§ MR. TENNANT'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read;
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Acland)
I think to-day's Debate is to be given, by common consent, to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Tennant) concerning the War, and to getting you, Sir, out of the Chair. I do not wish in any way to detain the House from my right hon. Friend's presentation of questions of policy with regard to the Army, but to present Army Estimates for a total of £15,000 in a year like this is, on the face of it, a proceeding so curious as to need some explanation. It is a matter, of course, which the House or the Committee may well wish to discuss, but I think it probably will be found to be for the convenience of the House not to discuss the form of the Estimates to-day, if only for the reason that we have only just been able to put in the Vote Office the Treasury Minute which deals with this question, and the House will probably desire to study the Treasury Minute before making criticisms and remarks as to the form which the Army Estimates are to take, and which the Navy Estimates will take when they are presented. But I think it will be in accordance with the traditions of the House and its desire for financial correctness that a brief statement, which will be very brief, should be made, to begin, in order to explain the form in which the Estimates are presented.
There were three possible alternatives before the Treasury and the Public Departments as to what might be done. First of all, we might have tried a full and proper Estimate of the cost of the War which was going to arise in the present financial year. Secondly, we might have 278 presented ordinary peace Estimates of the total of the current year's Estimates or some total close to that, paying the ordinary peace cost of the Army out of the Estimates when placed in the Appropriation Act, and paying for the war cost from Votes of Credit. Thirdly, we might have done what we have decided to do—namely, to present token Estimates mainly as pegs upon which discussion may be hung, and to take Votes of Credit as they are needed for War purposes, depending for proper financial control and correctness rather on accounting than on estimating while the War is going on. As against the plan of trying to make, before the beginning of the financial year, any estimate of what the great War purposes will cost during the year, there is this to be said: In the first place, we cannot estimate what the cost of the War will be, and, in the second place, if we could do it, it would not be a wise thing to do, because any detailed Estimate showing, as far as could be shown, everything we were doing and intended to do, would give information of an undesirable nature to our enemies as to numbers, as to their organisation, as to their training and equipment, and so on.
As to the second plan, if we had tried to present ordinary peace Estimates we should have involved ourselves and the House in difficulties and misunderstandings. That was the course which the Treasury first favoured and tried to have carried out but it rather broke down on making the attempt. As to presenting normal peace Estimates, it is to be observed that, when you come to the actual questions concerned, you cannot, distinguish between what you have spent in peace and what you do actually spend in war. With regard to stores and materials, for instance, it is almost impossible to say, "This we should have required for normal needs, and this, on the other hand, we require on account of the War." There is also this point—that in normal peace Estimates there are certain sub-heads, such as Half-pay, and so on, which practically disappear in time of war, and to have included this sort of sub-head at a normal figure must have misled the House. The War Office and the Admiralty do not really, I think, have a normal peace organisation and add to it in war other services and extra expenditure. In a war, the conduct of which involves the entire naval and military resources of the State, what happens is that practically the whole of the expenditure of these great Departments 279 becomes, ipso facto, war expenditure; and you cannot distinguish between normal peace expenditure and extra expenditure on the War. We might have tried to present Estimates showing what the estimated cost of the two Services would be when we return, if we do return during the financial year, to times of peace. That, again; is very difficult. We cannot tell what the peace expenditure of the Army will be in this financial year, because we do not know whether we shall return to a peace expenditure during the year. It is not possible under these circumstances to pass suddenly from a war to a normal peace expenditure, because, however suddenly peace might come, there would be large commitments for such things as stores, war gratuities, pensions, and so on, which we cannot at all foretell now. Any attempt to do so would mislead the House; and if we were to try to do it, the House really does not wish to discuss now what the probable peace expenditure on the Estimates may be after the War is over. So we come to the third course, which is the one we have adopted, of presenting token Votes, which will serve the main purpose of affording opportunities for discussion, and financing the two great Departments practically out of Votes of Credit while the War is going on. I think that that is inevitable. We were driven to adopt that alternative after a practical examination of the others.
The problem then remains of how to secure to the House that control over expenditure which is desirable and which the House, ought to have. In regard to certain expenditure, control to a high degree can be secured not through Estimates but through Appropriation. At, I think, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, we have agreed that the Appropriation Accounts should be so prepared as to show the expenditure under the respective Votes and sub-heads of Navy and Army Estimates that were contained in the original Estimates for 1914–15 as laid before Parliament. The expenditure will be accounted for under the same sub-heads as it was estimated for in the last Estimates that were laid before Parliament, and in the Appropriation Accounts there will be shown, for purposes of comparison, under each Vote and Sub-head, the amounts that were actually voted for the purposes of the current financial year. There is only this difficulty left to deal 280 with, and it is a difficulty which financial critics will detect: Under this system the House might allow the Executive to take by Votes of Credit more than was necessary, and on the restoration of peace it might be found that there were large unexpended amounts which had been voted under Votes of Credit which had not been submitted to the House and approved by them in the form of Estimates. That might be found to be so if the War came to an end while there was still some considerable portion of the financial year to run. To meet that, the Treasury and the Departments will take care to limit the amounts asked for under Votes of Credit from time to time, so that the supply of finance shall not exceed the cost of the Services on the pre-War footing by more than the war charges actually incurred or imminent when the Estimates of the Votes of Credit are presented, so that the Government may not be found, if the War were suddenly brought to a conclusion, with moneys which they could spend on the peace services of the Army without their proper presentment to Parliament.
The only other subject to be explained is how it is proposed to deal with Appropriations-in-Aid. We might take the Estimate of the Appropriations-in-Aid, and, whenever we asked for a Vote of Credit, put down a gross Vote, of Credit, deduct the Appropriations-in-Aid, and ask for a net Vote of Credit. That, I think, is rather contrary to common sense. A Vote of Credit is simply a way of liberating supplies from the Exchequer, and is in no way a balance-sheet. Or we might pay the Appropriations-in-Aid into the Exchequer. That would swell both scales of the Budget accounts, because Appropriations-in-Aid are not normally paid direct into the Exchequer, and to pay them in and get them out again would derange comparisons with previous and subsequent years.
Therefore we propose, when we come to Estimate the Appropriations-in-Aid under these respective Votes more exactly than we can do at present, to ask the Committee to pass Supplementary Estimates, appropriating them so that they may be used in reduction of the Exchequer issues of the Services upon which they accrue. We take, therefore, not only the total Vote in the Army and Navy Estimates, but we take also the Appropriations-in-Aid and bring the actual Appropriations-in-Aid before the House in the form of Supplementary Estimates. I have tried 281 to explain this very difficult matter to the House in order to show that the question of financial correctness is not being altogether lost sight of even at the present time. I have tried to explain to the House the difficulties that the Treasury have in the matter; to take the House into our confidence; and I hope that I will not have wasted the time of the House in so doing.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think it would be very undesirable indeed that the statement of the Under-Secretary for War should be delayed by a purely technical discussion on financial deportment this afternoon, and I will therefore say what I have to say in the fewest possible words. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has dealt with a great many possibilities which were before the Treasury. I think at this moment the House need not confuse its mind by attempting to follow all those possibilities in detail. The points which are material for our immediate consideration are very few and very simple. During the South African War we tried to conduct our military finance by means of ordinary Estimates. I am quite certain that that was a mistake. It did not lead to accurate Estimates. The Departments put a great many guesses before the House of Commons which were not subsequently realised. When you have not information, and cannot pretend to have it, in sufficient detail to make your Estimates accurate, it is better to tell the House of Commons frankly so at the beginning, and to take your money, as the Government now propose to do, by a Vote of Credit. That is, at least, treating the House of Commons with frankness and with confidence and not assuming to perform a task which in fact you find afterwards you were unable to do. If we once accept that principle, that you cannot frame accurate Estimates for a great War like this, it is not worth while dwelling on the point, which, however, is of equal importance in considering the matter, that, even if you could, it would be undesirable to do so because you would thereby give to the enemy detailed information which it is undesirable to disclose; and the more, therefore, of your Estimates laid before the House of Commons, the more damaging the disclosures made to the enemy.
I assume, therefore, that the Government will not find their decision to proceed by way of Vote of Credit seriously challenged. But there are two things the House of Commons cares about. The 282 first is that, in agreeing to proceed by Vote of Credit, they shall not lose their opportunities for discussion. The Government have provided for that by presenting token Votes, rather than dummy Votes in the ordinary form, which will give the House of Commons the opportunity of orderly discussion of the usual kind on each class of Votes which arises on the Army or the Navy Estimates. The second point which it is important that the House should seek to preserve is that though money is voted, not in the usual way, but by Vote of Credit, the audit of the spending of that money is as effective and as comprehensive as usual. That the House will have found to be provided for in the arrangements explained by the Financial Secretary and embodied in the White Paper which is lying in the Vote Office at this moment I think I ought to say—I feel under an obligation to say it in these matters when I might be supposed to be speaking as an impartial critic—that the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Treasury did consult me as to the form the Votes should take. I was obliged to tell him that I had no authority to speak for my party, and could only speak for myself; but after hearing what he had to say, I expressed my preference for the form of voting Supply by Vote of Credit, the course which the Government have now adopted. I believe that the House of Commons will find that this preserves the essential features of their control—the right to discuss, the proper audit—and that, at the same time, it prevents any improper disclosure being made to the enemy by the form of our Votes.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
In rising to present these Estimates, I am confronted with certain difficulties, not purely of the financial kind just alluded to by my right hon. Friend, but difficulties which I think will at ones be apparent to the House. It has been the practice of my predecessors in opening this Debate to dwell upon many matters of interest ond importance connected with the Army—upon its numbers, its organisation, its distribution, their constitution by arms of the Services, and the purposes to which it is expected that Army will be put. Right hon. Gentlemen standing at this box in the past have expatiated in detail and at length upon these matters, when the chief interest has very likely lain in the distribution and organisation of the Forces of the Crown, 283 the differentiation, perhaps, between the Regulars and the Territorial Forces, and the size, it may be, of the Expeditionary Force, and how many troops will be left at home when that Force shall have left our shores. All that is denied to me to-day. There have been occasions in the past when the length of the speech introducing these Estimates has been, I think I may say, in inverse ratio to the size of the Army intended to be maintained by the Estimates. I propose to maintain, if I may, that paradox. Heaven help hon. Members if my speech were to follow any other ratio! I have reason to think that I may be able to carry out my idea, because be it remembered when I speak here to-day I speak not only to such hon. and right hon. Gentlemen as are kind enough to listen to me, but I also speak words that may reach and certainly would reach—if they were sufficiently indiscreet!—the Chief of the Staff of Berlin. That hon. Members may be very certain of! More, I am debarred from dwelling at all upon the size or distribution of our Forces, for if there be one thing of which we may be more certain than another, it is this: That the enemy wishes to know, more than anything else, the numbers of the Forces by whom he may be opposed in the future. I saw the other day in a newspaper a quotation from the German newspaper the "Berliner Tageblatt," in which the latter said:—We know the enemy's strength at present, but not his strength in the future.They were despondent on that account. It is possible, and not difficult, to make a fair computation of the size of an Army under conscription. It is not so with ourselves, under what I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for the Strand Division described as "the happy voluntary principle under which we live." We may have a large or a small number in proportion to the number of men in this country who are of military age and physique who have joined the Colours, but unless we tell the exact figure to the enemy he has no means of ascertaining it. I trust there is no one who has information of those figures who would be so rash or so irresponsible, or so lost to a sense of the gravity of the situation and of the value of the information which he might be giving away, to divulge it. Therefore, as I must be reticent, so I hope to be brief. But there are matters of great interest to this House, and of great importance, 284 which, I think, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will wish to discuss, and which it may be possible to discuss in this House. If I may be allowed to do so, I should like to divide my subject into two—questions of the Army here at home, and questions relating to the Army overseas. It will not be quite possible to adhere to that course strictly, because certain branches of the military departments and War Office touch them both, so that there is an intermixture.
To begin with, questions relating to the Army at home. At the outset, as the House is aware, we met with considerable difficulty in providing accommodation for the troops which, on mobilisation, flocked to the Colours. We had the greatest difficulty in finding that amount of comfort, and even of the necessities of life, which men, who, from patriotic motives, had given up good homes and high wages to join the Colours, had a right to expect. But I think, and I hope the House will agree with me, that we have to a large extent been able to overcome those difficulties. At the outset we had recourse to a certain number of different expedients. For instance, commanding officers were instructed to provide from local resources equipment and clothing, and such things as blankets and mattresses, knives and forks, crockery, boots, etc., for the troops under their command. It does not require very much imagination to see how inconvenient, if not worse, it is that a number of the authorities under the War Office should be competing in the same market for the same article; consequently, that system had only a short run, and by great exertions the Department at home has been able to provide those necessaries, I think we may say, in a comparatively short space of time. Then we also had difficulties in the housing of the New Army. It was hoped at first that they might be put into huts, but huts could not be built in time. Nearly all the contractors became very much behind time in their contracts, and so the troops had to be billeted. The billeting of troops was never so good, from the Army training point of view, as I am sure the House will understand. When huts were getting on the extraordinary rainfall upset all our calculations, and men were sometimes put into huts, which had roofs on, before the work was actually completed in the hope that they might be kept dry; but I am afraid that was not always a success, and billeting again had 285 to be resorted to. After many vicissitudes and variations of that kind, it may now be said that we have very large numbers of troops in huts, comfortably housed, and it is hoped that before long the accommodation required for all will be available. I would like to say that the utmost resource has been displayed by the Departments, and among the troops themselves the very best possible spirit has been shown. Instances have been very rare indeed in which officers and men have not accepted the really hard conditions with which they have had to put up in the best possible spirit. Another gratifying feature has been the help which households of all kinds in villages and towns have given to our troops, and, further, the admirable—really the excellent—conduct of the men themselves in billets.
The House will expect me, no doubt, to say something on the subject of recruiting. I can only assure the House that recruiting has been very satisfactory. Of course it varies from week to week, and, possibly, if at the present moment a little more energy were put into recruiting it would not be out of place. But, on the whole, there has been no cause for discontent, still less for any disquiet. But we want more men. Every man will be needed in this great life and death struggle in which we are engaged. The time approaches when we may have to make inroads—actual inroads have already been made—upon employment in important industries upon which large numbers of the population depend. Importat issues must be involved in the denudation of the labour market of large numbers of men of military age and physique If I might address myself to my hon. Friends below the Gangway, I would appeal to them to help the Government to organise the forces of labour, so that where one man joins the Colours, either another unfitted by age or disability, or a woman, may take his place. I would ask them to assist the Government also in granting, only for the period of the War, some form of relaxation of their rules and regulations, especially in Army work. I will give as an illustration, and as an inducement, if I might, that in the works of many firms, not so much the armament firms as the clothing firms, the Factory Acts, regulations and rules have been largely abrogated already, only for the period of the War, of course, and for Government contracts, I would sincerely ask hon. Members below the Gangway whether 286 they could not prevail upon the trade unions of this country to adopt a measure of a purely temporary kind for the relaxation of some of their more stringent restrictions.
Apart from the question of relaxation, would it be possible for hon. Gentlemen who represent labour in this House to get such a union, for instance, as the Shop Assistants' Trade Union, to help us in a trade where women's work seems to be more desirable than men's, so that nearly all male labour, and certainly all labour of males of an age and physique fit to join the Army, should be dispensed with, and replaced by women's labour? I do not say it is a possible thing to do; I only throw it out tentatively, in the hope that something may occur to hon. Members so that they may be able to assist us in this matter. We are anxious not to dislocate industry any more than we can avoid. I believe that, with careful and good organisation, a person fitted to take his or her part in doing real service to the country at this time of great crisis, may be adapted to do the work for which he or she is best fitted. Many of the men are anxious to serve, and some are only restrained by the urgent representations of their employers that they cannot be spared; some of them have already joined the Colours without the permission of their employers—many, of course, have. In the case of the armament firms some have, by the instruction of my Noble Friend, the Secretary of State for War, been brought back from France or Flanders, as the case may be, in order to keep the works going in this country. The Secretary of State for War is considering the possibility of issuing, at the termination of the War, a medal to certain technical workers in the armament firms who have served us faithfully and well in the manufacture of those articles, with which, owing to their zeal and skill, the Army in the field has been able to be supplied.
May I turn now to questions concerning the Army in the field overseas? I should like the House to take note of the fact that troops have been brought from many parts of the world—India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. They have been transported over those long distances in ships by the Admiralty, without, so far as we know, a single casualty. When the numbers come to be known I believe it will be seen to be one of the most extraordinary feats in the history of transport. I am reminded of an incident I read a year 287 ago in a memoir of the great Napoleon by his private secretary, M. de Bourrienne. He says, dealing with his voyage in the "Orient" from Toulon to Egypt:—It is scarcely possible that some accidents should not occur during a long voyage, in a crowded vessel—that some persons should not fall overboard. Accidents of this kind frequently happened on board the "Orient.Then he goes on to describe how greatly distressed Napoleon was, and how he instantly made the ship be laid-to, and exhibited the greatest uneasiness until the unfortunate individual was recovered.One dark night we heard a noise like that occasioned by a man falling into the sea. Bonaparte instantly caused the ship to be laid-to, until the supposed victim was rescued from certain death. The men hastened from all sides, and at length they picked up—what?—the quarter of a bullock, which had fallen from the hook to which it was hung. What was Bonaparte's conduct? He ordered me to reward the sailors who had exerted themselves on this occasion even more generously than usual, saying, 'It might have been a sailor, and these brave fellows have shown as much activity and courage as if it had.'What a contrast that is between the position then and the position to-day. It is not the splashing overboard of one man to-day, but the swift destruction of hundreds by an enemy who delivers his shots, or his blows, only as he rises at that moment to the surface of the water.
Another matter in which the Admiralty has been most successful, and has rendered us great service, has been the provisioning of our troops abroad, both in articles of food and munitions of war. I would express to them our very great thanks, but I would also say that credit is in a large measure due to the food inspectors under Dr. MacFadden of the Local Government Board, and particularly to the Quartermaster-Generals' Departments, both at the War Office and at the Front, and the Army Service Corps, to whom I should like the House to give that tribute of praise and thanks which I think is eminently their due. I do not know whether it is worth while quoting from any articles in the Press; I have had a great number sent to me. There is, however, an eloquent tribute to the Army Service Corps in the "National Review," which is an organ that does not often find itself able to attach praise to the present Administration. The writer of the article (Mr. T. Comyn Platt) says:—Not a day passes at the front that the British soldier does not have his full meat rations and many other luxuries besides. For instance, he gets his fresh bread every day, not new, I admit, for it is all baked at the base; still it is never more than a day old. Then he has fresh meat, three times a week, and on other days the very best tinned beef and bacon that can be supplied288 The writer describes the organisation from the centre brain at the War Office to the least important cog in the great wheel of supplies—the precision of ships that unload their cargoes on the quays of certain French towns, the forty-wagon trains that leave every night for the railheads, the vast organisation of motor lorries, carts, horses and men, by which the supplies are distributed to the trenches. I have a large number of such articles, but I thought this one the House might like to have read out. An army in the field cannot be kept without horses. The operations of the directors of the Remount Department have been admirably carried out. Those operations have been upon a scale of enormous magnitude. A great strain has been placed on the Remount Department already, and an even greater strain may possibly have to be placed upon them when we have our new and larger Armies in the field; but I am assured by the Quartermaster-General, and I believe, the House will be glad to have that assurance, that, owing to the timely arrangements made for purchases abroad, as well as to the great flow of horses offered in this Kingdom for voluntary sale, all doubt as to our ability to meet our requirements for horseflesh may be laid aside.
I now come, to the Flying Corps. I think it has been proved beyond doubt that the British design of aeroplane has proved itself superior to that of any other nation, either the French or the German. That is due to the Royal Aircraft Factory and those concerned in it. The Royal Aircraft Factory owes its origin to my Noble. Friend Lord Haldane, who initiated it and established it, and the fact that so much progress has been made in the design of these aeroplanes is largely due to my right hon. and gallant Friend the late Secretary of State for War, Colonel Seely, who did admirable work in regard to aeroplanes. The workmanship and material put in make our aeroplanes last almost twice, if not quite twice, as long as any of the other Powers concerned. Coming to engines in aeroplanes, they are almost entirely French, and I would express our acknowledgments to the French Government for the very admirable assistance they have afforded us. But we are gradually, I may say that we are now actually, becoming self-supporting in the matter of aeronautical material. I wish to lay stress upon that fact. The first British engines are now in use. They 289 have not reached the front, but they are in use. I had the advantage of seeing the director of this branch to-day, and he informs me that it will not be very long before a number of British-made engines will be in use in France. The motor trade and the shipbuilding trade have both responded to our demands and our requests, and are now manufacturing aeroplanes. On the subject of recruiting I can only say that it has been extraordinarily good, and the class of men we are getting into the ranks is extremely good. They are not only of a very high class, but there are plenty of them. With regard to the officers, there is a very large waiting list of gentlemen who are anxious to join the commissioned ranks. I may be allowed to say here that in the operations, so far as they have gone, the British pilot has proved himself on every occasion, I believe without exception, to be absolutely superior to the German pilot.
May I now come to the Territorial Force, which is my special care, and for which I am directly responsible to the Army Council. As the House knows, it was no part of the duty of that Force to undertake foreign service, but in spite of the very large additions we have made to that Force, the overwhelming and preponderating proportion of its members have taken upon themselves that obligation. Of the class of material it is unnecessary for me to speak. All I need to say is "by their deeds ye shall know them." I know that the Commander-in-Chief in the Field attaches the highest value to the units of this Force under his command. The Territorial Force has supplied large numbers of candidates for commissions both to the new Armies and to the new units of the Territorial Force, and owing to the growth and enormous increase in the size of the Territorial Force it has been found desirable and necessary to appoint an Inspector-General to assist the Director-General of the Territorial Force to report to the Army Council. His reports to the Army Council already show what a great amount of industry and efficiency animates those troops. I think we may fairly say that recent events have placed beyond doubt the value and the efficiency of the Territorial Force. I should not like to leave this subject without expressing my thanks, and the thanks of the House, if I may, to the County Associations who have done so much to bring about this much dsired effect. The County Associations have (1) clothed and equipped their 290 own units, and they have also performed additional duties; (2) they have assisted the Army Ordnance Department in maintaining the equipment of mobilised troops; (3) they have assisted in many cases in clothing units of the New Army; (4) they have made arrangements for temporary accommodation, and in some cases for the subsistence as well of the New Army and of the Reserve units of the Territorial Force; (5) they have paid family allowances and taken care of dependants, and they have done that upon a scale which was entirely unexpected; (6) they have also assisted recruiting. For all these matters we owe much to the self-sacrificing efforts of the County Associations and their staffs.
I should not like to conclude without saying a few words upon certain aspects of the medical treatment of the wounded in France. I do not think there is very much that I can add to the narrative which I gave to the House in November last of the methods adopted by the Royal Army Medical Corps in bringing the wounded from the front to the clearing stations, thence to the base hospitals, and finally home here. Important as those functions are, the prevention of disease is even more important, and this is rightly regarded as the primary function of this corps. I think I am right in saying that this is the first war in which we have been engaged in which an organised sanitary service has existed. We owe the establishment of this service to my Noble Friend Lord Haldane. Since its establishment we have been gradually perfecting its organisation during the last five or six years. When we look back to the fact that during the Napoleonic wars only 3 per cent. of the deaths among our troops were due to wounds, and 97 per cent. due to sickness or disease; when you also remember the fact that during the Crimean War more deaths occurred from disease during the first three months than during the whole of the rest of the campaign, it is impossible to lay too much stress upon this preventive function of the Royal Army Medical Corps. How has this function been carried out? I have to thank my hon. Friend the Member for the Holmfirth Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Arnold) for the very interesting and able report which he made to me after a visit which he paid to Paris, during which he got a great many figures. All the evidence which my hon. Friend brought, and which comes to me officially, goes to show that by far the greatest amount of sickness 291 amongst our soldiers at the present moment is due to the wet and the cold. Frost-bite and rheumatism are, I am sorry to say, very prevalent. We have issued from the War Office, through the Army Medical Department, a small leaflet to officers and non-commissioned officers, telling them how to prevent frost-bite amongst their men. My hon. Friend reports to me that, assuming the conditions of exposure of officers and men to be identical, frostbite is three times as prevalent among the men as it is among the officers. I do not suppose it is possible to assume that the conditions are quite identical, but you may be certain that the exposure of the men is not three times as great as that of the officers. My hon. Friend presumes that this result is due to the officers having better boots, leggings, and equipment generally. If that is so, it proves that there is a certain amount of preventability of frost-bite, and I hope by the steps we are now taking that this disease may be prevented to a larger extent then has been the case in the past.
Coming to the question of enteric fever, I am glad to say that cases of this disease are luckily rare, and they have occurred almost entirely among the unin-oculated. The evidence is accumulating in favour of making inoculation compulsory. This is one of those subjects which ought to be settled without prejudice. My hon. Friend for Holmfirth who gave me this most interesting report holds strongly that inoculation against typhoid ought to be made compulsory. It is for the House to say what they think upon this matter. I can give the figures if hon. Members wish to have them. I gave them in answer to a question to-day, and they have been published in a leaflet to all soldiers with a prefatory note by my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War impressing upon all soldiers the great importance of inoculation.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Very likely. I have not time to go in detail into all the preventive measures taken by the Royal Army Medical Corps, but I should like to mention the sanitary squads, the water purifying 292 sections, and the travelling hygiene and bacteriological laboratories to which I drew attention in my speech in November. This is an entirely new feature, and these branches in particular are doing extraordinary and valuable work. Lastly, the Sanitary Commission sits at the War Office to advise the Secretary of State upon all matters relating to the health of the troops both at home and abroad. What I have said relates to the Army abroad, and it may be asked what are we doing for the health of our troops at home. Owing to the almost entire absence of the Regular Army Medical Service engaged upon field operations, certain difficulties have arisen, but thanks to the patriotic eagerness of the medical profession we have been able to obtain a high degree of efficiency. I cannot claim that complete efficiency has been achieved, but day by day the ideal is being approached. The new Army Medical Corps for the New Armies are now in course of formation, and I believe they will be able to do excellent work should the occasion arise.
I hope that in the observations I have made hon. Members will not think that I am claiming complete efficiency either for this branch of the Service or for any other department of this gigantic machine over which my Noble Friend the Secretary of State presides. I do not expect, and I do not think we ought to expect, perfection. In human affairs wise men do not expect perfection, but in this respect I would repeat what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not very long ago, just after that master hand had relinquished the seals of office on 10th September. He said:—My tenure at the War Office was a brief one, but no one who has ever had the honour, as I have had, to preside over that Department, can possibly exaggerate the degree of efficiency to which it has been brought under the administration of recent years.If that was true then, have the five months which have followed it made it any less true to-day? I should like to be allowed to say of my colleagues at the War Office, of the members of the Army Council, of the directors and officers in their Departments, of the clerks and typewriters, even down to the messengers, that each and all have worked early and late, with a single-minded devotion to duty throughout those long and anxious months in a manner which, at any rate to emulate, was a severe test of endurance, and to watch was an inspiring example. I think it might interest the House if I were quite briefly to make certain comparisons between our 293 Estimates to-day and those of 100 years ago. In 1815, the year of Waterloo, the number of Forces voted, including Militia, was 246,988, and the total of the Estimates was £6,721,880. The men were less in numbers than the strength—not the establishment—of the Territorial Force in peace time, and the money, less, according to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said two or three months ago, than we spend in a week. So perhaps it is not surprising that Lord Palmerston, in introducing the Army Estimates for the year 1815, occupied two and a half columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT; and he wound up by saying that he would not enter upon further details because it might be tedious to the House. I hope that I have not been that.
It has not been possible for me to make a review of all the operations in the field, or of the truly marvellous achievements of the British Army during the last six months, nor am I able to make any forecast as to what may be in front of us. The variations and vicissitudes of the great struggle in which we find ourselves engaged may call for even greater sacrifices from the nation as a whole than any we have yet had to make, although those have in many instances been heavy enough; but I do not believe there is a single man in this House whose is despondent, nor do I believe that there is a single man in this House who is not determined that this matter shall issue in one way, and one way only. The Allies must dictate the terms of peace. When that consummation may be achieved no man can say, but, whether it comes sooner or later, I venture to say that the efforts made by this people in the struggle of the Titans has been an effort worthy of our past, worthy of the traditions of which we are the guardians and the custodians. The gallantry of our soldiers in the field, from the great Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief down to the humble private in the ranks, has been such as to quicken the pubes and to dim the eyes of even the least sentimental among us, and their exploits—the bravery of our troops, and their endurance amidst circumstances of hardship, difficult to describe and impossible to exaggerate—have been worthy to rank with the most glorious deeds recorded in the annals of the past of any army at any time. It is my privilege to be the spokesman in this ancient and famous deliberative Assembly of such an Army at such a time.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I am sure we shall all join in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon the way in which he has discharged a very difficult task upon a very difficult occasion, an occasion which will certainly be historic, and which, as he has reminded us, has no precedent, but which I hope will not soon be repeated. The task which the right hon. Gentleman had to face was to put as concisely and as clearly as he could the case of the War Office before the House, and we shall all agree that not only has he succeeded in that duty, but, over and above it, he has shown in the remarks with which he concluded his speech that he faithfully represents the spirit of this great nation in the conflict in which we are for the moment engaged. The right hon. Gentleman spoke at the end of his speech of his privilege in representing for the day the British Army. He referred, in terms which were eminently fitting but with not one word more than of simple truth, to the glorious record of British arms, one so glorious that few people believed it could be equalled and still less that it could by any possibility be exceeded. May I add one very simple word on my own behalf?
I remember when I was in South Africa discussing with General Botha his experiences of that great campaign. I asked him what fact stood out most prominently of all in his recollections of the Boer War, and he told me that above all the experiences which he had gained and which had impressed themselves upon him there was one which stood out, and that was the personal character of the British private soldier. May I add one word to those very eloquent sentences which fell from the right, hon. Gentleman, and pay a well-deserved tribute to the British rank and file for their conduct in the campaign which, as the right hon. Gentleman says, has been one of exceptional severity and of tremendous hardship. We have read reports of occurrences which we have all regretted and deplored, and of which no doubt we shall hear more at some other time later; but this can be said with literal truth. The British private soldier has come through the whole of this campaign, not only in France and Belgium, but also in the other parts of the world where British arms are engaged, not merely with credit but also with abundant proof, that his heart is as brave and as true, and that his hands are as clean as have been those of all his predecessors. That is no small thing to be 295 able to say of a vast Army such as we now possess, an Army which has been subjected to so much trial and difficulty, but it is a tribute which I venture with great respect, very inadequately, to pay, because I am sure that it is deserved, and that everybody who listens to me will not only approve of it, but feel, and rightly feel, that if it had fallen to his lot to do what I am doing he would have been able much better to express what is in everybody's heart.
I would like to say one word as to the attitude of the Opposition on this occasion. The Leader of the Opposition some few days ago laid down what is the general position of the Opposition in regard to general politics, and I need hardly say that in regard to the Army and all connected with it the same rule will most strictly apply. If we make suggestions or criticisms they will not be made either for the sake of making them, or, still less, in order to find fault. They will be made in the same spirit in which our share in these Debates in and out of Parliament has been conducted ever since the commencement of the War. We have throughout asked only of the Government that they shall do two things: One is to prosecute this War with the steadfast determination to bring is as speedily as may be possible to the only end that any patriotic man can contemplate, a successful one; and the other is that in order to achieve this great result they will give, unhampered by any opposition here, the fullest measure of support to our Commander-in-Chief and the troops in the field. These conditions I know will be cordially and generously responded to by the Prime Minister and his Government, and so long as that is the case our attitude will be, as it has been, one of abstention from anything which can even by our most vehement critic be construed into an attitude of hostility or of opposition. We shall do nothing calculated in the smallest degree to hamper the Government in the discharge of the tremendous duty which rests upon them.
The Under-Secretary of State told us that it was impossible for him now to review the general position, but I think we may with advantage and with pride on this occasion when we are voting the money we require for our Army very briefly review the position in which we find ourselves. The fighting in France and Belgium is a great historic fight which naturally attracts more attention than do other 296 combats, but the operation of our arms are not confined alone to France and Belgium. We are fighting in Africa, we are fighting on the Persian Gulf, and we are fighting in Egypt. I am not sure that covers the whole list. I hope and I believe, although these other scenes of war to which I have referred do not fill so great a place in the public eye at the moment, that this House and the country which it represents will not be forgetful of the fact that, though their deeds may not be so frequently chronicled, our soldiers there, are as completely and as fully discharging their duty to their country as our soldiers are anywhere else, and that they are fighting there the same cause as our soldiers are fighting throughout France and Belgium, the cause of the Empire. May I pay a passing word of tribute to the part played recently by General Botha? General Botha had to face rebellion in his own country before he could proceed to carry out the actual operations upon which, happily, he is now engaged. I am confident that we all have a profound admiration for the manner in which he has successfully dealt with that rebellion, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for the public spirit which has led him to command the troops of the Union. I am confident we may look forward to the ultimate success of his arms, not only with a great feeling of certainty, but also with a great feeling of sympathy, inasmuch as his work has been made more difficult, and his operations have been made more laborious by the rebellion which was to him, I know, a matter of bitter disappointment, but which happily now has been dealt with, and which I think we may regard as a thing of the past.
The right hon. Gentleman in his speech dealt with recruiting, but he did not tell us about two matters in regard to which I think I may ask for information without transgressing the rules which he laid down. I need hardly say that nobody here on this side of the House, and so far as I know nobody in the country, would willingly say anything or do anything which would be likely to hamper our troops by giving information to the enemy. I confess, and I believe the opinion is shared by a great many other people, that I think more information might, with advantage to the community as a whole, have been given without doing any harm to our cause—more information, for instance, in regard to recruiting. The right hon. Gentleman told us something about 297 recruiting, but he spoke in very general terms. I think it would have been better if we had known more of what is going on in these campaigns on the other side. I read, not very long ago, a remarkable article in the "Times" newspaper by the military correspondent of that paper—one of the most distinguished military writers now living—in which he dwelt upon the desirability of taking the country at large more into confidence as to what is going on. I think he made out a very clear case, and I wish very much the Government could see their way to act upon his advice. But on these matters we private individuals cannot decide; we may have our own views, which I have ventured to express, but we cannot decide. The Government who know the facts alone are able to judge the prospects, and they only are able to decide what is likely to be the effect of divulging information which they alone now possess. I hope that the effect of this reticence will not be unsatisfactory on the country, and I am bound to say I think if it does not have an unsatisfactory effect it will be enormously to the credit of the people that it should be so, because it is impossible to conceal the fact that the desire for this information is very widespread. It does not arise from any feeling of curiosity; it does not arise from any desire to be taken, as it were, into partnership with those who are responsible at this moment, but it is, I think, a very natural craving on the part of the people who, after all, make what we are doing to-day possible. I therefore think they should know a little more definitely and a little more fully what is going on, and what is the object which you have in view, than they do at present.
But we are told by the Under-Secretary that we are not to have that information, and the right hon. Gentleman added upon this point a statement which was, I am sure, the result of knowledge which he and the Government possess, namely, that there is this difference between a country where you have got conscription and a country where you have voluntary service. In a conscript country you can, with fair accuracy, estimate the number of the troops; but you cannot do this in a country, he said, where you have the voluntary system. I hope the Under-Secretary is correct. But I have a shrewd suspicion myself—and it is one shared by a good many other people—that our enemies have a fairly accurate knowledge of the number 298 of troops we are raising. What you have really to do, if I may venture respectfully to say so, is to make an account of—as it were to balance up—the advantages and disadvantages of taking people into your confidence. On the one hand, as the Under-Secretary tells us to-day, there is a risk of telling the enemy something they do not know—a risk which certainly ought to be avoided. But, on the other hand, there is the risk of discouraging your own people. If I had to choose between the two risks I would far rather run the one of giving the enemy a certain amount of knowledge than run the risk of discouraging your own people. But I believe that, notwithstanding the fact that this feeling is strongly held, no discouragement is now-possible in this country. Our people have weighed this great issue and have made up their minds. The right hon. Gentleman told us that more troops may be wanted, and he was good enough to quote some words of mine dealing with the voluntary system. I am not going to discuss that system now. I am only going to state this. I believe myself—and I have been at some trouble to ascertain the views of my countrymen on the subject—I believe that as many men as you want you can get if you make it clear to them that they are really wanted; that their services will be availed of with as little delay as may be possible, and that you can follow the enrolment of the men with the provision of the equipment which is necessary if they are to be made available. I am a firm believer—and who is not in this country—in the voluntary system.
But let me point out very briefly to the Government the difficulties which arise as a consequence of that system unless you are able, as I hope you may be, to adopt certain precautions. It is an inevitable consequence of the voluntary system if left to itself—and it is a result which has been experienced in this very war—that the proportion of men you take from different parts of the country and from different districts is altogether irrespective of the claims of those special districts on the men for other purposes. Say you have two areas a few miles apart; one is sending 12, 15 or 20 per cent. of its available population into the Army, while the other is not sending any men. The result of this is a great inequality in the bearing of the national burden. Although the Government are unwilling to give the figures, I hope they will examine them for themselves. They have got them. I asked them 299 if they would give me a Return, which I should be very glad to have, dividing the country into certain areas. I do not care how it is divided so long as you have something smaller than county areas, and giving the number of recruits with the Colours from each of those areas. Of course the Government could not consent to give that Return, because the result would have been to disclose the whole numbers. But the Government have these numbers before them, and I hope that, in issuing their orders to recruiting officers in the future, if it be necessary to recruit a considerable number of more men, they will have regard to those parts of the country which have done their share or more than their share, and will direct special efforts to be made in those parts where hitherto recruiting has not been so vigorous, and where at present, we are informed, there are still men available to be taken. This is specially the case in regard to our great national industry, agriculture. In some agricultural communities a very large number of the men have gone; in fact, there are none left who can now be spared, and it is obvious if you leave the voluntary system to work out its own result and do not assist it by some method such as I have indicated, the consequence may be, as indeed it already has been, to make an undue demand on some parts of the country while other parts are not doing their full share. I hope, therefore, that if there is to be a new recruiting campaign, if it be necessary to make a demand for still larger numbers of men, the Government will endeavour so to direct their efforts that all districts may share the burden with a reasonable amount of equality.
I should have been very glad if the Government could have told us something to-day about equipment and Artillery. I believe it is a want of training and material that delays recruiting more than anything else. The right hon. Gentleman told us something of the sufferings of the men in the huts and so on. I have seen something of that myself on the spot. I have seen something of the discomforts which our men have had to endure at home. But although there have been very great discomforts, it has been extraordinarily difficult to get men to complain. You have even to suggest to them that there has been some discomfort. Men do not complain of these things; they take them as part of the day's work. As the 300 right hon. Gentleman has said, their behaviour has been magnificent, and my own limited command of the English language does not provide me, at any rate, with words which adequately express one's feelings in regard to the behaviour of these men. It has, I repeat, been magnificent. That discomfort has not been the obstacle. What has been the obstacle has been the knowledge that the men cannot get on with their work; that they cannot begin their training and complete it. I confess I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to tell us that this had been expedited, that the equipment is overtaking the supply of men, and that, in future, these delays will not occur, because I am quite certain they are a greater obstacle to an increase in the present number of recruits than any other difficulty with which you have been confronted.
The right hon. Gentleman paid a well-deserved tribute to the men who have come to the Colours, to the soldiers of the Regular Army, to the Reservists, who have flocked to the Colours in a way which show how strong is our hold upon them, and to the Territorials, who deserve all the right hon. Gentleman said of them. But he left out one branch to which, perhaps, naturally he thought it not necessary to make special reference, and it is a branch of the Service which I think deserves mention; it is the National Reserve. These men are all men with settled employment, they are men of a certain age, and they have come forward and performed the thankless task of guarding our railway stations, bridges, canals, tunnels, and so on. Their action in so doing has been most creditable, and it has shown that they have shared in the national spirit. The right hon. Gentleman told us something about Home defence. I wish he could have taken us a little more into the confidence of the Government on this subject. I have endeavoured to follow carefully the various announcements which have been made, and I honestly confess I do not know at this moment in what position we stand in regard to Home defence in the event of invasion. I should have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman could have told us more about the defensive forces of the country—I mean the forces for internal defence—under whose command they are, who is responsible for their general direction, and what the policy is to be, because, undoubtedly, there is at present a good deal of confusion. We have got, I think, a National Volunteer Force which is distinguished 301 some by uniform and some by wearing a brassard. I do not want to say a word against this Force, because every man is animated by a spirit of loyalty and devotion to his country, and is giving his services with the best possible goodwill. But I do think we should hear from the Government something more definite about it, because there are a great many people in the country who share the view which I hold very strongly, that, after the revelations of this War, after the bitter lessons of this War, after the unmistakable experiences of the War in France and in Belgium, it is not fair to ask our countrymen to take any part in national defence wearing only a brassard on their arm, and to tell them that their lives will be respected and that they will be treated as real belligerents. I do not profess to know exactly what the position of affairs is or what has been done about them, but I venture to say there are thousands of men in the country too old for active service, or not able to pass a medical examination, who are fully capable of taking their share in Home defence. You can get as many as you want; you can get them without pay; they do not want pay. They recognise it is their duty to defend their own homes. They do not ask to be paid, but they do ask two things: first, that they should be put under the direction and control of military officers who will know what to do with them and how to lead them, and, secondly, that they should be properly organised, in local corps if you like or in small corps, if you like—in all these matters they are perfectly content to leave themselves entirely in the hands of the Government and the officers selected to command them—but they wish to be utilised as a military force and to be given the opportunity to train themselves for that purpose. I believe this is a great opportunity which ought not to be lost.
The fact that we are an island has been of the greatest advantage and a blessing to us, but it has also been, quite naturally, in some degree, a drawback. People have hugged to themselves the conviction that they were quite safe and need not bother. This War has taught them a lesson, and has aroused in them a new feeling. They realise that, even with our magnificent Fleet and the great Army we now have, there are possible risks of invasion, and they are ready to do almost anything that the Government asks them to do, if they 302 would only give them the opportunity. We ought to know who is to be in supreme command. There ought to be no doubt about that. Surely that is not information that can be of any advantage to the Germans. Surely it cannot be of any advantage to the Germans to know that there are thousands of able-bodied men in this country ready to give their services, many who are not able to go abroad, who would be willing to form themselves into a military force for Home defence. That is not information which can be of any possible help to our enemies, whereas it is information asked for by our own people themselves. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman is speaking in one or other of the Debates which will arise in the course of these Votes being taken he will tell us something more about it, for in his speech to-day he practically made no reference at all to it. Especially may I impress upon him that I hope he will be able to tell us in whose hands is to be given the chief command of the whole country, or, if it is not fair to mention the name, if he will tell us whether there is to be a chief command under whose direction the complete Home defence is to be.
§ Mr. TENNANT
No. Sir Ian Hamilton is Commander-in-Chief of the Central Force, and, as such, the defence of this country is entrusted to his care.
§ Mr. LONG
I cannot put it any plainer. I take the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but I was assured only a week ago that Sir Ian Hamilton's command covered only a portion of the country, that it did not cover the whole country, and that there were independent commands outside him. I now understand that to be incorrect. I am very glad to hear it. I do not want in any way to press the right hon. Gentleman on the subject now, because it is impossible for him to carry all these things in his head, but I do ask that we may have some definite information upon this subject. There is a suggestion which I wish to make to the Government: it 303 bears upon recruiting. There may be some good reason why it should not be adopted; but I am confident that as regards the country districts it would be advantageous. Many of us are quite unable to understand why, in the present state of things, the Government maintain the distinction of recruiting and the raising between the battalions and the New Armies and the Territorials. They are raised for the same purpose, and neither of them contributes to the Reserve. It is quite true that the Territorials are not enlisted for foreign service, and that they have to volunteer afterwards, but everybody knows that every man who enlists, either in the Territorials or the Regular Army, or the Reserve battalions of the old Regulars, is not only ready to go abroad; has but one desire, and that is to go. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all."] Of course, there is a certain number who join merely for Home defence. At present you have two recruiting offices side by side, both recruiting for different purposes. What I suggest is that you should have one recruiting office controlled by one authority, and that you should distribute your recruits as you want them for the purposes for which they enlist into the different forces. I believe it would mean economy and a simplification of machinery, and would avoid the difficulty which exists now in regard to recruiting. Men have no special wish to join the Territorials. I have had a good many come to me after enlistment who have found that they have joined a Territorial battalion when they wished to join a Regular battalion. You have extraordinary difficulty in arranging transfers, for there is a great deal to be done. If you were to concentrate your recruiting offices and your distribution the process would be much simpler and the results would be more satisfactory.
I want to impress upon the War Office and the Government very strongly an improvement in conditions as regards noncommissioned officers and men in the Army at the present time, not merely in regard to pay. Of course it involves pay because the moment you give a man a "step," as it is called, it naturally brings in its train an increase in pay. But I beg the Under-Secretary to bring this matter to the notice of the Secretary of State, in whom we have the greatest possible confidence, and of his colleagues in the Cabinet, because it is a matter which presses specially upon our soldiers at the Front. At the present 304 time there are a good many cases, especially in the Army in France and Belgium, in which officers have been promoted for distinction in the field to the rank of brigadier. That promotion would in ordinary circumstances vacate the command of the regiment from which the officer is taken. The senior officer in the regiment, would then become colonel of the regiment, and so on. The War Office have adopted a system which ought to be condemned, and I am convinced it would be condemned by this House, altogether regardless of party, when they appreciate its true meaning. The spirit of the people at this moment would desire that the troops at the front should have everything done for them that can possibly be done to improve their position and to show that we are conscious of and appreciate the great work they are doing for us. This is what has been done: The colonel in command of a regiment is promoted to the rank of brigadier, but the War Office attach to that rank the word "temporary," so that he is only a temporary brigadier. The next senior officer becomes the officer commanding the regiment. Everybody knows perfectly well that there is all the difference in the world between the officer commanding your regiment and the colonel of your regiment. The officer commanding the regiment has all the responsibilities of the colonel; he runs all the risks—that is to say, he may have been an admirable regimental officer with someone else over him, but when appointed to the command on active service he may develop some weak spot in his character which may come out at an unfortunate moment. He runs the risk of failure, but he has all the responsibilities to bear and all the burden of looking after his officers and men, but he gets no promotion. That is an injustice which ought to be remedied.
It has been said in some quarters that this promotion is desired for a pecuniary reason, and that it is evidence of a mercenary spirit on the part of these officers. I cannot conceive of anybody who knows anything of the British Army, from the Field Marshal down to the drummer boys, who would ever make a charge of that kind against a British soldier. I do not care what his rank is; the last thing he thinks of is the question of pay and how he is to be rewarded. The one thing he does think of is doing his duty. When you talk to these men in France or Belgium they are profoundly grateful to this House for all that it has done. They are grateful for 305 the kindly words written in the Press and spoken in speeches, but do you wonder that they hunger for the small recognition which is meant by actual promotion given to them when they are on active service? Remember that it goes right down. You promote the senior major to the colonel, and the senior captain becomes a major, and so on—it goes right down to the lower commissioned ranks. One of the small things that can be done is to ensure that these men shall be promoted. What is the objection? I am not raising this question here without having discussed it with the soldiers at the War Office. The objection is—that is the reason I raise it here—that it would leave at the end of the War a large number of these senior higher rank officers for whom provision could not be made. I venture to say here, what I said to the distinguished soldier with whom I discussed it, that that is a problem for the War Office to settle when the War is over, and I am quite confident that if it means extra expenditure this House would cheerfully bear it. It is a very small matter if looked at from the point of view of expenditure. I am convinced that whatever may be the difficulty of dealing with these officers afterwards, it is the duty of the War Office now to give them the substantive rank to which they are entitled.
I know that there is an old rule in this House, and a very excellent one, that you should never use your position in this House to get advantages for yourself or your own friends. I am not sure that I ought not to take the House—it will forgive me for doing so—into my confidence, and frankly admit that my son will be one of those who would benefit if this change were effected. But I have no scruple in making the recommendation because this happens to be the case, because I am sorry to say that he has been so many years a captain that he is now one of the senior ones, and, therefore, I do not think it would be possible to construe it as an act of favouritism on my part, nor do I think I could be justly charged with using my position as a Member of Parliament to advance the interests of my own kin.
From officers we come to non-commissioned officers. Here are cases which I beg the Under-Secretary to take note of and to deal with at once, because they are pressing. It happens in peace time that a non-commissioned officer is guilty of some offence. For this offence he loses his stripes. He goes back to the Colours. I 306 will give a concrete instance. There are plenty of them. A, joins a battalion, serves with it eleven or twelve years, and is promoted to the rank of sergeant. He is guilty of an offence. In this particular case the offence with which he was charged was insubordination to a senior non-commissioned officer, by whom he was put under arrest. He broke his arrest, and in a moment of folly, got drunk. He lost his stripes. In despair at this degradation he left the Colours and went to the reserve. Three months later the War broke out. He, of course, rejoined his regiment, served with the utmost distinction, and was the other day very badly wounded and disabled for life by the loss of one of his arms. Like the officers to whom I referred, it is not the money that this man wants, but recognition by the country. What he and many others who are in a similar position ask for is this. If they are recommended by the commanding officer of their regiment, and by their company commander as well, they ask that they may be reinstated to the rank they held, and that their offence may be wiped out. It is not a very great deal to ask, but it would be welcomed in the eases where this has occurred, and it would be welcomed by the Army as a recognition by the Government, by the War Office, and by this House of the fact that services such as they have rendered and are rendering deserve something more than the application to them of the usual hard and fast rules which are good enough, it may be, for peace time, but which ought to be broken through at a time like this in order that commissioned and non-commissioned officers and privates may have some clear indication and proof given to them that the services they have rendered are entitled to some special reward.
With regard to pay, the War Office have recently re-arranged the pay of the officers. I do not believe that they know exactly what are the effects of their own regulations. I am informed, and I think my information is correct, that a Territorial officer who has left his battalion or his regiment and comes back to it for the War gets an allowance for his kit, but one who is serving them at the time, and may want a fresh kit, does not get the allowance. The allowance is given to regular soldiers and to Territorial soldiers, but the amounts paid differ. When you come to the actual pay, I can show the Under-Secretary that in some cases this rearrangement of the pay has resulted in 307 taking off a penny a day. That is not a great deal, but it is something. Then they are told that that is compensated for by no longer charging them in respect of furniture. It has constantly been urged here that you should treat these officers, non-commissioned officers and men rather more generously in these respects, and I urge that the War Office should have special regard to the position of the married man—the married man in India, for instance, or at home, not the men serving at the front so much. Married men who are sent to India to replace regular battalions which are in France, and men who are serving here at home, are called upon to make special deductions from their pay in respect of their wives. The result of that is that the married man side by side with the unmarried man is in a worse position. These are small things. They may seem to many hon. Members to be even insignificant, but I can assure them that they are very big things to the men who are serving with the Colours, and they would welcome such a generous re-arrangement as would put these men on an equality, and so show them that we are as good as our word, and that we are not content merely to speak soft words and to indulge in commendation of the services which these men are rendering, but that we are prepared to do everything in our power to improve their position, and to secure for them certain advantages to which they are entitled, and which can easily be secured if the War Office will listen to what I believe to be the opinion of the country.
The Under-Secretary referred to huts. I regret very much that the War Office did not adopt a suggestion made to them from outside at the beginning of the War that they should take advantage of the knowledge and experience to be found in every camp and in every big town, by asking them to appoint a local committee to help them in regard to these questions. It has been to me perfectly extraordinary, the way in which the War Office has ignored local opinion and local advice in the selection of sites for camps, and in the letting of contracts for houses. The Financial Secretary the other day told us that some gentleman—I forget his name—had been specially selected by the War Office to advise them in regard to the buying of timber, because he was a great authority on soft timber. Certainly the War Office have become the proprietors of more soft 308 timber than any I have ever come across in the whole of my experience. The right hon. Gentleman at question time told us that the huts at Portsmouth were now watertight. This is what I complain of. I do not want to use strong language, but I think there is something very nearly approaching to a scandal in some of these cases. In scores and scores of cases you will be told, if you ask, that these huts are now all right. But why are they all right? Because they have been made all right in consequence of repeated complaints made to the War Office and made in this House. If you had taken advantage of local knowledge and experience, and had local committees, I believe all these difficulties would have been avoided. Local committees would take very good care that huts were properly erected. They would take care that timber of an unsatisfactory character would not be allowed to be used. I saw huts being put up for the War Office. I wrote to the War Office that they were building these huts of timber full of knots, and the knots would come out and the timber would shrink. The very first time fires were lit in them the timber shrank like a shirt made of bad flannel does after the first washing, and the result was that the unfortunate occupants had to live in draughty places with the rain and the wind coming through.
These are small things, perhaps, but they are very big things for the men who are fighting for us, and our men ought not to be asked to endure this if it could be avoided, and that could have been avoided if you had taken advantage of the local advice and experience which was at your disposal. I cordially agree with what the Under-Secretary said. We owe an immense debt to the Secretary of State and his staff and to the Quartermaster-General for the marvellous work that they have done during all these months. It is impossible, adequately, to describe the work that has been done by Sir John Cowans as Quartermaster-General and by the Quartermaster-General at the front in regard to supplies of our troops, and I think the nation owes to him and his officers a great debt of gratitude, as I agree with the right hon. Gentleman we do to the whole of the staff of the War Office. If we find fault in regard to this question it is not because I want to blame the War Office or any individual. I know they have been working at high pressure day and night, and in many respects they have 309 been most marvellously successful. But if they would have been content to take advantage of the assistance which was forthcoming, and not to keep so very closely within their hands all the administration, most of these difficulties would have been avoided.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The construction of huts was done by the local commands. It was not done by the central authority—the choice of place and that sort of thing.
§ Mr. LONG
The War Office is a very big place, and it has an immense deal of work to do. I am the last to challenge any statement made by a Minister here, but I think there is some misunderstanding somewhere. I will not say more than that now. This is the sort of thing I mean. In my own county the War Office decided to put camps. I saw the beginning. I at once wrote to the War Office, and I said, "Do not take my word for it, but get half a dozen people in the country, and they will tell you that after October that site will be a swamp." It was a swamp when October came, and it has been a swamp over since. There are huts on it. It is an act of madness to put huts on a site like that. Any one of us could have told the War Office, as we did, that as soon as winter began, and during the whole of the winter months it would not be a suitable place to put troops. Moreover this was land of an exceptionally valuable character, and you destroyed land very valuable to farmers. You destroyed the property of individual owners, and up to this day you have paid them no compensation. I am informed by one of them that when he wrote asking for compensation, he was told this was done under one of the numerous Acts of Parliament which had been passed rather hurriedly last August, and that while he had no right to compensation, if he liked to make an appeal, something might be given him as an act of grace. That is all nonsense. If, for the public good, you destroy an individual's property, you must pay him a fair price for the damage you do. I only mention these matters because 310 every one of them would have been avoided if you had had at your command a local committee. There are many other things which could have been avoided, and which I am not going into now.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us something about the supply of certain articles of clothing. I come from a part of England where they make clothing, and I have lived long enough to know the difference between good cloth and shoddy. I am sorry to say that I have seen a very large amount of shoddy in the cloth used for the clothing of some of our troops. That could have been avoided. There were a large number of overcoats bought for the troops which were hopelessly unsuitable, because when they get wet they cannot be dried very easily, and that, I understand, is one of the characteristics of what is called "shoddy." I am only indicating cases in which there has been something amounting almost to scandal, all of which could have been avoided if the War Office had availed themselves of the experience and advice offered to them. The Under-Secretary was wise and prudent when he declined to take the House into his confidence as to what may be in store. We all hope that this great war may end speedily, but in order that it may end speedily we should be wise to contemplate its possible prolongation. We shall be wise, I am confident, to lay all our plans so that all men may see that, whatever may be the duration of it, we are determined to see it through to a successful termination.
Therefore I ask the War Office to adopt some of the suggestions which I have to-day ventured to make. I beg of them to say whether they cannot adopt the suggestion I have made in regard to officers, non-commissioned officers and men. I do not blame the War Office for these things. They have different things to consider, and I recognise all that, but I do not believe that they recognise the spirit of the nation in these matters. Many will ask themselves—"What will be said hereafter when these matters have to be considered in the cool light of day?" I ask them to do everything they can for the soldiers who are fighting for us, and to take advantage of all the assistance they can get in order that they make the best provision for them at the least cost. There is no question of wasting money or throwing it away. I ask the War Office to spend it well in the interest of the 311 soldier, whether abroad or at home. Do all you can to assure him that we regard his services, as beyond all praise. We should not be content merely to say so, but we should give proof of it, in order that the men who are fighting in distant fields may realise that they have not only our gratitude and respect, but that we are determined to probe those cases to the bottom, so that we may be able to give them every material advantage it is possible for this country to provide them with.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I want to call the attention of the House to a matter which relates somewhat to recruiting. I wish to call attention to what I know to be a great injustice that has been done to one lad, at all events, and probably his case is only symptomatic of what has happened in a great many others. Under Section 13 of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907, and the rules laid down in regard to it, it is provided that a recruit can sign for foreign service or simply for Territorial service as originally understood under the Act for service in this country. The story is this: A lad of eighteen years of age joined the Scottish Horse in the spring of last year. By and by he received a document of which I have here a copy which was sent to me by the kindness of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. This young lad changed his mind and objected to go abroad. He was an only son. I do not object to only sons going abroad as well as others, but still it is necessary that we should be careful to fulfil our conditions to this young man, whatever those conditions may be. I wrote to the Colonel of the regiment and pointed out that this young lad, according to the civil law, was incapable of making a binding contract. I do not know how that might be affected by military law. I said that all these young people ought to be allowed to consult their parents, and that the parents ought to give consent. The Colonel replied in a very long letter which evaded the point of the question altogether. He said that if he allowed this young man to evade foreign service, a great many others would claim to be exempt. I wrote back to say that I did not think a young lad like that ought to be held to his bargain. I got no reply to that letter, and I wrote to the War Office. My right hon. Friend sent me the form of contract which is signed by these young men. It says:—I do hereby agree, subject to"—312 I ask the House to mark this:—the conditions stated overleaf, to accept liability, in the event of national emergency, to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom, in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 (2) (a) of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907.This is the condition:—On undertaking the liability to serve abroad in time of national emergency, an officer or man of the Territorial Force will be required to sign an agreement, on Army Form E 624 in the presence of the officer commanding the Territorial unit to which he belongs and unless notification to the contrary is given to the Commanding officer, the liability will continue as long as the officer's or man's engagement in the Territorial Force lasts.There is allowed to each young man what lawyers call a locus penitentia. He is allowed to change his mind so far ass foreign service is concerned. I wrote to the colonel, pointing out that evidently, in his previous letter, he had forgotten this condition on the back of the document which the young man signed. It was a long time before I got an answer, but ultimately he wrote stating that he had been waiting to see the commanding officer of So-and-so's regiment, in order to see how matters, stood if the young man was fit for service. He stated that if the lad was fit for service and was of ripe age, he could not withdraw. That is not true. It is absolutely untrue. The commanding officer is evading the whole question. Then I understood that the lad had been discharged, but I have heard since that that is not so. I pressed the question again, and my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary called upon this colonel to make a report. That was six weeks ago, and the report should have been made by the middle of January last.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
In a simple matter like this the colonel should have replied in a week. Last week I got a report, and again the question is evaded. It states that Private So-and-so was interviewed privately, and that the lad stated that his age was nineteen on 8th December last. I say that he was eighteen when he signed the document, and that was last spring. This confirms the statement as to his age. The report says that he signed the service form of his own free will, and under these circumstances it is not possible for him to be relieved of duty. This colonel overrode the rights of the youth. The young man had a right to withdraw, and I challenge you to deny it. If you do not bring that colonel to book, I say you ought to do so. The young man had a right to 313 change his mind, to avoid foreign service, and to remain in the force for Home service. Is there anything which has contradicted this order? Is there any condition under which this order is abrogated? I do not deny that the young man agreed to serve in the first instance. Now the colonel brings pressure. I believe the colonel has done very well, and has been very successful in his recruiting. I grant that he has served the country well, but still that does not justify him in breaking the laws of the country. That is the point I put. I am perfectly certain that, however much you may think that the lad's parents might have allowed him to go on foreign service, he has the right to withdraw. The colonel puts the thing aside, and will not do his duty. As to sending these boys across to the front, of course I am not a judge, but, so far as I can judge, I think it is a very great mistake. I have myself seen about half a dozen of these young men who have come back with their nerves completely shattered. They have not been touched by shot or shell. How can you expect a lad of nineteen to stand up in the nerve-racking War which is going on just now? You are only wasting material.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
That is all the worse for the armies of Europe. I know of one of these young men who came home entirely broken down. A big shell exploded within fifty feet of him. He was not touched, yet he was put completely off his balance, and was sent home. I may be wrong, but at all events this is the position with regard to that young fellow. He has gone into the Territorials under Rule E. 624. That contains the condition that he may withdraw from foreign service if he notifies his commanding officer. He has notified the commanding officer, and fulfilled that condition to my certain knowledge, yet the colonel would not do his duty and forward to the War Office the withdrawal of this young man from foreign service. We ought not to compel a young man against his will, having regard to the conditions under which he signed, to go abroad. There is another matter to which I wish to call attention. The Territorial portion of the Royal Army Medical Corps includes a number of officers who were in the Territorials before the War. These men have been serving for 314 two or three years; they have been working during that time, and now they are not allowed anything for a fresh uniform, although their old uniforms are worn out. That is what I am told. New officers joining are allowed £50 for uniform, but those who were in the Force before, and were doing their work, are not allowed a single farthing and have to provide the uniform themselves.
There is another question. I do not know whether it belongs to the War Office or to the Foreign Office; it is in reference to prisoners of war. A great deal of suffering and trouble are caused to the parents and relatives, mothers and wives of officers who have been wounded and are missing. One officer I know was wounded in the middle of August and his people heard nothing of him until last month, which was nearly five months. As I understand, and I have made some inquiries, the rule is that the Germans allow no communication from a wounded prisoner so long as he is in a field hospital, or otherwise in the area of the War. I know that to be the rule from the inquiries which I have made both at home and abroad. Sometimes a letter has got through owing to the help of some nurse or some doctor, and on two occasions to my knowledge by the assistance of a German officer, it has been got through and posted to friends of the prisoner. But when the prisoner gets in the German hospital he is allowed to communicate at once. I have it from three officers who were in hospital in Germany. I have letters from them all. They wrote within three days of arrival in hospital in Germany. There was a time in this country when the rule obtained, particularly in the principal military hospital, of following the German example, and not allowing any communication of a wounded prisoner to go through. I am very glad to say that the matter is not so now, and that there is no difficulty in a wounded prisoner in this country communicating with his friends, just the same as there is no difficulty in a wounded prisoner in Germany doing so, so long as he gets to hospital outside of the fighting area, though there may be delay. That is a fact for which I can vouch from my own knowledge. I think that that is an unfortunate position, which might be remedied. It is not sufficient that no restrictions should be put on men writing. The moment a man is taken prisoner, be he wounded or not, there should be some communication from the hospital where he is to his friends by wire or otherwise.
315 The man may be ill, or may be so badly wounded that he will be incapable of making any active exertion, and he may remain in that position for weeks. Then what I would suggest is that the War Office and the Foreign Office, if they can manage it, should adopt this course, and I feel sure that Germany, notwithstanding all the bitterness, would follow the same lines. Every soldier carries an indentification plate upon him, and when a wounded prisoner is taken the newspapers both in Germany and in England ought to publish that man's name or his number, as being simply a wounded prisoner in hospital. The value of that would be that the relatives would be saved a long and miserable period of waiting and imagining for weeks together when a wounded prisoner cannot communicate; it would be a very simple matter; I am told that in all the hospitals in France in the fighting area, and certainly in the hospitals near it, a strict register is kept of every man who is sent to that hospital. If his identification number, and where possible, his name, were published in the "Times"—never mind his letter: let him write when the can—then all his relatives would know that he was not lying in the field and neglected, or that he had not been done away with in any other way. If we adopted that course I believe that the Germans would adopt the same course. I cannot see what information can be conveyed to the enemy by the mere statement that a man is a wounded prisoner. We need not even say in what hospital he is. So long as the number or name were published, his relatives would know that at all events he had a fighting chance in hospital, either in one country or the other. I know that our War Office and Foreign Office and those of Germany are not on speaking terms, but still this might be done through some neutral agency who would bring about this great boon, and people's sufferings would be ended, and they would not have to wait for weeks or months, during which no trace could be found of the missing man. A little good sense, a little administration, a little organisation could effect this thing, so that the moment a man went to hospital his number or his name would be advertised and his people would know what had happened to him.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not propose to deal with the first part of the speech of the hon. Member which has reference to a grievance of a personal character, though 316 I would say to him very respectfully that I am not sure that he was very well advised in bringing the matter forward. In reference to the latter part of his speech, which dealt with prisoners of war, I am very glad that attention has been drawn to the matter in this House. I think it very important that it should be discussed, and that the full facts as to how we treat German prisoners of war should be known to the whole world. I hope very earnestly that the War Office will take steps to publish as widely as possible everything which we do, to clear away the misconceptions which may exist. I had an opportunity of seeing something of our treatment of prisoners of war, and I am quite sure that we have nothing whatever to be ashamed of in the way in which they are treated. The more that is known about it the better. None of us can discuss with any knowledge what exactly the Germans do. We have heard stories, I hope many of them exaggerated stories, as to their treatment of our prisoners. I am afraid that at any rate in some of the places of internment in Germany our prisoners are not well treated. I am quite ready to believe, indeed I am forced to believe, by their conduct in other matters, the report of their ill-treatment, and that it is due to what I can only describe as calculated callousness. I do not think that that is the whole thing. I have been very much struck from the enquiries which I have made with the prevalence of the belief—I am not talking about the Government or the military Powers, but about the general population—that we do not treat our prisoners well. We know, at least anyone that has been into it knows, that that is utterly untrue, but the belief exists. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has shown that even he is not aware of all that we are doing in that respect. He was very anxious that the moment that a German prisoner was taken his name should be ascertained from his identification disc and should be published. The hon. Member really, I think, underrates the difficulties which lie in the way of identifying anybody. To begin with, the plate may not be there. I do not know about German soldiers, but unfortunately I know that in many cases the discs are not kept by our soldiers.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I merely take the fact from my own personal knowledge. I know that they are not in many cases. Very often it is found that the identification 317 disc is not kept. Apparently the question of identification and publication of a name is surrounded with difficulty. Many of us are accustomed to complain of the great slowness in the publication of casualty lists. Perhaps, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, it might be done more quickly, but anyone who has been into it and who has tried to publish lists, will realise that the difficulties are enormous. Take the case of a private, it may be in a Scottish regiment, who has one of those names which are widely spread in Scotland. There may be a dozen or twenty privates of the same name, very often in the same regiment. If you publish the name and get the number wrong, then instead of relieving anxiety you may be imposing anxiety of a very poignant character upon a number of people. It is not so easy as the hon. Member imagines, but I will tell him what we do. We have set up in this country a prisoners' information bureau, which, if I may be allowed to say so, is admirably managed. The business of that bureau is to collect into lists every week the names and the numbers, and everything that is known about every prisoner, wounded or unwounded, whom we take. That is sent over once a week to Germany. I do not think that anything more could be done, and it is far better than having it published in English newspapers. It is sent to the German authorities, and they can publish it in every newspaper in the country if they like. I have no doubt that they do publish it, but the lists we send over are infinitely more detailed and are produced infinitely more rapidly than those we receive from Germany. That is the real and actual fact, and I think it is very important that we should not underrate the work being done in this direction.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. Member has done so in some respects, whether he meant to do so or not. Indeed, I rather doubt whether many Members of this House would be able to give any intelligent answer as to how we are treating German officers and prisoners who are in our hands. I appeal to the Government not to allow what I cannot help thinking is the rather excessive worship of secrecy, affected both by the naval and military administrations in this War; I appeal to them not to carry it too far, because I think there is not the least need to conceal 318 anything as to our treatment of German prisoners of war, and I think the whole world should be allowed to know exactly what we are doing. On the question of the medical service, the right hon. Gentleman said, very truly I thought, that we had a right to congratulate the country on the extremely admirable way in which the whole army in the field is looked after in this War. There were, undoubtedly, in the earlier stages of the War, some difficulties, but, so far as my knowledge goes, the medical services, the hospital transport, the hospital trains, the hospital ships—one of which the Germans tried to destroy the other day—I believe have never been anything like so excellent as they are now, and as to the personnel, it would be an impertinence on my part to praise it. In regard to the question of innoculation, undoubtedly, I think, some of our Colonial troops would have a right to complain if we did not innoculate the whole of our troops, as I understand the Colonial authorities have innoculated the whole of theirs; it is not fair that they should be exposed to the danger of infection which might arise through any defects in administration.
But while I think the administration is very satisfactory and very creditable to the Department, may I venture to claim some small fraction of praise for the voluntary aid associations? I think their work has been excellent and has been admirably carried out. I sometimes think that their functions are perhaps a little misunderstood. Their main function, or, at alt events, one of their great functions, is to provide a natural outlet for the patriotic benevolence of the people of this country. I think that is very important. People complain that such associations are only doing what the Army authorities are already doing, but still it is a great advantage to be able to say to the people of this country, "If you wish to show in a practical way your sympathy for the troops, you can give your money and services to this organisation, and thereby do something more for the soldiers than can be accomplished through ordinary channels by citizens." These associations are undoubtedly useful in meeting sudden emergencies, or unforeseen and exceptional difficulties that may arise. The right hon. Gentleman will bear me out in paying a tribute to the immense value of their services in providing motor-ambulances at a particular stage of this War. The question of immediate communication between 319 the sick and wounded and their friends is not a, very simple matter to deal with. Not long ago, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, there was difficulty in regard to British soldiers brought to this country; they were landed at a particular port in this country, and were put into trains for various hospitals which happened to have room. They were sent off, and no one knew what had become of them, and it was difficult to find them sometimes for a long period, their relatives knowing nothing about them. That is one of the matters in which I think these voluntary agencies have done something. It was suggested by the Government that postcards should be provided, to be sent immediately on the arrival of the men at the hospital.
But I have a grievance in connection with that arrangement. We provided the postcards, and we do think the Government might take them post free. It really is a most astonishing state of things that postcards can be sent by a soldier in France post free, and, I believe, if he manages to get his postcard posted at the dock at Southampton it still goes post free, because he is not then taken to have arrived in England; but when he is taken to hospital from that time forward he has to pay postage. That seems very hard indeed. The society, however, comes in and pays the postage for him. That appears to me to be perfectly ludicrous, for the duty clearly lies upon the Government to inform the relatives of where the soldiers are. This is accomplished for them by the agents of this society, yet they are still required to pay the postage. Soldiers in hospital in France can send their letters and postcards post free, yet when they come to a hospital here, though still on active service, in the real sense of the word, until they are discharged by the military authorities from the hospital, and exactly in the same position as when they were in hospital in France, they have to pay their own postage. The French take a much more generous view of these matters and carry all such letters post free without any question at all. I venture to bring that matter to the attention of the House, because it is one which has some importance.
I desire to make one other observation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to relax the censorship on letters sent from wounded soldiers in France—at any rate from the base hospital. 320 I do not say anything about the clearing stations; there may be some objection to allow freedom of communication in that case; but at present I believe—it certainly was so very lately—a wounded soldier is not allowed to write in his letter the name or place of the hospital; he was allowed to write the number of the hospital in which he was being treated. The result has been really to produce very painful cases indeed. I know of a case where the persons concerned got a letter from the officer saying that their relative was lying wounded in hospital—simply that. They did not know where to look for him; they searched, and before they found him he was dead. That is really deplorable. I know another case of a friend of mine, whose son, in one of the regiments, wrote him a postcard:—"I have been moved from Boulogne to Rouen." The Censor struck out the "Boulogne" and "Rouen," and the letter read: "I have been moved from blank to blank." The Censor did his work so badly, that they were able to read the names he had struck out. That seems to me to be a perfectly needless rule that should be relaxed, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will communicate with the authorities to see whether that cannot be done. It really cannot be a matter of secrecy that a soldier should write that he has arrived at such and such a base hospital from another hospital. I only mention that in passing, in the hope that the Government will see whether anything can be done. Then there is the question of facilitating the visits of relations to wounded soldiers. I merely mention the matter for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. It does seem to me to be a very bad thing that, whereas the rich person can, of course, visit his relations in hospitals in France, the poor relation is very often found in the difficulty of not being able to do it. I do not know whether anything can be done. I quite recognise the difficulties, and I hope the subject will not be lost sight of.
There is one other matter. There are advantages in removing patients as soon as possible from the French hospitals to this side of the Channel, and the relations desire, naturally, that it should be done as rapidly as possible. I only venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman to watch carefully that this is not done too much and too rapidly. In the natural and great anxiety of the relations to get the wounded soldiers to this side of the Channel, there is danger of their 321 being removed before they can really bear the journey. I hope that will be carefully watched. Speaking of the medical service as a whole, I should like to say that I think the Government have done wonderful work, and I hope that they will not weary in well-doing. Things are extremely good, yet still there remain matters which require attention. I do not want to be thought ungracious, in the circumstances, or to dwell on any defects; I do not want to dwell on them; I can only say there are some improvements which I hope will be carried still further. I think it is of immense importance, at least, that, the services of women should be used as much as possible, both for the sick and for the wounded. I think, often, that we do not perhaps in this House consider what claims the women who are in this country have to our consideration to everything being done to enable them to find some employment at something which will enable them to get rid of the anxiety which they are often called upon to bear. Therefore I am very anxious that everything should be done to give them employment for the benefit of the Services.
I am sure that the more you can get nurses into hospitals, and the nearer you get them to the front, consistently with military requirements, the better it is both for the soldiers and the women, and for the doctors and for everybody concerned. I thank the doctors most warmly for in the earlier stages initiating the reform of allowing nurses to go to what are called the clearing stations. I think it is a great improvement. I am told they have now two nurses to each clearing station. I do not know whether that is right, but if only two, I hope that they will be able to have even more. I am sure it would be of enormous value, and I am sure that their presence has been of incalculable benefit to the men. I do not think that on the whole we are bound to express in this House our very warm thanks of what the whole of the medical services have been in this War. From the heroism of the Royal Army Medical Corps on the field, which has been past all praise, to the services of the orderlies in the hospitals, everything has been dictated by the highest patriotism and the highest heroism, and this House would not be doing its duty if it did not record on this occasion—as on any other occasion—its appreciation of the services that are being rendered by the medical profession.
§ Mr. HODGE
I desire to associate myself with what has been already so well said from the two Front Benches as to the calibre of our rank and file at the front. In addition to that we are all, I think, extremely proud of the chivalry of our officers at the front. Coming in contact, as I have done, with wounded soldiers who have come back from the front, it appears to me, considering the conditions they are fighting against, that they have been too chivalrous. I have no desire to enter into a general criticism of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State. There seems to me to be only one carping note in it, and it would have pleased us on these Benches better if, instead of indulging in insinuation, he had told us exactly what he wanted from us. I happen to represent a trade which is largely engaged in the manufacture of the munitions of war, and I say, without hesitation, there has not been a demand made by an employer that has not been granted so far as doing everything that was possible in the provision of our soldiers with the necessary equipment and munitions of war. Unless in a very exceptional emergency, Christmas Day is a day when the works are absolutely and entirely idle. Last Christmas in those, great armament firms when they made the request to our men that they should forego their usual Christmas holidays the men without hesitation and without a grumble worked. Not only was that the case, but let the House realise that in those establishments the men work a twelve-hour day for six days in a week, and when urgent demands have come either from the Admiralty or from the War Office that they desire more munitions of war the men without hesitation have worked right through the week-end, not once or twice, but on every occasion upon which they have been asked. I think that consequently the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made was very ungenerous so far as those men are concerned.
Again, I know as a positive fact, so far as many of the firms are concerned, which are doing work not only for the Admiralty, but for the War Office, instead of putting all their available men on Government work the greater portion of them are working on material that is being produced for private firms, and then men are asked probably to work eighteen hours out of the twenty-four on armaments, and when that is done day after day, and week after week, the physique of the men cannot 323 stand it, and the men naturally say, "Why don't you take the men from your private work and put them on to Government work?" The workmen are not always the sinners, and I think, that in defence of the class I represent, I am entitled to make this defence. I do not think that there is any body of men in this country who have been more patriotic than the trade unionists have been, because they realise that in what they are doing they are as much serving their country as the men at the front. From the War Office and the Admiralty instructions have been given that in these great armament establishments the number of men who have offered themselves for the front has been so great that no more of them are to be taken, because the making of the munitions of war and equipment is as essential as to have men at the front, because it is no good having the men there is you cannot equip them. I think, therefore, before statements are made by a responsible Minister he ought to assure himself as to his facts.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that those who are working in supplying munitions of war, and supplying food and supplying clothing, are doing their level best for the good of the country and to end this wicked and unprovoked War as soon as possible. I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman myself to throw any aspersion on them at all.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
As far as I heard what he said I did not understand it so, and I am perfectly certain he did not mean it so.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Everybody in this House knows perfectly well that there is not a man of those working in those factories but would at this moment, if he had the chance, put on his uniform and go out to the trenches and fight for his country, but they cannot be in both places, and it would be fatal for us in any way to denude the great factories of this country of those men who understand their business, because you could not replace them with men who did not. I entirely agree with what the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) said about the missing. I think that everything possible ought to be done about 324 the missing through the American Embassy. The Prime Minister promised me he would have a sort of committee so that we should know not only about the missing, but also as to how our prisoners, both officers and men, are treated in Germany. The Germans know perfectly well how we treat their prisoners here, and in the circumstances of the case, according to the atrocities—and I hope they are not all true, although some of them are true—that our men have experienced in warfare, we are treating those Germans in a good British, chivalrous manner, and no matter what they do there I hope we shall not have reprisals. There is, however, a very sad part of this War, to which the Noble Lord referred, and the saddest part of it, in my humble opinion, is this question of the missing. There will be a very large number of missing that we shall never hear of. It has been imperative after great actions to dig great pits, great graves, and fill them in with friends and foes of different nationalities alike, and those we shall never hear of. That is a very sad episode to-day of this War, and anything that can be done to find out about those that are alive and missing will, I am sure, be done by the Government and the Cabinet. It should be done, if I may humbly suggest, in a more vigorous way than it is being done at present.
There was a point mentioned by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) with regard to the promotion on the filling up of places, both of officers and men, of the ranks above them. That has been necessitated by wounds, invaliding, or death. I hope that the War Office is going to give those people their substantive rank when the War is over, because they are the men who are pulling us through, and who are laying down their lives and risking their health, and doing everything that mortal men can do to end this War and save the country. Even if there are too many brigadier-generals, or sergeant-majors, or too many sergeants when the War is over, then let us settle in this House to have too many, and to pay them and give them their substantive rank. It is not for the pay, but for the honour of the position, and I am sure that the House will sympathise with the sentiment which my right hon. Friend brought forward. There was a question about the medical department. Never in history of any war have the medical people behaved in such a splendid way as they have in this War. They have been unselfish, gallant, they have lost their lives, 325 they have taken out the Red Cross motors even though they were fired at and shelled, and they have still remained in order to bring the wounded in; and not only that, but they have been chivalrous to the wounded of the enemy, which I do not think we can claim for the German nation. Do also let us pay our debt of gratitude to the great medical authorities at home who have taken the place of Army doctors, while many of them have thrown up very large practices, and they have also shown that good British spirit which has been so evoked in every class during this terrible War. There was one point also brought forward about the question of voluntary enlistment. There is nobody in this House wants to see compulsion of any sort, or conscription, but I have been a good bit about recruiting, and I have had men say to me, "Lord Charles, what you say is right and correct, but I am a married man and I have £3 (or it may be £4) per week, and how do you think I can go out and risk my life and leave my family when I can point to twenty young fellows about me who have none of those ties at all?" I must submit to that argument, although I do not want to see compulsion. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman below me that we ought to be more careful in our leaflets. We ought to have leaflets in regard to which there can be no misunderstanding. We have had some very great misunderstandings about both separation allowances and pensions. Let the men know exactly what allowances they will get if they join the Service. If there has been a mistake—and we are all liable to make mistakes—let it be broadly published that it was a mistake, and let the men know thoroughly what allowances will be made if they give their lives for their country. I will not detain the House longer now, but I should like to speak again when the question of the Censorship is brought forward.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I should like to associate myself with what the Noble Lord opposite (Lord C. Beresford) has said about temporary rank. Officers are put into responsible positions, such as that of commanding battalions, sometimes with only the title of captain. They are treated as captains in every way, except that they are given the whole responsibility of a full colonel in command of a battalion. The same thing goes all the way down; it ought to be looked into, not only as regards the commissioned ranks, but also as regards the non-commissioned 326 ranks. Lance-corporals act with all the responsibility of sergeants. They ought not to be treated in that way. Men who have earned their promotion ought to get it. There ought to be no cavilling about it by saying that there are so many officers wounded or prisoners of war who may come back again. Some of the battalions at the front have lost 75 per cent. of their numbers, and an even greater percentage of their officers. The men who are put in command ought not to be told that they cannot be given their proper rank, because the other officers may come back later on. I associate myself with most of the statements made by the Noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Cecil) in regard to the wounded, and I should like to add my evidence in regard to the excellent work done generally in that respect. But it is very necessary that there should be more women employed. The hospital orderly is a very good man for certain work, but there is no doubt that a nurse is a much better person for attending to the wants of a sick man. To limit the number of women is a great mistake. I know that there are other reasons beside those which have been suggested. One very grave reason is the shortage of Army trained nurses. There are not sufficient Army trained nurses to put more than two, I think, at each of the advance stations. If there could not be another Army trained nurse, I would rather have a third female, although not so efficiently trained, than a hospital orderly. Many of the hospital orderlies are very good indeed. They have done splendid work at the front, often risking their lives in getting the wounded away from the trenches; but very often, and especially in some of the base hospitals, they are now under civilian doctors, who are probably very much better doctors than the Army doctors, but who do not know how to enforce Army discipline.
The result is that at one time, at Boulogne, the discipline was somewhat slack, and the orderlies were not quite what they ought to be. I heard this from wounded officers, and can give proof of it. I think that more attention ought to be paid to the strict enforcement of discipline in the case of the Army Medical Corps. It is very difficult to instil it into men who have been there only a short time, and who have not had to do the same amount of drill and disciplinary work that other soldiers do. I believe there are cases where they refuse to salute officers. It 327 would be a very serious thing if, when they are abroad, they did not salute French officers. On that point I would suggest that a request might be made to English officers, when abroad, to salute French officers of the same rank when they pass them in the street. That is the universal custom on the Continent. French officers can never understand why English officers cut them, as they think, because when passing they do not salute. There might be an Army Order suggesting that when abroad officers should salute each other, whatever rank they were. A French officer when he is not saluted has to slink away; he takes it as a rudeness to him. I did not take the speech of the Under-Secretary for War as casting any aspersion at all on the wrong classes, or on working men's organisations. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be appealing for further help in certain cases where there were details which could be arranged. I am quite sure that he recognises, as most of us do, that the working and artisan classes have behaved as well as, if not better than, any other class in the country. Certainly we owe them a debt of gratitude. I believe that one hon. Member sitting below the Gangway said that the two classes who had come out well in the War were the working class and the middle class. When one goes about the country it is perfectly marvellous to see the way the working classes have come forward and made sacrifices. It is true of every class to a certain extent; but it is a much finer thing to make sacrifices out of a small income than out of a large one. I am sure my right hon. Friend was not in any way casting aspersions on the working classes, but that he was rather, like Oliver Twist, asking for more.
§ Mr. CURRIE
During the last few weeks, I have had a correspondence of a most friendly nature with the right hon. Gentleman opposite representing the War Office, and this correspondence, at his request, was made public. He recognised that my importunity arose from a desire to forward the good work of recruiting. I wish to acknowledge not only the extreme courtesy extended to me, but the very satisfying manner in which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with a large number of cases which I brought to his notice. On one very important point, the right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance which I see is referred to in the White Paper published 328 the other day, namely, that without delay some machinery would be established for the settlement of cases where certain moneys due to soldiers' mothers have been the subject of a difference of opinion between pension officers and pension committees. I have not the least doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will see that that assurance is carried out. In fact, I should not be surprised if he were able to tell us that the machinery had already been established. Many people are awaiting with the greatest possible anxiety an opportunity of bringing under review the decisions of certain of the pension officers. A more important matter awaiting decision is that of an investigation into the methods in use in the Army Pay Office, and, I suppose, the Army Record Office also. These methods are certainly under suspicion. I do not know whether they are good, bad, or indifferent, and, because I do not know, I am really anxious to find out. There is no doubt that most business men in the country are not altogether satisfied that many of the business methods, such as book-keeping, in use in the Army Pay Department are as modern as they might be.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that if he would refer this matter to a committee of civilians he might possibly receive from them assistance which would have the effect of silencing badly informed criticism. If the methods are good, a report to that effect from a committee of civilians would be valued highly in the country. If they are bad, such a report would have a still higher value, because it would enable us to get rid of a system which has, it seems to me, created a good many of the difficulties as to which I was corresponding with the right hon. Gentleman. I know quite well that if one asks for a committee of civilians to examine into business methods and book-keeping questions one is apt to be told to send for a chartered accountant. I do not think that that is what is wanted in this case. The suggestion I made was that the matter should be referred to the particular class of civilians—a very restricted class—who really have practical experience in very large pay systems—the men who are charged with this responsibility in such places as railway offices and the larger shipbuilding yards. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that my suggestion on that point had a distinct value. If he has had time to consider it, 329 I should be glad to know if anything has been done. There are many of us here who could draw pictures of the most distressing cases; it would be easy to move the House by so doing, but I know perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman has already deeply at heart the interests with which he is charged. He knows that I do offer these criticisms not in any carping spirit, but with the desire to assist him in the solution of some of these difficulties. Before passing from that point, I should like to say that, not only in the correspondence to which I have referred, but also in the recruiting work in which I have taken part, nothing has moved me more than the extraordinary patience which women at all times have shown, although one cannot fail to realise that every one of them is under a load of anxiety which might well appal the stoutest heart.
Reference has been made to voluntary enlistment. Lord Rosebery and the Lord Chancellor have both referred to that point in such a way that we are justified in thinking that it must be under the careful consideration of the Government. No one wants compulsion of any kind, but if it is necessary to consider the question of compulsion, I should like to enter a plea that one or two points be not overlooked when that consideration is given. I think it very easy to misunderstand and to overrate the feeling against compulsion on the footing that we are told that it is necessary. I think a broad, general distinction should be drawn between the compulsion which men apply to themselves and the compulsion which is placed upon them without their being consulted. That distinction would weigh very heavily with the classes—I will not say classes, because I hope, in any case, it would apply to all classes—to whom conscription would apply. But I cannot help thinking that the distinction I have named is of a very practical kind, and one which will weigh with the public in making up their minds if they are told that compulsion is needed. The law that one votes on oneself is regarded in a very different light to that applied when one is not consulted.
In the second place, I think if any larger number of men than is mentioned in the Estimate under discussion comes to be called for, that, apart from one's views or prejudices as to conscription, it will be necessary for the Government, merely I from a desire to prevent undue dislocation 330 of industry, to apply a very large measure of Governmental regulation—whether conscription or not. Thirdly, I think it important to bear in mind that it is very easy to misunderstand the general views of the working classes as to what is called the tyranny of conscription, because it really does seem to me a mere playing with words to say that conscription is of necessity tyrannous, whereas voluntary enlistment, assisted by certain methods, which are called moral suasion, but which I think are very much the opposite, is not. I cannot think that any form of compulsion which the Government should think of adopting could compete in point of degree of tyranny with the many appeals that will possibly be made if larger numbers of men are required to be raised, and of the two kinds of tyranny, or compulsion, or whatever the word used may be, I should infinitely prefer the one to the other. In the meantime, the country has some time in which it can think the matter over. I am anxious that that time should be used in considering it from these points of view.