§ Mr. AMERY
I hope that I may have the indulgence of the House if I make some observations upon the Vote of Credit which has just been introduced, and upon the speech which the Prime Minister has made. Certainly, the sums which have been brought before the House to-day are such as cannot but give us serious pause. It is clear that we are now committed to an expenditure which in the gross is amounting to £5,000,000 a day, and which, in the net, obviously will amount to over £4,000,000. When we look back at the time before this War, and think what we might have done, even with £4,000,000 in a whole year, for social reform, in the matter of housing, say; when we think that it was only £4,000,000 a year additional that Lord Roberts asked for to carry out his moderate scheme of National Service, which in the opinion of many of us might have done so much to improve the situation; again when we think what all this vast expenditure will mean after the War; when we think of all the things—on which every section of the House might have agreed that we shall have to forego for want of money, then certainly 52 this question of the Vote of Credit does deserve the most earnest attention of the House of Commons. None of us doubts the wisdom of the course this country has pursued. As the Prime Minister said before, "No price is too high when honour and liberty are at stake." At the same time, there is a question which the House of Commons is entitled to ask when it is spending these vast sums of money, and it is this: Is the price we are paying conducing in the most effective way to bring the victory of honour and liberty nearer? Do we feel sure that that end is being brought nearer? After all, our resources are not unlimited. The question is, are they to any extent being dissipated for want of the best system of organisation, for want of the best measures, for want of sufficient forethought?
Take this question of the raising of the Army which is responsible for so large an amount of the money that has been spent; or the question of munitions, which represent the largest amount of the increase in recent months. Could anything be more wasteful than to have to feed and clothe and keep going millions of men here at home and in the trenches, facing all the casualties of the ordinary trench work, and not be able to fling them decisively into the line of action for want of munitions? And yet, in consequence of the system on which our Army has been organised, there are tens of thousands of men who ought to be making munitions who are at the front and who, as a matter of fact, cannot be got back from the front. The other day at the Dardanelles I remember an engineer officer telling me that, among a small gang of men he had carrying rocks to help make a pier, were two skilled machine tool makers and one designer of gun mountings. How is it you cannot get these men back from the front? How is it there is this deadlock? Why cannot the Minister of Munitions get his way in this matter? I would ask the House to put themselves in the position of a commanding officer of a battalion at the front, his battalion already depleted, holding his hard-won trenches, still more hard to defend, who is asked to give up forty or fifty of his best men—for what? He may have to wait weeks and weeks before getting any drafts, and when he gets them what sort of men are they? I have seen letter after letter from commanding officers complaining of the quality of the men they are getting as drafts now. Half of them may be unfit for service.
53 I remember as far back as last winter, when I was attached to a certain corps at the Front, we had a large draft which, after a few days, was sent back by every commanding officer because it was murder to let the poor old men hang on in the waterlogged trenches. They were sent five miles from the front; they performed useful service as sentries; they formed the congregation on Sunday at headquarters; they helped to distribute New Year's gifts to children, but they were not fit for the fighting line. I do not know that things are very much better now. The other day I got a letter from a friend of mine from which I hope I may be allowed to read a few sentences. He is a colonel who is engaged in this very work of providing drafts for the front, and this is what he says of the men he is getting:—I have any number of unfits, the halt, the lame and the blind, men who cannot march, and, even if carried into a trench, could not see to shoot. Yesterday I discharged a man with one year and sixteen days service, of which one year and fifteen days had been spent in hospital. Lately, many of the men who had been discharged as unfit have been re-enlisted for Home service, most of them quite unlit. Besides these, I am always discharging men who are mechanics and others who ought never to have been recruited.
§ Mr. AMERY
The Secretary of State for War or his representative in this House. It seems to me that it is a monstrous waste of money from the munitions point of view and from the point of view of the feeding and clothing of these men that the Army should be continually having men of that sort enlisted.
I will give you a name in this case. I was in a little village in Gloucestershire—Stonehouse—last Sunday, and I saw there on a notice board an appeal for yeomen, and at the foot of the appeal in large letters were the words, "Bad teeth no bar." Anyone who knows anything about soldiering knows what a bar bad teeth are. In South Africa 13,000 men had to be sent back as useless because of bad teeth. I would ask hon. Members to think what it means in waste of money, in waste of transport sending these men 54 to the Front and bringing them back, the heart-breaking work of officers training men for weeks, and then having to cast them, the heart-breaking work of officers at the Front who find men dribbling way from sickness. Is that an economical way of spending the vast sums we are called upon to spend? Does that indicate that there is an abundance of recruits coming in, and that equipment is far ahead of recruits, as we are sometimes told? On that same notice board last Sunday, I saw an invitation to men to enlist in an Infantry regiment, the Gloucestershire, one of the most honourable regiments in the whole Service, and it consisted of setting forth the full daily menu—salmon for breakfast, treacle pudding for dinner, pineapple for tea, a quart of hot soup for supper, and extra soup and biscuits for anyone who would get up before day break. Excellent, I dare say. Let us feed our soldiers as well as we can, but surely when you have to print that sort of thing to draw men to the Colours—
§ Mr. AMERY
I am not here to discuss questions of that sort. I am here to discuss this Vote of Credit, and to say that we are spending our money in many ways unwisely. I could suggest what is the best method by which they can be raised, but at this moment I hope to have the indulgence of the House in drawing attention to some of those ways in which some of the vast sums we are spending are being wasted. I would like to go into the broader aspects of this question of expenditure—not merely what we waste in false methods of recruiting, but what we are wasting if we are not carrying on the War with absolute whole-heartedness and absolute concentration of effort; if we are not making sure of victory at the earliest possible moment, and sacrificing every prejudice, every preconception and every interest for that object. The Prime Minister spoke of the advantage of staying longer. Let me put it from a financial point of view. Even if we had to spend more to bring the War to a conclusion in the next year, would it not be infinitely cheaper to spend £2,000,000,000 next year than to spend £1,500,000,000 for two years, and similarly to have a million casualties in one year than to have three-quarters of a million for two-years? I would ask the House to remember likewise, when people talk of staying longest, that it is not only a greater strain on us, but an infinitely greater strain on our Allies, and the greater the strain on 55 our Allies the more they will be bound to come to us for help, and the greater the need of subvention. Are those considerations an argument for half-measures, or are they, on the contrary, an argument for whole-hearted concentration now on bringing the War to an end, for assuring victory by whatever means, however unfamiliar, which may help to bring about that end?
We have heard a great deal recently of the doctrine of what may be called the specialised function of this country. I agree with the Prime Minister that we have done great things, and I also agree that we serve a special function to the Allies, but that special function to the Allies in the way of money and munitions does not in the least dispense us from making an even greater effort in the matter of men if we can. The things are not incompatible; they would only be incompatible if every man of military age not now enlisted were working on munitions already, or could be transferred to munitions work, or were working on some export trade which would enable the purchase of munitions. We have only to reduce this point to figures to see what it means. What was it the Minister for Munitions asked for the other day? He asked for 280,000 more men for munitions. If they were all of military age, they would come out of a total of 5,000,000 men of military age in this country who are yet unenlisted. Three hundred thousand out of 5,000,000 represents 6 per cent. What about the other 94 per cent.? Is there no room among them for increasing our Army and so giving us some chance of breaking through the solid lines which we have failed to break through so far?
The Prime Minister to-day spoke briefly about the military situation. He referred to the fact that our gallant Allies had made tremendous efforts this spring to break through the enemy's lines, and he referred to the immense losses incurred. He referred also to the case of Russia, and indicated that decisive aggression could not again be expected from that country yet awhile. Of course we know that the Russian Army on the Eastern front will not give up the fight, and that they will continue to hold large German forces. But the decisive thrust on Berlin is not to come from them. Again, in the Dardanelles we hold a front of a few miles of low-lying ground by the seashore. I was looking at it only a few weeks ago, and the fact remains that, in spite of the 56 immensely heavy casualties we have incurred, our advance has been checked. And the Turks and the Germans know quite well that we are still far from achieving the result we have in view. In these conditions it is well worth thinking whether we cannot find more men.
As to the question of our export trade, there are millions of men in this country engaged in industries which have nothing to do with that trade. There are at least three millions of such men, and surely one and a half or two millions could be spared for fighting purposes. After all, I would beg the House to remember that it is not the withdrawal of labour that has hit our exports. They are considerably higher now than they were last autumn, before two and a half millions of men were withdrawn from the labour market. Our export trade has been checked by the fact that some of the great markets are closed entirely, and there is no possibility that we could substantially increase the volume of our exports merely by keeping men in this country when there are no purchasers for more exports. The difference between exports and imports will have to be made up somehow, and an endeavour is on foot to make it up by loan. I will ask hon. Members to consider whether we are more likely to be successful in raising a loan in America if we point to the prospect of a slight increase in our export trade or if we can indicate a certainty of victory. The latter would be the best security for any loan. The question we have to ask ourselves is, Are we going on with an extension of the methods we used before—an immense extension, I admit—methods by which we used to get 35,000 men a year in times of peace without interference with industry, or are we going to put the whole of our strength as an organised nation into this business? The question is entirely one of concentration of effort. There is only one productive industry for us to consider, and that is the killing of the enemy's soldiers. The two things required are men, more men, and munitions, more munitions. From the point of view of finance there are only two keys to the financial situation—one, sacrifices at home; the other, victory abroad.
On this question we ought to concentrate our whole national effort into the prosecution of the War. The Prime Minister yesterday said it was a question of serious deliberation—not for undue haste or undue delay, but for serious 57 deliberation. But how long are we to deliberate? I will not stay to point out that we might have deliberated before the War commenced, or immediately after it began. But certainly, since the whole character of the War has been changed by events in France and Russia, we should have been deliberating. The Prime Minister told us just now that the Russian defeat was not a matter of German strategy or of the superior bravery of the German troops, but that it was due to the immense superiority of the Germans in munitions and guns. That deficiency was disclosed, to the Government at any rate, and it must have been known when the Russians were first being driven out of Galicia. It was obvious to anyone who knew the inside of the situation that the reasons which enabled the Germans to drive the Russians out of Galicia would also enable them to throw them out of Poland, and that they would continue to operate until the length of their own lines of communication rendered further advances undesirable. Or, at any rate, since June, when the great French attempt was made and failed, the Government should have been deliberating. Yet in July the Prime Minister came down to this House and gave us nothing but optimistic assurances. At last, in the thirteenth month of the War, a Sub-Committee of the Cabinet was appointed to begin deliberations on this question. We hear from the Press that they are divided, and that they differ in their opinions.
Now, in the fourteenth month of the War, I gather that the Cabinet are beginning to consider the matter, and the Press inform us that the Cabinet itself is divided. How much longer is the Cabinet going to be divided? How much longer are we going to halt between two opinions? If National Service is right, it is high time for the Leader of the Government to come down and tell the country why it is right, and why we should set about having it. If it is wrong, then surely it is high time to put an end to inevitable discussion up and down the country and tell the House why it is wrong and why we are more likely to achieve victory without it, instead of asking this House to go on waiting until the decision of the Government is sprung upon them.
One of my hon. and gallant Friends observed yesterday that we must trust Lord Kitchener. I think this country has great reason for trusting him, and for thanking him for what he has done in the 58 course of this War. When the War began Lord Kitchener did something that was against the opinion of all military experts, and of the people at the Front. He believed that the War was going to be a long war, and that it could only be won by calling out an immense New Army, by organising it, and by finding officers and cadres. It is no secret that many of the ablest officers at the Front—those in the highest places who knew the condition of the British Army, who knew the condition of our organisation far better than Lord Kitchener—differed from him, and thought it would be better if he would confine himself to the more modest task of keeping such Army as we had continuously replenished with men and officers. They were wrong, and Lord Kitchener was right. He was right, not by reason of his expert knowledge, but because of his individual insight and genius. I say that this country has every reason to give the greatest weight to the opinion of Lord Kitchener on any military subject.
But I would also remind the House that this question is not only one of recruiting and raising soldiers, but it is a question of taking the whole industrial and social organisation of this country, and of asking the people of this country to make sacrifices which they have never made before in all our long history— sacrifices that go deeply against the grain of many of them, and to do something that is bound to take time. This. House must not abrogate its authority, its responsibility, its trusteeship. You cannot introduce National Service overnight if Lord Kitchener finds that recruits are falling short. If this thing is to work it needs long preparation and if it is to work smoothly you must enlist the democratic forces of the country, the local authorities, and everybody concerned; you must enlist their support. You cannot have the military authorities suddenly dragging men from their homes. That would mean the press-gang, and nobody here would advocate that. What we advocate is something methodical—some arrangement which would make it easier for the individual when he is called upon, easier for his employer, and easier for society. Again, we know that these things take time, and that even when you get the men, months are required to train them. Are you coming down to the House at the last moment, when you have come to your conclusion, when the thing is irreversible and irrevocable, and then going to ask us to discuss it?
59 When the Prime Minister made his closing observations yesterday he said that when a decision had been come to on this matter he would tell the House, which could then discuss it. My mind went back suddenly to another discussion in this House fourteen months ago, when the Foreign Minister came down and in a great speech laid the situation in Europe before the House. What discussion was there then? A few men, more courageous perhaps than prudent, attempted to make observations on the position. But the situation had got to a point at which no argument could be entered upon. During the years before there were on both sides of this House, and especially on the other aide, those who believed that the danger, if it existed, could be averted by arbitration or other pacific methods, and by refraining in every way from encouraging the policy known as the Balance of Power. When they laid their methods of obtaining peace before the House, they were always swept aside with bland assurances that there was no danger. If the Foreign Secretary was in touch with Paris, we had Lord Haldane going over to Berlin—in fact, their policy was one of good will to everyone. On the other hand, there were those of us in this House who believed that the danger was real and that the policy which we knew the Government was being driven into was a necessary one, and we tried to find out whether the measures the Government were taking from a military point of view were sufficient. What answer did we get? I remember on two or three occasions during those dreary military debates, which very few Members attended, asking the representatives of the War Office whether they could give any reason for having an organisation based on six divisions. I remember asking more than once why six divisions rather than sixty divisions? But I could get no definite reply. We were trapped into this War. Those who hoped for peace by arbitration or disarmament, and those who hoped for peace by the provision of better armaments and the pursuit of a more resolute policy, both found themselves trapped. We went into this terrible War with the gravest misgivings. Some had those misgivings because they did not share in the policy, and some of us had those misgivings because we felt that policy in foreign affairs had never been matched or equalled by proper preparations in the 60 matter of armaments. In either case it was far too late on 4th August last year for any discussion to help us.
I do hope that we may not be confronted with the same sort of situation in this case. Hon. Members opposite do not want to be confronted with a situation in which the Prime Minister would come down and say: "We must have compulsory service; there is nothing else to be done. We must have it at once; there is no time for discussion." I, for my part, am not so much afraid of that. I am afraid of something else: I am afraid of the representative of the Government coming down to this House one day, and, tearing aside that veil of secrecy and optimism which has been thrown over all our proceedings during the past months, suddenly telling this House that for reasons of finance, and for military reasons, our Allies and ourselves cannot go on any longer, that it is no use discussing the question of National Service now, because it would take far too long to raise the men and to make them efficient. That is a prospect which may seem somewhat extravagant, ridiculous, I dare say, to hon. Members now. It is a thing which no hon. Member would consider now for a moment. But I ask those same hon. Members if they were for a moment prepared in July last year to consider entering into a war like the present one?
Whatever views we hold on this question we must have discussion in the House of Commons. Discussion, after all, need not mean division; it need not mean bitterness. Surely it is possible for us to face this great question fairly and squarely with a regard for each other's point of view, and a regard for facts, and not to shirk each other's point of view and the facts of the situation. When we are told to preserve a united front, the question that occurs to me is this: A united front for what purpose? United in action! United in defeating our enemies! That is the only form of union that is worth having. If it is to be unanimity in procrastination, unanimity in shirking the issues, and unanimity in postponing decisions, why, then, give me honest discussion, give me honest difference of opinion, and if we do not arrive at that unanimity at the end of those discussions, at any rate I think we shall arrive at a substantial and clear majority in favour of that course which is most certain to bring this War to a speedy and a victorious end.
61 All I ask this House is that we should fairly and squarely face this great question. There is no time to spare; it is not a peace time question, whether the thing might be done this Session or next Session. While we are deliberating, and spending these millions of money, Hindenberg and Mackensen are striking, and before we finish deliberating the whole matter may become irrevocably settled against the only form of termination which we in this House, whatever our opinions may be, would contemplate with any satisfaction. All I ask is that this House should have a decision at the earliest possible moment, and a decision based upon free and friendly discussion. We have suffered far too much from want of forethought in the past. Do let us have forethought and decision now.
If I might, I would quote to the House the prophetic words against this very issue which George Meredith uttered very nearly forty years ago when he asked this country to cease drifting andTo sainted forethought vowA space before the thunders flood;That martyr of its hour might nowSpare her the tears of blood.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I intervene only for a moment, not for the purpose of making any prolonged remarks, but in order to obtain more information than has yet been given on some points of importance bearing on the situation. The Motion before the House is for another Vote of Credit, and for all practical purposes it will be passed automatically and formally. As I ventured to say on a previous occasion, any money for which the Government ask for the carrying on of the War, will, I believe, be cheerfully given by every section of this House. The Government have mo complaint, I think, to make of the attitude of Members of the House on any proposition which they have made since the War began. Therefore, it is to all intents and purposes a formal proceeding that they should come to the House to-day and ask for a Vote of Credit, but it has at least the advantage that it provides the occasion, and they are not too many, for the Government to give us their views of the situation and to let the country know what they think of the progress of the War. I think it is especially important that we should have direct from the Prime Minister himself his views of the situation from time to time, because we have to remember that we are living under a censored Press. I make no complaint of it. I regard it as absolutely necessary that 62 that institution should exist, and, so far as I know, speaking generally, it has discharged its functions with satisfaction and with success. The House of Commons after all, however, is the place where the country expects to have answers on the subjects upon which they desire information, and to have statements from the Government as to their policy.
I think the House was entirely with the Prime Minister to-day in the speech which he made. I confess, as one who has offered criticism from time to time with regard to the action of the Government, and as one who has not belonged to what I might call the cheery optimists of this country, that I welcome the statement of the Prime Minister. I believe that it will do a great deal to bring home to the minds of the people of this country the seriousness of the situation in which the country now finds itself. I believe that it will do more than any other speech which he has yet made to make the country realise how great are the issues which are at stake at this very moment. I could wish that some of his colleagues would adopt the same tone which the right hon. Gentleman adopted to-day. I think that it is wicked for men in high position, men in the Cabinet who must know the facts of the situation, to go to public meetings at a time like this, and, forsooth, in order to help recruiting, practically to tell the country that all is well. I would instance the course taken by the First Commissioner of Works the other night when he practically said that there was no reason for depression—those were his own words—and no reason for alarm, but that we must look forward to next year, when we should see the German offensive exhausted. We were told in an official bulletin six months ago that the Germans had exhausted their offensive, and that view was endorsed by high military opinion in this country. What is the good of a Cabinet Minister expecting the country to rise to the seriousness of the situation when the First Commissioner of Works goes down and tells them that all is well and that there is no cause for alarm?
I hope and believe that right hon. Gentlemen paid good heed to the appeal which the Prime Minister made to-day with regard to recrimination. Of course, that appeal was addressed to the right hon. Gentleman's own colleagues. I am sure, so far as the general sense of the House is concerned, that they share in and sympathise with the appeal of the Prime Minister 63 that they will not continue in any public place their contradiction of each other in regard to vital questions of the moment. That most unpatriotic speech of the First Commissioner of Works is in direct contradiction to the speech made by the Prime Minister to-day. The Prime Minister today did not say that he regarded everything as satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman who poses as a prophet in this country was one of the men responsible for the negotiations which preceded this War. He was aware, or he ought to have been aware, of the responsibilities which this country had undertaken towards our Allies. What did he say in 1913? He is asking us now to believe his prophecy about everything being all right. In 1913 he said:—I can conceive of no circumstances in which Continental operations by our troops would not be a crime against the people of this country.Within a comparatively few months of War breaking out he said that for us to send a soldier to the Continent would be a crime. Then he comes down and asks us to believe him that there is no cause for alarm. Even after the War had broken out the right hon. Gentleman, who said a night ago that he thought the War was bound to last two years, telegraphed to Canada:—There seems to be no immediate necessity for any request on our part for an Expeditionary Force from Canada.I hope that these attempts that are being made outside the House to provide soothing syrup for the public will cease. I regard them as most dangerous and most unpatriotic, and, above all, I think that they are doing more to injure the success of the voluntary system than anything else could possibly do. We want the country to realise—they cannot have all the information which some of us may have in our possession—the seriousness of the situation. If the people of this country will read, mark, and inwardly digest the speech we have had to-day from the Prime Minister, I believe that they will see and realise that there is not very much there to make us feel that everything is going on all right, and that we have no cause for alarm. The Prime Minister told us, and told us rightly, that the original calculation of our assistance on the Continent was a maximum of 160,000 men. I do not know who made the calculation. Of course, I know that it was before the War, and it was not, as far as I remember, officially announced in the House of Commons, but in any case it was one of those 64 grave miscalculations which have been made in connection with this War. Once you commit your honour and your country to a war you cannot say, when the last of the 160,000 men have been disposed of, that you have ceased your obligations. When you send 5,000 men to take part in a war you accept the whole responsibility of it. Your honour is at stake, and you cannot withdraw under any circumstances, no matter what the contribution may be. Therefore, I say that once we agree to take part in operations, there is no limit to what we may be compelled to do. That was a miscalculation. I am not going into past history to-day, but is it not humiliating for us, as Members of the House of Commons to-day, to sit here and hear from the lips of the Prime Minister thirteen months after the War has been in progress, with the knowledge they had as to the possibility of war, and as to our relations, with Germany before the War started, that we should now be buying land upon, which to build factories to make tools and to make guns? I want to know what right any member of the Cabinet has to say anything to any private Member who dares to offer any criticism of a situation like that. Why did they not buy the land and get the guns before the War started? Why did they not order them when the War started, and why did they turn down the guns that were offered them? We are told that it is embarrassing the Government to ask for this information, but in my opinion the Government have lost the right to claim our silence or our confidence. I hope, therefore, that there will be an absence of recrimination, and that those on the Front Bench will set the example in this respect, and then I am quite sure private Members will willingly follow them.
We did not hear from the Prime Minister to-day the statement which he made on the last occasion as to his view in regard to recruiting. I think it would have been a good thing if the right hon. Gentleman had taken the House and the country more into his confidence in regard to that matter. I know it is possible to give information which might be useful to the enemy, but there is a certain kind of information which I think might safely be given without going into great detail. I should like to know whether the Government take the same optimistic view of the proceedings in the Dardanelles as they did when they asked for the last Vote of Credit. We were then told that everything was then most hopeful; and, indeed, we 65 were promised by the Prime Minister information as soon as he could arrange it, but as he is not here I will not press that question. I think the country would welcome more information than we have yet had in regard to the proceedings in the Dardanelles. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said two nights ago that we were within a little while of a great success in the Dardanelles. I know that some time ago the First Lord of the Admiralty said that we were within a few miles of victory, but the right hon. Gentleman did not explain the character of those miles. On this point I would like to know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty endorses and agrees with what his distinguished relative said on that point, and whether he was consulted before the statement was made. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs occupies a very important position. It is true that he is not a member of the Cabinet, and that he has not as much information as he might possess if he were a Cabinet Minister. At the same time he is in a position of authority, and what he says must undoubtedly carry a great deal of weight. I should like to know whether it is the opinion of the Government that in a little while we may expect a tremendous success in the Dardanelles. We all hope that we may, but I should like to hear from more official knowledge a statement of that kind. We know that there has been colossal blundering with regard to the Dardanelles. I say nothing of the months we lost at the beginning, but with regard to the last landing it is admitted by Sir Ian Hamilton that undoubtedly mistakes were made. I wonder if anyone has been cashiered for those mistakes which cost us so many thousands of lives. I understand that those mistakes were largely due to causes that ought to have been avoided. I should like to hear, and I think the rank and file of the Army would like to hear, that if mistakes have been made by men in high positions they have been dealt with in the same way as mistakes made by privates and officers of less importance.
We heard the other day—I think it was from the Minister of Munitions—that the country was not doing its utmost. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the country, but I would ask what has the country been asked to do that it has not done? Why blame the country? The country has given all the money you wanted, and it has provided all 66 the men you have asked for. The country has not embarrassed the Government, and it has given you a blank cheque for everything. Why blame the country? It is not the country that is to blame, but the gentlemen who were responsible after the War broke out for the conduct of the War. They are responsible, and the difficulties we are in to-day are mainly and entirely due to the absence of foresight, proper preparation and a proper realisation of the great task in hand. The country will support any Government to-day practically in anything it asks for, but do not blame the country. You ought to give the country a lead, and if you do I believe the country will support you. I see the First Lord of the Admiralty in his place, and I would like to ask him one or two questions with regard to another matter associated with the War. The First Lord of the Admiralty is nominally responsible for the aerial defence of London. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, on account of his other duties, cannot possibly give much personal attention to that matter, and I hope he will realise that I am not putting these questions to embarrass him, and if he replies that some of them cannot be answered in the public interest I shall not complain. I should like to ask whether the Admiralty are satisfied with the aerial defence of London? Are they satisfied that the guns of which we have heard so much are the right kind? Are the Admiralty satisfied that they are powerful enough for the purpose for which they are intended? Are they satisfied that the men in charge of those guns are fully qualified for the responsible task which has fallen upon them, and have they had enough practice in order to give some reasonable ground for assuming that their firing of the guns, when occasion arises, will be successful? I particularly ask the question as to whether the Admiralty are satisfied with the practice these men have had. I also wish to know why in the recent visit of the Zeppelins to London no aeroplanes, so far as I know, were requisitioned, although I understand there were plenty waiting for that purpose? I am not asking these questions in any spirit of complaint, but I think it would satisfy the public if we could get some reasonable explanation on this point.
I also wish to know whether the Admiralty have made a definite study of the defence of Paris in this respect. I think it is now admitted that the aerial defence of Paris is complete and that the Zeppelins and other flying machines which used to 67 fly over that city have practically been unable to make any headway there. I further desire to know who was the officer in charge of our aerial defences before Sir Percy Scott was appointed? I think that is a point upon which the House might welcome information. The appointment of Sir Percy Scott has, I think, been received in all quarters with the greatest satisfaction. So far as I know I do not think any other man would give more confidence to the country in regard to the important task which he has been asked to discharge. I cannot, however, understand why it was necessary to wait until the Zeppelins had visited London before calling in the advice and co-operation of Sir Percy Scott or some other officer. Of course, the mere fact that Sir Percy Scott is in charge today may not mean that your system before was imperfect, and will immediately become perfect now. Nothing of the kind. The whole question is one of the provision of proper guns, and while we welcome Sir Percy Scott's appointment, it seems to me that we must not expect too much until he has had time to review the whole situation and secure the guns which will be required. I hope that we may have some reply from the First Lord of the Admiralty on these points, and, as far as I am concerned, I believe that any further information beyond that which we have already had will be welcomed by the public outside.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Balfour)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made a pointed and perfectly legitimate appeal to me to say something about the defence of London, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite who rose to speak will allow me to intervene before he takes part in this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) asked me questions about the guns, the provision of guns, the character of the guns, their sufficiency in point of number and quality, and he also asked me various questions about the organisation of the defence of London, which, as he truly observed, is not a thing which can be brought to perfection merely by appointing officers. In order that the House may really judge of the situation fairly hon. Members must remember that nobody foresaw, when the War broke out, the full development of aerial war, whether on our own part or on the part of our opponents. This is a branch of war which has never been tried before, and on which there has been no 68 experience until this War which counts for anything, and therefore, it is inevitable when you have to deal with a situation of that sort that before your eyes the situation changes, and the organisation which those responsible before the War might naturally have thought adequate, is proved by experience to be quite inadequate.
Take this case of the defence of London. In the first place, we may be asked why the Admiralty has got to defend London at all? It is a question on which I have no personal knowledge. I found, I frankly admit to my surprise, that when I took over the Admiralty I was also responsible at the same time for something which seemed to have either no connection at all, or only the remotest connection with naval work. It is a paradox unquestionably. If we had set to work, let us say, three or four years before the War with a full knowledge of the development of aerial warfare; if the Government of that day had set to work with that knowledge to organise the defence of London, I have no doubt it would have been organised on lines different from those which now prevail, but you really ought not to criticise the Minister then in charge because it is not done. That is not a fair way to look at human effort. The Naval Aerial Service has, I think, quadrupled since the War commenced—I rather think I am under the mark in saying that. Consequently, an organisation which might have been adequate, and was adequate when the War broke out, gradually became more and more inadequate, and responsibilities which seemed relatively slight, in regard to the defence of the internal parts of the country, and which seemed adequate at the beginning of the War, have been gradually supplemented, and are still in course of being supplemented day by day. I hope the organisation intended to meet this danger is improving, and improving far more rapidly than the danger itself. That is my hope and my expectation.
The right hon. Gentleman dwelt and is quite right in dwelling upon the question of guns. Guns have been the great difficulty. You cannot get guns simply by saying that you are prepared to order them, that you are prepared to pay for them, that you know the type of gun you want, and that all that you desire is that they should be made as quickly as possible. I believe the whole question of designing guns to meet aerial attack did attract the attention of those responsible some con- 69 siderable time before the War. The type of mounting was new, and it required a great deal of experimental work to be carried out upon it. When War broke out, although much had been done in the way of preparation, the actual number of guns was not very great, and they have not come in very fast compared with all the work which they are called upon to do. Let it be remembered that under modern conditions the Navy has not merely, in regard to aerial craft, to defend the inland parts of the country, which, as I said before, are rather anomalous functions to be controlled by that particular Department, but it has to defend its ships obviously against aerial attack, which is now one of the recognised forms of maritime warfare. That means that for all your ships you require anti-aircraft guns. It means that the strain thrown upon the supply of anti-aircraft guns is very great, and unquestionably at the present time the supply has not reached the crest of the demand. It is improving, as the supply of all other munitions is improving. I do not pretend for one moment that it is in the position in which I should desire to see it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why Sir Percy Scott, whose appointment he is good enough to approve, was not appointed before. Well, Sir, the answer to that is really the answer to all this particular class of attack. There are things which were foreseen before the War; and there are things which were not foreseen, and which I do not think could have been foreseen before the War. One of them was the peculiar development of this method of warfare. The appointment of Sir Percy Scott is not the only great change of organisation which it has been found necessary to effect in consequence of the development of aircraft warfare. I now find it absolutely necessary to bring the whole Air Service more into harmony with the general practice of the Admiralty, to greatly increase the staff at the head of affairs, and to make arrangements to deal with the enormous amount of work which is now thrown upon those responsible for the Air Service. The Naval Air Service is now an immense Service. The number of flyers is very great, and the number of machines is very great. There are responsibilities as regards the design of machines. There are responsibilities for arranging the whole system of coast defence, and the organisation, which was not inadequate when the War broke out, I found completely inadequate soon after I 70 assumed responsibility as First Lord of the Admiralty. I hope, as regards the organisation, that that is now either complete or is in a fair way towards completion. The changes have been very great, and they have all been in the direction of fitting the office to deal with new and great responsibilities, and I hope, as time goes on, that their adequacy will more and more make itself felt.
If the right hon. Gentleman asks me whether I think that at this moment everything has been done that could be done, or will be done for the defence of London, I do not think so. I think the thing is still in progress, and still in process of development. If he asks me whether I think it possible, within a reasonable time, to provide an adequate defence of London, I should give him a much reassuring answer. Let me frankly say I should give him a more reassuring answer in no small degree because I have a great belief in the organising capacity, the energy and resource, and the openness to new ideas which has always characterised the distinguished Admiral who now has the defence of London immediately under his control. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Paris. Well, Sir, pains have been taken to make ourselves acquainted with the methods of the defence of Paris, and much no doubt has been learned, and will be learned, from studying their example. But let not the House be carried away with the idea that the problem of London is identical with the problem of Paris. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not fall into that error. Nor, if I may say so, is the problem of the Minister who has got to try and defend London at all similar to that of the Minister who has to try and defend Paris. Paris starts with being under a single military government, and it starts with being a great military fortress, therefore, being a military fortress, it is supplied with a great mass of guns and with great defensive arrangements. London is not a fortified town. London is, as everybody knows—nobody knows it better than the Germans—a city which should not, under the law of civilised warfare, be the subject of this kind of attack. But we take our enemies as we find them. We perfectly recognise that a nation which is prepared for any degree of brutality at sea is not likely to show undue humanity when it comes to deal with land. Therefore we do not for a moment suppose there will be immunity for London or any other un- 71 defended place in this country, or that they will derive more consideration from the laws of humanity or the laws of nations. But I hope and believe, although I cannot promise immunity from attack to any part of the United Kingdom—in war immunity from attack can be rarely promised by any responsible Minister or general—and I think I can promise the House that everything is being done to develop and to organise such defences as are possible against aerial attack.
I think I can tell the House, without being unduly optimistic, that lamentable as have been the result of these German attacks on undefended places, the actual number of persons killed and injured, and the actual amount of property destroyed has been relatively insignificant, although the hardship inflicted on particular individuals has been tragic beyond expression. If you turn your eyes away from the cases of individual hardship, cruelty and suffering, and consider simply how much injury to this country, either as a great economic unit or as a great fighting force, has been done by these aerial attacks, I can truly say that, so far, that damage has been insignificant, and although immunity cannot be promised for the future I have every hope that Sir Percy Scott, and all the other naval authorities who are devoting their minds to this problem, will be able to diminish the dangers in the future, to increase the security, and to enable His Majesty's lieges to sleep comfortably in their beds.
But do not let us ask too much either of Sir Percy Scott or the aircraft section of the Admiralty, or of the guns, even when they come in in sufficient numbers. I do not promise this House, I do not promise the country, that there will not be a continuance of these raids, or that on the occasions when they succeed there will not be suffering and injury inflicted upon a certain number of innocent individuals. But if anybody suggests that the nerves of the country are going to be shaken, if anybody suggests that we are looking with national alarm upon this prospect—if anybody suggests that these methods of terrorism are going to have the smallest influence one way or another, except it be to make the flame of righteous indignation burn hotter within us, then I say they are mistaken. Those are not the sentiments with which our countrymen are going to regard these enemy's attacks, whether legitimate or illegitimate. I look forward 72 to the future with perfect serenity, so far as real injury to the country is concerned; and so far as sufferings to individuals are concerned, I have every hope that the efforts of the Admiralty may lead to a great and salutary dimination of any danger which may now be anticipated.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I am sure the House will have heard with great pleasure the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the head of the Admiralty as regards aerial attacks. I am quite sure we all agree with him that this form of warfare is so novel, and that its improvements are so rapid, that no one can blame him or his Department if our arrangements are by no means perfect. I can assure him that what we are concerned with is not so much immunity from attack as some certainty of doing some damage to the enemy's aircraft when they come over here. I do not think anyone is concerned either about his personal safety or the safety of his property. What we find galling, and he himself must find galling, is that they should get away without being brought down or being seriously damaged.
I rise to address a very few remarks to the House on the very important Debate initiated by the Prime Minister this afternoon. No one can have listened to the extremely grave and important speech of the Prime Minister without feeling once more that we have had placed before us, in language at once dignified and serious, the position in which this country is placed and the course of conduct we ought to adopt, and yet we continually find in effect that things which appear fairly obvious do not get done. One of the paradoxes we find very difficult to understand, and which make us somewhat impatient in any expression of such views as we hold, is the fact that whereas we are told a great deal about the rulers and the ruled, the Government fails to rule sufficiently. Everybody is asking to be told what he should do and cannot get a reply. The people want instructions. The people want not to be asked to do things, but to be ordered to do things. There is a very great difference. People will welcome being ordered to do things. There are many who seem to think that to be ordered to do a thing is an insult to a man in a free country. As a matter of fact, a large number of conscientious men are torturing themselves more or less because they do not know what they ought to do in the interests of the country. They do not know whether they ought to enlist or to 73 stop at the work they are doing, or what work they ought to do. They would welcome a distinct direction from those who are in a position to judge of these things. At present the man who thinks he ought to stop here has his life badgered out of him by a recruiting sergeant. He does not want to be bullied into enlisting. There is nothing voluntary about bullying a man to go into the Army—a kind of peaceful picketing, in fact. There is nothing voluntary in filling your hoardings with posters that reflect most unfairly upon the manhood of the country.
There is nothing voluntary in appeals made to employers by the War Office not to engage men of military age, but to send them to a recruiting office. That is merely a form of economic compulsion. It is not a form of voluntaryism. I cannot understand how we can tolerate what I think the most unfair, underhand method of compulsion which has been practised. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. I know it from my own personal knowledge. I have seen it. I do not know why you should consider it something intolerable that the State should say, "We think it your duty, and it being your duty we make it your legal duty, to defend your country."
We are discussing to-day the expenditure of a very large sum of money. The expenses of this War are mounting up every day, and are not unnaturally continuing to mount under the most extravagant form of recruiting that any country has yet undertaken. You are taking away, and are continuing to take away, an enormous number of married men with large families from their civil occupation. I will not say anything of what I think the moral crime of making hundreds of thousands of children orphans and hundreds of thousands of women widows. But, as we are talking of finance, it is a financial blunder of the first magnitude. It is unnecessary to burden yourselves with enormous separation allowances and pensions for years to come. We have not heard a word to-day—I suppose some time we shall hear—as to whether or not this system is to continue. We have had the important admissions, firstly, that we have not enlisted three million men in our Army, as we have often been told—it is only really, I imagine, about two and a half millions—and, secondly, that recruiting is not going on as well as could be expected. I am sorry the Under-Secretary is not here, because I was going to ask him whether he can give 74 me any explanation of what is to be done with the famous pink forms which have been provided by the National Register. Some of us are being asked to join committees to make use of these pink forms. I should like to know what use is to be made of them and what the duties are to be. It it a fact that people who have sent in these pink forms are to be visited by committees or by soldiers at intervals till they join the Army? Is it a fact that these people are to be voluntarily cajoled or badgered into joining the Army, and if so, why? If we are reduced to such an unfair extremity as that—so unreasonable that I can scarcely believe it to be the intention of the Government—we had much better take the bull by the horns and have a logical, frank and free system—a system which we are continually informed is unprecedented in this country, although we had recourse to it in the Napoleonic Wars—although Pitt introduced it in the last year of the Napoleonic Wars. We had the compulsory Militia ballot in the last year of the Napoleonic Wars for Home defence, and the troops that won Waterloo were very largely enlisted from the men who had been trained the year before in the compulsory Militia ballot. This is only by the way. But we are entitled to know what is to be done about these pink forms.
Another question which the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech is that of munitions. I hope we shall hear from the Minister of Munitions a fuller statement of the position than we had from the Prime Minister to-day. From the preface to the speeches which he has just published it is clear that his mind is intensely troubled by the position of recruiting and the position of munitions. Surely he ought to be in a position to know, if anyone is. It is very difficult to understand why there should be such an enormous difficulty to provide the relatively small number of men required by him for the purpose of munitions. Take the question of skilled men. You have in the Army at present thousands of skilled men. I know of a whole battalion of skilled engineers from Lancashire who to-day are doing no more important work than guarding depots in India. Thousands of skilled artisans and machiners have enlisted in the Home Defence Force. I know myself men who are specially skilled in work that is particularly wanted on high explosives who are serving on the East Coast for Home defence, and will probably never fire a shot 75 during the whole time of the War. Why cannot we get these men home like the Germans, the French and the Italians have had to do? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I do not know. I am asking. We have been promised by the Minister of Munitions that we should have them home. The firm that I am interested in, which is looking after such men, has had the most spasmodic replies. It seems to rest entirely with the colonel of the battalion whether he releases an officer or a man or does not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would it be better under Conscription?"] I am not an advocate of Conscription, but under a properly organised State national service—compulsory national service—you would certainly be able to deal with this situation a great deal better, because where now you have to take your men where you can get them you could then take them where you can spare them, and these are two very different things. That is one of the unfortunate things we have come to.
With regard to this important point, I would make an appeal. There are no representatives of the War Office here. No one I have asked has been able to explain why we cannot get these people back who are urgently needed for high explosives, for munitions, and for other work, and why, when they do come back, they come under such extraordinary conditions. Soldiers are sent back to our works here, and one of the conditions is that they must work in uniform. In a great many places they cannot work in uniform because a uniform is by no means a convenient thing to work in. Then uniforms get spoilt very rapidly. We are told we are not allowed to provide them with overalls to save the uniforms. There is a still more remarkable regulation, that when a man's uniform is spoilt he must send it back to his particular depot and get a new one, and the spoilt uniform is sold to a contractor. If a man was allowed to keep his old uniform to work in and wear his new uniform when he went off work it would be more practicable, and would save some of the vast amount of money you are spending. It is difficult to understand why we cannot get the relatively small number of men we require. It is a relatively small number. On investigation it has been established that there are in this country something like four million people between the ages of eighteen and forty-four who are engaged in no industry 76 connected with munitions, who are not engaged in coal mining, on railways, or in agriculture, and who are not engaged in our export trade. If they were all taken away the country could still go on maintaining its export trade and the manufacture of munitions. We have an enormous body to draw on, and yet we are continually assured that there are no more men, and that there are enormous difficulties in providing 200,000 skilled labourers. That cannot be the case. There must be something defective in the organisation which cannot provide these.
I came to London yesterday. You see men at Waterloo Station erecting a beautiful facade to a building. Go a little further and you see people putting up a beautiful county council building which is entirely unnecessary at present. You see other men repairing a road which is not required, and a little further people painting the outside of a house. Why is all this labour not called on and shoved into your munitions factories? The Prime Minister told us that this War was going to be won by mechanism and organisation. Why do we not have the organisation? To persuade everyone in the country to do his duty is an immensely long process. It is a process which is very well adapted for peace purposes, but time is of the essence of the War, and that seems to be continually overlooked. Your enemy is not going to wait until you have persuaded people to do anything. The enemy is acting every day. He is attacking your Allies, taking positions, and destroying armies, and if you want to win this War you have not to fight with one hand tied behind your back, you have not to go on with a system of organisation which neither your Allies nor your opponents can fight with. You have to adopt a system which is scientific and speedy. I could understand, if none of our opponents had adopted any kind of system except ours, people coming to me and saying, "Are we less patriotic than they? Do we require more than they?" But that is not the case. I should say we are more patriotic than any country in the world. We have produced more by voluntary effort than any other country has ever tried to produce. But you cannot produce enough against people who are adopting another system. It is not efficient. After all, we are all old hands at electioneering, and we all know the difference between fighting an election with purely voluntary work and with efficient organisation. It is not the 77 enthusiasm and the zeal of the voluntary workers that wins the election, it is organised application. How can hon. Members who will not fight an election by purely voluntary efforts ask us to fight the greatest war the Empire has seen in that manner? Really I think these considerations have not impressed themselves sufficiently on those who seem to be entirely opposed to what would be a really considered method of organising.
§ Sir A. MOND
The remedy is to organise your people in such a way that the Government can say to anyone, "we want you to do a thing," and he goes and does it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Compulsion."] Certainly. There is no compulsion to a man who wants to do his duty. The compulsion is only to the man who does not want to do his duty. Compulsion is a misnomer. It is no compulsion to a man who voluntarily enlists. We do not say our Russian ally has been compelled. They feel that they are doing their duty as the State has asked them to do, just as much as when I pay my Income Tax and the hon. Member pays his Super-tax he does not feel that he is being compelled, but is making a contribution towards the national need. It is really a curious point of view. There is a certain number of people in every community whom you must compel because they will not do their duty. Does anyone contend that they should be allowed not to do their duty at the expense of those who will? Is that the contention, that those who will work or will pay should be allowed to do it and the others, for some mysterious reason, are to be allowed to sit and look at them and do nothing and take all the benefit? I saw in the newspapers this morning a resolution passed by a very large trade union—the Miners' Federation of South Wales—asking for a show of tickets at their colliery for the whole week, and saying that anyone who could not show the federation ticket was to be compelled to leave his work and to leave the colliery. They did not say, "This is compulsion"; they said, "If you want to work in these collieries, you must belong to our union." I do not say whether they are right or wrong. I do not say whether it is right on their part to say that the interests of their particular class are greater than the interests of the State, but I do say that as practical people they 78 adopt that principle. They do not give voluntary permission to the people working in their trade to say whether they will join together for the interests of their class or not. It is naturally so in every State. Every law that you impose and that is passed through this House is based upon the same idea. Great masses of people, far from resenting being told what to do, would welcome it. I have talked to working men and other people, and I do not find people resenting the idea of being legally asked to do their duty. I find thousands of people who are only waiting to be asked.
There are large numbers of people who have signed the National Register. What does the man who signed the National Register expect when he says that he is capable of doing munition work? That man is expecting to be told where he is to go to be a munition worker, and the sooner he is told the better. If you do not tell him, he does not know what to do or where to go. If you do not tell him he is to go, his employer will probably prevent him from going. The most obvious course for a human being is to remain in the same direction in which he is travelling. Therefore, it takes a great deal more energy, thought and force to move him out of that direction than to keep him there. If you want to move him out of that direction you must have a legal enactment, and something of that kind becomes necessary in practical experience. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some cases the other day. There are cases of men refusing to work with non-union men, and of other men refusing not to restrict output. That does not surprise me very much, because human beings have an automatic brain, act in an automatic manner. It is natural that a man who all his life has refused to work with non-union men should continue to do so, and merely to tell him that he is wrong does not mend the matter.
§ Sir A. MOND
I am referring to the remarks of the Prime Minister when he introduced his speech. We are spending some of this £250,000,000 on munitions, and the cheaper and the more quickly we can get munitions made, the quicker we can end the War, and the less, money we shall want. It is very relevant to the question of finance. I do not want to 79 labour the point, but it is a fact which is well worth notice that it is extremely difficult to get anybody who is working in a certain direction to realise any change, and you have sometimes to do something more than of an ordinary character in order to bring home to him that there is an extraordinary change. I think a considerable number of very practical steps might be taken. It is no use imagining that because the War is on everybody is going suddenly to become an angel and is going suddenly to reverse the practices of generations, and is going unaided and uncontrolled to do what is best for the country. That would be an ideal, but not a probable state of things. You have a very large proportion, perhaps the biggest proportion, who are doing or are anxious to do their duty. There are, however, a certain number who will want a great deal more than voluntary persuasion to make them do their duty.
The Under-Secretary for War dealt with other points connected with the expenditure of money. There is one other point to which I would refer. It is true that we have a certain number of controlled engineering establishments, but why do not we go much further and fix the prices of other commodities? There is a tendency among a certain number of people—I hope it is a small number—to immediately raise their prices when they know it is Government contract. I know of cases connected with materials of considerable importance where prices have been raised to a quite unreasonable degree because they knew the Government wanted them. Why should we not only control engineering shops making shells, but the prices of the material which the Government wants to buy? The financial burden is very great; it is so great that we bear it smilingly, because we cannot realise how much it is. We ought, however, to do everything that is possible to lighten it, and in some of these directions that I have mentioned something could be done to lighten it. There is another point which I think we ought to emphasise. When I heard the Prime Minister speak to-day about organisation and mechanism I felt that there is one thing which we have done less than any other country throughout the progress of this War. No other country has so little called in men of experience and organisation, men of experience in business, to assist in the business propositions of the War than this country has 80 done during the War. We have appointed a Committee to inquire why we have taken the National Register and what we are to do with it now we have taken it, but I have not been made aware, and I have not seen any statement, that a single man who has knowledge of organisation, of industry, has been asked to serve on this Committee.
This country is richer in men of great experience and organising abilities than any country in the world. We have men at the head of enormous concerns which they have built up, men who have been used to dealing with labour troubles all their lives, men who have spanned oceans, built railways across vast deserts, and who have handled great problems; yet these men are not called in to do any organisation work when the country requires vast organising ability. Is it not high time that some of these people were called in? Is it not high time that we make use, as the Germans have made use, of men who know, and not men who have to be taught their business? When the Germans wanted to buy chemicals for the army they did not appoint a committee to inquire into the matter and advise them, but they appointed six men, the heads of great chemical works in Germany, the ablest men they could get, and they said to them, "You are responsible for the chemical purchases we want. You are responsible for them and for the supply of them." They adopted the same methods in regard to steel and other things. I can understand why they are not short of munitions. They appealed to the men who knew, to the men who were best able to do these things, and having got them they left them to do the work that was necessary. We should do the same thing here. There is not a man who would not give his time, his money, and his heart's blood, but one thing people complain of is that they have not been asked to do it.
§ Sir A. MOND
I would not like to say whose fault it is, but in view of the Prime Minister's statement, as to the importance of organisation, and that it is a mechanical war, I do ask why insufficient use is being made in the fourteenth month of the War of the genius we possess in this country? We have been asked for unity. The Prime Minister made a plea for unity. For fourteen months we have scarcely 81 asked a question or uttered a word. We would all much sooner say nothing, and leave the responsibility of waging this enormous War to the Government of the day. It would be easier for us, and would leave us with less trouble and responsibility, and it would be a more convenient and happier state of things. But what have we seen during fourteen months? Occasion after occasion we have seen, that things which ought to have been foreseen have not been foreseen by the Government. Take the case of munitions. After fourteen months we are doing things which might easily have been done eight months earlier. Then there is cotton contraband, alien registration, and the American Exchange. There is not one of these things that had not been foreseen for months before action was taken. The American Exchange was common talk last March. When you get to a position in which your Exchange is disarranged, you begin to deal with it, instead of taking action earlier in order to avert it. Are we to be told next year to keep silence and say nothing? Are we to be told next year we cannot make the advance we ought to have made, and that the country is to be quiet for another twelve months? It is intolerable, and we cannot do it. It is our bounden duty to the country, to our constituents, and to our flesh and blood, to say what we think, openly and boldly, in this House. It is no use having a unity of silence. Victory is more than unity. Let the Government convince us that nothing will stand in their way. Let them convince us that no preconceived ideas will stand in the way. Let them convince us that they will govern the country, and we shall only be too glad not to have to utter another word on this or any other subject connected with the War.
§ Mr. D. M. MASON
The speech we have just heard from the right hon. Member is one that we shall probably hear repeated on many occasions in this House. We have had a lurid picture of the terrible state of affairs with which this country is faced, and gradually, as the speaker developed his argument, he led to the real panacea for all the ills that this War has brought, namely, compulsion, or conscription for military service. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Amery) endeavoured to make our flesh creep by telling us that some day, very soon, he thought the Prime Minister and the other Members of the Government would come down to the House, tear aside the veil of secrecy, and 82 inform us of some terrible defeat of which we have no conception. The right hon. Member who has just sat down also enlarged on the terrible state of affairs, without definitely stating what his remedy was until he was pressed to confess it, and then, of course, it turned out to be compulsion, or compulsory military service. When he was interrupted by some hon. Members who called it Conscription, the right hon. Member denied that it was Conscription, and said that the word "Conscription" must not be put into his mouth. What he calls it, I suppose, is compulsory national service. Why quibble about this matter? Let us be frank and honest about it. If the hon. Baronet stands for Conscription let him say so. The question before the House now is whether we are to vote the credit for £150,000,000, and I do not propose to be drawn into a debate on the question of the merits or demerits of the voluntary and the compulsory systems. But in regard to what the hon. Gentleman said I wish to draw attention to the fact that his speech generally showed that the latter was the main object which he had in view.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) made, in the early part of the Debate, what I considered a very unfair attack on the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Harcourt), whose speech he contrasted with that of the Prime Minister. He first eulogised the Prime Minister's speech, which he said told us the truth and stated clearly what the position of the country was, and then he contrasted that speech with the speech of the First Commissioner of Works which had reference to recruiting; and he drew a contrast between the statement of the Prime Minister that things were not well and that of the First Commissioner of Works, who, he said, had gone down to his constituents in a very sanguine frame of mind and had told them that everything was going very well and that recruiting had been remarkable. It is within the recollection of the House that the Prime Minister did not make such a speech as my right hon. Friend has given us to understand he did. He stated that the response of the country had been remarkable in every direction. He spoke in high terms of recruiting and said, at the end of a passage with reference to recruiting, that latterly it had fallen off somewhat. But the whole tone of the speech was one of pride and satisfaction at the patriotic response of the country, which all of us 83 are bound to admit, and to be proud to admit, as being of a remarkable character. The First Commissioner of Works practically said the same thing and I fail to see where there was any justification for the attack which was made by my right hon. Friend. But my right hon. Friend in the latter part of the speech sacrificed the point of his attack, because he said that the country had given us everything that we wanted. I took down his words and he said that the country had given us all the men that we wanted. He must say which leg he intends to stand on. Either we have not got all the men we want, or we have. He himself has stated that we have, and we must take it that his words express what is in his mind. I think that that disposes of what I thought was a most unfair attack on the First Commissioner of Works.
In making a few observations on the speech of the Prime Minister himself I confess that I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Birmingham, who actually told this House that we were faced with defeat in certain directions. I yield to no one in the desire that this War should be brought to an honourable close as soon as possible, and I have yet to learn that there has been any measure of defeat of any of our arms on sea and on land. I submit that we have attained the object for which this War was primarily intended. It was intended to carry out our honourable treaty obligations with regard to Belgium, and naturally we went into this War with high motives with regard to certain obligations to France. All of us are agreed that our Army, this "dauntless voluntary line," as Scott describes in his beautiful poem of Marmion, was successful in checking the advance on Paris. We were able to check the advance of the German legions on Calais. We have swept the German mercantile marine from the high seas, and there is no man of British blood who does not feel to-day a pride in the valour and heroism of British arms during this War. If the object to which the hon. Member for Birmingham is looking forward is the crushing of Germany then I part company with him. I do not believe it possible, and I think the sooner we talk of these things openly in the House the better. What is our object in carrying on this War? Many of us on this side, and possibly throughout the House generally, believe that we have honourable treaty 84 obligations, and we are determined to abate not one jot or tittle of these obligations. If we can carry them out and if to-morrow it can be conveyed to us that we are within reasonable time of the fulfilment of these objects, then I for one would regard it as a wanton wicked policy for this, or any other Government, from motives of military glory or of a vindictive character, to pursue this War in the direction which the hon. Member for Birmingham desires.
He evidently desires that, and he evidently believes that you cannot attain it unless you have Conscription or compulsion. Therefore he comes down to this House and draws this lurid picture, and tries to make our flesh creep by talking of some Minister coming to tell us of some great defeat, and therefore he thinks that we should adopt this most undesirable form of service, because of the object which he has at the back of his mind. I have already stated my object; the Government have stated it; the Prime Minister has frequently stated it, and I repeat it for the benefit of my hon. Friend behind (Mr. Wedgwood). I understand that the object of this Government and of the country is primarily to carry out our solemn obligations in regard to Belgium. We are opposed to the violation of Belgium neutrality. We are parties, equally with Germany, Russia, and France, to a treaty for the preservation of the sovereignty of Belgium, and the preservation of that is one of the primary objects for which we are engaged in this War. One of the other objects to which the Prime Minister referred is to prevent further aggression against France. We desire to see an honourable settlement with regard to France, and particularly with regard to the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. I think that these are, in the main, the great objects for which we are engaged in this War.
§ Mr. MASON
My hon. Friend says "hear, hear." I am glad that I have satisfied him. I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham to state definitely are these his objects? He shakes his head. Those are not the objects with which he supports this War. He plainly looks forward, and he is entitled to do so, to utterly crushing Germany. He evidently believes that it is possible. I do not profess any great military knowledge, but I have consulted many military authorities. I know that the hon. Member 85 for Birmingham is a great literary man, who, no doubt, enjoys the friendship of great military advisers, and he has the support of some great newspapers in this country when he makes speeches. No doubt, also, he has given a great deal of study to this question. I am advised by many military authorities that this object is a military impossibility, and I submit that it is a moral iniquity for this country to pursue this object and promote recruiting for the purpose of carrying on the War on the lines which apparently appeal to the hon. Member for Birmingham. I think that on one occasion Mr. Gladstone himself, when discussing the Crimean war in this House, after we had attained the objects for which we entered into the war, quoted a letter from the Duke of Wellington, in which that great military authority protested against an army, after it had attained the objects for which it entered into a war going on with the war for the mere sake of military glory.
I was rather disappointed that the Prime Minister in his speech did not give us some hope of an early and an honourable termination of the War, that we are to go on, as it were, spending these untold millions, and that apparently he cannot see any end to it. He said very little indeed with regard to the military situation. I was not present in another place to hear what the Secretary of State for War stated, but I am informed that he had no light to give in that direction either. Therefore, I think that some of us have very grave suspicions as to whether the opinions and views of the hon. Member for Birmingham may not possibly be also shared by certain Members of the Government. I agree with him certainly in this respect, that we should have a more definite declaration of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government. Whatever our views may be, whether we support the view that has been touched only the hon. Member for Birmingham, and other hon. Members, I think that we are entitled, when we are asked to vote this vast sum of money, to know what are the objects and the policy which His Majesty's Government intend to pursue with regard to the future of this War. This is not the occasion on which to refer to some of the overtures that have been made by Germany, I believe through the Embassy of the United States. There may be another opportunity this evening on the Adjournment of referring to that and developing that point further. But as this is a financial question, I desire now to confine myself to some financial aspects.
86 The right hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) referred to one problem which he said we ought to discuss, and which had been ignored. That was the problem of American exchange. As I understand the United States Government refused to be parties to any loans to any of the belligerents, this should be borne in mind, because this American exchange question is a very important one as affecting our export trade, affecting our finance, and very directly affecting our credit. I understand that the United States will not allow or endorse any direct loans to any of the belligerents, but they will take no exception to credits. My hon. Friend (Mr. Wedgwood) says that they are the same thing, but there is some difference. It consists in this: If the American Government insists only on credits being engaged in which must be expended within the country, hon. Members will readily understand that the effect upon the exchange will not be anything very permanent or give any great relief in that direction. I quite agree that it would be a palliative. It would relieve the situation to a certain extent, but it would not have the same effect as if you were placing a large loan, say of £500,000,000, in the United States, because, if you establish a credit and you purchase commodities, these purchases more or less offset the obligation and advantage which you get from the credit. It is quite true that if a credit were established for £100,000,000, which then would have to be expended by the Government, it would not affect the importations by merchants. The importation of merchandise, and in addition the Government purchase of munitions, bring about an adverse American exchange, and to-day the difference between imports compared with exports is from £200,000,000 to £300,000,000.
The facts in regard to credit will undoubtedly affect exchange for some time, but they will not, I believe, really offset the position between ourselves and the United States unless you come to the real evil, which is our indebtedness to the United States. The fact that we are importing enormously from America compared with our exports, as I think I have endeavoured to argue before, is very much stimulated and increased through the policy pursued by the Treasury in continually issuing these Treasury Notes. The effect of that has been already stated by me on the authority of leading economists who have passed away, but since then I have the authority of Sir Inglis Palgrave 87 and Professor Shield Nicholson, Professor of Political Economy in Edinburgh University—leading living authorities who confirm the statement I made some months ago in this House—that the issuing of paper money has unquestionably tended to raise prices. Of course, that affects our credit, and is of very material relevance to the question before the House. I see the Secretary to the Treasury is present, and I particularly ask him to be kind enough to consider what I am saying in that respect, and not to be deluded or carried away by the belief that this credit being established in America without the other corresponding reform being carried out will bring about that improved exchange which we wish to see.
The statement we have heard this afternoon from the Prime Minister is one of such gravity to those who are not accustomed to hear them, dealing as it does with hundreds of millions, that it is not surprising if one is very deeply affected by the gravity of the situation, and I think, in view of such figures, it is our duty to call attention to how that money is being spent, and also after turning the subject over as best one can in one's mind to offer any suggestion as to how it might be better spent, and how more might be got for it than is got at present. The statement, apart from the announcement of the figures, covered a fairly wide range, and dealt with the military situation to a certain extent. I think therefore some latitude will be granted to those who review a portion of the situation from that point of view. I have been in the House a very few times during the last twelve months, and from the way in which a large portion of the House took the statement they appeared reassured, and disinclined to probe the matter any further. I may be wrong, but I feel that the statement should be probed. The successes of the Allied Forces are emphasised from the military point of view, but I regard them as very small. The spell is once more cast over the British public, and a considerable time, valuable time, may pass before we take such steps as we may think necessary to get more for the money than we are getting at the present moment.
I believe I am right in saying that there is uneasiness in the country, and I do not think it is surprising. Incidents have occurred, some within the last few days, which undoubtedly make one uneasy, as to 88 whether in the matter of the War and all that it involves, it has been really grappled with and grasped. Take the happenings abroad. It is not odd that the British public is ignorant of them, but I think that it is cognisant of a good deal that is going on at home. I will take at random circumstances which cause uneasiness. I do not think a better one can be taken than that contained in the reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty this afternoon. It may be a small thing that the heart of the British Empire, that its very nerve centre, should be at the mercy of an incendiary bomb. It is a toss up whether it will fall in our midst, or whether it falls in the river, but its effects would be serious in disorganising the locality, wherever it takes place. Only within the last few days, as far as I can make out, has this situation been grappled with and steps definitely taken to meet the condition of affairs. I think there is cause for uneasiness.
I think there is also cause for uneasiness in regard to the agricultural situation. While I was in France, I found that in regard to the agricultural situation every moment of time and every inch of soil is being devoted to the highest possible culture. Whether that is being done here or not, I cannot say, but from my own point of view the greatest production from our own soil is necessary for the people and for the Army. The more we will be able, if that be done, to reduce the bill that we have to pay for imports which come from abroad. The financial situation is one that I cannot pretend to grapple with. Its vastness is the one thing that strikes me for the moment. A Vote of Credit for 250 millions is asked for, while the Government have thought it wise to be paying day by day wages for munition work three times in excess of what the district in which that work is being done has ever received before. This is financial criticism of the Government, and is a cause for uneasiness which justifies this discussion. Another item which it seems to me is a cause of uneasiness has reference to munitions.
The Munitions Act was introduced with all its possibilities. I wonder where it is now, or where it is in the minds of the labourers? I think that the surrender to trade unions is a very serious matter indeed, and to my mind the Government from the first should have said that there should be no profit whatsoever on any article made for carrying on the War. I 89 believe I am right in saying that if that had been done in the early commencement of the last twelve months none of these labour troubles would have arisen. Not unnaturally men object very strongly to money going into the pockets of the employers as profit arising from their labour in producing war material. I know that I would object myself if I were one of them; but the matter requires strong leading and strong handling. I do not hesitate to say that in these three or four instances to which I have referred there is very sufficient cause for uneasiness in the public mind. I think the public, and especially the soldier, sees too much struggle on the part of sections or classes for their own advantage to the exclusion of communal interest. I do not profess to speak for all soldiers, but having been for a year in France, living with the Army, I have some idea of what it thinks on these subjects.
I was told in a not too courteous manner that I had no right to speak for the Army, but I submit that the soldier—and I think the great body of the public—all regard these matters from day to day with a feeling of uneasiness. They seem to see this kind of picture before their minds. They see capital amassing millions entrenched behind soulless company formulae, and labour resorting to similar fortifications. When soldiers read of strikes and hear of a ceaseless scramble for higher wages, and when they have time to look back over their shoulders, perhaps they are wondering if they are not fighting in vain. They come to the conclusion that people are not subordinating their personal or sectional advantage to the interests of the country. I am told that when you come to discuss an altered system it may be that it will bring about a disunited country, but I would like to give you the warning that you have almost got it now. The men who have already joined have very strong opinions on this subject, and, because they cannot make their views heard, I respectfully submit to the House that they had better not forget entirely what those views may be. In the Debate on a previous Vote of Credit which took place some few months ago, efforts were made to draw the attention of the Government to the way in which the system under which the supply of men and the supply of munitions was being carried on. Within the last six or seven weeks the strength of the arguments which were used then has not been diminished in regard to any one of them. I believe 90 that the public would welcome the freest possible discussion as to whether or not the system under which we are working is a right or a wrong one.
Some days ago the personal responsibility of a serving officer was brought into question. The Prime Minister then laid down a definition of the attitude that such a Member of the House might take. I accept that definition gladly, but he said that it would be a mistake if such Members did not take their chance when it came, and tell their tale. Of course one in that position must accept added responsibility, and in the few remarks which I propose to make I shall not refer to any information which is not already public property—public property to everybody except the British public. During the last year I think it must be allowed that the War should have taught us some lessons. The impression is left upon my mind that the Prime Minister said that the time might possibly arise when one must give up preconceived notions. The great surprises of the last twelve months have awakened and opened men's minds, and should set them to look at these particular problems from a point of view different from that which they had before the War. I submit that if we do not see the lessons which the War has taught, we shall be very blind indeed. It has been full of surprises for us, the enemy, and our Allies. Miscalculations on an enormous scale have been made by all those countries. Why should we be too proud to admit that it is conceivable that we have made mistakes too? There is one other point which I would like, with the indulgence of the House, to mention, and that is an argument which is used against our adopting any other system under which we could spend this money more wisely or properly—that is the danger of swapping horses while crossing the stream. I agree that is a very serious argument indeed, but I would also recommend this consideration to hon. Members, that it all depends upon your estimate of the duration of the War. If one were sure, as the right hon. Gentleman who spoke two nights ago in the country was, that we were in sight of the end, I would be the last person—[An HON. MEMBER: "He said two years!"] Anyhow, he painted a very rosy picture, and if I were as sure as he that the picture were as rosy as he painted it, I would not be on the side of recommending any change at all. But, rightly or wrongly, in my 91 opinion, which I respectfully submit, I think we have hardly yet begun, and instead of being half-way across the stream we have hardly got our feet wet, and in the last twelve months the stream has grown much wider. I shall be allowed, I trust, to criticise the present system under which we raise our troops. Other speakers have done so at an earlier period of the Debate, but it is necessary I think to dwell upon it to show that at the present minute we are not keeping to one system, but are employing the methods of one and the principle of the other.
In other words, we have a vicious conglomeration of the two. The system we have adopted has some features in it a great deal more disagreeable than you find in the other system. Our system of advertisement is almost too humiliating to discuss. It is undignified, and it has proved unsuccessful. Then when you think of the little bits of insolence that have been met with in the streets—like the V.C. on leave being handed a white feather—it makes you shudder to think that we have dropped so low as to employ such methods. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am quite prepared to give the name of that gallant man, who is now dead, who earned the V.C. on the field, and yet was presented with a white feather in one of the streets of London!
It also seems to me that the Government who are responsible for the system have no right to treat their citizens as cowards, and to allow posters on the wall which point to the man and make him feel he is a coward unless he responds. Other speakers have elaborated that point so that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it. A more practical criticism, perhaps, than that is the exploitation of separation allowances. It is not necessary to say much about that, except that it is wasteful and uneconomic, and it is not surprising that it has been abused and exploited, and is very expensive too. Employers have been asked to use forms of compulsion that the Government were afraid to employ. I think my contention that you are working under the principle of one system with the methods of the other is more than borne out. Compulsory registration I regarded as a very necessary measure for whatever you may undertake, but why was the ulterior motive of it disclaimed when it was introduced? The opposition to it at that time would have been considerably greater than it was if the statement had 92 not been made from the Front Bench to the effect that there was no intention of employing it for ulterior purposes. If that statement were true, why were the pink forms being employed? I heard yesterday of a more suspicious one still which is called a "blue card." We have been deliberately deceiving ourselves. We are using the machinery of compulsion under the cloak of voluntaryism. The highest and the lowest instincts of the people have been appealed to with a complete disregard of justice or fair play. We have exposed to the world the limits of inconsistency to which a nation, which scorns the study of logic and clear thinking, can go.
The military case is a very difficult one to put, and it is here that the added responsibility, to which the Prime Minister referred, weighs heaviest on one. I think I shall not exceed the limits if I maintain the rule which has prevailed for the last twelve months that one should say nothing that would in any way possibly be of benefit to the enemy. I can assure you our dispositions in France are just as well known to the Germans as they are in the War Office. The outstanding facts, if one takes a survey of the War, seem to me to be the British Navy and the German Army. The British Navy only comes into consideration on this Vote of Credit as to how to spend this money from the point of view of the number of men you require to keep it up to strength, and the amount of munitions which are required to keep it ready for service. Every member of the Army I have run across for the last twelve months never hesitated to say how much he appreciated the work of that silent power, and the silent, heroic courage our Navy has shown. The German Army is a triumph of mechanical organisation and skill, and, as the Prime Minister has told us, this War is to be a contest of organisation rather more than a contest of strategy. It seems to me, if we do not take what lessons we can from that machine, we shall be making a great mistake. Consider, then, the output of munitions, and those produced by our opponents. There is a lesson in that which points a moral. Before the War our opponents made immense preparations, and it was impossible that we should be expected even to be up to the level of them when the War began. They had the plant to supply a much bigger machine than ours, and our plant on a much smaller scale was naturally very much more quickly put at a disadvantage.
93 My complaint is not as to our preparations before the War, because I admit I was one of those who thought it unnecessary to keep up a large Expeditionary Force or standing Army. My complaint is as to what has occurred during the last twelve months, and all during last winter when we are not producing what we might, as admitted by the Minister of Munitions. During those six months the Germans had organised and fully applied themselves to this proposition, with the result that during this summer they have never been hindered or handicapped for want of a supply. Perhaps what is more serious still is that during the next six months they will in all probability increase their plants and next spring start in a better condition than they were this year. It is those considerations which make one wonder whether we really are applying all this money that is asked for in the most useful and best organised manner.
The next outstanding fact, I think, which governs the military view is the temporary Russian collapse. I may be running risks of using words which are shocking. The word used in the Debate by the hon. Member for Birmingham, and which was not at all pleasant to the ear of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. D. Mason) was "defeat." I do not remember the context in which it was used, but the word has got to be faced, and to be considered in the vocabulary of possibilities. I have used the word "collapse," and described it as temporary, which pray God it is, of the Russian situation, which of course means the Russian Army, and what we have to think about is the additional burden that will have to be borne by ourselves. There is the consideration of the fact that for the time being, and I should think for eight months, no further offensive can be expected from them. I do not think that that is sufficiently appreciated. Figures which are public property indicate, I think, how foolish the Press have been to minimise our failures and always to publish our victories, however small. To-day you see on the posters, "Capture of 40,000 Austrians by the Russian Army." That naturally conveys to the public mind that there is a great advance, and leads them also to think and to imagine that the great line will carry forward as it did last year. They make no reference to the fact which is published in the London papers, and which is probably correct, that the Germans claim to have captured 347,000 Russians during the months of 94 May, June, and July. I draw the attention of the House to that because all through the public has never been fairly instructed. Perhaps it is because it has not time to look closely into those reports. They are in very small print when they are against us, and in very big headlines when they are for us. Take it as you like, that temporary Russian collapse must be regarded as a most important factor of the next eight months of war. I mention these matters in order to try and persuade the House not to pause if in their minds they think a change in the present system is necessary, and say, "We can well afford to let this wait and take its time." It is the next six months which I think are the most precious of the whole future of the War.
The last factor, and that which in my mind is the outstanding factor of the War, is the Anglo-French Alliance. In proportion to the weakened effort of the East, that alliance becomes more essential, and I would say almost that it is vital. There are people in England still who do not think we are defending England just as much by fighting in France as if we were defending it on our own soil. If anything goes wrong on that line, if anything was to break it or seriously bend it, I think it would be only a matter of time before England fell too. You might retire to your own island, but I think it would be only a matter of time before you fell. The object of pressing, as I and some of my friends do, that the money voted to-day should be spent under a different system of organisation is, so far as I am concerned at any rate, not on a matter of principle. I do not recommend this great change from the voluntary to a compulsory system on principle, but purely on the ground of expediency, urgency, and as a temporary measure. We are all of us out, in whatever way we may yet look at the question, to obtain a sufficiency of men to play the part that we shall have to bear for the remaining period of the War, and to supply them with such a quantity of munitions as will give them a fair chance. The arguments of previous speakers seem to me to point to grave doubt whether we should get a sufficient number of men under the present system or a sufficient number of workers to supply the munitions.
The conclusion to be drawn from the outstanding features of the War seems to me to be the freedom with which Germany will be able to act. It is no good pretending that she has not with her left hand 95 held up the united strength of France and England during the last nine months, and with her right hand dealt a staggering blow at the Russian Army. She is free to do what she likes now. It is a matter of calculation how much in numbers these events will free for her. It is also open to argument what she will do with them. But within reasonable limits I think we can decide on those points. We know that the new Russian line is a great deal shorter than it was when it came right forward and included the Warsaw salient. We know that the condition of the Russian Army is bound to be a great deal weaker than it was this time last year. Surely it is not unreasonable to admit that what is left of the Russian armies, however generously you may estimate them, can be held back by a greatly reduced strength of German troops. If you take the calculation in the mind of almost every soldier who has watched the matter during the last twelve months, you will find that a million men set free is not an overestimate. A million victorious troops deflected to the South would probably be a very serious consideration. I admit that it is impossible to say what Germany may do with them. But those people in this country who expect a combined resistance of the Balkan States to the victorious march of German troops are, in my humble opinion, living in a fool's paradise The experience of the last six months does not lead one to that conclusion.
Serbia has played a gallant part, but nobody can deny that she has suffered very heavily. Roumania—I run some risk in speaking openly on a subject such as this —in my opinion, and I have formed it from a political, not from a military, point of view, has not intended at any time, if she could avoid it, to take part in the War. When Russia looked like invading Hungary she might have been tempted to take part in a victorious pursuit. But I should not be surprised if the temptation of reaping the harvest as one of the few remaining neutrals would be too strong for her to resist. Anyhow it seems to me that if the Germans get to Constantinople, if they join hands with their Turkish allies and establish a protectorate over the realms of the Sultan, they will have gone far to realise their most cherished dream, which lay at the back of their Bagdad railway policy If they succeed in doing that they will open the gates of the East, and they will threaten our position in Egypt. Does 96 not all this make one realise what are now the chances of the War? If these things or anything like them happen, we shall need more men and more munitions than the country ever dreamt of. The calculations as to troops on the Western frontier are purely for defensive purposes. How are we to undertake to check such a movement as I have outlined unless we have more men and more munitions? The Western alternative, so to speak, is by no means so alarming. If we want to know the opinion of the men in the trenches as to the Germans it will be, "I hope they will come!" Why should they do anything so foolish? But if they do, we must be prepared. It is only by an immense volume of munitions that we could stave off a prolonged hammering such as they have administered to the Russian Army since the Galician retreat. Unless you have enough labour—and we hear doubts as to whether there is enough labour—to produce such a vast quantity of shells, the risk even on the Western frontier must not be ignored.
At any rate, the consideration as to the strength of our alliance must be borne in mind. Everyone of us knows that up to now the French have borne the strain. Up to February the length of line that we held was very short indeed. They have borne the strain generously, but it has cost them very dearly, and unless we are able to produce a sufficient number of troops to take over such a length of line as will really relieve the strain, the French will have great difficulty in producing their forces for an offensive next spring. Their efforts in the last twelve months have been generous to a degree. They have known of our difficulties and complications. They have perceived that we cannot equip the men as rapidly as we would like to do, and they know that the summer offensive was very much interfered with by shortages of munitions. The building up of the alliance and the continuance of its strength can only be done by our putting ourselves into such a position that we can produce enough men and enough munitions to do our share.
No debate is of any use unless it is brought down to concrete facts. I do not think that my figures can be absolutely accurate, but I believe that in most cases they will be found to be under-estimates. If we were to undertake to hold 120 miles of line on the French frontier we could not do it with less than forty-five or fifty divisions. That means 900,000 men. The reserves necessary to keep up that force in the field for a year are at least an equal 97 number. Hon. Members who have looked into the question will know that that is a generous underestimate. Casualties come out at more than 100 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "One hundred per cent?"] One hundred per cent, per annum. The official calculations before the War were 6½ or 7 per cent. per month, which is nearly 100 per cent, per annum. That force is for purely defensive operations on the Western frontier, and I am not exaggerating when I say that that must be regarded as a definite commitment. Then you have another enterprise which is occupying a considerable number of divisions. I do not suppose it is unwise to say ten divisions; it is probably nearly accurate. At any rate, the Germans could tell us. That is another 200,000 men, which, doubled for the twelve months to cover casualties, comes to 400,000. You require, therefore, for defensive commitments only, a total of 2,200,000. Not a single allowance has been made for Home defence in that figure. In the old days a force of something like 400,000 or 500,000 was, in our Debates, regarded as essential. There are commitments and responsibilities in Egypt, East Africa, Persia, and India for which no allowance out of that figure can be made. I submit that these are most generous estimates of the possibilities of the present system, and they are for almost purely defensive commitments. How, with only that number, are we going to fulfil our undertaking given at the beginning of the War to drive the Germans back to their frontier, and to return to Belgium her country, no worse than we can possibly help for all the damage that has been done? To do anything like that you want double the number which I have named, and judging by the experience of the last twelve months, I do not see that we have any chance of getting them under our present system.
Munitions are just as important. It is no good sending out men whom you cannot support with heavy Artillery fire. I have seen portions of the Western line handicapped, and the men undoubtedly somewhat demoralised, because we had not sufficient stuff to fire over their heads to give them courage and keep down the enemy's fire. It is as important that we should have a thoroughly organised system to produce our munitions as it is to produce the men in such numbers as we require. I hope the House, which has been extremely indulgent to me, will not for an instant think that I am a croaker. I respectfully submit that the remedy is within 98 our grasp. We have the time, we have the spirit, we still have the money, and it seems to me that we can do it. If I thought there was no remedy, or if I were really a croaker, I should have stayed in my humble job with the Army in France. It is to this House they look for an indication of appreciation of the situation. If we do not fearlessly put our back into the undertaking, with an altered system if necessary, as willingly as we worked under the old system, we shall cause great disappointment to the men who are fighting our cause abroad. The appropriation of war profits by the Government would, I respectfully submit, clear away a great deal of labour unrest. Heavy taxes on luxuries would probably make it not so necessary to bring up so big a Vote next time. The stimulating of home production, especially of food, seems to me essential. Although I have tried from first to last to avoid using the word I do most earnestly appeal to the House to keep its mind open, even to the last minute, as to the necessity of accepting compulsory national service.
§ Mr. DILLON
The speech just delivered is one of the gravest to which I have listened in this House for many a long day. That speech, the speech of the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery), and the whole course of the Debate, have made it clear beyond all question that those who are championing the cause of Conscription, of compulsory military service, and, as I understood them, of compulsory labour in this country, are determined not to allow that cause to rest for a moment, but to press it with all their energy and with all their earnestness, which I fully recognise, upon the attention of the House and of the country. They are determined—I do not quarrel with them, I fully recognise their right—not in any degree to listen to the appeal addressed to them by the Prime Minister at the opening of the Debate. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not misunderstand what I said yesterday. I do not know whether he meant any of his observations to apply to what I said; but I never for a single moment hinted at, or questioned his right, or the right of any gallant officer on active service who is a Member of this House, to address this House and to give us in the fullest and frankest way his opinions on the War. What I did find fault with, and what I still find fault with, is the publication in the newspapers of a manifesto 99 signed by men who specifically declare themselves to be officers on active service, in such a form as is calculated to convey to the people of this country—and is meant to convey!—that they come with a mandate from the Army, and are speaking on behalf of the Army to the public. I say that the publication of that on the eve of the meeting of this House was evidently with the intention of overaweing its Debates, or, at any rate, of making a strong appeal to the House to pass a certain law. That is, I think, a clear violation of the words of the—
There seems a misunderstanding between the hon. Gentleman and myself. I was only anxious to dissociate our movement from any manifesto that has appeared.
§ Mr. DILLON
Then I will say no more about that. I only wanted it to be quite clear in the mind of the hon. and gallant Member that nothing I said yesterday amounted to a challenge to his right, whatever the regulations laid down, at a time like this, to speak to the House of Commons in the frankest possible way. He has spoken frankly and very gravely. I regret that in the concluding passages of his speech he undoubtedly meant to convey the impression that he distinctly spoke on behalf of the Army. He said, and I deeply regret it, and let me remind him before he corrects me, and then I will give way to him if he likes, he said if we did not change our methods and put ourselves—the very words he used—if the country and this House did not throw their full energy into the new methods recommended, that the Army would be bitterly disappointed. Is that not speaking for the Army? ["An HON. MEMBER: "What about others?"] Ah, yes, but many of us are not officers on active service come straight from the Army; that makes a great difference. I think it would have been better not to have made that observation.
§ Mr. DILLON
That was not the form of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement. But let me draw attention to the points of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He commenced by a criticism of the Prime Minister. He said, as I understood him, that he was distressed by the 100 fact which he had observed, that on another occasion a large section of this House had been soothed by the statement of the Prime Minister—soothed into placidity, or something of that sort. He went on to recite a number of causes which, in his judgment, were the causes for uneasiness. It was a most singular thing, which I recommend most earnestly to the attention of the Labour party, who will have to take a part in these Debates in future. What is the first cause for uneasiness that the hon. and gallant Gentleman submitted to this House for their consideration? The high wages paid to munitions workers, which interfered with the operations of agriculturists in this country. What has, that got to do with compulsion, unless the purpose of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is to use compulsion to make these men work for lower wages? Does anybody doubt that that is one of the first uses of compulsion?
No, no! I cannot let that pass, but the Government is paying in some of these districts wages three times in excess of the wages paid normally. I did not ask for less wages.
§ Mr. DILLON
I did not say—for I want to be perfectly fair—that the hon. and gallant Gentleman recommended the lowering of wages, but I said he commenced his long catalogue of causes of uneasiness by stating the higher wages which were being paid to munitions workers. Who is responsible for the wages of munitions workers? That is an indictment of the Minister of Munitions. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Yes, because the Minister of Munitions gets a free hand in his own Department, and acts, I have no doubt, according to the best of his judgment in very strenuous and difficult circumstances, and in endeavouring to administer the very difficult task with which he has been entrusted. I have some reason to know the nature of the work the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken. That is the first cause. What is the second cause for uneasiness? Let us note it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot get out of it. These are the causes for uneasiness which he gave us to understand, by the method of his delivery, were the causes of the uneasiness in the ranks of the Army. The second cause is the surrender to the trade unions. That, too, is a rather sinister indication of what is before us. I shall endeavour, as briefly as possible, to bring home to hon. Members of this House that 101 we are engaged in debating one of the widest, most far-reaching, and vital subjects that ever have been discussed. Now that hon. Members have insisted upon bringing this subject to the tribunal of debate in this House, and have distinctly refused to leave it to the Government and Lord Kitchener, I say to the Government by all means let the subject be debated, and fully debated. They have told us that in this matter they will not trust the Government; therefore it must be debated fully, because it is a subject of the most deep and far-reaching importance.
I was astonished to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman's distinction. He had experience of civil life before he went on active service. Then the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Amery) delivered a most powerful speech, if he will permit me to say so, though I differ from him intensely. I have listened to the whole of this Debate and I am amazed to hear these hon. Members debating this subject in so superficial a manner, and without any consideration for the historical or wide-reaching complications which surround it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to draw a picture of what the soldier seemed to see in England. He spoke for the soldiers, not for the officers. The soldiers, he said, seemed to see capital entrenched behind complicated company rules, amassing millions, and strikes on all hands on the part of the workmen for higher wages. He drew a most lurid picture, giving us to understand that the Army was in a state of discontent at the lack of support it was receiving from home. I do not think that is just to the people of this country. I know something of the sentiments of the common people of this country, and I do say that there was never an Army in the history of the world which had more the heart of the country behind them, and which was better cared for. Why, my God, was ever there an Army—did ever anybody read in history of an Army—which was fed, clothed, and attended to medically as is this Army? I know what the Duke of Wellington would have said if he could have seen the present time. What would he have given in the Peninsula if he could have got from his countrymen at home, I will not say the same, but one-tenth part of the consideration and generosity with which the people of this country have met all the demands of the Army? Is it a generous and a fair thing to the Army itself to attempt to tell us of their feeling here in this House today? Is it a fair thing to this House, which 102 has never for a single moment found fault with any one of the millions which have been voted, or has criticised in any way the call of the Executive in support of this Army in every particular from the beginning of the War down to now? I have met a good many soldiers home from the trenches—I refer now to the rank and file and to non-commissioned officers—and I never heard any difference of opinion in their declaration of belief that there has never been an Army cared for like this one. Yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman comes here, from the Army, and draws a picture of the feeling there of the men.
§ Mr. DILLON
No, no! I am speaking now of the picture the hon. and gallant Gentleman drew of the feeling of the soldiers. Might he not, when he was drawing that picture for this House, have said something of their feelings as to the interest and care—I might almost say loving care—of the people of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Is it not true? Who said it was not? Does anybody in this House deny what I am saying, that the people of this country and this House have done everything they can for the Army? I did not say that we were not bound to do everything we could for the Army, but I do say that this country and the House are entitled to the credit for what they have done; that they have treated the Army better than the army of the Duke of Wellington was ever treated, or any other army, and it ought to be known. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, coming to the conclusion of his speech, repeated a formula to which I have listened in this House and read in the newspapers ad nauseam—we need more men! There is a certain class of gentlemen in this country who appear to think that they have given us the sum total of wisdom when they point out that we need more men. [An HON. MEMBER: "So we do!"] Of course we do. If we could put ten millions of men into the field to-morrow the War would be at an end, and our troubles would be over. The absurdity of putting it that way, of saying we need more men, as if that were everything! These gentlemen seem to forget a good old homely maxim, that we must cut our coat according to our cloth. We need more men.
§ Mr. DILLON
That is a very long question, and I do not propose to go into it to-day. I trust we shall have a full opportunity of debating that important question later. With all his military knowledge and having come straight from the front, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's observations as I understood him were inconsistent. But we all endeavour to get as much information as possible. I listened with strained attention to his speech, and I understood him to say, first of all, that he would avoid giving the mileage of the British Front. He spoke of 125 miles, and he based his calculation as to the number of men needed in the field in the immediate future on that front of 125 miles. That is a large extension, because thirty-five miles was what we heard of when the matter was last revealed to the public. But accepting the 125 miles, the hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to say that according to his calculation, and in order to be ready to make an advance in the spring, to carry out what he was pleased to describe as our Treaty obligations—that is, to hurl the Germans out of Belgium and to restore Belgium uninjured to the Belgians—a very difficult task—we should require 5,000,000 men. That gives one an idea of what comes of trusting yourselves without reserve to military men. Five millions of men! It is very easy to talk about five millions of men, but I think if you undertook to produce an Army of five millions of men by Conscription in this country you would find you were up against a very large proposition. I want to emphasise what is the programme put before us. If we were to produce an Army of 5,000,000 men this winter, we should be in the position that we were in a few months ago: most of them would be going about with wooden sticks on their shoulders and without uniforms. Why, within the last few months—I think I am right in saying the last few weeks—it is perfectly notorious that you had splendid units without rifles at the time these champions of compulsory service were clamoring for more men. It may be very funny, but it is a fact. Let me turn for a moment to the other right hon. Gentleman, who exhibited a most extraordinary ferocity of patriotism. I was not aware until I came back to this House that he had become a compulsory v service man. When last I knew the House he took up a quite different attitude, and in that direction went far beyond anything I myself had ever ventured upon.
§ Mr. DILLON
We all know the zeal of converts puts believers to shame very often. He was historical. He said that we know all about this: Conscription is no new thing in England; Pitt tried it during the Napoleonic Wars, and, therefore, without going very minutely or microscopically into history, he argued from that proposition that therefore we ought to go through it again. Yes, Pitt tried it in the Napoleonic Wars, and I have here a very interesting record of some of the results of Pitt's experiments. I will read from the famous Memorandum prepared for the War Office in 1870 on the Militia Ballot by one of your greatest generals, Sir Henry Havelock. I trust the Government, before the next Debate, will reprint this Paper. It is an invaluable Paper. It gives on the highest military authority the whole history of the Conscription experiments made in England, and they are extraordinarily interesting and valuable, and it would be madness for this country to commence over again this experiment of Conscription before the House and the country are thoroughly informed of the history of this matter in England. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman told the House, that England is no stranger to Conscription. It is true that she has tried it more than once; but it is true that with full knowledge, and after full trial, this country turned down Conscription and resolved to have nothing to do with it, as being wholly and absolutely impossible in the conditions of this land. In that judgment she was led by the opinion of all her greatest military experts. Conscription was tried by Pitt, but here is one of the paragraphs in this report:—This Militia scheme met with no favour in the country. The people rose against the conscription, and their hostility proceeded to such an extremity in the north of England that at the York Spring Assizes for 1758 four persons obstructing the Militia Acts were convicted and some of them executed for high treason.Is England less democratic now than in 1758? But they tried it again under Pitt at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and it had no better effect. I have here the opinion of the Duke of Wellington himself. There are many other opinions which I might quote, but I cannot give a higher authority. This is what he said:—It is quite clear that the British Regular Army cannot be raised by conscription or ballot. The right of the country to the services of all its subjects for its defence can be well understood. It is on the principle of defence that the seafaring man is liable to be impressed for service in the King's ships. But the force 105 called the Regular Army, which is liable to be sent to any part of the world, not for the defence of the land of England"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The meaning is quite clear. Was not Wellington defending England in the Peninsular just as much as you are defending England now in Flanders? Does any hon. Gentleman mean to tell me Wellington was not defending England in the Peninsular? It was based on his experience in the Peninsular that he used this language:not for the defence of the land of England, but of a colony or settlement, or for the conquest of a colony or settlement, or for the defence or for the conquest of any foreign territory, cannot be considered in the same light. Men cannot, with justice, be taken from their families and from their ordinary occupations and pursuits, for such objects. The recruits for the Regular British Army must be volunteers.Lord Palmerston and all the great Ministers of that day endorse that opinion, and it is there recorded—Lord Palmerston's own words that Conscription or forced military service was wholly unsuitable to the circumstances of England. They gave reasons and they compared it with the military conscription of the Continent and said that, while that system might work very well in foreign lands, it was wholly unsuited for England. Now those hon. Members and gentlemen outside in the Press, without reference to the history of this country, without, as I have contended, making any really well-considered case of necessity or even expediency, propose lightly that we should plunge into one of the most tremendous revolutions ever attempted in the history of England.
There is one thing I want clearly to impress on Members of this House. I have noticed quite lately for the first time that, under the stress of debate, hon. Members who are eager for this compulsory service have got into the habit of speaking "for the War only." They used not to say so at the beginning. It is only lately, when they find the strength of the opposition to compulsion, that they speak of the War only. Does any sane man believe that if the Conscriptionists succeed in fixing this yoke on the neck of England, you will shake it off without something approaching a revolution? I do not say it of Members of this House, but I say deliberately with regard to some of the men who are engineering this thing outside, and who are far more formidable than any hon.Members sitting in this House, that they are engineering it for ulterior and sinister objects. They are not calling for compulsory service because they honestly believe it is necessary. They are not looking for com- 106 pulsory military service and compulsory service in the workshops because they think the War can only be ended in that way. It is impossible to dismiss from your mind, after reading some of their articles, that they would be deeply mortified if the War was won without compulsory service. That is the impression conveyed to my mind. I have never said a single word that I attribute such motive to any man in this House. Everyone knows to whom I attribute it—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who is the traitor?"]—and I say this is, in my opinion, one of the most sinister and abominable campaigns ever instituted.
Take this one illustration of the nature of this campaign, and to a certain extent a justification of what I have said. Will it be denied that this particular Press has done everything in its power to obstruct voluntary enlistment? Many men in Ireland have been sent to gaol for less than Lord Northcliffe has done. Many newspapers in Ireland have been suppressed without protest from us for far less than the "Daily Mail" has done. I say that by every foul means, by openly and audaciously refusing to print Lord Kitchener's appeal, by pouring ridicule on every attempt of the recruiting sergeants, by open, ill-concealed incitements to men to refuse to enlist until they are fetched, over and over again they have done their very best to break up the voluntary system, and if it were not for the connections and power of Lord Northcliffe he would have been in gaol long ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "He ought to be!"] We who are opposed to Conscription—and I have never in the course of this controversy, and I do not think I have ever in my life, committed myself to the principle of National Service one way or the other—to me it is a question of expediency, and of all the circumstances I have never committed myself on the principle. If I were a Frenchman, or German or Russian, I dare say I should be a strong supporter of National Service. It is not a question of final principle, but a question of its suitability to the conditions of this country, and a question of its suitability to the present circumstances of this country. I am convinced in my heart and soul that it is unsuited to them, and that you will commit one of the greatest blunders in history if you abandon the voluntary system, which has done miracles for us and surpassed the wildest anticipations of all the people of this country and of the world.
107 7.0 P.M.
Let me say one word of remonstrance, and I do so without any bitterness, against one passage in the speech of the hon. Member for South Birmingham. So great was his zeal in opening his speech that, in drawing a picture of the present personnel of the Army, he said that the halt, the lame, and the blind now mainly composed the New Army, and that the officers in France were throwing them out and sending them home as totally unfit. All I can say, if that is said of the English troops, I do not believe it. I do not believe that you ever had a finer Army in Europe. In fact, I do not believe that any nation in the world ever had a finer Army. If that is true of the English troops I know it is true of the Irish troops, because a finer body of men I never saw. Really I think it is an example of the kind of spirit with which this controversy is carried on when men like the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery), to whom I give credit for absolute zeal and deep conviction, are so blinded by their zeal for this cause that they pour scorn and contempt on the Army.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
The hon. Member is entirely misquoting my hon. Friend the Member for South Birmingham, who simply read from a letter which he had received from a commanding officer at the front, and did not give what he quoted as his own opinion.
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. Member's interruption makes the case much worse. If you quote from a letter and refuse to give the name of the writer, you adopt his opinions. You should not quote from a letter unless you think it contains an opinion which ought to be known, and which gives a fair view of the facts of the case. In conclusion, I want to say this word of warning. Some months ago I got into rather hot water by taking a very limited part in the discussion upon the Munitions Bill, and I incurred the anger of some of my greatest friends in this House for some of the things which I said about the compulsory Clauses in that measure. Those Clauses were afterwards modified and redrafted, but even as they now stand, I ask, have they been an unqualified success? I ask the Labour Members themselves how they like the Munitions Bill? Have they no grievances already under that Bill, and have they not had already on more than one occasion a sample of the spirit which officials 108 inevitably will adopt when armed with such complete powers. With regard to those compulsory Clauses, I have had cases of gross grievances brought to my notice under the Clause which forbids a man to leave his employment. If you had compulsion, how do you know what state the labour of this country would be in before long? Believe me, if we go in for compulsion, and submit to compulsion—I understand the hon. Member for Birmingham and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite attach equal importance to naval compulsion as to military compulsion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"] —remember the proposition: it is not alone military but it is labour compulsion, and if you submit to that in this country I warn the working men of England that they will have to begin again at the bottom of the ladder and fight their way up all over again.
§ Sir LEO CHIOZZA MONEY
The hon. Member for East Mayo has signally failed to deal with the greater part of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. With the greatest astuteness the hon. Member seized upon the industrial part of that speech with a purpose which is, of course, clear to us all. I think I may claim that whatever my powers may be no man in the last ten years has tried to do more for the working classes than I have tried to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] When I say that, I wish to state that I would not be associated with any movement in favour of National Service if I entertained one-tenth part of the fears that have been expressed by the hon. Member for East Mayo. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a country in this world, derived from this country—I refer to our Australian dependency—where democracy reigns supreme, where there is no Tory party in existence, and where the two parties that do exist differ only as to which of them is the more advanced. In that Colony National Service for Home defence has been gladly accepted, and the small opposition which was at first offered to it has almost now entirely gone. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was not small."] My hon. Friend says it was not small, but whatever it was it has nearly disappeared.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
My hon. Friend is right in saying that so far as the Australians are concerned they have been raised under a voluntary system, as we have raised them in this country, and my hon. Friend is entitled to make that point, but he must be aware that there is a strong movement in Australia to add National Service for Foreign defence to National Service for Home defence, and these proposals have supporters amongst the best-known labour leaders in the Australian Colonies, and I do not think that statement will be denied by any hon. Member in this House. The hon. Member for East Mayo failed to address himself to the really grave part of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite. What is the gravamen of that speech? It is that we have not got enough men and munitions to win the victory that must be won. That has been admitted to-day in another place, where the Secretary of State for War has declared that recruiting has fallen off, and that the Government is now considering what it will do under the circumstances. I feel perfectly sure that when the call comes the hon. Member opposite will give his adherence to whatever the Government proposes for the good of the country. The hon. Member forgets that this is a democratic country, and that our people are in charge of their own destiny. Does he believe that the British people can have this or any other system forced upon them, or that after the War they would consent for a single moment to its continuance if the system was found to be opposed to their just liberties? Is there an hon. Member of this House who would not be opposed to such a system under those circumstances? I say quite honestly and frankly that I will not advocate a change in our system on any false ground or with any concealment in the matter. What does the whole matter rest on after the War? Upon the size of the Army required. If we win a great victory we may hope for a condition of things in which it will not be necessary for us to have a great standing Army. If we win through to that position I shall oppose Conscription or National Service for raising an Army. If we only want an Army of the size which we all wrongly considered necessary in the past; if we only want a very small Expeditionary Force of something like 160,000, 200,000, or 250,000 men, then National Service in the sense of compulsion is a manifest absurdity; but if the conditions after the War are such that we want a standing Army of 1,000,000 men, 110 then I should say, as I say now, that there is only one fair way of raising so large a body of men, and that is to call upon the whole of the men of the country to accept training and accept a ballot for the number required. That is my answer to those who say that we want to put a yoke upon this nation. We require nothing of the sort, but we want such a defence as we think adequate to any particular situation.
I now come to what the Prime Minister said with regard to figures. I should be sorry if any word of unnecessary recrimination escaped my lips in advocating this great cause, but I am bound to point out that when the Prime Minister appeals to the House to be united in its counsels he certainly ought to impose such a restriction upon his right hon. colleagues in the Cabinet. What the Prime Minister said to-night was a complete answer to what was said by the First Commissioner of Works the night before last. He said that if he could only name the figures they would stagger the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "So they would!"] Were the figures given this afternoon of a staggering character? The figures were a round 3,000,000, including the Navy and the established Army as it stood before the War. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I say that figure includes the established Army at the beginning of the War, the Reserves, and the Territorials. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Three million men, so far from being staggering in the sense that was meant by the First Commissioner of Works, is surprising to me in quite another sense. There is no need to be ashamed of what has been done, and I confess that much more has been done than any Member of this House, including the present speaker, ever dreamt of doing during the early part of the War. According to the situation as it developed during the early months of the War, and certainly by Christmas, what we have done is not enough. The hon. and gallant Member opposite has proved that it was not enough and the hon. Member for East Mayo made no attempt to disprove the greater part of that speech, and that is why he tried to ride off on the industrial issue. I might follow him into the historical part of the subject if I had time, but if the hon. Member will look into history I am sure he will find some other quotation which will convince him in quite another direction.
111 I will let that pass, because it may be discussed on another occasion, but here and now I do want to bring the attention of the House to what is the real gravamen of the matter. It is not so much whether you should raise men by voluntary or compulsory service, but the chief obstacle it seems to me is that some at least of the right hon. Gentlemen in His Majesty's Government think that we cannot afford to do any more. That is the real truth of the situation. It is not that they disbelieve in National Service as National Service. It is that they gravely and sincerely doubt whether, in the existing circumstances of the case, we can afford to raise many more men. That is the point, and that is the point which has been carefully instilled into the minds of leader writers on many papers, which shall be nameless on this occasion. The argument is this: "The Minister of Munitions now says that it is the duty of the country to call upon the manhood of the country to serve it." [An HON. MEMBER: "He has changed."] He has not changed. There is nothing in that contrary to what he has said before. I want to address myself to the argument, and my hon. Friend must really allow me. I do not know that he has acquired any particular right to interrupt a speech. I was trying to address myself to what I believe to be the true obstacle that stands in the way of this House and the country raising a large number of men. It is commonly said in leader after leader, as hon. Members who read them know, that we have got a number of engagements to fill. First, there is the Navy to keep command of the seas. The Navy is costing, as the Prime Minister told us to-day, £600,000 a day. That is the first obligation. We must meet it. If we had not met it, France would have been overwhelmed long ago— a consideration I might commend to some of those who are opposing National Service. The second point is that we have got to finance our Allies. A great point is made of this. It is a great and an important point. What does it mean? It means that at the present time we are lending abroad for the purposes of this War about £300,000,000 a year. What did we lend before the War began? We were, before this War began, lending abroad at the rate of £200,000,000 per year, so that, although we are in the midst of this great War, we are only lending abroad—and that particular point is only valid to this 112 extent—50 per cent. more than we were lending in peace before the War began.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
The very men who are lending money to the Government now. They were lending it to foreign private powers. The Government is now taking it from the same people by means of loans or taxes and lending it to foreign Governments, and, of course, when the War is through and victory is assured there will be no burden upon our people in respect of the interest payable on those loans. Only in the event of defeat will those loans become a real expenditure to this country and a real loss of money. Therefore, so far as that particular point is concerned, it has little validity. What about the export trade? My right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond), pointed out to the House—I am very glad that he did—what an enormous number of men of military age are not engaged either in fighting or in making munitions or in the export trade. Everybody who is acquainted with the Census return knows that the total number of men who were engaged at the date of the Census of Production in manufacturings— I speak of men of eighteen and over and not merely of men of military age—was only 4,250,000. Anybody can see by going to the Census of Production that only 4,250,000 men of eighteen and upwards, including some of military age, were engaged in manufacturing or in mining. That is the corollary to the great truth put before the House by my right hon. Friend opposite.
He pointed out, of course, what is the converse proposition, that there are millions and millions of men in this country who are not soldiers or makers of munitions or engaged in manufacturing for export. That is why it is possible, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, to see job after job being done which has nothing to do with the War. Everybody knows that it is not possible to leave this House and go to his home without passing hundreds of men who are neither soldiers nor makers of munitions nor engaged in export trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] How do I know? Because the Census proves these things, and because common observation confirms the Census. If the Census were untrue, you would not meet these men, and because you do meet them you have a proof before your eyes of the value of the Census. Therefore the argument that we cannot 113 furnish more men for the essential purposes before us now, and that we cannot finance the War, falls to the ground. My right hon. Friend laughs, but I am as well acquainted as he is with the views entertained by some of His Majesty's Government. It is common knowledge that we have an accumulated wealth which has been variously estimated and which cannot be less than something like £16,000,000,000. But we have not only got our credit; in this matter we have also got a most extraordinary value of overseas investments. We have something like £4,000,000,000 in overseas investments bringing in a revenue of something like £200,000,000 per annum. The country, therefore, is in this unique position: We have not only our credit to liquidate; we have an enormous amount of foreign and Colonial credits in the bank, as it were, to liquidate in respect of this War. It is amazing that in a country which is in this extraordinary favourable position any doubts should be entertained for a single moment as to our power to finance our Allies.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Guest) dealt with the military situation as I cannot deal with it—I would not waste the time of the House by pretending to deal with it—but I should like to add this: There is a great danger of our underrating the economic resources of the enemy. I have tried to follow as clearly as. I can—and I have had some special opportunity of doing so—the economic development of Germany during the War, and some quite extraordinary things have emerged. Take the chief illustration of economic power—the production of pig-iron. Last month the production of pig-iron in Germany was larger than in any previous month of the War. It has been rising every month since September, and last month the production of pig-iron in Germany was nearly 1,100,000 tons, which is far more than we make in peace. Germany is not only utilising her own resources; she has got in her hands the greater part of the manufacturing power of Belgium. She has now added to it the economic resources of Poland. I find that the number of men working in the Belgium coal mines is 88 per cent, of the number that worked there in peace time, and Belgium is now exporting to Germany coal at the rate of 130,000 tons a month. The enemy, therefore, is making use of the territory which she occupies, and she has in her hands an enormous number of prisoners, 114 and of them she is making economic use. They are mining, they are tilling, and they are even making trenches for her. If what one hears is true, Belgians are actually compelled to dig trenches in dangerous positions, doing work against their own country. All this has to be counted with. It sets free a much larger proportion of the German manhood than would be set free in normal circumstances. That, I think, is a partial explanation of the grave military fact that in the fourteenth month of the war Germany, instead of being weaker, as we thought, than a year ago, is stronger than she was when we began this conflict. So, as my hon. and gallant Friend very justly says, we are only at the beginning of the thing; we are only just beginning to wet our fingers, as it were, instead of plunging into the main stream.
These things have got to be seriously faced, and I do beg my hon. Friends, whose sincerity in this matter I need hardly say that I greatly respect, very seriously to consider whether there is not a good deal of prejudice in their opposition to compulsion in the matter. After all, is not all civilisation based upon compulsion? What is it that distinguishes a civilised, society from a primitive community? It is that men by reason of the advancement and their intelligence and their civilisation consent with each other to make laws. What are laws? Laws are compulsion, and compulsion rules our society all along; the line. Compulsion rules us really from birth until death, and it is only because of that social compulsion and because of the laws we have made that we enjoy that liberty which, of course, is the origin of the phrase so familiar to us all, that "Liberty is in law." We submit to compulsion in matters of education. The Liberal party itself—and I was an earnest advocate of it—placed upon the Statute Book a law compelling a poor working girl to pay so much of her wages every week and compelling her employer to do the same. Why? For her own sake, for the sake of her country, and for the sake of future generations. We did it voluntarily and sincerely. It is the same with regard to education and with regard to taxation.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to produce the greatest Budget ever produced in this or in any other country. Will there be any voluntary taxes in that Budget? Will he call upon the United Kingdom, in the name of Patriotism and of Liberty, to put downs 115 their money? If he did, would he get the money? Yes, he would get some money, but what would hold people back from paying voluntary taxes? Why, the feeling that there would be no equality of sacrifice. A man would feel, "Yes, I may write my cheque, but would my neighbour write his?" The result would be that he would get a very small collection of his taxes, however wide might be the appeal to patriotism, and however he might publish on the hoardings gorgeous advertisements urging people to rally round the flag. It is just the same with compulsory military service. Surely, we cannot shut out what is at the present time the greatest consideration of all—the consideration that it is necessary to formulate a law of equality as near as it can be framed. It cannot be made perfect. Do not let my hon. Friends run away with the idea that we advocate National Service as a perfect system. Of course it is not. If you frame your Income Tax ever so carefully there are bound to be anomalies. But you can, with National Service, as I have so often urged with regard to the Income Tax, make it far more perfect than any other system if you try, and if you care to take the trouble.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
Of course the people have got to accept it. That is the whole point. I wonder if my hon. Friend is quite satisfied that the people will not accept it. I wonder if he has ever talked with the recruiting sergeants I see addressing crowds in Trafalgar Square, not commissioned but non-commissioned officers, to see what their opinions are, and whether they would not be rather drilling recruits than addressing crowds of our men and women in Trafalgar Square. I should like to say one final word with regard to liberty. At the present moment it is being defended, not only on the high seas by the British Navy, but in France and Flanders also, and in those countries it is being chiefly defended by foreign conscripts. My hon. Friends would like to deny that. But it is true.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
Is it kindly to my own—and I suppose all of us have got some relatives there—is it kind to them 116 to deny them more assistance? Which is the kindest thing, for my hon. Friend to sit there and utter remarks like that, or for me to stand up here and advocate that their country shall rally round them and send more men out? When my hon. Friends attempt, as some have done, to take the name of liberty in support of their cause, do not let them forget that we have got Allies in the field and, if the manhood of their own country is insulted by the use of the term "conscript," if it is to be treated as a term of reproach, let them remember that we are allied in the field with conscripts, and that it is their duty to provide such a contingent of troops as shall prove that the United Kingdom is doing its utmost.
I am not one of those who have pessimistic views in regard to this War. I believe we have both the means and the men to carry it through. If I am ever tempted to be pessimistic it is when I hear the mingled counsels of military optimism and financial pessimism. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley is a financial pessimist, but he is a military optimist as well—a curious combination. I plead with the Government to throw overboard the idea of financial pessimism. I believe we have the men for a much larger Army, and therefore can make the efforts of this country commensurate with the great goal we have in view.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
How is a private Member to find out where truth lies when listening to so many conflicting authorities? I do not think anybody can complain of the spirit of the Debate. The speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman from the Opposition Benches, whatever else it may have been, was certainly grave, and was entitled to the greatest possible consideration. But when he was speaking in such a pessimistic tone as to labour troubles he can hardly have been as well informed as he was on the military situation. After all, what is the real situation so far as regards labour? I represent, and have done for thirty-six years, what I think is the greatest labour organisation in the Kingdom. We undertook—800,000 of us—that during the continuance of the War not a single labour dispute should take place. It may be said that in a certain part of the country that covenant has been broken. But in the part for which I speak it has not been broken by a single organisation, and will not be broken by the 750,000 men so long as the 117 War lasts. We have undertaken, whatever may be our differences, however keen our feeling, that if we cannot settle the difficulty between employer and employed it shall be settled by an independent arbitration, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that every one of the articles of that covenant will be honourably carried out. I have sitting beside me an hon. Friend who represents another "very large organisation. He can speak with much greater knowledge of the conditions in his industry, but I think we can both say of that industry that never was there a greater example of loyalty to the State given than that which had been given by the railway workers of the nation.
Many of the speeches which have been delivered have, I think, been uttered under false, or at least insufficient, pretences. Eighty per cent, of the Members of this House came in as the supporters of the voluntary system, and I do not think that 20 per cent. came in, in 1910, as supporters of compulsion. Before we change the system upon which the liberties and prosperity of the nation have been built up we must be fairly satisfied that the necessities of the situation require it. I am in complete agreement with the hon. Member for East Mayo, (Mr. Dillon) in saying that neither in Conscription nor in voluntaryism is any final principle embodied. I believe, and I think the vast majority of the nation agrees, that the welfare of the State is the highest law. If it is necessary for the preservation of the State, and of all those liberties and ideals with which the State is associated, to revert to Conscription, then Conscription it must be. But the evidence must be unmistakable and unassailable. When I go to seek the evidence I do not think I shall go to the Back Benches, however eminent the occupants may be. After all, compulsion implies organisation. You have to have authority to apply compulsion, and where can we find a better authority than those who represent His Majesty's Government?
I never did trust a Tory in many things. The only one thing in which I thought he was equally good with myself was in the love of country. I believe Tories to be wrong in almost every particular except that, but I have always given them credit for honest loyalty. I believe they desire to do their best according to their light for the good of their country. We all agreed a few months ago that the very best brains in the then Front Opposition Bench should come across here and unite with the very 118 best brains of the Liberal party and with one or two rather mediocre brains of the Labour party. [Interruption.] My Friends of the Labour party know perfectly well there is no insult intended in these words. We are capable of joking with each other even in the midst of difficulties such as now surround us. I believe that we have in the Government of the country a body of men who have at least a patriotism as high as our own, and they have a knowledge of the fact that cannot be claimed by any ordinary private Member. They have a moral courage that will rise to the occasion, and, if necessity requires it, they can tell the nation exactly what the situation is. When they tell us that, we are not even then to surrender our judgment. We are to find out the facts. I am not entering into any game with the heathen Chinee. The cards must be on the table and not up his sleeve. But when the cards are on the table and when we are playing an honest, straightforward game, and I hope there is no Member of this House who is not prepared to go to his constituents, after having thoroughly analysed the situation, and to say that the country and all for which it stands is in danger, and it is the duty of every one of us, like the Romans of old, to sacrifice everything we have in order to preserve those liberties for which British ideals have so long stood.
What is the good of talking about a tremendous lot more men? My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Sir Chiozza Money) spoke of the poor response. There never was in the history of the world a rate of enlistment such as that which has taken place in this country during the last twelve months. No person who has read the history of the rate at which the Federal Army was enlisted only fifty years ago will see that we have beaten that rate of enlistment by 5 to 1, and if you take an earlier period you will see how contemptible in comparison was the rate of enlistment when the Americans were fighting the War of Independence. There has been from first to last a rate of enlistment equal almost to a quarter of a million of men per month, and it does not come very well from any of us to talk in a derogatory sense of what the voluntary system has given us up till now. From my own industry well over a quarter of a million of men have gone. There have been none of the appeals which have been spoken of as appeals insulting to the manhood of the nation. In that part of South West Lancashire from which I come there 119 have been very few appeals at all, and men have been tumbling over each other. The worse the disaster, the greater the calamity, the more immediate has been the response. Thousands upon thousands, and tens of thousands, have gone from my part without a single recruiting meeting or appeal, but only because they felt as honest, decent English working men should feel, that a responsibility rested upon them, and that they had a duty to do in France and Flanders and in the Dardanelles. The time may come when that system will have to be broken down. The safety and welfare of the State are the first and last considerations, and it may be that when the voice of authority speaks we shall have to change our system and go in for something more drastic. But before we do that, let us know exactly where we are going. There has been too much hugger-mugger up to now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sure that is a point upon which we are all agreed. There has been too much of the grand panjandrum—too much hugger-mugger and too little publicity. I feel satisfied that the hearts of the working classes, and of all classes, are in this War, because this War has been a great consolidation. We have had theDuke's son, cook's son"—you know the rhyme. Many of the best people in our neighbourhood and throughout the land are giving up their lives and money and that readily, because they feel that this is a War for the fundamental liberty of Europe, not to say of the world. When we have had such a magnificent response, before we swop horses, before we break down the system, let us be quite sure we shall not introduce far graver divisions. This is a case in which the unity of the British race is the great essential. We know perfectly well that our people have rallied magnificently. We have heard that this is a War largely of mechanism, and we know that there are well over 700 controlled establishments, apart from those establishments which are not controlled, and we know there are large trade unions, strongly representative and thoroughly efficient, who say they will abandon every trade union restriction and regulation during the war—when we have evolved all this great mass of spirit on behalf of our country, let us beware before we too readily break it down, because we may introduce elements of discord which will make not only defeat but disaster 120 absolutely certain. It is because of that at our Trade Union Congress we passed a resolution—passing resolutions is a good deal easier that voting supplies—we passed a resolution against Conscription. It was passed practically unanimously, but I feel convinced that the vast majority of those trade union delegates, if they felt their country was in danger, would brush that resolution ruthlessly aside and say, "We stand for our country." At the same time, we want to know where we are going. We want the light, and we want the Government itself to state authoritatively what the situation is. It has been said that certain remarks have been made in another place. I do not know that other place, and I do not know what the remarks were. The remarks should be made here by the Prime Minister, as the Prime Minister of a Coalition Government, speaking to the nation at large. When such remarks are made, and when the full gravity and the facts of the situation are disclosed, it will rest upon us, as representing the nation in our representative capacity, to test those facts and sift the matter as well as we possibly can and with such speed as we may, so as to bring this country successfully out of the great calamity in which it is at present involved.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I sometimes think that we in this House are the best set of actors imaginable. I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). A very able and fiery speech it was, but it seemed to me like nothing so much as the speech of the hon. Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) in opposition to Home Rule. There was the same exaggeration, the same fire, and the same air that the whole world was coming to an end should this contemptible measure pass into law. Then, fortunately, there was at the end of his speech the able statement that should circumstances demand compulsion he had no objection to it in principle, and there fore directly the Government said they wanted compulsion, compulsion there should be. That was a complete change in tone. I think it would be of advantage if we could discuss this subject, not from the point of view of a play actor opposing a horrible crime about to be perpetrated—
§ Mr. DILLON
You put into my mouth the words that I had no objection to Conscription in principle, and that if the Government said they were in favour of it I would support it. I never said anything of the kind. I said that if I were a Frenchman, German or Russian I should no doubt be in favour of National Service, but that I thought that for this country it was wholly unsuitable.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
The Irish people can govern themselves, and they have decided against it. I am a little surprised at the fiery opposition raised by an Irishman to Conscription in England. I recollect that at the beginning of this War, when I still thought that peace might possibly be preserved, I made a speech from this bench which was howled down by Members of the Irish party, because they wanted the War. I do not know how much they want the War still; whether they are getting tired of it or whether they still intend to prosecute the War to a successful conclusion. I am sorry to say that I think a great deal of the opposition to compulsory service comes from a gradual slackening in the spirit of this country and in a gradual slackening of its determination to bring this War to a successful conclusion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
It is the game of the ostrich—never speak the truth for fear the Germans will repeat it.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Do you not think you had better leave the Germans to pick and choose—leave them to print what they like, and at the same time in this House to voice our views and to explain exactly how determined we are to see this War through.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
You are not determined. If you are willing to sacrifice your view of compulsion—[Interruption]. If the hon. Member will get up and make his speech perhaps we should get along quicker. I am afraid I was drawn away by the interruption of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Alden). We are all, or nearly all, agreed upon this one point, that directly the Prime Minister or the Government think that compulsion is necessary, in order to get men to join the Army, then we shall support it, and then we shall use it, however averse we may be to it in principle. We want to persuade the Government at least to make their plans beforehand, to make their inquiries, to set up a strong Committee at the War Office, to go into the whole question, and to see what they can make of compulsory service when they have got it. That has not been done up to the present.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
It is not a question of their decision. What I want is a strong Committee at the War Office to consider how they might use any compulsory service that came along, whether they would make use of it locally through the Territorial organisations, or centrally through the War Office. The whole point seems to me to be one of proportion. We may have, some months hence, the Government deciding in favour of compulsory service. When that comes about there will be no plan ready for using that compulsory service. They will not have the machinery ready, they will not have the organisation ready. Therefore there will be further delay, just when delay will be most dangerous. Everybody in this House ought to press for a rather strong Committee in the War Office that shall prepare a scheme for using compulsory service when it becomes necessary.
123 That leads me on to the next step which seems urgently important in order to ensure economical and satisfactory expenditure of our resources both in men and money—that is the reconstitution at the War Office of the old Army Council, so that we might have put before the Cabinet a prepared scheme showing what can be done with the means at our disposal, both our total man power and our total ammunition power, and the way that power could best be directed, whether to the Dardanelles or to the western front, or elsewhere. We should have this Army Council, which existed before the War, reconstituted from the very best brains in the Army, because I think it is being gradually more and more realised that it is desirable to have the best brains of the Army at the War Office and not necessarily at the front in France, and that direction must come more and more from here rather than from the generals actually in the field. If you had that Army Council reconstituted—it will naturally occur to everyone what the names should be—to provide and think out the military plans beforehand, and to see what power they had at their disposal, they would be able to advise the Cabinet. If you had that Army Council, the first thing they would do would be to consider the best use of compulsion, either for the manufacture of munitions, or for the purposes of defence. That appears to be germane to the satisfactory conduct of the War and the proper expenditure of our money.
There are many here who think we have wasted a good deal of money during the last thirteen months. Money has been squandered with both hands. There has been no adequate check upon it. We have seen in the camps the waste of food. At the front I have seen even more waste, because our men, particularly in France, feed themselves at their own expense. They buy their own food, which is cooked for them, and the Army rations are wasted. I heard of a case the other day of men leaving in their billets eighteen one pound tins of bully beef with a bayonet stuck through every one of them so that they were all ruined. That waste has been going on everywhere because there has been no efficient check. The most efficient check you can have is, in the first place, ample discussion and full publicity, without being told by the hon. Member for Carmarthen that one is making a deplorable speech, and with- 124 out being attacked in this way, without being snuffed out by Ministers or other Members of this House or by the Press. Publicity such as that, coupled with the direction of the Army Council, which would prepare beforehand the best military advice, collected together and applied in the best manner to the successful prosecution of the War—with these two co-ordinated forces, with the secrecy which has overshadowed the War and which has done more than anything else to check recruiting—far more than the terrible and malign influence of Lord Northcliffe—with that secrecy broken down, with open discussion, and with a responsible body with the best brains of the Army at the War Office, we should have a far better chance of really prosecuting this War to a successful conclusion. The Army Council was unfortunately destroyed at the beginning of the War because all the generals went off to the front, and the consequence is that we have been without one since.
What I really think this House should realise about the attitude of the Army at the front, so far as I have seen it, is this: I do not say anything about their view on compulsory service. I do not think that is absolutely germane to the point. The Army at the front is a volunteer Army. A French colonel said to me the other day, comparing the new troops with the old ones, "The first troops you sent out were sportsmen; those who are coming out now are patriots." That is what these people are. Those men who are now filling the trenches, who have come forward voluntarily to give something that we all value very highly, simply for the love of their country and for the love of freedom, have changed their views as to this War just as much as we have here. They too thought at first that it was going to be a short War, that it would soon be over, that in six or nine months most of them would be back home in their old jobs again with their wives and families round them, that the world would once more be the old world, and therefore I think they the more willingly went to the front. But now they have seen, both in Gallipoli and in France, how long the War is going to be. They have passed through one deadly winter of mud and slush in the trenches, and they see another in front of them. They have seen the horrible slaughter, particularly in Gallipoli, where it is worse, I think, than at the front. They have seen that their chances of getting back have got less and 125 less, and at the same time they look back at this country and they see their pals who have not gone out to the front getting bigger and bigger wages because of the scarcity of labour. They see unemployment banished. They see them actually stepping into their jobs, usurping their places, and getting so accustomed to these new jobs that when the War is over there will be little chance of the original holders getting back into them again. That must be the attitude of the normal man who is fighting at the front at present. He finds his job longer than he thought and more deadly than he expected. He finds that the alternative of stopping at home becomes ever more delectable and he gets little leave. Month after month goes by and he does not see his family. How can you wonder if these people are getting bitter? Can you wonder if they do all think that? In spite of all the kindness with which the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) spoke—a kindness which is really extraordinary—they do not say, "we are not properly backed up," and quite rightly, because they have had ample supplies of men. But do you not think that these men who, mind you, are our electors just as much as the people at present in this country, have a right to make their voice heard in the only way in which it can be, through Members of Parliament in this House? And if they have a strong view I do not wish to express it as Cromwell's army expressed it, by removing the bauble from the House, but at least let us ventilate these views and urge the Government to give some attention to the point of view of the men in the trenches. The Government will have the ultimate decision as to whether this particular compulsory service shall come or not, but I think we are justified in saying to the Government that this is the point of view of a certain number of Englishmen, and that therefore it should be taken into account when the great decision has to be taken of making the last sacrifice in order to beat the Germans.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
I have no great desire to dive into the subject which has been discussed for some considerable time past this evening because it is one which I have never supported in public or in my own Constituency until some three months or so ago, and I have only done so then, and am only a so-called supporter of that system, because so far as it is possible for an individual to form an 126 opinion, I hold and am satisfied that it has got to be adopted sooner or later by this country. But I feel, as a matter of fact, that the hon. Member (Mr. Walsh) rendered a service to the House inasmuch as his speech raised the Debate to a very much more reasonable level, and one which I felt largely in agreement with. But there have been a number of speakers, in this Debate who have attacked, very strongly in some cases, my hon. Friend (Mr. Amery) for his remarks with regard to the recruiting that is going on at present and the general value and physique of many of the men who are now joining the Army. As he has been challenged so very strongly on that point I want to draw attention to what is going on right through the country, so I am informed, in connection with recruiting. Like, I suppose, most other hon. Members of this House, I have long got past the stage where? accept any general statements which are made without requiring some very good evidence that they are based upon fact, and with regard to this matter I did not believe it at the time, and my lack of belief had the result of obtaining for me a report by a colonel commanding a regiment as to certain recruits who had been taken into his battalion within a period of some five weeks. When I have given the House the information that I desire to give it, I am not going to give anybody this report, because we all know what effect that would have upon certain officers, but I am perfectly prepared, if anyone doubts the accuracy or the value of the facts I am submitting, to submit this in confidence to Mr. Speaker.
This particular battalion, which has since the War began sent 2,300 drafts to the War, and has in its present battalion 400 men who have been passed by the War Office Medical Board as unfit for foreign service, had recruited within the period of six weeks—from the latter part of July up to the middle of August—ten men who had previously been discharged, since the War began, from the Army as being permanently unfit for service of any kind. These ten men are, I presume, entered up as new recruits under the recruiting statistics. I will read alternately why they were turned out of the Army, and then the remarks by the commanding officer of the regiment into which they have been recruited. Number one was discharged for eyesight: remark, "A very bad case." "Deformity of left hand 127 and side," "Cannot stand in the ranks." "Synovitis in the knee," "Rheumatism and age, cannot march." "Paralysis," "Withered leg, can scarcely walk." "Nystagmus," "Very bad case, can scarcely see." "Injury to left knee," "Cannot march." "Nystagmus," "Can scarcely see." "Smashed foot," "Can scarcely walk." Here are ten men taken on in July and August into one battalion alone who have been turned out of the Army as permanently unfit for service of any description whatever, and I want to ask this question of the Under-Secretary for War: Under what Regulations—because let us remember that recruiting sergeants and doctors and commanding officers cannot be taking on recruits of that nature unless they are acting under the Regulations of the War Office, and I want to know who has issued such Regulations, and who is responsible for bringing into the Army at the present moment and calculating in the statistics of recruits such men as these, who on the War Office records alone are absolutely unfit for any service under any conditions whatever? Naturally in dealing with a matter of that nature one hesitates in bringing out in public such facts as these, because we are responsible for saying only that which will serve the public interest in this country, but the time has come when we are driven to that state in which we have to, and are going to, bring these things out in order to render a greater service to the country than any damage which might be attached; the disservice which we should be rendering by giving information to Germany, which has been referred to two or three times, has very little weight with me, seeing that in every Department of the State there are agents of the German Government who keep them posted hour by hour and day by day in everything of this and every other nature that is taking place in our administration.
I want to pass from that to the speech which was made this evening by the First Lord of the Admiralty regarding the aerial defence of London. The right hon. Gentleman entirely misunderstood the complaint that has been levelled against the Administration to-day with regard to the aerial defence of London. What he pointed out at very considerable length was that the situation to-day is very different from what it was at the beginning of the War, and from what the Government could reasonably be expected to have 128 foreseen at that time. That is absolutely true, but that is not the point that is made against the Government to-day with regard to this matter. The complaint is that, at any rate since January or February last, the Government and the country have had an ever-increasing knowledge of what the Zeppelins could not do and an increasing knowledge of what they could and would do, and it is only at this late hour, when they actually come over London and do the damage, that they take the sudden emergency method of appointing a most able and respected man to deal with this matter, and, be it noted, only after a very strong leading article in one of the leading London papers calling for such a movement. People appear to feel very much more satisfied with the security of property and life in this great city now that Sir Percy Scott has been appointed to defend it. The defence of London against air raids primarily consists in the earliest possible knowledge of when these Zeppelins are coming over—that is, by scouting out at sea and getting the earliest information when they are coming and dealing with them, not when they are over London and doing the damage, but at a much earlier stage, when they can be attacked more in the open country between the sea and London and without doing so much damage to life and property.
I want to turn next to the speech of the Prime Minister which we heard this afternoon. For my part that speech fills me with a good deal of apprehension, because he comes to this House to-day ostensibly to make a serious and important statement not only to the House but to the country at large as to the position in which we stand with regard to the War, and the necessity for asking for this extra Vote of Credit. When we contrast what the Prime Minister said this afternoon with what the Minister of Munitions has said this week in a preface to a volume of his War speeches, which I understand is to be issued, we are bound to ask the question, and everybody in this country are asking the same question, "Who is telling us the truth? Is it the Prime Minister, is it the First Commissioner of Works, or is it the Minister of Munitions?" Hon. Members may find fault with my putting that question forward, but at any rate that is what the people are asking right through the country. Who is telling us the truth? If the Minister of Munitions is speaking the truth—and personally I am far more inclined to believe him—how can the Prime 129 Minister make the speech which he did this afternoon, which really amounted to complete satisfaction with our administration, and to a statement that on broad lines everything that has to do with the War is, on the whole, going very well indeed.
I cannot refer to this matter without making a personal observation about the Prime Minister. The moment he had finished his speech he went out of the House. He came back again when a Member of the Cabinet, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was speaking, but the moment the First Lord of the Admiralty had finished his speech the Prime Minister left the House, and he has not been near it again. If the Prime Minister finds Members bringing forward some ugly facts and putting them in an unmistakable manner he has got himself to blame. He does not apparently care, or at any rate he takes no trouble to know, not what the people in the country are saying, but what their representatives in this House have to say on important matters of the day. I am not referring to myself. I sat this afternoon listening to every speech that was made, and whether one agrees or disagrees with the different speakers, no serious-minded man, having regard to the conditions under which we are living, could say that many of the speeches are not such as the Prime Minister ought to be fully acquainted with. He ought to know exactly what one side or the other side have to put forward in connection with their views. I do want to put this matter a little strongly because there are many Members of this House who are feeling very injured—and I am including many of the Prime Minister's own supporters—at the manner in which the Prime Minister treats the House and the Members of the House. At Question Time we have had replies from the right hon. Gentleman not befitting the head of a great Government. We have had him ignoring us or treating us apparently with contempt. Yesterday we had the not dignified spectacle of the right hon. Gentleman pointing at one of his best Friends and best supporters—hon. Members will remember the episode—the hon. and gallant Member for East Dorset (Captain Guest). Of course, what I am saying is a little apart from the main question I am dealing with, but we are starting a new part of the Session, and it is, at any rate, straightforward for some of us to let the Prime Minister know what is going to be the temper of some of the 130 Members of this House if he continues to treat them with the contempt and disdain that he has been in the habit of doing through the whole of this year.
Coming to the Vote of Credit which we are asked to pass, many things might be said, but I do not want to waste time in going over old ground. There is, however, one thing which must be said again, in order to emphasise it, and that is, that the administration of the War by the present Government is carried on with the most ruthless extravagance that it is possible for any Government to adopt. I have made a reference to the question of recruits. What does it cost the country in money to recruit these men who are totally unfitted for any service back into the Army? If that system is going on right through the country, and I am told that it is—at any rate I have the evidence for the battalion which I have quoted—there are hundreds and thousands of pounds being spent upon men who have no business whatever in the Army, and who are only going to be a drag upon it and add to the burden of the finance of this country. There is another point which I should like to refer to, but I will not go into it at length now because we shall have a much more favourable opportunity of dealing with it in the next two or three weeks, and that is the question of munitons. In regard to the the expense of munitions, for a part of which this Vote is asked, there is a great deal of criticism necessary as to the handling of the munitions that are bought in Canada or the United States. I do not think, beyond pointing out the extravagance of it, that it would serve any good purpose for me to say one-quarter of what I know about that subject, but the time will come later on, when the present crisis is past, when that matter will have to be faced. For the moment I want first to ask this question: When we are in this position, that we have to send a commission over to the United States to persuade the great financiers in Wall Street to assist this country by a big loan, I want to know on what qualification is the Lord Chief Justice of this country sent over there? That is what many people are asking, and what I am asking, and what I think the country ought to be told. What are his qualifications? I am very doubtful myself whether the most successful members of the Stock Exchange are the right men to go over to the United States on a mission 131 of this description. Certainly I am satisfied that no worse administration of the public interests could have been made than by sending the Lord Chief Justice over to America on this particular matter.
When the House adjourned in July, during the early hours of the morning, I gave an extraordinary case, which naturally would not attract very much attention That was the case where the Government paid through Morgans of New York 18 dollars per shell, whilst these very shells, from the same firm, Barnes, Bassett and Company, were lying under offer at the Munitions Department at 17 dollars. I showed on that occasion how that meant a difference to our gold reserves of over £800,000. I want to give a new illustration. There is a firm—and I think a question was asked about it last July in this House—called the Canadian Car Company. It is one of the largest firms, and, I believe I am correct in saying, one of the strongest firms financially in Canada. They offered three-inch shells to the British Government, a considerable time ago, ready loaded for the guns, at 16 dollars 50 cents. The British Government refused them. Russia, whom I understand we are financing in this matter, through the International Commission of the War Office, through the agency of the British Government, and through Morgans of New York, have taken this supply of three-inch shells from the Canadian firm, not at 16 dollars 50 cents, but at 18 dollars. I need not waste time in pointing out what this is going to mean to the finances and the gold reserves of this country. One dollar 50 cents, plus a certain commission, which will amount to a very big sum of money in this case, will mean a difference to our gold reserves, on this one order alone, roughly speaking, of close on £1,500,000.
This illustration, and the other one which I gave in July, are only drops in the ocean. If they mean £800,000 in one case and close on £1,500,000 in the other, we may well ask what is to happen with regard to the finance, not only of the Munitions Department, but of the other Departments of the State. I will give one other illustration to show the most un-businesslike and disgraceful way in which the money of the country is being squandered. The Munitions Department are placing large orders for fuses with many firms in different parts of the country. For this purpose they supply 132 gun-metal forgings. These forgings are received by the firms. No receipt is asked by the Government carriers who deliver these goods, at any rate in London and the neighbourhood, for the weight which is delivered. Commercial men will know quite well that if large concerns were carried on on a basis of that nature most of them would soon be in the Bankruptcy Court. These manufacturers have to do certain work under contract at a certain fixed rate which gives a profit which is quite properly allowed by the Munitions Department. That is the return the employers get for that particular work, and the fuses are sent off to whomsoever the Munitions Department may instruct. On each fuse, I think I am right in saying, there are scraps and turnings of many ounces of gun metal, which is worth 7d. or 8d. per ounce, or at any rate a considerable sum, at the present moment. I know two firms who are making fuses under the contract that I have described. In the one case the turnings and filings of gun metal, representing the wastage for a week, are sold for £33. In the other case, that of a very large firm indeed, the scraps which they get, and which the Government lose, amount to £300 per week, or £9,000 per year, profit, thrown at the manufacturers for no good purpose whatever, money which is lost quite unnecessarily to the Munitions Department.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am not quite so unintelligent as that. I will ask the hon. Member if it is a fact that the Munitions Department supply gun-metal forgings to firms with which to make fuses, and that the firms make these fuses at a price-agreed with the Munitions Department which to the knowledge of the Department gives to the manufacturer a handsome profit of roughly 20 per cent.? If that is true, is it true that the manufacturer has left in his shop on the floor, or whatever it is, the turnings and filings that are left behind after making the fuse? If so, what are those turnings worth?
§ Sir R. COOPER
Absolutely it is a fact, but I am putting it in the form of a question to the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is interested in his Department. I am sure that he will be only too glad to have the information offered to 133 him to investigate, and if he does not find it correct he can say so. I do wish that we could feel more confident, when we are asked to trust the Government, as we were last night, when Members were surprised when I showed quite plainly that I do not, trust them, and yet we are in this dilemma, that if we do not trust them, and if we do anything to upset them, what are we going to put in their place? But when we talk about trusting the Government, I want to hear far less of the intrigues of Cabinet meetings. I want to hear that our Ministers are getting down to their jobs, and not that they are appointing Committees to hide their blunders, especially with regard to extravagance, and that the heads of the great Departments who are concerned with the financing of this War should seriously give such time to it as they can. I know that they are working pretty hard, but if they cannot do it themselves, then they should get somebody else, whom they can trust, to do so. Money is being lost in every Department in the most colossal manner. I do not think that the Administration has done what we have a right to expect of it in taking all possible steps to check this wastage which is going on.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Supply considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
§ Resolved, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £250,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1916, for General Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business, and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and resale of food-stuffs and materials or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the Ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war."—[Mr. Montagu.]
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow (Thursday).