§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Before I make the Motion standing in my name, which, I think, requires very few words to commend it to the House —and which, notwithstanding some notices of Amendment that appear on the Paper, will, I trust, receive general acceptance after I have explained the reasons for it—it may be convenient if, in the first instance, I remind the House as to how we stand in regard to the time we have sat and the time in which we have been in a state of suspended animation as a House since the commencement of the present Session. I go back to the autumn of last year, the early autumn, at the time of the Declaration of War, and the House will remember that that Session prorogued on the 18th September, and a new Session, that in which we are now sitting, began on the 11th November. The House sat from the 11th to the 27th November, when there was an Adjournment of nine weeks to the 2nd February. The House adjourned again on the 16th March for four weeks till the 14th April, and sat from the 14th April to the 19th May, when it adjourned for the Whitsuntide Recess. We resumed our sittings, after an interval of two weeks, on the 3rd June. It follows from that enumeration that during the nine months, or rather more than nine months, which the present Session has already lasted we have had fifteen weeks in all of what I suppose I must call vacation—not, I think, a very excessive proportion. But; if I go back to what is more relevant to my immediate purpose—to what has been done since the House resumed after Whitsuntide on the 3rd June, when, as the House will remember, the Government had been reconstituted upon an enlarged basis, and had 2302 started afresh both in legislative and administrative action—I may point out that since that date there has been a very substantial legislative output. We have passed the War Loan Bill, a measure absolutely unprecedented in the history of this or of any other country; and, as is now well known, the passing of that Bill into an Act of Parliament has aroused the most gratifying response of all classes of the people of this country, and has done perhaps as much as anything to convince the world, particularly our Allies, that so far as we in this country are concerned we are determined to devote the whole of our resources to the successful prosecution of the War.
We have also during the same comparatively short space of time passed into law the Munitions Act, which constitutes a new Ministry with an adequate staff, and with regard to which in a later stage of the Debate my right hon. Friend who presides over it will make an eagerly expected and, I hope, satisfactory statement to the House. We have further passed a measure to which I myself, and I believe all my colleagues, attach considerable importance, the measure for establishing a National Register which will enable us, when, as I hope will be the case before very long, the register is in fact complete, to review, to survey, to appraise, and to mobilise to the best purpose all the re1 sources and personnel, both of men and women, the country possesses. I had hoped we should have been able to add, in addition to those three measures, one to which we attach no less importance, the Bill in regard to naval and military pensions and matters cognate and ancillary thereto, and which received the assent of this House a very short time ago. I will say a word about that in a moment. Let me add, in addition to those four very considerable measures—all of them inspired and, I think I may say, necessitated by the exigencies of the War—the House has given consideration and assent to a very large number of extremely useful, though less ambitious Emergency Bills.
In regard to the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill, it is fresh in the memory of all those whom I am addressing that in the early part of this Session—I am not sure even it was not in the last Session, but certainly last autumn—my right, hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Bonar Law), who now sits rear me, and who was then Leader of the Opposition, suggested the desirability of an inquiry by a Com- 2303 mittee of this House into the whole of the various very complicated aspects of naval and military pensions and separation allowances, and all provisions for disability in its various forms, and he asked, at the same time that, if such a Committee were appointed, and produced a considered and unanimous Report, the Government would pledge themselves to give effect to it by legislation. I very willingly gave that pledge.
The Committee was constituted. It was a Committee of unusual authority. It was presided over by my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had associated with him his successor in that office. There were also two Gentlemen who then sat on the bench opposite, my right hon. Friend the present Colonial Secretary and the present Secretary of State for India, and they were associated with the hon. Member for Blackfriars, who represented the Labour party. I do not suppose we have ever had in this House a more representative or more authoritative Committee, and the Bill which was subsequently introduced, and which with some modifications in the course of its progress passed through this House, was a Bill the intention of which was to give effect to the unanimous recommendations of that Committee. I very much regret that that Bill cannot for the moment be added to those which I have already enumerated, and which to-morrow, so far as they have not already done so, will receive the Royal Assent. It went to another place. It is not seemly, even if it were in order, for us to say anything with reference to what passes in a sphere to which we are strangers, and of which we know nothing except by common report. But it would appear that a Motion was there carried, in spite of the protests of the Leader of that House and of Lord Lansdowne, to postpone further consideration of the measure until after the Adjournment in that other place. As I said, it is not my business, and it would indeed be impertinent for me or anyone to criticise what was done elsewhere. I only point out that if the Bill had been read a second time and Amendments made in Committee, I am sure they would have been considered by this House in a sympathetic and respectful spirit.
Owing to the course which events have taken that has become impossible, and the Bill cannot now pass into law under our normal Parliamentary conditions until 2304 after the Adjournment. I regret it. My colleagues regret it. But, at the same time, I would point out what is only fair, that notwithstanding the postponement of the final enactment of this Bill—which I trust may take place by general consent at no very distant date—the status quo in regard to pensions and separation allowances continues, and they are, as I think everybody agrees, on a far more generous scale than anything previously known in our history. Although I should have been glad if we had got this matter disposed of once and for all before the Adjournment, still, fairly reviewing all the conditions, I cannot bring myself to think that serious injury will result from the delay of a few weeks.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I share to the full the hon. Gentleman's regret that the Bill was not passed into law. That regret would be much more acute if I thought that those gallant men who are fighting for us in the field, or those they have left behind, would be substantially deprived of the benefits which Parliament intended to confer on them. But I do not think that will be the effect. It is most desirable that machinery should be set up. In large measure, as far as I can judge, the differences have been rather as to the composition of that machinery than as to the merits of the Bill itself, but I trust we shall be enabled, with general consent, to establish machinery, at no undue distance of time, which will be adequate for the purpose and which will give general satisfaction. That being the case, I must point out to the House—and here I come to closer quarters with the Motion I am about to make—that, so far as the Government is concerned, and none but Government business can, under our present conditions, be initiated, they have, for the moment, no further legislation to propose to the House of Commons. There are large and difficult questions, for instance, and in particular questions connected with taxation, in respect of which we shall feel it our duty, after due time for deliberation and consideration, to make proposals; and we shall be none the worse in putting 2305 those proposals before the House in an intelligible and a satisfactory shape for having had a little more time in the stress under which we all labour at present. But having taken as complete a survey as we can of the necessities of the time, we have the fact that for the time being we have no further legislation to which we invite the assent of Parliament, and under these conditions it would seem that the time has come when the House of Commons might very well for a few weeks suspend its activities.
The House, I agree, has other functions besides that of legislation. We have in this country two recognised, I might perhaps say accredited, organs of criticism of the Executive of the day. One is the Press. The Press—a very delicate topic. In regard to the Press, I will, for the moment at any rate, content myself by saying this—that I think since the outbreak of the War, under peculiarly trying conditions, under the supervision of a novel and unfamiliar restraint—the censorship—the Press of the United Kingdom, with one or two melancholy exceptions, has discharged its duty with a patriotism, a self-restraint, and a public spirit worthy of the best traditions of that great Institution. The Press we have always with us. The other organ of criticism, to which I for one, as an old Parliamentarian-—now, I am sorry to say, one of the oldest in this House—attach more importance, and for which I feel greater deference, is the House of Commons. It would be not only impertinent, but self-complacent in one who holds, as I have the honour to do at this moment, and have now for many years past, the position of Leader in the House, to enlarge upon the admirable and patriotic manner in which the House always has discharged, and I am sure will continue to discharge, that most necessary duty. [Laughter.] I do not know why that observation should attract any hilarity; I thought I was enunciating a platitude.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am going to make no exceptions. But when the House is sitting, from a legislative point of view in vacuo, as would be the case if we prolonged our sittings under the conditions which I have just described, the function of criticism, most necessary and 2306 most useful, would only be discharged by the familiar process of interrogation and answer.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will, in a moment, come to a little closer quarters with the hon. Member. During the course of these weeks, since we resumed our sittings after Whitsuntide, the number of questions which have been addressed to Ministers—I think we have sat normally four days a week—have been, I will not say unprecedented in number, but I do not suppose they have ever been exceeded in the same space of time. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] A large number of them, I most readily admit, have been relevant and important. A certain proportion, at any rate from the view of those who sit on this bench, and perhaps from the point of view of the majority of the House, have been of a trivial, and sometimes even of a petty, character. Now and again, though I am sure always with the best intentions, questions have been put which could not have been answered without mischievous results to the interests of the country and the successful prosecution of the War. I think it may be interesting to the House to take, by way of illustration, the total number of questions since the commencement of this Session in November last, up to and including Monday last, 26th July, which have been addressed to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War and myself, mainly, if not exclusively, in regard to matters relating to the War. My right hon. Friend has in that time given oral answers to 1,522 questions, and I have given oral answers to 468 questions. My right hon. Friend has given written answers to 249 questions, and I have given written answers to fifty-one questions. As the House knows, that is a very inadequate presentation of what has actually taken place, because I suppose for every oral question which has been put and for every oral answer which has been given—I do not want to exaggerate—there has been on an average one, two, and sometimes three supplementary questions, inspired by the curiosity of the moment.
I am not complaining. My right hon. Friend, I am sure the House will agree, has performed his duty of answering these questions in a manner which has excited universal admiration, and which has been a model to succeeding Ministers, from the point of view of information, good temper, 2307 and good humour. He his no ground of complaint. Neither have I. I am such a hardened offender in the way of answering questions now—I have been at it about ten years, and have been subjected to an almost daily fusillade—that whether the questions number 400 or 4,000 really makes very little difference to me. That is all very well for us. But I want to approach the matter quite seriously. I want the House to approach it seriously. What really does matter is the strain that you are putting upon the great Departments of State, and in particular upon those Departments like the War Office and the Admiralty, which are specially responsible for the enormous responsibilities involved in the daily conduct of the War. I do not hesitate to say that the duty of careful investigation of the suggestions and allegations made, of discovering, often by a number of very complicated and difficult inquiries, the real facts of the case, and then of drafting satisfactory answers for the use of the Minister, imposes upon the permanent officials of these Departments an amount of labour, and encroaches to such an enormous degree on their time, that in the interests of the public service it is absolutely essential that they should have some rest. It is not a question of holiday making. These men have had no holiday since the beginning of the War. They are not likely to have any holiday. They have given their time, their labour, their intelligence, their devotion without measure and without stint. I think the House of Commons ought to have some regard to those patriotic servants. It ought to do what it can to alleviate their almost intolerable burden, and to set free these men for the discharge of duties most necessary and indeed most essential, to the prosecution of the War. What about the House of Commons?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I had a question addressed to me the other day by one of my hon. Friends on, I think, the subject of the payment of Members. I am not sure it was not the Member who has just described the House as moribund. In the course of that question that hon. Member suggested—I dare say with truth— 2308 that there were not more than 150 Members in regular attendance here during these sittings. What does that mean? 150 out of 670! Does it mean that the remainder are away holiday making?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not suggesting that the hon. Member did. Does it mean they are holiday making? Does it mean they are indifferent to the discharge of their duties? A large number are at the front actually fighting. I suppose even a larger number are here, in various ranks and classes, in the fighting services, preparing soldiers and sailors to go to the front. A number more are engaged in the not less important duty of organising in their various localities, the different services: industrial, philanthropic, and healing, which are equally necessary, if we are to do our duty to the soldiers and sailors who are fighting for us. Of those who remain of the 150 here in attendance —I do not know whether this number is accurate or not, but take it at 150—is it to be suggested that if this Motion is carried, and the sittings of this House are adjourned for six or seven weeks, that they are all going holiday making, and in the pursuit of pleasure? Nothing of the kind. On the contrary, if I may say so with all respect to the House of Commons, many of them are going to do duty more urgent, more needed, in the interests of the country than sitting upon these benches, or walking about these corridors, listening to speeches or making speeches. I repudiate altogether as a calumny on the House of Commons the suggestion that because we are not sitting here, after our legislative tasks have concluded, that we are not serving our country just as well, or even better, in other ways. I hope, therefore, in view of these considerations, which I do not think anybody in any quarter of the House will be found to dispute, or to depreciate, we may carry the Motion I am about to propose without serious difference of opinion, and I trust even without Amendment in any way.
It has been suggested, I see, that I ought to take advantage of this opportunity, before we adjourn, to make something in the nature of a general statement as to the present position and future conduct of the War. I doubt very much, anxious as I am and all my colleagues are to give every kind of information at our disposal which is consistent with the 2309 public service to the House, whether it would be expedient in me to respond, certainly at any length or in detail, to that demand. I said on the last occasion, when I had the privilege of addressing the House upon the general situation, that in our opinion this War had become, and was likely to continue, at any rate for some time to come, to be a contest of endurance. We should be ungrateful and insensitive indeed if we did not recognise at this moment in particular the gallant —the indescribably gallants—efforts which are being made by our Russian Allies to stem the tide of invasion and to maintain the inviolable integrity of their positions. I do not think in the whole of military history there has been a more magnificent example set before us of disciplined, patient endurance, and of both individual and collective initiative, than by the Russian Army during the last eleven months.
In our new Allies, Italy, we recognise with the utmost satisfaction and gratification that with carefully prepared movements they are steadily gaining ground and making their way towards an objective which, we believe, will be within a very short time within their reach. We ourselves are fighting side by side in France with our French comrades—for such they have been now for the best part of a year—and I do not believe from the beginning of the War up to the present moment there has ever been a time when two Armies were inspired by a more complete unreserved spirit of fraternity and comradeship, or when they were more confident that victory—I do not predict times or seasons; we should be foolish if we did —but victory will be ultimately theirs. With regard to the operations which, in conjunction with them, we are undertaking further East in the Gallipoli Peninsula, I ask an hon. Gentleman opposite I see there not to press me to make any specific statement to-day. I will only repeat what I said to the House on the last occasion when I addressed it on the subject, that our confidence is undiminished in the result.
The only other thing I want to say to the House is this. It is just a year next week since the declaration of War. Has anyone in the history of the world ever seen a more complete—might I not almost say a more miraculous—transformation in the country, not in its spirit, not in its soul and heart, but in the outward manifestation of its life than has taken place here 2310 during those twelve months? I need say nothing about our Fleet—Britain ha always been the greatest of Naval Powers —except what we all acknowledge that, strong as it was at the beginning of the War, it is far stronger now, and to its quiet, unobserved but ubiquitous, and all-powerful activities is due that the seas are clear, or substantially clear, for this submarine menace, after all, serious as it appeared to be for the moment, is not going to inflict fatal or substantial injury upon British trade. The seas are clear. We have our supplies of food and raw materials, on which we as a country depend, flowing in upon us in the same abundance, the same freedom—you might without much exaggeration say, judging by the rates of insurance or any other test, with the same immunity from serious hazard of risk, as even in times of peace. The Navy, so far, has been denied the grim and glorious delights of pitched battle. They have the consciousness—and we ought to let them know that we realise the debt of gratitude we owe to them— that it is through their unrelaxing vigilance, through the supreme skill with which they have been handled, that this country today can laugh at the scare of invasion, to an extent unknown by any of the belligerent Powers, immune from the actual ravages and dangers of war. But, as I have said, we have always been a great Naval Power.
Look at the position of the Army. Even in this House I see hon. Members clad in military garb—a sight unknown, I suppose, for a hundred years. There is not a family represented here—and in that respect it is typical of the whole country that has not given its hostages in the shape of sons or brothers to the Army, and I am glad to be able to say that the process of recruiting the Army, which has now gone on for twelve months with undiminished activity, from the ranks of the people, is in a highly satisfactory condition. The latest returns are among the best we have had for a long time past. Then, what of our industries? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions, with the aid of his skilled advisers, has already organised the production of all those things which are necessary for the active conduct of the War—at least, he has arranged for their organisation on a basis never dreamt of in our history which, I am satisfied, will prove thoroughly adequate to our requirements. Do not let us suppose—I venture to offer that word of caution to the House 2311 and country—that our national duty is discharged either by sending an adequate influx of recruits into the Army or into the various industries which are engaged in the fabrication of munitions. In this War the duty has been cast upon us not only to maintain the freedom of the seas, not only to supply large contingents of well-equipped men for the battlefield and the trenches, but also of financing—a not less important duty—to a large extent the whole conduct of the War. We cannot do that unless we organise all our industries. We cannot do that if we continue to import, increasing our indebtedness to other countries, things which under normal conditions may be regarded as among the natural comforts or the simpler luxuries of life. We cannot do that unless we maintain in our great manufacturing industries —there are men who are doing quite as much service to the country as the soldiers and makers of munitions—men who will keep up, and indeed increase, the supply of those goods which we alone in the world can produce, or which we produce better than other people, and by which in the long run we have to pay for the things we receive.
I would like to add in that connection— and it is one point which, I think, is not perhaps quite sufficiently borne in mind— that it is highly important for us, normally a creditor country, but, under the conditions in which the War has placed us, bound to resort to an unprecedented degree to neutral countries for the supply of many of the things which we need, to keep and to increase our supply of gold. We have already given directions, so far as the Government is concerned, that all these smaller payments which are made to those in our employ, or in the employ of our contractors, are, so far as possible, not to be made in gold, but in the paper currency, adequately secured, which it was one of the first duties of my right hon. Friend when the War broke out to supply to the country. I would venture, if my words may carry their message beyond these walls to my fellow countrymen outside, to say to them—to householders, to employers, indeed to everybody—that in a small but a not unimportant way one of the best services they can render to the country at this moment is to see that all what I may call "till" money—the smaller change of our social and industrial life— is paid not in gold, but in notes and in paper. In that way I am satisfied we shall 2312 be able to accumulate, and will accumulate very rapidly, such a large reserve of gold as will enable us to face, without any doubt or hesitation of any sort or kind, whatever drafts may be made upon us in regard to payment for things we require outside. I say that by way of parenthesis, but I now come to the point, which I have been endeavouring to demonstrate to the House for the last few moments, by asking these two questions. Upon a review of the position to-day as compared with our position of exactly a year ago, can there be a greater calumny of our own people, both here and over the seas, than to say that they have not risen to the height of a great occasion. I have said that there is no greater calumny, but there is one greater still, and that is to suggest—it is a calumny not only on ourselves but upon our gallant Allies one and all—that they do not realise and appreciate to the full the contribution which we are making to the ultimate triumph of our common cause. It is in that spirit, I believe, that the House of Commons and the country at large is entering upon the second year of the War. Do not let us give any encouragement to the faint-hearted, still less to the backbiters who do what they can—I make no inquiry as to their motives or intentions— to dishearten our Allies and to encourage our enemies. Let us here, in this House and in the country at large, in the same spirit of unity and determination which for twelve months has inspired our combined efforts, persist and persevere to the inevitable and triumphant issue.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That to-morrow Mr. Speaker, so soon as he has reported the Royal Assent to the Bills which have been agreed on by both Houses, do adjourn the House without Question put until Tuesday, 14th September."—[The Prime Minister.]
Sir H. DALZIEL
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words "having regard to the gravity of the present crisis it is undesirable that the House should adjourn for a longer period than four weeks."
In rising to offer some observations on the speech which the Prime Minister has just made and on the Motion which is now before the House, I am conscious that in doing so, and in what I am going to say, I am laying myself open to taunts of unworthy motive and unjustifiable 2313 action. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] We have had some experience of it in the past. The last time I had the honour of taking part in a war debate in this House after I sat down I was followed by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and he thought it becoming of him as an old Member of this House to suggest that the motive by which I was actuated in the views I ventured to offer were entirely based on the fact that I had not been invited to occupy a seat on the Treasury Bench. I say it was a base, unworthy, and entirely unjustifiable suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman knew it was false, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman or any Member of the Government or any Member of this House to supply any evidence that I have ever been an applicant or a candidate for any post in the Government or outside of it. If anyone can prove the contrary I will willingly resign my seat. I think, at all events, we ought to be given credit for honesty in our opinions and for expressing the views which we hold without fear or favour.
The right hon. Gentleman has given us to-day an important statement with regard to policy. I have one word to say as to the general arrangement of business to-day. The Motion for the Adjournment is usually set aside for the raising by private Members of matters which have not hitherto been raised in the course of the Session. We welcome the statement of the Prime Minister as to the War conditions, but in my humble judgment it would have perhaps been more appropriate had we had it on the Vote of Credit. We are delighted that the Minister of Munitions is going to give us a statement as to the work of his Department. I still think that those two statements should have been delivered in Government time, and that we should have had the whole day, as we have always had it before, for the raising of matters which private Members wish to raise. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has given us a short review of the War, and I think it is only right that the House and the country should have that review. It has been made in France and in other countries oftener than it has been made in this country. I was glad to hear that so far the right hon. Gentleman thought the position in Flanders and in France was perfectly satisfactory. I confess that I was a little surprised at that statement. I had supposed that this summer we were 2314 to have a great advance, and I am sure it would have been welcome to all the people of this country if that advance could have taken place at the moment when Russia needed our help most, as we know she helped us under other conditions. I wish I could receive from the Government an assurance that the position as it is in France to-day and may be for some time was entirely unassociated with the provision of munitions of war.
We have had something said also with regard to the Dardanelles. It is a remarkable fact that notwithstanding the overwhelming casualties we are having in the Dardanelles at the present moment, this House has never been officially in formed by any communication made to it with regard to that great undertaking. There is one thing I would like the Prime Minister to tell us, and I am sure the people outside the House would like the information, why was it that we gave the enemy such long notice by our naval attack before we made the landing. It seems to me that that is a question which ought to be answered. I was talking to a distinguished man who has been with the Turks right throughout the campaign and who returned yesterday. He is a distinguished American correspondent, and he gave me a statement which leaves no doubt in my mind that had our policy been in unison, and had we acted on land and sea at the same time the position to day would be very different. I therefore say that I would like to have fuller information on these two points. I know the Prime Minister thinks, or I presume he thinks, from what he said to-day, that we ought to sit in silence—
Sir H. DALZIEL
Sit in silence in this Parliament just the same as we sat in silence for nine months before the Coalition Government was formed. I will tell the Prime Minister frankly why this is impossible. I say we cannot keep silent —I have said this outside, and I will say it in his presence—as we did for nine months, because we have not the confidence we had nine months ago. With regard to some of us the foundations for our anxiety are well founded. Some of us cannot understand, with all the Secret Service at the command of the Government, with their Military Attaches and Ambassadors, with their special visit of Cabinet Ministers to Berlin, why they were not better prepared than they were for 2315 the attack of Germany. We think, in the first place, that they ought to have known Germany's intention. We think it ought to be impossible for any Member of the Cabinet to say that it came with as much surprise to them as anybody outside, more especially after Lord Haldane said that after his last visit he had a feeling of grave disquietude. I complain that at that moment, if they could not do everything that Lord Haldane had reported as the result of his mission, they might, at any rate, have taken preliminary steps for the extension of our armament factories, so that the output might have been much greater than it was at the beginning of the War. I give that as one reason why we cannot give the Government complete and absolute confidence as to the future of the War.
We have responsibilities as well as any Member on the Treasury Bench. We trusted them for nine months, and we know exactly what happened as the result of silence. Another reason why we are obliged to ventilate our own views now is that we cannot understand why in October you did not mobilise the industries of this country. You saw France doing it, and Members of the Cabinet had been to France and had seen the signal success of it, and here six or eight months after you only began to call all the industries of the country to help you. If this is a good thing six or eight months after, why was it not done in October? We fail to understand why these preliminary steps were not taken at that time. We know what it has cost the country in lives and in the money of the taxpayers. We know what would have been the position to-day if the equipment of our Army had been what it ought to have been at the start of the War, because the Minister of Munitions has told us. The right hon. Gentleman told us as late as June that if our Army had had a full and complete equipment the Germans would have been out of France to-day and possibly out of Flanders, and the scene of battle to-day would have been near the waters of the Rhine, and the termination of the War would have been in sight. That is the statement of a Member of a united Cabinet representing the views of every Member of the Government. Therefore it is a question of equipment, and I think we are entitled to ask if it is true that the War would have been over with proper equipment, who is responsible for the fact that 2316 our Army was not properly equipped? In these circumstances I think we are entitled to ask for that information and to ask if anybody has been cashiered since the commencement of the War in any office under any circumstances in connection with the failure to meet the great demands which have been made on the country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions is, I am glad to say, going to make a statement to-day, and I presume that statement will cover the work of his Department, and I doubt not that he will be able to give us a more hopeful view of the future. I would like to ask him for information on one or two specific points. In the first place, whether there is any foundation for the rumour which has been going round the House for the last few days that Sir Percy Girouard is no longer at the Board of Munitions or connected with that Department? If it is not well founded I think it ought to be denied, and if it is well founded I ask who his successor is likely to be. I would like to ask further whether the Minister of Munitions is entirely satisfied that he has sufficient power in his new Department to carry out all the work which Parliament has entrusted him with. I would like to ask him one more question of a somewhat important character. Many months ago the Secretary of State for War announced in the House of Lords that our Army was going to be instructed to use and be provided with chlorine gas to use against the enemy. I ask him is he now prepared to say if that is still the policy of His Majesty's Government, and can he explain the extraordinary delay that has taken place in supplying our Army in the field with chlorine gas and the still more extraordinary delay in using it against the enemy? Our officers and men at the front cannot understand, after the announcement publicly that we were going to fight the enemy with a dose of his own medicine, why it is that up to this moment, I think I am right in saying, no gas has been used, although the most favourable wind has existed for weeks. I venture to suggest one of the reasons is that there was a breakdown in that as in other Departments. I suggest that six weeks after the order was given it was found necessary to telegraph and to bring to London all the important firms in the country who might be disposed to supply it. I suggest that the Gentleman who recommended his own firm to supply it found, after the six weeks were over. 2317 that they had not carried out their undertaking. I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us a reassuring statement on that subject, and also if the policy of His Majesty' Government remains the same. It counts for a great deal to the men at the front. I suppose that I get as many letters as most Members, and I should be glad to show anyone what they think about this matter. I hope that we shall have a statement to-day which will encourage our men at the front that we are determined to fight the enemy with his own weapons.
The right hon. Gentleman to-day in submitting his Motion practically confined himself to two reasons for its adoption by the House. The first was that Parliament had done a great deal of useful work. I was glad to hear that statement, because I take it as an indication that he does not belong to those who think that Parliament should be shut up altogether. That is the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is he?"] The right hon. Gentleman based his Motion on practically two separate grounds. He incidentally mentioned, of course, that we had done a great deal of useful work, but it was moved, first, on behalf of those patriotic men who are working in our Government Departments, and, secondly, on behalf of Members themselves. Let me say, as regards the question of holidays generally, that I entirely associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman said, that an adjournment for Members of this House does not necessarily mean a holiday; in fact, it means nothing of the kind. I take my own case. In the next four weeks I think I have only three clear days free from public work connected with the War. I venture to say that is the position of almost every Member on this side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why only on that side of the House?"] I do not pretend to speak on behalf of anybody, but I venture to have sufficient determination to do so on that particular point for this side of the House. I know that it applies to all sides of the House; indeed, I do not envy the state of mind of a man who can contemplate taking a holiday when the country is going through such a grave crisis. Therefore, it is not a question of holidays; it is a question whether we ought to meet at frequent intervals in this House and keep a supervision over public affairs. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, suggested that the men 2318 who were running the War, so to speak, were the same men drafting answers for Ministers in this House. Surely that is not the case. I should say that the man who drafts answers for Ministers has nothing whatever to do with the War, except in very few cases. [HON. MEMBERS indicated dissent.] They undoubtedly are in many cases, but in a great many cases they have nothing whatever to do with the real progress of the War. To say that gentlemen in the Department ought to have five or six weeks' holiday is not a very strong ground why this House should be asked to adjourn.
Sir H. DALZIEL
If they do not get any holiday, I cannot for the life of me understand the right hon. Gentleman introducing their case before the House to-day, because, if it is the case that Members of Parliament desire answers to questions and we are not to put them because the men who used to supply the answers do not care to provide them, I think that is a very weak position indeed.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot allow that to pass. I said nothing of the kind. They are amongst the most devoted men we have, and they are as much interested in the success of the War as our soldiers and sailors. I did say, and I think it was a fair appeal to make, that the House of Commons should not impose an excessive strain upon them in the discharge of their duties.
Sir H. DALZIEL
It is hardly necessary for me to say that I do not for a moment attach any discredit to these men; far from it. I said nothing of the kind. I know their industry and the hard work that falls on all Departments, more especially, I admit, when the House is sitting, but if this House decides that it is necessary to sit, I do not think that consideration for those officials, it being War time, would be sufficient to make us adjourn. I adhere to the old-fashioned notion that the House of Commons ought to control the Executive of the day and that the Executive ought not to control the House of Commons. The very reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman for the House not sitting, in my judgment, are reasons why it should sit. He gave us as one of the reasons the hundreds of questions which Members had asked. What does that mean? It means that Members are 2319 directly interested in the progress of the War. Every householder in this country is interested. Members do not put their questions for amusement, but for the information of their constituencies, and I maintain that the number of questions asked is proof that there is a real interest in this House in the progress of the War. I deplore, personally, the attacks that have been made on this House outside and the campaign that has been carried on in order that we may close our doors. The leader of the campaign outside is a former Member of this House, Mr. Bottomley, and he is supported in the House by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They argue that the House ought to be closed to the end of the War. That is a most indefensible, proposition. I would point out that the gentleman who makes it is himself at the same time keen to get back to the House in order to restore it to its ancient prestige and its former glory. I do not imagine that there is any large body of opinion outside this House, great as the campaign has been, who would say that this House ought not to meet at all during the War. We have a censored Press, nothing can appear without the approval of an official of the Government, and, if we have not the House of Commons sitting, how are we to represent the view's that are held outside? Is there to be no opportunity for grievances to be presented? That way leads to anarchy, and I am surprised at the "Standard" and the people who advocate such a policy. This House, in my opinion, has a duty to perform, and there are great subjects which it ought to bring up for discussion The right hon. Gentleman suggested that because we had finished the Government programme and we had done all they wanted us to do, there was, therefore, no reason for us to remain. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman some of the things which I think we could consider with advantage. I think we might employ one day in considering the rise in the price of living in this country. We have talked a great deal about it, but nothing has been done. We have dealt with coal later than we ought to have done, and it is doubtful whether the Bill will serve the purpose for which it is intended. Should we be wasting a day if we came back a day sooner in order to do something to relieve the workers of this country by considering the rise in the price of living? The dis- 2320 content which arises from that rise is the cause partly of strikes and may be the cause of strikes in the future. That is the root cause of the discontent. We could usefully devote a day to stopping the exploiters who are gambling with the food of the country. One day would not be wasted.
We might devote another day to the question of public economy. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed a Committee to deal with that matter, but it is especially prevened from dealing with some matters in respect of which waste is going on. I do not know whether the Prime Minister read a case with regard to the supply of motor cars to the War Office, in which there was an item of £40,000 commission. That is one case which has come into Court! I wonder what other cases there are which have not come into Court! I can supply the Government with a good many when the proper time comes, and when the proper Committee is appointed to hear the evidence. I venture to say that if we are going to prevent waste we have got to begin in high quarters. We have got to see that proper prices obtain with regard to the things the Government require. With regard to pensions, despite what the Prime Minister said, it means that these broken men, these disabled men, will have to wait three months longer because the House is not sitting. We cannot consider this question for seven weeks, and we shall then have to begin again. The machinery has to be set up. I venture to say it will mean, between the Adjournment and the passing of this Bill, three months' delay. I think we might show a little indication of our sympathy with these men by meeting a little earlier on that account. We might also usefully employ another day in discussing whether we are going the right way to get the right men for our Army. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very reassuring statement to-day. So far as I can gather from that statement, he is perfectly satisfied with the position, and therefore that makes that demand a little less urgent.
I would suggest that the House might devote its time with some advantage to trying to bring pressure upon the Government to stop the continuance of the practice of sending cotton to our enemies. It is now admitted by the Prime Minister, after twelve months, that cotton is still going to our enemies. It is stated by high military authorities in this and other lands 2321 that if we had stopped cotton going to Germany the War would have been over to-day. Therefore, I maintain that this House will not have performed its complete duty until it demands of the Government that there shall be no ca' canny, but that they shall immediately declare it contraband. We owe it to the men at the front and to the country that this question shall not be allowed to drift any longer, but that it shall be dealt with emphatically by the Government. We are justified in asking the Government not to ask us to adjourn for seven weeks. Some important matters may arise in the interval which will demand the meeting of Parliament. It is not enough to say that Members can be called together by Proclamation. It is the duty of this House to decide how often it desires to sit in a time of grave national peril. The right hon. Gentleman did not allude to that point to-day, but two of his colleagues have called attention to the position, and the Minister of Munitions has said that he is sick and tired of calling attention to it. I say that the House ought to meet at shorter intervals. If it only met for one day, it ought to meet in case there are vital matters to bring forward. I say that we are putting forward a reasonable demand, and I say the Government ought to leave it to the House and not put on the official Whips. In any case, I think we are putting forward a demand which they ought to grant. I think the country expects the House not to make an adjournment for seven weeks, and considers that four weeks is sufficient.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I think the Prime Minister when he virtually asked the House of Commons to muzzle itself to-day on the question of the War, must have inwardly felt some amusement, because we on this side of the House are perfectly well aware that the Coalition Government sit there to-day by reason of the fact that if the Prime Minister had not decided to deal with maladministration he would have had to meet a hostile Resolution in this House from the other side. The Prime Minister seems to think that it is fair to call us who have got one interest and one interest only, namely, to see this War carried to a successful conclusion, backbiters for the criticisms which we have honestly made.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I am glad to hear the Prime Minister say that that expression was not directed to Members of this House. But Members who did criticise his Cabinet and himself are, after all, held up in the Press as unpatriotic and as having no desire or interest except to hamper and defeat the Government. What I want to ask the Prime Minister to consider is this. He went down to Newcastle and made the definite statement that the operation of our Allies and ourselves had not been impeded for want of munitions. The right hon. Gentleman now knows that that statement is incorrect. I ask him, what has he done to remove from office those officers who have been responsible for this state of affairs? The whole offensive movement in France has broken down simply and only for the reason that you declined to order munitions. Last October, November, December, January, and February, you, through the War Office or Ordnance Department, turned down orders for millions of shells which were offered you; you refused to get machine guns that were offered; you said they were not required. You have sent to France citizens of this country, who have so patriotically joined the Colours, ill-equipped with munitions, ill-equipped with machine guns. After all, no one knows better than the Prime Minister himself that this is primarily a war of machine guns. When the Russian Government to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly and properly paid such a high tribute, cleared out from their War Office every incompetent person who had failed in his duty, is it not reasonable for us to ask why we, when our Department failed so lamentably, should still leave, at the commencement of the War— because this may be but the commencement of the War—inefficient people administering the affairs of the nation!
If it is not the proper function of the House of Commons to call attention to the failures of His Majesty's Government in that respect, I know of no other function of the House at such a time. It was only at the time when Members opposite saw that the Government were drifting —that they had adopted the policy of "Wait and See" from the start—that they came forward and forced a Coalition Government into existence. It is idle to deny that fact. Therefore, what we ask is, when you have a Coalition Government set up, that we should have efficiency in the 2323 public service. Has the conduct of the War Office been such as to give any confidence to the country that what has happened in the past will not be continued? I am going to give the House a few cases. I am sorry to have co deal with personal cases, but I feel it my duty. When the Prime Minister seems to regard that all is well with the administration of all the Departments of State, we should try to appreciate what the real issue is which the Government is still failing to recognise or appreciate. The stupidity of the War Office is only equalled by their incomprehensible folly.
Let me give the House an illustration. I will deal first with the case of Major Reichwald, a gentleman who has now changed his name to Blaker. This person is the son of Krupp's agent in London. Mr. Auguste Reichwald has been for many years the representative and confidential adviser of Krupp's in this country. Mr. Reichwald has four sons; three of them are still in the business with him. The eldest son, Frederick Wilhelm Reichwald, joined the Artillery. He was educated by his father, who was an extremely able man, and he passed through Woolwich in the ordinary course. This officer was sent to India, and four months before the War, for some extraordinary cause which no one seems to understand, he was taken out of his own service and made Assistant Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief in India. In that position he had all the confidential information of the Commander-in-Chief's office. He had all the information relating to the movement of troops to France and East Africa. When the War broke out he was immediately promoted to Chief of the Intelligence Department of the Indian Corps, and was sent to France. Many wounded Indian officers who have returned to this country have complained very strongly about these proceedings. They have said that here was an officer who had all the confidential reports before him, who examined all the spies and prisoners, who knew also when any attack was going to be made, or when any offensive or defensive movement was contemplated. I do not wish to suggest that Major Reichwald, as he now is, was not or has not been loyal to his oath. What I do say is that when this officer was appointed to this position numerous complaints were received at the War Office. Numerous representations were made by Members of this House to the 2324 highest authorities at the War Office, but not the smallest step was taken by the Government. The Under-Secretary of State for War, in reply to a supplementary question, stated that no suspicion whatever attached to this officer. His words were, "I am informed that no suspicion whatever attaches to this officer." The right hon. Gentleman knows that, so far from no suspicion attaching to this officer, representations have been made to the War Office constantly by officers at the front and by a Member of this House, and it is due to a Member of the Coalition Government that this officer has now been permanently called back from France.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
I meant no just suspicion.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The word "just" makes all the difference. I agree with my right hon. Friend it is not for us to question whether Major Reichwald, a son o£ Krupp's agent, is or is not an honest person. That is not the argument I am now addressing to the House. My argument is that here is a person whose salary, other than the pay he receives from the State, depends on money received from the agent of Krupp's. Is there any other nation in the world except ours—take France or Germany or Russia—who would take the son of the agent of a foreign Government and make him their Chief Intelligence Officer? It is one of those incredibly stupid things of which the War Office has been quilty right from the commencement of the War. When my right hon. Friend says that no suspicion attaches to Major Reichwald, none of us say that Major Reichwald has not been loyal to his oath. But you ought not to-place that gentleman in such a position. The mere fact that the Government have decided within the last few days to recall that gentleman proves that the action of the Government has been unwise to a degree.
Take, now, the question of machine guns and the armament firms. During the whole of this War we have been persistently let down by the armament firms in this country. They took large orders for munitions. Their object has been solely to keep out other manufacturers from the business of munitions, so that they could retain the monopoly in their own hands. We have the finest machinery for making-textile machinery of probably any country 2325 in the world. The total weight of a machine gun is only from 30 to 40 lbs. We have also in this country some extraordinarily fine and accurate machinery, such as the Rolls-Royce, the Daimler, and other like works; but yet up to the present time not a single step has been taken by the Government to order or manufacture machine guns in this country, and that at a time when the wastage of machine guns at the front has been larger than the actual number ordered and delivered. That is a very serious thing. The War Office—that is, the Ordnance Department —have taken no steps whatever to utilise the machinery available in this country for the manufacture of machine guns, merely because the armament firms desired that no one should enter into this new line of business, so that after the War they should be able to maintain their own monopoly.
The right hon. Gentleman the then Member for Ilkestone told us in 1911 that we had the finest equipped Army in the world; there were no machine guns or rifles or any other munitions of war that were not far superior in our Army to those in any other Army in the world. Everybody knows that our rifle at the present time costs from 95s. to a 100s. to make, whereas the cost of the rifle adopted by every other civilised nation—that is a type of the Mauser rifle—costs about 35s. to 40s. The rifle we have adopted is nothing like so efficient as the Mauser rifle, although our rifle is a good rifle. At the same time, the Mauser rifle can be made in very much larger quantities, and there is a very great difference in the pressure. The consequence is that the Germans can use about double the charge of powder with a very large increase in muzzle velocity. Why did we keep to this particular rifle? It is the armament firms' action. The Birmingham Small Arms factory, the chief makers of rifles, did not want any other pattern of rifle. We in this important manufacturing country have never taken an order for rifles for a first, second, or third or fourth class Power. Why not? Why are we so deplorably deficient as we are to-day with reference to rifles? Because the armament firms desire to keep the monopoly of rifles, out of which they have made enormous profits. Even the French have a modification of the Mauser pattern. Every other nation in the world has adopted this rifle, because it is cheaper, 2326 but the British Government or the Ordnance Department would not have a rifle which, if we adopted it, we should be able to turn out in much larger quantities.
I see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is present; so also is the Under-Secretary for War. I have a case here which was brought to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War —the case of a timber company. This is a company which is practically entirely composed of Germans, and is carrying on its business under the management of a Mr. Friedmann. Mr. Friedmann is permitted by the War Office to go to Brighton even now at week-ends. Although he is a registered alien he is allowed to spend his week-ends there. It is a perfect scandal that this gentleman, although a registered alien, should continue to go by permit to different parts of this country, and that the police authorities should have instructions to allow him to visit a certain house in Brighton where he spends his week-ends. The whole spirit of this Debate initiated by the Prime Minister shows that the House does not appreciate the fact that we are at war. Take, for instance, the case of Sir Edgar Speyer, who, as everyone knows, is the proprietor of the Queen's Hall. I suppose it is because he is of German origin that we in this country are to be treated during the next few weeks by Sir Henry Wood to a series of concerts entirely composed of German music. I have the whole of the programmes here, from which it will be seen that some of the concerts are to be devoted entirely to Wagner's music. What would France or Russia do under conditions of this kind? The people are not recognising the seriousness of the position. I cannot understand how people can go to listen to German music, when every people in the world, except ourselves, would not tolerate during a time of war that they should be entertained by German music. But as the Queen's Hall belongs to him, I suppose we in this country are to be instilled with German virtues.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
No, the whole of the programme at some of these concerts contains no music except German.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The Government must, in dealing with the question of Germans, remember this. All this talk about grouse shooting is rubbish and nonsense. You might just as well say that the hon. Member for North Salford (Sir W. Byles) is about to go grouse shooting in Scotland as to say the House of Commons desires to take a holiday for that purpose. The hon. Member for North Salford has told us that he would not kill any living animal. I am not associating myself with any observations which are made by the "Times" or the "Daily Mail" to the effect that the House is adjourning because Members want to take a holiday. That is not the reason why I want the House of Commons to be sitting. The reason why I want the House to be sitting is that when we have those Gentlemen on the Front Bench we do get some information out of them. The Prime Minister to-day complained about the number of supplementary questions. What is the reason for those supplementary questions? I have done my best, during my time in the House, to frame questions which necessitate the Minister answering them. The fact is that the people who draw the answers honestly and openly boast outside that they have been responsible for years for drawing answers, and that they have evaded these questions, as we know they have evaded them. It is no use the Home Secretary saying "No." I know the gentleman who was responsible for drawing many of the answers given in this House. He used to draw them and hand them to the Minister, and he discussed with me on many occasions how he used to evade questions I had put down on the Notice Paper. If we have to ask supplementary questions it is for the reason that Ministers are not frank and will not answer the questions. When the Prime Minister said to-day that one of the reasons why the House should adjourn was that it would give these gentlemen a rest, I think he meant that the gentlemen who had acquired special knowledge in evading questions would not be available at the office to place the evasive answer in the hands of the Minister. I do not think the House of Commons ought to adjourn. I do not think the conduct of Ministers in carrying on this War in any way gives them the right to say to the House of Commons that we should shut up this place for the next 2328 seven weeks. What little good we can do, we ought to do. The House of Commons blindly follows the Prime Minister in everything he does—as they are doing at the present time. The House blindly follows whatever the Prime Minister has said, despite the fact that the part the War Office has played in its Ordnance Department is responsible for the deplorable position in which we find ourselves at the present time.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I am very glad indeed to have an opportunity of explaining my position to the House. I have put down an Amendment, which I certainly do not intend to move, even if I could do so. In speaking to the present Amendment, I am not going to make it an occasion for putting blame on Ministers or reopening the very difficult military questions which are involved in the two speeches to which we have just listened. I put down an Amendment, but that Amendment means exactly what it says and no more. It is not put down in a spirit of blame of the Government. I am sure the Home Secretary will acquit me of any desire to be disloyal to the pledge which I have given, along with so many other Members of the House, to support the Government in arriving at an ultimate decision of the War. It is not inconsistent with that loyalty that I should urge some reasons why, in my opinion, the proposal of the Government to adjourn for so long as seven weeks is open to objection, and why a shorter period would, in all the circumstances, be better chosen. I do not blame the attitude of the Government. I can quite understand it, but they must remember that there are different attitudes, natural and inherent, in the position they hold, as compared with that held by many Members in the rest of the House. They are naturally occupied with and concentrated upon their work. They are naturally impatient of inquiry, whereas, on the other hand, we feel the throbbing anxiety of our constituents. Speaking for myself, I have never had more, or more urgent, correspondence than I have just now from a large and educated constituency like my own, and I never had more evidence that they were watching with keen anxiety the movements of public work. They are eager to work and they are seeking guidance for their own efforts, and the Government must recognise that, representing our constituents as we do, we are not adopting this attitude in any spirit of hostility to 2329 them. We have no desire to raise dangerous questions, but simply to perform what we consider to be our duty to our constituents.
In the first place, I would set aside one or two of the arguments which have been used. The Prime Minister seemed to think that there was a suspicion on the part of some of us that there was an anxiety for holiday, or for amusement. I not only do not think that the question of making holiday cannot enter for a moment into a matter so important as this, but I am perfectly convinced that there is not a single man in this House who would for himself, or anyone else, allow that consideration to come into the balance. I set that aside altogether. I wish to refer to allegations brought against some of us. I have heard it brought by gentlemen who represent the Press in the purlieus of this House against myself personally, that I am operating from complacency to a certain Noble Lord, who seems to be, in their idea, the inspirer of all this. Inasmuch as I never saw the Noble Lord in question, and never had any communication with him, either orally or by letter, that I consider all I have heard of him with the very reverse of approval, and that I am tolerably confident that he has not the least knowledge of my existence, I think I may safely set aside that suggestion. I have been maligned oftentimes in my life for being rather intractable and difficult and wanting in complacency, but if I am not so complacent as to form my own opinions and publish them and to put them down on the Paper of the House, I think I am entitled to be free from that malignment any further.
We are anxious that Parliament should take its proper place. Let me take this point: Does it follow that because we think Parliament may perform an important function now, that we therefore condone the abuse of the opportunities of Parliament, or that we have the slightest sympathy with Questions or Motions that may fetter the hands, or even disturb the plans, or expose any dangerous points in the conduct of our Army. I shall not be suspected of sympathy with any such devices as those. I have always placed a very strict limit upon my own questions. Although in recent weeks I have now and then put two or three questions, I am quite certain that for the whole of the ten years I have sat in this House, that a question a month or a question in two months is the utmost average of the questions I have ever placed on the Paper over the whole 2330 period. With regard to military questions, I have placed a self-denying ordinance upon them so far as I am concerned. But if there are abuses, cannot Parliament rise to the occasion, and can it not supply its own discipline, and is it not entitled to-look to the Leader of the House to exercise that discipline in its name? If there are those who abuse their privileges and opportunities as Members of Parliament, I say that the responsibility for not checking that rests with the Leaders of the House, along with the House itself. The country expects the great inquest of the nation to arrive at the position of getting its own house in order under the guidance of its leaders. Of course, we have always heard jokes about all our difficulties being got over if we would only lock the door of the House of Commons. I think that has always been a stupid joke and by this time I should have thought it was stale. I am quite ready to admit that an emergency might occur in which it might be necessary to suspend Parliamentary government and to govern under an emergency Act. We are all obliged to admit that, but we do not think the time has arrived and we are not anxious for it. It is all very well to talk in an airy and irresponsible way about a dictatorship, but that is not what ought to come into serious responsible talk in this House.
There are two objections to a dictatorship in this House. In the first place, if a dictator appeared in this country I greatly question whether this country would accept him, and if the country were ready to accept him I question still more gravely whether there is anyone prepared to take the position. Oliver Cromwell's do not spring up in every generation. But, because we do not think it necessary to suspend Parliament, do not let us have the worst alternative of all—a Parliament not acting with full knowledge and full power and in full concert with the Government and in possession of the full confidence of the nation. We cannot have Parliamentary government that is suitable for fair weather only and must be suspended in stormy weather. We cannot have a Parliament commanding the respect and the confidence of the nation if it has to be suspended at a crisis like this for a long period. It may be argued that there is no-great difference between a period of three, four, five, six, or seven weeks. We should all agree that three months is too long, and we should all agree that a week or a fortnight would be too short, but there is 2331 something between, and I think seven weeks, at a juncture like this, is too long. One thing only we can say in regard to the events of the next seven weeks, and that is we cannot prophecy except that during these next seven weeks events of the most vital importance in the greatest crisis through which not only this nation, but the world has ever passed must happen. Is it the case that it is necessary altogether to get rid of the great inquest of the nation for so long at a period which is certain to be pregnant with such events and with issues of such enormous importance? It is said that Parliament can suddenly be summoned if the occasion should arise. I am quite aware of that, but I am perfectly certain that suddenly to summons Parliament on an emergency, and because the nation was in some particular peril, would be the very way to raise panic over the whole country.
We are asked what are we to do if we stay here. The Prime Minister tells us that he has carried through all the legislation which is now necessary. He is a very confident prophet if he says that. We know that during the last two or three weeks we have been frequently asked, after a day or two days' notice, to consider new Emergency Bills introduced to correct errors which were discovered in Emergency Bills not three or four weeks' old. I challenge either of the Cabinet Ministers on the Front Bench to deny that assertion. If that has been the case in the past, is it not only too likely to be the case in the future? May we not have issues of the greatest importance for which, at very short notice, you may be called upon to propose and we to sanction legislation absolutely necessary in some emergency? Is it not important that we, as representing our constitutents, should be more or less in constant touch with Ministers? There is nothing I hesitate more about than troubling a Minister. I do not think I have had to trouble the Under-Secretary for War, much against my will, more than half a dozen times during the last week, and I am sure he will acquit me of wishing to give more trouble than I can help. I acknowledge his courtesy and the eagerness with which he has met me, but I am sure he will admit that I always try to make my questions as little troublesome as possible. Often a word, or simple contact with a Minister for a few moments, will solve a difficulty which has arisen amongst a 2332 large circle of our constituents, and has caused growing and continuous friction. Are there not in the best regulated Governments abuses requiring investigation? We do not accuse Ministers when we bring these to their notice. They cannot cover the whole circumstances of all that is going on by their own single knowledge. It cannot be useless now and then to have their attention called to things on which we receive correspondence, which are all the better for being looked into, and which Ministers are not indisposed to look into when they are brought to their notice. I admit that this is a question in the long run for the Government to decide. If, after hearing our views, they insist upon adopting the course of a long adjournment, the wisdom of which I am certain is disputed by many from sincere conviction and from no desire to embarrass them or to impede their action, I, speaking for myself, must, in obedience to that general loyalty that I owe them, submit to their ruling. To break with that would be a breach of that pledge which I have made. But in urging considerations in favour of the other course, I would beg them to believe that I and many others — because sympathy from many quarters has been expressed, both orally and in writing—speak from sincere conviction and in defence of what we think the course that is wisest and most expedient in the interest of the Ministry, in the interest of this House, and in the interest of the constituencies.
The responsibility rests with them, but let them remember that it is a very heavy responsibility. Would it not be better for them to keep in close touch with Parliament almost, if not altogether, continuously, and through Parliament to keep in close touch with the constituencies? I fully recognise the burden placed upon Ministers, and I have no desire to increase it. I should like the days in the weeks during which we meet to be largely curtailed, but the fact of meeting for one or two days would place upon individual Cabinet Ministers no very serious increase of their burden. I should prefer that, instead of an adjournment for seven weeks, we should adjourn for three weeks and meet for at least three or four days in, say, every three weeks continuously. I do not think Ministers would find that that would seriously add to their burden. I should like also to place a very severe restriction upon, and to prune unnecessary or too numerous questions. I should like 2333 still more that discipline, such as I have referred to, should be exercised upon any tendency to abuse opportunities. I do not say whether there is such a tendency, or such an abuse of opportunities or not. It is not for me to judge any Member of the House at all, but surely the House of Commons can rise to the height of its great position. Surely it can acquire confidence in the Government if it can set its own House in order, if it can find in its Leaders those who are disposed to exercise discipline, and if it can form, as it was designed to form, and as it ought to form, that link between the constituencies and Ministers which is the only possible means by which a Ministry can acquire the full confidence of the country, and by which it can bring to the State the full resources and full energies which the country has placed at its service.
§ Mr. HODGE
I have been in very much sympathy with the Amendment, but on re-consideration of the position I find that I must recant. My reasons for that are that in the speech that the Prime Minister made he referred to a certain section of the Press which had been malignant and unpatriotic in its criticism. In consultation with my friends with whom I am more closely associated, everyone agreed with the contention that neither the Government or this House should be bludgeoned into doing anything that this particular section of the Press has been howling for. As a consequence of that we will not support the Amendment. One cannot have any confidence in the writings or the criticisms of that syndicate, because in the early days of the War they made the demand that Lord Kitchener should be sent to the War Office, and later on, when he did not fall in with their particular ideas, sought to assassinate him. I think that, as a consequence of that, one cannot permit oneself, even though one agreed with the merits of the Amendment, to be made tools of by an organisation of that character. I have much sympathy with many of the points of criticism raised by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment respecting the acts of the Government. At the same time, I think we have to realise that we have been up against a crisis such as no one in this country ever anticipated. No one had any conception of its magnitude, and it is easy when the machine breaks down for those who are criticising to come to us and say, "We told you so." I have no doubt that even if the present Government were giving 2334 place to a new Government that in the course of two or three months they would be in the position of saying once again, "We told you so." It is easy to criticise, but it is difficult to construct. I think that, in spite of any failures the Government may have made, we have got to ask ourselves the question, "Had anyone else been in their place would they possibly have done better?" Where real mismanagement has taken place I think the Government are entitled to be criticised, and I think we are entitled to demand, as the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment mentioned, that those officials who have been guilty of gross carelessness or mismanagement ought to be dealt with severely.
In connection with food prices I am convinced, and my colleagues have long been convinced, that the Government did not do what they might have done. So far as the Coal Bill which passed this House the other day is concerned, I am doubtful if it will fulfil the estimate of it which was given by the President of the Board of Trade. In that connection I can say, coming as I do into close contact with the workers all over the country, not only as a result of my trade union work, but in connection with recruiting meetings, meetings in connection with munitions, and in other services which I have been endeavouring to render, one cannot but appreciate the fact that the discontent that has been apparent amongst the workers all over the country has been due very much, firstly, to the exorbitant prices of food and the other necessities of life, and, secondly, to the doubts of the workers as to whether, by putting extra energy into their work, they are not putting extra profits into the pockets of their employers. We have constantly urged upon the Government that if they remove these two causes of discontent they will get as disinterested, as loyal, and is efficient service from the workers in this country as they get from the men at the front. It is these doubts in the minds of the workers that really have caused all the trouble and the irritation. To my mind that irritation still exists in a great number of works where munitions are being partly made. One part of the works may be doing Government work, and the other part civil work, and the men have no assurance that, so far as the civil work is concerned, there is going to be any limitation of profit. It is not to be wondered at that workmen who feel that 2335 they are called upon to take out of themselves every ounce of energy for the benefit of the employer should be discontented under these circumstances. If the Government could make up their minds that all excess profits due to the War should be taxed to their full extent, then, so far as the workers are concerned, very much more efficient and willing service would be rendered in this great crisis.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The general question is not under discussion. The only point now at issue is whether we shall adjourn for four weeks or for seven weeks. When that has been disposed of the general question will be opened.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is quite true, but we are not on the Adjournment Motion; we are on the Amendment.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I want to make a few remarks to explain why I think the decision of the Prime Minister and the Government is unwise. Of course, I recognise that they take the whole responsibility for that decision. So far as I am concerned, there can be no question of taking up a hostile attitude to the Government, but I do not think that I shall be doing my duty either to my own convictions or to those whom I represent unless I put it very firmly on record that I do dissent from the Government's decision in regard to this long adjournment. Many of the reasons which the Prime Minister gave in support of a seven weeks adjournment are reasons which, to my mind, make it extremely clear that the adjournment should be curtailed. I put on one side the references which the Prime Minister made to the writings and the influence of a particular section of the Press. After all, this is the British House of Commons, and I would like to know what Mr. Gladstone or Sir Robert Peel, or Pitt, or Chatham would have thought of a Government which suggested that they should 2336 enter into competition of this kind because a particular section of the Press take particular views. While on that subject I may say that I am not in any way connected with any newspaper, nor do I ever write for any newspaper, nor have I any connection of any kind with any newspaper. Therefore I can speak with a perfectly impartial mind. I think there is a great deal to be said about Lord Northcliffe's efforts, and the things that appear in his newspapers. I should say, also, that the persistent decrying of the House of Commons which has appeared in other newspapers is exceedingly offensive, and that it is entirely unjustified by the facts. There can be no greater disservice to the British Empire, and, I might say, to the representative institutions everywhere, than to decry the British House of Commons. Certainly nothing has occurred since this Session began which in any way diminishes the dignity or importance of this House.
In the House of Commons, after all, you must allow for a certain number of foolish and ridiculous questions. What I cannot understand is this—I am not speaking now of the present Coalition Government— we have had a Government in power which systematically neglected preparations for this great War. We had them embarking upon a wrong policy. We had them practically misleading the House of Commons. And I want to know why, if we are going to enter into reproaches, the Ministers who were responsible for that state of things do not stand in a white sheet and express their regret. Surely, a few ridiculous questions in the House of Commons are of very small importance compared with that great neglect of policy and with the neglect of preparations for a war like this. I cannot for one moment think that anything that any newspapers say can be a reason which should affect the Government in such an important decision. After all, it is a very important decision to adjourn the House for seven weeks. The Prime Minister spoke about the strain put upon public Departments in answering questions. Well, we live, or we thought we lived, under a Parliamentary system, and under that Parliamentary system, if you are to carry it on at all, questions must be addressed to Ministers, and it is part of the day's work for those questions to be answered by the responsible Ministers, and for all the material to be prepared. The utility or the importance of a question does not rest 2337 merely in the putting of the question upon the Paper and the answer given to it by Ministers. Everybody knows that a question put down upon the Paper has a very important effect in the Departments in speeding up work and increasing efficiency. I could, during the last ten years, single out a number of questions which have been put in this House where the effect has been direct and important, not in mere idle criticism, but in actually improving the efficiency of different Departments. I can mention a case. I had the honour of putting a question to the Prime Minister the other day, making a suggestion about the proper correlation of statistical data for the purpose of carrying out the policy of the War Trade Department. The Prime Minister agreed to the suggestion and said he would carry it out. I could give a great many instances from both sides of the House in the last week or two of questions put down and answered which have had the effect of increasing the efficiency of the country for the purposes of the War. I do not think, therefore, that that particular reason given by the Prime Minister is a good one why we should have a long adjournment.
I come to another subject which I think is extremely important. The Prime Minister said that it was right to adjourn the House for seven weeks because we have come to the end of the legislative programme of the Government, and they have no more Bills to bring in. We have a Coalition Government, which includes the best brains of both parties. We are in the middle of the greatest struggle we have ever had. We have been told over and over again that the country is to be organised, and the Empire is to be organised, for the purposes of the War. We know that neither the country nor the Empire is so organised. We know that the measures that are required for organisation require Bills and Acts of Parliament, and if the Government at this critical stage of the War come to us now and say, "We have no legislative programme; there is nothing we want to introduce; there is no suggestion we can make which can be ratified by the House of Commons," it means simply that the Coalition Government has no policy. It means that they have no suggestion to make with regard to the great problems of organisation. I can give a definite and concrete case. Take the case of spelter. Everybody knows how important spelter 1s. It is one of the absolute necessities in 2338 connection with munitions of war. We know that there is great scarcity. We have had for many months past questions addressed to the Government asking them to take action in the matter of the Australian zinc concentrates. We also know that the particular action required cannot be taken unless a Bill is passed through this House. If, therefore, the Government say now, "We have no Bills to introduce during the next seven weeks on this question," that means that they are not going to deal with the spelter question. If they are not going to do this, the chances are that the scarcity is going to become more pronounced. There are many other concrete cases to which I do not think it desirable to give great publicity. Great publicity has been given to the case of spelter, and we know that that case requires legislation, and if the Government are not going to introduce legislation it means that they are not going to take action at all, or else that they are not going to take action in time, because seven weeks is a very long delay in a matter like that, and the whole question is urgent.
Another case. There was a Reuter message in the papers the other day reporting a speech of the Prime Minister of the Australian Commonwealth. In that speech the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth said that he was practically dependent for certain information on matters affecting the Australian Commonwealth on questions put down by private Members in this House. I do not want to labour the point, but I feel very strongly that, in view of the critical situation in which we find ourselves, the course proposed should not be adopted. We have just passed through a most dangerous experience in the coal strike. We do not know what may be before us in future. I do not attach very much importance to Debates carried on here. I do not care whether there are Debates or not unless there is going to be legislation; but we know by practical experience in the case of cotton and other things, as to which representations have been made to Ministers, that it is of the highest importance at the present stage of our affairs that we, and through us our constituents and the country, should be kept in the closest contact with Ministers who are responsible for the conduct of affairs. I do not think that it can be said that on this, side of the House we have, at any rate, interrupted their work to any extent. We certainly 2339 do not make many speeches, and we put down very few questions. We have confined ourselves, as far as I know—and I think that I know what is done—to continue to study, investigate, and try to get a grip of the questions connected with the War, and we have been constantly placing information at the disposal of the Government and doing everything we can to help the Government. I do not think that there has been any opposition of any kind on this side of the House.
We feel that in doing that the gentlemen with whom we are associated are doing useful work in the interests of the Empire, and I do not think it should be terminated. On those grounds the weakness of the Prime Minister's argument, and the other grounds which I have mentioned and the absolute necessity of certain legislation, and of immediate legislation, if the Coalition Government are going to carry out their object, I think that the decision of the Government should have been different. I know that, the Prime Minister having taken a definite line, that is impossible now, but we on this side of the House were not consulted in any way, and no attempt was made, so far as I know, to sound our views, and I do feel that it would have been better if a complete decision had been postponed until the views which we represent had been ascertained. Of course there is no question of holidays. Nobody is thinking of holidays. The whole spirit of the House is against holidays. All of us have friends and relations fighting at the front, but there is a feeling in every quarter of the House that the Government, on the whole, do not make the best use which they might of the House. After all, we have a great amount of expert knowledge represented by the Members of this House. Many of us feel that it would be of real assistance to the Government and the country if the organised ability which is represented in the House of Commons could be made available. I am not going to contend with the Government over this matter. I am quite content to place my case on record and to register my protest. I think that the policy of the Government is unwise. I think that it may be disastrous. I would have desired with all my heart that the Prime Minister should have reconsidered the determination to which he has come, and I am perfectly certain that the Government will live to regret their decision.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
This is not a matter of Government policy or of large policy at all. It is, if I may use the words used by Lord Hatherley, on a celebrated occasion, as matter of "indoor management" of the House of Commons itself, and in a matter of indoor management every Member of this House is interested and is entitled to express his views. We are all interested in the good opinion which the country may or may not have of this House. Certainly, from what I have heard outside, a long adjournment is injurious to the reputation of this House. It creates the impression, which has been expressed in the Press and otherwise, that there is really no utility in the House of Commons whatever, and that if we consent to adjourn for a period of seven weeks we are simply writing down a record of our own uselessness. It seems to me that the period of adjournment and the reasons given for it are erroneous. We have a Coalition Government which I believe combines the best intellect of this House. I certainly would be the first to defer to them. When that Government was formed I took the liberty of stating on public platforms that it was the duty of all political parties in this House to give wholehearted support to the Government with regard to its general policy, and I say so still. But when it comes to a matter that affects the arrangements of the House itself, and the reputation in which the House is held in the country, we are bound to consider solemnly as to whether we are not doing an act of injury to the House, and its reputation in the eyes of the people, by having so long an adjournment.
One of the reasons given by the Prime Minister was that the Government had finished its business. We are not sent here as the representatives of the people merely to deal with the business of the Government. One of our primary duties would be to criticise the business of the Government, or to suggest other business, and it is certainly not beyond the range of possibility that other business might be brought either by ourselves, or by the Press, or by those outside to the notice of Parliament, so that Parliament should deal with it. And though at the moment the Government may have terminated all the business they feel it incumbent upon them to do at this time, it may be that in the course of three or four weeks, in the great emergency in which we are, new matters requiring legislation will come up, and it is-most fitting that this House should be in 2341 Session at such period in order that it may deal with these questions. There is some force in the point made in opposition to this view that the House could be summoned rapidly together if required, but, if the House adjourns for seven weeks, and is summoned to reassemble in three or four weeks as an emergency matter, it may create a panic, or undue importance may be given to the subject, or people may get the view that something has gone entirely wrong with regard to our military forces. Would it not be a much more reasonable thing that the House should adjourn for four weeks, and should then reassemble, and that, if nothing important transpired in the meantime requiring fresh legislation, there should then be an extra period of three or four weeks?
To take the whole adjournment at one gulp seems to me to be a mistake, I will not say of policy, but in the internal arrangements of this House. We have just created a new Department, the Munitions Department, which for the moment is the most important Department working under the Crown. It is entrusted with what is most necessary at this time, the production of the instruments and munitions of war that are necessary to bring success to our forces in the field. That Department is hardly organised. We do not yet know who are its constituent members. We have asked a number of times who are the great business men of large experience who, we were promised, should be associated with the duties of this Department. Even to-day we have heard the statement that one of those suggested in connection with that Department is not acting in connection with it. I do not know whether that is so or not, but at all events, with reference to this new Department, surely we should not take an adjournment of seven weeks, and thus deprive ourselves of the right to observe and even to criticise the manner in which that Department does its work. Though I defer in my judgment to the Government, I do think that it is a mistake to take so long an adjournment. My views are the views of those who think that an adjournment of four weeks is reasonably sufficient, and that if necessary there could be a further adjournment later on.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The Prime Minister, in his statement to the House, drew attention to the number of questions that were put to himself and to his right hon. Friend and relative the Secretary of State for War. The Prime Minister seems to 2342 think, because he had been asked 400 odd questions, that that was an illustration of the fact that Members were taking undue advantage of the privilege extended to them of asking him questions. But I would remind the Prime Minister of a certain week, not so very long ago, in the history of this House, when he himself was asked and answered no fewer than 500 questions, when my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, who has just come in, was on the other side of the Table, engaged with his other Friends in association with what was known as the famous Curragh rebellion in Ireland. On that occasion 500 questions were put to the Prime Minister in one single week, and were answered by him, and I remember the Prime Minister being extremely delighted that he had never been caught out once in the course of those 500 questions. So the suggestion put forward that, because he had been asked 400 questions, hon. Members are taking an unfair advantage of their position to ask questions, is one which will not hold water at all. In this Debate as to whether we disperse for four or seven weeks a number of Members who have spoken have not taken advantage of the opportunities which have been open to them during the past few days. We have had the Second Heading and the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill, one being taken at half-past twelve in the morning, and the Third Reading was put down as the first Order one day last week in order that Members might have an opportunity of ventilating any subject; but, if hon. Members do not embrace those opportunities, it is obvious that Ministers will think that Members do not want to take advantage of them when offered.
A leader of the Labour party said he had been going to support the Amendment, but, although he believed that it was all right on its merits, he was not going to support it because it was advocated by people outside who directed certain newspapers, and he was not going to give those people the satisfaction of voting for them in the Lobby. A more ludicrous argument to use in this House I never heard. I remember that the "Daily Citizen" used to bludgeon Members of the House and threaten what they would do if they did not go into certain lobbies on certain questions, and now, because some newspapers advocate this Amendment, the hon. Member will not give them the satisfaction of voting for 2343 it in the Lobby. The Colonial Secretary is present, and I would beg to call his attention to the question of the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill. The Prime Minister in the course of his speech made statements with regard to pensions and separation allowances, and I attempted to interrupt. The Prime Minister did not give way. I want to point out to him and to the Colonial Secretary, who probably knows more about the matter, as he was a member of the Select Committee which dealt with the subject, that there is urgent reason why this Pensions Bill should be settled before the House adjourns at this moment. The reason is that a certain kind of allowance which ought to be paid is not being paid at the present moment. The Colonial Secretary will remember that on the Select Committee he and his colleagues determined that no separation allowances should be paid except to prewar dependants. As a result of that a large number of dependants, mothers, sisters, and male relatives, have not had paid to them the allowance that might have been paid if they had claimed it on the pre-war basis.
The new body created by this Bill, which is the child of the Colonial Secretary, sets up a statutory body to which application can be made for these pensions, and the House of Lords, with which the Colonial Secretary is familiar, and over which he used to have a great deal of power, has hung up the Bill for seven weeks. I say quite frankly and quite clearly that I do not think it fair of the Coalition Cabinet not to have maintained in the House of Lords a majority of Coalition Peers to pass legislation sent up from this House. It is the duty of the Government to prevent, in the House of Lords, these "backwoodsmen," as they are called, from turning down a piece of Cabinet legislation sent up from this House. I want to make this suggestion to the Colonial Secretary. If we are going to adjourn for seven weeks, will he meet us in this way: As he knows, every widow and child, and every disabled soldier and sailor, is entitled to the pension laid down by this Committee, and which will be paid. This Committee exists to deal with inequalities in regard to pensions, to deal with the training, with the care, and employment of disabled soldiers and sailors, and for dealing with these separation allowances which are not upon the pre-war basis. Can my right hon. Friend 2344 get the Cabinet to consent to this suggestion, that, if you are going to adjourn for seven weeks, dependants who are entitled, or who believe they are entitled, but for the pre-war basis, to an allowance, may make applications now through the Local Government Board? The President of the Local Government Board was in charge of this Bill, which came from his Department. It was taken through the House of Lords by the President of the Local Government Board, and the money is there.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend will recollect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to give public funds for the use of that Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "The money is not forthcoming!"] The money is not forthcoming, but that pledge exists. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a question of four weeks!"] My argument is that we should not adjourn for seven weeks until we make sure that those who are entitled to these pensions get them. I am suggesting to the Colonial Secretary that he might, through the Local Government Board, take the names and applications of those dependants who are entitled to the separation allowance. I think that is a fair thing to ask. Take the case where a man joined the Forces on the day War was declared; he went into the Army and has fought in many of the actions which have taken place. When he went his people were in comfortable circumstances, and he made no application for allowance, thereby saving the nation money; but some of his relatives have since died, and others have become dependants upon him, and now, forsooth, you will not give him that separation allowance, nor is it to be dealt with for seven weeks. I suggest that the Colonial Secretary, who has great sympathy with these people, and who, I think, realises the case I am putting, fairly and moderately I claim, might agree to some arrangement being made in the interval by which these people can receive their allowance. I agree that the other class, on another scale of charges, which is a generous one, can wait; but these people for whom I speak should not be allowed to wait, and I think they are entitled to the sympathetic treatment of the Government.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I approach this question with a considerable amount of care. I 2345 have resisted the blandishments of powerful newspapers, and I have declined to give any view whatever among journalists with regard to this vexed question whether the adjournment should be for a short or a long period. I rise to explain to the House why I feel bound, much as I regret it, to vote for this Amendment. I do not think that Parliament should break up, so to speak, for the Recess with this vexed question of the Pensions Bill still upon us. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the delay of naval and military pensions for seven weeks only affects one particular class. I supported the Government against an Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Attercliffe Division who, rather than do a slight injustice, withdrew his very substantial proposal. What was the Amendment? It was that there should be provision in the Bill for finding employment for disabled soldiers and sailors at a later period. I wish to point out the importance of that work now, particularly in relation to cripples who require artificial limbs, which are supplied to wounded soldiers, and in regard to which it should be seen that they are properly fitted and suitable for the employment upon which the men are to enter. It seems to me, as a member of the Committee which deals with Belgian soldiers, that we should have an opportunity of dealing equally with British soldiers.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is going a very long way from the question whether we are to adjourn for four or six weeks. That is the only point before the House.
§ Mr. BOOTH
Yes, and it is the only point in my mind. The seven weeks' delay in dealing with this urgent case, in regard to which the Pensions Bill applies, is one which demands consideration. I will vote against the Coalition Government because I feel exceedingly strongly about this matter. Speaking as a civilian, in my opinion even the humblest soldier who has risked his life, or lost a limb, should meet with our prompt consideration, and I do not think that the House should adjourn until this question is settled. I am troubled about it much more than I can express at this moment. I would like if we could to take the question now, but it is quite clear that we cannot prolong the present sitting. Why should we adjourn for seven weeks? The fact of this Bill having been thrown out, the provisions of which would have enabled us to deal 2346 with crippled soldiers, and the fact of this delay which has been caused in another place, alters our attitude—at any rate, it alters mine. I submit that a case has not been made out for adjourning for seven weeks, and I was rather impressed by the statesmanlike speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) who delivered the most careful and weighty utterances that I have heard in this House for years. The hon. Gentleman thinks a fortnight or three weeks better than the longer period. I do not support this Amendment simply because I want to ask more questions and raise more Debates, and some of the questions which have been put, I have thought, were not in the public interests, but they were put forward sincerely. Very rarely indeed have I asked questions, and therefore I am not in the category of having put down questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War. It is not from that point of view I look at the matter, but if the House were continually sitting, and adjourning for short periods, and such, I believe, is the lesson of history, then the power and prestige of this House will be preserved. On the other hand, if we begin to go in for long Adjournments, I am perfectly certain it will lead to great upheaval and great confusion of our Parliamentary position.
We are now in a sort of Long Parliament. We are about to go beyond the confines of the Parliament Act, and we may sit for years. This Adjournment may be taken as a precedent. I want to ask, supposing something very serious did occur, and the House is on a long Adjournment, how is it to be met? Suppose the House did not happen to meet when the great telegram which came from Colonel Repington was published in the "Times," I do, not say it would have been better or worse, but the history of this House and of the Government would have been very different. Who knows what information may come in the next seven weeks. I do not. As to this being decided upon the mere question of whether we are supporting some newspaper or not I never heard such trash. The hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), who leads the Labour party, says that he has changed his views, and that up to the speech of the Prime Minister he had been determined to vote in favour of this Amendment, but that now he is going to vote the other way, as he would not be a cat's paw of Lord Northcliffe. All I can say is 2347 that I will record my vote on behalf of the Labour party, who apparently are in favour of this Amendment, and think the arguments are on its side. If they have any reluctance to give a vote, I will give one by proxy for them. Ought we to bring such reasons as that before the House. What do I care for the "Daily Mail" or the "Times" or any other newspaper while I have all the responsibility of a Member of Parliament! It really is amazing that the Front Bench, as well as the Back Benches, seem to be possessed of a bogey in the person of Lord Northcliffe. Why should not he write what he likes, and with the strict censorship, if the Government do not choose to deal with him and his articles, why should they whine and complain?
Then take our Liberal newspapers, and they are practically giving orders to us not to vote for this Amendment on the ground that it has been foisted on the Radicals below the Gangway by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), or the editor of the "Daily Mail"—they are not quite sure which. And the great Liberal organs, not content with advertising their rival in business day after day in their columns, and trying to get in customers and purchasers, actually tell us we are not to vote for their Amendment. I submit that the less we hear of Press dictation the better. I am reminded of an important question which I once put down to the Prime Minister, and then I saw in some of those newspapers a suggestion about some Member of the Ministry. I cannot go into that now. Why should we take notice of tittle-tattle of that description? What is the meaning of it all? I suppose my speech to-day, along with that of my right hon. Friend, will earn for me the title of being a hack of Lord Northcliffe, and I suppose every man who votes for this Amendment will be listed in the Conservative and Liberal papers as being a tool of the Harmsworth press. Is it not time to grow out of this kind of thing. When we hear from the Leader of the Labour party that explanation I think it is time to protest. What does it matter what the papers say? Their influence was never lower than it is now. I regret to say so, but it is the fact. If instead of voting on a simple matter like this we talk about descriptive articles and leading articles instead of deciding whether we will ad- 2348 journ for four weeks or for seven weeks, then I can conceive no course better calculated to discredit this House.
I give my vote on a simple issue. I do not think we have any right whatever in common justice to our wounded soldiers to dissolve or break up our proceedings while that Pensions Bill hangs where it does. I may be wrong, and I am not going to say that those who differ from me do not hold views as good as mine, but I am only explaining my vote, and this matter is so burning to my soul that I could not look one of these wounded soldiers who is waiting for an allowance in the face if I voluntarily adjourned this House while that question remains unsettled. I should like to make this appeal: If we are to adjourn and go away for six weeks, can we have any assurance that progress will be made with that Bill in another place. Surely, if we do adjourn, we do not want to come back and find that Bill just where it is now. Can we have any assurance that some progress will be made with the Bill, so that when we come back we may be able to save time? The seven weeks when they are gone cannot be recalled. Is the Government not to make any effort in the meantime. I appeal to this united Government. One thought that they might have a little trouble in this House, but we did not think that they would have had any trouble in the other House. There are eight Whips in this House, and I want to ask what about the whipping in another place. I have seen Members here to-day I have not seen for weeks. They have come back from far and near. As one trained to have a very keen eye for strangers, perhaps I have got into the habit of looking at their faces, and I say that there are hon. Members here to-day who have not been here for weeks, in order to vote upon this Amendment. That shows good whipping, and, of course, we have a right to expect it out of eight Whips, but what about the position in another place. Why was there no proper whipping there?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member's exuberance of language carries him rather outside the limits of the question. The domestic arrangements in another place are not relevant to the question whether we should rise for four weeks or for seven.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I should like to associate myself with the observations that have been made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen University (Sir H. Craik). So far as we have the opportunity of judging, I should say, for my own part and for a good number of other Members, that a seven weeks adjournment was unnecessarily long, and four weeks was abundantly sufficient. At the same time I must recognise that the real materials on which to form an opinion must be in the hands of the Government. I should, however, like to register a protest in this House against the very erroneous impression that appears to prevail outside, namely, that the only work that this House does is done in the Chamber by the speeches of hon. Members. I should say that one of the reasons why a short adjournment was necessary was because the meeting of Parliament from time to time, if only for one or two days per week, gives opportunities for conference among Members, not necessarily in the Chamber, and for the exchange of information, and for learning the true position of certain important matters, which undoubtedly are valuable to Members and their constituents and constitute one of the most important of the duties which it is possible for a Member of Parliament to fulfil. The general idea outside, and from what appears in the newspapers, seems to be that Parliament should only meet when there are legislative proposals to be brought before it. I think a truer view? of the Houses of Parliament is this, that by offering an opportunity for explanation and for conference and by information being given by Ministers to the House, they have the opportunity of fulfilling what is their most important function, namely, to see that the important interests which are entrusted to their hands are safeguarded, and so that they are able to give from time to time assurances to the people at large that that is so.
It is sometimes said by hon. Members that too many questions are asked and too many speeches are made, and on that ground that longer adjournments are better. Observations of that sort are made outside and freely made in the newspapers, and perhaps by the most noisy section of the Press, but I do not believe that really represents the true feeling of those who are thoughtful members of our 2350 country at large. I believe that there is still respect for the House of Commons and that the people still desire it to meet in order that it may fulfil its functions. For us to say that it would be wise to close the House in order that speeches might not be made would be to lose sight of the real interests of those who take a true and proper interest in polities and in their country. After all, many of us during the present Session have remained comparatively silent. That does not mean that we have not done good work. Many of us have associated with each other in order that we might be sure not to raise any point at all which would be an embarrassment to the Government or endanger the position of the country at large. That work is prevented by our not sitting, and I should have thought a shorter adjournment, if necessary to be increased by Proclamation from time to time, would be the better course. I should, therefore, prefer to see an adjournment for four weeks and no more, but to be increased if the Government were satisfied that the position was one of complete security from time to time, but that is not to be so. I end by saying that it is impossible for the Back Bencher to hold a decided opinion. We must support the Government in the decision they have come to, but at the same time on behalf of those who do try to do something in the opportunities which are given by the House of Commons, even if silently, I should like to enter a protest as to the length of the adjournment, because I believe in the true interests and in the true desire of the nation a short adjournment, increased from time to time, should have been the course adopted.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
I had no intention of taking part in this Debate and should not have done so, had it not been for the frequent references which have been made to the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill and its relation to the subject we are now discussing. I have, like the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), who spoke so strongly on the matter, taken the keenest interest in that Bill from the beginning. As the House may perhaps remember, it was at my suggestion that the Committee was appointed. A great deal of work, time, and care were given by the Committee to trying to bring out a scheme which would satisfy the House and the country, and do what I think we all 2351 regarded as the clear duty of the House and the country, to treat the men who are fighting our battles in as generous a way as possible. That being the case, and in view also of the fact that, owing to the circumstances of the time, the Ministers on the Committee had naturally more to do than I had, I had a great deal personally to do with the framing of the Report of that Committee. Therefore, if there is anyone who ought to have a feeling of injury that his offspring had not been well treated, I think I ought to have that feeling. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh spoke of the power which he said I once had in another place. I was not conscious of it then. If I did have it, I suppose I have lost it by contamination with my right hon. Friends who now sit on this bench. But while, in my opinion, it is regrettable, and very regrettable, that this question has not been settled, I do think there has been a good deal of exaggeration in what has been said and suggested as to the effect of the delay which is to take place.
I should also like clearly to point out to the House that no one who is keenly interested in this question can suggest for a moment that the effect of that delay is purely bad. People in another place, as here, take the keenest interest in this subject, both generally and locally, and it is not unnatural, if they take a different view from myself, that they should like to have an opportunity of thoroughly discussing it from their point of view. I do not think it is unnatural at all. I regret the delay, but I think that probably, if a full opportunity is given for discussion, in view of the fact that the members of that Committee came unanimously to one decision after weighing all the arguments in the other direction, the same result might be arrived at by others who approach the question with equally open minds. The point made that the poor soldiers and sailors are going to be deprived of their pensions as a result of the action of the House of Lords is really perfectly unfair. I am bound to say that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh put the case perfectly plainly and without any exaggeration. In the first place, the pensions, on the scale settled by the Committee, are being paid and will continue to be paid during the interval which is to take place. The only people affected by the delay are those who will get something over and above the rate agreed upon to 2352 be paid them by the State. That is all. As regards separation allowances, precisely the same kind of arrangement will go on as has gone on hitherto. Not only will the flat rates be given, but already arrangements are in operation whereby supplements are made to those rates, and they will continue.
I quite admit that cases will arise, such as those referred to by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, which I should desire to see met according to the scheme of the Bill and of the Pensions Committee. But, after all, they will not be absolutely penniless. In any district where there is a Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, if any relation of a soldier who becomes penniless goes to that association, the position will be considered, and I believe out of their funds something will be given to meet a case of that kind. Therefore, it is not so urgent as all that. I would also point out that the fact that it may need a great deal of consideration is shown by this: We gave our Report, I think, on the 15th April; that is a long time ago. Things; will go on in the interval precisely in the same way as they have gone on from 15th April until now. If that were all, I should still say that it might have been the duty of the Government—and we discussed it—to keep the House sitting until this measure was carried through. That was the alternative. But the suggestion that the difference between four weeks and six or seven weeks is going to make any serious difference in this respect is absurd. That is not the way to deal with the difficulty. The way to deal with it would have been to keep on sitting until the question was settled. I will tell the House why I, for one, came to the conclusion that that was not a wise plan.
This opposition is directed against views which I have held and strongly advocated; therefore I do not like it. But the opposition is based on real grounds. People think that proper recognition is not being made of those who have done the work up till now. They may be right or wrong; I think they are wrong; but whether they are right or wrong, this is the fact: the object of our scheme was to get a large amount of private benevolence, for the reason that if you are dealing only with State money you are bound to have a hard and fast system which will not be elastic enough to meet special cases which arise. If we want to get the largest amount of support possible for the scheme, surely it is worth while to try and get rid of the- 2353 friction which would be created by forcing the Bill through rapidly against the wish of those who have strong views on it. I say this deliberately. When the Government had to choose between keeping the House sitting until they had forced the Bill through, and allowing an interval to take place in the hope, which I believe will be realised, that an agreement might be come to, and the measure passed without friction, and they chose the latter alternative, in my opinion that will be to the advantage and not to the disadvantage of those who are depending upon pensions of that kind.
I do not know whether it is worth while touching on the wider subject, but since I have risen perhaps I may say a word or two about it. I know quite well, and I am sure my hon. Friends opposite realise it, that a man who a few months ago was in Opposition and now is a Member of the Government is under suspicion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] He has been a poacher and he has turned gamekeeper. So long as I am a Member of the Government, I am bound to defend the Government as much as I can, so that the suspicion is perfectly reasonable. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy. His criticisms were mainly directed to matters which took place before I was associated with the Government. Therefore it might be quite easy for me to listen to his speech and say nothing about it, but rather enjoy it. But I do not quite take that view. For myself, I find no fault whatever with any criticism which has taken place in this House since the Coalition was formed. It is less than I expected by a great deal. I think this is the first time I have said anything on the subject since the Coalition was formed. A Coalition Government, while it may have fewer enemies, has no friends whatever. It has no friends in this sense, and it is the sense which tells in Parliamentary warfare—it has no friends in the sense that they will stick to it, even when they think the Government is wrong. I expected a great deal more criticism in the House than we have had, and we have reason to be thankful.
But while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy was speaking, I had recollections of a period of nine months, when I occupied the seat now so worthily filled by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin). Possibly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy has 2354 forgotten it, but it is the fact that at one time in my life I used to enjoy making attacks; and if I had thought it the right course to take nothing would have given me more pleasure than to make precisely the same kind of speech as that which was made by the right hon. Gentleman. I might not have made it with the same vehemence, but I should have enjoyed making it. I did not do it—and this is my justification now for speaking at all— not because I did not believe then, as I believe now, that criticism is good for any Government, but for this reason, that it is difficult to draw the line between criticism which is helpful and criticism-which develops into party fighting. I think that is a consideration which ought to, and will weigh with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy and others. The criticism which is going to do-good is the criticism which will not dwell' on defects of the past. We are engaged in a kind of struggle which does not permit us to have a handicap of any kind. If the impression is created that any single section of the House of Commons believes that this country is not properly represented by the Government, that the Government is not properly carrying on its work, then, in my opinion, the greatest possible harm is done by creating a feeling of unrest in this country and a feeling of uncertainty on the part of our Allies. I am sure of that. Therefore, all that I would say to the House is this: Criticise by all means, but whenever you criticise remember that this is the Government, and, until you are prepared to substitute another, do not make any kind of criticism which will so discredit it that it wilt weaken it in carrying on the War.
As to the general question, whether we should adjourn for four weeks or for six or seven, is that really a matter on which the House ought to get excited one way or another? I do not think so. I can quite see the force of the view that the House-of Commons ought never to cease sitting, but ought to meet once or twice a week all the time. But what about the difference between four and six weeks? Surely it is the Government who ought to judge, and surely the House of Commons, if it has any faith in them, ought to accept their decision. For instance, it is said that something might happen to necessitate our being called together. Might not that happen in four weeks just as well as in six? There is really nothing in that. In my opinion, an adjournment of this 2355 length is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable from the point of view of the permanent officials of the Government Departments. It is all very well to say that the people who answer questions are not the people who are carrying on the War. I have not had the misfortune—I hope that nothing that I have said will alter that—to be subjected to many questions, but I know that any question which is put may involve going from Department to Department to get the information required. I do not say that such questions are not useful; but I do say most clearly that if the House realises the fact that in the War Office, for instance, they are working all hours and all days, it will agree that it is surely not unreasonable that they should have a little respite from that kind of work, and be allowed to make up arrears of other kinds, and give more time to the consideration of more vital problems. I am not going to make any claim on behalf of Ministers, but I do say this: nobody who has ever been a Member of any Government, I believe, doubts that things could be a great deal better done than they are being done. Nobody doubts that! I remember, many years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) was Prime Minister, his saying to mo as I left the House with him, "The worst of this kind of life is that I never have any time to think." That is literally true. At a time like this, especially, Ministers are driven all the time. Take into account the fact that any Minister who is here, in this House, must have a respect for the House of Commons—we all get it by being here!—and it makes us determined, so far as we can, that whatever else we scamp we will not scamp the work which comes under the review of the House of Commons. If you realise that, surely from the very point of view of the House of Commons getting the best out of the Ministers who have been chosen, it is good for them also to have a little freedom from the House of Commons work in order to give more time to think about the things which have to come later. That is really my view.
I have this further justification—for what it is worth. It is not a view I have adopted since I became a Member of the Government. The House will remember that, I think, last February—I do not know the exact time, but at the beginning of the year—a Motion was made to separate for a long adjournment. My hon. Friend 2356 opposite was very hostile to it then. He interviewed me, and tried to get me to oppose it on behalf of the party. I did not take his view. I thought then, as I think now, that a reasonable adjournment does not take away from the dignity of the House of Commons, and that it does really help those who are engaged in the conduct of this great War. They have more time to devote to other things. I have spoken at greater length than I intended, but at all events I am sure we are all agreed about this: that the arguments for or against are quite clear in all our minds. The House knows there are other subjects which have to be considered, and in particular we all wish to hear the statement from the new Department which has been created, and which, in my belief, has more to do with the successful conduct of the War than anything else. I am sure the House of Commons wishes to hear the Minister of Munitions, and I hope, therefore, that not much further time will be taken up on this discussion.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think he is under some suspicion because he is a Member of the Coalition Government. I think, myself, he is mistaken, but however that may be, everyone, I am sure, agrees that the speech that he has just made contained views that are strongly shared by hon. Gentlemen in every quarter of the House. I only want to say one or two words in reply to an observation which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford. I think it is only fair that I should say them. He blamed the Prime Minister because the right hon. Gentleman in one portion of his speech, said the Government had no more measures before them, and that, consequently, they had no policy. My right hon. Friend could not accurately have heard what fell from the Prime Minister. What did he say? First of all, he recounted the number of important measures that have been passed. Then he proceeded to say that the House had no more measures before it for the moment. That is only natural, but that is very different to saying that we have a Government in office which has no policy whatever. I appeal to the House to come to a decision now.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed; Debate resumed.