HC Deb 19 May 1915 vol 71 cc2400-13

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went, and, having returned, Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—

  1. 1. Copyright (British Museum) Act, 1915.
  2. 2. Fugitive Offenders (Protected States) Act, 1915.
  3. 3. Marriage of British Subjects (Facilities) Act, 1915.
  4. 4. Police (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1915.
  5. 5. Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 3) Act, 1915.
  6. 6. Army (Transfers) Act, 1915.
  7. 7. Statutory Companies (Redeemable Stock) Act, 1915.
  8. 8. British North America Act, 1915.
  9. 9. Special Constables (Scotland) Act, 1915.
  10. 10. Fishery Harbours Act, 1915.
  11. 11. Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1915.
  12. 12. Housing (Rosyth Dockyard) Act, 1915.
  13. 13. Local Government Board's Provisional Orders Confirmation (No. 1) Act, 1915.
  14. 14. Caledonian Railway Order Confirmation Act, 1915.
  15. 15. Liverpool Corporation Act, 1915.
  16. 16. London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Act, 1915.
  17. 17. Ascot District; Gas and Electricity Act, 1915.
  18. 18. Mersey Railway Act, 1915.
  19. 19. Royal School for Deaf and Dumb Children (Margate) Act, 1915.
  20. 20. Ilfracombe Gas Act.
  21. 21. Neath Canal Navigation Act, 1915.
  22. 22. Great Central Railway Act, 1915.
  23. 23. Beamish Divorce Act, 1915.
  24. 24. Denny's Divorce Act, 1915.


When I was interrupted I was referring to the Secretary of State for War and to the satisfactory results which had accrued during his term of office in the creation of a great Army. I do not know whether the idea may have come into my head as I listened to the Prime Minister just now, or whether it may be some idea that was flickering in my brain for some time, but it seemed to me possible that in the developments of the immediate future there might be changes which would make it possible to give to the special genius of the Secretary of State for War a sphere of action more suited to him. As an officer in command of the great Army which we have at Home, in the organising and raising to full efficiency of that mass of men which has answered the call of the country, and is now being gradually welded into a great and formidable military machine, under the executive head of that great man, in my opinion, the present Secretary of State for War, would be far more useful than at the head of a Government Department. That is a suggestion which I may make with all respect to the great talents of Lord Kitchener, though, whatever be the immediate future, I would put this to the representatives of His Majesty's Government on that Bench, that a great responsibility is falling upon them now and one which, if not fully faced, may bring upon them, in the not distant future, the very severest criticism, and possibly the obloquy of future generations.

I say that it is time that the Government should consider seriously from a wide and comprehensive standpoint the whole question of the supply of men in connection with national service in this country. I put it in the most comprehensive manner, not wishing to deal only with recruiting for the Army. We have to provide also for our great service, the Navy, and we have also, as we must recognise, that great army of workers who have to produce the material for the Army, and who are as important to be considered as the rank and file of the Army itself. Therefore I urge most strongly that steps be taken, by means I would suggest of a Committee set up for this purpose in connection with various public departments, not the War Office only, to take a census and registration of the whole of the male population of this country, noting and verifying the capacities of each one. That would be one of the most useful services you could render to the State, and if as time goes on, we have to be prepared for all emergencies, if, before we have finally crushed the enemy, it becomes necessary to bring compulsion to bear upon any class of the community, in order to make them bring their fullest strength to the accomplishment of the great purpose which we have in hand, then I say that we shall be ready to deal with the matter in a full, proper, and efficient manner.


There can be no difference of opinion in any quarter of the House, as to the absolute necessity of fully and completely mobilising all the forces and recources of the country, in order to enable us rapidly to prosecute this terrible and inhuman War to a triumphant conclusion. It has been brought home to me, as I have gone about the country, that there are many who do not realise even to-day the gravity of the situation in which we are placed. I have no doubt as to the final result, but I do feel that the more rapidly we bring into action the full forces and resources of the country in this conflict, the less will be the loss, of human life in connection with this War. There is one class in the community, one force, which does not appear to me to have been sufficiently tapped up to the present moment. I refer to chauffeurs and driver mechanics. There are in this country many thousands of able-bodied men acting as chauffeurs and driver mechanics. I found last Sunday four chauffeurs, able and active fellows, with a knowledge of mechanics, quite willing to volunteer for transport or other service if they could get from their employers a guarantee of re-engagement at the end of the War. The suggestion that I have to make to my right hon. Friend is this: The Government are in possession of the name and address of every motor-car owner in the country, and I would urge upon them that they should issue a circular of the strongest possible character, pointing out to motor-car owners in the country that it is their duty, irrespective of their comfort and convenience, to assist their country by releasing their chaffeurs, if they are willing to go, either for service in connection with motor transport or to assist in producing extra munitions of war.

I should say that even from the ranks of the chaffeurs alone in this country we might get a most important contribution to the increase of our Forces, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will do me the honour to listen to the suggestion that I am making, and give it his most careful consideration. I should even go so far as to say to the owners of motor-cars that, unless they make a proper response to this appeal on the part of the Government, the Government will have to consider the question of commandeering both the cars and the chaffeurs for the country's service. I believe myself that the chaffeurs are quite willing to respond. I do not believe that there is any lack of patriotism in them, but the very contrary. The Government, however, must insist that there shall be an exercise of patriotism on the part of the owners to release their chaffeurs to go and assist the country in this hour of its need, giving them a guarantee of reinstatement at the end of the War.

There is another question: My hon. Friend below the Gangway has spoken of the necessity of getting men and more men, and I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether it is not a fact that in Germany the military age is from seventeen to fifty-five? Is an Englishman not as good at fifty-five as a German at that age? We are not taking equally strong ground in this War as the Germans are doing. I certainly would not go below the age of eighteen, and I think that such an age as thirty-eight is too low a limit. You can find thousands and thousands of men in the country capable of more physical endurance at forty-five years of age than at twenty-five years. I know that to be true in my own personal experience. I only wish I were forty-five instead of my present age, and I should be fighting in the ranks at the Front. I should like to see the age raised. The Sportsmen's Battalion admit men up to forty-five. Why should that not be so in other battalions throughout the country? I believe we need every man who is willing and physically able to go, and up to the same age as the Germans have adopted, namely, fifty-five years, if we are to put forces into the field to meet the enemy and rapidly succeed in winning this War.

Another question which is seriously disturbing the country is the enormous proportion of married men who have enlisted. I have done my best in the district where I have worked to induce unmarried men to enlist, as they have no family responsibilities, but with little success, I am sorry to say, and nearly 70 per cent. of the two battalions raised are married men with families. I do not know whether and in what way the Government can make a special appeal to unmarried men, and induce them to have a higher degree of patriotism and, by coming forward, so lessen the proportion of married men. I have a case in my Division which I desire to bring before my right hon. Friend; it is that of a man who worked at the coal face, where he was sheltered from bad weather. He volunteered, giving up earnings probably amounting to £3 or £4 a week. He made a great financial sacrifice, and went into camp near Barnsley on the 11th of February. After considerable exposure to extremely bad weather, to which he had never been accustomed, he was seized with illness and died. To my astonishment, the widow, with five children under sixteen years of age, have been told that they are to have no pension, but merely the separation allowance for six months. The officer at the Record Office in York wrote to the widow a letter, in which he said that Private George Heaton did not die of a disease contracted on active service, and the widow and children were not eligible for pension from Army funds. I cannot believe for one moment that the major who wrote this communication understands what are the new regulations. I submit that the moment this man left highly paid work to enter the service of his country and undergo military training he was as much on active service for his country as a soldier at the front, and it is inconceivable that anyone will tell me that because the man contracted his disease, caused by exposure while in camp in England, instead of in camp in France, his wife and children are therefore to be deprived of the Army pension. It must be remembered that these things are talked about.

We want two or three hundred more men to complete our second battalion, and the effect of incidents like this to which I refer, through their being talked about, hinders very much our recruiting efforts. It is obvious that that must be the result, when injustice of this kind is brought to light and is being perpetrated. I hope to have from my right hon. Friend a satisfactory reply on this occasion that justice will be done and that the hardship to the widow and children of this man will be rectified. The deceased man made a great sacrifice for his country, and in all human probability if he had not enlisted he would be alive and at work to-day in the coal-mines. I submit that his widow and children should receive justice, and that a man who died in the circumstances I have described should be regarded as having been on active service, and that the pension should be given to his dependants just as it would undoubtedly be given to the dependants of one of our soldiers dying from disease in France.

Then there is another matter to which I would draw the attention of the War Office, namely, the enormous waste of food that is taking place. I have evidence which I cannot put aside in regard to this—from personal observation and from very reliable friends. The waste of food which takes place in connection with concentration camps and in connection with many military camps throughout the country is very great. I know on the best authority that in some villages near camps they get jam galore, all the bread required, and many other things from those camps. Not only that, we know that you cannot go to a big restaurant or hotel in London without seeing dry toast and pieces of bread all swept away from the tables in the course of the evening; and I am afraid that in the homes of the people there is not that simple living, or rigid economy or avoidance of waste, which ought to be put into practice. I am perfectly certain that in Germany, Austria, and France things are very differently managed. I am not afraid of the Germans ever succeeding in invading our shores, but I say it is only common prudence and wise precaution that we should economise and prevent all waste of food, while inculcating among the people the necessity of self-denial and of a simple life. In my own judgment the majority of the people of the country eat more than is good for them, and if they took twice the time to eat two-thirds the amount they now consume they would be better men and better women than they are. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thirty-two bites!"] There is no question whatever, in my judgment, that we ought to take steps at once to increase the store of food supplies by an avoidance of all waste and by rigid economy, and the Government ought to give a strong lead in this matter to the country. This is no time for half measures; we are in for a struggle such as we never knew before, and we shall have, one and all, to make greater sacrifices in the country's interest than we ever did before.

I beg the Under-Secretary for War to seriously consider whether he ought not to take strong measures to warn the people as to the necessity of economy in the matter of food supplies. I am afraid that the Board of Trade, who have received from this House great powers to keep down the cost of the necessaries of life, have recently relaxed their efforts. We used to see in the papers announcements of the maximum price of such-and- such necessaries of life, and that they should not be more than so-and-so at the principal wholesale tradesmen. I have not observed any such notices in the papers for some time; I fear that the Department have relaxed their efforts. It is all very well giving bonuses to workers in various trades to meet the extra cost of living caused by the War, but it is equally important that the cost of food and of the necessaries of life should be kept down to the lowest possible limit, so that these bonuses, which, after all, are a tax on the economic strength and wealth of the country, should be needed to a less degree than they will be needed if food prices are allowed to rise unduly high.

The last question to which I desire to refer is that of racing and football, on which I hold a strong view. It is a perfect scandal that either should go on in this time of dire distress and war as they would in peace time, and what is needed is a strong lead from the Government on this matter of racing and football. Lord Derby said the day before yesterday that the Jockey Club would stop all racing in twenty-four hours if they had the word from the Government that they should do so, and he added that if racing continued, upon the Government would rest the sole responsibility. I press those words upon the attention of my right hon. Friend, and I submit that the time has come when the naval and military authorities of the country should make it clear, in emphatic terms, that in their judgment both racing and football injure recruiting and are calculated to hinder the full production of munitions of war. There are thousands and thousands of men who, when there is a football match, cannot deny themselves the pleasure of going there; but if these matches were not held next winter, then in all probability many thousands of these men would be induced to remain at work in producing munitions of war. This is no small matter. I think we ought to consider the feelings of our men in the field. Some wounded men were recently at a great football match, and one of them said, "I wish the Germans could come and throw a few bombs on this crowd; it would waken them up and would make them realise what war is." I am fond of a football match, but I felt it my duty not to attend football matches during this winter, even when pressed to do so. I think this is no time for athletic footballers to be kicking a ball about. Men like them, who are in the pink of condition, have a duty to enlist and go and fight for their King and country at the front. I have not hesitated to tell that straight to my own Constituents. I, therefore, would urge upon the War Office and Admiralty to speak out with no uncertain voice, and let us for the duration of the War have a complete cessation both of racing and football, and of everything else that would hinder the country developing its resources and bringing them into play in the interests of humanity and civilisation. The only other point I may refer to is as to trading with the enemy. Severe restrictions are put on trading with the enemy in Germany and Austria. I should like to see that policy carried much further here. I do not believe in trading at all with the enemy. When we trade with Germans in England, we increase their wealth and power to continue the War just as if we were trading with Germans in Germany. I would carry the matter further, and say that we should not trade with them either in this country or in China or elsewhere. I think it most important that we should have no half-measures with regard to any of these matters. I am not attacking the Government. I consider the Government have done splendidly in this severe crisis through which we have been passing. I do say it is the duty of every citizen to do whatever he can to produce the greatest efficiency and the greatest development of forces and strength and power in order to end this War at the earliest possible moment.


I desire to refer to the question of the continuance of racing in this country. I do not propose to enter into the merits of the question in any way. I merely wish to urge upon the Government the desirability, in case they have come to any conclusion on the subject, of giving the very earliest publicity to whatever conclusion that may be. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question the other day, announced to the House that negotiations were going on with regard to this subject, and that he did not think any legislation would be necessary upon it. In the Press this morning it is stated that an agreement has been come to at an interview between the Prime Minister and members of the Jockey Club, at which it was arranged that a large number of meetings which had no particular importance from the point of view of the business of horse breeding and the business of racing generally should be given up. There are several classes of race courses in this country. Some of them are owned by private owners, like the Duke of Richmond, who has announced the abandonment of the Good-wood meeting to-day. Others are owned by companies who, no doubt, will be guided in their decision with regard to race meetings, if the matter is left to them, by considerations which guide other people of business in carrying on their business. But there are a great number of race courses in the country which are owned by public local authorities—city and town corporations. The meetings held on those courses are, as a rule, managed for the corporation by certain lessees or trustees appointed for that purpose. Under existing circumstances those gentlemen are in a very difficult position. They probably and possibly themselves are not in favour of continuing racing in the towns in which they act. At the same time the inhabitants of the town to whom the race course belongs derive, or expect to derive, certain profits from the race course not only directly in relief of rates, but also through the influx of strangers to the meetings. Therefore a considerable amount of pressure is brought to bear on persons who are acting gratuitously in the public interest to do what perhaps they themselves would not wish to do and do not consider right in what is locally considered the public interest. I urge upon the Government, if any such decision has been come to as is reported, that it should be announced at once. It would at once meet the cases I am speaking of where probably the racing would be abandoned. If it is true that the Jockey Club has met the Prime Minister and accepted his views with regard to the matter, an announcement to that effect should be made without any further delay.


I desire to state very shortly the very strong views which I believe are held in this country with regard to what is known as the voluntary system. I have spent a good deal of time in doing my utmost to obtain recruits for Kitchener's Army, and I have been almost invariably met by remarks from the working classes that the present system is extremely unjust and unfair. There are thousands and thousands of men in this country who would only be too glad to enlist in the Army if the Government called upon them to do so. As matters stand now, we know it is only the willing horse who goes, while the loafers and shirkers stay at home. I cordially agree with what the hon. Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton) has said about the enormous number of married men who go, while the single men remain at home, and engage in the inglorious occupation of making money while their heroic countrymen are dying on the field of battle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. Walter Long) made a very strong speech on the breakdown of the voluntary system, and he showed that the present system was grossly unfair. He told us of Territorials who had enlisted being absolutely coerced and forced into volunteering for abroad, with very great danger to themselves if they did not do so—and, in fact, they were absolutely forced. If we had universal service, and that is entirely a different thing from conscription, the Government would then be able to put their hands on every available and likely man in the country. Personally, I was only too glad to attend recruiting meetings, but I do not approve of Ministers from the Front Bench doing so, and especially of the Prime Minister having to go and address a meeting of shop assistants in order to persuade them to go to the front. I think it would be infinitely better if the Government were in a position to call on every person to go. With regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Barnsley as to chauffeurs, the secretary to the Automobile Club did send out a circular to all the members, I do not think myself, if the Under-Secretary for War issued a circular, that he would be very much more successful than the secretary, of the Automobile Club, because the excellent attempt of the latter was an absolute breakdown, since he got hardly any responses at all to his invitation.

The fact is that this country does not realise that within a few hundred miles, or a hundred miles or less, there is a terrible raging war going on. There is no pressure apparently anywhere. People of all sorts and conditions have more money than they want to spend. Strikes are fatally prevalent in many cases, and there is an entire absence of the realisation of the conditions. You would bring a stop to that if you brought home to every person that it is his duty to defend the country. As President Roosevelt said the other day, there is no room in the present state of civilisation for short-haired women who will not make a home and long-haired men who will not defend it. We ought to bring ourselves, and try to bring the people of this country, to face the realities of the position. We have only to look around at the example of the Colonies. I do not suggest that a Motion of this kind should be carried, but I think it should be received sympathetically by the Government, and that it would do more to knit this country and its great Dependencies together than anything that could possibly be done. Look at the sacrifices our Australians and New Zealanders and Canadians have made! The manner in which they have come forward and fought for the country while we have got here loafers and shirkers who ought to be at the front doing their duty in one form or another, is a perfect scandal for this country. The sooner we put an end to that system and give sympathetic consideration to the proposal which has been so ably put forward by two hon. Members, the better it will be for this country.


I had not the faintest intention of taking part in this Debate until the intervention of the Prime Minister, and after his most momentous utterance, and in view of the fact that the House is rising now for some three weeks, I should like to say that in my opinion it is absolutely imperative that the whole resources of the country should be at once mobilised and utilised to meet the present position. I have spent a considerable time with military officers back from the front, and the position is a very serious one. There is a constant demand for guns and guns and guns and ammunition, and now for gas, and it is necessary that these requirements should be promptly met. I am a great believer in universal service, not necessarily military service. I believe that the whole resources of the country should be utilised in every possible direction to carry this War to a successful and victorious issue. If we had had at the beginning of the War universal service, the mechanic and the skilled workman would not have been allowed to go to the front, where his patriotism prompted him to proceed, but he would have been kept in the workshops, where he would have been of greater value and service than in the fighting line; and the stalwart, able-bodied young men, unmarried and without any responsibility, would have been brought to a sense of his responsibility and sent to the front. I do not believe that many of these men throughout the country, agricultural labourers and others, are devoid of either courage or patriotism; it is want of intelligence and want of knowledge; and even if their hearts are small, if they were watered with patriotism they would expand to the size their forefathers possessed. I object altogether to the censorship and to the secrecy which is maintained in our newspapers and by correspondents in regard to the heroic deeds of our men at the front. From my own personal knowledge it would require a Homer to describe the heroic deeds of our Canadians and of our citizen soldiers. Only the other night I spent three hours with the colonel of a Canadian regiment just back from the front. He told me that he took 900 men into action and brought only 291 back, and that the regiment next to his lost 270 men. The Germans drove back the French on to the Canadians, and therefore the Canadians had to fall back. These men fought back to back against the German attacks and repulsed them. At the present moment there is the greatest demand for ammunition. Very effective ammunition can be supplied at a cheap cost. I am told by men back from the trenches that they do not care two straws for the shrapnel; what they do care for is the cast-iron German shell, which is one of the cheapest, but at the same time one of the most fatal in its effects. I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention to that point. Furthermore, the men call for guns—guns of any sort, not necessarily big guns, or guns for long distances. For fighting at short distances, as our men are, any sort of gun will do, so long as it can be handled by inexperienced men. Maxims are doing good work, but they require men who are accustomed to them. If the right hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to a gun which does not require a belt and scientific handling, but into which the soldier can simply drop his clips, it would be a very effective weapon indeed. I have called attention by means of a question to the length of our bayonet. The French bayonet is a much more effective and deadly weapon than the British. It is lighter, longer, and stronger, and the Germans dread it much more than they do ours. It is rough on our men, small in numbers as they are, that they should be handicapped in this way against the enemy.

6.0 P.M.

I trust that there will be no delay on the part of the Government in utilising in every possible direction every resource that we have. There is a great deal of waste of patriotic effort by men being in the wrong places. From my own ships, officers, who would have been useful in the Navy and elsewhere, have enlisted in the Army, in regard to which they had no previous knowledge or training. It is, of course, necessary to carry on the work of the country. We must carry on our trade and our shipping, and bring back food to this country. I pointed out years ago to the then First Lord of the Admiralty and also to the President of the Board of Trade the absolute necessity of providing more seamen, and I made an offer to the then President of the Board of Trade, the present Lord Buxton, to provide the Government at my own expense with a training ship for training boys for sea. I pointed out the danger of employing foreign seamen in our ships. Far too many foreigners have been employed, and we are now feeling the effects of it. At the outbreak of the War a great many of these German seamen who were employed on British ships, and consequently had to be interned, were handed over to the care and custody of a gentleman known as Father Hopkins. The hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) had a question on this matter to-day. Father Hopkins is an official of the Seamen's and Firemen's Union. I addressed a strong protest to the Home Office against these men being left in Father Hopkins' custody outside police or military control. That protest was not attended to.

If the country had been properly organised no such act as that could have taken place. There they were, potential elements of danger to the country, and possibly developing into German spies. We have had too much of the German element loose in this country. Knowing Germans as I have done for many years, having worked in business with them and fought against them in the shipping business, I know how thorough they are in all their methods and detail, and, although I do not love them, I certainly admire the systematic and thorough methods of attending to details. Attention to detail is one of the weak points of our administration. I do not wish to criticise the Government—far from it; they are doing everything they can now, but it ought to have been done much earlier. The Opposition are only too pleased to help them in every possible way. But I am no believer in coalitions. I do not attach as much value to the word "coalition" as the old lady did to the blessed word "Mesopotamia." In fact, many people who are in favour of a Coalition Government are inclined to be like the Irishman who said, "I am all in favour of a coalition, but what does it mean?" There are many other methods which would be more effective, more benecial, and more in the best interests of the country for carrying the war to a successful issue—in fact, I am surprised that the present position has been brought about. I can only conclude that the proposed coalition has been brought about by a state of affairs which I can describe epigrammatically by saying that Reginald has done too little and Winston has done too much.

I have always found the Under-Secretary of State for War sympathetic, courteous, and willing to listen to any suggestion, and I would press upon him and upon the Secretary of State for the Colonies the desirability of employing in France some of the best fighting material in the whole Empire—I mean the Basutos from South Africa. I can quite understand that there may be very proper reasons for not employing them in South Africa, but if they were employed against the Germans in Europe no such objection could be taken. These men are patriotic and loyal, and, as I have said, some of the finest fighting material in the world. They would supply a very important factor in fighting the Germans at the front. I would press on the right hon. Gentleman the importance of considering this question. I have indicated in a question to-day that individuals are prepared privately to raise regiments of these Zulus, and, when efficiently trained and equipped, to hand them over to the War Office. This course has been followed in regard to other regiments, and I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not turn down this proposition. It is necessary that we should utilise every resource of the Empire, from whatever part it is drawn. I do not propose to make any further remarks about the suggested coalition, but now that the House is rising for some three weeks I urge the Government to adopt the suggestion contained in various questions addressed to the Prime Minister to-day, and, if I may say so, expressed very concisely in my own, namely, that the Government should immediately proceed to put the whole United Kingdom under martial law, or to take any such course as is necessary to utilise to the very best advantage the whole resources of the country.