§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
This is the third Vote of Credit for the present financial year. It will raise the total so voted for the year to£650,000,000, and the total since the outbreak of War to£1,012,000,000. I had better give the figures in detail. There were three Votes of Credit for the financial year which expired oh the 31st March:—
For the present financial year the details are as follows:—
- First, on the 6th August, of£100,000,000;
- Secondly, on the 1st November, of £225,000,000; and Finally, on the 1st March of the present year, of£37,000,000;
- Making a total for the financial year 1914–15 of£362,000,000.
It was estimated that the first sum of£250,000,000 in the present year voted on the 1st March would last until about the second week in July. When the second Vote came to be taken on the 16th June that anticipation had to be revised, and it was then expected that the money included in the first Vote would last till the end of June. This latter forecast was practically fulfilled. The expenditure from the first Vote of Credit for the present 1330 financial year of£250,000,000 up to 30th June this year, inclusive, was approximately£246,721,000. That, as the House will see, substantially exhausted the first Vote of Credit for the present financial year. I come now to the second period, which is covered by the Vote proposed and sanctioned on 16th June for another£250,000,000. For the first seventeen days of July the expenditure has amounted to£54,190,000. It is just a little above the-estimate I gave of£3,000,000 a day; it exceeds it in the aggregate by about£3,000,000. It follows, as the House will see, that the total expenditure from Votes of Credit this financial year up to the 17th July was just over£300,911,000, or, in round figures,£301,000,000.
- On the 1st March,£250,000,000;
- On the 16th June,£250,000,000—that is £500,000,000—
- And the sum which we are now asking the House to sanction is£150,000,000;
- Making, as I have said, a total so far for the financial year 1915–16 of £650,000,000.
The House will naturally be anxious to learn under what heads or categories that expenditure has been incurred. The Army and Navy account for£241,693,000; loans, and advances to the Dominions and to our Allies,£43,915,658, or roughly£44,000,000, leaving a balance of approximately£15,302,000, which has been, expended on food supplies and other miscellaneous purposes. The House will remember that the figure of£300,911,000 exceeds the actual cost of the War up to-date, since it includes the provision for the ordinary naval and military expenditure on a peace footing, which at£220,000 per day for 108 days may be taken at.£23,760,000. If that is deducted there remains a net War expenditure from the Votes of Credit, including loans and advances to 17th July,£277,000,000. So much as regards the past. If the future expenditure be taken at, roughly,£3,000,000 a day, the balance of£199,000,000 remaining from the existing Votes of Credit would last for sixty-six days, that is to say until 21st September. But there are some factors which, in considering the sum we ought to ask the House to vote, we have had to take into account, which are, I need not say, to a large extent of a conjectural character. In the first place, as I said last month on the introduction of the last Vote of Credit, it is proposed to repay the Bank of England advances made by it in respect of what are called pre-moratorium bills and other purposes at the request of His Majesty's Government. That is a question mainly of adjustment. I do not think it desirable to disclose at this moment the exact amount, but the House may take it from me that it is a very large sum, running into a great many millions. If these 1331 repayments are made as proposed the period which the existing Vote of Credit which I am now asking the assent of the House for will be materially shortened. I do not like to give the date, because that would disclose the figures, but it will be very materially shortened.
The second point I desire to emphasise is that the daily rate of expenditure is, with the best possible attempt at forecast, necessarily in a large degree uncertain. The tendency I need hardly say of expenditure for war purposes from Votes of? Credit is to increase, and while the sum of£3,000,000 a day which I have mentioned when I last addressed the House in these matters was taken for the purposes of the Estimate, the daily rate may be substantially more than that. One fact in particular has to be always borne in mind, and that is that the item of advances to Allies may grow with the adhesion to our cause of States which did not take part in the War in its earlier stages. Further—I am obliged to deal very generally in considering the amount which we ought to ask the House to vote at this moment—we must remember that it is not desirable to put these things too fine, and that although we are most anxious that the House should retain its Parliamentary control over the expenditure of the country on the War, I think I am not over-estimating it when I say it takes the best part of a Parliamentary fortnight to pass through all the various stages in Committee and on Report and other stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill, any additional sum which may be needed for that purpose. I think it may be assumed that the existing Vote of Credit, giving a fairly wide and liberal allowance for the considerations which I have stated, will last at any rate until the end of August, and a further Vote now of£100,000,000 would provide funds to carry on the public services until the end of September.
That is the minimum sum we can ask the House to vote. In view of the uncertainty, fluctuating, and, to a large extent, unforseeable factors which I have indicated in general terms, we advise the House, having regard particularly to the serious consequences which would follow from any temporary shortage of supplies, to increase the amount of the Vote to£150,000,000, so as to make the provision absolutely secure. That amount of£150,000,000, if the expenditure be at all confined to£3,000,000 a day would cover 1332 fifty days, and in view in particular of the two factors I have dwelt upon, namely, the expediency of accelerating and making ample provision for our obligations to the bank, and putting ourselves in the position in which we can meet the financial requirements of our Allies, we think the House will agree with us that a sum of£150,000,000 which I now propose is not in excess of the reasonable requirements of the case. There is nothing in the form of the Vote which differs indeed in any respect from the last Vote of Credit. I may remind the House, as there seems to be some little uncertainty of opinion as to the supplementary note at the bottom of the Vote, that it is no part of the Vote itself. The assent of the House is asked and given only to the words which precede the signature of the Financial Secretary and the date, and the supplementary note is an indication of the intentions of the Government, which, of course, I hope will be strictly carried out, but it is no part of the Vote itself. I ought in candour, in order that the House may be in possession of every material fact, to note in regard to this Supplementary Vote of Credit that the explanation of the Vote has a slight variation in phraseology in paragraph (2). In the last Vote of Credit the language used was this:—Advances by way of Loans or Grants to His Majesty's Dominions or Protectorates outside the United Kingdom and to Allied Powers for the purpose of war expenditure or of meeting difficulties arising out of the War and to local authorities and other bodies for undertaking public works for the relief of distress.The House will observe that in the note appended to the present Supplementary Vote wider language is used, or at least that the words of limitation are omitted, and we now ask, we suggest, that the money granted by the Vote may be expended inAdvances by way of Loans or Grants for purposes connected with the War.I think upon the last occasion the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King) called attention to those words, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated with perfect accuracy that no advances had been given or were then in contemplation to any States or Governments which did not fall within the description of "His Majesty's Dominions or Protectorates and Allied Powers." We purposely leave out that limitation on the present occasion. I am sure that the House will not ask me to go into any detail. We think—of course, subject in the end to strict accountability to Parliament 1333 for the manner in which this money or any part of it is expended—it desirable in the existing situation that we should have a rather wider power than was conferred upon the last occasion with regard to the countries or States to which advances may possibly be made. I do not think it would be right to say more; I am sure that the House would not expect me to say more, and I am quite sure they will agree that the Government ought to have in that matter a free hand, subject, as I have already said, to their responsibility to the House of Commons. Those are all the material considerations which it is my duty to lay before the House in asking for this extended Vote.
I will not on this occasion go, it is not necessary or desirable to do so, into any general question either of policy or of strategy, but there is at least one subject which may be of interest and which may be to some extent material, and that is the length of time for which we propose at the conclusion of our present duties, which I hope may reach an end early in next week, that the House should rise. I need not say that the Government have no desire to ask the House of Commons for anything in the nature of a blank cheque or an unduly extended period which would preclude or unduly suspend or interrupt the sitting of Parliament and the operation of the House of Commons criticism. Nothing is further from our intention. I think I may say, without committing myself at the moment to the precise date, that it is our intention, when we have disposed of the business which is now before us and which is in contemplation, and the House knows exactly what it is, to ask the House next week, I hope in the early part of the week, to adjourn till the middle of September. Some people may think that we ought to adjourn for a little longer, and some people may think that we ought to adjourn for a shorter period, though I do not think there are very many, but I am quite sure if, as I have tried to make clear, there is no withdrawal of any part of public expenditure from Parliamentary control, it will be the general sense of the House, as I believe it is of the country, that we should adjourn for six or seven weeks, amongst other reasons because the obligations and duties which are imposed upon Ministers in the administration of the public service on account of the War are of such an onerous kind and so insistent in their demand that, with every desire which they have as servants of the House of Commons as well 1334 as of the Crown to render daily account of themselves in this Assembly, the House will see it is in the interests of the country that they should be set free, at any rate for a reasonable period, to concentrate their undivided attention on that great and dominating purpose on which not only all parties in this House but every section in the country are absolutely united.
§ Mr. JAMES MASON
I am sure no one will want to criticise the Resolution before the House or the amount of the Vote of Credit for which the Government have asked. I feel also sure that no desire will be found to pry further into the details of the manner in which the Government propose to expend this money. The fact remains before us as a very big fact that this sixth Vote of Credit since the War broke out brings the total of such Votes to over£1,000,000,000. I do not think it will be regarded as unreasonable that the House should consider for a few moments not only the financial expenditure in which this country is involved, but also the resources to some extent upon which that expenditure must fall. He would be indeed a bold man who would forecast that these Votes of Credit would stop short of£2,000,000,000, but even if they do not pass that sum£2,000,000,000 means, under existing conditions of finance and those which are likely to follow, something like a permanent charge of£100,000,000 a year for interest, plus, of course, as I should hope, a considerable sum for Sinking Fund, and plus also such expenditure as the War will impose upon us after it is over, like the pensions to widows and families of soldiers who lose their lives in the War. This, of course, means that we shall have to face when the War is over an annual expenditure of probably something like£350,000,000 a year. On the other hand we are, of course, obliged to raise very large sums by loans, and at the present moment we are raising something like£600,000,000 on terms tempting indeed to the investor, and I should think, for that reason, probably bringing forth the greater part of the available money that can be lent. The point to which I wish to draw attention is that the whole of this money, whether it is for the purpose of finding the national income or for the purpose of lending money to the Government in the form of loan, has to come from one source, and one source only, and that is the pockets of the people. I cannot help 1335 thinking that the future loan obviously must follow the present one, and will have to be at considerable rates of interest, because they cannot any longer carry the tempting baits which it has been possible to attach to the present one. For that reason the whole question of the sources of supply of money is one of the utmost importance to the country.
If it is a fact—as it is a fact—that this money must come eventually out of the pockets of the people of this country, we can only expect it to do so by ensuring that there is actual economy and saving among them. I am afraid that so far the science of saving has not been in satisfactory operation. The Government itself has not set a good example in that respect. We all know that considerable numbers of Government officials are employed on work which might reasonably have been left to happier times. We go into the public parks and see the flower beds and mown lawns showing indications of peaceful prosperity. But we know also that they are employing both labour and money which might be productively used elsewhere. I am glad to see at last, after very nearly one year of the War, the Government have decided to appoint a Committee to inquire into possible retrenchment and saving. Surely it is high time such inquiry was made. But I fear we shall not see very great economy on the part of the Government itself until the actual difficulty of borrowing more money comes home to it. We see on all sides the local authorities are still desirous of spend-money on road improvements and such things, apparently with a very small realisation of the actual position in which the country stands. I have hopes in the case of local authorities that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will take steps to prevent them from going too far with extravagant work. Even philanthropic institutions and associations, we find, are still desirous of entering into new expenditure. An institution of this kind, a meeting of which I recently attended, surprised me by the way in which those present talked of spending money, just as if subscriptions would flow in not only as before but in increased volume.
The main subject which we really have to face is the economy to be effected. If we are to find the money which is required in the future it must be, to a great extent, 1336 by the economy of individuals saving on their daily expenses. I am afraid that, so far, there is very little sign of such economy. We see a certain amount of economy forced on people who no longer employ as many servants as they did. But that is because their servants have joined the Army, and thus, to a great extent, it has been forced on them. But there are a great number among the masses in the community whose savings have not been apparent, and certainly have not been drastic. I believe that has been due to the bad example set by the Government and the local authorities. People have said, "Let us see an example set." They see no sign of retrenchement, however, on the part of the Government, and so they declare they see no necessity for retrenchment on their own part. This is also very largely due to the extraordinary ignorance as to the actual position in which the country finds itself, which is to be found among very large classes of the people. There is no actual realisation of the present position, and that is one of the most remarkable things which one notices in the country.
There is another cause for this want of saving, and I believe it is a very important one. It is that a very large amount of the income of the nation at the present time is artificial. A great deal of that income is dependent, directly or indirectly, on the War, on the making of warlike material, and so forth, and a great deal of that income will be reduced, and considerably reduced, when the War is over. We know that even in the case of the separation allowances to the dependants, of soldiers there are many cases in which the incomes of those who are left behind are far in excess of what they were in times of peace. But, in so far as these incomes are artificial, and to some extent dependent on the War, it would not matter so much if the excess of such incomes were saved and were at the disposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he had to raise a further loan. But, unfortunately, we know that to a great extent that is not the case, and one effect of these increased incomes has been a very large increase of ordinary consumption, which means firstly, that the money is not available for the purposes of the War when it is wanted, and secondly, that there is an increase in the amount of imports which this country must obtain to provide for the increased consumption. Both of them, of course, are effects which 1337 materially prejudice the position of the country at this time. I believe that this saving and economy on the part of large classes of the people—the lower middle classes—is necessary. But at present it is not only not practised, but I do not think it will be practised.
But if it is necessary for this country that any increase of income "which there is and which is being earned, especially incomes which in any way are due to the War itself, if it is a matter of necessity to the country that that money should be available in some way for the War, I say, in the absence of that economy, which we would like to see, there is only one way offers itself, and that is to increase taxation during the currency of the War. In my opinion a considerable and judicious taxation of all classes, and especially a taxation of incomes which have been in any way increased owing to the War itself, would be to the advantage of all concerned. Let it be noted that it is undoubtedly easier for the taxpayers of this country to bear that burden now, when in many cases the incomes are larger than they will be in the future, than to wait the increased strain which must inevitably follow the signature of peace. I believe it would not only be easier to bear the burden now, but it would check a considerable amount of the unnecessary extravagance that is still going on in the country, and I feel sure it would reduce the painful strain which in any case we must feel when the War is over.
Sir H. DALZIEL
It is obvious that the House will receive the demand which the Government have now made with unanimity. As I ventured to say on a previous occasion on which a Vote was asked for, whatever amount the Government liked to asked for for the winning of the War they would, in my humble opinion, receive it unanimously from the House of Commons, so that the decision which the Cabinet takes today with regard to War expenditure is virtually the decision of the House of Commons. We have given them from the commencement a blank cheque to take whatever amount of money they desire, and I believe that will be the attitude of the House until the end of the War. In my opinion we are now past the stage when millions count. The only thing that counts is the winning of the War. Whatever the Government considers it necessary to ask the House of Commons to do to assist them in that purpose, I believe the 1338 House of Commons will readily and cheerfully respond. The Prime Minister himself will admit that if Members were to exercise their strict Parliamentary right in regard to the demand which he has now made we might put forward a fairly strong case, more especially with regard to the undisclosed directions in which the right hon. Gentleman is asking permission to pledge the credit of the country, but I do not think there is any desire in any part of the House to press unnecessary questions at the present moment. We are content to give the Government complete confidence to do what they think is best, both diplomatically and from a military point of view, in order to end the War as speedily as possible.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down with regard to his complaint as to the limited character of the new Committee that is to be appointed in respect to economy. I see difficulties in the way of obtaining the evidence and assistance of men who are busily engaged at the present moment in more urgent affairs, but I would express my regret that, at any rate, the new Committee is not to have the power to supervise some of the contracts that have been and are being given out by some of our spending Departments. Members know, I am sure, from manufacturers in their own constituencies that abundant evidence can be supplied that they are willing to carry out contracts at the present moment, and have been since the commencement of the War, at a lower price than is forced upon them by our spending Departments. There is abundant evidence to the effect that they have had to raise their prices in order to satisfy the State, when they are willing to do the work at lower prices. That is a matter which the new Committee might, with advantage, be able to stop. It might have taken the evidence in a few hours of some of the officials who are responsible. Certainly they would have no difficulty whatever in obtaining evidence from the great Government contractors throughout the country.
With regard to the waste that is going on, that is not disputed. There is waste in almost every direction. I myself visited a little time ago, with my colleagues on a Committee which is now at work, one of the great ships used for interning German prisoners in this country. Looking over the side of the ship we saw scores and scores of loaves of bread floating in the water, which had been delivered that 1339 morning. We inquired about it and were told that that was a daily occurrence, that the War Office insisted upon sending more than they could possibly use, and that they were just emptied into the sea. That had been going on for months, but I believe, as a result of representations made, that has now been stopped. That is only a small part of the greater question. There is the further question on the meat supplied to our troops, and what has happened to that meat both at home and abroad. I can assure the Prime Minister that some most remarkable evidence could be forthcoming with regard to that particular matter. I am, therefore, sorry that the new Committee is strictly limited to what one might call the Civil Services, that is, really the standing salaries of the great Civil Service Departments. It is not there that any real economy will be secured. Real economy can be obtained by checking expenditure which is not essential for the War, and taking care that money is not wasted in giving contracts at the present time. I hope that, if possible, the Prime Minister will take into consideration whether the power of the Committee, which has been very wisely appointed, should not be extended to the taking of evidence with regard to the other great spending Departments, where such evidence would not in any way interfere with the proper carrying on of the War.
I am not going to use this occasion to raise any controversial matter. I recognise it is not desired that the subjects I might like to raise should be raised, and I respond to the appeal of the Prime Minister in that respect. But there are one or two matters upon which I should like the Prime Minister, if possible, to give us a reassuring statement. The right hon. Gentleman has not been able to be present at any of the Debates we have had in regard to cotton. I do not propose to press him to-day if he cannot add anything to what has already been said pretty fully in this House. I want, in his presence, to assure him that there is a very widespread feeling outside this House that we are not acting as vigorously in that matter as we ought to be. The fact that we have allowed for a year cotton to go to the enemy for the purpose of making explosives has been treated in a manner not entirely satisfactory to the people of this country. We know there are difficulties, and the Government must know 1340 them better than we do, but at the same time it would be an advantage if the Government could give us more information than we have had up to the present time as to why cotton has not been made contraband, even at this late date. We do not accept the statement which has been made more than once that to make cotton contraband is not to improve the position so far as this country is concerned, because we know that if it were made contraband the shippers would not take the responsibility they take at the present time. We know, further, that it would be a comparatively simple matter for the captains in our Navy to assist in the blockade if it were made contraband. I do not quite agree with the reply given to-day that it mattered little from a naval point of view, because if it were made contraband it would be a very simple matter. It would be a very welcome thing if the Prime Minister could give us his view on that matter at the present time.
I should like also, if it is possible, the right hon. Gentleman to reassure us with regard to our aerial service. Is everything being done even now that ought to be done to make that service as complete both for offensive and defensive purposes? There is a great deal of misgiving on that point, and if we can have any information I am sure it would be reassuring. I have only one more suggestion to make. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of it or not, but I think there is great ignorance in the countries of some of our Allies, more especially in France, of what this country is doing and the part she is taking in order to win this War. It is no secret that there is a feeling in France to-day, in certain quarters, that we might be doing more. That is largely due, first, to the activity of German agents in that country, and, secondly, to the fact that we have not encouraged any great amount of information to be published in the French newspapers. My suggestion is that, in order to avoid any possible ignorance as to the great part that this country is taking, we should invite the representatives of French newspapers, not only Parisian but throughout the provinces, to come to this country as our guests and see exactly what is being done. It has been done on a small scale, but on a very small scale. I believe if that proposal were carried out within the next month or two it would have a most marvellous effect so far as French opinion is concerned. I 1341 know my right hon. Friend may reply that I am totally misinformed and that the public of France has shown no desire to have more information, and that there is no feeling at all such as I have described. With great respect, I differ. I believe that if we could tell the people of France to-day all that this country is doing in connection with the War, it would have a most marvellous effect throughout that country; and I very respectfully submit that suggestion to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I sympathise very strongly with the desire of the hon. Member (Mr. J. Mason), that we should have a more adequate contribution from taxation to the cost of the War, but I have had an opportunity of expressing some views on that subject recently, and therefore I do not propose to pursue it, except to say that I hope that deficiency may be made good before any long time has elapsed and that we may have, by further taxation, a larger contribution to the cost of the War than we have had up to the present. The matter I desire to allude to is the control of the vast expenditure which we are asked to authorise in this Vote of Credit. We are asked to add another£150,000,000 to the already very large credits which have been voted in this financial year, and when I say I should like more information I do not pretend to trench at all upon that sphere to which the Prime Minister has alluded as being of a confidential character. I allude more especially to the expenditure of the two great spending Departments which are dealing with the vast majority of the sums we are now voting—the Army and the Navy. I should like to ask that we should have some more information in regard to what these Departments are doing to safeguard this expenditure, and whether, and to what extent, they are increasing their machinery to cope with the enormous development of the expenditure. Vast sums are, of course, represented by these Votes of Credit, but in the Estimates this year we have only taken Votes of£15,000 and£17,000 for the Army and Navy respectively. Last year it was only the initial war expenditure which was included in the Votes of Credit, but this year, I understand, the whole expenditure of the Army and Navy comes under these Votes of Credit, and is represented by the two token Votes. The War has been proceeding for nearly a year, but we have not had any indication as to how and in what way this expenditure is being controlled from 1342 the financial point of view. In the South African war it was shown that very great economies were possible by taking this matter in hand and establishing an accurate and extensive control over that expenditure. Lord Kitchener himself at a certain period in the War felt the necessity of that and asked for financial assistance, which was granted—financial assistance in the sense of control over expenditure at the front.
Many persons, and Members of this House even, have said to me, "Why trouble about this? War is waste. The whole thing is inevitable, and we really cannot do anything in the matter." It does not appear to me that that fatalistic attitude is at all justifiable or necessary. No one will grudge any sum which is essential for the efficiency and the safety of our forces. That is not the question. There is no question of interfering with control or supplies, but the idea is that you should have a proper system of accounting and auditing the expenditure on those supplies. We know that waste only uselessly consumes valuable resources which may be essential later on in the conduct of this War. It never promotes efficiency, but very much; the reverse The view that nothing can be done to limit waste is certainly not a business point of view. A business manager sees to it that his accounting departments are organised and expanded to meet the increasing demands of an expanding business, and I see no reason why our great spending Departments, the Army and the Navy, should not do the same. They should expand their machinery. They may have done it; very probably they have, but we have never been informed yet. There-is certainly no practical or strategic objection to the information being given as to whether this is now being done. A business man is always improving and perfecting his machinery, bringing it up to date, and making it a little more accurate and perfect in assisting him in knowing exactly what is going on. Surely with a gigantic expenditure of this kind—£650,000,000—we ought to follow the example of the prudent business man in making our auditing and financial control as perfect as circumstances will admit. It is quite certain that the savings which may be made by so doing will far more than cover the cost, and not only that, but an enormous amount of waste may be prevented by an adequate and complete system of accounts and control.
1343 The responsibility lies with the two great spending Departments, the Army and the Navy, and I hope it may be found that they are doing this. I think we ought to have some assurance and some knowledge, when we are asked to add to the gigantic sums we have already voted, that this kind of control is now being effectively exercised. No one can tell how long the War may go on, and we ought therefore to institute a very exact and accurate state of things. This was Lord Kitchener's own view during the South African War, when he asked that better financial control should be exercised, and he received the assistance of Sir George Fleetwood Wilson to act as financial adviser, and very great advantage resulted from that appointment. We have in this country abundant business ability and accounting experience, and I do not suppose anyone will suggest that there is any difficulty in getting whatever may be necessary in this department, or adding to them, if it is necessary to do so, proper financial control commensurate with the gigantic expenditure we are now making. Those who object to any control of this kind often use the argument that you are going to interfere with the discretion of the executive Departments, and may hamper them. To say that is to misunderstand entirely the nature of the control which is asked for. The Royal Commission on the War in South Africa points out very distinctly that it is of the very greatest assistance to executive officers to have finance adequately controlled, and it relieves them of great burdens and really assists them in conducting their duties in connection with the War. I should like to quote one paragraph from that Report which shows the nature of the duties which fall on some of the officers, and how they were hampered in their duties by having to discharge these financial duties. This paragraph is from the evidence of Mr. Marzials, the Army Accountant-General. It is quoted by the Commissioners:—That system is exposed to a most terrible strain on active service, because, of course, the captain of the company has not only to pay his men and to keep in touch with his finances, but he has also to look after stores, to look after his men, to feed them, and do everything else, and finance is, as it were, a mere corner in the work of a man who is already terribly overworked; and, without any question, that system, I hardly like to say, broke down—but at any rate the strain was very great.The Report goes on to say:—It was represented by military witnesses, with convincing force, that in war, and even in peace, anxiety as to this accounting for pay was apt to 1344 divert the mind of an officer from more important duties, and that the time of the colour-sergeant in each company was also largely consumed by it, so that attention of eight officers and eight non-commissioned officers in each battalion was thus diverted from military duties.The view held there was that management is not in any way interfered with by the financial control of the Department. They see that the orders which he gives are carried out, and that value for money is obtained. I suggest that point strongly in this case. The view that this waste is inevitable was certainly not taken by the two Committees which reported on the South African War. We had a Royal Commission which dealt with the whole South African War, and we had another Commission which dealt with war stores. I should like to quote one or two paragraphs from that Report to show the importance which they attached to this question. They say:—Early in the year 1901 Lord Kitchener, feeling concerned with regard to expenditure, and especially with regard to the ordnance purchases which had been made by officers at Capetown, obtained from the War Office the services of Mr. G. Fleetwood Wilson (now Sir G. Fleetwood Wilson) in the capacity of Financial Adviser to Commanding Chief.…. Sir G. Fleetwood Wilson was succeeded in his duties by Major Armstrong, who also gave evidence before the Commission. Thus, during the last year of the war, there was established a central financial control over contracts and other matters by men specialised for that purpose. We desire to call attention to the following passage in Sir G. Fleetwood Wilson's report to Lord Kitchener.I should rather like to read that paragraph. It summarises the sort of control which the Report said ought to be instituted and which they think would be valuable. It contains some of the principal features to which I should like to draw attention. This is the paragraph in the report to Lord Kitchener:—The flaw has beer, the absence of any financial authority at headquarters with time, knowledge, and power to treat financial questions as a whole. There are many matters in which large sayings can only be effected upon general lines. If a Financial Adviser had been appointed at the beginning, instead of towards the end of the War, he could have prevented excessive charges from arising, instead of merely curtailing them when large unnecessary expense has already been incurred. He could have established a system for watching and controlling expenditure, and could have system atised commandeering. He could have seen that the use of Army money or Colonial railway purposes was confined within limits. He could have secured rates from the Natal Railway, and have pointed out with authority that specie could be obtained at less expense. He would probably have arranged that supply accounting was conducted upon defensible lines, end that Telegraph and Intelligence accounts were not allowed to get hopelessly into arrear; and if he had not been able to prevent the Ordnance difficulties from arising, he could have checked them at an early stage. Also, he would have been able to apply to questions now arising the knowledge gained throughout the whole War. He could, above all, have relieved the Commander-in-Chief of a volume of 1345 work which should not fall upon him. My experience in South Africa has convinced me that it is desirable that in future wars a Financial Adviser should accompany each Army Corps, and a Financial Adviser of high standing be attached to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief. The necessity is greatest at the commencement of operations, when generals have no time to devote to considerations of finance. It was inevitable, for example, that General Buller should pass by the question of the Natal Railway rates. A Financial Officer, with no executive duties to perform, would as surely have taken steps to get them reduced, saving some£300,000. In the present War, I believe that an expenditure of a few thousand pounds on a specially selected financial staff would have saved the public at the very least£1,000,000.There are more details suggested in regard to what could be done. No doubt these things have been carried out because Lord Kitchener himself drew attention to the matter himself. He said:The Army Pay Department, as at present composed, merely records the expenditure of the Army without any idea of improvement or economy, and ignores financial considerations of any kind. Its labours are purely clerical and mechanical, which, though necessary and essential, do not, in my opinion, require other than clerks to carry them out effectively. There is a marked want of financial assistance to generals in the field, which, if it were met by the appointment of competent military financial advisers on the staff, would result, I am sure, in a more efficient and economical expenditure of the public money supplied. The system of accounts in the Army requires thorough examination and signification.Therefore I am verified by Lord Kitchener himself. No doubt he has carried these things out, but we should like to be assured that it is so. Then there is the Report of the War Stores Commission. They there drew attention to the fact—I have no doubt it has been altered—that when they were appointed to deal with these accounts, what they called "an inchoate mass of data" was thrown at their accountants, Messrs. Annan, Kirby, Dexter and Company, which was quite unorganised and was really of no value. The whole of it had to be completed, systematised and tabulated, and it took the accountants appointed by the Commission seven months to find their way through this mass of accounts. As this Report points out, accounts kept in that way are really of no value either at the time or subsequently. The Report goes on to say:On the other hand, it is evident that in ordinary times, the simpler and more ordinary methods of Army Supply would entail comparatively little expense in accounting; while the importance of possessing adequate analyses of expenditure of supplies during and after a great war can hardly be over-estimated.They further say, a little later in their Report:But however this may be, it seems to us most unsatisfactory that, under (he existing system, as our accountants report, the Secretary of State should not have been in a position to know, even 1346 approximately, how supplies had been disposed of, or the quantities or costs of those lost from deficiencies, condemnations, depreciation, and the conditions of purchases and sales; nor do we understand how, under this system, the financial control of the House of Commons can be properly exercised. We consider, further, that if, during and after the War, an adequate system of accounts had existed with the Army and at the War Office, the knowledge of that fact would have proved a very valuable deterrent on both improvidence and speculation in South Africa.I think I have quoted enough from these reports to show the importance and the relevance of the matter to which I am drawing attention. My excuse for detaining the House is that the matter is of very great importance, and that the investigations were carried on in connection with the South African war. It is the most recent investigation of the kind. The experience is so comparatively modern—these reports were made in 1904–5–6—that it might very well be applied to the existing state of things. I certainly think that we can learn something from what was done then, after a very careful, long, and laborious examination of the circumstances. The nature of the South African I war was comparable to the nature of the present War. You had a great force of I over 450,000 men, who were sent great distances, 6,000 or 7,000 miles by sea, and great distances by land. We have in the present War a similar feature. We have got forces in France, and we have sent enormous forces to the Dardanelles, Egypt, and other places. Therefore the experience in the South African War is really of great value to-day, because the conditions then were comparable to the conditions today, though, of course, the expenditure of the operations to-day are on a much greater scale. It was shown, in connection with the South African War, that it was possible to provide by a proper system for an enormous increase and expansion in the energies and activities of the War Department. I do not need to enlarge any further upon that, because I think the matter is really clear. We have had valuable experience, which, I think, may be valuable to those in authority today in assisting them to secure the object we all have in view, and that is that our money should go as far as possible, and that we should get as great value for it as the circumstances permit.
I would ask the Departments concerned, and those specially concerned with the finance of the War Office and the Admiralty, to inform the House whether these recommendations have had their 1347 consideration, and whether proper and adequate provision for financing and controlling the finance of those Departments has been made, also whether the suggestion made by Lord Kitchener and the Committee has been adopted, namely, the dispatch of financial advisers to the officers commanding Army Corps and to the Headquarters Staff. Has that assistance been given which seems to have been so useful to Lord Kitchener in the last year of the South African War? This has always been a matter of great interest to me, and I think it is of great importance to the country at a time like this when these enormous operations have to be carried on. No war can ever be adequately provided for, but there is no reason why we should not benefit by the experience of the past. I should like to know, and I think the House would like to know, whether the arrangement in these Departments at the War Office and the Admiralty are now developed adequately so that Departments which were normally spending £80,000,000 a year, and are now responsible for the expenditure of about £800,000,000, have been adequately developed to cope with this enormous increase of work?
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member in what he has said about economy, but I entirely agree that the War should be conducted as economically as possible. I desire to make a few remarks on a subject in which I have been immensely interested for some years, and that is the way in which the aerial operations of the War have been conducted. I shall be careful in my remarks not to indulge in criticism of that character which was deprecated a few days ago. I do not propose to indulge in destructive criticism, and I do not propose to indulge in instructive criticism, but if I can suggest some constructive criticism to the representatives of the Navy and the Army I shall feel that I have not spoken in vain. My justification for speaking this afternoon is a speech made by the Minister of Munitions a month ago, that is on the 14th June, only two days before I spoke in this House on this subject and only two days before the Under-Secretary of State for War gave us rather a glowing picture of our Air Service at the front. The Minister of Munitions, speaking, I think, at Bristol, said:—We want more aeroplanes. The Germans have many more than we have.1348 I said nothing quite as strong as that. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:—One British aviator goes as far as two or three Germans, but we want more machines. The more yon can turn out, the better it will be for our brave fellows in France.The Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief said:—The Air Corps has become more and more an indispensable factor in combined operations.The object of my speech this afternoon is to plead for more aeroplanes, for more pilots, and incidentally for a larger type of aeroplane. The Air Service has, I admit, developed during the War, but the point I want to make is that it has developed along the old lines. It has developed along the lines of a year ago; it has not struck out, because I imagine there has not been, possibly, a man of sufficient imagination to seize upon the possibilities of the occasion, to examine the best brains in the Air Service, both of the Navy and the Army, to seize upon what might be dreams, and have them translated into action on the battlefields in Flanders or in the Navy. From the reconnaissance point of view our Air Service is perfect. It is not necessary for me to say that the men are perfect; that is admitted on all hands. There are no aviators in the whole world, even those of France, who are better than our aviators. France, of course, is the leading aviation country, but to-day I think France would feel glad at being compared with us. There can be no greater honour to our own airmen than to say they are as good as those of France and far better than those of Germany. Artillery warfare is practically impossible to-day without aeroplanes. All ranging is done by means of aeroplanes. I have had an opportunity, as no doubt other hon. Members have had, of speaking with officers both of the Artillery and of the Infantry and of the Air Service who have come back from the front, and it is generally admitted that in Artillery warfare good ranging is entirely the result of efficient aeroplane service. It is impossible for us to locate the German trenches with sufficient accuracy without our Air Service, and it is equally impossible for the German Artillery to perform the remarkable feats which we know they have performed unless they have a sufficiency of aeroplanes to identify the exact spots in our lines where our trenches are. Almost everyone who comes back from the front says that invariably the presence of German aeroplanes hovering over our 1349 trenches is followed by a burst of high explosive shells with a nicety of range which was absolutely impossible to the Artillery service three or four years ago. It is quite true, as the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief said in his last report:—During the last two months there have been sixty air battles between individuals, in which our airmen have been universally victorious.I think he said that we have not lost a, single man in these sixty air battles. I am quite prepared to agree as to the superiority of our airmen. One knows that there have been individual contests, and one realises that owing to the superiority of the English flying men rather than the superiority of our aeroplanes we have come off victorious. But we have not by any means kept the German aeroplanes off our lines. If we had done that we should have kept back the German Artillery from shelling our lines as they have done. I am prepared, on the authority of Artillery officers to go so far as to say that to-day the German Artillery, so far as shelling new positions is concerned—of course they have the range already on existing trenches—would be blind if we could completely chase the German aeroplanes off the field. Cavalry has also been superseded from the point of view of reconnaissance by aeroplanes. One knows that the absolutely essential condition of modern warfare, indeed the essential condition of all warfare from the time of the Duke of Wellington down to the present time, is that we should know what the fellow is doing on the other side of the hill. When we realise to-day that any general, English or German, can with motor traction, say, with a couple of hundred motor omnibuses or a corresponding number of motor lorries, move in one night some thirty thousand or forty thousand troops a distance of thirty or forty miles, we see that it is absolutely essential that our Air Service should be so perfect that it could prevent the concentration of the German troops in any given area during a night like that, first, by an offensive attack while they are being concentrated in a given position, and also by giving our own generals accurate knowledge of where those troops are to be concentrated.
While I am speaking of the reconnaissance side of the aeroplane work I should like to plead with the Under-Secretary of State for War that some recognition should be given to the work done by the observer. The aeroplane observer to-day 1350 is almost as important, if not quite as important, as the pilot. He must be a trained soldier, sittng side by side or in front of the pilot of the aeroplane, who can distinguish unit from unit, can discover the batteries of the enemy, carefully hidden as they always are, and can make his report in a concise and military manner to the general as soon as he gets back. There is, I know, a feeling among the observers, who are, I think, about the same number as the pilots, that they might have the badge which is given to these, or a similar badge, to show that they have been risking their lives in the same way as the pilots, and have been performing services to the Army as great as the pilots. What I want to find out is whether during this year of war there has been such an improvement in the Air Service as will show that there is a possibility, either on the spot in Flanders or in England, of taking hold of the matter and developing it not on the old lines but on new lines. When I spoke a month ago a reply was made by the Under-Secretary of State for War. All he was able to say, and he seemed pleased to be able to say it, was this:—The Air Service is in very good proportion indeed to the rest of the Army. What I want the hon. Member to realise is that since the outbreak of war there has been no smaller expansion of the Air Service in proportion to the rest of the Army. On the contrary, the expansion of pilots has been in a ratio of ten to one. Where we had one before we have ten now engaged in the Air Service, while the expansion of men generally is in the proportion of five to one.I am not a hostile critic. Everybody knows that. I want to help the Air Service, but I think that that shows that the right hon. Gentleman has only got a conception of the possibilities of the Air Service such as we always had twelve months ago. He comes down to the House and says that the hon. Member for Brentford ought to be satisfied because he showed an increase in the Air Service of ten to one. But during the last twelve months we have increased our forces at the front—in Flanders, and certainly if we include our forces in the Dardanelles—by ten to one, and all that the right hon. Gentleman is able to assure the House is that we have increased our Air Service in proportion, and only in proportion, to the increase of our troops at the front.
Those of us who have realised two or three years ago the possibilities of what could be done by an air service think that instead of being pleased that we had increased our Air Service by ten to one the right hon. Gentleman should have been 1351 able to come down to the House and say that our Air Service to-day is entirely different from any conception which we had on the matter twelve months ago. But there has been no real development in the Air Service and in the possibilities of what the Air Service can do. They are going on doing what they were doing twelve months ago. They are doing it better, I admit, but it is the same kind of work—some reconnaissance work and some intermittent attacks on the enemy. But there has been no real conception of the possibilities of aerial offence out of all proportion to what were considered its possibilities twelve months ago. The right hon. Gentleman went on to tell us that the question of pilots depended very largely on the question of schools, and we have, he said, eleven schools to-day instead of one at the time of mobilisation. That is quite true, but I think that I am right in saying that some of those schools which we have to-day really existed before twelve months ago. They were independent schools which were open, and they have now been converted into Government schools. The schools were there turning out pilots, and they are now turning out Government pilots. Those schools can be extended. I am prepared to say, from conversations which I have had from airmen in high position, that it is possible to make more pilots than we are making at the present time.
The first essential which must be observed to-day is to be careful that those pilots are turned out thoroughly experienced. I do not want to say a word which would give any information to our enemy, but after Debates which have taken place in this House on the subject of munitions, and after the exposures which have been made with regard to munitions without doing any harm to our cause—indeed, doing benefit—I think that there is no harm in making one or two statements with regard to the training of our pilots. I have heard, from the front, of a pilot who went over trained after six weeks, and the whole time that that man had been in the air was five hours' flying before he went over to France, and there was rigged out with a machine and provided with an observer to go on the machine with him, whose life was placed at the disposal of this man who had only been five hours altogether in the air. I have heard of another who had been only three months in the school; and eleven hours in 1352 the air. That surely must come from a shortage of machines in our schools. What is wanted is that the Government should deal with this matter of machines in the same way as the Minister of Munitions is dealing with the question of munitions, so as to turn them out not in dozens or in hundreds but, if necessary, in thousands.
Though our men are so good, I am bound to say that our engines have always been the weak place in our Air Service. There has been a great difficulty in getting sufficient engines, and engines which will make our machines powerful enough to rise sufficiently high and sufficiently rapidly to cope with the German machines. Only this week a pilot from the front told me that he had to fly a machine—I will not say the height to which it will go, though I will tell the right hon. Gentleman afterwards, if he likes, but he could not get it up as high as those of us who know the possibilities of aeroplanes know that he should be able to get it to go. That machine should have been sent back—it probably has been by now—from the front, to be thoroughly overhauled. Then, apart from the question of pilots, we have not got enough machines for the use of the pilots. By machines I mean good, first-class machines, in every way adequate to enable the pilot to carry out the duties entrusted to him. I know the number of machines that were at Salisbury Plain, on the occasion of the review, some two months before the War began. I will not mention the number to the House, but the right hon. Gentleman knows it. But even if we had ten times that number we have not got enough machines at the front. The loss of machines in a War of this kind is bound to be enormous. I do not think I would be far wrong in saying that our Air Service has lost a machine per day, if we include all the machines which have been damaged or broken up in the course of this War. All that has to be provided for. All that wastage has to be made up.
There is a very remarkable sentence, which I would not have quoted had it not been made public in the Field-Marshal's last dispatch. He says:—We have been indebted to our Allies for supplying us "with aeronautic material without which the efficiency of our Royal Flying Corps would have been seriously impaired.That means that there was not a sufficient supply of aeronautic material from this country at the front, and if our Allies, the French, had not come to our assistance the efficiency of the Royal Flying Corps would have been seriously impaired. Surely, the 1353 Minister of Munitions, or somebody, is required to take that matter in hand. Then there is a lack of fighting machines. It may be that reconnaissance work has been done as magnificently as it is possible to do it, but where calculation has been lacking with regard to the Flying Corps has been in the direction of seeing what could be done with large fighting machines, and in providing our aerial corps with a sufficiency of fighting machines. Zeppelins can only be kept away, as everybody knows, by aeroplanes. They cannot be kept off our shores by antiaircraft guns or large guns. They fly at a height of 10,000 feet, a height at which no gun can touch them. Of course aeroplanes can get above them. The unfortunate Lieutenant Warneford got above a Zeppelin and put an end to it with a comparatively small bomb of twenty pounds. A bomb containing a few pounds of strong explosive put an end to the Zeppelin. That was done because of the absolute intrepidity, fearlessness and skill of Lieutenant Warneford, and also because he had a machine which could rise rapidly and get above the Zeppelin, whose destruction then ensued. Why is it that there have been no Zeppelin raids here during the last month? Some people have been wondering why? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "Tell us why?" I will tell you.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am living on the North-East coast. Do not divulge anything that might bring them there.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should be very loath that any injury should result to the hon. Member from any indiscretion of mine. What I am asking, both in the Naval and Army Air Services, is that there should be immediately provided a sufficiency of powerful fighting machines in order that the Zeppelins may never start from the other side of the North Sea. Then, I think, the hon. Member will be perfectly safe on the North-East coast. 1354 The Navy has, of course, charge of the safety of our coasts. There is no reason why there should not be an air station at least every forty miles along our Eastern and South-Eastern coasts, with, say, twenty scouts and twenty fighting machines, in order that everything possible may be done for the safety of the hon. Member opposite. He is entitled, and so is every resident on our coasts, to have everything done by the Air Services of our Army and Navy so as to prevent Zeppelins not merely reaching our shore but even starting from the other side. Why cannot we have more fighting machines? We can get them from America, and in saying that I am making no statement which could afford any benefit to the Germans. I have taken the trouble to read the American newspapers on the subject during the last few weeks; I have found full particulars of what the Americans have done in regard to aeroplanes, and I submit, from information I have, that they can do more. They are untrammelled by the ideas of twelve months ago, and we can realise what could be done by a gigantic aeroplane service taking the offensive against the Germans.
I do not want the Minister of Munitions to take the matter up; I do not think it is necessary. I have seen it stated in various newspapers that it is desirable that there should be a Minister of Aviation. I do not think it is necessary. I want to see whether either of the big Departments represented here is responsible for the supply of aeroplanes to the Army and Navy. The hon. Member for Clare tried to find out whether the supply of aeroplanes is under the Minister of Munitions or the Under-Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Are they responsible not merely for the supply, but for deciding the number that can possibly be utilised? I submit that as yet there has been no real offensive by aeroplanes such as there might have been in this War. There have been various raids on the Continent by our aeroplane service from time to time; there have been intermittent raids, and the Germans have had ample time after each raid to repair the damage. If there could be continuous raids—which there cannot be, of course, unless we have a greater supply of pilots and aeroplanes than we at present possess—if there were continuous raids, I do not mean sporadic raids, but 1355 continuous raids of some four or five hundred aeroplanes dropping bombs on the Rhine bridges and the great Krupp factory at Essen—
I am afraid that I have no inherent powers to stop these remarks. I hear a great many things said in the House which I think unfortunate, but I regret to say that I have no power to stop those statements. It rests with the Government, or any Member of the Government, to say that these matters had better not be discussed, and, if that be done, I am sure that the hon. Member will not persist in his remarks. The responsibility rests with those who know what should not be discussed.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I need hardly say that if the Government say that this is a matter on which there should not be discussion I will not continue, but, in justice to myself, I think the House will realise that I have not made a single statement which has not appeared in the public Press during the last few weeks. I think everything I have said has appeared in the public Press.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
Perhaps I maybe allowed to say that there are certain criticisms and suggestions which have been made by the hon. Gentleman in the course of the observations which he has addressed to the House, to which I am able to reply, but there are certain other points to which I am certainly unable to reply, from the nature of the case, and the House might be the first to reprobate any answer which it thought ought not to be given. Therefore, I think, the hon. Gentleman will be wise if he tried to circumscribe his remarks within the area in which reply is possible.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I need hardly say that I will follow the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman; I will not go into details; I do not in any way want to go into details which would afford our enemies the slightest help. But if hon. Members who interrupt have read the news- 1356 papers I think they must see that I have said nothing which has not already been published. The object of my speech is to get the Government to realise the enormous possibilities that there are in our Air Service from a fighting point of view. We realise all that they can do from the reconnaissance point of view. The Air Service—and this is known to the public and therefore can do no harm—aided our ships in the destruction of the "Königsberg." They directed our ships where to fire, and without that assistance our guns would never have hit the "Königsberg." It was by the co-operation of the aeroplanes that the gunners knew exactly the spot to which to direct their fire, which ended in the destruction of the "Königsberg." There was also the naval episode, well known to everybody, namely, the destruction of a transport in Turkish waters by the guns of the "Queen Elizabeth." The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no harm whatever in our knowing that the "Queen Elizabeth" destroyed a Turkish transport at a range of 18,000 yards. That was done by our wonderful modern gunnery without the "Queen Elizabeth" seeing the ship she was aiming at, or the sea upon which that ship rode, and it was due entirely to our naval Air Service being able to communicate with the "Queen Elizabeth," and show exactly where it was that she was to direct her fire.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
It seems that the hon. Gentleman is really giving important information, or I may put it that the hon. Member is concentrating this information in such a way that he is really risking the lives of aviators in future when they go up for scouting purposes. I think it is very unwise to place this information before the House of Commons.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not so. There is nobody in this House—and I say it advisedly—who can exceed me in my admiration for our magnificent Air Service, or is more determined to protect it and aid it in every possible way. I speak not merely as an independent Member, but I am convinced that I speak largely on behalf of the Aeroplane Service, in asking the Government to give them greater facilities for the work which they believe is in their power. The Air Services, both of the Navy and Army, are convinced that there are possibilities of offensive warfare in the air that were not dreamt of twelve months ago. What I desire is, and what I 1357 am sure they desire is, that the Government shall appoint some man of imagination and power and leisure, a business man, who would get hold of the heads of the particular Air Services, and would say to them, "What do you want, not on the lines of present development, but what do you dream of as possible? What do you dream of, in your imagination, as to what the Air Service really can do?" The War, I believe, may go on for some considerable period longer, and there is time to develop our Air Service, time to create more pilots, time for you to complete those large aeroplanes of which we have read in the newspapers, and of which the Under-Secretary of State spoke only a few weeks ago in this House.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman representing the Navy, and the right hon. Gentleman representing the Army, to take these matters into their consideration. I am not criticising this afternoon, I have not been indulging in criticism, save it be of that constructive character which lies in the development of the Air Service. I believe in the future of our Air Service and in the future of aeroplanes. I believe in the Air Service as an offensive measure against the Germans, and as a means of turning the German flank in Flanders—large and powerful aeroplanes dropping bombs on the Prussians' lines of communication. I believe in the Air Service as the best means we have, in future, of coping with submarines. I ask the House to believe, if they think I have offended in any way, that I am in earnest in this matter. I am convinced that the success of this War can be achieved by a large Air Service developed as an offensive force. I believe that if the Government took this matter in hand, and appointed some business man as the head of the aeroplane services, he would accomplish what the Minister of Munitions has done for artillery, and I hope the Government will deal with this Air Service, from the offensive point of view, in a frank and energetic way.
§ Mr. HOLT
I should like to say a word or two on the subject of economy, which was under discussion before the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite made his interesting speech in regard to the Air Service. When the Prime Minister proposed the Vote of Credit on the 1st March he told the House that, after the 1st April, Ave might reckon on an expenditure of £1,700,000 a day. Since that time the expenditure has at least doubled, and I 1358 believe the figures that have been given to the House are rather better than the true case. The Government, I think, are considerably behind in the date of their expenditure. We must have incurred liabilities very much in excess of the amount represented, and they are probably considerably more than the figures we have got before us. We have been told that this is a war of endurance, that it is a war which will last a considerable time, and that we have to treat it as a war of endurance. Therefore it is certainly most important that we should turn our attention to the question of expenditure, and I am very glad indeed to see the appointment of this Committee on Economy. It seems to me that there is very much to be got, from the point, of view of endurance, out of economy and experience. The ordinary annual expenditure, though large in itself, is almost trivial in comparison with the expenditure during this War. I can sympathise with the remarks of the hon. Member for Windsor as to the planting of flowers and the expenditure upon our public parks, but how many hours of the War would be suppressed by that expenditure? I do not think it would have paid for the War since the time the Prime Minister got up to propose this Resolution.
If we are going to deal with retrenchment, and to do so in such a way as to produce any effect on the success of the War, we have got to turn to the War Office and to the Admiralty. Those are the places where the money is being spent, and they are the only places in which it can be saved in sums sufficient to make it worth while to take the trouble of saving at all. First of all, none of us, I believe, will hesitate about the spending of any money which is believed to be necessary for the successful prosecution of the War. I do not believe that there are two minds in the House or in the country as to that proposition. Rut I am sure there is the general opinion in the House and in the country that Ave do not wish to spend money which is wholly unnecessary for the successful prosecution of the War. I am sure there is a growing feeling, which is strongest amongst those who are in the best position to speak with knowledge, that a very large proportion of the expenditure both at the War Office and the Admiralty is pure waste, and is not contributing to the successful prosecution of the War. I very much doubt whether we are getting fifteen shillings' worth in the 1359 pound for anything that those two Departments are spending in the aggregate. I believe that the whole of the military results which we are obtaining might be obtained with very much less expenditure of money. What I think has not been made sufficiently clear to the soldiers and sailors who are primarily responsible is that wasteful expenditure is prejudicial to the successful prosecution of the War, and that every sovereign wasted is taking away something of our power of endurance, and that every million that is thrown away means that the nation has so much less power to endure in this War and carry it through. Much more serious steps than anything we know of yet most certainly ought to be taken to bring that aspect of the case to the notice of the people responsible for this expenditure.
Everybody sees there is waste who has anything to do with our shipping or anyone who goes about the country and sees anything of what is going on at the camps, and from what one hears knows that waste is proceeding in every single direction. That is largely due to want of forethought, and to want of carefully thinking out plans, and to the fact of not considering whether a reasonable return is going to be obtained for the expenditure which is going to be incurred. There is not enough thinking of the problem, as a whole, with regard to a great deal of this expenditure, and with regard to a great deal of the work that is being done. The fact is that many of those gentlemen who control this naval and military expenditure are behaving, apparently, as if they really thought that this country has an absolutely bottomless purse, and that nothing can exhaust its financial power. I do not believe that the country has got a bottomless purse, or that any country has got that, and if we go on behaving as we are doing, the penalty will be that we shall find we are unable to carry on the strain of the War just at the very moment when power to stand that strain gives us the best prospect of success. I think that the expenditure ought to be frankly looked at from the point of view of military advantage, and making it certain that we are able to prosecute the War for a long period of time. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) in suggesting that this new Committee should overhaul the expenditure of the Naval and Military Departments, because I do not think it 1360 would be able to do so in a sufficiently-stringent manner to produce good results. What, in my judgment, is necessary is that there should be an effective finance committee in both of those establishments, consisting of persons in the habit of controlling large sums of money, and of organising and carrying on large enterprises, and who would have the opportunity of putting their finger on this or that expenditure, and of saying whether it was or was not proper before it was incurred, and not afterwards.
People tell us that all these things will be gone into after the War is over. I do not want to go into them then. I want to go into them while there is still time to put them right. I am getting alarmed as to the probable result of the reckless way in which money is being spent. It is quite plain that it is not only going to damage our chances during the War, but that it is going to materially damage our prospects of recuperation after the War is over, and of fitting ourselves for ordinary civil life faster than our adversaries can do. That has got to be done, too. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who said that we ought to face the problem of new taxation at once. It is quite clear that new taxation has got to come, and I think it would be much more satisfactory to have it at once and to know the full amount of it at once. Let us know where we are, so that we can make our arrangement and cut our coat according to our cloth. There is nothing worse for business and for commerce, which, after all, is going to provide the sinews of war, than a general state of uncertainty and the feeling that you have something very disagreeable hanging over your head. It is better to know your misfortunes and to face them at once than to have them bottled up and sprung upon you at some unknown time. If there is to be taxation of war profits, let us know; and let the people who are carrying on business know what they have got to face in the way of taxation, general and special. Then they would have no ground of complaint. If people are allowed to carry on business on the faith of one system, and suddenly are faced with another, they have, I think, got considerable grounds of complaint. Let us know where we are, and the burdens we have to bear, and I am quite certain we will bear them sooner than lose the War.
There is another reason I want to put forward why every possible effort should be made to carry on the War with due 1361 economy, and that is the effect when people feel the pressure of taxation, as they are bound to do, and when they see this spurious prosperity passing away. If you want to get a spirit of determination, it is very necessary that the people should be satisfied that they are really getting value for their money. It is necessary that the people should realise that they are not being asked to bear a burden which could have been perfectly well avoided with a little more care and forethought, and with a little more consideration on the part of those placed in charge of the national affairs. I hope we shall have some announcement that this Committee really do appreciate the necessity of national economy and of a thrifty War Office, and a thrifty Admiralty, and of Departments endeavouring to get the last penny of value for their money, and trying to make the burden of the country as little as possible in proportion to the military results achieved. We are all of one mind that we are going to prosecute this War to a successful conclusion, but we do ask that that success shall be obtained at the lowest cost for which it is possible to manage.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
I desire to echo what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy, rather than what has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken. I wish the reference to this Committee could have been extended to include the business side of the Admiralty and of the War Office. There may be some technical difficulty, but I hope it is not too late to extend the reference. While I quite admit it is impossible to overhaul the whole system of the War Office or the Admiralty at the present moment, and that that is a matter which must be left for quieter times, yet in certain respects I feel where so large an expenditure is going on, and where so great economies could be obtained, I should like the Committee to lend its weight if possible to inquire into that matter. We all know that in matters of billeting, in matters of wages, in the building of hutments, in matters of wages paid to chauffeurs, in matters of wages paid in new factories, all those are circumstances which need inquiry. It is equally admitted that the general waste in camps has been, and indeed is still, very considerable. The matter of placing future contracts by the War Office and the Admiralty is also one which I think requires looking into. While I do not want to unduly criticise either of those Departments, I think it is true to 1362 say that neither soldiers nor War Office clerks have been trained to commercial business. On these grounds I think the public wants to be reassured as to future contracts, and as to continuing contracts. If the reference to this Committee could be extended so as to look into these urgent, and what I may call, in a sense, temporary matters, I think it would be of great public usefulness and would be applauded by the nation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have listened to the whole of this Debate so far as it has proceeded, in the hope—the sincere and unaffected hope—that I might hear practical suggestions for reducing expenditure, for the encouragement of retrenchment, and some maxims as to actual administration and public economy in this or that Department of the State. I confess I am a little bit disappointed. The general maxims enunciated have been excellent. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) made a speech with every word of which, so long as he confined himself to generalities, I absolutely agreed. But when he told us we were only getting fifteen shillings worth for the pound in the conduct of the War I was alarmed, and I expected that he would follow up that very disquieting statement by some evidence of proof, which he did not, and which I venture to tell him he could not so far as my knowledge of the matter goes.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
A statement of that kind that we are only getting fifteen shillings worth for a pound is a very serious statement for a Member of Parliament to make. I am bound to add in that connection, with reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) to which I also listened, about aviation, I cannot at all agree that because those statements have appeared in newspapers that he, as a Member of Parliament in a responsible position of authority, should think that is sufficient justification for making those statements here. A statement made in this House goes out to the world with a very different amount of authority from anything that occurs in the Press.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
A great deal of what I said was included in an article written by me for a newspaper and passed by the Censor; therefore I thought I was 1363 amply justified in assuming that, as it had passed the Censor, there was no objection to my making the statement here.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Then when the hon. Gentleman refers to the Press as his authority, he is referring to himself.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Again, I think the right hon. Gentleman is hardly fair. I did not refer to the Press as my authority; I merely referred to the fact that statements which had been made by me had appeared in the public Press. I did not say that the Press was an authority; far from it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will not pursue the point; I will leave it where it stands. I am not complaining in the least of the hon. Gentleman. What I say is that, when we make statements here, they are in a very different position from those which under the censorship, such as it is, are allowed to appear in the Press. But I rose, not for the purpose of indulging in any general reflections, but to deal with one or two concrete points which have arisen in the course of the Debate, particularly the point raised by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) and by the hon. Member for Aston Manor (Mr. Evelyn Cecil), in regard, not to the composition, but to the reference to the proposed Committee on retrenchment. Of course, it was an obvious and a natural criticism that the terms of reference do not include, and they are purposely not intended to include, the Army and the Navy. It has been the subject of very serious consideration on the part of the Government whether the reference should not take that wider scope, and it was only after much deliberation and careful weighing of the arguments both for and against that we came to the conclusion that on the whole in the public interest it would be better to confine the reference in the way proposed.
I do not at all dispute that the greater part of our expenditure at the present moment is military and naval, and that it is of the utmost importance that every possible safeguard, whether by inquiry or otherwise, should be taken that in regard to that which is far and away the greatest source of expenditure at this moment economy is practised and waste prevented. But unless you confined the inquiry as far as those two Departments are concerned within artificial and arbitrarily contracted limits, it would be impossible to conduct it effectively at the present moment 1364 without withdrawing officers of those Departments from much needed duties in connection with the War, and expending an amount of time and labour in that regard which we think might be more profitably and usefully employed in the actual conduct and supervision of naval and military operations. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, I can assure my hon. Friends that for the moment the administration of these Departments has been withdrawn from the terms of reference.
But, let me add, we are so fully alive to the importance of the prevention of waste—and a certain amount of waste undoubtedly there has been; I think, humanly speaking, it is inevitable in the conduct of operations so gigantic and so unforeseeable in their scope as those in which we have been engaged during the last twelve months—but so anxious are we to prevent the possibility of a recurrence of any such extravagance as that which has by inadvertence, or through insufficient control of the Departments, occurred, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will, in the case of the War Office in conjunction with the Secretary of State, and in the case of the Admiralty in conjunction with the First Lord, apply himself at once and with the greatest possible assiduity and vigilance to a careful overhauling of the possible items in those Departments in regard to which it is practicable during the progress of the War to make effective reductions without impairing efficiency. It is better that, for the time being, control should be exercised in that way through the head of the Treasury than that the more elaborate machinery of investigation by a Committee should be applied to those Departments which are already overworked and from which it is most undesirable that any of the distinguished officers in managing positions should be withdrawn. I mention that in order that the House may be assured that we are quite as fully alive to the importance of retrenchment, if possible, in these Departments as in any other Department of the public service.
Some criticisms have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno), in regard to control of the daily expenditure of the Army and the Navy during the War. My hon. Friend, in the course of an instructive speech, read a number of extracts from evidence and Reports which were 1365 presented to Parliament after the conclusion of the South African War. He seemed to be under the impression that the state of things then disclosed and condemned remained unamended and unreformed and was still in existence at the present moment. My hon. Friend shakes his head. If that is not so, what was the relevance of the quotations?
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I said that I hoped possibly these things had been remedied, but that as we had no information whatever we were anxious to know what had been done, and I called attention to how these things had been dealt with.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend told us of abuses which had gone on and had been exposed, and the remedies which were suggested by high authorities ten or twelve years ago. It certainly appeared to me that he assumed throughout his speech that nothing had been or was being done to prevent a recurrence of abuses such as those which undoubtedly prevailed. I can assure him he is entirely mistaken, and I have asked my two hon. Friends who represent the Financial Departments of the Admiralty and the War Office to tell the House precisely what is the machinery now being employed in the War Office and the Admiralty to secure effective audit and continuous, I may say daily or weekly, control over every part of the expenditure of the Army and the Navy. I think it is most desirable that the House and the country should know that in that respect—of course, man is always fallible—we have, so far as possible, taken precautions, and set up long ago and are now working machinery which we believe will be effective, and with regard to the improvement of which, if suggestions can be made, we shall be only too thankful to receive them and give them due consideration.
There are one or two other matters which perhaps I ought not to pass by. My right hon. Friend asked a question with reference to the very important subject of our dealings with the transmission of cotton from the United States to Europe for destinations in many cases hostile to ourselves. I can assure him there is no subject which engages the more anxious and constant attention of the Government. It is a very delicate and difficult matter. It is easy to put forward one particular line of policy and see its advantages, and to put forward an alternative line of policy and see its advantages; but 1366 when you come to weigh and balance them, it is very often found that so very minute, complicated, and difficult are the ramifications of this kind of trade that where you appear to have arrived at an easy and effective solution you are really multiplying rather than minimising your difficulties. I can assure the House that the matter is one which at this moment we are most carefully considering. I am not myself satisfied with the existing state of affairs. I believe that a great deal of this material—this necessary ingredient in the manufacture of some kinds of ammunition—reaches the enemy which ought not to do so. On the other hand, we must be very careful in the exercise of our belligerent rights not unduly to infringe the trade interests and the legitimate susceptibilities of neutral Powers with whom we are on terms of perfect amity, and do not desire to provoke anything in the nature of unnecessary or gratuitous quarrels. There is a vast mass of considerations which have to be carefully taken into account in due perspective and proportion. The Government are not without hope that we shall obtain without much delay a more satisfactory and more adequate solution of these various difficulties than has yet been possible. Beyond that, for the moment, my right hon. Friend will not expect me to go.
One word with regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), who spoke as to our aerial equipment. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am treating him with disrespect if I say that everything he said as to the supreme importance of this particular branch of our military and naval equipment is not only true—obviously true—but is realised to the fullest extent by the Government and the military and naval authorities. It goes without saying at this stage of the War, and it has gone without saying almost from the beginning, that with regard to the proper use of Artillery, with regard to reconnaissance work of all kinds, both upon sea and upon land, the extended scientific use of aeroplanes has become one of the most rudimentary necessities of every Army and Navy in the world. I have no need to assure the hon. Gentleman, I am sure he will realise, that any Government, particularly the Government of this country, would be grossly negligent of its duty if it did not make every effort both to extend the mechanical development of the aeroplane and to secure an 1367 adequate supply of well-instructed and well-trained pilots and observers. I can assure him there is no part of our military and naval problems which more constantly engages our attention.
On behalf of those who are responsible for the organisation and development of this magnificent branch of our, fighting services, than which none has distinguished itself more in the course of the War or realised more satisfactory results, I must say that I think any suggestion that there has been want of imagination in conception, or of readiness in the application and adoption of new inventions and new processes, or lethargy or slackness in the enlistment and training of pilots and skilled observers, is totally unfounded, and not in the least in accordance with the facts. I do not believe there is any Department either in the Army or the Navy where these qualities of imagination, adaptablity, elasticity, and assiduity have been or are being more conspicuously displayed. I do not believe that our service is one whit behind that of any other of the great belligerent Powers. Speaking with knowledge and authority, I say that, at this moment, it is being developed and expanded in every possible way under the best auspices and the wisest guidance. I will now ask the House to allow my hon. Friends to make the statements which I promised in regard to the Army and the Navy. I trust the result will be that both the House and the country will be satisfied, so far as the Government are concerned, that in these two capital spending Departments every effort is being made to prevent waste and to secure economy, as well as effectively to prosecute the War.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I respond at once to the invitation of the Prime Minister to make a statement as to expenditure as far as the Admiralty is concerned. I trust to assist in reassuring my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) as to the character and reliability of our achievements. If I may say so, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that it is not in the interest of the State to mention cases in detail in public; but I shall personally be obliged to him if he will give me any cases that he has in his mind, and, as far as the Admiralty is concerned, I will undertake at once that they shall receive immediate personal 1368 examination. I quite appreciate the fact that he did not state here cases which he had in his mind. I agree with my hon. Friend, and, of course, everyone will agree, that the first duty of the Admiralty is to supply without delay everything necessary for the fighting efficiency of the Fleet. Subject to that, I cordially agree that it is the duty of a good administration to conduct these affairs with prudence and economy, even in a time of great emergency. I should contend that to the best of our ability we have done that. I have no doubt, as my hon. Friend says, that in due course, when this War is over, there will be the usual Commissions of Inquiry by this House. I take leave to think that, as regards the machinery for financial supervision and expenditure in the office with which I am associated, our procedure will emerge satisfactorily from investigation.
What is that machinery? When the War broke out we had been working for four months on very carefully prepared estimates—the Estimates for 1914–15. They were the index of the approved services for which this House had voted money. During the remaining eight months of 1914–15, to the expenditure under these Estimates for approved services, there had to be added the new expenditure consequent upon the operations of the War. At present in this year, 1915–16, as my hon. Friend said, we have only technically before us £1,000, a token Vote of the total Vote voted by this House. That is to say, the Navy Estimates for 1915–16 are, technically; a grand total of £17,000. For the rest, we have drawn, and shall draw, upon the Vote of Credit. In due season the sums expended, as far as we are concerned, will be submitted by the Accountant-General of the Navy to the Comptroller and Auditor-General and his staff for due examination and check. That is the procedure so far. As far as concerns our endeavour to check expenditure at the outbreak of the War all proposals and decisions involving expenditure, not provided for in the Estimates of 1914–15, were referred, before action, to the Accountant-General, the Financial Secretary, and myself. After a few days—I am dealing now with the very early days of the War—when the first urgent pressure had in a degree relaxed, the officers who were responsible for the expenditure were called together for conference with a view to consider how best we could secure a detailed review of the expenditure incurred outside the approved services of the year.
1369 The result of a number of conferences, when great consideration was given to these matters, within a few days after the outbreak of hostilities, was this: That a weekly return of all expenditure was to be made to the Accountant-General of the Navy. That has continued ever since and down to this week. The Accountant-General collects this information; the results are brought together and discussed at the weekly meeting of the Finance Committee. My hon. Friend asked concerning a Finance Committee. I admit it is not constitutional in the way he imagines. This Finance Committee consists of the Financial Secretary, the President, the Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty, the Additional Civil Lord, the Accountant-General, and the Assistant-Secretary for Finance. Week by week we meet. I should like to ask the hon. Member to note this, for I am quite sure that when he asked this question he desired to inform himself as to exactly what we were trying to do. Week by week the expenditure is brought by the Accountant-General before the Finance Committee. Our liabilities are stated; we see how far we have gone—what is spent; what is outstanding. This Committee, composed as I have stated, have all officers before them who have responsibility and of whom they desire to ask questions— superintendents and others who may be responsible for expenditure in any particular matter. That is the procedure, and it is carried forward week by week at the Admiralty. I may say that the Committee does meet weekly. In point of fact the Committee has met a good many more times than weekly, although it is described in the Admiralty statement of the distribution of business as being called together weekly.
From the very first it became known that serious inconvenience and delay might arise through strict adherence to the procedure of obtaining Treasury sanction by correspondence to all expenditure which by established rule required the approval of that Department. That delay in getting Treasury sanction by correspondence might, it was felt, have very serious results, so far as the fighting services were concerned. The Treasury, thereupon, proposed that instead of the usual formal correspondence, the sanction of that Department, where required, should be obtained through a Standing Emergency Committee, of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury 1370 is President; that that Standing Emergency Committee would, if necessary, sit day by day; and that it would be called together, if necessary, at half an hour's notice to have placed before it requisitions which might be urgent, and to which we desired the sanction of the Treasury. That system has worked with extreme rapidity and smoothness, and it has been of great assistance to us. That, shortly, is the machinery which has been set up in our Department, and in connection with the Treasury for checking and supervising, as the expenditure is running on. Having made that statement, I feel I cannot sit down without expressing my great gratitude to Sir Alfred Eyles, the Accountant-General of the Navy, and his staff, for the assistance they have rendered me in this scheme for the control and supervision of expenditure, not only since the outbreak of hostilities, but at all times; and I desire to pay an equally generous tribute for the assistance he has rendered in these matters to the Assistant Secretary for Finance Duties, Mr. Baddeley.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I shall be able to tell my story in a very few words; I need not occupy the time of the House very long in describing what has been done. The hon. Gentleman who proposed the audit referred to the state of affairs which was disclosed by the Report of the Committee on the South African War. He wanted to know whether the War Office had learned the lesson. Since that time the War Office has thoroughly overhauled and reorganised its system of dealing with operations on a great scale in a time of war. The regulations have been embodied, to a certain extent, in Part II. of Field Service Regulations, in which my hon. Friend will find the administrative side divorced from the military side; and in addition elaborate preparations made in time of peace for dealing with emergencies. There was, of course, the undoubted and enormous advantage of the advent of Lord Kitchener to the War Office, because we had provided in one and the same person the man who had had actual experience in the field of the need for the assistance of a financial adviser. We had, too, at the same time a man in authority at the War Office who was able to see that these men were fully and completely provided. My hon. Friend asked if steps had been taken to secure a Contemporaneous audit so as to prevent the accumulation of arrears. 1371 Yes, a long time ago we sent out a financial adviser to assist the Commander-in-Chief.
We sent out an adequate staff of accountants—I forget for the moment exactly how many went out, but I think between twenty and thirty—in order that a careful watch might be kept upon expenditure in France from day to day, and almost from hour to hour. We get periodical reports, not formal reports, but reports of a more or less informal character as to the progress of the work. I am happy to say that while we, of course, cannot secure that there can be no mistake or no arrears, the system is working generally well, and things are being cleared up as we go along. In addition to that, my noble Friend the Secretary for State appointed a Committee in the War Office itself to keep a careful watch upon current and future expenditure. In the early days of the War, when things were moving with extreme rapidity, when the Army was expanding to an almost incredible extent, it was obviously impossible to keep in as close touch with all these various matters as one could wish. Now that the Army has become what it has, and while it is no longer expanding with the same extraordinary quickness as marked the earlier efforts, we have opportunities of looking forward and taking under review the future as well as the present condition of things, and of co-ordinating supplies, orders and cost.
A Finance Committee, whose special duty it is to concern themselves with this aspect of administration, was appointed by my hon. Friend, and the Committee, although it meets informally on many occasions, has also formal sittings when proper examinations are carried out. I may say that, in addition to that, the control of the Treasury, although it naturally could not be exercised with the same degree of pressure in the early days of the War as in the time of peace, has undoubtedly become a very real control within the last few months. I would only say that, at any rate, the financial side of the War Office administration realises the extreme need—the urgent need—for the prevention of waste, for the practise of economy, and we are devoting our attention to it as closely as we can. With regard to the prevention of waste, the Secretary of State is issuing a circular letter to the officers commanding the various districts calling their attention to the extreme 1372 urgency of this question, and inviting them to take every possible step to-see that the need for economy is duly brought to the attention of everybody under their command. I can only say we shall welcome any suggestions of a useful character which can be made to improve our system.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The Prime Minister has adopted an expedient which, I think, is unique in the experience of this House. He has made a speech in reply to the former part of the Debate, and that speech has been succeeded by two other speeches from the Government Bench. It reminds one of the days of Israelitish history, when Moses won a battle, having had his right hand and his left hand upheld by his friends on either side; but on that occasion Moses was present all the time. On this occasion we find ourselves, after two hours of an important Debate on a Vote of Credit for £150,000,000, without a Cabinet Minister on the Bench until the Home Secretary has come in. I think that is not fair to the House of Commons or to the importance of the Vote of Credit which we are discussing, and I protest as usual, though probably ineffectively. I was also sorry that the Prime Minister in what reply he did give to the points that were raised, took no notice at all of a suggestion that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) when he suggested that this Government ought to extend an invitation to the pressmen in France to come over here in some more considerable numbers than they have come, in order to convey to the people of France some idea of the serious nature of the feeling with which the people of this country are actuated with regard to the War. It is a common impression, and one sees evidences of it every day, that we are supposed not to be taking the War seriously enough, and not to be doing enough work. That allegation frequently comes from the Press of France, and I think it would be worth the Government's while to remove that impression. The suggestion thrown out as to the way in which it could be done, I think, merited some reply from the Prime Minister, and if it were a case of inadvertence I hope it will be considered later, and something may be done in that direction.
But the reason I want to intervene in the Debate at all is to put a question which, presumably, cannot be answered 1373 now that the Prime Minister is gone. I want to refer quite shortly to the phrase that is being used so frequently by our Cabinet Ministers with reference to the War and the position in which the nation is supposed to be at the moment. Ministers of the Cabinet have deliberately stated that the nation is in grave peril, and I want to ask some responsible Minister of the Cabinet, especially when they are asking the House to give them a further Vote of Credit for £150,000,000, what they mean by loose talk of that kind. I think that all of us appreciate the fact that we as a nation are prepared to face whatever facts are placed in front of us. We are prepared to meet the situation at any moment with any kind of sacrifice. But if Ministers of the Cabinet say, as they do say now in public, that the nation is in grave peril, then they have started a use of words which will deny them the use of more superlative words if the nation ever happens to be in that position. Therefore, I want to ask the Prime Minister, as the head of the Government, whether he can give the House and the nation some information of a later kind than has yet been given with regard to the military and naval situation? The Prime Minister promised the House and country some considerable time ago that Sir John French should send us bi-weekly dispatches in order that the country might be kept in touch with our Forces in Flanders. Those bi-weekly dispatches or messages continued for only a very few weeks, and latterly there have been very large intervals of time between them. It does seem to me that it is worth while the Prime Minister seeing that those messages are sent to the nation, in view of the confidence that is reposed in the Commander-in-Chief in Flanders, and in view of the extreme anxiety on the part of the people in this country to get some kind of information about the War.
Then I would remind the Home Secretary, if he is interested at all in the points being put by private Members, as he is the only Member of the Cabinet present, that sonic considerable time ago the French Government issued a review of the War from the commencement up to a certain point in their achievement, and that review of the War was published in all British newspapers and amazed the public here by the frankness with which the French Government and the French people faced the facts as they had happened to them in the War. This House is going to 1374 adjourn very shortly. We are going away, as the Prime Minister told us, until the middle of September. By that time thirteen months of War will have passed over our heads. We have had nothing from our Government except the dispatches which have come to hand from time to time, either from Flanders and now later from the Dardanelles, that give us any connected idea of the purposes being pursued, or, for that matter, of any future purposes which we are striving to achieve. I do think the Government ought to take the nation much more fully into their confidence in regard to the War. They take them very fully into their confidence in regard to the provision of everything for the War, and the Home Secretary, who is responsible at the moment, will agree that the people of the country have loyally responded in every direction—in money, in men, and munitions—to every appeal that has been made. I do ask him to consider this from the point of view of those of us who are not in touch with the same sources of information as he is. I do not mean anything by what I am going to say, but I do think that this kind of thing deserves some comment.
We are told, for instance, that the people at home do not realise the nature of the War. We are told that our working men do not realise the nature of the War, and one of the methods that the Government adopt to make our working men realise it is to take a mob orator off Tower Hill, send him round the trenches, fetch him back to this country, give him letters from Lord Kitchener and Sir John French, and put him on a music-hall platform to make speeches to people who attend music halls. I do think that those of us who represent large industrial constituencies who, when we go down to our constituencies, are expected to be able to give them some confidence with regard to what is taking place in Flanders and in the Dardanelles, are in actually a worse position than a mob orator who is taken off Tower Hill and personally conducted round the trenches at the front. I do not want to complain. I do not want to do that myself. I would rather be doing the duties we are sent here to perform; but I do ask the Home Secretary if he does not realise that the public at home are starving for information, and that they feel that, if they had some information which would enable them to conclude that what we are doing in Flanders and the Dardanelles had a purpose which they did 1375 not understand but which could be achieved very shortly, I am perfectly sure the whole nation would be straining at the leash to get at the work which has to be done, rather than be coaxed into it by all sorts of devices—by posters, lectures and leaflets of this committee and that committee. I am reminded that that is largely due to the fact that the Government, wisely or unwisely, have from the commencement of the War allowed no proper Press agency at the front to communicate intelligence to the people at home. The old system of war correspondents has gone, and the men who have been sent out now are selected men, and the same kind of stuff is percolating through to a series of newspapers. We do not get the many phases of view we used to get when the old war correspondents were at the front. However, it is a question for the Government themselves to devise the means by which the object can be obtained. I only want to impress upon my right lion. Friend that I want him to believe that those of us who have been moving about in our constituencies, who really are in touch with the fathers and mothers of the boys who are with our forces and the men who are being wounded and killed, know that those people are starving—that is the only word for it—for mere information with regard to the War, and I do hope my right hon. Friend will, in taking this Vote of Credit for £150,000,000, really try to give us more satisfaction in that way, and thereby create a closer feeling of co-operation among the whole people with what is going on at the front.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I wish to say a few words on two topics, aeroplanes and inventions, one of which—that of aeroplanes—has been somewhat exhaustively dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Brentford. With regard to aeroplanes, I would simply indicate on broad lines what seems to me a possibility. I think this country is very fortunate in regard to the question of war in the air that the German mind is at present hypnotised by the Zeppelin idea. The Germans have been buoyed up with great hope and great faith, perhaps unwarranted, as to the possibilities of the Zeppelin, and, in spite of repeated failures, they have persisted in the work of constructing Zeppelins. If they had been entirely free from that obsession, and if they had devoted their minds and their high, scientific, technical 1376 knowledge to the question of building aeroplanes, I think they would have seen possibilities which they would have developed, and which would have finally made their aeroplane service enormously more formidable than the Zeppelins. I believe, therefore, this country has every reason to congratulate itself upon the fact that the German mind has become hypnotised with the idea of Zeppelins. The hon. and learned Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has pointed out certain possibilities of the aeroplane for the purpose of reconnoitring and scouting and1 also as a striking force. It is only necessary to indicate that all the elements of the problem have been separately solved, and all we need do is to combine them in order to assure ourselves that we have the possibility of building a great force which will secure for us the complete dominance of the air, and which would prevent enemy aeroplanes appearing within any area contiguous to our own aeroplane force and that of the Allies, thus securing for us complete mastery of the air. All the main elements of this problem have been separately solved, such as the question of how long aeroplanes can remain in the air, the distance they can traverse, the power, speed, and rising faculties, the bombs they can carry, the machine guns they can carry, and even the wireless services they can man. That all these problems have been solved successfully has been shown in the various sporadic raids which have already been undertaken on the part of our aeroplanes at various points of the Western front and on the middle part of the Western part of the French lines, as, for instance, in the successful raid on Chauncy.
The difficulty in the way of providing a strong fighting force of aeroplanes is not the material difficulty of execution; it is not to be found in the difficulty of any single part of the problem. The aeroplanes can be obtained and the pilots can be trained. The question of supplying bombs is already solved, so that the only difficulty that now remains is the psychological difficulty—that is to say the difficulty of convincing the authorities that here is a question the proper handling of which indicates the true line of safety and ultimately the line of victory—so to seize their minds with that faith or conviction that they will throw themselves with the greatest energy into this problem of building aeroplanes, so that once and for all 1377 we may attain the conviction, even before we actually realise it, that this country and its Allies mean to obtain complete dominance of the air.
With regard to the uses which a strong striking force of this kind can be put I will indicate one, namely, in regard to that most difficult of all questions—the proper means of defence against submarines. I think there are two ways in which aeroplanes can operate so as to greatly limit the danger of submarine attacks. I believe—but I will not give details—that in the development of our aeroplane service lies the possibility of solving that problem, and providing us with an efficacious defence against submarine attacks. Before leaving this particular question I would like to refer to one point made by the hon. and learned Member for Brentford in regard to what he said about a separate Department for aeroplanes, and particularly a Ministry of aeroplanes. I am inclined to think that this has almost become a necessity, because there is a very great difference in the way in which any particular subject is tackled; if, on the other hand, it is left to a sub-department of a great office, it is not so efficiently dealt with as if it be left to an entirely new Department filled with new energy, and possessing great officers of State. They generally have the faculty of magnifying the importance of their own office. That would be a distinct advantage, because once this work is undertaken it ought to Toe pressed forward with the greatest energy and vigour, so that in the shortest possible space of time this country and its Allies would in this respect be in a position of enormous advantage.
I would like to emphasise the fact that this suggestion points out not only a way to victory, but almost the only way which is now open to us. The great operations on the Western Front have up to the present resulted practically in a stalemate, neither party having made any decided advance. Both are locked together, but an enormous and speedy development of our aeroplane service might turn the scale of that balance and secure victory for this country. I will leave that question now in order to deal with the broad principle of the question of inventions. I know there has been lately instituted in this country a Commission for dealing at least with the co-ordination of the scientific work of this country. We have had very meagre details of this work and its character, and we do not know the work it contemplates taking up. We do 1378 not know whether it includes the question of inventions within its terms of reference, because that question rests on a somewhat different footing. One principal question is the co-ordination of the scientific work of the country, and another is the question of new inventions. What I would like to suggest is that the Commission which has been appointed should rather be a final advisory and consulting Commission, and that there should be formed another Commission, perhaps of less responsibility and greater freedom. What I am speaking of now is not a matter in the air, for my suggestion is based on a model which has been conceived in France and carried to a very great success.
Shortly after the outbreak of the War a number of scientific men in France came together of their own initiative and formed a Commission solely for the purpose of dealing with inventions, not merely those which had reached a tangible shape, but even suggestions of inventions. Proceeding on the principle that many men who are not experts and who lack scientific training nevertheless have sometimes valuable ideas which, if seized upon and developed, might be brought to a useful fruition even during the course of this War, they formed this Commission and divided it into three parts: the first dealing with the mechanical side of inventions, the second with the electrical aspect, and the third dealing with chemical questions. Members are elected to serve on these separate sections of the same Commission according to their special knowledge in these great branches of the work. One of the most prominent members of the Commission told me that they had never rejected any suggestion whatever, no matter with what slight credentials it came before them. They examine every suggestion thoroughly and, until they have satisfied themselves that it lies outside the possibility of a useful realisation during this War, they do not finally cast it aside. Having examined any suggestion which seems feasible and useful, they then apply the greatest power of their own special technical knowledge in order to make it as practical as possible; and it is only after they have brought it to that condition that they submit it to the permanent Commissions of the great services of the Army and the Navy which were in existence before they came together. In this way they relieve the great State Departments of an enormous amount of preliminary work, and they present to 1379 them suggestions in a much clearer form than the inventors themselves could have reached; and thus they render the work of the experts of the great services of the Army and Navy much more efficient, and save them a vast amount of time.
I think it is quite possible that we in this country could deal with this question of inventions on similar lines. We might retain the Commission which has already been chosen to perform the final work of advising, at the same time giving free scope to subsidiary Commissions in order to prepare the work and submit various feasible and practicable suggestions which have been worked upon by their brains and brought to the most feasible and practicable shape. Since I took up this question I have been inundated with letters and suggestions which have even induced me to sympathise with the War Office itself. It seems to me that inventions can be divided into three classes. Some of them are inspired, others inspired idiots; and the third—well, they are not inspired, and they are by far the largest class. It is precisely the suggestions of that class which this preliminary Commission could eliminate and finally conserve. In order to show that this point is of some importance I will indicate one or two successes in this respect which have been achieved in France. One is the scheme of dropping innumerable showers of darts or arrows from aeroplanes, which have done considerable damage to the enemy, although some means of defence against them have been found by the Germans, and the Germans have shown us the sincerest form of flattery by imitating this method. Another point touches the investigation whch is now proceeding and which is at the very point of being realised respecting an explosive bomb of far greater power than anything that has yet been used in the course of this War. This is now being actively worked upon by the best scientific brains in France, and I believe it will soon be a great factor in this War, and it may have an enormous influence upon our operations on the whole lines. I will not name the bomb, and still less will I refer to its constitution, but I can assure hon. Members that it will become practical in the course of this War and if it does become of enormous benefit to our Allies it will be as the child of this Commission of Inventions to which I have referred.
1380 I would also, in order to stimulate my right hon. Friend (Mr. Tennant) indicate what has been done by the other side. We have a notion in this country that the Germans are very methodical and scientific, but that they are somewhat unimaginative and slowly adaptable to new ideas. The notion is not true. The Germans have even, during the course of this War, shown wonderful adaptability, although I do not think that arises from any particular lightness or imagination of their mind; but from the fact that they have been so imbued with science that they follow resolutely, and as a matter of course, the indications of science. And so, proceeding on these lines, they have reached the same results as those who were less scientific but more endowed with an imaginative faculty. The Germans were beginning to run short of the raw materials for their high explosives. They took a method, which until recently had been hardly more than a laboratory method, or a matter of experiment shown to students; having seen the necessity they launched out with great energy and decision, and they converted this into an enormous industrial work. Thus, they have completely obviated one of their greatest difficulties, which was the shortage of material for nitrates, nitric acids, and so forth, which is one of the forms of raw materials for the various high explosives.
Another instance of their adaptability was shown in the case of copper. I had a chance of seeing the fighting near the Argonne, in the month of January. The Germans were already beginning to run short of copper, so much so that they were commencing to destroy the picturesque-ness of their own soldiers by depriving them of their pickel-haubes, and melting them down for shells. Copper was running short, and they turned their scientific skill into other directions. They first used brass, which is an alloy of copper and zinc, and then they made various experiments with other alloys of zinc, and finally they reached such a stage that they can now laugh at the shortage of copper. Another shortage of which they felt the necessity was that of rubber. Again they applied their scientific skill, and they heve been able in a sufficiently practical manner to overcome the shortage of rubber by using a sort of synthetic rubber.
Although the Germans have done very many wonderful things during the course of this War, or even during the last 1381 six months, I do not think there is one instance where they have really originated a new method, or seized upon an entirely novel or original idea. I believe that most of the instances that I have quoted, and I could extend them, have come from the French side, but the Germans have shown an adaptability which arises from high scientific training, and, of course, common sense, in using these methods which are indicated by science, and, once the way is pointed out, in striking determinately into that way. I would conclude by drawing this moral, and saying, in the case of aeroplanes especially, the way has been indicated. The principal difficulty is not one of material but is a psychological difficulty, and I hope that there will be a great pressure of public opinion, if nothing else, brought to bear upon the War Office, so that they will be led—I will not say compelled—into this way of taking a leaf from the Germans themselves; and, once having seen that clear way to victory, may they strike into it with the utmost resolution, vigour, and energy, so that within a comparatively short time the Under-Secretary of State for War will be able to announce to this House that the question of the predominance of the air has been solved and that no German aeroplane dare show its nose within a certain area which is under the control of the aeroplanes of the Allies, and that this great arm is not only performing functions of scouting and reconnoitring work of all kind, but that it has also become one of the most powerful and striking arms of the Forces of the Allies.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down suggested that the real difficulty in connection with the supply of aeroplanes for the Government and the Army was a psychological difficulty. I should like to disabuse him of that idea at once. It is wholly unnecessary to bring pressure to bear upon the War Office in order to convince us of the importance of the Air Service. I would like to refer to the remarks which were made by the Prime Minister not many minutes ago, assuring the House that we are not only duly impressed to-day or yesterday, but that we have been impressed from the outset of this War, with the enormous importance aircraft play, and must play, in all operations of war. Those matters have been considered, as I say, by the best brains in the Army, by the best mechanical brains that we could obtain, for many months past. The responsible authorities have been con- 1382 sidering all these questions as to the increase as rapidly as possible of the Air Service. I am sure the hon. Member would not expect me to make an announcement as to what steps have been taken—it would not be proper that I should do so—but a policy has been decided upon, and that policy is being carried out as rapidly as it possibly can be.
I was asked more than a month ago in this House to state some of the steps which were being taken in order to carry out that policy. I then indicated that one of the most important of them—I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me that it is one of the most important—was the increase of the number of training schools for pilots. Of course, we cannot have an indefinite increase in the number of those schools without a very large increase in the machines with which to teach the pilots. The hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), in the course of his observations, stated that while it was true we had increased our training schools from one to eleven we had only taken over a number of the civil flying schools. It is not at all in accordance with the fact to say that is all we have done. While it is true that we have taken over two such civil schools for flying, we have increased our original one to eleven. The hon. Member for Brentford again referred to the time which it took to replenish the depredations caused by accidents or by gun-fire upon our aircraft. That is really only the same difficulty which is found in replenishing diminished ranks in the Army at a considerable distance from your base or from your supplies. Obviously, when you lose a certain number of machines, it must take a little time in order to make them good, but I think when the facts become known it will be seen that an extraordinary short time has been taken to make good those losses. With regard to the losses, I would say that the wasteage, of course, has been very large, as I dare say the House knows. Again, I cannot go into figures, but they have been all made good, and an enormous number more have been supplied. It is, of course, a fact that you cannot constantly fly in the air without such accidents happening, not only accidents which occur through something which you cannot foresee, but also through gun-fire and shell-fire from the enemy.
The only other point which strikes me, and on which I think it is desirable that some statement should go out from the War Office, is the question of the height at 1383 which aviators fly. I think the hon. Member stated that one officer was put into a machine which could not climb and was probably exposed to great risk, and that we were giving orders which were calculated to be very dangerous to our flying officers. I wish the hon. Gentleman and the House to realise that there is a definite minimum height below which officers are not allowed to fly across the German lines, and any officer or man who crosses the German lines at a height below that minimum is contravening instructions. I am bound to say I do not believe that it is ever done, and if it has been done it is possibly an isolated instance of someone who has done something which he ought not to have done. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman complained of the fact that there were not sufficient non-commissioned officers and men in training, but that is one criticism which has been made. I would say that we are training many more non-commissioned officers and men now. The reason for the temporary abandonment, not the complete abandonment, but the diminution in the number being trained at one time, was that it was found that non-commissioned officers and men were very extravagant in aeroplanes, and we had not a sufficient number of aeroplanes to allow them to make experiments. There was a considerable diminution in the number of non-commissioned officers and men being trained, but now we are expanding the number very much, and as we have many more non-commissioned officers and men to select from, we are able to select the best, and we are training a considerable number more.
If I may just for one moment, I will turn to what the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) said upon the question of inventions. He is, of course, aware of the Committee of which Lord Fisher is chairman, who will be able to coordinate all the inventions which come before them. Prior to the appointment of that Committee, there was at the War Office—and I presume there was at the Admiralty—a very efficient body. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, or, rather, his correspondents, who have convinced him of the very troublesome and difficult position in which such a body is placed by the innumerable suggestions which come both from the inspired and, I think he said, from the insane.
§ Mr. TENNANT
At any rate, if they do not come from the insane they come from persons who are only partially inspired and partially insane. I do think that we have a right to ask for the sympathy of those who have listened to the suggestions of either. It did not require the hon. Gentleman to convince me or to convince many people of the scientific attainments of the German race. That has long been one of the things for which I think people were allowed to admire the Germans. They have no doubt scientific training and scientific energy. We in this country do not profess to scientific training, though we have great scientific men. There is no pretension to scientific training in the rank and file; but, in spite of that, we have been able to produce great scientific men and the greatest amount of scientific appliances which command the admiration of everybody. It is a remarkable fact that we have been so prolific in the inventions which have been produced by scientists. I can only say, in conclusion, that the formation of this Committee ought to give the House and country confidence that the productions of these fertile brains, which are brought before us from time to time, will receive, not only most careful examination and consideration, but will be investigated by men of the most eminent knowledge and scientific attainments themselves.
§ Mr. GODFREY COLLINS
Earlier in the afternoon the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. James Mason) made a statement as to the policy of the Government in financing the War so largely by borrowed money. Other hon. Members took a like point of view, but the Prime Minister, in his speech, did not refer to that subject, and I therefore rise to press some further arguments on the attention of the Government in relation to this matter. This is the fifth Vote of Credit which the Government has introduced into this House. There was a Credit in August, a Credit in November, more Credit in March, further Credit in June, and still more Credit in July. Can one wonder that the financial authorities in the City, as well as ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer, and a notable personality like Lord St. Aldwyn, have drawn the attention of the Government to their policy in this matter? In the early months of the year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when introducing his Budget, stated that, as the War might last for six or twelve months, the Government proposed to delay 1385 the introduction of the new Budget for some months. But in view of the statement by the Minister for Education (Mr. A. Henderson) last Saturday, that the War would probably last another year, I was hopeful that the Government would have taken immediate steps to introduce new taxation proposals. July is nearly over, the Recess is looming in the distance, and yet the financial plans of the Government have not matured. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last week stated that he hoped to take reasonable measures in connection with taxation, but, having warned the country, importers of foreign articles will be quick to heed that warning, and traders who pay Excise Duties will clear goods from the bonded warehouses, while importers of foreign articles will hasten to deliver and clear goods from the Custom Houses, and thus be able to exploit the country for their own benefit.
Is it fair to direct taxpayers that the Government should increase, as they will have to increase largely before the year is out, the direct taxation? Budgets are introduced into this House, and Income Tax payers are given several months to pay. But on this occasion the convenience of the public is being brushed aside, and the public are told that they will require to wait further months before the financial proposals of the Government are introduced into this House. I submit it is not fair to the direct taxpayers that the full truth of the financial situation should not have been told by now. Let me put a further point. Comparison is made to-day between the amounts of taxation raised during the Napoleonic War and the present period. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that this War will be a short war in comparison with the long-drawn-out Napoleonic War. Is it not a very sound argument for immediate increased taxation that because this War is going to be short in comparison with the long-drawn-out wars in those days the Government should have brought forward by now their proposals for immediate increased taxation? I admit you cannot make an absolutely fair comparison between the policy of the Government in those days and the policy of the Government to-day. Each must be considered on its merits; but I would remind the House that the expenditure of the Government in this War, relatively to past wars, is much greater, and hence, having created this kind of artificial prosperity, they should not have allowed many months to elapse without introducing further taxation.
1386 After the restoration of peace, I think every Member of the House will agree, will come the darkest financial period in the history of this country. The excitement and glory of war will have vanished and disappeared. But peace will aggravate the hardship and increase the burden. Peace will not bring, as it generally does, plenty. Peace after this War will bring increased taxation, far higher than it is to-day. After the War is over America will be challenging our commercial supremacy in the neutral markets of the world, and our ability to meet that competition will be checked and retarded by the failure of the Government to bring forward now their proposals for increased taxation. May I remind the House of the financial sacrifices which, so far, have been demanded by the Government. Take the first eight months of the War—from 1st August last year to the end of the first financial year. The cost of the War was £362,000,000; the taxation raised for War purposes amounted to £15,000,000. If we deduct from that sum of £15,000,000 the amount required to pay the interest on borrowed money, what is there left to pay for the capital cost of the War? Take again the period of the first twelve months of the War. In that period the War will undoubtedly have cost £722,000,000, and probably more. The taxation this year for War purposes will amount to £58,000,000, and, as by 1st August, when the first four months of this financial year will have elapsed there will either be due to the State, or collected by the State, one-third of that sum—£23,000,000. Add that to the sum of £15,000,000 collected last year, and we have for the first twelve months of the War a total sum of only £38,000,000 raised by taxation to pay for the cost of the War, and if you deduct from that the amount required to pay the interest on borrowed money I would like to ask the Government how much is left to pay for the cost of the War? The sacrifice asked for is inadequate in amount and in proportion to the needs of the situation.
The War has raised the cost of the necessaries of life, but through the policy of the Government the luxuries of the people today stand at the same price as they were before the War started. We have the extraordinary contrast that in a time of increased imports and restricted exports, the Government deliberately, by their policy, allow foreign luxuries to remain to-day at the same price as they were before the War started. The present abounding 1387 prosperity will be followed by a period of adversity, and delayed action will lengthen and deepen that period of adversity. Will the House be surprised if people ask, as they will do, "what did the Government do during this time of abounding prosperity?" when, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale, uttered last week in this House, "the treasure chest containing the savings of the past was opened, and golden coin scattered in every direction."
The last point I would put is this: Is this fair to our soldiers, who may return in 1915, 1916, or 1917? What stories will they hear when they do return? They will be told stories of untold profits made by coal owners and coal distributors, by ship owners and by owners of houses where troops are billeted; stories of high wages and war bonuses. Will they not question, and rightly so, why the State allowed individuals to profit in this life and death struggle of the nation? Is it fair to our soldiers when they return that they should find, as they will, taxation higher than it is to-day, when the savings invested in the United States of America and in other parts of the world have been spent, thus restricting the ready flow of food-stuffs into our ports? Is it fair, when we are borrowing money past generations have saved, and distributing that money amongst the present inhabitants of Great Britain, that our soldiers when they return should be asked, as they will be asked, to suffer with us and to share with us, not only the commercial depression that the War will bring, but the extra financial burden of the War?
I am sorry to say that the apathy of the Government in this matter is appalling. You have, on the one hand, untold economic prosperity in Great Britain to-day; you have, on the other hand, untold slaughter in France and the Dardanelles. Will the Government, I ask, redress this balance, masters and men making large profits and good wages, and men giving their lives for their country? I press this point on the Government. I ask them in the very early days after the Recess if they will not place on the Table of this House their proposals to tax, and to tax highly, luxuries. Will they charge 16s. in the £ on war profits, and will they tax the increased income of every individual in this country? I hope they will not allow further months to elapse before they lay their proposals before this House.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made a very earnest appeal to the Government and some very searching criticism, but he found himself in the same difficulty as all of us do who address the House at this time of the afternoon, namely, of finding a Government to criticise or deal with. Having regard to the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for War has already spoken, and looking at the Front Bench opposite, I am constrained to believe that any criticisms I may have to offer with regard to the Government must be addressed to the Solicitor-General.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Although I should like particularly to address myself to the Solicitor General, much of what I want to say will have to be addressed to the Under-Secretary of State for War, although he has already addressed the House. I rather regretted that when the right hon. Gentleman was replying just now to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks)—
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I say that it is only fair to the right hon. Gentleman and myself to mention that he told me before I left the House that he did not propose to speak, and it was not through want of courtesy to him that I was not in my place when he spoke. I should have been here if I had known that he was going to reply.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity of removing the false impression which was given to the House, I am sure quite unintentionally, by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford, at the end of his speech, left the impression on the House that my hon. Friend had indulged in a criticism, not to say an attack, upon the Flying Service of this country. I am sure that those who paid attention to the speech of my hon. Friend must have realised that, so far from that being the case, he very strongly eulogised the Flying Corps and the aviators who are at the disposal of the country, and that he only made the criticism, which neither the Prime Minister nor the Under-Secretary has so far satisfactorily answered, as showing that the Government, having this magnificent body of men at their disposal, 1389 have not yet fully realised the full purposes to which that new branch of the Service might be put if it were developed to the utmost capacity to which science can now develop it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am very sorry if I did not convey the impression to the hon. Gentleman that we, the Government, were fully alive to it. I specially rose in order to say so. In regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), it is true I did not intend to make any observations on the matter after hearing everything that fell from the Prime Minister. It was only out of courtesy to the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) that I thought some observations from the War Office were desirable, and incidentally I took the opportunity of dealing with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Brentford.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I hope that nothing I have said was in any way unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. I did not intend them to be so. What I say is that neither of the replies which have come from right hon. Gentlemen opposite have shown, by the action of the Government, any proof of that realisation of its importance which the right hon. Gentleman tells us in words the Government have entertained. I am not competent, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford, to deal with the technicalities of the Flying Corps, but there is one small aspect of it to which I should like to refer, because it goes in the direction of showing that the criticism of my hon. Friend was justified. A very important branch of the Flying Service is the instruction of our pilots and observers. If my information is correct—I have no reason whatever to doubt it—the type of aeroplane which is being employed, or rather one of the types being employed for instruction at the present moment, is the Bleriot monoplane. As long ago as 1912, in consequence of a fatal accident which occurred with that type of machine, an order was issued by the War Office that the Bleriot monoplane was not to be used for the purpose of instruction. Only on the 22nd June in the present year another fatal accident occurred with that particular type of machine. It is recognised, I am told, by experts, as being the most dangerous type of aeroplane, and it has certainly been superseded by later types of the biplane, the machine which I believe is used at the front. I do not know for what reason this dangerous machine is 1390 still used for the purpose of instruction, unless it is that we are so short of the proper machines for use that they are obliged to fall back upon an obsolete machine which ought not to be in use.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman indicates dissent. Then I am entirely at a loss to know why it is. It is extremely wrong that this machine, which has been condemned as being dangerous, should be used at present, as I know it is being used in more than one school of instruction for the instruction of our pilots, therefore needlessly endangering their lives in acquiring the knowledge of what at the best is a very dangerous service. I do not know whether any Cabinet Minister is going to take part again in this Debate. If not, I cannot understand why the Under-Secretary for War paid no attention to some remarks which fell just now from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), which I thought had considerable weight. We are going to pass a Vote of Credit for another £150,000,000, and, as the hon Member observed, Parliament will shortly be adjourning for many weeks. The Government must recognise, in these circumstances especially, that nothing could be more important during these coming critical weeks than that the public should have the utmost confidence not only in the Government, but in the information which they receive. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh used the rather striking expression that many people in this country are simply starving for fuller and more correct information with regard to the operations of the War. It has been said in the House and in the Press over and over again that there is no desire in any quarter, either in the House or the country, for information which could be of value to the enemy, or which for that reason ought to be passed over in silence.
I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman, merely as an illustration of the useless and, I think, mischievous reserve which is sometimes maintained by the Government, of an episode, of perhaps no great importance in itself, which I brought to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the House in a question the other day. A good many weeks ago in the public Press a great deal was made of the fact that the British Army had succeeded in taking and occupying the 1391 position at the front known as Hill 60. The importance of this position in a tactical sense was explained to the country, and a great deal of very legitimate congratulation went through the country at this feat of arms. A good many weeks passed by and no further information was given in regard to this particular position, until a dispatch of Sir John French was published the other day. In that dispatch the Field-Marshal, in the course of his narrative, said that an attempt had been made by the Germans to recapture this position on the 1st May and that it had been repulsed. He then went on in words to the effect that a more persistent and severe gas attack enabled the enemy to reach that position on the 5th May. I thereupon put down a question to the right hon. Gentleman and asked him whether there was any and, if so, what reason why this information had been withheld from the public during all the weeks that had passed between the 5th May, when it was recaptured by the Germans, and the publication of Sir John French's dispatch? I used an expression which brought upon me the dignified reproof of the right hon. Gentleman. I ventured to say that this withholding of information wasdeceiving the publicI am quite prepared at any time to accept in a humble spirit any reproof from the right hon. Gentleman. I am not at all too proud to accept that reproof when I am convinced that I am in error, but so far am I from being convinced that I was in error on this occasion that I now deliberately repeat that the withholding of this particular information, under the circumstances, was deceiving the public. The right hon. Gentleman's answer to me was a very extraordinary one. He began his answer by intimating that, in point of fact, the position had never been recaptured by the Germans, although Sir John French declared in so many words that it had been. The right hon. Gentleman said the real fact was that this position since the early part of May had never been held by either side.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think what I suggested was that at the present moment it is not in occupation by either side. I did not say from a definite date. Perhaps the hon. Member has my answer with him.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am sorry to say I have not got it here, but the right hon. Gentleman's recollection is certainly at fault. He can obtain his answer very easily. I will pledge myself to it that the right hon. Gentleman said that from the 5th May this position had not been occupied by either side, and then he used a remarkable paraphrase. He said that the final decision which had been reached by the fighting in the early part of May had been in doubt, or words to that effect. What I particularly wished to bring to the attention of the House was that I wanted to know why this information had been withheld officially, and on that point the right hon. Gentleman gave me an answer which I dare say was quite complete and accurate, and of which I do not complain. He said that they at the War Office had received no official news about this matter until they received the dispatch of Sir John French.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am not going to stop to comment upon the very extraordinary circumstance that the War Office should have been left for several weeks in ignorance of the recapture of a position by the Germans which had been represented weeks before as a position of some importance.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Considering that this fact was perfectly well known in many newspaper offices, I wanted to know why newspapers had not been allowed to publish this news, which they had received from independent sources, and, while I was not in a position to make an assertion on the question of the Censorship, why the Censor had refused leave for the publication of this news? What was the right hon. Gentleman's answer to that? I venture to say it was one of the most amazing replies ever given by a Member of the Government in this House. He intimated that there had been no suppression of the news by the Censor, because the Censor had allowed to be published the German wireless news which contained the information. I assert that it is a little humiliating that we should have this practical intimation from a Member of the Government that on a matter of considerable interest, if not of importance, we are to regard the German news as fuller and more accurate than that which we can derive from our own sources.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I should like the hon. Member to realise that my answer to his supplementary question was to the effect that every message which has come through to us has been allowed to be published, and I gave as an instance this wireless message from a German source. It was the only one we had had, as I have informed the House before. The only other message we had was Sir John French's dispatch, which was published as soon as it could be. There was no single message which came to the War Office that was suppressed, and therefore to say that we were deceiving the public I said was not true.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman has now considerably expanded his answer. It was not in answer to a supplementary question, it was in answer to my question on the Paper that he said—it had no particular point unless it was so intended—that the passing by the Censor of the German wireless news disposed of my suggestion that there had been any censorship at all. The obvious and the only meaning of that is that we are to accept the German wireless news, if it has been passed by the Censor, as news upon which we can rely for the account of the operations of our own Army. That is a very deplorable state of affairs, and I am perfectly willing to leave it to the judgment of the House whether under those circumstances I was not, and am not, justified in describing the transaction as deceiving the public. The only reason why I bring it up now is that during the coming weeks when Parliament will not be sitting I very much hope that the Government will, so far as can be done consistently with the public safety, allow the fullest and most accurate information to be published concerning the operations of the War. Really from the very first the Government have seemed to proceed upon the assumption that this country would not stand news unless it was rosy news. In point of fact, the country is better able than the Government themselves to bear reverses when they come, having confidence that those reverses will in their turn give place to victory at the hands of the gallant men who have our fortunes in their keeping, and I hope very much that we shall have no repetition of that sort of suppression of public news, or the allowing of public news to be suppressed, and telling the country that they are to rely upon the German wireless news for their information.
1394 There is another point on which I wish to say a word. I have for some time past taken a profound interest and have looked with very great seriousness upon the question of the import of cotton from America to our enemies, and I heard with very great satisfaction what fell from the Prime Minister upon that point this afternoon. He certainly left the impression upon the House that the Government has been recognising this an an extremely grave factor in the present situation. He even went so far, which is a very rare thing for an occupant of the Treasury Bench, as to admit the fallibility of himself and his colleagues. I do not know that we could expect the Prime Minister to go further than that. But at the same time the Prime Minister, among his many gifts, has certainly the very great gift of making us all think that he is giving the most serious consideration to a subject which many weeks may pass without affording any actual proof of. On this particular point of the export of cotton the Government, as we know from answers and from Debates, has been giving its most anxious consideration for months, and some of us have really become rather impatient to know whether that consideration is ever going to issue in action. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, in a very impressive passage, spoke about the great difficulties of deciding upon a policy about which there was a great deal to be said on both sides, and on which there are alternative lines of action. He told us that we had to consider not merely whether there were certain advantages in the proposed course, but whether the disadvantages were not greater than the advantages, and he told us that he was weighing one against the other the alternative courses which could be pursued. That, of course, gives the impression of a very judicial frame of mind and a very satisfactory weighing of evidence. But the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to realise that while he talks about weighing the advantages and disadvantages of every alternative course of action he is, in point of fact, at the same time taking one definite course of action. Since the very beginning of the War the Government have been pursuing-a very definite and precise policy in this respect, although alternatives have been suggested to them from time to time, and many of us feel not merely that the Government has been too long in weighing the pros and cons of different alternative courses but that it has actually from the first been pursuing a 1395 policy which many of us regard as a very disastrous one. After what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon it would be presumption in me, and probably in any Member of the House, to speak with any sort of dogmatism as to the policy which the Government ought to pursue, but there is this to be borne in mind. Prom such sources of information as are open to the public we are led to believe, and I think it is probably the truth, that the predominant feeling in the United States, among the thinking and instructed portion of the nation, is not merely that our course in the United Kingdom, but that their course in the United States, would be rendered much more easy than it is at present if cotton were made absolute contraband of war.
It is not at all difficult to understand why that should be so. We know quite well that the feeling in the United States has been one not merely of neutrality but of friendly neutrality towards this country. I believe the great majority of the American people, at any rate of those who have influence in Government circles, is anxious, so far as they can, consistently with their neutrality, to make that neutrality beneficial to the Allies. They are not at all ready to do anything to put greater difficulties in our way, but at the same time the American nation and the American Government, very rightly and naturally, are extremely 10th to see inroads made upon doctrines which they have accepted and which have become traditional doctrines with themselves as regards their municipal law and as regards their acceptance of international law, they feel that if cotton had been made absolute contraband of war from the first we could have brought to bear, in support of our action in keeping it out of Germany, a great body of precedent in international law which has sprung from American action. We could draw precedents from the law which was created by American jurists at the time of their own Civil War, and consequently what is felt in America is that if that had been done they would then be able to allow our action to pass, when supported by precedents of that character, which they find extreme difficulty in allowing to pass without protest under the existing state of affairs, because they felt that to do so would be inconsistent with the doctrines of law which they have always accepted and are always prepared to maintain. I assume that has been fully 1396 before the minds of the Government from the first. The Prime Minister this afternoon when replying to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel) said nothing upon this point. Of course we appreciate the reasons for his reticence, and none of us wish to press either him or any Member of the Government to go too fully into the matter now. We feel that that must have been present to his mind. But at all events I hope that the Government will realise that these considerations weigh very largely, not only with us in this House who have taken an interest in the subject, but with a large section of the Press which guides opinion in this country and which has argued this case very much on the lines I have put to the House. After what the Prime Minister has said this afternoon I think we may hope that before very long a much more definite and consistent policy in this respect will be promulgated and followed by the Government. If that is so, I, for one, think not only that it will be of immense advantage from the supreme point of view of bringing the War to a speedy and successful conclusion, but that it will also have a very beneficial effect in increasing the confidence of the people of this country in the Government generally and especially in the manner of conducting the War.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not wish in any way to represent that I hold a brief for the War Office, but as I happen to be perhaps the only person in the House who was present at the recapture by the Germans of Hill 60 I may be permitted to say a word in explanation of what I think must have taken place on that occasion. I speak from recollection which I have not been able to refresh since that time. Hill 60 was a salient sticking out of the enemy's position, the capture of which was important, and its capture was represented as an act not only of great bravery and daring but of great skill on the part of the Army in France. It was counterattacked by the Germans with a mass of concentrated fire which rendered it impossible for any man to live on that salient, and it had eventually to be given up. The withdrawal of troops from it had to be conducted in secrecy, which was vital to their safety, and it was conducted by the officers in command with singular success and speed and with singularly little loss of life. It was essential that their withdrawal from the hill should not be known to the Germans. It could not therefore have been made public in this House 1397 until some time after these operations had actually taken place. When they had taken place, and the troops had been withdrawn, the matter ceased to be of urgent importance from the military point of view. I have no brief for Sir John French in the matter, and I do not know what his object was in not communicating with the War Office, but the importance of Hill 60 having passed, from the military point of view, I have not the slightest doubt that it got merged into the innumerable conflicts which were taking place all along the front, and that is the explanation why the War Office were not communicated with upon the subject until some time in June, and consequently they themselves were not in a position to make any mention of it to the public. I have refreshed my mind with the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tennant), which is quite clear upon the point. He explained to this House that after 5th May Hill 60 was not occupied by either forces, German or British. His answer is quite clear upon that point, and I think it ought to relieve the War Office from the charge, or rather from the suggestion, which has been made in the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. It. McNeill).
I would like to say a word upon the actual Vote of Credit itself. It has not been mentioned in the Debate—or, at any rate, it has not been noticed in the Debate —that the Votes of Credit and the Loans which have been made come to almost identical amounts. The total of the Votes of Credit is, I think, £1,012,000,000, while the Loans which have been made by the Treasury up to the present time, leaving out of account Treasury Bills, amount to £1,000,000,000. If that means anything at all, it means that the whole cost of the War is being financed out of Loans. I think that is a bad thing. It is quite clear that, after the War is over, unless you meet a great deal of the necessary cost of the War out of taxation, you will be faced with this position, that your expenditure in peace times will be greater than your expenditure in war time, from taxation, because the whole of the cost of the War has been met out of Loan. The amount of Loans when the War is over must be something like £1,400,000,000 or £1,500,000,000, and is may be £2,000,000,000. The interest upon that will be something like £80,000,000, and to that, if you are to create a Sinking Fund equal in amount to that which has been found necessary during peace time, you will have to add 1398 one-third, which comes to something like £75,000,000. You will be paying in interest and Sinking Fund alone something like £75,000,000 a year. At the present time you are only raising out of taxation for the War £68,000,000 a year. What will be the result of this? Supposing the War lasts the time which it is anticipated, you will be paying out of taxation a greater sum for war expenditure than you are paying when the War is actually going on. That, I am sure, is a false financial position, which will bring this country into very considerable discredit in the markets of the rest of the world.
What is the position which really ought to be adopted? You are raising for the purposes of loan already the equivalent of two years' savings of the people. Those savings amount to something like £400,000,000 a year. You have already borrow ed £1,000,000,000, which represents two and a half years' savings of the people. How can you possibly continue along a path of that sort? By the time this House reassembles I suppose we shall have spent something like £850,000,000 of the £1,000,000,000 borrowed. I do not think that is an overestimate of our expenditure up to that time. What are going to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals when the House meets again? We have had a great deal of reference both in and out of this House to what happened in the Napoleonic times. I do not think it has ever been noticed in all the references to the expenditure of that day that the amount raised by taxation then was the equivalent of one-twelfth of the whole of the national income of the country. The amount then raised by taxation came to something like £40,000,000 a year, which represented about one-twelfth of the national income. I am not talking about national revenue but national income.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
It is approximately true and it is relatively true. National income can, of course, only be estimated at the present time. Let us take the period of the Crimean War. We raised £70,000,000 during the time that war lasted for war expenditure, of which one-half came from taxation. The revenue of the country in those days was something like £600,000,000 or £700,000,000. The amount, therefore, raised by taxation in those days was one-twentieth of the national income. They were less heroic then than in the Napoleonic times. Supposing you raised 1399 in the course of this War one-twentieth of the national income for the purpose of meeting war expenditure. The national income is estimated to be something like £2,500,000,000 (twenty-five hundred millions). In order to satisfy the financial canons which have obtained in the past you must raise at least £150,000,000 out of taxation in order to make the burden of the War expenditure borne by the taxpayer of the present time equal to the burden which his forebears bore. As my hon. Friend opposite says, you really must not reduce these things to a rule-of-three sum and pick out the precise mathematical percentage that you can bear this year because you bore exactly the same percentage in previous years. Some such sum as that must be suggested as the proper amount to be contributed by the taxpayer of the present time towards the cost of the War, unless you are going to put an improper burden upon the taxpayer of the future, and unless you are going to seriously damage the credit of this country all over the world.
It is upon the credit of this country that the continuance of this War depends, and it is not only the maintenance of the War here, but the maintenance of the War by our Allies and by our Dominions, whom we are financing for the purposes of the War. In the opinion, up to the present, of all impartial observers abroad, especially from the point of view of the American financiers, the credit of this country has been wonderfully maintained. The credit of this country, I think, has depreciated on the New York Stock Exchange something like six or seven points since the beginning of the War, while the credit of Germany has depreciated something like fifteen or sixteen points, and that of France ten or twelve points. We have, therefore, up to the present time maintained our credit in the eyes of the American nation—which is the great neutral financial nation—on a hgher and a better level than that of our best friend and of our great enemy. The credit has been maintained at that high level before we raised the Loan. It will be very interesting to see how high that credit is going to stand when we have raised all that Loan and got in our £650,000,000 from the people of this country. It will be interesting for this reason, that we have exhausted by the late Loan one and a half years' savings of our people. Therefore, our only reserves 1400 in the future, so far as our own people are concerned, are economies, and so far as other people are concerned, our reserves depend upon the amount of interest we are able to pay to them for the sums we require from them. We cannot offer to the foreigner—to the American or other foreign market—a security of 4i per cent, which he would for one moment look at. Therefore, if you want to raise your money abroad you must certainly offer a higher percentage. If you wish to raise your money at home you must impose upon yourselves, either by voluntary action, or it may be by taxation, a much greater amount of saving and economy than you have adopted up to the present time.
I have put the figure at at least £150,000,000 which you will have to raise by taxation, and that corresponds curiously enough to the amount of this Vote of Credit. This is not the time or the occasion for the Government to go into the question of how the money which the Vote of Credit gives them the right to spend is to be raised. It is quite clear that that is not the duty of the Government now, but, on the other hand, I do think that it is the duty of Members of the House of Commons to remind the Government that when they come here, as they must come here for more money in the autumn, they must do two things. First of all, they must make the taxpayer of the present bear a burden which would be equivalent to that which was borne by the taxpayer of the past in times of certainly equal, if not of greater, emergency. In the second place, they must impose on the people of this country a system of taxation which will force them to be economical, and, by the economy which they will be forced to practice, to supply the Government in the future with the funds which they will not be able to raise from outside, except on most onerous terms.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I would like to support the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hobhouse) and by Members in all parts of the House to the Government to call upon the taxpayers of the present time to bear a larger proportion of the cost of the War than they are now bearing. We have had everywhere lately a very welcome recognition of the need of increased economy, if we are to succeed in this War. We recognise that this is going to be very largely a struggle of finance between the groups of nations concerned, 1401 and success will depend upon our power to hold out the longest. For this purpose it is absolutely necessary that reckless and wasteful expenditure should be curtailed, and that everything possible should be done to conserve our resources. We have had speeches made by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary for the Colonies on the necessity for private economy and national thrift. Pamphlets are also being issued, I believe, and we are now going to have a thrift campaign. I am the last to deny the necessity for these speeches or for these pamphlets. No one can look round the country at the present time without seeing that amongst a large class of persons there is still practically undiminished expenditure upon luxuries and in the way of extravagant living. I do not deny that very large sacrifices have been made, and are being made, but we have to remember that we are living in a time when the incomes of many people are very inflated in consequence of the War and that, except amongst the professional classes, very large profits are being made. For that reason there is a good ground for the appeals that have been made by the Prime Minister and others to the nation to exercise thrift. The Prime Minister is in the fortunate position of a man who not only can give advice to the nation in this matter, but who can see that his advice is carried out by the simple method of taxing luxuries and by putting a larger amount of direct taxation upon the richer classes than they have hitherto borne. I think that unless steps of that kind are soon taken the country will find itself in a very serious financial position in regard to this War. I do not now wish to repeat all the arguments which have been used as to the proportion which has been borne by taxation and by loan. It is quite evident that we are now paying almost the entire cost of the War by loan and practically no portion by taxation, and that at a time when incomes are inflated in consequence of the vast expenditure upon arms we are taking no toll whatever from these great profits to pay for the War out of which these men are making such profits. I think that that is a very serious position, and I regret that during the whole of this Debate, although speeches have been made from all parts of the House, by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason), the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Molteno), the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), and the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. G. Collins), and latterly 1402 by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and although all these powerful appeals have been made to the Government, neither the Prime Minister himself nor any Member speaking from the Treasury Bench, has made any reference whatever to this question. We have private appeals for thrift, but we have no indication that the Government are going to take this matter in hand, and are going to see that we conserve our resources in the best possible way by putting taxes on luxuries at the present time, and thus ensuring that we shall be in a better position to pay for the War.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Montagu)
In reply to the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Morrell) I must confess that this Debate has come with some surprise to me, for I have always understood since this War began that the occasions on which Votes of Credit came before the House were as a rule utilised by the House for the purpose of considering the conduct of the War, reserving, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the question how the money ought to be raised, either by loan or by taxation, to some other Debate. The hon. Member for Greenock who made so forcible an appeal to the Government in the early part of the Debate, has made a similar appeal for the conviction which he holds, I think on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill, and has often told us on suitable occasions how necessary he thought it was that there should be an increase of taxation, and on each occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor have agreed that there is no difference whatever between the views of my hon. Friend and the views of the Government on this point. It was only a few weeks ago, in the Debate on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, that various suggested Amendments were postponed for consideration on the acknowledged ground that this financial year differs from all other financial years, so that it would be necessary to have a second Finance Bill this year; and that can only mean one thing: that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is coming down to the House of Commons for the very reason which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this afternoon, and for the very reason which the hon. Member for Greenock, and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) mentioned this afternoon—because the Government believe that the taxpayer 1403 ought to be called upon to pay a greater share of the cost of this War than he has been doing up to the present time.
It is quite impossible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock has said, to allow the soldier to come home in 1917 and find that we are borrowing money to pay the interest on the money which we have borrowed. But, then, we are a long way from 1917 yet. We are a long way from the end of this financial year, the arrangements for which are subject to emendation, by reason of the fact that it would be necessary, in order to put the finances of this War on what all are agreed is a more satisfactory basis, to increase the amount of taxation. In 1914–15 the War taxation amounted to £18,990,000. In 1915–16 the estimate is £68,500,000. In 1916–17 the estimate on the present basis is £72,000,000. You ought to compare that, not with the ultimate cost of the whole War, but you ought to take it with the avowed intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase taxes in the proportion of the expenditure on the War which we have now already incurred. It does not follow, if I may say so with all respect, that any new and future loans will differ from the other loans, because we have taken the savings of the people for one and a half years already, because the loans which we have raised are largely to be spent in this country, and will be back in the pockets of the people by the time that we ask for the new Loan and will be available for the future assistance of the Government, one can hope, if the War is prolonged.
Further it does not necessarily follow that by taxing the people of this country you promote thrift. It is quite true that if you take money out of their pockets by taxation they will have less to spend, but unless you first convince them of the necessity of saving, and unless you first convince them that they have a margin to save, every increase in the cost of living is followed by a demand for an increase in wages, and the consumption of luxuries goes on the same as before. The two things must go hand in hand. You must, when you have to tax, tax for war purposes the people who are in sympathy with you in your desire to reduce the cost. The burden does not press on all alike. It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Burnley said, that there is a large number of people who are enjoying greater incomes now than they enjoyed in times of 1404 peace, and there are many other people who are enjoying less. When proposals for taxation come before the House I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government will come with a larger demand on the people who are enjoying more, and will refrain as far as it is possible under any known system of taxation from increasing the burden of those who are already suffering serious privations from the War.
§ Mr. HIGHAM
I desire to call the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War to some complaints which have been made to me in reference to the subject of munitions. The most serious complaints are in connection with the fuses. If you take fuse, number 100 Mark I., which is used by the Ordnance Department for the 3.3 high-explosive shell and the 4.5 and 6-inch shell, the disadvantages of these fuses are so manifold that the makers of munitions have not hesitated to say that the use of that shell can only be due to a great mistake on the part of some person responsible for the making of it—I do not mean the makers of it, but on the part of those who are responsible for the adoption of that type. I do not ask for a reply to-day, but I would like to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the difference between that fuse and the one which is used by the French Army. In the first place, the French fuse was invented between the year 1899 and 1908. They spent nine years on the invention. They perfected it in 1908. It has stood the test of seven years' manœuvres and of eleven months' warfare, and has never been changed the whole time. Our fuses are being changed at the present moment almost every week. The suggestion of the ammunition makers all over the country is that there should be a serious alteration in our type of fuse, which has not yet stood the test of a single month's actual warfare.
A serious point in connection with the matter is this. I have here a French fuse —[exhibits fuse]—and the bronze part of it, which is the most important in the French fuse of the "soixante-quinze "guns, the efficiency of which no one contests for a single moment, contains only 4¼ ounces of bronze. The result is that when the shell is fired this little bronze fuse is dissipated into the smallest fragments which no one can pick up owing to the manner in which they are scattered about. The British fuse contains 32 solid ounces of brass, which lands in the enemies lines, 1405 and cannot burst in fragments, so that it can be picked up by the enemy, taken into his own foundries, and reconverted into the fuses which he requires. I have not seen the German fuses, but the munition firms tell me that they contain only 4½ ounces of bronze, so that if we fire from our cannons only 40,000 shells per day— and we are making efforts now to produce 100,000 as soon as we can—or if the Germans only pick up 40,000 fuses, they get enough brass to make 300,000 fuses per day of their own. There is nothing more serious before the War Office at the present moment than this particular fact.
There is another disadvantage. If you manage to make 100,000 fuses per day, containing 2 lbs. of brass, instead of 4¼ ounces, you lay upon the transport of this country every day the necessity of carrying 100 extra tons of metal and shipping it across the Channel, putting it in motor wagons, and conveying it to the base, and transporting it from the base to the firing line. There is an enormous waste of money, effort and labour there. We are hearing appeals for thrift all round us, but French fuses are being made for 7s. 6d. each, while the British fuses are being made at 15s. each, and they are not a bit more efficient. I will not say that they are less efficient, but they are costing double the money. If you make up to 100,000 fuses a day, then you are wasting on the price of the fuses alone £40,000 per day of English money. That is over £250,000 per week. We are told that the French fuses would not fit the British shell. That is quite true, but the only alteration required is that the aperture in the nose of the shell shall be made rather less. It is not half so serious an alteration as the alterations that have been set down in this fuse during the last few days.
There is an advantage in another respect, because the aperture in the nose of the British shell is so large that a plug has to be made to stop it up to prevent, I suppose, the dirt getting into the shell, and our gunners have carefully to screw the plug out and throw it away before they begin to insert the fuse into the shell. If two men are side by side with French and British made shells and fuses, the man who is handling the French shells can put fuses into three shells while the English gunner can only put a fuse into one shell. Now for the shell itself. Everyone who has seen one of these shells knows that there is a band of copper around it. The 1406 French band of copper is a plain, simple, straight band, which has only just the slope necessary to bring it down to the flatness of the shell. As to the British copper band, I cannot give a better illustration of its shape than to say that it is in the shape of an exaggerated note of interrogation. There are ever so many curves all the way down, and it takes the workmen six times as long to shape the copper band before it is put on the British shell as it takes to make the copper band for the French shell. If you take both fuse and shell, the whole thing is the fad of the expert and nothing else. If you consider the advantages and disadvantages there is no comparison as between the British and the French fuses.
I said that we were changing our mind from week to week. During the last seven days a suggestion has been sent down to the munition makers, that instead of using two pounds of copper they were to use steel, and copper plate that steel. In making the British fuse there are eighty-seven separate gaugings required, and in every part it has to be fitted to the ten thousandth part of an inch, for if there is the least variation, then the whole fuse is of no use. Every man of business knows, and every expert knows, that you cannot take this fuse and use steel with a deposit of copper upon it. The solution is deposited unevenly, and this is not only a disadvantage, but fatal, having regard to the number of places in which it has to be deposited. It is utterly impossible to measure to the ten thousandth part of an inch when the steel is receiving the copper plating, though that is necessary if the plug has to be inserted properly. The consequence would be, I am afraid, that a large number of the fuses made according to this new method will be unfit for use, and I think the suggestion to which I have referred is the silliest that possibly could be made.
To pass from the technical point to the ordinary business point of view in regard to business matters, I know a firm which has been supplying material to the War Office. They quoted gross weight, and intimated that if the empties were sent back they would allow for their value. The value of the empties came to £120 or £150 out of the whole value, but only about £5 worth of the empties have been returned. The amount of credit for the small returns was taken off the invoice, but the invoice was sent back with the explanation that gross weight was to be charged for. The 1407 firm replied that they had given credit for goods returned; they received no answer, and the money was paid to them in gross. In the case of another firm, they supplied from 80,000 to 100,000 cases of jam. They asked that The cases should be returned. The supplies were sold in this country. As to the jars, the pottery firms cannot get clay to make them, nor can they get labour. The maker of the wooden cases cannot get timber to make cases, and labour is scarce with everybody as well. The value of empty jars and cases was about £3,000, and the cases, which under the arrangement were to be returned, have not been sent back. The goods were delivered by the railway wagons, which returned empty week after week. These business methods are enough to sicken any business man in the country. I have attended meeting after meeting to speak about thrift, and when I mentioned thrift, where these matters were known, I was laughed at. They told me to go back to the House of Commons and tell the War Office that they were to use businesslike methods such as were adopted by every business house in the country. But I cannot get anything done. I have spoken privately, and I have spoken in this House, but I cannot get anything done. The empties which could be returned by the War Office in this country would amount to thousands of pounds per week.
I pass on to another section of complaints. There is a firm in Lancashire who have large iron forge works, and who were commandeered by the War Office at the beginning of the War; they had asked scores of times at the War Office about obtaining war badges, and yet they had not got a single one up to the time I was spoken to, and their men are regularly leaving to enlist. Another firm in Lancashire, one of the eminent firms in the textile machinery trade, with over 10,000 men, were practically idle, so far as the War is concerned, for the first eight months. They have been so idle in connection with the War that a firm which gave them an order for £70,000 worth of machinery had that machinery delivered in five weeks. Hundreds of small firms make kitchen appliances, but this firm to which I refer have the finest machinery in the world, and they could make most of the goods that are wanted by the War Department, yet this big firm has been left aside all these months with orders for only canteen 1408 kitchens. Last Thursday week the War Office wanted 10,000 hand grenades to be shipped last Tuesday. They asked the same firm that their men should work night and day—from Thursday, over Friday, Saturday, and all day on Sunday—in order to produce the shells. They did work, and they did not complain, nor do I complain of that; what I complain of is the inconsistency of management which leaves a firm idle for months and then suddenly asks for continuous work upon an order. There is an engineering firm in Lancashire which can make cannon and other things, and the representative of that firm last week but one was at the War Office and Munition Office for three consecutive days to get business. They could make almost anything that is wanted by the War Department. All this makes Lancashire business men sick of the Government's methods. These are not minor details of which I am speaking. Some of them are of exceedingly great importance in their direct effect in dealing with the War. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would seriously take in hand some of these complaints. I do not believe for a minute that a Minister has any right to stand up for any incompetent servant, I do not care who that servant may be, I do not think a Minister ought to be allowed to shelter any man who makes blunders, or is incompetent for his work, though I must confess I have very little hope of any serious reform in the War Office. In my opinion it is necessary to take two or three of the principal offenders and hang them in front of that great building in Whitehall, and leave them hanging there as an example and a warning to all who serve in that Department.
§ Sir HAROLD ELVERSTON
In regard to the complaints which my hon. Friend has just made I would add one other. Last week I was talking to a Lancashire engineer, who complained that he had returned to him from France about 1,000 of these plugs, which the hon. Member has described, merely because the handle of the top which the man uses in unscrewing the plug was a thousandth part of an inch away from the gauge. He is saying things about the War Office, and is using language compared with which that of my hon. Friend is very mild indeed. I wish to make an appeal to the Under-Secretary for War, and it is that he should issue instructions that the transfer of men from the Royal Army Medical Service Corps to the fighting line should cease. I have before 1409 me an appeal from members of the Society of Friends pointing out that the men who have joined the Army Medical Service Corps did so on the distinct understanding, or in the belief at any rate, that they would be employed, not in fighting, but in relieving the wounded in the field. It is a work which does all honour to these men. They have shown that they are prepared to face danger in warfare, and I think that the understanding on which they joined ought certainly to be kept. The members of the Society of Friends who have written to me on this point think that they are suffering from a distinct breach of faith on the part of the War Office. I certainly think that if it is necessary to transfer these men from the Service into which they entered, it ought not to be into the fighting line, but into the Army Service Corps. I have been engaged in recruiting, and time and time again I have heard complaints as to breaches of faith by the War Office, and I can assure the Government that it has really a very serious effect on recruiting. If the War Office officials were more in touch with the sentiments of the people in various parts of the country, I am quite sure that, in matters of this kind, and also in matters dealing with such things as bounties, National Reserve men, and allowances to dependants upon soldiers, they would act in a very different way from the way in which they are acting at the present time.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I desire to congratulate my hon. Friend (Mr. Higham) upon his excellent speech. We are getting on in the criticism which is being slowly directed against the administration of the War Office, and it will before long be known to the public what is the position of Members of this House who, up to the present, have given the Government a free hand, but whose criticisms directed against them are resented. I am sent to this House by numbers of men who are shortly leaving for the front. These men are going out to fight without the War Office equipping them with machine guns, but if the Government had had any business organisation behind them they would have been able to send these men out thoroughly and properly equipped, to meet the enemy who is equipped in every detail.
My first complaint against the War Office is that on the 30th of December last an offer was made to supply a minimum of 20,000 machine guns of the Colt pattern, the first 1410 delivery to commence within six weeks. That offer was pigeonholed by the War Office, and in reply to a question which I asked to-day I was informed by the Financial Secretary that General French was not even acquainted with the offer. The attitude of the War Office was that they were not going to take any type of gun except the gun that they considered to be their standard—that is, the Maxim. It is not in the interests of the nation that I should disclose how many machine guns we are at present having made in this country, but I am entitled to say this, that our actual wasteage of guns at present is larger than the number of machine guns we are making to-day. That being the case I asked, Why did you refuse to use this gun when you knew last October that the War had developed into a machine-gun war, and why did you reject the gun which is the standard weapon of the United States Government and of the Canadian Government and of other Governments? The War Office may think that all the ability and all the brains rest in Whitehall, but they might, at all events, give the Americans some credit that when they equip their Army and Navy they give them a gun which is capable of doing effective work It is perfectly outrageous that the Government should say when this offer was made that this gun was not suitable. I do not say that this gun is as good as the Maxim gun, but there is not a single officer at the front, including General French if he were asked, who would not have welcomed this gun, but nobody would consult them. We had to have thousands of men to hold the first-line trenches, whereas the German trenches have been held by a few men with machine guns.
What is the reason why these guns were not ordered? The Treasury have not placed any difficulties whatever in the way. The Minister of Munitions has placed no difficulty in the way of the War Office having all the money they wanted for the conduct of the War. What did they do? They simply turned the offer down. When I asked them in this House they did not even know that they had had the offer. It always takes about half a dozen questions to elucidate anything in connection with the War Office, since they always endeavour to evade the main issue, but I think the country ought to know who is responsible for refusing to order a gun which would, if the Army had it to-day, be invaluable. [An HON. MEMBER "Who is the head of the War Office?'] I have 1411 never thought it right in this House to attack General von Donop. I have always gone to the head of the War Office, Lord Kitchener. I do not believe in going to subordinates, and in Parliament we have a Minister responsible and not subordinates. My hon. Friend the Eye-Witness with the Canadian Corps, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Sir Max Aitken) is a well-known, distinguished Canadian officer, and what do the Canadians say about this gun that was turned down by the War Office? The Canadian Contingent brought this gun over, and the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne tells me that this Colt gun held up several German assaults, and had given entire satisfaction, and yet our men are left to fill the first line of trenches in thousands when they could have held those lines with a tenth of the men if they had been supplied with these machine guns. Then we are told we are not to criticise the War Office. Who is responsible, I ask? Someone must be responsible. I do not know whether it was brought before the attention of Lord Kitchener or not.
To-day the Prime Minister tells us that he is the servant of the House of Commons, but really people sitting on these benches may regard such a statement as a pure farce. In point of fact, the Executive at the present time gags the Press and gags the House of Commons. The House of Commons is servile just as much as the Press is servile, with the exception of one single group who have the courage and honesty to deal with these scandals which have arisen. Let us see where all this leads to. The Prime Minister says he is the servant of the House of Commons, and yet although we have men who are responsible for this shortage of munitions, for the shortage of guns, and the shortage of machine guns, not a single change has been made and the same men who made those errors are still in the War Office to-day and have not been removed. What has been the object of my Friends and myself who have moved in this matter. We have had no object to serve except to see that the War was conducted efficiently and to turn out all those men who have failed in their duty.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I do not care whether I get any credit for it or not. I am doing my duty, and I am going to con- 1412 tinue to do so to the best of my ability. The Prime Minister goes down to Newcastle and he makes a speech, and he tells the people that the movements of our Armies and of our Allies have not been hampered for want of ammunition and want of munitions, and when he comes back here he will not tell us who gave him this information. We all know he said it believing that what he said was absolutely true.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
It was amazing the indignation there was from everyone in the front who knew the truth. The War Office, apparently, did not know whether Hill 60 was taken or not, although everybody in the House knew, so that what I am saying is not surprising when they do not even know what is actually going on at the front. I put down a question today with regard to the spoon-feeding of Canadians. The Canadians are spoon-fed with lies. Let me tell the House what happened. A representative of the "Canadian Gazette" had an interview with an officer who had returned from the front. That officer stated at that interview that he was very disheartened when our reply of shells was one shell to twenty shells of the Germans. He then went on to say that the men were as happy as could be when they had a good backing of artillery. Will the House believe that the Censor struck out the first part of the sentence, that the enemy had been firing twenty shells to our one, and left in the latter part that the men was as happy as could be when they had the backing of good artillery. That is the kind of spoon feeding on lies we have had in this country. It is said, if you are going to ask questions which have been censored in the Press, it is an abuse of the position as Member of Parliament. I am not going to accept any marching orders from a clerk in a Censor's office. I have my duty to perform. What did the Government tell us? They said that the Press would hot be criticised or assailed in any way by the Government so long as they kept to actual criticism of Ministers, and if information was not given to the enemy. What is there in that statement made to this representative by this Canadian officer that the Germans were firing twenty shells to our one. The Germans knew perfectly well they were firing twenty shells, though the officer did not speak the truth, because many Canadians tell me that the proportion was not 1413 twenty to one but rather more than thirty or forty to one, and that at a time when the Prime Minister tells us our operations were not impeded for "want of munition.
Let me come to another case of an interview that was entirely struck out. The manager of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company, Mr. Butler, had an interview with the London representative of the "Canadian Gazette, "and in that interview he said he had made repeated offers of shells to the War Office. He said they were prepared, I will not say in what period of time, to deliver 5,000,000 shells for the use of the Army, and that was in January last. He also said that Canada could multiply her output of munitions four or five times if the Government had ordered, but they had not placed the orders. He said he had seen General von Donop and that he said munitions were not required. I could give any number of cases where people had seen General von Donop, who had refused to place orders for shells and said we had enough. Mr. Butler in this interview said it "was grossly unfair for the Government to send the hon. Member for Black friars (Mr. Barnes) and other people to Canada to take skilled workmen away out of the Canadian factories which were working short time, and that if the Government would only place orders with Canada the Canadian manufacturers would see that the Government got the munitions. All that was censored. That is a distinct breach of faith on the part of the Government, because there is not one single part of that interview which any Minister could get up and say would be harmful if the enemy knew, because the same statements had been made by an hon. Member on the other side of the House nearly two months ago. Notwithstanding that, the Canadian people are to have their skilled men taken away from Canada and are not allowed even to complain or send a message through the Press of an interview with the manager of one of our great industrial firms. So much for shells. I could go on multiplying cases, because it is perfectly well known that the War Office have refused to accept offers, and we have now to rely on a man who will carry on the business in a very different way from that in which it has been carried on in the past.
I will now come to the next point in what I call the deliberate misrepresentation of the War Office. When I first came to this House I asked a question about a 1414 series of confidential telegrams during the War, and a Minister got up and gave me an answer which was a deliberate lie. That is fourteen or fifteen years ago. An Under-Secretary came to me and said, "Do you know anything about these telegrams?" I replied, "I happen to have copies of them in my pocket. "I afterwards put another question, and the truth at last came out. These people who answer Parliamentary questions take a kind of fiendish delight in saying that they have successfully evaded questions in Parliament. My right hon. Friend the present Under-Secretary of State for War is becoming an adept in the same art of evading the main issue by some humorous remark which takes the House away from the question to which an answer is desired. There is nothing more difficult than to get out the truth in answer to a question. Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, says that a Member must have only three or four shots, and as a rule we do not get those. A Minister is generally able to evade the question. I will give a case in point. In the early part of April I wanted to know whether we were paying a royalty to Krupps on fuses. The Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) asked a similar question, and the answer was that the War Office were making inquiries. I then gave notice of the following simple and plain question:To ask the Under-Secretary for War if lie will say the amount of patent royalty paid by Hip Majesty s Government on each fuse manufactured in this country since the present War; whether on all orders given to manufacturers, a royalty is reserved; and to whom is this money payable?The answer was:—Mr. Baker: Krupp's British patent, to winch I assume that the hon. Member refers, expired in July last, and no royalties are payable as from that date. I understand, however, that private arrangements existed between the patentees and two firms in this country, under which payments might continue. Inquiry is being made into the terms and legal effect of these arrangements under present conditions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1915, col. 1285, Vol. LXXL]That did not carry us much farther. I put down another question:—To ask the Financial Secretary to the War Office whether, seeing Krupp's patent for fuses expired last July, he will say who are the two firms in this country who entered into private arrangement with Krupp's to continue the payments; whether His Majesty's Government have paid these two firms and other firms a price for fuses which includes a royalty of 9d. per fuse and in some cases 1s. per fuse: whether this represents a charge of £5,000 per day; and will he say why should His Majesty's Government pay loyalty on a patent which has expired?When I framed that question I thought I had covered every point and that the War Office could not wriggle out of it. However, you cannot make sure that a Minister 1415 will answer every point in a question.
Let us see what the answer was:—Mr. Baker: Royalty, as such, is not being paid by Hi3 Majesty's Government. The firms in questionI will not say who they are, but I know who they are, and so do many other Members. Why should not the House know the firms who entered into this arrangement? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"] I will come to that a little later.The firms in question, before the War, made commercial agreements with the patentees by which, in return for the disclosure of certain trade secrets relating to these fuses, the payments were to be continued after expiry of the patent. These arrangements, no doubt, affect the prices charged, but, as I have already stated, the legal position under present conditions is now the subject of inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1915, col. 1818, Vol. LXXI.]A fortnight ago another question was put down, and the Financial Secretary to the War Office—who was new to the Department—got up and said that he knew nothing about the business at all; he did not know even that the patent had expired. What happened was this: On all orders given out by the Government they have allowed a royalty of from 9d. to 1s. to be paid in respect of this Krupp patent. The patent expired last year. Why have the Government since that date allowed to the manufacturers, as stated in the order, a certain amount of money in respect to that patent which was to be paid into a special fund? I know what the answer will be: That instead of that money being paid to Krupp's we are going to take it and hold it against future liabilities when the War is ended. What is the good of taking your own money out of your own pocket and keeping it as a reserve to meet an unknown contingency at the end of the War? If this patent has expired—as it has —what right have the armament firms who entered into a bargain with Krupp's to continue to have the royalty paid? It is not honest. Where is the consideration? The Government are paying armament firms for a patent for which at any time the Government need not have paid them if they did not think fit to do so, and in this case the patent has expired, but the royalty is still being charged. That is not business.
As to what my hon. Friend said about these people at the War Office being hanged, I am thoroughly in agreement with him. I should like to take a hand in getting rid of these incompetent people. But here we are at the present time against such conditions that we must wait. Not 1416 that I approve of the policy of "waiting and seeing "which the Government have pursued with such masterly inactivity for the last two or three years. When the truth as to how the War Office is being conducted is known, if the House of Commons does not move, the country will. It is all very well for the War Office to get up and say, "We have got a great organisation which has grown from a few hundred thousand to three millions of men, and you do not make allowance for that "We make all allowance for it, but what we ask the Government to do, and what we want them to do, is to do what Germany did at the outbreak of war. Instead of getting all the dug-outs and half-pay officers, who would never have earned £100 a year in business—it is not their fault; they have not been brought up as business men—they should have done what the Germans did. At the beginning of the War Germany called together all the heads of the great industries, and gave them control, the management, and the running of the commercial side of the War Office. Our War Office did not do this. Here everything is settled by Lord Kitchener in the War Office. There has been no decentralisation.
The Army Clothing Department is the only one that has worked well, and that Department in point of fact has been managed by a committee of business men, over whom my hon. Friend presides. They have not been hampered by the War Office. The committee is one composed of business men, people who are in the trade, and who knew what they were about. In this case the Government selected men of honour and integrity, men in whom they could trust, and these men have run the clothing department in the War Office in a businesslike way. In consequence we have not only got sufficient clothing for the troops, but more. Take every other Department which has been centralised in Whitehall. What do you get? I have lived for a good many years within two or three miles of a military camp, and one gets to know men connected with the camp. I get regular letters from the front, and I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench has now given Members of Parliament the privilege that their letters from the front are not to be opened. Therefore officers know now that they can write to any Member of this House without the fear of getting their communications opened. That is a very valuable privilege. Let the War Office remember 1417 this: That men are coming back from the front on leave and mean to let the country know the truth. The War Office have stifled and gagged the Press, but the people who are coming back from the front, that is the men who come back on leave, have arranged between themselves to let the country know what the real truth is.
With regard to the Press Censorship, I am not going to deal with the Canadian case in which an answer was given in the House to-day. The right hon. Gentleman asks me: "Are you going on all night?" If necessary I will go on all night, and next week and the week after. Does the right hon. Gentleman suppose that the matter is not of sufficient importance, while the Government of which he is a Member brings in a Bill last night to deal with the question of grouse shooting in Scotland? They take up the time of the House with a Bill of that description, and we are not to discuss a question of vital importance! We must devote time to discussion on grouse shooting, which appears at all events to be of some importance to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, whilst apparently we have not to deal with the question which is after all vital to the interests of the nation! The right hon. Gentleman may think that the centre of intelligence rests at the War Office. He thinks so; we think otherwise I We are sent here by great industrial constituencies, and we are not going to be kicked by the Government. We are going to take every possible occasion we can in a humble way of letting the country know what is the state of affairs, owing to this gross incompetence on the part of the War Office, who are responsible, for example, in sending out my Constituents, who are leaving next week or the week after for the front, not armed with machine guns on account of the gross incompetence of the War Office in refusing orders for guns which, at all events, in the opinion of Canadian officers at the front, have saved them, and would save many other lives of those who are now going out from among my own Constituents. The right hon. Gentleman asks: "Am I going on all night?" Yes, Sir, I shall go on just as long as I like I am not going to be brow-beaten by any man sitting on that Front Bench, and least of all by anyone associated with the War Office.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I should like to call attention to one or two matters to which I have directed the attention of the War 1418 Office on a previous occasion. I would like to thank the Under-Secretary for War, who, so far as he is personally concerned, has always attended with very great care to the matters that I have had to address to him. Any remarks I am about to make do not affect his Department, but as I understand it, more particularly that Department in charge of the Financial Secretary. My complaint is this: I have received a great many complaints that the War Office does not supply in some convenient centre in Scotland samples of the things which they require. I have a letter here from a firm in Edinburgh, of which I am sorry to say I did not keep the address. I called at the War Office with this letter, which said that the firm had been asked to send prices for certain things to the War Office by 26th February. They were told that they would have to refer to Woolwich, where they would get their specifications. The firm immediately wrote to Woolwich and asked them to supply the specifications for this particular article. I am sorry to say that the reply did not come until 25th February, which was one day before the estimate had to be in the War Office. As the things which they required necessitated this firm, after the specifications were supplied, getting into touch with other firms, what may be called sub-firms, the original firm could not send in their estimate by 26th February.
They wrote to me and asked me to see the War Office and get them to send out, with their applications for prices, specifications for the articles required. I called at the War Office. In my innocency I left the original letter there, and they promised to go into it. I have received no reply. I cannot get any information. I should like to give another case which was also sent to me from Edinburgh. On April 29th, a firm wrote to me to this effect:—We are conducting a business which makes all kinds of canvas goods. We are on the Government list under this name. The only method by which we can see the samples of goods required is by going to Woolwich. We have already sent to Woolwich to inspect samples, so as to be able to tender. Firms from which we receive other variously priced articles make it necessary that in each case we journey to Woolwich. That is almost an impossible thing to do. At Glasgow Chamber of Commerce a few samples are shown, but every time we have gone to inspect a particular sample it was not amongst those. If samples were left on view at Glasgow, or similar places, it would help the matter. We would ask yon to look into this, and see what can be done, as we can be quite useful at the present time in certain kinds of Government work, but we find it almost impossible to arrange under existing conditions. We shall be glad if you will give the matter your attention.1419 I sent that letter to the War Office, and a little later I called at the War Office. Indeed, I have sent two or three letters to the War Office with a view to get some information, and I am sorry to say I have been unable to do so. In case the letter was lost I wrote to the firm and asked it to send me a copy, and that I sent to the War Office. I have a letter in reply, saying:—Mr. H. W. Foster has asked me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 12th July, bringing to his notice suggestions by Messrs. Thomas Rankine and Son, for a centre in Scotland, where samples can be inspected by firms tendering for the War Office, and to say that the matter will receive his attention.Is it fair after three months to send me a letter saying that the matter will receive attention? I thoroughly support the observations which have fallen from my hon. Friend. There is great dissatisfaction in the country on the part of business people because they are not allowed to render service to the country which they think they can render. It is a very simple matter. I raised this question in the early days of the War. I suggested that these samples should be supplied to some centre in Scotland. It is still under consideration. I repeat, it is not fair. Edinburgh and Glasgow and other towns in Scotland are a long way from Woolwich, and samples of the articles required should be placed in convenient centres of Scotland, so that the people of Scotland should have an opportunity of tendering in a proper manner. The hon. Member for Mansfield referred to the satisfactory way in which the tailoring was carried on. I am bound to say that something is to be desired in this matter in Edinburgh in respect of some of the battalions. At the time battalions were waiting for their clothing, 55 per cent, of the tailors and tailoresses of the city were on short time. We were unable to get tenders, while tenders were sent to America. That was not fair; that was not business.
We had a good deal of criticism from the Opposition Benches, more particularly from the Leader of the Opposition, who said these things should be carried on in a businesslike manner and that there should be a business man associated with the Government. I do not see much alteration since the Coalition Government was formed in the matter of business arrangements. What the Government should have done at the outset of the War was to divide the Board of Trade, the Office of Works, the Admiralty, and the War Office into different sections, and to 1420 have asked Members of the House who knew particular trades—those, for instance, who understood the wood trade— to form a sort of Committee of this House to help and advise. The same thing precisely applies to shipping. There is far too much resting on the President of the Board of Trade. I question whether there is a man in the Government who has worked harder than he has, but no man can do the work resting on his shoulders and if that big Department had been divided into different sections, and Members who knew something about particular trades had been asked to advise the Government on those points and render them assistance, I believe that in these different Departments there would have been a different state of things. What to me is so sad is that when men are willing to render any service they can to their country, business methods, and the help which business people could have rendered to the Government, have been so completely despised.
I regret having to speak in this way, because I recognise to the full that the Under-Secretary of State for War has done his best. It is only fair to say this is not directed against him personally, because he and his Secretary have shown the greatest courtesy. They have worked exceedingly hard. What we do complain is that the War Office as a whole on the business side has been deplorably deficient. I sincerely trust that we shall have placed in some convenient centre of Scotland samples of articles required by the War Office, and that the Department in asking for tenders should at the same time accompany their letter with specifications of the articles they require, and not wait for a fortnight, or three weeks, when it is too late to send tenders in. It is a matter of considerable concern to Scotland. I have purposely avoided asking questions in the House because I think the War Office should be free to attend to its business; but one gets tired of waiting for months, and I trust that, as a result of this Debate, we shall have better methods of business carried out in the War Office.
§ Sir FREDERICK CAWLEY
It is extremely depressing, I think, for an ordinary Member of this House, and I believe it is very depressing to people in the country to hear of these indictments against the War Office, such as those made by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Higham) and the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham), and no sort of 1421 answer is really given to them. Those indictments made in the House are only what every Member of this House is hearing every day. We are hearing of the gross incompetence of the War Office—that the War Office is a sort of corporation; that the War Office has got no soul. It is inexplicable to me that the head of the War Office, the Secretary of State for War, does not give some sort of answer to all these indictments made against the War Office. We have nothing to complain about the Under-Secretary, and I do not want to make any charge against any of the officials like Von Donop, or any of the other people whom some persons blame, because if anyone ought to give an explanation about this matter, or anyone is to blame, it is the head of the War Office. I do not wish to make any charge against Lord Kitchener, but Lord Kitchener is the Secretary of State for War, and Lord Kitchener is the man who ought to defend the War Office and say whether these charges are true or whether they are not true.
Thousands of our troops we are told have died for want of ammunition and machine guns. Something has been said about hanging someone. I do not want particularly to hang anybody, but what I want to be assured is that these men who have proved themselves so grossly incompetent shall not continue to have a chance of being as incompetent in the future as they have been in the past. What guarantee have we in this House—what guarantee has the country—that the same mistakes, the same gross incompetence will not be exercised in the future as in the past? We have no guarantee. The same men are there. It is true we have got a Coalition Government. If rumours are true, the Coalition Government was formed to save someone who ought to have been brought to book by the late Government. The country is getting very uneasy and very depressed. We are always hearing these things, and are getting depressed about them. We want to know whether we are really going to win this War. We hear that the reason we cannot win is the gross incompetence of the War Office in not having provided our soldiers with ammunition. All these things were known. The shortage of machine guns was known last September. I remember seeing in the paper myself that we were very badly provided with machine guns in comparison with Germany. Ten months had gone by and we were still short of machine guns; and then we hear from the hon. Member 1422 for Mansfield—and it is not contradicted— that thousands of a good machine gun were offered to our Army. If these offers had been accepted, thousands of lives would have been saved, and yet if any hon. Member criticises the Coalition Government he is supposed to be unpatriotic. I do feel very strongly that those men who are responsible for this state of things ought not to have the chance of doing the same thing again. I think it is really about time somebody spoke up. The hon. Member for Sowerby made a very eloquent speech. He said firms in Lancashire, who were pining for orders and were slack, could have made the same things six months ago that they are making to-day.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
They could even make machine guns, and they went to the War Office, who said: "Oh, yes, when we want you we will send to you"; and only when things come to a crisis are they employed at all. These things ought not to have been, and those who allowed them ought not to be in a position to do so again. Lord Curzon said in the House of Lords, the other day, that we are in grave peril, and if that is so, it is quite time something different was done at the War Office. Lord Kitchener is the head of the War Office, and he is responsible for all these things, and unless he can give some proper explanation why all these things have happened, and who is to blame, I, myself, shall blame Lord Kitchener, and very soon the country will want to know why the head of the War Office is not brought to account the same as any ordinary Minister would be. If Lord Kitchener has failed, he has failed, and if he has failed he ought to go.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. MACLEAN in the Chair.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £150,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1916, for general Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made there for by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all 1423 measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and re-sale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all Expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.—[The Chancellor of the Exchequer.]
§ Mr. KING
I take this opportunity of calling attention to the note attached to this Vote of Credit. We were told in the course of the Debate on the last Vote of Credit that the note was equally authoritative with the terms of the Vote itself. As I protested on that occasion, I am very glad that the Prime Minister now recognises that the Vote itself is the authoritative and operative part, and that the note is nothing more than an explanation. Personally, I should like to say how pleased I am that the Prime Minister has in this way asserted again the rights of Parliament as against mere official explanations. At the same time I should like to express my gratitude for the testimony which the Prime Minister gave, and which, indeed, has been taken up in all parts of the House in the course of the Debate this afternoon, that the House of Commons has its rights, its duties, and its privileges at the present time. In view of the demands that have been made from all sorts of quarters that the House of Commons ought to cease to sit and criticise, or say or do anything at all, except to register the ipse dirits and approve all the mistakes of Ministers. Personally I feel extremely gratified to the Prime Minister for again asserting the rights and duties of the House of Commons.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow (Wednesday).