achievement. I think the administration of Sir Alfred Keogh, so far from being the object of attack by my hon. Friend or any other hon. Gentleman in this House, ought really to form the subject of great congratulation to the War-Office. I feel that myself. I feel that the administration of Sir Alfred Keogh is deserving of the highest praise, and I believe my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight will bear that out.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I meant the administration. I never for a moment suggested that my hon. and gallant Friend had attacked Sir Alfred Keogh.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I only said that I thought the hon. and gallant Member, with his great knowledge and his administrative experience at the front, would agree with me that the administration of Sir Alfred Keogh was worthy of admiration. I ask him to say "Yes" or "No."
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not mind that. I do not wish to detract at all from Sir Arthur Sloggett, for whom I have great admiration. I think the combined administration of those two men is a matter for admiration rather than for attack. Now I want to say a word with regard to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton, who dealt with the question of the regulations which ought to have been issued to the various local authorities in order to guide the local tribunals under the system of Lord Derby's groups. I showed the hon. Gentleman a new booklet which has just been issued to these committees to-day. Five thousand will be 763 going out to-day—have gone out to-day probably by now—and 25,000 is the first issue, and every Member of this House will receive a copy, a sort of Christmas present from the War Office. [An HON. MEMBER: "They owe us one!"] The type will be kept up in case any alteration is required, but I can assure my hon. Friend that this booklet contains most minute instructions from the Director-General of Recruiting to these tribunals, and I feel quite confident that when he is familiar with the whole contents of this booklet, which has some seventy-five pages, he will realise that the point that he raised has been adequately met. But he did raise one other point. The hon. Member raised one further point which I do not think he can expect me to answer, namely, what the Government would consider to be the negligible quantity of single men who had not enlisted, which would, as it were, keep the voluntary system intact. He will not expect me to make any observations upon that kind of proposition. I do not feel that I am called upon to make any observations upon so complicated and difficult a matter. I must leave that to the Government as a whole. The only person who can make a pronouncement upon a subject of that kind must be the Prime Minister himself.
§ Mr. GEORGE TERRELL
My object in rising is to protest against the length of the proposed Adjournment. The Motion on the Paper is that we should adjourn until the 4th January. In ordinary times of peace, when we have only the ordinary class of legislation on our hands, I should say all well and good, but in times like the present we have at least two very important matters with which we ought to deal at once. I am afraid by this Adjournment we are giving our Allies the idea that we are conducting business on the terms of holidays as usual. That would be a very undesirable state of affairs. The first matter which I have in my mind is the Munitions Bill. I think this House should meet next week to deal with that matter. We have been told by the Minister of Munitions that it was important, and although I can quite understand that in his absence it was difficult to proceed with that measure this week, I certainly think that the Members of this House ought not to ask, seek or accept a holiday such as is being offered to us, but that we should meet next week to deal with that matter. As everybody knows, we have to deal as 764 well with Lord Derby's Report. Why should that be held over until the 4th January? The all-vital point in connection with that Report is whether the minority of single young men who have not attested under the scheme are a negligible quantity. If they are a negligible quantity, then for the sake of peace in this House the sooner we know it the better. If it is not a negligible quantity then no time should be lost, and this House should meet to consider and come to the decision, to which it is bound to come, that compulsory service for the single men is necessary. Of course, one understands that there is an opposition, probably a vigorous opposition in this House to compulsion in any shape or form, but I do not think that opposition exists in the country. In the country, and particularly among the men who have already enlisted and attested, it will be said that if there is a considerable number of single men who have not attested, the sooner they are roped in the better, and no time should be lost in coming to a decision on that all-important matter.
Of course, one understands that the Prime Minister hesitates. He seems to hesitate whenever an important decision has to be taken. There is no room for hesitation. No further consideration is required as far as this House is concerned. The subject has been talked threadbare. We have had days and days when this one topic has been raised, and we have the same old speeches, the opponents of compulsory service on the one side, and on the other what, I believe, is the great majority of the House, those who think it is necessary and will have to be resorted to before we can win this War. In these, circumstances I think no time should be lost, and this proposed Adjournment for such a lengthy period is very unnecessary indeed. Of course, there has been a great deal of delay, and a very serious charge against the Government was made the other day by the Minister of Munitions. In that all-famous speech he accused the Government, and that is in substance the Prime Minister, of being too late in every important action which had to be taken. To-day we are again waiting for the Prime Minister's decision on this point. He has shelved the matter. He proposes to postpone it by the Motion which is before the House, but I think it will create a very unfavourable opinion on the Continent amongst our Allies. We do not hear of our Allies taking holidays. No one hears 765 of holidays now in France. In France the working man is working seven days a week. We are taking our holidays as usual, and I am sure it will create a very unfavourable impression when, instead of coming to a speedy decision on this all-important matter, we find a Motion before the House for a further fortnight's delay. I want simply to make my protest because I think the protest is important. We are acting in a way which gives many people the idea that the Government is incapable of prompt and decisive action. The Motion will, of course, be carried, but I hope when the House assembles on 4th January the Prime Minister will come forward with some clear-cut definite scheme, and that there will be no further delay or postponement in dealing with this all-important question.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
The hon. Member appeared to me to treat the question somewhat lightly when he talked of a chose jugée. If he had been in the House the other day when the matter came up he would have realised that it is one that gives rise to deep and strong and strenuous feeling, and in approaching a question of that kind we are approaching very near the precipice over which we may go—the precipice of disunion—which would be one of the greatest disasters we could have in facing the difficulties of this War.
I should like to say with what pleasure I listened to the speech of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs—a speech which appeared to me to be a very full, very manly, very frank, and very successful defence of the office which he represents. I should like to thank him for the frankness with which he treated the House, and for taking the opportunity of saying how much he himself is in favour of as much publicity as it is possible to give. I should like to congratulate him on having dispensed with the censorship so far as the Foreign Office is concerned, and I think we all owe him our best thanks—certainly I should like to pay him my personal tribute—for having found himself able to trust the country in a matter of this great importance. I regret having to speak at this late hour, when so many subjects have been discussed, but it is extremely difficult for private Members, in view of the small opportunities open to them, to discuss any questions which are of interest to them. I feel that some expression ought to be given to the difficulties in the way of private Members at the present time.
766 We are now working under a system by which it seems to me the ordinary constitutional safeguards of the House of Commons and the country are in abeyance. We are faced with a stupendous crisis, and the only machinery which the House of Commons now possesses is the position and privileges of the private Member. A constitutional Opposition no longer exists. The private Member has been tied and bound hand and foot to a greater and greater extent by successive Governments, until at last he is hardly able to move or turn. There has been no war in the past where this House has had to face the war under such conditions as exist to-day. There have been Coalition Governments in the past, but when these Coalitions conducted the affairs of this House and the county in the past the private Member had a very much greater and wider power than he possesses to-day. We know that during the Crimean War a private Member was able to put forward a Motion and demand a discussion of that Motion, and that Motion had very great effect, and the Ministry came down upon that Motion. To-day such a thing is utterly impossible. No private Member has the power to bring forward any Motion whatever. If we look at the Order Paper of the House of Commons we shall see that there are questions there of very great interest to private Members. I see a Motion down upon a subject which interests the whole of the House and the whole of the country, and that is on the question of economy. I see a Motion on the Paper in the name of a number of hon. Members which runs as follows:—National economy.—To call attention to the more definite need for national economy; and to move, That this House resolves itself into a Committee to consider how such economy can best be effected.'That Motion stands in the names of seventeen hon. Members. If the House of Commons had its full privileges it is quite clear that a Motion of that kind would be brought forward and discussed, and the House would have an opportunity of enforcing what is the universal feeling of the House, and of enforcing the need for securing that economy which has become of such vital importance to us in the conduct of this War. But that is quite impossible at the present time. There is another field from which private Members are entirely barred, and that touches a very important function of this House, namely, the function of inquiry. It is true that we still exercise the fruition of inquiry by question and answer— 767 a most valuable way of getting information before the country—but that is not the only form of inquiry. There are other forms of inquiry, because the form of inquiry by question and answer is not suitable to many questions, and cannot be pursued where there is any continuous need of elaborate investigations. The function of inquiry to which I specially refer is at the present moment entirely in abeyance, because there is no constitutional opposition to demand inquiry or to make that demand effective, and private Members are quite unable to do so. There is a Motion on the Order Paper for inquiry supported by a considerable number of hon. Members.That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the initiation, conduct, and position of the campaign in the Dardanelles.I mention that as an illustration of the kind of inquiry which has been held to be one for the British House of Commons. I would like to produce the authority of a Prime Minister of this House as to the position of the House of Commons in regard to inquiries and the position which those inquiries occupy. It is a very short summary of the powers, and I should like with the leave of the House to read it. This is the summary of the powers of the House and the purposes which are discharged when those inquiries are made, and this is Lord John Russell's statement of the powers of this House. He says:—Inquiry is a proper duty and function of a House of Commons. When the British arms have suffered a reverse, this duty has always been performed. Thus, when Minorca was lost in 1757, Mr. Fox consented to an inquiry. Thus when General Burgoyne capitulated in 1777, the House of Commons inquired into the causes of the disaster. Thus when the Walcheren expedition failed in attaining the chief object of the enterprise, the House of Commons inquired. Inquiry is, indeed, at the root of the powers of the House of Commons. Upon the result of the inquiry must depend the due exercise of these powers. If from vicious organisation the public affairs are ill-administered, the remedy is better organisation. If from delay and confusion in the execution of orders injury has arisen, the subordinate officers should be removed. If from negligence, incompetency, or corruption, the Ministers are themselves to blame for the failure which has been incurred, those Ministers may, according to the nature and the degree of their fault, be censured, or removed, or punished.I think that is a very valuable exposition of the powers of the House of Commons, and I may add to the list given by Lord John Russell the inquiry as to the expedition to Sebastopol. Other inquiries have taken place in previous wars in regard to reverses sustained by the British Army. We have not that power in the House of Commons which enables us to secure an inquiry of this kind or any other kind which may 768 become necessary. We all know that we are working under a Coalition Government. If we look into the circumstances under which that came about, we see how a coalition of this kind completely puts into abeyance the main function of the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the authority of the nation which is to have this power, which is the main channel and means of informing the people of this country, and keeping them informed, and enabling them to realise that their affairs are being watched and safeguarded by their representatives. When the Coalition was formed it was a complete Coalition, but it was not a case of a number of Ministers of greater ability than those whom they displaced? Nothing of the kind. The Colonial Secretary said it was absurd to think that any such change as that had taken place. It was really a Coalition of two parties in this House.
The whole machinery was combined. We had a double set of Whips, and nothing was left of the Opposition whatever. We have never been told why that Coalition was formed, but the circumstances very shortly would seem to be these. We know that there was a great shortage of shells and ammunition at the front, and a Motion was down on the Paper and a date had been asked for by the Opposition to discuss that shortage; the Coalition took place and that Motion was withdrawn by the hon. Member who-had put it down on the Paper, and he stated that he had withdrawn it because of the formation of the Coalition. What was the effect of the Coalition upon this House and upon the country? The effect was to withdraw from the knowledge and cognisance of the House and country all the causes which had produced that shortage of munitions. Since then there has been a deeper silence than ever upon the conduct of the War, and we have put in abeyance that constitutional security upon which the working of our Constitution with success so much depends, namely, the existence of His Majesty's Government and of His Majesty's Opposition—that great security to the people of this country that whatever question may be entered into, whatever matter of importance may crop up they had a responsible body of men, acting on their own responsibility, responsible to the country, to their constituents, and to this House for their action, who would exercise their right of asking for information and obtaining informa- 769 tion. That Opposition now no longer exists. It is quite true that before this Coalition the Opposition had very patriotically supported the Government. They had given them the fullest and most general support, but still the power remained in them, and they might exercise it on their own responsibility at any time, of intervening. They did intervene, and thereupon, instead of having inquiry or discussion the Coalition took place, and we have no further power in this House, no machinery by which we can get these inquiries and discussions which may become necessary in the course of the very serious and grave events which are now happening.
The country is deprived of another constitutional security and guarantee. That is, in the fact that the Opposition is a possible alternative Government, an Government which is ready to become if events necessitate such a change, at once an alternative to the Government in existence. If when the shortage of ammunition took place the constitutional rule had been followed, the Government might have gone out and might have offered the same loyal support to the new Government as they had themselves received from the Opposition. We should thus have preserved our constitutional liberty, and we should have been able to retain the two most important guarantees to which I have just alluded. But under the present conditions the country is deprived of both those guarantees. The Prime Minister told us that Coalitions are unpopular, and there really seems to be good reasons why they should be, because they have not been very successful. A Coalition took place during the Crimean War, and it failed and was replaced by a more effective Government. Had we had a new Government we might have had new minds brought to bear upon the most complicated matters which face us, and those new minds, regarding those problems and coming to conclusions upon them, would have had authority and power to carry them out. Now the Colonial Secretary has thrown some light upon the matter. He has said that strong personalities have been introduced into the Cabinet, but that everybody cannot have their own way. Therefore we have a neutralising of each other in the Cabinet, and we have what in machinery is called "internal strain." The result is we do not get that force and energy which we would hope to get from the Government conducting the affairs of 770 this country at a time like the present. It seems to me that if we could have seen that a great change had taken place, that success had attended our Armies, and the efforts of the Coalition, if everything was going as well as we could hope, we would then have felt that however much there might be constitutional difficulties, in fact no damage was being done. But I confess that when I listened to the language of the Minister of Munitions, the other night, I was very much disturbed. The Minister of Munitions, on the formation of the new Ministry, asked us to trust the Government. We have done so. This House has voted men and money; the country has responded in the most noble way to every call made upon it by the Government. What is the result? The Minister of Munitions tells us that he knows that many things have been done too late, and he does not know whether our efforts now may not be too late. That is a very serious state of affairs.
If this is the internal condition of things, what do we see in regard to external policy? If there has been a change of policy we would have been reassured. But what has been the policy? We have seen a number of expeditions started to distant portions of the world. We have seen a number of expeditions at the extremity of long lines of communications imposing the maximum strain in their maintenance, the maximum cost, and a great dispersal of Forces. These expeditions, unfortunately are, in every case, either in retreat or at a standstill. It is difficult to think that the laws of strategy will be suspended even for a Coalition Government. It is surely one of the earliest and principle maxims of strategy that you should have concentration. We know to-day that owing to the want of concentration at the very moment when men, munitions and guns were most necessary on the Western front, they were absent, because we had an expedition at the Dardanelles which was calling for every ready man, every ready gun, and every ready shell. We were told of the great political results which would follow from that expedition if it ware successful, but we were not told, as we know now, that it was not in accordance with the coordinated advice of our military and naval advisers.
We have another expedition—in Mesopotamia—which, after meeting with great success, has met with a reverse. In another place Lord Crewe told us that if Bagdad had been captured we should have 771 met with wonderful political results. The only misfortune is that it was not captured, and it was not captured because we met so many Turks on the way; the number of Turks had been under-estimated. It seems to come to this: You have only to put forward the enormous political advantages of a particular course, and that is considered sufficient to overcome the military impossibilities of carrying it out. If we had had a change in this respect, if we had had no expeditions of a distant character imposing immense cost and risk, we would have had some satisfaction in feeling that a change had really taken place. We have another expedition—to Salonika. I would say, in passing, that I hope it may be possible to have some information before the House adjourns with regard to the position at Salonika. We have regarded it with great anxiety, we have been very patient, but we have had no information. I would ask that even now, if it is compatible with the public interest, we might have some information in regard to that expedition. What do we know about it? We know in regard to it that it is contrary, absolutely contrary, to the advice of our naval and military advisers. We know, as Lord Lansdowne told us in the House of Lords, that it was too late to effect any military purpose. In face of that, and three weeks after Lord Lansdowne told us that, that expedition has been carried out. So far as we can tell, it is again another expedition where the political results are to be held to outweigh the military impossibilities. To me that is in the highest degree unsatisfactory. We are in that way imposing the maximum of strain upon the resources of this country. We have not yet attained to this point, that expeditions undertaken should be undertaken only if they are in accordance with the advice of our military and naval advisers. That seems to be a sensible and proper course if we are to hope for success. We cannot expect the laws of the multiplication table or the laws of strategy to be suspended in our favour. It has been said that a policy of military gambling was one of the policies upon which the Dardanelles enterprise was launched. I object entirely to a policy of military gambling. Every point should be made as secure as it can be, so that the area of chance is reduced to a minimum.
I allude again to the question of finance. Before the Coalition Government was 772 formed the question of finance and of extravagance was constantly brought up in this House. It was pointed out how enormous that extravagance was in many departments of public expenditure, particularly in the military departments. That expenditure goes on to-day: we have no means of stemming it. The Prime Minister has told us that the financial question is a serious one. The Colonial Secretary has told us that we are risking bankruptcy. In face of this we have not yet seen economy attained, or brought into a practical region. That, again, is not a satisfactory state of things. We have been asked for a very large number of men. I had hoped that a demand so disturbing in many ways would have been accompanied by a very complete and full exposition of the present position, by a very full statement as to how we could afford these men, and how the country can endure the strain of providing them consistently with providing for our trade and manufactures. Again we have had a number of conflicting statements in regard to these great questions from various Ministers. I welcomed the intervention of the President of the Board of Trade, who made an interesting and acceptable contribution to the knowledge which we possess of the manner in which this matter has been handled by the Government. Again, however, I turn even to him and he has not explained, and the Minister of Munitions has not explained—in view of the fact that the munitions are vital and essential and that the Minister of Munitions needs at once 80,000 skilled and 250,000 unskilled men, and needs them instantly — he has machinery waiting to be used by them! —how in face of that you can immediately take for the Army another 1,000,000 men!
Why are the men the Minister of Munitions want not supplied, and at once? We have no explanation, and we cannot tell. I asked for an assurance that the munitions supply at the front would be kept adequate. I did not get that assurance. I ask again how is it that we are taking 1,000,000 men, and at the same time we need the several hundred thousands referred to by the Minister of Munitions for the manufacture of munitions, to supply the men at the front with guns, shells, and so on? There may be an explanation, but we do not know it. We have had no co-ordinated statement, showing how the four great duties of this country are being adequately performed; 773 how the maintenance of the Navy, the maintenance of an adequate supply of munitions for ourselves and our Allies, the maintenance of our finance, and the maintenance of our Army are to be harmonised and reconciled. We have had commercial interests in this country telling us that their interests are on the point of being extinguished. Manufacturers have said that if more men are taken off, works must be shut down, and large numbers of people turned on the rates. In face of that, I did hope we might have had some more complete statement as to how all those things could be harmonised and reconciled so as to get the best effort and the best result. But we have failed to get that. We cannot stop discussion at a time like this. It is going on in the Press every day, and is not an informed or responsible discussion as would be a discussion in this House. It seems to me it is a very great question whether the disadvantage of this system of depriving the House of Commons of its constitutional right, and placing its power in abeyance, is not a very much worse alternative than the old constitutional alternative with which we shall have to meet the very difficult and trying situation in which we now stand.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I rise to say a few words upon a different subject. I have been moved to some extent by the adjuration delivered in amiable tones by one of the Government Whips not to speak too long, and I accede to that desire for more than one reason. The first is that I am not sufficiently bad tempered at the present moment to give adequate temperamental expression to the feelings which animate me. Another reason is that I shall have other opportunities. But I wish to comment on one or two of the blunders of the Government, and I have not the slightest doubt that, as they continue in office, they will not fail to furnish that material. Hitherto, instead of being great organisers of victory, they have been organisers of defeat, and have been past masters of all the negative virtues. I do not know which of the Ministers now sitting on the Front Bench will rise to reply to my strictures, and it is entirely a matter of indifference, for every one of them has now been sufficiently long on that Front Bench to acquire the first virtue of a Front Bench man, namely, to fail to look realities in the face, to gloss over facts, to make the worse appear the better reason, and be content, in face of a grave external situation, to 774 run away from the difficulty, and come to this House with dosing speeches to persuade or benumb their fellow Members.
I wish to touch on the question of Serbia. Just when a country has sufficient victories to cite the name of Austerlitz, or for England to cite the name of Waterloo, so it is necessary now simply to recite the principle spheres of our operations. It is only necessary to mention Serbia to condemn the Government on the diplomatic side. My hon. Friend who sits below me (Mr. Molteno) in one of those speeches of his to which it is a delight to listen, reached to-night one of his highest points of eloquence and good sense, but I think he was rather weak on the question of Serbia, and was carried away by his own generous temperament. The question of Serbia is one which will blacken the reputation of the Foreign Office for many a long year, and in order to break through that traditional sort of superstition which sometimes prevails in this House, I will at once name upon whom the responsibility falls—I mean the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He has been a failure in this War. If I am asked for reasons, I say in order to name his failures you have only to name each one of the neutral countries in this War. At the beginning of the War there was not one of those neutral countries which did not have the same reason as this country for entering the lists against Germany. What was the principle motive that impelled this country to take up the sword against Germany? It was the fear of the German domination of the world, or, at any rate, of the Continent pf Europe. That domination was intended, first of all, to take away the power and afterwards obliterate the existence of this country. Did not those same reasons apply in every one of the neutral countries with greater force, because they were more immediately in contact with Germany? Holland, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Roumania, in each of those our diplomacy has been a failure, and even in regard to the nation which did come in the diplomacy was faulty, and Italy came in too late.
The speech of the Under-Secretary of State for War to-day seemed to indicate that for anyone to enter any criticism against the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would be in some way to impugn his great character. It is quite possible to admire the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as a man, and as one of the finest types of English gentlemen, and 775 yet find in the field of diplomacy that his methods have been faulty, and their results disastrous. It is true that he had a very great reputation before the War, but like many other men when tried in the crucible of great events he figures in a smaller degree. Looked at from the point of view of what I know of foreign diplomatists, I will venture to say that there are men holding no considerable positions in some of the legations and minor posts who on point of foreign policy could buy and sell the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Yes, because they know men, a faculty in which he is lacking. He lacks that sort of plasticity of mind, that sort of sympathy, that sort of understanding of others, that sort of semi-poetic quality which enables one to understand men and pierce their motives and to see beforehand threatened events. This Government has never foreseen anything. It is like a boxer in the ring who never sees the blow before it strikes him in the face, and then stands indignant and semi-paralysed. So it has been with our Foreign Secretary. He has foreseen nothing, he has provided for nothing, and he has dope nothing. Having at the beginning held all the cards in his hands, he has flung them away one after the other until, whereas at the beginning of the War all the resources were in favour of the Allies, we are now fighting an uphill game and one in which it requires a great stroke of genius to restore the balance. And you know it. I am not saying this in the least degree as weighing against his great character, because, if I may say so, I am one of his admirers, and towards him personally I have nothing but friendly feeling. He, like all men, how ever, should be tried by the test of his results, and I say that for the purposes of this War and of its diplomacy he has been a disastrous failure.
I am not speaking in the air. I know what has been passing, for instance, in Rumania. It is still a country which has not declared itself on one side or the other. I know that Rumania has been filled with German agencies from north to south, and from east to west. It is impossible for a Britisher at this time of day, even by paying great prices, to obtain a room at a hotel. Has the Foreign Secretary taken any means to counteract these influences? No, he may not know that they exist. He is like a man who never sees except through the medium of State documents. 776 He is like one who never knows facts until they become historical, and who sees men through a glass darkly. Rumania should have been on our side. Bulgaria properly should have been on our side. Greece should have been on our side. Each one of these nations has the strongest motives to be on the side of the Allies. The one nation which is on our side in the Balkan States, the most gallant of all, the nation which has filled the world with admiration by the valorous conduct of her historic sons is the very nation which our Foreign Office pressed to the last degree to make humiliating concessions, and then when at last Serbia made those concessions abandoned her in her hour of peril. Those are the facts.
The First Lord of the Admiralty made some remarks parrying such an attack as I now make, but parrying it not by contact with reality but by that defence of dialectical skill which is excellent for persuading the House and for giving a man the highest reputation but which in face of these realities is a disadvantage rather than otherwise. He said that I was inconsistent in this respect, because I blamed the military side and yet I still persisted in blaming the diplomatists. The inconsistency was not on my side but on his own in pushing to too fine a degree that dialectical skill which he possesses. I have noticed once or twice that even in his higher regions of metaphysics his own vision is rather obscured by the virtuosity of his dialectical skill. It is quite possible that the military side was faulty, but that the diplomatic side was also faulty. There was, nevertheless, sufficient ground for our diplomatists to use their powers of persuasion. It will be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, after painting the military side in his own apologia, and I think very successfully, yet indicated the final triumph of the Allies if only by a war of attrition, and he did so with such great force and eloquence that as he spoke he convinced his hearers. Was not that one of the resources open to diplomacy to show that, although the progress of the War might not at present be favourable, yet the resources of the Allies were so immense that it was almost in the law of nature that the Allies must win in the end? We have done nothing in that sense, and we have not used our powers of persuasion effectively at all.
The failure of Holland to come in, the lateness with which Italy arrived, the 777 failure of Rumania to come in, and the failure of Greece to come in, although Greece was ready and willing and almost anxious—each and every one of these failures forms the most damning accusation against the efficiency of the Foreign Office. And the only answer is, if you can only divest yourselves of the circum-ambulatory atmosphere of hypocrisy which preys upon this House, is that this man has been a great figure in our public and our social life, that he has been made an idol of, that he has been honoured as a god, and one's intellect and common sense stands paralysed before these flip-peries and toys. Take the military side of the Serbian Expedition. There was a time when the Serbian situation could have been turned into the highest triumph for the Allies, so that it would have been the very turning point to victory. Would Napoleon Bonaparte have acted in this way? I have cited that name again and again, and it would seem sometimes that it has been received almost with derision so remote do we appear to be from our own possibilities. Yet he lived a hundred years ago, and during the hundred years that have passed we have heard much of the boasted British supremacy, British power of intellect and British Imperial thinking. How would Napoleon Bonaparte—well, I will not use his name—I will ask, how would any man of common sense have acted had he been face to face with this difficulty? Take, for instance, the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). He is a man not clouded with the traditions of a great office; he is a man whose intellect is not bound up and paralysed by red-tape.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I am glad to hear that. But how many men on the Front Bench could echo that sentiment? How many members of the Cabinet were there who were able to hear, or read, such a disgraceful speech as that of Lord Lansdowne—a lily-livered speech, in which the Noble Lord advocated the abandonment — I would call it, the betrayal of Serbia.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)
Under a well-established Rule of this House no comment is allowed on speeches delivered in another House, for the very good and fair-minded reason that there 778 is no opportunity for replying to an attack on them.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I will bow to your ruling, Mr. Maclean. One of those Members of the other House whom we have principally criticised had no opportunity of replying here, and that is Lord Kitchener; nevertheless he occupies a position in which he must be criticised. I will now proceed to the question of Serbia. There was a time, perhaps anything within six months ago, when that situation was so favourable to us that it could have been made the very pivot of a programme which would lead to victory. If at that time, When Serbia was intact with an Army of 300,000 men, when Bulgaria had not decided, when Rumania was favourable to the Allies, and when Greece was anxious to join them, if then an expedition conceived on bold lines and with the object of decisive victory had been formed, and not a paltry 13,000 or 16,000 men but 1,000,000 men of the Allies had been massed on the Danube, it would have electrified the world, and it would have given the assurance of ultimate triumph. We would have touched Germany and Austria on their weak point. We would not have been faced with the difficulties which have grown up on the Western front. We would have had a sword ready to pierce to their very hearts, either Budapesth or Vienna, and on the banks of the Danube we would have immobilised 2,000,000 of the enemy, brought in Bulgaria from the peril on her own borders, influenced Rumania, and we would have swept that entire movement in the Balkans on to our own side. Why was that not done? Because it was too large a project and because the little minds of the Cabinet seemed unable to contain any great and bold and triumphant idea. What has been the result of the failure to seize that glorious opportunity? The Serbian Army has been almost destroyed. Instead of having 300,000 of the finest fighting material in the world, it is now reduced to scattered bands which altogether may sum up 120,000 men.
§ Mr. LYNCH
Bulgaria has come in on the side of Germany, and so, just as two count on a Division in this House, has been equal to the loss of 1,000,000 men. Greece has withdrawn from her formal alliances, and she is entitled in doing so, perhaps, to lay the blame on the diplomacy 779 of this side. And Roumania is still hesitating, so that where that bold and decisive policy even at the risk of 1,000,000 men would have meant victory, we have sacrificed more than 1,000,000 men for nothing. Are these things mysterious? Was this problem in any way a difficult problem? No. The whole solution was patent to men of common sense, so that at that time, or even after the Germans crossed the Danube, it was possible for a man exercising plain common sense to have foreseen and to have detailed with the utmost accuracy every one of those striking events which were afterwards realised. But again the Cabinet and the Foreign Office and their military advisers never realised the situation at all until it had become historical, and then seemed truly incapable of grappling with it in any effective or virile fashion.
So, instead of sending this imposing force which would have meant victory, what did we do? If we had entirely abandoned Serbia we should have done a mean thing and a Machiavellian act, but we should have done something entirely feasible. That was a project which was advocated by M. Clemenceau, who was once Prime Minister of France and is one of the most influential men there. There is a great school in France which advocates that policy. Although it is a policy with which I would have no sympathy, it is a feasible policy. The other policy of a bold attack was feasible. What was our policy? You cannot call it a compromise. It was something too ridiculous and mean to be qualified by any term which would pass as Parliamentary. In the first place, the Government sent some 13,000 men, I am told, the remnants of the disaster in Gallipoli. Thirteen thousand men to launch against the victorious armies of Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. What was the expedition? I will tell the House what it was. It was a journalistic expedition. No, I beg pardon, I will not say journalistic, because I am a journalist myself, and journalism is an honourable profession. It was a Parliamentary expedition. It was an expedition not to meet the realities; it was an expedition not to conquer and win; it was a mean expedition, at the cost of the sacrifice of lives of brave men, to throw dust in the eyes of the country and to deceive us, perhaps willingly, in this House.
780 Thirteen thousand men! Even now, when the game is lost, we are sending new commanders and more men to Serbia. What is the meaning of that expedition, even if we can hold the ground round Salonika as a sort of new Torres Vedras? Is it meant to attack? If it is meant to attack, it is useless to attack except with an adequate force. Remember, having lost the opportunities one by one by our carelessness and by our sheer futility, to attack now what would have been possibly successful with 1,000,000 before, would require 2,000,000. Before I sit down, I will say something which is perhaps bolder than anything which I have yet uttered, so bold does it seem in this House to say the simplest words on the subject. I do not utter these words in a pessimistic spirit. If my words are properly understood, they point us to victory. I am not a pessimist. I regard this question not from a pessimistic or an optimistic point of view. I try to regard the whole problem in a scientific spirit. Pessimism is never in order, but next in detriment to a pessimistic spirit I would place an optimistic spirit which has no real foundation in the condition of affairs. I think there is nothing more stupid on our part than to bemuse our intelligence with a sort of false or machine-made optimism and refuse to face realities. What we suffer from is the lawyer spirit on that Front Bench. The lawyer spirit gives this habit to a man, that all through his life he dwells in an artificial world, and he never faces reality until he is about to come up for trial on the following day. Then he faces it not in the way of analysing and finding the realities and the verities of the case, but in the way of inventing artificial arguments in order to persuade a judge or to becloud the mind of a jury. That spirit is imported into this House when we are face to face with the greatest crisis that has ever menaced this country for a thousand years. When the Prime Minister comes to the House and in that style of monumental eloquence of which he is a past master has disposed of the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Markham), he goes away beaming with happiness amid the plaudits of the House. But he has not answered the judge. Instead of that lawyer spirit in this House there should be more of a scientific spirit. We should have the engineering type of brain, such as the first Carnot possessed, who was called the organiser of victory. These lawyers are 781 the organisers of defeat. When an engineer is designing a bridge he knows it will be tested by realities, and he forms his plans always in the view of those realities of nature and he makes his calculations, and having formed his plans he proceeds to put on the structure piece by piece towards a definite end, knowing that each piece he puts in must be adapted to the strain which nature imposed upon it. That is the type of mind of a man who organises victory, and when the winds of heaven blow and blow down the bridge it is useless for him to proceed to persuade the town council or the municipality that it was a triumphant work of engineering or of architecture. But those resources are always possible to a lawyer dealing with unrealities in this artificial world, and unhappily in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that is the sort of argument which seems to persuade the House of Commons. There I have touched on the whole root of the evil. You are up against the Germans. When I criticise men of the calibre of the Minister for Foreign Affairs or of Lord Kitchener and I say they are inadequate to their task it does not mean any special disparagement at all. It means that they are unequal to this great unprecedented and unforeseen task which has been thrust upon them in the very height of their ability and a great extension of their powers would still be inadequate. Just as though again, to use a vulgar image, you might say to a man he was not fit to be put in the ring against Jack Johnson. He might be a most estimable man in private affairs. He might have lived with his wife on terms of perfect amity. He might have one of those reputations which are lived in this country and which look so well on a tombstone. He might even be a magnificent athlete, but the question is, Is he capable of fighting the adversary against whom we intend to pit him? There you require to bring out the very greatest the country can produce. We are met with an argument, and that argument is this, "What men would you put in their place?" A silly argument. The first thing is to displace these men. The other question will be much easier of solution, because if we are compelled to recognise that these men represent the very high watermark of diplomacy in war this country is condemned in advance, and nothing remains but to write our epitaph. 782 I refuse to believe it. I refuse to believe that this country which again and again has dazzled the world with its genius, has at this day of its efflorescence become a decaying and a dying nation with no genius or fertility. These are the silly arguments which at every stage of history have been made against every advance that brilliant men have sought to make. It was arguments like that which kept down a man like Napoleon Bonaparte for a time. The situation at the present time is so grave and the crisis so terrible—much more so than any of the Gentlemen on that Front Government Bench seem to recognise—that we must go to the very depths of our nature and of our resources, or this country before long will be stirred to its very entrails. Its life is being tried, and we must bring every resource of genius, power, and administrative ability which we possess into operation. What happened in France when they were tried by even a greater crisis in the early days of the Revolution? The minds of men were stirred by the glorious teachings of that Revolution, which still live to inspire us in this fight against Germany. Men by those glorious ideals were lifted to a higher sphere, and France was not deceived with lawyer-like phrases. The glorious heroes of the Republic formed themselves into a Committee of Public Safety, and set to work to find out all the weak spots, military and administrative, in France. When a fraudulent contractor was found he did not find an advocate in the Chamber of Deputies, but his head was cut off. When a general was found who could not win he was not bolstered up as an idol, but replaced. Has the British Army no reserves like Murat Morceau or Napoleon Bonaparte? If you come into contact with the men who have been all along in the War Office you come into contact with an attitude of obstruction. They put strong defensive works against ideas round their brains, and the ideas never seem to penetrate. But when you come into contact with the young men who have stood the brunt of trench work you find men of power, energy and daring, eager to win their spurs, eager to advance and to sound the note of victory. If these men are rapidly advanced victory will still be written on the standard of the Allies. My speech is not one of discouragement. It has been one of victory. Despite the pusillanimity, the 783 cowardice, and the indecision of that Front Bench, I should like the call to go through the length and breadth of this land, calling out that clarion note which we require so much at this hour, "Energy, energy, energy!"
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, 4th January."784
§ The remaining Orders read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one minutes after Nine o'clock, until Tuesday, 4th January, 1916.