§ Resolution reported, "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."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Colonel LEE
I am reluctant to intervene in this Debate, but I think I may claim the indulgence of hon. Members for a time 172 in view of the fact that I have been away from the House now for more than a year and have not taken up a single moment of its time on this or any other subject during that period. Personally, I would greatly have preferred not to have to speak at all in the House on the subject which we have been discussing, but to have had, in conjunction with others, the opportunity of laying our view privately before the Prime Minister. That opportunity, however, for reasons which no doubt are thoroughly good from the point of view of the Prime Minister, has been denied us, and we, therefore, think that it is the duty of any Member of this House who feels that he has any special information or experience which might possibly contribute to the usefulness of the deliberations, which are admittedly proceeding in regard to our national system of conducting and financing the War—with due regard to the public interest—to lay those views before the Government, and the country.
Some of us believe, in view of the huge sums which have been asked for for the service of the War, that it would be possible to save a great deal on an expenditure which has now reached a figure which, if continued indefinitely, must necessarily lead to international bankruptcy. In presenting the views which we hold in regard to that matter I feel bound to add, for myself at any rate, that I feel very deeply the personal attacks which have been made upon those who hold those views. Personal attacks of the bitterest kind have been made in the Press, and elsewhere, I do not say in this House, against those of us who wish to express our views soberly, and without any desire whatsoever to embarrass the Government, or any Member of it. We do feel that we have shown our bona fidesin this matter by every means open to us. Many of us have risked everything we possess in connection with this War, and therefore we think we have some right to be heard, and that at any rate we should be credited with good intentions! It will be very easy to retort against those attacks, but I do not think it is a time for anyone, however strongly attacked personally, to do anything to increase any feeling of tension or bitterness that may exist. I, therefore, merely plead that we should be allowed to discuss this question without bias or bitterness, and with a willingness to admit all round that those who differ from us may be equally 173 patriotic and disinterested in their advocacy. Some of us are not satisfied as to the way this money which is being asked for is being spent. We believe that with a better national system of organisation less money would be needed, and what is far more important, that the duration of the War might be shortened. This means not merely a saving of money, but an immense saving of suffering and the avoidance of the destruction of property.
I would add only one more word of protest against the charge that those of us who are raising this question are guilty of splitting up the nation or doing something which is contrary to national unity. Unity, particularly in time of war, we must all admit, is highly desirable; but if unity means that we have to persist in a system which we believe is leading to disaster, and that we must maintain unity sooner than agree to change that system, and until we all agree upon a change, then I feel that unity of that kind can be too dearly bought. If that unity means that we have all to agree cheerfully to go to the devil together, whatever charm that may have from the point of view of sociability, that unity is one that, personally, does not appeal to me. Total disagreement in matters of this importance is to be preferred. As to the advocacy of a change in our national system, I am convinced, if no change is made now, that the pitiless logic of events will in a few months force every man who cares for his country to accept the change. Meanwhile, whilst we hesitate, immense sums of money are being wasted—still greater commitments with regard to the duration of the War are being incurred, and priceless time is being lost. If we believe that this change is bound to come, we venture to urge that it should come, at any rate, before its effect will be too late.
What are the arguments against the change? I wish to confine myself entirely to the military aspect of the question as it is affected by finance. I quite agree that it is absolutely essential that a change in our national system should be justified on the ground of military necessity, although the other necessities obviously are of almost as great importance. This, however, appears to me to be one of those rare cases, where military necessity harmonises with financial prudence. In regard to military necessity I do think that the opinion of soldiers is entitled to be heard upon this point. I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister's ruling the day before 174 yesterday to the effect that soldiers who are also Members of this House are entitled to express their own opinion in this House. Otherwise we should be placed in an extremely difficult position, and would have either to resign our membership of this House, or to give up our commissions in the Army. I do not think that is desired by anyone. I have no claim to speak on behalf of the Army, or for anyone but myself, but having been serving abroad in the last year, and having had constant daily opportunities of studying this question at first-hand, I think I have some right to be heard. I gathered from some remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir Thomas Whittaker), that he resents the intrusion of the opinions of soldiers into matters of this kind.
§ Colonel LEE
I gathered that from an article which appeared in the "Daily Chronicle" of 8th September. May I quote that to which I am referring?
§ Colonel LEE
I apologise for delaying the House.I confess I am a bit weary of 'A Voice from the Trenches' and 'A Message from the Front' when they are exploited by the conscriptionists, and they take the form of complaint about and criticism of what we are, or ought to be, doing at home. These good fellows are excellent in their line and place, but when they come here and lecture us they are out of their depth, and are talking about something they do not understand.I venture to suggest that these good fellows to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers with rather ill-concealed contempt are, at any rate, preserving the Spen Valley from some of the afflictions that have fallen upon unhappy Belgium, for example. They are enabling the right hon. Gentleman himself to sleep comfortably in his bed. I do think they might be permitted to express their views without being chided in what I cannot help thinking a most patronising and offensive fashion. That is one method of disposing of soldiers who express their views, but other opponents who are more courteous and less clumsy have quite appropriately questioned the military necessity. It is 175 in regard to the military necessity that I wish to speak. It is contended that no one can possibly judge whether any change in our national system is needed unless he knows, in the first place, how many men are needed, how many men we have already got, and presumably how much money we can afford. With regard to the last point, I do not know that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer can give the figures in answer to that question, but I venture to say that, in a war of this character, where our lives and liberties and the existence of everything we care for is at stake, we can afford everything we have got, our possessions and our lives.
With regard to the question of men for military purposes, I do not think anyone, not even the Secretary of State for War, knows how many men may be needed before this War is completed. We know there have been many miscalculations in the past, and we know, at any rate, that we cannot have too many men, whilst we may easily have too few. We also know we have not got enough yet, because that was shown in the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War yesterday. I think, therefore, it would be absurd for us to attempt to carry on discussion on the basis of precise figures, either of men or of money, because nobody really has the facts, and we should base ourselves not upon details but rather upon broad facts which are obvious. We know, in the first place, that the present shortage of men is admitted, and we also know, I think, that the national expenditure at the present rate cannot possibly be continued indefinitely. We also know, I think—at any rate, I venture to state this as a fact—that we cannot achieve victory in the main decisive theatre without much greater forces, at least in any reasonable time; and we know that it is impossible for our Allies the French to supply the extra number of men that are needed, and that we are the only people who can.
I do not want to go into the question touched upon yesterday about the exact amount of line we should occupy. It is well known at the present time, and by the Germans better than anyone else, that we are not occupying more than one-seventh of the line on the Western front, including the recent addition. There is no secret about that. We realise that obviously our contribution in holding that line must be increased if we are to achieve 176 victory, and the time will be wasted if the men required for that and the wastage in the future are not provided for. We see—and it was practically admitted in the speeches from the Government yesterday—that those numbers cannot, in all probability, be attained under the existing system. I also venture to state that the present system of bringing in men who in very many cases ought not to be spared from industry, and many men who are not physically fitted for soldiering, is an extravagant system which is bound to increase these Votes, and increase them without producing any adequate and satisfactory result. I claim that unless the Government is in a position to get the men it needs when it needs them, it is impossible for it to make any methodical plans ahead either for training men or for supplying them with equipment and other things that they need. That also involves great financial waste, because you have got to take quantities of men when you do not want them, in case when you do want them you should not be able to get them.
I also say that the present system is in all essentials rapidly becoming a system of compulsion in peculiarly odious and unjust forms, and it is roping in as many unwilling soldiers, or at least men who have no natural impulse towards soldiering, as would a system of compulsory national service, and that it is not producing satisfactory results, as was admitted yesterday, either as regards numbers, or, as I venture to say, from my own experience, as regards in many cases fresh drafts for the purposes of reinforcements. I feel bound to say a word about this question of drafts, because what I thought was a very unfair attack was made by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) yesterday upon my hon. Friend the Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery), when unfortunately he was not in the House, on the ground that his statement with regard to drafts was a libel on the New Armies. I know my hon. Friend had no such idea in his mind, and the two things are entirely separate. Anyone who has seen the New Armies in the field knows that, in regard to men and equipment and everything, they are superb. I feel almost bound to make a retraction not for what I said but thought a year ago. I frankly did not believe it was possible that any man or any system could produce in such a short time such magnificent units that make up the New 177 Armies. They made a tremendous impression on their arrival at the front. I think that there is no credit too great that can be paid to Lord Kitchener for his foresight and achievements in that direction.
§ Colonel LEE
I am not referring to the original manning of the New Army, but to the question of drafts for a Regular Army in the field for the forces already there, and what I say is that owing to the fact that the source of supply of these splendid men has dried up, or is in process of being dried up, the War Office is being compelled to take men and send them out as drafts who are not physically fit for the arduous work of the campaign. I have seen hundreds of men sent out as drafts who, owing to their age and physical infirmities are not fit for the work of the campaign, and they have had to be sent back. I hardly need to point out that that involves an enormous waste of money, and but for that fact there might have been considerable economy in this Vote. I do not want to go into any details although I have plenty, but what I wish to say is that we need a system under which the Government can select these men. You want to take the men I have referred to who may be perfectly fit for industrial work but not for soldiering in the field, and replace them by younger men who would be able to take their part in field operations. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) represented that my hon. Friend the Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery) had suggested that the people of this country had not backed up the Armies abroad as regards money, clothing, and food. I entirely endorse what the hon. Member said, for there has never been an Army so well supplied, and the men recognise it and are grateful for it. That, however, does not meet the two points of adequate reinforcements, and still less the point as regards munitions. After all, comforts are not everything, and jam is no substitute for shells or fur coats for machine guns. What we are claiming is, that whilst the nation has done everything it has been urged to do for the benefit of the men it has not supplied them with the munitions which alone can bring the War to a successful conclusion, and under the present system it will not be able to supply them with the necessary reinforcements.
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. Gentleman is not correctly representing what I said. What I stated was that it seemed ungenerous to convey the impression to this House and to the country that anything which the Army or those in command of the Army had suggested was necessary had been refused or grudged in the slightest degree. I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that everything has been done in the way of providing food and clothing and medicine, and nothing like it has been known before in history. But even in regard to munitions, guns, and so forth, I wish to ask, have the authorities of the Army asked the people of this country for anything that has been grudged?
§ Colonel LEE
I am not in the secrets of the authorities, but I feel perfectly certain that requests have been put forward for supplies of munitions which have not been met, and I think that is admitted even by the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whose fault is that?"] I do not want to go into that matter. I do not care whose fault anything is. What we want to do is to help to bring the War to a close. I think insufficient weight is being given by this House and by the country to the immense moral effect that would be produced by a change in our system. There is the great moral effect upon our Allies, and in addition to that, the great effect upon our financial position in the world, because, after all, one of the things we need most at this moment is financial credit abroad. We hear some talk about raising great loans, but there is no collateral effect so valuable at this moment as evidence of our determination and ability to win. A great British victory at this moment would be infinitely more valuable than all our credit at the Bank of England in the way of improving our financial credit abroad. Therefore, on the ground of our financial position I think a change is imperatively necessary. After all, the points to which I have referred are mere trivial questions of detail compared with the one fundamental question, Are we doing enough to win? It is quite clear that unless we are, and unless that question can be answered in the affirmative now, it is tantamount to an admission of our ultimate defeat. It is like trying to span a twelve foot stream with an eleven foot plank. I thank the Prime Minister for the amazing frankness of his statement when he said:I do not say that we are doing all that we might or that we are doing all that we ought to do. The question is are we doing enough to win.179 The whole controversy turns on that point. If we are not, there is no conceivable excuse for not putting forward our maximum efforts at once. It is not merely a question of whether we can spend or afford more money, or make a greater effort in that direction, but whether, whilst maintaining our industries and economic capacity at the minimum level that is necessary, we have more men who are available to be thrown into the struggle. If that question is answered in the negative, then I admit that the case for compulsion as regards increased numbers falls to the ground. At the same time the case is ipso facto strengthened, and its urgency becomes more apparent with regard to the matter of selection, because if the available supply of men is exhausted—I do not believe it is—then it is increasingly essential that we should have some system of sifting and distributing the men we have got to the best advantage, and that is only possible under some system of compulsory National Service.
I hope it is not necessary for me to refer again to the question as to whether conscripts are inferior soldiers. That hardly needs any refutation after what we have seen of the French army during the present War. Every soldier knows this who has served with armies raised on that principle, and therefore I do not think it is necessary to press that point any further. I wish now to come to the argument that a system of National Service, whatever its merits, has been effectively killed by the vote taken at the Trades Union Congress last week. Surely that is a somewhat extreme claim to make for a Debate which, I think, did not last more than an hour and a half altogether. Of course, there was no discussion whatever of the question of finance, because the Resolution, as I understood it, dealt very largely with an alleged sinister conspiracy in the Press which was seeking to foist something on the country, and that was condemned in unmeasured terms. I agree to this extent, that I do not think any change of this magnitude ought to be forced on the Government by any outside agency whatsoever. It is a matter which the executive Government of the country should decide, but that is no reason why we should not endeavour to assist them in coming to that decision by means of such facts as we believe to be within our knowledge. I do protest against this attempt 180 to burke discussion, and to throw a red herring across the trail by producing the alleged sins of some individual newspaper proprietor. We had a demand yesterday from the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that Lord Northcliffe should be sent to prison. I feel perfectly certain that Lord Northcliffe would be delighted to go to prison if it would help to win the War. I cannot believe that there is any Englishman who would not do so, if by that means he would assist us to win the victory.
§ Colonel LEE
I hope the hon. Member will make the same offer to me. After all, that particular decision of the Trades Union Congress cannot be said to have settled this matter finally. The president of the Congress observed, very rightly, at the start, "It is war we are in, not politics." That being so, it will be war, and not politics, that will decide all these questions. I was also very much encouraged by a speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. S. Walsh). He made what I thought was a most courageous and patriotic speech. He said that he kept his mind open; he was prepared to be convinced by events, if need be, and, if the Government of the country made the demand, he and his friends, at any rate, would not oppose it. Whatever our individual views may be now, either for or against a change of this description, and particularly with regard to the military necessity for it, it will be settled over our heads, over the heads of all the politicians, trade unionists, soldiers, and everybody else, by military events over which we have very little control. Self-preservation, after all, comes first, and when the perils to which we are exposed, and which I believe are not sufficiently realised in this country, become more clear and more insistent, then I believe that compulsory service will come into effect by a national and irresistible impulse. It may be asked, "If that is so, why agitate now? Why not leave events to take their natural course? The reason is this: I fear a mere repetition of the somewhat lazy and nervous advice that we should not touch these questions ourselves, but leave them for the Government. The Government is then urged to leave them all to Lord Kitchener. I think it is exceedingly unfair that any responsibility of that kind should be put upon any one man. I also 181 think that advice is bad. Some of us, although we have every possible desire to support and loyally assist the Government, are convinced that there is no time to be lost, and that if we continue to drift we shall be landed in disaster. We feel it our high duty under these circumstances to press the urgency of the case and to reaffirm our belief that unless action is taken promptly it may be too late.
I realise more than ever since coming home that the chief obstacle to getting the country to think seriously and in a connected way about this question is that they do not yet know the truth of the military and international situation, and they do not know because they are not allowed to know. It has been the deliberate policy of the Government—quite rightly in many cases with regard to questions like the Zeppelin raids, the submarines, and so forth—to prevent the country knowing the real truth of the situation. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising to me that the average citizens of these Islands, and particularly the industrial workers, should be more absorbed in domestic problems and conditions at this moment than they are in military necessities, and that we should find men's minds running more upon prices, wages, war bonuses, and employer's profits than upon strategic movements and battles of which they are told nothing, or very little, and the significance of which is only brought home to them in the last resort by the casualty lists. Hence we get these strikes and these industrial crises, these demands for higher and higher wages, profits and war bonuses, and changes of that description which I venture to say leave our Allies absolutely dumbfounded. Besides all this, it increases the cost of the War.
My observations, they have been fairly extensive in France, lead me to say this. In France to-day the one unforgiveable crime is for any individual to make a profit out of the War. It is the one unforgiveable crime there, and yet here it is considered quite fair and reasonable that individuals—I make no distinction between employers and employed—should be allowed to double and treble their incomes, and profit by the national necessity, and if they continue to do it without cessation they are patted on the back and told that they are patriots. In my judgment any man, I do not care who he is, who makes a personal profit out of this War is a traitor to his country. I go further and say that any man, whether 182 employed or employer, who is not prepared to make some sacrifice is not a good citizen. We hear a good deal at this moment about national economy, but if anyone suggests any head under which economy might be effected, whether it be a reduction of salaries of Members of Parliament, or anything else he is instantly assailed and held up to execration as incredibly mean, or a despoiler of the poor, or something of that sort, and yet we cannot go on spending money at this rate, a rate which the Prime Minister showed yesterday is amounting to £3,500,000, £4,000,000, and as I gather from the last figure to £5,000,000 a day indefinitely. After all, is it not vital on financial grounds that this War should be ended at the earliest possible moment? That is only possible if we make up our minds to put in our maximum effort now, because by just so much as we delay or withhold that maximum effort by so much will the end of the War be postponed and the cost increased.
I do ask for some kind of assurance from the Government that whilst these deliberations are proceeding it is thinking out and working out plans and machinery for bringing into force a change of system if ultimately it should be decided to be necessary. It will not be sufficient, first of all, to make the decision, and then to think about the plans. A change of system of this kind cannot be decided overnight and brought into effect the next morning, and whilst we have Committees and Commissions of every kind appointed, I venture to say that one of the most useful that could be appointed would be one to consider the plans and machinery which would be necessary in case this change is decided upon. In the meantime, I hope that Ministers and other leaders will follow the example of the Minister of Munitions and speak plainly to the people about the situation, that they will tell them the whole truth, so far as it can be done without giving information to the enemy, and that in doing it appeals will be made, not to the self-interest of any class in this country, but to their patriotism and self-sacrifice. I do not believe that there is any class, and least of all the class represented by the trade unions, who will be backward in responding to that call, if they realise the peril and their capacity to help; but so long as they are encouraged to bury their heads in the sand, so long as they are permitted to make personal profits out of the War, 183 and to shirk the first duty of every patriot, which is to dedicate everything that he possesses, and even his life, if need be, in order to save his country, so long will it be impossible for us to put forth that maximum effort which both our interests and our honour demand and which alone can save the situation.
§ Sir THOMAS WHITTAKER
I should not have taken part in this Debate this afternoon but for a remark which the bon. Gentleman has thought fit to make about myself. It does seem to me that the difficulty, and, indeed, the danger, of soldiers on active service taking part in political agitation outside of this House is illustrated by the incident which has just taken place. I referred to my weariness of soldiers writing letters home and making speeches here, and their being exploited by the Press and used in a political agitation in favour of Conscription. It was a perfectly just and a perfectly fair criticism. What is the result? It is twisted at once into a lack of appreciation of the services of those soldiers abroad. That is a most unjust and a most unfair interpretation to put upon it. Every word I said about the soldiers abroad was an appreciation of their bravery. [Laughter.] Why not? And why is it to be laughed at? They are talking about conditions at home, and about the difficulties we have to face at home. It is a very complicated and difficult and wide-reaching subject with which we are dealing. They know nothing about it beyond what is taking place in the trenches.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
My point is not as to their right to speak here, but they should confine themselves to this House and should not go outside. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It used to be the case that they were not allowed to speak even here. They do not know anything about it because they have not been here. The hon. Member for a year has been at the front, and what does he know about the complicated conditions that we have got here at home? He has been misled by the Tory Press; he has been misled by the Harmsworth Press which he reads. He has been led to believe that we are all slackers at home, that we are a drunken, lazy lot who will not work or do anything for our men at the front, and that has created an impression amongst our Allies.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
I say such hon. Gentlemen are not in a position to come here and lecture us upon conditions at home. That is my point, and I think it is a perfectly sound point. We are also told that there would be a great moral value in Conscription. That really arises from the same misrepresentation. We have been misrepresented as a people who are not in earnest about this War, and when we say we are in earnest hon. Members opposite are not ashamed to laugh. We are as good patriots as they are, although we may differ on particular points. We have not assailed their patriotism and they have no business to assail ours. But they have represented us as not being in earnest. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO, we have not!"] And now we are to have Conscription in order to refute their misrepresentations. We have been misrepresented, particularly in neutral countries and elsewhere, as not being in earnest, and we are to have Conscription to confute that and to show that we are in earnest, in order that we may raise money. I do not believe that neutral nations believe these slanders. We are in earnest. We are told about the military position. If we had had a million or two million more men recruited nine months ago than we had we should not have had a single man more in the firing line at the present time, because we had not the equipment and munitions to enable them to carry on the fighting. That is the trouble. It is not the lack of men. If we had had a million more men we could not have equipped them. It is possible we might have equipped some, but if we had taken a million or two more people from here the possibilities of equipping those at the front would not have proved so great as they did.
The real point is that we are all anxious to do our utmost. There is no question about that. There are limits to what we can do. There are limits to what anybody can do. The point is what is the best and most effective thing we can do, and how best can we do it. We were told last night that the real and only requirements were men, munitions, and exports. But what about those who are working in order to support, feed, and clothe those who are making munitions, and who are working on exports? They are not engaged on Government work, but they are absolutely necessary to sustain and support those who are employed on 185 Government work. Who is going to earn the money to pay for those who are at the front? We must carry on our ordinary industries to a substantial extent if we are to sustain those who are at the front. We must not break down our mercantile and financial machinery or the whole thing will collapse.
There are other great dangers. What about our social conditions? It would be a serious thing for this country if labour were to get out of hand. Reference has been made to the Trades Union Congress, and to a particular view expressed there. That view may be right or wrong, but it is the serious view of a serious section of the community and must not be flouted. If labour ever got out of hand this crisis would be fatal. You must carry it with you. You do not want to have martial law. You might find it impossible to enforce Conscription without martial law. Martial law would mean a military dictator. Do not let us have anything like that. I quite agree with the last speaker in what he said about the unfairness of throwing responsibility on Lord Kitchener. It is unfair. He is not the man to decide this. He is one man amongst others. There are numerous questions to be considered, and not merely those pertaining only to the soldier. There are the financial, the manufacturing and munition-producing interests, and about those he is not the best judge. His attention and experience are all in other directions. He is invaluable. Nobody appreciates his services more than I do, but he is not the man to decide this matter. It must be decided by this House on information and advice given to it by the Government.
We are told that recruiting is not quite so brisk. I think there is some reason for that. First of all, you have already obtained nearly 3,000,000 men from the sources from which recruits are drawn, and therefore one can hardly expect to get as many as came forward in the earlier stages of the War. I am not blaming anyone, but it is not altogether conducive to recruiting that you should have hundreds and thousands of men in this country—as you have had them for months—who have not been used and a very large number of whom are not even armed. That is not the way to get others to come in. It is no inducement to other men to enlist. Again, things have been very quiet on the Western front recently. The Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) made a very true remark when, referring to the district from 186 which he comes—a really good recruiting district—he said there had not been much pressure and that there was no need for pressure, because, when there had been hard fighting or any disaster men tumbled over one another to come in. That, I doubt not, is true. When you have a long quiet time there is not the stimulus which keen fighting and disaster produce, and that is the reason why recruiting has been rather quieter of late. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Dardanelles?"] On that point we are not given very much information.
Reference has been made to economy. There has been an enormous waste of money, a waste very largely due to the incompetence of military men in business matters. Are we going to put such men in control of our Executive? It would make things even worse. We have heard a great deal about taking married men and skilled men to the front. Who is it takes them? It is the military men, and it is the military men out at the front who will not let the skilled men come back. They are the men who are to blame. They put forward certain arguments and they say, not absolutely plainly, perhaps, that if you have Conscription you will avoid all this. Conscription will avoid nothing of the kind. Things will still be in the hands of the men who have already blundered and muddled.
I am one of those who regard Conscription purely as a matter of expediency and nothing else. I am prepared for Conscription or anything else that may be necessary to carry this War through. We are fully prepared for it, if it is necessary, but I want it to be shown that it is necessary, because in many respects it is a really undesirable and even a hateful thing. My complaint against hon. Members opposite, and against gentlemen outside the House who have been carrying on this agitation, is that this is an attempt to rush the Government. They have held these views—at any rate most of them—for a long period of years. This is an old agitation, and they are taking advantage of the national necessity in order to promote their fad. The time may come, it may be nearer than some of us think, when Conscription may be necessary, but we are not going to be persuaded into it by men with such a record behind them.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
At any rate the hon. Gentleman has made one now. Expression has been given to a desire to deprecate discussion. That is all very well, but one side have had their full swing for three months. You cannot get rid of the discussion unless it dies down altogether. We are told we must accept the decision of the Government. Yes, if it has not been rushed and forced. If it is the deliberate decision of the Government it will carry enormous weight. There is no man in the Government to whose opinion I should attach anything approaching the value that I attach to the Prime Minister's—his own clear—he never could be anything else than clear—his own deliberate judgment—a judgment which has not been forced—that is the opinion to which I attach the greatest value. What we do know is that it is not only men we want. We also want guns. Twelve men at the front without a machine gun are not as good as six men with one. And if six men are stopping at home making machine guns and ammunition for the other six men to use, the twelve thus combined are more efficient than twelve men at the front without a gun. I think the House ought to have more information. The time has come when the Government should give us facts, and when we have the facts, then the House of Commons will decide. If the situation is, as the hon. and gallant Member who spoke yesterday declared it to be, let us know and let the country know, and then you will see a great change in recruiting. The country will respond to the necessity. The people are not slackers, but the country wants to have all the facts, and not merely facts from the trenches. It wants the whole situation fully and properly put before it.
§ Mr. R. MCNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken claimed to be just as patriotic as those who hold different opinions. But, stung perhaps by the reproof administered to him by my hon. Friend below me (Colonel Lee), the right hon. Gentleman made a statement which I do not think he will be, inclined to adhere to. He seemed to think that those who differed from his opinions had accused him and those who agree with him of a lack of patriotism, or of possessing some ulterior motive in the views which they hold. I do not think that is the view of any of us, but I do think that the speech to which we have just listened is not to be taken as a fair representation of the views of those who 188 are still in favour of voluntary service. I hope, for their sakes, it is not so, because I can see much evidence in the speech to which we have just listened of prejudices with which we have been familiar for a long time, but I could not detect any serious attempt to deal with the actual arguments arising out of the present suggestion for a change in our present system, such as have been heard not merely from my right hon. Friend below me, but from Members who have adopted that view comparatively recently, like the hon. Baronet opposite, who made a most eloquent and admirable speech yesterday on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley made use of one sentence which is one of the most amazing things that has been said in this Debate and which justifies me in attributing to him the strong element of prejudice on this question. He said that many of us on this side who are in favour of National Service had advocated that policy for years, and that—I took down his actual words—they were taking advantage of national necessity to advance their fad.That really is an illustration of the extremes to which prejudice will carry even the best-intentioned of men. Just consider how the same facts present themselves, at all events to our minds, and I think would present themselves to an impartial mind. I am not going to identify myself with that line of thought, but there are a great many Members in this House and a great many people in the country who for some time past had been telling the country—they are men of great experience and wisdom—that in the course of the near future we should find ourselves in a great European crisis in which it would probably be necessary for us to fight against a great military Power and to fight for our lives. They elaborated that thesis with a knowledge of contemporary conditions in Europe, and advocated, in order that we should be ready for what Lord Roberts called the ordeal which was approaching us, that we should make a change in our military system. Those prophecies, to the dismay of all of us, to the dismay of those who believed in them as much as that of those who disbelieved in them, those prophecies have come true, and we are now told not that those men who had the foresight to see what was coming and who advocated that step in order that when the ordeal came upon us we might be in some measure prepared—we are now told not that they 189 showed that foresight for which the thanks of the country should be given to them, not that those who opposed their view and who brought us to the crisis without sufficient preparation should repent, not at all, but that those whose views have been proved to be true, whose fears have been realised, are taking advantage of national necessity to advance their fad! I do not think that that proposition of the right hon. Gentleman opposite needs any further refutation. It is as untenable—I cannot say more than that—as his anger with my right hon. Friend for venturing to speak, or appearing to speak, on behalf of the military in this House. The right hon. Gentleman was even more vehement than the hon. Member for East Mayo as to the wickedness apparently of soldiers having any opinion at all, or of expressing it upon this side.
§ Mr. McNEILL
In that case I with draw what I said. I do not wish to misrepresent either of the hon. Members. I listened very attentively to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and of the speech of the hon. Member below the Gangway, and the impression which was left on my mind was that they had an objection to military Members of this House speaking on behalf of military opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] At all events that view is accepted by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, if not by the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ Mr. McNEILL
No, I do not think so. I have no wish to labour the point at all. It does seem to be the height of absurdity to suppose that an hon. Gentleman who has been serving in the Army, either for years or for months, and who comes into this House, is not still entitled to speak his mind with his knowledge of the matters, and of the soldiers' minds.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I objected to a 190 man who had been at the front from nine to twelve months coming here and lecturing us upon points and matters at home, while he had been away, and which had arisen in his absence, and about which he knew nothing.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That appears to my mind to be the height of absurdity. This question is a political question with which the whole country is very familiar. All these men who have been sent to the front in the course of the last few months are in just as good a position to know the opinion of the voters in Flanders upon this subject as the voters in the Spen Valley. They have discussed the matter among themselves, and know the political situation at home quite as well as their brother voters who are in this country, and in course of time come back and vote upon these questions. Does he think that for a certain period after the War all these voters who have been wearing the uniform should be disfranchised until they have again made themselves acquainted with political subjects? Where does he stand when he says these men who, because they have been six, seven, ten, or twelve months out of the country, are disqualified from holding an opinion upon the political subjects, although they hold the franchise and are entitled to exercise it?
Whatever disagreements there are—I know there is considerable disagreement arising out of the subject before the House—there are one or two matters upon which there is complete agreement among us all. It may be pleasant, and perhaps even useful, to dwell for a moment upon points of agreement rather than those of disagreement. We are all agreed, I suppose, that this Vote of Credit, coming on the top of others, and probably to be followed by more, represents a gigantic financial burden on this country. We are also agreed that we are prepared to shoulder that burden for the object we have in view. The third thing upon which we are agreed—it almost exhausts our powers of agreement—is that it is most desirable that this gigantic burden which we are all ready to bear, that this enormous sum of money should be spent to the best advantage. We want to get value for our money. That is just where the difference of opinion comes in. The moment we come to discuss how we can best get value for our money we are immediately divided into two camps, which have been roughly represented in the Debate of the last two days. But it is 191 a fortunate circumstance that, although on this subject we are divided into two camps, the dividing line is not the line that used to divide political parties in this House. I am not concerned now to examine how that has been brought about. There are Members upon this side of the House who have always sat upon this side of the House, who may be still advocates of voluntary service. I do not know whether that is so or not. It is not such a long time ago that I was one myself. There are certain other Members, who have always sat on the other side of the House, who are now in favour of compulsory service. Therefore, we are no longer divided by the old party lines.
These two parties, with regard to the way of getting the best value for our money, may be described in this way: There is one party of Gentlemen, apparently represented by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, who think there is no room for improvement—at all events in the speeches which they have delivered they have not suggested any room for improvement. Recruiting, we are told, is beyond all expectation, and could not be better. We have heard many eloquent speeches as to what is being done for the health and treatment of the men, and so forth. Everything is perfect, and they are impressed by the magnitude of the efforts we have made and by the splendid response to the call for voluntary enlistment. Upon that point we are all agreed, and there is no difference of opinion. It appears to me there has been a certain amount of beating the air on that point, because the advocates of voluntary service keep firing at our heads those facts as if we disputed them. It is said that the response to the call for voluntary enlistment has been amazing, that it is beyond anything which anybody either in this House or in the country imagined would have been possible fourteen months ago. Again, there is the patriotism displayed by all classes, the effort which has been made, and the achievement which has been brought about by Lord Kitchener and the Government in creating this Army and equipping it as far as it has been equipped, which has drawn within the last few weeks notable tributes from French observers, which I am sure are well deserved. These are facts which appear exclusively to occupy the minds of those who are in favour of continuing voluntary service. We, on the other hand—the other body of whom I am 192 one—are just as much impressed by all these things, but we remain impressed by the fact that there is a great deal of avoidable waste in the working of the system, which has been at our disposal, notwithstanding these wonderful results. We feel as if we were watching some extraordinarily skilful amateur engaged in work to which he is not accustomed, impressed by the unexpected skill he displays, and the wonderful results which, considering his lack of familiarity with the work, he has been able to accomplish. But we compare that in our minds with the same work done by the expert professional who produces the same or greater results, and produces them with infinitely less work, with less waste, and with less effort. That is exactly where the two systems appears to me to be comparable to-day. The system which we are using is wasteful both of money, of life, of energy, of ability, and above all, perhaps, wasteful of time.
The Prime Minister, in introducing this Vote of Credit, invited us to contrast all this wonderful achievement with what we had been expected to do and what we were prepared to do before the War broke out. I think it is very legitimate and proper that we should, as long as we do not unduly congratulate ourselves, dwell upon what the nation and the Government by energy and genius have been able to accomplish, but that line of thought has, I think, been apt to lead us to a wrong standard for our own guidance in this War. We are constantly hearing it argued in the House and outside whether or not we, as a member of the Alliance, are doing our share, and it is constantly said that we are doing far more than our share. That was rather the suggestion of the Prime Minister, I thought, when he pointed out the promise before the War, derived from the knowledge of what we could do, compared with the accomplishments which we had brought about. But surely the standard for us to set before ourselves is not, are we doing our share. The question is, are we doing our utmost. Is there anything more that we could do? If there is anything more that we could do, surely it is quite irrelevant whether or not we are doing our share. To take a homely illustration, we have all seen at sport meetings teams engaged in tug-of-war. What would be thought of a man if, after he and his team has been pulled over the line, he said, "It is quite true that I could have pulled a few pounds more, but I pulled my share. I pulled as much as anyone else 193 pulled and at all events I pulled more than I was expected to pull." I do not think that man would be thought a sportsman in the world of thought, and I do not think in the world of reality it would be thought to be a very high standard to be placed before a nation like England. The hon. Member (Mr. Walsh), speaking yesterday, formulated a principle with which I myself am in entire agreement. He said: "Before we change the system upon which the liberty and prosperity of the nation have been built up, we must be fairly satisfied that the necessities of the situation require it." That is quite true and that appears to be the principle accepted by many hon. Members opposite. But what is to be the test of whether the necessities of the situation require it? What are the necessities of the situation? Are those who accept that principle going to argue with themselves or with the country that the necessities of the situation cannot require what some hon. Members have called a far-reaching revolutionary change of our military system until the Germans have landed in this country? That is repudiated. What is the point? That, as a general principle which was enunciated by a distinguished Member of the Labour party, is one which we should all accept, but it does not carry us very much further because the whole question is whether that necessity can be said to arise. If I were asked to give a definition I should be inclined to put it in some such way as this. I should say, if you can prove to us that there is any exertion which this country might use and which it is not using, the necessities of the case require us to use it. I do not think the hon. Member opposite really accepts that view of the case. I cannot imagine it being seriously argued, if that be accepted, that that extra exertion which we might use, we should have already used if we had had a system of National Service. Let me read a Resolution which I find upon the Paper in the names of two hon. Members of the opposite side of the House:—That in the opinion of this House it is desirable during the continuance of the present War that the services of all the male population of the United Kingdom between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five be placed at the disposal of the King for such duties as His Majesty may determine.Will anyone seriously say that supposing, on the 4th or 5th of August of last year, such a Resolution as that had been accepted by the House and effect had been given to it in the country, and from the very beginning of the War every male in this country between the ages of 194 eighteen and sixty-five had been placed at the disposal of the King, for such service as His Majesty might determine, such a system as that would not have produced greater results and have represented a more complete and organised and efficient effort on the part of this country than we have seen during the past fourteen months? It would not necessarily mean that more men would have been with the Colours. The right hon. Gentleman who just spoke imagined that he had demolished the whole position which we take up when he said that even if we had had two million more men with the Colours for the last six months we should have been no better off. Those of us who are in favour of National Service have said, almost until we are tired of saying it, that we cannot get those who disagree with us to take the point, or at all events to believe it, that the mere recruitment of men, the numbers of men with the Colours, although an important point and perhaps the most important factor in the whole situation, is by no means the only advantage which we believe the country would gain from the adoption of National Service. It has been said over and over again. It was said very eloquently by my hon. Friend (Mr. Amery) yesterday, and those who have followed the argument on both sides must know perfectly well that our case is not that you get necessarily more men, but that you get the right men, that you get the men you want, and you do not take the men you cannot spare from other jobs. You get, in fact, not so much the compulsion of military service as the direction and distribution of the whole available manhood of the country over the industrial as well as over the military field. If we had had such a system as that from the beginning of the War, at all events whether we should have had more men serving with the Colours and duly equipped at this moment or not, we should at least have escaped the state of things which was described last night by the right hon. Baronet (Sir A. Mond), who said, speaking of his own knowledge, that a large number of skilled mechanics had been taken over for some duty in India, and others were guarding depots on the East Coast. All that sort of hopeless waste has been assumed to be mere muddle and blunder on the part of the military authorities. But they cannot do otherwise under the present system. Of course it is muddle and blunder, but it is not muddle and blunder of the military officers but of the system.
195 At this point, when we say that we do not want only to get more soldiers but we want direction of energy, we have a speech like that which came yesterday from the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon), who sees some way by which he can raise prejudice, and he immediately says, "We see now what you want. Let us warn the British working man that this means compulsory labour." I will say what I was going to say and I will withdraw it in advance. I was going to say that hon. Members who cheer that statement are looking forward to the possibility of getting up, when the proper time comes, a new Chinese slavery agitation. I withdraw it. I have withdrawn it already. I want to indicate a line of thought which was presenting itself to my mind. I am sure no hon. Member really desires that, but it is that sort of thing which is suggested by a speech such as the hon. Member made yesterday when he immediately pounced upon this and said, "This means compulsory labour." Why should we not have compulsory labour? I am not at all reluctant or ashamed to say that under certain circumstances, and I believe those circumstances at present have arisen, we should have compulsory labour—I do not mean to say from the miner or the railway worker or any one party in the country more than another. Compulsory labour for me, compulsory labour for the hon. Member who is trying to interrupt me, compulsory labour for all classes in the community. There are heaps of people, well-to-do as well as what we ordinarily call working men, who are doing nothing useful, and all they want to do is to get direction and orders. If you want to raise prejudice call it compulsory labour. But, after all, if we are to do it, it is better to have compulsory labour for a short time under British liberty than possibly for a very much longer time under the direction of von Hindenburg. That appears to be the choice before us.
I have already said I do not for a moment credit any hon. Gentleman opposite with a desire to revive Chinese slavery at all. I am sure they would be equally ready to acknowledge that I have not the slightest desire to have one particle more of compulsion applied either to the working man or any other man in this country than is absolutely necessary to save us in a great national emergency such as is upon us. I hate compulsion in any shape or form. I think the desirable thing 196 in social government and life is to minimise compulsion all round. But I think it only indicates a want of realisation of the actual crisis which is upon us when an hon. Member like the hon. Member (Mr Dillon) can for a moment carry the House with him by the statement that if you make this perhaps necessary adjustment of our military system for the period of the War, you are going to embark upon compulsory labour. That is the sort of prejudice which ought to be avoided. These observations are made from Members like the hon. Member ostensibly in the interests of the liberty of the subject. After all, do hon. Members believe, as we are never tired of saying—both our newspapers and our political leaders—that we are fighting in this war for liberty? Does anyone imagine that we are now fighting in this War because some Serbians were suspected of murdering the Archduke? We are fighting this War for ideals of liberty and civilisation, for ideals of morality, of everything to the Western world which makes life worth having. That is what we are fighting for. Surely if we honestly and sincerely believe that, is it not worth while to save liberty, morality, civilisation, everything that we hold dear for the future for generations to come who in any event must bear this great financial burden—is it not worth while, in order to achieve that, that if necessary we should have even compulsory labour for us all during the progress of the War?
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mayo is not in his place, as I am referring to what he said. I am not, however, referring to his statement in any spirit of animosity. He quoted yesterday, in opposition to this change, a very interesting report, issued in 1870, which gave extracts from various authorities showing what had been the result of Conscription in this country on former occasions. The curious thing was this, that although the hon. Member for Mayo said, and very truly said, that the question of whether we should have National Service or not is a question of its suitability to the present circumstances in this country, he thought it relevant to read a statement that the attempt at Conscription in some form or other met with no favour in 1758. I cannot see much relevance in quoting evidence as to the way in which that movement was received in 1758, as bearing on the present 197 circumstances in this country. The hon. Member also quoted the opinion of the Duke of Wellington to the same effect.
There is a rather interesting piece of history which I should like to read to the House, and which I commend to the attention of hon. Members opposite, because I think it is quite as interesting as that which the hon. Member for Mayo read. As far as I am aware the first Government that adopted the principle of compulsory military service was the French Revolutionary Government, at the end of the eighteenth century. [HON. MEMBERS dissented.] At any rate, it was the first in the modern sense of the word, and it was from that example that the compulsory service of the present day traces its descent. At that time, the military success of the French Revolutionary armies made a great impression upon Europe, and the necessity of adopting that system was pressed upon other Governments. I would like the hon. Members to pay attention to the reasons, which they will find in the March number of the "European Magazine," for 1794, which guided the Prussian Government of that day to resist universal service. The official reasons of the King of Prussia were described in these words:—The reasons that His Prussian Majesty is opposed to a general armament of the inhabitants of the Empire are the following, namely:—1. By employing the peasants against the enemy, agriculture will want hands.We hear that argument to-day.2. That there are not arms sufficient to give to such a mass of people.We hear that argument to-day. We are told that it is no use having compulsory national military service, because we have not got equipments for the men.3. That it is impossible in so short a time to teach the manual exercises to the inhabitants.4. It has been found by the experience of the last two campaigns that the soldiers opposed to the French must be perfectly exercised to make head against them.That is not an argument we hear to-day, but it has a bearing on an argument that we hear to-day. Apparently the French conscripts were such fine soldiers, in spite of compulsion, that the Prussians found that it required the fullest possible training they could give to their men to enable them to stand against the French conscripts.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
There was. The fifth reason which is given is a very important one. It reads as follows:—Lastly, independent of the above reasons, it is infinitely dangerous at a time like the present, when the French are watching every advantage to insinuate their principles, to assemble such a mass of men, whose ideas upon forms of Government must be various, and among whom, consequently, dissensions might arise, disastrous in their consequences both to the armies, and to the Constitution of the Empire.There we have the argument which was brought up, among other arguments, by the hon. Member for Mayo. The hon. Member got so indignant over this particular part of his argument that he found it necessary to invoke God in order to give expression to his indignation. He said:—My God, do not let us do anything which will produce disunion.The hon. Member was absolutely in accord with His Prussian Majesty of 1794. He gave exactly the same reasons.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am not saying whether he was our ally or not. That does not affect the matter in the least. The fact was that what actuated the Prussian Government in 1794 were the same reasons which are being produced to-day by the opponents of compulsory service. What was the sequel in 1794? They did not adopt universal military service, and it was the road to Jena—
§ Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS indicated dissent.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. and learned Member is proceeding upon the assumption, I suppose, that under no conceivable circumstances can we suffer defeat. Otherwise, he would not dream of scorning such a suggestion as that. How does the hon. and learned Member know that if we refuse to take every possible step to organise our forces that we may not be on the road to our Jena?
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
I was objecting to the hon. Gentleman's historical statement when he said that because they did not adopt universal military service it led to Jena.
§ Mr. McNEILL
At any rate, one followed the other, and I do not think it is an unfair inference when you take the whole of the facts into consideration. The French had adopted a system of National Service: they carried it on through their revolutionary armies; the Prussians refused it: and they suffered their Jena. 199 The fact remains and it cannot be disputed. To what did they attribute their defeat? In other words, in what direction did they think their redemption lay? Universal service. It was in consequence of Jena, and in consequence of the military measures that were taken after Jena by Prussia, that the countries of Europe adopted the system of compulsory military service which we see to-day.
A very plausible argument which we hear on all sides to-day is that we should trust Lord Kitchener. I think it is very unfair to put this upon Lord Kitchener. One of my hon. Friends was very much laughed at in the House the other day because he said that he would be very largely guided by Lord Kitchener in this matter. In spite of the ridicule which my hon. Friend met with on that occasion, I repeat the statement. I should be to a large extent guided by Lord Kitchener in this matter, but not entirely Lord Kitchener is a great soldier. He is the greatest soldier we have now living, but a great many of us know very well the opinion upon this subject which was oftimes expressed by a still greater soldier than Lord Kitchener, who, unfortunately, is with us no longer. I refer to the late Earl Roberts. We think that the foresight and knowledge of Lord Roberts is quite as valuable upon this subject as any views that Lord Kitchener may take, and therefore we are not prepared, though on other accounts we are ready to do so, to bow down altogether to Lord Kitchener, giving up our own judgment and the guidance which we have received from the greatest soldier of our times upon this subject. When we talk about trusting Lord Kitchener I am reminded that I have seen in many newspapers, and in many speeches, the suggestion that as soon as Lord Kitchener wants a change in this respect he will say so. Can Lord Kitchener say so? I have no knowledge of what Lord Kitchener's views may be upon this subject, but supposing, hypothetically, that the moment arrived when Lord Kitchener felt that we could not carry on successfully without compulsory service. Unless that view was shared by the majority of the Cabinet Lord Kitchener would either have to remain silent or, if he boldly expressed his opinion, he would have to retire from the Cabinet. Therefore, I can very well imagine that if such a situation arose he might say, "It is my duty to sink my opinions on the question of compulsory service, rather than throw 200 up my job." That is conceivable. The constitutional position makes it impossible for us to accept the dogma, "Trust Lord Kitchener."
You may say, "Trust the Cabinet; trust the Government." Of course, that is a much more different constitutional proposition, and much more sound. On a matter of this importance are we justified, are we required implicitly to trust the Government? I think the answer to that question must be in the negative. I am not one of those who wishes to sin against the Prime Minister's injunction yesterday in regard to recriminations. I have not the slightest intention of recrimniating, and the one or two circumstances which I am going to mention are not quoted in that spirit. When one looks back over the period of the War one cannot help but be struck by the fact that a very considerable number of very important moves, which I think the country as a whole, and probably the House as a whole, regard as having been useful steps, were only taken by the Government after they had been agitated for in this House and in the Press. There was the question of withdrawing the very mischievous instructions given to the Navy in regard to the removal of enemy reservists from the sea. We only got that removed when there had been a considerable agitation in the Press and in this House. There was also the question of dealing with the enemy aliens in this country. Public opinion had expressed itself very clearly on that subject for a considerable time, both in the Press and in Parliament, before the Government moved in the matter. We had the same experience with regard to the declaration of cotton as contraband. There, again, the Government lagged entirely behind the evidences of public opinion. The most striking fact of all is that it was only after a Press agitation, led by those very newspapers the proprietors of which we are told should be sent to gaol, that we got established the Ministry of Munitions.
Does anybody suggest that harm has been done, or does anybody imagine that a great deal of good has not been done, by the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions, in consequence of that agitation? And therefore in consequence of that agitation led by those newspapers there is a far better state of preparation to-day than otherwise there would have been. I am not mentioning any of those things by way of recrimination, but I do say that we are entitled to learn by ex- 201 perience. When the House met here in January, a great number of us knew that a considerable number of things had happened which were very disquieting, and which, if the Party spirit still prevailed, would probably have led to a great deal of recrimination, but we said "That is past. Let us stick to the present and the future." The House met again at Easter. In the interval a number of other things had been done, which were also very regrettable, but they had in the meantime become the past. We could not speak of them without recrimination, and we said, "Do not let us have anything to do with the past. Let us think of the future." So it is at every stage; whenever the House meets you may be inclined to wipe out the past, so far as recrimination goes, but we know perfectly well that six months hence there will be other questions just as deplorable, which will give us just as great an excuse for recrimination.
Therefore I say that we are entitled to learn by experience, and our experience is that the Government which we all trust, and in which we all have confidence as the only possible Government, nevertheless will not do things which it is perfectly obvious to the rest of us ought to be done. Therefore I for one, on this question of National Service, which I believe to be of urgent necessity for dealing with the present position, feel so convinced that it is necessary, in order that we may be able truly to say that we are putting our last ounce of strength into this struggle, that I am not prepared to repeat the experience of the last three, six or twelve months, and come back here in November or December to find the crisis even greater and the danger and peril more imminent, and to find nothing done, and then to say, "We must trust the Government again." I am not prepared to do that. Therefore I think that those of us who believe that this is an urgent necessity, should not fail to express our opinion clearly in this House, and that newspapers outside are equally bound to voice what is at all events a very large section of opinion in this country upon this subject, and we can only hope that if the Government will not lead us on this question, they may be ready to follow the voice of the largest number.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I do not think that anyone would accuse the hon. Member who has just sat down of being wanting in sincerity. We all recognise that the manner in which he has approached this question, and the fairness with which he 202 deals with this question renders his opinion worthy of respect, but I do desire to point out how illogical this Debate appears, not only to me, but appears to the working man. The advocates of what is called compulsory service, which everyone realises means compulsory labour as well as military service, say in short, "we want a system created that will place every man, rich and poor alike, unreservedly at the service of the Government." That I understand is the policy that is being advocated. But just see how illogical that is. The men who advocate placing everyone at the disposal of the Government in this House, get up immediately and say that they themselves will not trust the Government under which they wish to place everybody else. They cannot have it both ways. If they, with all their knowledge of the Government, are not prepared as representative men to trust the Government to say what they shall do, how do they expect the great mass of working men and women in this country to say, "We will place ourselves unreservedly at the disposal of the Government"? I do ask those who are advocating this policy to be at least consistent on that point.
But it even goes farther than that. The Prime Minister yesterday said in substance, "I deprecate at this moment any debate," and he said, "I appeal to the House of Commons to respect my view." And the same people who conscientiously believe that everyone should be at the disposal of the Government are not even prepared to treat with respect the appeal which the Prime Minister himself has made. I submit that you have got to keep in mind the view that the ordinary man will take on this subject. I quite believe that there are many hon. Members advocating this policy who are not desirous of doing any injustice to labour, but they must not get up in this House and say that, because labour is suspicious of what will happen, therefore those who are pointing out the dangers are guilty of a crime; because we have only got to refer to the first advocates of this system. I admit that they are more careful to-day, but we cannot get out of our mind, and the workers cannot forget, that one of the primary objects set forth in the early stages of this agitation was to get cheap soldiers.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am not concerned with the National Service League or with 203 anyone else at the moment. I am concerned with those who have been somewhat primarily responsible for the early agitation on this question, and they have never hesitated to declare that it was on the ground of expense and cheap soldiers.
§ Colonel YATE indicated dissent.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Not only "The Spectator," but the hon. Member for Fareham (Colonel Lee) himself had to write a letter to the Press to correct that impression, and if the Press took that impression, and if it did an injustice to the hon. Member then what I am putting is: Can you blame the working man for being suspicious, when this construction is placed upon it? I want to go further. We have had, as we had yesterday, the amusing spectacle of hon. Members posing as knowing much more about the situation than the Cabinet themselves. The hon. and gallant Member for Dorset (Captain Guest) got up, quite sincerely and solemnly told us that from a military standpoint the position was absolutely serious, and that from the standpoint of Russia it was disastrous, and at the same time, or just before, Lord Kitchener himself, who should have known, painted no such gloomy picture. We had the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Amery) getting up and reading a letter which was to all intents and purposes a libel upon our troops in France. It may not have been so intended, but it was.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Then if it was true, what becomes of the statement which Lord Kitchener made in the other House, when reading a letter from Sir John French himself, stating absolutely the reverse of what the hon. Member has said. Both cannot be true. Then we have the same hon. and gallant Gentleman actually telling us that our foreign policy in the Balkans was absolutely disastrous. I submit that that is something which the Foreign Minister ought to tell us. It does not help the case to trot out these immature opinions, unless we are prepared to say that the Cabinet to-day cannot be trusted. But I want to approach it from another standpoint. What is to be our contribution to this War? Will anybody deny that in the mining industry to-day, not only the last man has been taken, but, as the Select Committee appointed by this House reported, it would be dangerous for another 204 man to go. In reference to the railway industry, the evidence which we have is that not another man can go from the railways. Too many have gone already. The some thing exists in connection with agriculture. The hon. Member (Colonel Lee) dissents. The evidence submitted to the Committee shows a shortage of 50,000 in agriculture, and efforts are now being made to get troops to relieve the position in agriculture.
§ Colonel LEE
I was referring to Lord Selborne's speech the other day. I understood him to say that a great deal of labour could be done by women.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Yes, but he pointed out that while women could do some of the labour, the maximum number of men had gone; that there was a shortage which may be replaced by women, but no more could go.
§ Mr. THOMAS
With great respect, it was said before the Committee which was appointed by this House. There are 800,000 men engaged at the present time in producing munitions. We are told that 60,000 more are required immediately. It is common knowledge that our imports are largely exceeding our exports, and I want to know what is the change in the Minister of Munitions. In the early stages of this War, when he was responsible for finance, he stated from that box that there were three things which the nation could do. It could assist materially—overwhelmingly, I think, was his word—with the Navy. It could make a large contribution by its Army; but, above all, the real thing that would tell was the silver bullets, viewed from a financial standpoint. And I say that until responsible Ministers come down to the House and tell us the exact position it is not for us to be dragged at the heels of a Press campaign. But I want to take a more serious view. I presume that those who are now advocating this policy, in this House at least, genuinely believe that it is one which will end the War. Let us see. I am speaking now as a railway representative, and I hope and trust that nothing will be done by me to prevent such an issue of this struggle, and I can assure you that all my efforts will be towards that end. But, although it may bethought that I make optimistic speeches, yet I give the best advice I can to the men. I do that at all risks. I am not unmindful of the tremendous unrest in the country, 205 and I beg of those who are now advocating compulsory service to realise what they are doing. In my own organisation nearly every branch of it has not only passed a resolution against Conscription and compulsory service, but have indicated to their executive committee their views as to what should be done; and, on the introduction of this subject at the Trades Union Congress, a resolution was passed against compulsory service.
If you could not put the Munitions Act into operation against 200,000 men, what is going to happen with 3,000,000 men? They are entitled to their opinion as well as you; and there is the further answer that we conscientiously object to compulsory service. Suppose you adopt compulsory service. How are you going to apply it, and what will be the practical test? Supposing it were introduced tomorrow in regard to railways or in any other way. Let us suppose, for the moment, that it is applied to railways. Is the Minister of the day to say who is to leave the railway terminus and join the Forces? If he is, what are the people responsible for running the railways going to say? They will say, "If you are going to choose and determine whom we are to keep and who are to leave our employment, you must be responsible, and we must not. On the other hand, if you are going to say that we are to take the responsibility, then we will be in this position: When the first man is selected, no matter how impartially, the other men will say, 'He is a prominent union man, and this is a method of getting rid of him.'" It is no good to shake your heads. We know. That is the difference between you and us. We are up against this proposition every day. We are battling and striving and working for peace. You hon. Gentlemen, with the greatest respect, do not know what we are doing in the interests of unity. You may take it that, if I considered my personal position or my health, I would resign my position tomorrow, but it is because I believe that we have got to take a national view and recognise a national obligation that I stick to my post. But I am not unmindful of the danger which is threatening, and I beg you to realise what will happen. Do you wish for an ill-constituted peace? Do you want to be in a position, when this War is concluded, in which you will have to settle it on terms other than just and moderate, because of the industrial troubles that are occurring in your own country?
206 I do beg of you to realise that position. The sentiment of the trade union movement is absolutely against you. The trade union movement is suspicious of you, and, rightly or wrongly, the cause of their suspicion will be resented in the extreme. I beg of you to realise all the distrust that you are up against. I do not know what is the inner meaning of this movement. If it is a move outside to remove the Prime Minister—let us be plain; I am going to speak plainly—if this is a move to remove the Prime Minister, then, though no one possibly has disagreed with him more than the Members on these benches, yet we say, in this hour of our nation's crisis, that he cannot be replaced. If you mean that the Prime Minister is not the target, then be straight and above-board and say what is the game. It does not require politicians to see what is occurring, for plain men like myself can see things that are going on behind the scenes, and, if it is let loose, and we have got to tell our constituents this, then the working men will show you in an unmistakable manner what their view will be. But I make a higher appeal than that. In the names of the thousands of men who have lost their lives, in the name of the thousands of soldiers and sailors, in the names of the widows and orphans, and of the mothers who are thinking to-day of their boys, I say to any of those who are behind this intrigue, do not forget those who have shed their blood and given of their best. If the only object of the advocates of compulsory service is to win the War, then I beg of them on that ground to believe that we are as genuinely anxious to win the War. I have said to the workers, as I will continue to say to them, that they have got to subordinate their personal or sectional interests to the interests of the nation, and that they have in this hour of crisis to wage this War to a successful conclusion.
But I would point out that those who support compulsory service with a view to attaining that end will not do it, nor can they do it by splitting the unity of the nation. You may even go to the extent of forcing an election—I do not know—but if you do go to the extent of forcing an election, and if you win, what then? Do you think, even then, that the men—the minority—who feel deeply on this question will not immediately seek to make their voices felt? With an increase of 35 per cent. in the cost of living, and when thousands of men can hardly exist to-day, this 207 winter will claim all our undivided attention in order to keep peace in this country. I beg of you not to minimise the danger of that. Do not forget that if you compelled the Government to deal with compulsory service, you might, unfortunately perhaps, have an industrial revolution. That is not the way to win the War. The voluntary principle has not failed, and Lord Kitchener yesterday in the other House said that the voluntary system had not only justified itself, but it was magnificent, or "marvellous," I think, was his word. This morning the "Daily Mail" placard said, "Kitchener on the failure of recruiting." Do you think that the working men do not note these things? I say that they do note these things, and will note them.
I say that you have no right to ignore the overwhelming mass of the working class opinion of this country. I have spoken with heat possibly, but plainly. I repeat what I said before, that if your object has this intrigue at the back of it, I beg you to pause before you go too far. If, on the other hand, it is, as I hope, on the better side—and I believe so far as the Members of this House are concerned they are on the better side—if the only object is to win the War, then I beg of you not to hide from yourselves the overwhelming feeling of the masses of this country. Do not forget that there was never such support given by the working classes of this country to any object as they are giving in this War to-day. Do not forget that in spite of all the carping criticism of the Press, the Government of the day have the confidence of the people. Do not do anything to destroy that confidence. Realise that already the nation is committed to this great cause. Realise that the nation has already made magnificent sacrifices, and continue, therefore, to appeal to the manhood of the country. Realise that the worker feels to-day that he is fighting and giving his life to crush out German militarism. The worker is not blind to the fact that there are those in this country who would like militarism, which would be equally a danger to them. That feeling exists; and because I know it exists, I say, in my closing words, with all the solemnity of my nature, do stop to realise the harm that you are doing. Do realise the danger and difficulty in regard to the Labour movement, and in the case of those of us who are striving for peace, give a helping hand, and do not aggravate our 208 difficulties; then you, as well as we on this side, will be able to say that militarism, and all that it stands for, was stamped out, and a victory won by the freedom and liberty of the British people.
§ Mr. CAVE
I have often listened with interest to the speeches made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). To-day I recognise the sincerity of what he has said to the House, but I must add that I have never heard from him a speech which I regret so much as that to which we have just listened. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was a jolly good speech!"] If the hon. Member means that it was a very able and very eloquent speech, I agree with him. But it contained two arguments which I want the House to seriously consider. The hon. Gentleman, and I think I am not misrepresenting him, intimated that if the Government of this country felt compelled to institute a system of compulsory enlistment in this country rather than lose the War, that in that event there would be resistance on the part of those for whom he speaks. That is a serious statement and differs absolutely and entirely from the witness borne by other members of the party to which the hon. Member belongs. It contrasts acutely with the speech made only yesterday by the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. S. Walsh), with the speeches made before yesterday by the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), and with the speeches of others who have a claim to represent the Labour party.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I want to make this matter perfectly clear. As I said this afternoon, and as I have said before, it does not help this House for any Member, whether he be a Labour Member or other Member, to utter a mere platitude unless he knows that his men can follow him. I only uttered what I know to be the feeling of the men apart from my own personal feeling.
§ Mr. CAVE
The hon. Gentleman does not quarrel with my version of what he said, and I gather that he repeats it. All I want to say is, although it may be rather bold for a member of another party to do so, that I do not think he correctly represents the feeling of the working men of this country. I am obliged to say that because we have heard what has been said, not only by the hon. Gentleman, but by his colleagues who claim to represent the working man. More than that, I read with very great interest the debates at 209 the Trades Union Congress last week. I not only read them with interest, but I found in them very great encouragement. The speeches were full of patriotism, and the resolution of the second day was to the effect that the members who were there represented would without hesitation respond to any call made on them by the Government of this country. And even in the resolution dealing with compulsory service, while the members said that there was at present no reliable evidence in favour of compulsory enlistment, they based their resolution on that, and on that ground alone they pronounced for the time being against it. The resolution led up to this conclusion: that if they were satisfied that without compulsory enlistment we could not win this War or defend our shores, then they were prepared, as every patriotic Englishman is prepared, to accept that decision and bow to the will of the Government. That was one point which the hon. Member made which I have ventured to quarrel with. The other point, if I may call it a point, is this: He said something which I regret very much and which I think he will regret tomorrow morning. He talked about some intrigue against the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "You heard it during the Prime Minister's speech!"]
§ Mr. CAVE
Surely it is with people in this House we ought to deal. We are here to discuss a very serious subject, and to launch that sort of vague charge against people who are not named and who are not here to defend themselves is not, I think, a contribution to the Debate worthy of a man holding the position which the hon. Gentleman holds. So I leave that aside, and I will only say this: Those who advocate or have advocated National Service, as we call it—compulsory service, if you please—at this time in this House are moved only and entirely by this: We think, we may be right or wrong, but we believe earnestly and with conviction, that without resort to compulsory enlistment we cannot win this War. I put it to hon. Members opposite, if they thought that, what would they do? So long as they are not convinced and so long as they have a doubt about it, they are right to say, "we will not raise the question if we can help it and we will not discuss it." But if you really believed, as we believe, that upon the decision, the early decision, of the question rest the whole fate and future of this 210 country, and the issue of the War, what would you do? Would you not feel it your bounden duty, not to agitate for that is not the word, but to come to the House of Commons and to give the House of Commons and the Government your views? We asked the Prime Minister to receive a deputation by means of which our views would have been put before him, but he in the exercise of his discretion thought it better not to do so, and there is nothing left for us except a discussion in this House. I think we ought to be allowed to carry on the discussion without being subjected to charges such as I think I have found in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I leave that with this remark, that but for that episode the whole Debate has been free entirely from that acrimony which is pressed upon us from outside, but which we rarely find when we come to debate a question in this House.
I come to the general subject. I listened yesterday to the speech of the Prime Minister, and I heard the speech of the Secretary of State for War in another place. I say without reserve that the two speeches satisfied me—that is they satisfied me that the Government are giving their earnest, their urgent consideration to the question which alone moves us in this Debate. The main point, of course, is quite plain, and that is, the question of recruiting. We were told quite plainly by the Minister for War, who knows it better than any man alive, and by the Prime Minister, the Head of the Ministry, which we all desire to support, that recruits were necessary and that recruits were no longer coming in as they did come in until a recent date. That is the whole question. That is the whole affirmative point, and on that question let us see where we are. This War must be won on land as well as on sea. We shall not differ about that. No one can conceive a state of things in which our enemies were victorious on the Continent and we were left only with the command of the seas. We know what that would mean to France and to Belgium and to Serbia, to Egypt and to Persia and to India, and then again to ourselves. I think I may take that as common ground. In order that you may win on land you must, I suppose, have an Army not less than that which we have to-day, and some people say more. I am not a judge of that point, but I take that as the second matter to be considered. Thirdly, 211 there is the wastage in this War. I use the cold-blooded word which covers so much suffering. The wastage in this War in all the Armies is, I am told by those who know, greater than in any previous war, and it is very great indeed. That wastage must be repaired and the losses must be made up. They can only be made up by recruiting. So the only point you have to determine is, can you by the present method of recruiting get men enough to fill up the vacancies and to supply the wants of our Armies? That is the only point. We are told that at the moment we can do so. I do not know whether that is a final pronouncement. We were told yesterday that the recruits are no longer coming in at the old rate. Can you, not to-day, but looking forward for six months or for twelve months, or longer it may be, tell us with certainty that the number of recruits, at that time will be sufficient for the purposes for which they are needed? That is the whole point, and let me emphasise it.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CAVE
The hon. Gentleman has not followed my point. What I say is that we cannot have probabilities in this matter. That is, it will not do, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise this, to say probably we shall be all right. You must say, "Certainly we will be all right," or we shall not be doing the duty which lies upon all of us. I beg the hon. Gentleman to notice this, that the danger of having too few men is far greater than the danger of having too many. You must be on the safe side. You must have enough men to make sure of victory. If the Government will tell us that without the use of compulsion they can ensure that result, no better news I am sure can come to me or to any man in this House. All I ask is that the Government should come to a decision on that point, and come to it quickly. Their rapid decision I would gladly and willingly accept. But with all the earnestness in my nature I do say that the time has come when this matter should be considered and decided, and the Government should take the step of telling the House and the country either that they are satisfied with the present system or that it is time for every man to submit to another system altogether.
212 I want to deal with another point raised by the hon. Member for Derby, a point which I admit is of very great importance, and that is the effect of compulsory enlistment upon other industries. Industries concerned in the War come first, but other industries have their importance. The hon. Member said, and I have no doubt he spoke truly, that already this War has unduly depleted the ranks of some of those industries. He mentioned the mining industry, and also the railway industry, of which he knows so much. What he said of those industries may be true of others. No doubt it may be true of the engineering industry, which is so important to our munitions factories. Let us consider the answer to that. If that be so, the Government, if they apply compulsory enlistment at all, must take that into account Having control of the whole industry of the nation, they will be the last to deplete necessary industries. More than that, I believe that if you give to the Government a reservoir of men such as you can get only by a system of National Service, they will be able not only to stop the depletion of these great industries, but, indeed, to supply the lack which has already arisen; because when you have a large supply of men you are able to release for other work men who are better employed there than in fighting in the Army. I believe that, so far from that argument put by the hon. Member being an argument against National Service, it is a strong argument for it.
Not being a soldier, I ought not to dwell further on details. I admit—no one more fully—the difficulty of the problem that has to be solved. I admit the dangers and difficulties which exist and have to be overcome. The Government have a great and serious responsibility; but I am certain that if, in the exercise of their judgment, they come to the conclusion that this measure must be applied, they will have behind them not only those who sit here, not only those who advocate this scheme, but every patriotic Englishman, and that in substance the whole of the nation are prepared to take such place in the ranks as may be assigned to them by the Government.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
It is not a pleasant task to have to address the House on this occasion, and it is with great reluctance that I intervene. I do so simply in order to throw my humble opinion into the common stock before the Government makes up its mind one way or 213 the other. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cave) said that when the Government come to a decision, and the sooner they do so the better, he is willing to accept that decision. If the Government decide to retain the voluntary system, then I take it the right hon. Gentleman will be no longer a party to the agitation, either in this House or outside, to overturn that system. But the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) said that he would not trust the Government. It does not matter to him whether or not the Government come next week to the decision that the voluntary system is a good one. He is not prepared to accept the decision of the Government, because he does not trust them. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) expressed his view very plainly. As far as I am concerned, I also wish to be perfectly plain. If the Government adduce evidence and proof which will satisfy me as a reasonable man that Conscription is a military necessity, and that without it we cannot win the War, however reluctant I may be, however repugnant it may be to me, I will acquiesce.
I wish to devote myself as closely as I can to arguments which seem to me to be worthy of consideration when the Government are coming to a decision on this question. My first observation is that the voluntary system has done very well up to now. It has held the field up to now. Up to three or four weeks ago the number of recruits was satisfactory. On the 28th July the Prime Minister, speaking in this House, said that the recruiting figures at that date were as satisfactory as they had been at any time. Speaking here on behalf of the Government, on the 21st April, the Minister of Munitions, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, in answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Yarmouth, that the Government were satisfied at that date that the recruiting by voluntary enlistment was satisfactory; and in answer to a supplementary question, he stated that the Government did not believe that any better results could be obtained by compulsion or any other system. It may be said that the Minister of Munitions, on the 21st April, was speaking, in the absence of the Prime Minister, as representing the whole Government. He made another speech on th 4th May. I ask any hon. Member to read that speech. I think it proves the case for the voluntary system in a way that cannot be excelled. On 21st April the 214 voluntary system is satisfactory. On the 4th May the Minister of Munitions says, the same thing in a longer speech—everything is satisfactory. On the 28th July the Prime Minister makes a speech which, if it means anything at all, means that on that date the voluntary system was satisfactory, and there was no reason to make any change. Therefore, we have a right to ask those who are pressing the Government to change the system—and also the Prime Minister, because he is the man they have to convert—what has happened, what has England done or suffered, since the 28th July which entitles them to come and ask the Prime Minister to recede from the position he took up then. The onus is upon them.
What are the arguments adduced here or elsewhere? I have listened to very powerful speeches in the course of the Debate yesterday and to-day, speeches marked by great restraint and control of temper, and I hope that in my remarks I shall display the same spirit. What are the two main facts relied on by the advocates for Conscription or compulsory service, and which they say have altered the position to such an extent that we have to change the present system? The first is the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister, and echoed by Lord Kitchener, which has been dwelt on with infinite satisfaction by some people, that the rate of recruiting during the last few weeks has not been as satisfactory as hitherto. It is a perfectly vague statement. No figures are given. We do not know how far short the recruiting figures have fallen of what was desired. No particulars of any sort or kind are given. I should like further particulars before I accept that position. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Spen Valley Division (Sir T. Whittaker) has already dealt with this point, and I will not repeat the arguments which he used to show that it could hardly be expected that the recruiting figures in August and September should be as good as before that date. Let me give two or three other reasons. I believe it is perfectly true that in normal times August and September are not good recruiting months. They are the harvest months, and work is plentiful in the country. I do not know much about this year, but I do know that in years past it has been the practice of scores or hundreds of people living in industrial districts to spend their holiday in the country during the harvest time, and do harvesting work. I believe it is 215 the universal experience that in normal times August and September are bad recruiting months.
Further, does any hon. Member think that the controversy that has been going on during the last few months has helped recruiting? Is it not in accordance with human nature that, when a big controversy is going on as to whether or not the voluntary system shall be superseded, that should have a bad effect on recruiting? Then I am told that the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee have not been doing recruiting work since the rising of the House. I speak from hearsay, but I was told yesterday by a gentleman in touch with the Committee that they have been devoting their attention not to recruiting, but to the War Loan, and to munition meetings. If that is so, that will tend to reduce the recruiting figures. Then there are great newspapers in the country—and although I disagree with their methods and objects, I know they are very powerful organs of public opinion—the "Times," the "Daily Mail," and so on—which have been for months setting themselves out to crab recruiting, ridiculing the methods of recruiting, and holding up to scorn the placards asking for recruits. They are powerful organs. I suppose the "Daily Mail" has as big a circulation as any paper in the Kingdom. Does any hon. Member think that the sort of agitation that has been going on for a few months has not had a deleterious effect upon the recruiting figures? Of course it has.
How many hon. Members who are members of recruiting committees in the various counties and who started this work with full vigour and enthusiasm have slackened their efforts and have at last become converts to the gospel of Conscription? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Monmouth (Sir Ivor Herbert) is a Member for whom I have the greatest regard and respect, for there is not a single Member of this House who did more for recruiting twelve months ago. The excellent work that has been done in his county is very largely due to his enthusiastic efforts. He is Lord Lieutenant of the county and twelve months ago was an enthusiastic supporter of the voluntary system. What happened the other day? He convened a meeting of the recruiting committee at Newport to get volunteers. He was in the chair. One of his deputy-lieutenants moved a resolution in favour of what? Not of making efforts to get 216 more recruits through the voluntary system, but in favour of compulsory military service! I do say this, that men who attend recruiting committees associated with the voluntary system and pass resolutions in favour of compulsion are not the men you would expect to get recruits voluntarily.
Take all these things into consideration, and I venture to say that in themselves they are quite sufficient to explain why there has been, if not a great, at least a diminution in recruiting during the last three or four weeks. Are we to be asked to change the historical basis of our social, political, and industrial life for such pleas? The reasons are inadequate. We must first of all see a much larger falling off in the recruiting figures in the months to come before you can come to any such conclusion as that. The other new fact that is said to have been put forward is this: The collapse, as it has been called, of Russia. I dare say most hon. Members have read the rhetorical preface which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions wrote to the book which was published a few days ago.
I suppose so, but I do not know the ways of the Censor any more than does the hon. and learned Gentleman. At all events, what did my right hon. Friend say in that preface? He said, "Russia has collapsed. Where are we to find men to fight the battle"—I am paraphrasing his remarks—"while Russia is re-equipping her forces?" Well, now, what has happened since? The gloomy picture which was drawn by my right hon. Friend in his preface was refuted yesterday by Lord Kitchener, who said that the Germans had now shot their bolt, or words to that effect. What do we find in a publication with which I take it my hon. Friend the Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery) is well acquainted, a book called "The Great War," published by the Harmsworth Press? I suppose that has passed the Censor too. What is said in this week's issue of "The Great War"? This: that everything was in motion for a great offensive on the part of the Western Allies and of Russia in the spring of this year. We were told of it here. Everybody in this House knew that we expected a great offensive on the Western Front in France in May. We heard some months ago of a statement in conversation which Lord Kitchener was said to have made 217 when he was asked when the War was going to end. "I do not know," he is reported to have said, "when the War is going to end, but I know it is going to begin in May." That was the sentiment in February and March last. That offensive did not take place. I am quoting "The Great War." I do not know whether the hon. Member (Mr. Amery) is responsible in any way for its publication, but it is published by the Harmsworth firm, with which he is so honourably identified.
This publication states that the offensive did not take place in May because the great arsenal at Petrograd which produces the munitions of war for Russia was blown up by German spies. The result of that was that the Russians who had penetrated to Cracow, in Galicia, and were almost to the borders of Silesia, who had got across the Carpathian Mountains, and were looking down upon the Hungarian Plain expecting to continue their invasion of the Hungarian Plain, had their great offensive broken. The Germans knew of the blowing up of the Arsenal, because they had engineered the whole thing. They brought great forces to bear on the Russian Forces, and forced them back into Russia. That is the reason, so we are told, for the so-called Russian collapse.
What do we find yesterday? A Paris wireless message stated that the Russian Minister of Munitions had said that the output of munitions was more satisfactory. It is a very extraordinary thing that that coincides absolutely with the new offensive by Russia; therefore the gloomy picture drawn by my right hon. Friend is absolutely dispelled. Yet these are the facts upon which we are asked to rely for this military necessity of Conscription! There is another matter: this periodical states that on account of the failure of the output of munitions in Russia both France and England had to send munitions of war to Russia through Archangel. May not that be the reason for the shortage—if there has been a shortage—of munitions at the front? However, I leave that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Dorset (Captain Guest) in a speech, all of which I had not the pleasure of hearing, though to-day I read it very carefully, made one very startling observation—at least it was startling to me. It has been rather controverted to-day by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fareham (Colonel Lee). I am not going to deal with that speech. I agree 218 absolutely with every word said yesterday by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). But there was one observation made by the hon. and gallant Member which is worthy of further notice. He assumed that we were going to undertake to hold 120 miles of the Allied lines. I could not help thinking when I read that how did he get the number of miles? Who told him? The whole of his superstructure of figures depended upon that 120 miles. He is, I believe, on the Staff of General French. Does he come here with the knowledge of General French to tell us what he has told us? If so, he should have told us.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? The hon. Member for East Dorset resigned his position on the Staff some time ago.
I did not know that. I have seen his name in despatches so often that I thought he was still there. The hon. and gallant Member said yesterday that we must assume that in the coming winter we are going to hold 120 miles of the Allied lines. I ask him on what authority does he make that assumption? I do not wish to speak offensively of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am not a military man and do not pretend to be versed in military matters, but military matters are not divorced from common sense, and the ordinary man can understand something. We know that we have 2,500,000 men with the Colours. The common-sense question that has to be asked and answered is—How many miles can these soldiers of the British Empire hold? The hon. and gallant Gentleman reverses the process of calculation. First of all, he lays down the number of men we must have to hold the 120 miles. Then he doubles the 900,000 men, so that half may be in reserve. He says that 200,000 are required in Gallipoli, with another 200,000 in reserve. He assumes that we are going to be in Gallipoli for a whole year more, and puts the wastage at 100 per cent. over the whole year. Therefore, I suppose he thinks that the expedition to the Dardanelles for which my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench (Mr. Churchill) was primarily responsible, is going to be there for another twelve months. I hope that is not so. If it be so, then I can only say that my right hon. Friend misled me when at Dundee he said we were within a very few miles of victory. Again, the Noble Lord the 219 Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs misled me still more the other day when be said that he expected, almost immediately, a resounding victory, or a very great victory, in the Dardanelles. However, that is only a minor matter. I am not going to quote. I remember the Dundee occasion very well; but it cheered my heart to find that my right hon. Friend was an optimist in those days. I hope he is still one.
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman if he is going to speak again to deal with another thing? This is not a mere matter for the British Islands. This is an Imperial War. We have been told by Canadian and Australian statesmen—by Mr. Andrew Fisher, amongst others—that they were willing to spend their last shilling and their last man in order to aid us in this matter. There is a population of something like twelve millions in Canada and Australia. I believe they have sent 100,000 troops to the Front already, and very gallant troops they are and most patriotic are the Governments supporting them. This gallantry and devotion of our brothers from across the seas has been to all of us a great lesson in Imperialism. But contrast that with what has been done in Wales. Wales has a population of a little over two millions. Yesterday I met the gentleman who is responsible for the recruiting in Wales. He knows the figures. I asked him how many men had been recruited from Wales since the beginning of the War. He replied, "Anything between 120,000 and 150,000." If Gallant Little Wales can do as well as that, do not hon. Members think that our patriotic fellow-citizens in Australia and Canada can do quite as well in proportion to their population? At all events, we are entitled, before you press upon us a fresh system which has never been tried except in circumstances of dire necessity in this country, and has always failed, to ask you to make that appeal, first of all to our own people, to say how many volunteers you still want to bring the number up to the full standard, and then to ask your Colonies, telling them what the necessities are, if they can help further. When you have failed by these voluntary methods you will be entitled to come down here and ask us to change our present system; to alter the whole traditions of this country, and, instead of having an Army of volunteers, to have an Army of conscripts.
220 The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned yesterday that 400,000 men were required for Home defence. I saw a letter in the "Times" the other day from Sir Arthur Pinero, the chairman of the volunteers committee, in which he said that 400,000 volunteers would be quite willing to act for Home defence. Has the Government ever considered the question of using these men to guard our shores in order to release 400,000 men who might be wanted for the Front? Let me mention another factor. I do not know how many Indian troops are in the Gallipoli Peninsula and in Flanders, but I should say there must be something like 200,000. I do not know whether there are more Indian troops available, but I do say there must be in the vast British Empire any number who could be drawn upon in order to guard the lines of communication, to do transport service, and things of that sort not in the fighting line, in order to release men who are now guarding the lines of communication. I say we are entitled, before you fasten this yoke of Conscription upon this country, to take all these matters into consideration, to see how far they are practical, and, if they are practical, whether in that way you can escape this dire evil of a compulsory service. I say dire evil for this reason: you cannot win this War with a disunited nation. If you introduce Conscription, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has said, you will have a disunited nation.
I do not care whether the Government accept it and whether the House passes Conscription, I say the thing cannot be done in this country. I shall accept it, but I say deliberately that Conscription can never be forced on this country. Let me give one or two reasons for that. What is going to happen to the Quakers in this country when Conscription becomes the law? They are few people, it is true, but they are a most respected and honourable people. Suppose John Bright were living to-day, would you conscript a man like that? You cannot do it. I asked an hon. Member who is a conscriptionist what he would do with a Quaker. He said: "I would put him in gaol." [HON. MEMBERS: "Put him in the Army" and "Red Cross."] What are you going to do in such a case? It is not only the Quaker. There are thousands of other good Christian people who have the same objection, the same aversion to war and the shedding of blood, and I know myself not one or two but a dozen people in my country who 221 will never submit to Conscription. I know respected ministers of the Gospel will preach against Conscription the very first Sunday after it is introduced. You cannot argue with these people any more than you can argue with Ulster men with conscientious objections. We were told last year ad nauseam with regard to Ulster men that they had a conscientious, rooted objection, and it was no good arguing with them. I am not going back to old controversies, but I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill) will understand the point I am making, because he made it last year. You cannot argue with these people. You cannot force them to do what they do not want to do. They have conscientious objections, and I am sure the Minister of Munitions knows it. Is passive resistance going to be tolerated when it is a question of paying rates to teach the Church Catechism and is it going to be treason when it applies to the shedding of blood? Suppose Lord Milner and the compulsionists during the Boer war had come to the House of Commons and asked that the Government and the House should adopt Conscription, why, my right hon. Friend, who was then of a military age, might have been sent to fight against the Boers. What would he have said then? There are men who hold convictions as earnestly as he did in those days against all war. What is going to happen to them?
The hon. Gentleman opposite said that we want to have democracy with us, and therefore he suggested that we should ask the local authorities to decide who shall be forced to join the Army and who shall not. I could not help thinking at the time what would happen in Ireland. I know the hon. Gentleman is willing to put Ireland on one side. Ireland, according to him, has got Home Rule and the right to do as it likes, and I suppose he would not mind if the county councils in Ireland refused to press a single man. I do not think you need go so far as Ireland. I think I could find certain local authorities who would never force a man against his will to bear arms, even in this righteous War—never. I hope I have not said anything, at all events, offensive to anybody, but I do say these things are facts, and I say, in face of those facts, were the Government and the House unanimously to decide in favour of this measure it cannot enforce it. Anybody who knows the working people knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby said what is absolutely true, however painful it may be to the 222 hon. Gentleman opposite. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby knew what he was talking about, and evidence day by day convinces me of the truth of it. I am one of those men who believe that this War should be waged to the utmost extremity, and that an inconclusive peace is worse than no peace. An inconclusive peace would mean the piling up of armaments afterwards and inevitable Conscription for all time. Therefore I am as anxious as any man in this House, not only to win a victory, but to win a victory to ensure lasting and abiding peace. On these grounds I urge hon. Members in all earnestness and all sincerity that if we are going to win this War we can only do it with a united nation. A united nation has done magnificently up to now. Do not let us spoil a record, the fame of which will go reverberating down the ages, by introducing Prussian methods at a time when victory, I believe, is almost in sight.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Llewelyn Williams) and I probably differ on this point as on many others, but I listened to his speech with all the attention to which powerful arguments entitled it. He began, as he ended his speech, by saying that if the Government and this House decide In favour of Conscription or against it we were bound to take that decision. I myself, speaking from the opposite point of view from him, am perfectly ready to accept that decision. I do not, of course, say that I give up my conscientious conviction that this is a system most fair and most adequate to our needs, and upon which, in my opinion, a vast majority of this nation are at this moment prepared to decide; and I do not, of course, deprive myself of the power hereafter, if the danger is increased, if new circumstances arise, of urging as far as I can the views which the Government for the present may decide against. But allow me to point out to the hon. Member that in what followed in his speech he took precisely the opposite course from that which, I think, his first statements led us to expect.
I think we in the House of Commons, whether as outsiders, whether as representing our own constituents, are able to form an opinion as to the justice of a compulsory system, and as to its probable moral effect upon the nation. I think we are also able to form a judgment just as well as the Government as to whether this system is the fairest to all citizens, and whether it imposes with the 223 greatest evenness the burden of war. We are also entitled to form our opinion as to whether this system is the best organisation, and enables us to make the best of the resources at the disposal of the Government. But these are not the arguments the hon. Member adduced to enable us to come to a decision. What arguments he brought forward during the last twenty minutes of his speech were arguments based upon military detail, upon the extent of the line we ought to hold in Flanders, upon the exact position of the Russian Army and their supply of munitions, and other matters. These, surely, are matters on which I, for one, speaking without any knowledge, say that our opinion as private Members of the House of Commons is absolutely worthless. The points on which we can decide are the broad principles on which we base our views, and details as to the line we hold, the relative strength of the Russian Army, and the probable issue in the East, are matters on which I, for one, do not venture for a moment to pronounce an opinion or even to argue. I would pass from this controversy. I do not wish to carry it further, and certainly not to bring any acidity into the controversy on the merits of his question. I should have been content with simply expressing my own attitude towards the proposal of the Government were it not for one or two things which have been said against those who for the last twelve years have advocated this system of Conscription. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) on this question said:—These old advocates of compulsory service are taking advantage of the national necessity to advance their own fads.Can anything be more unfair? I have been a member of the Executive of the National Service League from its inception some ten years ago, and week by week we sat with the late Lord Roberts. When War was declared it was the unanimous opinion of the Executive Committee, led by Lord Roberts, who was more in earnest than anyone else in this matter, that in face of the War we must stop all propaganda and leave the Government to decide. It is solemn to think that the very last conversation I had with Lord Roberts, only a fortnight before his death, was one in which he urged upon us the necessity of maintaining that position and placing the whole organisation of the National Service League all over the 224 country completely at the service of the War Office, under which it continued to be for very many months, and the value of which was acknowledged by Lord Kitchener. Is it fair, in these circumstances, to say that we took advantage of the nation's necessities to advance our own fads? Afterwards, when this question is raised again, naturally we feel bound to say we uphold and maintain our views, restricting ourselves absolutely to the necessities of the present moment. We have no desire to take out of this necessity any advantage for the system we advocate, and I am perfectly certain that that attitude will be taken by the National Service League.
I am anxious, as a humble private Member, to express my own attitude towards the Government proposals. I desire to support the Government, and I am perfectly certain no Member of the Government can accuse me of having betrayed that pledge. We shall not oppose this. Vote, but, on the contrary, we shall give all that is asked for with full sympathy and absolute concurrence, if only you will let us. More than that, we have no desire to press any partisan or party views, for that is the last thing that should enter the mind of any patriot citizen at this moment. We do not even wish to discuss the merits of the question of compulsory service; we do not wish to enter into the details of arguments for or against it, and we are-prepared to give up even discussion on one condition. We have no desire to indulge in what the Prime Minister called in one of his happy phrases the most easy and the most facile form of moral self-indulgence, recrimination. I for one have no wish to recriminate, and if what we are advancing proves to be right and the Government prove to be wrong, we ought to forget it next week. We do not wish even to discuss it, only you must let us into your confidence. You are a Coalition Government, and what is the meaning of that, unless it is one that coalesces on one fixed policy? The hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. L. Williams) pointed out the differences of opinion amongst Members of the Government, and drew a contrast between what was said by the Minister of Munitions and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
On this question have we not a right to ask that one clear note shall be sounded? We are prepared to give you support and to take your decisions for the time being in regard to this question, but upon the 225 condition that the Coalition Government should coalesce upon a clear and fixed policy, and should utter a clear and unmistakable note. If I am not mistaken that is what the great majority of this country ask for. They do not ask to dictate to the Government, or interfere with its discretion, or to know the secrets which the Government alone can know. They do not wish to pronounce what the decision ought to be upon those secrets, but they do ask that the Government should give, what it has not yet given, that is a clear and a distinct lead. We hoped when the Coalition Government was formed that it would coalesce upon policy. On this point I confess that my disappointment is increasing and my impatience at the delay with regard to that policy is growing. In saying this I believe I am expressing an opinion not peculiar to myself, but one which is held by a very large part of this country. I ask the House to remember the words of wisdom—with which I entirely agree, and which ought to be impressed upon the Treasury Bench and upon any Government in this country, and much more upon a Coalition Government—used by the President of the Trades Union Congress only the other day. He said:—Give us a lead. Give us assurance. Take us into your confidence. This secrecy is creating suspicion in the minds of the people at home. We want a clear issue and a clear lead.This is not a moment when we can hover about our decision, and procrastinate upon a vital matter which may make or mar the destinies of this country in the greatest crisis we have ever seen. I desire to express my impatience at this shilly-shallying and doubtfulness, which is felt not only inside, but outside this House, and which is impressing itself on all parts of the Empire.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
The discussion which has taken place in this House, both yesterday and to-day, is one of great importance, although I doubt whether it can strictly be called a Debate. The speeches from all parts of the House have, of necessity, taken the form of personal expressions of opinion, and personal references to experiences, and are of value, so far as they have any value, as expositions of sincere belief rather than as examples of potent arguments. That may well be the case, because it was admitted this afternoon by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Colonel Lee)—whom we are glad to see back in this House, and whom we welcome for his patriotic work abroad— 226 who said that the facts which are the very pith of any practical decision, namely, how many men we want and how many we have, and how many men we can afford, are facts not within the cognisance of himself or the House. That being so, no one can wonder that this discussion has been rather an expression of conviction rather than argument. If that be true, it is also true that there has never been a graver position which this House has been discussing, and no one, I think, who has been in this House for any length of time can ever have felt a greater sense of responsibility in speaking than those who have taken part in this discussion. What does it really mean? We are not discussing proposals of the Government either to change or maintain the present methods of recruiting. What we are discussing is the fact that while the Government is known to be considering that question there has appeared in this country outside this House a vigorous, resolute body of opinion determined, if they can, to bring the principle of Conscription or compulsory service into force in this country as soon as possible, and, so far as we can tell, independently of any information the Government possesses, and as regards certain speakers, independently of any conclusion to which the Government might come. That is, of course, an exceedingly grave position for this House to be placed in. The hon. Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik) spoke of shilly-shallying on the part of the Government, and not giving the country adequate information on matters largely appertaining to this issue, and on this point I am glad to go even further than the hon. Member. But, as far as regards shilly-shallying, what does the hon. Member mean by that?
§ 7.0. P.M.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Why indecision? There has for a long time been a definite determination to use the principle of voluntary enlistment. [An HON. MEMBER: "And they have done it—"] The hon. Member who interrupts me does not interpret the facts in the way I do. From the beginning of this War appeals have been made to enlist for the Army, and the people have responded with universal consent, and with a universality which nobody expected. Therefore it is hardly accurate—indeed, it is the very opposite of accurate—to say that a Government is shilly-shallying which proceeds 227 month after month on that principle. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they have adhered to a definite principle since the beginning of the War. I have not risen to-night to attempt to argue the pros and the cons of compulsory service, either as a principle or as a method of general application, as compared with the arguments on the other side for voluntary service. It is sufficient for us to recognise that there has been in this country for a number of years a party of considerable numbers who have been in favour of compulsory service, and they find themselves living in a country which is at war, with a Government conducting that war by methods to which they are opposed. One can quite understand that there was a certain strain upon them in following the example and advice which Lord Roberts gave, and in supporting the Government in this War, without pressing their particular point. Surely we have to recollect, whatever be our opinion upon either side of this controversy as to the method which for England is best in ordinary times, what is our duty to-day. A Coalition Government which has up to the present moment proceeded by the voluntary method has now assured this House by the mouth of the Prime Minister that the position of recruiting is being most carefully considered by the Cabinet. I suggest that those who press their views for a great change without reference to that utterance, and who press it with the vigour and almost the hurry which has characterised many of the speeches in this Debate, are taking upon themselves a responsibility of which most of us do not envy them at all. Far more important than the question of what method of recruiting for our Army is adopted is the question whether we can unite the nation, or keep it united, in any method that may be decided upon by the Government of the country.
It has been my duty since the beginning of the War to do what I could with regard to recruiting. I have had constant weekly, and almost daily, experience of the problem of recruiting in more than one part of this country. During the whole of that time one has found the most absolute unanimity of all classes and shades of political and military opinion in doing all that they could to promote recruiting on voluntary lines. There has been up to the present time no cleavage and there has been no indication of any grave differences of 228 opinion which have impaired that work, and surely those of us who care more for maintaining this unity than we do even for the maintenance of methods which we believe to be best are entitled in our places in this House to urge upon our fellow Members and upon the Government that nothing should be done to imperil or risk that power of working together. If, without a decision of the Government, based upon a complete investigation into all the aspects of this problem, any change, even if it be a change for the better, is forced first upon this House and then upon the country, I am convinced, and I say it with a full sense of responsibility, that national unity will be gravely and I fear permanently impaired. It would be better for this country to have a less good method of enlistment if thereby you could keep up the impetus and the force which comes from a really united people. That is the driving power which has been behind this country during the last fourteen months, and it has, we trust, learned the lesson and turned to good the various mistakes that have been made. That driving power exists to-day unimpaired, but there is the greatest danger if this controversy continues on the lines which it appears to be taking that it will be permanently weakened.
Few indeed can be the Members of this House who would decline to accept the judgment of this Government if it were known to be the real judgment of a united Cabinet, and not an expression from a small majority in this direction or in that, or a conclusion reached by the pressure of vehemence being successful over less, ardent temperaments. If we have a decision of the Government on a matter of this kind which really expresses the cordial consent of men who have had varied trainings, and who have had differing but most valuable experiences of what their fellow-countrymen are willing to do and can do best, then, no doubt, that decision will pass into law with comparatively little difficulty; but anything short of that will pass into law, if it passes at all, with the greatest difficulty, and will leave the problem in the country of uniting all kinds of people in the most intense prosecution of this War a far more difficult problem than it is to-day. I feel, as we all feel, the temptation to discuss the merits in themselves of these different methods, but for the moment, at any rate, to that temptation I will not succumb. I will merely say, with the greatest possible respect and 229 regard for all my colleagues in this House, whatever views they take about it—I speak from an experience of fourteen months during which I have been in constant contact with this problem of recruiting for the Army—that by the voluntary method up to now you have united all kinds of people. I say, in the next place, that method is not exhausted. There is no practical recruiter in this country who is either surprised or alarmed by the comparative shortage during the last two months. I say that great improvements are still possible in that method both in the War Office and out of it. I may be allowed without disloyalty or impropriety to say that it strikes some of us as odd that in fourteen months there should have been four directors-in-general of recruiting, and that as one has passed on to some higher post he has been succeeded by some other person who has had to learn again from the beginning.
There are many ways in which recruiting on a voluntary basis can be improved, and yet the results have been what they were described by the Secretary of State for War in another place yesterday. Until that system is shown to have ceased to be effective, until we have from a responsible Government real and weighty proof that the alternative system, applied not only to the Army but applied also to that far more difficult problem of labour, will be at least as successful, until we are convinced that those who are responsible for governing the country see this problem steadily and see it as a whole, realising the aspect which deals with munitions, the aspect which deals with national credit, and the aspect which deals with the maintenance of national wealth as well as the aspect which deals with the raising of men to fight, until we are satisfied those matters have been considered and decided by a unanimous Government it is really tempting the gravest cleavage in this country to ask either from this House or from the country any change of method or policy from that which up to now has had great results and from which many of us believe that still greater results might come.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I am sure that the House will have listened with very great interest to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Ryland Adkins), and I am sure that we shall all do well to emulate his tone. I also feel, as he does, the responsibility of taking part in such a Debate as this. There probably never 230 was a more important matter to be discussed and to be decided. We know that this Government has entrusted in its hands the destinies of our Empire in a sense in which they have never been in the hands of any Government before, and I am sure that no one desires to say a word that would in any way embarrass the Government in coming to that decision which it thinks right in view of all the circumstances of the case. I hope that I shall speak moderately and temperately. I want to say this about National Service. There never was a question, the merits of which it was more difficult to investigate apart from outside service. The Debate to-day shows a great improvement upon that of yesterday, and the House of Commons has everything to gain and the country has everything to gain by a frank and a free discussion upon a matter of this kind. I think we are now upon both sides quite ready to give each other credit for sincere feeling and honest conviction upon this question, and that we are all doing our best. I know that something has been said about intrigue. I think I need not assure the House that I do not know anything about this intrigue. It is more than two months since I first spoke upon this matter, before, I am glad to say, it became a controversy of any great importance. I can, therefore, say that for myself, at any rate, I have come to this conclusion because I am honestly concerned as to what is the best method of really meeting the great emergency in which the country finds itself.
May I for a moment say what National Service is not. It is almost as important I find to say what it is not as to say what it is. In the first place, it ought not to be confused in any way with Conscription. It really is not the same thing. It may be better or it may be worse. I understood my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) to contend that it is worse. Conscription is limited to compulsory military service, and there is an end of it This is not compulsory military service in that sense. You may say it is impossible and impracticable, but it is really intended to be a method of allowing every man in the country and every woman, too, to serve the country to the best of his or her ability at the present juncture.
I am surprised at the hon. Member being such an opponent of compulsion. We have really come to this. 231 You disapprove of compulsion if it is compelling yourself to do something which you do not want to do, but you are in favour of compulsion if it is compelling someone else to do something he does not want to do. The hon. Member was in favour of compulsory purchase of land in Ireland. I admit it is only property. He was in favour of compelling the Unionists of Ireland to come into line on the question of Home Rule. I was with him. Why should he suddenly turn round and hold up his hands in horror and say this is a dreadful thing. We know, and why do we not Admit it honestly on both sides of the House once and for all, that the party system in this country means that one party is trying to compel the other party to do what that party does not want to do, and that the moment that party comes into power it in turn compels the other party to do what it does not want to do. Law is compulsion. We know it perfectly well. Every member of a State knows perfectly well that he is giving up some liberty when he is a member of that State. He gives up liberty in order to obtain safety. That is the real meaning of citizenship. On the general doctrine of compulsion, I do not think that the question is arguable. Every law must mean compulsion. There are some people who will not be vaccinated, and we have met that. My hon. Friend (Mr. Llewelyn Williams) referred to the Quakers, but that is a special case. A friend of mine, who is a very honoured Member of this House, is one of the most conscientious Quakers I have ever met, but he is doing work at the front, though not in the fighting line.
I know that there are a lot of Quakers fighting. The Quakers are a small body, but I will give the House a case in connection with a big body. I will give an example which came under my own notice. A week before last there were three wealthy young men, each with his motor car, at a seaside place, and all were of military age. Would not anyone in this House like, as far as is possible consistently with his principles, to induce these three young men to realise their re-sponsiblities to the country? It may be difficult to do, but I have never had any doubt about this, that whatever may be said against this measure—and there may be much said, of course—it is at any rate 232 founded upon absolute justice. May I put this to the House? The defence of the country, and we all admit now that this is really a war of defence, imposes upon everybody the obligation of defending his country, and that obligation falls upon every man equally one with the other. I take it the House will agree with that. Will not the House further agree that the obligation of defending one's country falls equally according to a man's capacity to render service? These three young men of military age, men of wealth, are surely equally called upon to do their part, and it is not fair or just that they should be enjoying themselves in England at the present moment while men similarly placed, and indeed much worse placed, are fighting and dying in order to keep them in safety.
Let me say this about National Service. It is not merely or mainly directed to get more soldiers. Let us be frank about that. I agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo that there is a certain maximum beyond which we cannot go; there is a maximum of soldiers beyond which we cannot go. But the real question is, What is the utmost effort we can put out? It is not only men for the Army and Navy that are wanted, not only men for equipment and munitions. These are the two chief categories, but they do not exhaust our problem. There is the whole internal trade of the country. There is the whole export trade, and there is work necessary to fulfil our commitments and our responsibilities to our Allies. We have to keep these points in view. The reason I am in favour of National Service is this, that unless you have some such system you will never get a solution of the real problem—the problem of the adjustment of these five categories of work and men. That is the real problem. It is for the Government to decide this question One speaker after another has said that, and it is really rather a platitude. Nobody else could decide it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, yes, the House!"] How could anyone else decide it?
The hon. Member's idea of the ludicrous is not one which obtains in all circles. I have detailed the five categories of men and work. For my part I think it should be possible—I speak, of course, without the information at the disposal of the Government—but at any rate I should have thought it possible, for 233 the Government to say, "We can adjust these five categories." We may find we cannot maintain an Army of more than 3,000,000 or 3,500,000, and the paradox of Lord Kitchener's Army is this: Its great success has been its failure. You got such large numbers of men that you could not equip them. If now you got suddenly a million additional men, would not that also be your difficulty? The idea of National Service is that when once you adjust the number of your Army and Navy to the equipment and munitions you keep recruiting back, in order that equipment and recruiting may go hand-in-hand together. I do not see that any other system is possible. During the last few months we have taken men on the voluntary system, although we could not deal with them. We took them when they offered, because we feared that, if we did not do so, when we did want them, they would not be forthcoming.
I am not enamoured of compulsion. No one brought up in the school I was brought up in would be enamoured of it, but does any one in this House think I am speaking lightly when I am giving utterance to opinions which differ so much from those I have held in the past? May I put my justification before the House quite frankly? We are not now living in times of peace. This is a time of war. I do not ask whether a policy is in accord with the traditions of the party of which I belong. All I ask is whether it is in the best interests of the country. That is the point upon which I have to be satisfied. I should think we would all submit to that same test. One man says he believes voluntaryism to be in the best interests of the country. Another man considers that National Service is in the best interests of the country. It is really a difference of opinion.
I support some system of this kind because you really cannot get a true adjustment when it is left to personal initiative and personal effort. I suggest that this voluntary effort, of which no one could speak more highly than I do, is not enough. I hope after this we shall no longer hear the suggestion that we who advocate this view think lightly of the great and magnificent response which has been made under the voluntary system by the people of this country. But voluntary effort is not enough. You must superimpose State control upon the splendid voluntary effort which has been made. You cannot hope that each man of his 234 volition will happen by accident to go into that particular department of work which he can do best, and if the State takes this in hand it will render great service by enabling the men themselves to be of the utmost use to the State. I know of my own knowledge that there are many men anxious under the voluntary system to do what they can, but their services have not been utilised in any way. I have heard a great deal about that, and I do not mind saying that I think it is one of the best arguments against National Service. Up till now, at any rate, there has been a tremendous number of volunteers offering, and the Government have been unable to utilise their services. It may be a good argument which I am presenting to hon. Members opposite that if the Government cannot utilise voluntary effort, still less will they be able to make the best use of National Service. That is a point that has to be taken into account.
I realise the importance of what has been said to-day by various speakers who have spoken with authority. It is a pity we cannot discuss this matter upon its merits without, and I will not use an offensive word such as "threats," but without indications of consequences. That makes it rather difficult to discuss a thing on its merits. My hope is that as the question develops we shall take one line, and that is this: whatever the Government decides, with its information, we shall at once assent to it.
It is for the Government to decide this. If we talk about trusting the Government we should trust the decisions of the Government as a whole. You do not trust a man and argue with him afterwards. That at any rate is my understanding of the position. The Government is taking this matter into consideration, and the moment it announces its decision I think we ought to be content to take that decision without asking for reasons. To simply accept the Government decision when it agrees with your views means nothing. The difficulty is to accept the decision of the Government when it differs from your views, and I submit that in time of war we are bound to do that.
The Prime Minister told us yesterday that the matter was under discussion, and that the Government's decision would be announced without undue delay.
I think not, but at any rate I am not talking about discussion before the decision is arrived at. I am talking about our conduct after the decision has been announced, and I say that whatever the Government decide, I am ready to accept it. It is no good talking about loyalty, and trust in the Government, unless you accept its decision without argument. Under these circumstances, I think it has been a good thing to have this interchange of views here. We are all anxious to do what is right for our country, and I believe when the Government comes to a decision, if the line I have indicated is adopted—as I believe it will be, both in this House and in the country generally—then, whatever the decision may be, we shall show we have done our best to serve the State loyally by accepting it.
§ Mr. GEORGE GREENWOOD
This is by no means the first occasion on which this question as between Conscription, or if you choose to call it compulsory service, and voluntary service has been debated in this House. I have listened very patiently, with great interest, and I hope with some education to myself, to very many speeches on the subject, and I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes. I do not often make demands on its time; indeed, until recently, I have been physically incapacitated from doing so, and I promise that my words upon this most important and engrossing subject shall be very few. I suppose we should all be agreed that there is absolutely no sacrifice we should not all be willing to make, and which we ought all to be willing to make, in order to bring this War to a successful conclusion—no sacrifice whatever! But I do think we should find it extremely difficult to win this War with a disunited and a divided nation. When I have spoken to my Constituents on the subject of compulsory service I have always said that in a time of war I have 236 no objection to it as a matter of principle. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith), that every Act of Parliament we pass is an instance of compulsion. It is quite true that in time of peace I should be absolutely opposed to compulsory service. Let me say incidentally, as the name of that great soldier, Lord Roberts, has again been introduced into these Debates, and I think the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division of Kent (Mr. R. McNeill) spoke of him as if he had advocated compulsory sedvice, that I believe I am perfectly right in saying that Lord Roberts—whatever he might do now if he were alive I do not know, therefore I make no particular point about that—never advocated compulsory service. There is a letter in to-night's "Westminster Gazette," one of his last letters, in which he said he had never advocated compulsory service.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The letter says:—Lord Roberts desires me to point out, in reply to your letter of the 11th inst., that he has never advocated compulsory service, but wishes to see universal military training, with voluntary service for Home defence and for service abroad, with a Regular Army for policing the Empire.I do not make any point of that now, because if Lord Roberts were alive it might be true that he would be in favour of compulsory service. There is one argument against compulsion in this terrible time of war which does not weigh with me in the least, namely, the argument that this would introduce militarism, because I think I know the democracy of this country well enough to be able to say that after this War is over they would never tolerate militarism in this country. I do not believe they would. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), in his most eloquent speech, said that if militarism were introduced into this country it would lead to a revolution. I believe it would, but I do not believe there would be any occasion for that revolution, because the opinion of the people of this country would be sufficient to sweep it away if by any possibility militarism were to be set up in this country. Those are not the real arguments against compulsory service.
Speaking as one who so far has taken up a position adverse to compulsory service, the real fact which weighs with me is that we should be in very great danger of doing more harm than good if we introduced compulsory service. What are 237 the dangers we have to fear? We have to fear, in the first instance, a disunited and divided country. We should divide the nation. I fear a revolt in the trade unions, more especially after such a speech as that we heard delivered here by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) this evening—a revolt of the trade unions and a large part of the working classes. Again, you would kindle a flame in Ireland—I believe I am right in saying a most dangerous flame in Ireland —which would rejoice the hearts of our enemies. We have these things to dread. Again, if this agitation be pressed now and forced upon a reluctant Government, we should stand in peril of breaking up the Coalition Government. There are many of us who greatly regretted the necessity for the formation of the Coalition Government. I was one of them. But having now established the Coalition Government, every one of us ought to do everything that in him lies to support the Government of the day. I cannot imagine anything more deplorable in this terrible time of crisis than that there should be a Ministerial crisis also, with the necessity, perhaps, for an election or a new Government. Therefore I, for one, am prepared to give my humble support to the Government.
It is all very well to say that we know better than the Government, but it cannot be denied that they have the knowledge and the information which we have not. It has been said that it is a very unfair thing to say, "Leave this to Lord Kitchener." It is not only unfair but futile to say that Lord Kitchener can come forward as a member of the Government, and give his opinion one way or the other, because he must either resign if he is in a minority or get the Government with him. I fear the introduction of Conscription for the reasons I have given, not on principle, but because I think that it would bring upon us probably greater perils than those we should avoid. If the Government were to come forward, after having given full deliberation to this matter—I believe they are now deliberating upon it—if they were to come forward, not only Lord Kitchener, but the Government, with a united voice and say, "Voluntary effort has come to an end, and in order to end this War, in our opinion, we must have compulsory service," I should give my support to the Government. But I should infinitely regret it, because I believe that when the history of 238 this War comes to be written, this marvellous effort that we have made with our voluntary system, the splendid soldiers we have enlisted, and all that they have done under our voluntary system will be recorded as one of the most magnificent things that was ever done in the history of this country.
§ Mr. GEORGE TERRELL
I share the view uttered by the hon. Member who has just sat down, that it would be a deplorable thing if anything happened which now broke the general unity and the general support we are giving to the Government. We have a Coalition Government. All parties put a considerable amount of faith in and reliance upon it, and I certainly, as one of those who support the Government, though in some respects I am not sure that compulsion is always the best of ways of dealing with the Army, if the Government come forward and state that compulsion is now necessary, I should blindly support them. But it is not only a case of compulsion for the Army. What I have heard is that the scheme which is advocated is all-round compulsion—compulsion in the workshops. There I speak with some knowledge, having had the handling of men for a considerable number of years. I am afraid we should stand the risk of losing rather more than we should gain, because I think the working classes as a whole are doing very well indeed. Of course, in some localities we know that there are slackers. The men have not quite realised the gravity of the present position, and they are not doing their hardest. They are looking very jealously at other forms of cheaper labour and unskilled labour which have been introduced. But taking all things into consideration, the working classes are doing well—in many cases the workers are doing extraordinarily well—and I should hesitate to introduce compulsion into our system of employment in the workshops, because there is a risk of losing more than we should gain.
I do not entirely agree with the charges which the Minister of Munitions has been making against the working men. Taking his speeches, he seems to imply that the working classes as a whole are not doing their best. I do not think it is really his intention to say so, but he rather gives that impression. It is an unfortunate impression to create, because it causes an amount of discontent among the best workers, which certainly is not helpful to the cause we have at heart, which is the 239 production of munitions, and it leads to unrest. He would have been better advised if he had proceeded rather in the direction of encouraging the best workers. We can get far more out of them by encouraging them than by abusing them. What has been done by the issue of badges to War workers has been a step in the right direction. The men regard the badge as a badge of honour. I think the intention was, when these badges were issued, that they should exempt the men from the attentions of the recruiting officer, but the men regard them as a badge of honour, and my experience is that employers have very great difficulty in getting men to work for them at all unless they are in a position to obtain these badges for them. I speak with knowledge of the subject, and I think a good deal could be done to speed up the workers to greater effort. I have suggested in this House and in other places that the issue of the badge to a man is all very well as far as it goes, but you want to discriminate between the different grades and classes of workers. You give a badge to a man who is working 45 hours a week, and you only give a badge to a man who is working 65 hours a week. That is not an encouragement to greater effort and to working longer hours.
What I should like to see, in addition to the badge, is the giving of a distinct bar to a man who, say, for the period between now and the New Year, averaged reasonable hours of work a week. You should give him a distinctive bar in addition to his badge. Then to every man who exceeded that reasonable standard by, say, an extra hour a day, you should give an additional bar, and so on. The men would prize that distinction. The Government, with the greatest ease in the world, might announce that at the termination of the War some permanent decoration would be awarded to the men who earned the greatest number of bars, or who have worked for the greatest number of hours. That would be real encouragement, and I know the men would appreciate it. I put a question to the Minister of Munitions on the subject to-day and he turned the idea down on the ground of expense; but after all, when we are shovelling money out recklessly and anyhow, a little thing of this sort is no expense at all, and my belief is that to encourage the workers in the manner I have indicated would mean a very much greater output. Longer hours would be worked, and con- 240 sequently we should get a greater output from the men than we now obtain. I noted with a certain amount of satisfaction that the Minister of Munitions proposes to do something in the way of medals when the War is over. Medals are very well, but on what basis would they be issued? You want a man to earn a medal, and on the principle which I have suggested, from now until the termination of the War the man would be, through his own effort, constantly building up his right to the permanent reward and distinction which he then receives.
I have broken away from the topic which was the subject of debate—National Service—but I have done so because I fear that what is proposed, universal national service in the Army and in the workshop, as far as the workshops are concerned, will not turn out quite as satisfactorily as some people expect, because I do not think, if you are going to get the best out of the working men, you are going to get it by any form of compulsion. You will get the best out of them by encouraging them, but certainly not by compulsion. I hope, when the Government announce their decision, they will keep the workshops out of their scheme. It is only reasonable to say to any man, whether he is a peer or a pauper, that in these days of stress they have all got to do useful work for the country. If a man has a conscientious objection to fighting in the ranks let him go and work in the workshops, and if he does not like manufacturing munitions of war let him do Red Cross work. There can be nothing in Red Cross work which could be opposed in any way to any conscientious scruples which he can have. But I think a great deal of the objection to compulsory service would be removed if it was made clear that compulsory service was only to be applied to those who are doing no useful work. These are times when we have a right to call on every man for the best of his work. If a man is doing no useful work, and has no useful employment, I certainly think, whether he likes it or not, he should join the Army and serve in that capacity.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
Having listened to practically the whole of this Debate, I feel strongly how inconclusive and futile it must be. I am sure that to any outsider listening to us during the past day or so the one fact which must have been borne in upon him would be that we were all proceeding to argue from different premises, and that while there were 241 many interesting opinions and able arguments expressed, there was no agreement as to the main facts, and there was indeed ignorance as to the main facts which are necessary to form a judgment. I feel very strongly that no debate on such an important subject as Conscription can be of any real service to the nation until we have received from the Government a full statement of their views on the subject. We have, in the course of the Debate, learned that there are many different aspects and standpoints from which this question must be regarded, but we have also learned at every turn the absolute necessity of having an official statement of facts upon the important points involved. We have had views expressed from different parts of the United Kingdom. I desire to say a word or two, not claiming to speak on behalf of Scotland, but in order to express views which to my knowledge are largely held in Scotland. I believe that if we are to decide this question intelligently, we must have regard, not only to the views of the different sections of the community and different portions of the United Kingdom, but also to what is actually taking place in the various districts with regard to recruiting. One of the most important factors in coming to a decision is the response which has been made in various districts to the appeal for recruits. I am sure my colleagues in the House who represent Scottish constituencies will agree with me that the response in Scotland has been indeed phenomenal. I had it on the very highest authority, from one who was closely connected with recruiting in Scotland, only the other day that if Conscription were applied to a number of districts in Scotland at present there would be a very small handful indeed of men of military age who would be found to swell the ranks of the Army. That experience has been borne in upon me in the district which I represent, where there has been a phenomenal response to the appeal for recruits, and not only for recruits but also for munition workers, and where all those who are engaged in that work are giving the very best possible service which they could give to the nation in the important work which they are carrying on. I sincerely hope when the Government make their statement they will tell us not only what the conditions are in England but what they are in Scotland, and what the figures are for Scotland. The last 242 time we had these figures submitted to the House we were informed that the recruiting, both in industrial and agricultural districts in Scotland, had greatly exceeded the figures for any other part of the United Kingdom. That is a fact which we are entitled to consider when we come to deal with this great issue and to decide it.
I should like to say this further. Apart from the figures of the number of recruits in different parts of the United Kingdom we have also got to have laid before us, after careful analysis, the results of the Registration Act. That seems to me to be an element of very serious importance in coming to a final decision in this matter, because until the Government are in a position to tell us, upon the information before them, what is the number of men at present available of military age, after deducting the number of workers who are required for munitions and other work, we are without guidance as to the necessities of the situation. Further, we ought to take seriously into account the views which may be expressed by our military authorities, including the views which were expressed the other day by Lord Kitchener, which struck me as having a very important bearing upon this subject. If it be true that the Germans have almost shot their bolt in Russia, is not that an element of the highest importance entering into the consideration of this problem? If it be true that we have such a vast number of men in this country still being prepared for service abroad, and not yet sent abroad, but all fitted for service, is not that also a very important element in helping us to come to a conclusion as to the need for more men? I further think we are bound to take into account the actual figures of those in this country who are engaged in munition and other work and who may be required to continue the work in which they are engaged, in order that the ordinary commercial undertakings which are essential to the well-being of the population may still proceed and be carried on during time of war.
I regret extremely the attitude which has been taken up by the Press upon this subject. I am thankful that we in Scotland have not suffered, as other parts of the United Kingdom have done, from the strong agitation in the Press in favour of Conscription. I am glad that our Scottish papers have not associated themselves with the campaign in London and in other parts of England, and at any rate that 243 they are prepared, as I believe the vast majority of the people of Scotland are, to accept the advice which may be submitted to them by the Government after the Government has given the most serious consideration to this whole matter. I cannot understand the attitude of hon. Members who inform the House that they are not prepared to trust the Government upon this subject. That view has been given expression to by a number of speakers, but I have not yet heard what alternative these speakers have suggested to the present Government.
§ Mr. MILLAR
If that is the view of hon. Members, if they desire to change the Government at this crisis—
§ Mr. MILLAR
My hon. Friend said another Government. Surely that means a different Government from the present. If that be the case, they are doing a great disservice to the country, and I for one will not be a party to any movement which would, at a moment of great national crisis, seek to disintegrate the counsels of the nation by changing a Government which has been selected as a Coalition Government, representing all elements in the country. I believe that we can trust that Government to come to a very careful and full conclusion upon this whole matter. I think it is very desirable that the country and the Government should realise that this issue is one which can only be decided by the House of Commons after they have been placed in possession of all the information at present in the hands of the Government, and of the Government alone. I doubt very much whether this Debate will have any good result, and I think a great many things have been said which have been most mischievous from the point of view of our Allies and of our enemies. I think we should have awaited the decision of the Government and accepted the Prime Minister's statement in the House the other day that he was going to lay proposals before the House; and I think some considerable disservice has been done to the country. But, if this Debate has any result, I hope it may have this, at any rate, that it may show to the Government the urgent need for submitting their proposals as soon as possible to the House of Com- 244 mons, so that the country may be no longer kept in a state of ferment—that we may have this question decided once and for all, and that it may be decided in such a way that every person, whatever his views may be on the subject of Conscription, may feel that the matter has received the consideration which it deserves, and that a definite conclusion has been arrived at solely with a view to what is the best interest of the country at this particular moment.
I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). I am very glad that that speech was made, as indicating the views of many of the workers of this country. We are bound in any action we take to take into account the splendid and loyal service which is being willingly given in our Army at present by representatives from all the great industries of this country. I am glad to think that the mining industry has given so many men to the Colours. I mention that along with many others. We must recognise that our Army is made up largely of industrial workers, and we ought to recognise the splendid spirit in which they have come forward, both in regard to military and industrial service and to munition work. We ought to take these men into our full confidence. We ought to continue to take from them their willing service and avoid anything which will alienate them and their services to the State at such a moment of great crisis. I sincerely hope that the Government will not allow any time to intervene before laying their proposals on this subject before the House, and that we may then have a Debate of a full and conclusive character.
§ General Sir IVOR HERBERT
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down had some doubt whether the Debate to which I have listened with the greatest attention yesterday and to-day has served any good purpose. I have no doubt at all on that subject I am satisfied that it has served a very useful purpose, if only that it has dissipated once, and I hope for all, that most unfortunate suggestion that a section of this House was acting under the dictatorship or the inspiration of some persons outside to force upon the country special legislation in connection with the Army. I think no Member of this House would suspect me of being concerned in such a conspiracy as that, inasmuch as it 245 has often been my good fortune, in the days before the War, to take part in Debates when this question arose, and to speak to the best of my power in support of the voluntary system. I now heartily support the view that a system of National Service has become necessary. That change of opinion is due to the fact that it has been brought home to me that, unless we have some such system of National Service, it will be a long time before we see the end of the present War, and we cannot forecast what that end may be. A great deal of argument that was used on former occasions when this question was before the House was of a purely academic character. That argument dealt with the condition of things which existed before the War. In this Debate we have had much less of that academic discussion. We have been brought closer to the facts which are present before our eyes. The general consensus of opinion, if I may be permitted to express the impression which has been made upon me by the Debate, has been that if this National Service is necessary it will be adopted. If the Government, after full deliberation, as adumbrated by the Prime Minister, comes to the conclusion that it will be necessary to introduce a measure of compulsory service, I cannot gather from the speeches of those who oppose the idea of such a system that they would oppose the Governnment in that which was its deliberate judgment.
There has been a large and constant demand from a number of speakers for information, because they say, "We are not in a position to judge until we have more information, something of the information which can at present only be in the hands of the Government." That is true to a certain extent, but it is not wholly true, because it is open to every one of us to think for ourselves what is the character of the information which is necessary in order to arrive at a sound judgment, and from our knowledge and from that which we hear on good authority to form the answer which should guide our judgment. I venture to submit a few questions, but I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War (Mr. Tennant) will answer them. I do not expect him to answer them, because I know that to answer them fully would probably be to the detriment of the public service. We who think over this problem cannot but put these questions to ourselves. The first that I put is 246 this, and it is one which has been constantly in my mind since the beginning of the War: Has any estimate been made of the number of New Armies that will be required to prosecute this War to a finish, and over how many years has that calculation been made? Those who remember the occurrences of this time last year will have been impressed with the idea, and with the feeling, that there was in this country no definite calculation on which we were acting, but that we were merely collecting a vast conglomeration of men, wherever we could get them, and waiting for time to develop the ultimate programme for the conduct of the War. Whether that was so or not, I do not know, but it was the impression on the minds of many people at that time. We had an answer to that question, to a certain extent, in the speech which Lord Kitchener made yesterday, in which he spoke of the requirements that will be needed to carry on this War in 1916. Therefore, I think we may assume from this indication in his speech that we are quite safe in that respect, and that the Government have been looking forward, and that the Secretary of State for War has been making the necessary calculations as to what will be required, not only this year, but next year, and possibly even further on than that.
The questions at the present moment which will naturally suggest themselves to us are these: Are all the New Armies that have been formed complete in their full effectiveness? Have these Armies got a second line to make up the losses, and is that second line maintained with its full establishment? Have any of these Armies which have been formed been diverted from their original purpose, and used up in order to find drafts for the Armies already in the field? Are the units of the third line of the Territorial Army fully complete up to their establishment, and capable of furishing trained drafts for the units in the field? These are all questions of vital importance, but I think the House will well understand that I should be the last person in the world to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War to give an answer to them. I have, however, formed some opinion in regard to them, and I should be very happy if my right hon. Friend will allow me to discuss the matter with him, or if any Member of the Government will allow me to discuss the matter with them, in order that I may possibly satisfy some of the doubts that 247 have come into my mind from that which I have seen throughout the country. I am not satisfied that a really satisfactory answer can be given to all these questions. When hon. Gentlemen speak of recruiting having been satisfactory up to the present time, do they know altogether what they mean? An hon. Member has interjected the name of Lord Kitchener. Lord Kitchener did not say, and did not give any indication, that everything was thoroughly satisfactory. Far from it. Here are his words:—We shall require a large addition to the number of recruits joining.That may be taken to mean that in many of the cases which I have quoted there are great gaps which have to be filled up. If that is the case it is a serious matter. We cannot afford at the present time to have any doubts or to have any gambling, if I may use the expression, as to our capabilities of dealing with the present situation. I am perfectly prepared to trust the Government and their military advisers, but this question has been brought before the public, and it is right that it should be discussed in this House, which is the great inquest of the nation, and that it should be discussed without any prejudice being cast upon those who may take part in the Debate as to conspiracy or other nefarious and ulterior motives. Another very important statement which the Secretary of State for War made yesterday was as follows:—The returns of the Registration Act will no doubt give us a basis on which to calculate the resources of the country, and to determine the numbers that will be available for the Army.The returns of the Registration Act! Yes, but how many months did it take after the War had begun before we had the Registration Act? I spoke about registration nearly thirteen months ago. I have spoken again and again in this House on registration, and perhaps some hon. Members may recall the not encouraging tone with which my remarks were received by the Treasury Bench. However, I bear no malice. I am not blaming them, but we do not want this sort of thing to occur again. Now we have this information, which has been gained by an enactment passed after nearly twelve months of war, in order to form, as is said by the Secretary of State for War, "a basis on which to calculate the resources of the country." Surely that calculation should have taken place in the very first days of the War. I do not wish to recriminate. I only wish 248 to point out that it is possible in the circumstances of a great war that these things may be overlooked. And we cannot afford to allow mistakes of this kind to occur. In the opinion of the Secretary of State for War we have now the means on which we can make a sound calculation. By all means let the Secretary of State for War and the Government have ample time to consider that calculation. But then let there be no hesitation in coming to a decision, and let the country know it. Above all, do not let Members of this House, whether they be like some of my hon. and gallant Friends who have spoken to-day straight from foreign service, or like us more unfortunate ones at home, be scoffed at for giving opinions which are based upon military consideration.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), in a speech of great power, to which we all listened with great interest—a speech which was inspired by that strong conviction which is always to be noted in his speeches—seems to have some fear lest any suggestion of a change in our system in any circumstances might lead to what he calls the danger of an industrial revolution. I have no such fear, because I have got a very strong belief in the common-sense of the people and the workers of this country. We were told by the Prime Minister that altogether in round numbers some 3,000,000 men had offered themselves for service since the beginning of the War. That does not mean that we have some 3,000,000 men combatants in arms. Far from it. I will not labour that point. But whether it is 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 men, fully eighty or ninety per cent. of the number are, I venture to say, drawn from the ranks of organised labour in this country, and I ask either my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, or any of his colleagues, what would be the position of organised labour in this country if organised labour were to refuse any Government whatever they might ask in order to send out necessary adequate reinforcements to those men, trade unionists, who are abroad? It would not be an industrial revolution in the sense he means, but it would mean the death of trade unionism, and I, for one, would deeply regret it.
§ General Sir IVOR HERBERT
My hon. Friend talks of civil war. What would be the civil war when the present international War was at an end, if there came back to this country thousands of men 249 impressed with the idea that they had been betrayed by their own fellows? My belief is that the Government have only got to take their courage in their hands, face this question boldly, and come to the country, whatever their decision is, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey said a short time ago, there is no decision as to which there was evidence that it was taken after proper consideration which would not be supported. I must deprecate in the strongest manner the line which has been adopted by a certain section of the Press of attempting to stifle discussion of this question. We all read with deep interest the proceedings at the Trade Union Congress a week ago. I was much struck by what I read of the speech of the President. He reminded his hearers of what it is we were fighting for. We were fighting for liberty, for rights of nations, for great ideals. He would not say a word which might suggest any desire that that fight should not be carried on to a finish. That is true. But there is a conflict going on in this country now besides that great international conflict—a conflict between two ideas. The one idea is that there is a duty inherent in every citizen to give his all if necessary for the sake of his country; and there is another idea which would admit of the same citizen who gets the same benefit being allowed to stand aside, and to say that he was free to give his services or not. I have already put my views on record on the Order Paper of this House, in the form of a Motion, that during the time of this War every man should be required to give his all to the service of the country.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The hon. and gallant Baronet who has just addressed the House expressed in the course of his speech his readiness to abide by the decision of the Government when their decision was given. Many other speakers have said they were in the same position. I do not doubt that they are sincere in saying that, but I am bound to say that the example of the last few days does not indicate any very great readiness to listen to the decision of the Government when it is put before them. The right hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) to-day, for instance, said that we are here to discuss compulsory service. We are here for nothing of the kind. We are here for the purpose of discussing the Report stage of a Vote of Credit for £250,000,000, and the Prime Minister, speaking with all the authority of the Government, yesterday 250 deprecated the discussion at this moment, when the supporters of compulsory military service have initiated in the House yesterday and to-day, and when they profess readiness to abide by the decision of the Government I can only say that the example of these two days gives a very good instance of the sincerity of those professions. It is not to be looked for that those who always believed in voluntary service should be silent while the advocates of compulsory service place their arguments before the House. The discussion having been brought on I think that we are bound to deal with it, though I hope to do so without any acrimony at all, and to argue the position as I find it. The hon. and gallant Baronet put to the Government certain questions of a far-reaching and vital character.
§ General Sir IVOR HERBERT
I put them here for the consideration of everybody. I did not put them to the Government.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
He said that he was going to put questions though he did not expect them to be answered. But I submit that on the answer of those questions must depend in large part the decision of the very question which we are now to decide. The reason of the Prime Minister wishing to avoid a discussion at this moment is that the facts are not before the House at the present time. The right hon. Member opposite said that we have to take into account the whole demand of this country, and we ought to assume that is the number of men we ought to put into the field. I submit that there is a vital point to decide before we come to that question at all. We have not been told by anybody how many men the country ought to put into the field. Supposing the Government had the disposal of every man in the country. We have to maintain our Navy, we have to get munitions, and assuming, if you like, that the Government actually had control of every man in the country and were able to put every man in arms if they chose, there is still a maximum beyond which no wise Government would go in the number of the Army sent to the Continent. I do not know what the maximum would be. Some Members talk about 10,000,000 and others 5,000,000, and we cannot be more definite about it as we do not know the facts of the case.
But the Government must know what is the maximum which they need to send to the Continent under any circumstances 251 whatsoever, and I think the figure could be arrived at within one hundred thousand men without any difficulty by anyone who had any knowledge of the facts of the case, which the Government possess. Without that knowledge it is exceedingly difficult to have a profitable discussion on voluntary as against compulsory service, particularly when we agree that we are only discussing the matter as one of expedience. Some of us might like it, or some of us might not like it, but there is practically no disagreement that, in certain circumstances, the House as a whole would accept compulsory service. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir Thomas Whittaker), who talked of the believers in compulsory service as using the opportunity of the War to push through their particular fad. Not at all. If there is anything in the doctrine of compulsory service, it is in time of war that it may be dealt with; but, in regard to the voluntary principle, I submit that it will wholly justify itself in the present War, and I go further and say that it has justified itself in the present War. Some hon. Members have tried to make out that we must have a change in the voluntary system because it has proved insufficient. I say that it has not shown itself insufficient in any direction, and, in support of that, I can claim the testimony of the Prime Minister; and Lord Kitchener himself, speaking in another place in regard to voluntary service, said the response of the country to the call for recruits to form these Armies has been little short of marvellous. I think that Lord Kitchener has got the men he asked for. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] He has said so, and that is the meaning of what I have quoted.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Lord Kitchener says at the end of his speech:—Although there has been a falling off in recruits, I do not draw from this fact any conclusion unfavourable to the resolution and spirit of the country.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I am going to deal with the falling off in recruits. All the speeches that have been made of late in the country have not been to get troops for the Army, but to get workers for the munition factories, and they have been 252 hesitating whether the men should go into the Army or into the munition factories. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the Minister of Munitions, preaching as he has been up and down the country that the need for men to work in the munition factories is as necessary as it is to send men to the front, that there should have been some falling off in the number of recruits. The whole compaign of two months ago to get recruits has latterly been directed to get men to work at munitions. That is a very simple and obvious explanation of the falling off in recruiting which has taken place. I shall be very much surprised and disappointed if, as a result of Lord Kitchener's speech, there is not a great increase in recruiting in the weeks which are before us. The hon. Member opposite invited me to read the penultimate sentence of Lord Kitchener's speech.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The sentence to which I refer was that in which Lord Kitchener said he had some anxiety, or that he was anxious.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I have not the particular passage to which the hon. Member referred, but I would point out that it is the most important part of Lord Kitchener's business to get recruits, and naturally he is anxious that that part of his work should go on successfully. I see nothing in his words which show that he is dissatisfied with the way in which recruits have come forward, and certainly he expressed no doubt that they will come forward in the future. Lord Kitchener said—I have already referred to the passage—Although there has been a falling off in the number of recruits, I do not draw from this fact any conclusion unfavourable to the resolution and spirit of the country. On the contrary, I think now as I hare always thought, that the manner in which all classes have responded to the call of patriotism is magnificent. I do not wish for one instant to doubt that whatever sacrifice may prove to be necessary to bring this gigantic War to a successful conclusion will be cheerfully undertaken by our people.A nation which is ready to make any sacrifice voluntarily cannot be said to be a nation in which the voluntary system has failed. I claim that the system is "marvellous," to use Lord Kitchener's word, and of a kind of which no expectation was entertained twelve months ago. An hon. Member said that it has not done sufficient. Is that the fault of voluntaryism, 253 or has anything been said to prove that it is the fault of voluntaryism? It is not argued that a voluntary army are worse fighters than a conscript army. The German conscript army has not been overcome by other conscript armies; and does not that show that there are other elements in the problem than merely the question of compulsory or voluntary service? An hon. Member said he wanted to see every man in the country doing service. I know my countrymen pretty well, and I say confidently that I do not know any man who is not ready to place himself at the service of the country for any work which he may be able to do with advantage to the country. The responses that have been given to the appeals are proof enough of that. I appeal to hon. Members who think compulsion is necessary whether I am not stating the simple fact when I say that any man to whom it may be made known that he can render service to the Government will gladly render that service. The public have been right enough. If there has been failure anywhere, and I do not deny that mistakes have been made, it has not been in the readiness of the people to come forward. The mistakes have been mistakes in direction and in guidance and uncertainty as to what will be required, and in changes in the system. Those mistakes have not been due to the 'failure of volunteers to come forward. They have been failures in guidance and governance.
Let me take an instance of which very much has been heard in this Debate. It was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea Town (Sir A. Mond) yesterday, and it was repeated today with great emphasis by the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill). I do not deny that the matter is rather serious. The statement to which I refer was that a whole battalion of skilled engineers from Lancashire had been taken out to India and were there at present, and, although they were willing to come, nobody brought them back. If it is so, I think there has been failure, and I think it was an unfortunate thing, but the Government have power at this moment to bring them back, and there is no difficulty under our present system in doing so. You do not need compulsory service in order to say to those men that they are to come back. That is an instance of the illustrations that have been given, and instances have been produced over and over again in Debate of failures 254 on the part of the Government, and we have been told that this has not been done or that has not been done. Some of those may have been justifiable, and some not, but whatever they were they were no proof of the failure of the voluntary system. Would Conscription or compulsory service have had a different result? On the contrary, it seems to me a most extraordinary position into which the advocates of compulsory service have landed themselves. They say that the Government has shown itself incapable and inefficient, and has not put men where they ought to be put, and has taken them away from work which they ought to be doing. If the Government is really so incapable and inefficient, do you think they will do better with the newer and greater powers with which you propose to arm them?
It seems to me also that there is considerable divergence of opinion as to what is to be meant by compulsion, and the direction in which compulsion is to be used. Is it to be purely military, or is it to be applied to our industrial system? You could, I think, work military compulsion in this country as in other countries. It is a comparative simple problem. You forcibly take an Englishman, train him, and put him in front of an enemy, and I have no doubt that Englishman will fight and bravely. I am not going to say that conscript armies do not fight well and bravely. Of course they do. That is not in dispute between us. Military compulsion is the simplest problem. When you begin to talk of introducing compulsion into the methods of our industrial system on which the whole fabric of our national wealth rests, and on the maintenance of which in great measure depends our success in the War, when you begin to thrust compulsion in there, you are thrusting a bar of iron into the middle of the most delicate machinery in the world, and you may produce results some of which have been referred to to-day by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). I think we may well implore the advocates of compulsory service not to neglect the unknown consequences which follow from meddling with things you very little understand. The hon. and gallant Member (Captain Guest) who spoke yesterday defended himself from the charge of speaking for the Army. I am not going to join in the complaint that military officers on active service are now speaking in the House on military questions, although it is a new precedent. The military officers 255 who spoke here in the old Debates on military subjects were not on active service. The circumstances to-day are, however, so exceptional, and there are so many Members engaged on active service, that I think it would be unreasonable to insist upon the old practice, for which there was a good deal to be said. But those hon. and gallant Members who come back from the front ought to remember that they are not commissioned by the Army to speak on their behalf, and that they really have no right when they are expressing the opinions of those in the Army with whom they are acquainted to speak as if they were the unanimous voice of the British Army.
I have had some experience of this today. Since the Debate yesterday I have been in communication with two men who are just back from the front, one of whom is an officer and the other a private. The private was against compulsion. He is a man of education, a university man. He thought compulsion would be a disastrous thing if it were introduced, and he declared that his friends did not want it. Like some of our speakers, he claimed to speak the voice of the Army. I do not say that he did. The officer wanted compulsion. I had an argument with him, and I ventured to put before him some of the objections I am placing before the House. Very soon, and I thought with great wisdom, he said to me, when I pointed out the danger of industrial dispute, "That is your business." I said, "Yes, that is our business, as politicians." I think that brings us to a point in these arguments which has been a little lost sight of. I should not venture to intrude on the House any opinion on military matters. Soldiers can speak to us with authority about the number of men they want to hold a certain line, and as to the sort of equipment they require, and they can give us valuable information as to how matters are carried on at the front. When they say that they want a thousand men or a hundred thousand men I am not sure that they are best able to tell us how to get them. It would be just as well to leave the matter of getting them to civilians, and in some ways better, because civilians are more intimately acquainted, by the very nature of their lives, with the life and work of the people of this country. Therefore, there should be a distinction drawn between the opinions expressed by soldiers upon purely military 256 matters and the opinions expressed by the same men when they deal with problems like supplies to the Army or the supply of munitions, or the supply of men, since those are in essence not military problems at all, but civil problems to be solved by business methods, and by men who have experience of business life in this country. I agree with the officer with whom I was talking, and I think it is the business of this House, or rather of the Government, to determine the manner in which the men and munitions and all that is required for the Forces at the front shall be provided.
I venture to join in the appeal that has been made by several Members, namely, that the supporters of this change should realise how great disunion they are going to produce in the midst of the country if they press their case as hard as they are doing. They are asking for a gigantic change. The English are a happy-go-lucky people in some ways. We have not the cast iron regulations which prevail in Germany and in the countries of some of our Allies. I do not know whether it makes us less efficient for some purposes, but I do know that this love of individual liberty is deep down in the very life of the people of this country, it is the very marrow of their bones, and any man who interferes with it, whatever the goodness of his purpose, does it at grave risk of causing an immense disturbance. I appeal to hon. Members to reflect whether they might not, even if they got some good by the change, introduce greater evil than any good they could obtain. After all, we know the voluntary system in this country—in our business, in our daily life, in our religion. We know it in all things that we do.
We understand the voluntary system, its weaknesses as well as its strength. The differences that have raged between us in the Debates of the last two nights—have they strengthened the hands of the Government? Have they strengthened us for fighting purposes abroad? Have they strengthened us in the eyes of Germany or in the eyes of our Allies? The very Debates that we have had, the hard things that have been said, the references to the possibilities of industrial strife—will not all these things be referred to, discussed, speculated upon by our enemies, and used to our disadvantage? Moreover, you cannot make the change without a much greater division of opinion and of strength throughout the country. Some of the dangers have been pointed out to-day. 257 Will anyone who heard the speech of the hon. Member for Derby deny the dangers to which he pointed? They might not all be realised, but will anybody deny that they are real dangers which will stand in front of any attempt to change the old-established system of our country? Voluntaryism has not failed. The whole nation have responded to the appeals made to them, and I believe they are ready to respond to any further appeals which may be made by men in authority with the facts before them. No case has been presented to this House for the change, and I say confidently that it will be something little short of madness and folly to take a plunge into the unknown at a moment when a mistake might have fatal consequences.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The fact that speaking here six months ago I expressed the views which I hold on the question under discussion to-day makes it unnecessary for me to detain the House more than a few minutes. It is perfectly obvious that the whole circumstances of this War and the scale on which it has developed are so entirely different from anything of which men of this generation in this country have experience that a great many preconceived notions must go by the board. Since the beginning of the War I have always acted on the principle, which I think is a sound one, that it is the business of every loyal Member of this House to support the system of enlistment which the Government of the day, rightly, as I think, started to use at the beginning of the War. I will be no party to blaming the Government for making use of the voluntary system at the beginning of the War. There have been grave defects no doubt. If I were a whole-hearted believer in the merits of the voluntary system to the exclusion of any merits whatever in any other system I would feel very badly used, because many mistakes which have been blots on the voluntary system are not essential to it. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for War has recently made great efforts to wipe out those blots and to retrieve some of the errors. But, after all, time is very precious, and some errors of that kind are scarcely retrievable. I believe that as time goes on the right hon. Gentleman's efforts to do away with these vices in the working of the system will be more successful still.
The Debate of the last two days has been characterised by one or two glaring omissions. There is no doubt that Lord Kitchener used rather serious language in the House of Lords yesterday as to the recent 258 recruiting returns. It is not the least use blinking that fact. At the same time if it is the case, and it is, that sundry causes, including the direct action of the Minister of Munitions, have led to great increases of wages in many quarters, it follows most directly that if a man, when faced with the alternatives of doing industrial work and enlisting, finds the industrial wages have run up from thirty or forty shillings to three or four pounds a week, it is bound to have a very direct effect on the recruiting returns. I regard as very serious the obligation which this country is incurring towards the men who are fighting its battle at the time-honoured rate of a shilling a day. At the end of the War, and for years after, we shall all feel a load of obligation to these men, which we may have some difficulty in adequately discharging. That is a point which should be borne in mind.
Another and a most striking omission in this Debate was one which arrested my attention while listening to the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). Strongly as he feels as to the misfortune which it would be if Conscription or compulsion were adopted by the Government, I was disappointed not to hear him say that if the Government or Lord Kitchener came to Parliament and stated that they had made every direct effort possible to adhere to the old system out of a belief in it to a certain extent, and out of a wish to avoid any form of disunion, he would not stand in their way. I think the omission on his part was very striking and significant. I still hope that between the extreme views on the one side and on the other the Government will be able to find their viâ media. After all, no underlying principle is at stake. If you once admit that it is the duty of the manhood of the country to defend the country, the rest is merely a matter of ways and means. Assuming the solution which Lord Kitchener promises us shortly is to adhere to the voluntary system, if it were possible for the Government, in addition to doing that, to make use of the registration results, including the pink forms, so as to be able to go, not to men in the mass, but to every individual, and say: "If we had adopted compulsion, which we have not, we think it would be your duty to fight," or, to a second man, "to make munitions," or to a third, "to do something else," I can scarcely imagine that a 259 fraction of 1 per cent. of the able-bodied men in the country would not do as the Government directed them to do.
§ Mr. CURRIE
Such a viâ media may have to be fallen back on. I would convince the believers in the merits of the voluntary system to remember that, whatever happened, the result would be a compromise. Under the voluntary system we have sent millions of men to fight, so that even if a further body of 3,000,000 were raised by compulsion the result would be a compromise, in which those who believe in the merits of the voluntary system had had the first chance and the first call. Therefore I would appeal to those who are more impressed than I am by the merits of that system to remember that we on our part have given them a great deal of support. One hon. Gentleman asked: How can it be said that the voluntary system has been a failure? Nobody says that it has been a failure. Some people may. I do not say so. I do not say it has been a failure down to date. I think that would be unfair, and not necessary to any argument I am advancing. The real question is: not whether the voluntary system was a success last year, but whether it is going to be a success this year, and next year, and perhaps the year after next. That is the real question, and I think it has not been sufficiently borne in mind. The only other point I wish to make is this: I think any man who, in this House or out of it, threatens disunion, rebellion, civil war, and wholesale strife unless he gets his way, is behaving very badly. If any man rises in his place here and says that unless the system in which he happens to believe is adopted, that any other system is bad, and that there will be wholesale disunion, he in advance accuses the industrial masses of this country of being disloyal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] It is obvious. The point does not need to be argued, and I for one decline point-blank to believe the industrial masses would be guilty of such conduct.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. BEALE
I hope that the House will not think I am guilty of intervening unduly if in a few words I strive to express the impression which the Debate of the last few days has left on the mind of a man who has not only listened to this and similar Debates, but who has 260 for at least fifty years been exercising himself with this very question of the citizen's duty to sacrifice himself for his country—a subject I have spoken about and written about. I am not deficient in those fundamental opinions about liberty which formed the subject of the peroration of my hon. Friend the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones). I remember my Hudibras:—For wholesome laws can make us free,By stinting of our liberty.I have continually felt that on this particular subject no man has a right to talk of absolute liberty. I am, perhaps unfortunately, one of the very few Members of this House who can go back to the first initiation—I mean in the last century—of the Volunteers in this country, when we actually apprehended—not without reason—that we were in possible danger of actual invasion. We were satisfied at that time by the argument of our fathers, by those we trusted, believed in, and relied upon. That argument was mainly this: Other countries have shown their necessity by adopting compulsory service; let us do voluntarily that which other countries, for their own preservation, have done under compulsion. That is the spirit in which I joined the movement. I may add that I joined, and I know that many other persons joined, in the hope that the movement would ripen at least into universal military training. Whether it would have gone as far, if it had been properly developed, as universal service, or universal compulsory service, I do not know. Unfortunately the military authorities failed to some extent, as they have in recent years, to understand, rather condemned the movement, and stood in the way of the proper development of the voluntary system. At the same time, I may say, and say it now, that I did look forward to the time when military training should be at least as compulsory as any other branch of education. I should like to see that. That is the frame of mind in which I approach this subject. In listening to this Debate it seems to me that we are talking too much from the present crisis, from the present state of things. In the course of this Debate we have had different causes and different views expressed. There are three different views. There are those people who think that we ought now immediately to revert to something in the nature of compulsion. There are those who think compulsion brings with it such unfortunate consequences 261 that we ought not even to discuss it. There are those who think that we want further information from the Government in order that we may discuss the matter. I do not entirely agree with the last. One hon. Friend said we wanted to know more, that we wanted to know whether it was true when Lord Kitchener indicated that the German attacks in Russia had practically failed. I think it would be a very unfortunate thing if that sort of military question formed the subject of discussion in this House. Then the hon. and gallant Member who spoke from the Front Bench below the Gangway suggested a lot of things which were essential to be known, but he showed himself that he did not wish those questions answered and discussed in this House. I want to draw the distinction; it is not those sort of things we want to know. We do not want to know about military questions when we criticise. They all come to this: Whether we want more men or not; and what we want to discuss here, and the only thing we are competent to discuss here—and that only to a limited extent—is how to get the men. The Government say we must have them. If we cannot get them under a voluntary system, we must have them under a compulsory system. We are all agreed, if it comes to that, that the Government are entitled to that. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] The hon. Gentleman for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill) made what I considered a very good-natured speech, but that question is an open one.
The question we have to discuss is, I think, how these men required should be raised, supposing we must have more men, somehow or other. An hon. Member puts this question: "What do you people who do not advocate immediate Conscription propose to do?" That is exactly the question which troubles me, and which I want to put to the hon. Member as well as to the people who advocate it. The Government must be able to show, if they ask for it, that they can work it. We know one method by which it can be worked—by military dictatorship and martial law. That is not a practical subject of discussion, and what we must know is what means the Government have of putting on the sort of compulsion which they want to put on. A great deal has been said as to the distinction between military compulsion and compulsion in the workshops. I am not so sure that it presents the difficulties the hon. Member for Rushcliffe 262 suggests. It seems to me quite practicable. We could have military compulsion exercised against any man whom we are not satisfied is sufficiently serving the country in the workshops. That does not seem to go the whole way, because that does not allot the workman to the specific things wanted, but it goes quite far enough.
When Labour Members talk of the objection to compulsion I am rather amused, because, in addition to what has been said about their own trade unions and laws, I recollect, as some Members of this House may recollect, a certain Bill which they brought forward about what they called the right to work. I was one of the very few men outside the Labour party who supported that Bill, because it was pointed out by a Labour Member, the late Mr. Summerbell, the Member at that time for Sunderland, that the Bill would mean that every man had got to work. What he demanded was that every man should have an opportunity of working, but that we should be up against the man who tried to be a shirker. The Bill, I admit, was a crude one, but it involved a principle which I at that time thought ought to be considered; and it seems to me that it is a pity the Labour Members do not themselves see how much use their own theories of getting the best work done, and at the same time protect the workman, could be rendered effective if they would give the Government advice and assistance if it comes to the point that we can no longer leave a man to choose for himself in what way he can best serve the country. But we must have some organisation to compel him to work where the country most needs him. I only wish to say these few words to show that men should not be classed as conscriptionists and non-conscriptionists. It is a complicated question. What we all wish is to serve our country. I have regretted that the Government have not said a little more plainly that they fully intend, if necessary, to resort to compulsion. I hope that one outcome of this Debate will be that the Prime Minister will feel assured of unanimity of support in all parts of this House if the unfortunate event occurs that the voluntary system breaks down, and the Government have to call upon every man to serve his country in one capacity or another.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I regret very much the outside influences which have precipitated a debate on this subject on the floor of the House. I regret very much 263 that a gramophone Press has kindled this agitation and has, I think, greatly misrepresented public opinion, both civilian and military opinion. I believe that in the present time of stress and trial this country is passing through the existence of a great newspaper trust of the kind with which we are confronted is a public danger, and I hope that one result of the Debate in this House will be to expose that danger, and that a little later whatever steps are necessary will be taken to protect the public from the improper influence that is at present being exerted in public life. I am reluctant myself to sit silent during a Debate on this subject, because I believe that the subject is one of the most vital importance for the welfare of this country. I believe that the adoption of Conscription would be the ruin of this country, and, therefore, now that the subject has become a burning issue in Parliament, I for my own part could not reconcile it with my conscience to remain silent. I confess I speak with all respect of the opinions of those who differ from me, but I have no sympathy with those Members who end their speeches by saying that we must wait for what Lord Kitchener tells us is necessary. The subject is far too serious to accept the decision of Lord Kitchener or of any other man or group of men. When Lord Kitchener comes to Parliament and says that Conscription is necessary, it is then the duty of this House and of Parliament not to accept that statement as a matter of course, but to subject the whole question to the closest and most searching inquiry and debate. We are forced to enter upon this Debate prematurely. There has been an attempt to take advantage of some of what we hope are the darkest hours of the War to rush the nation into the adoption of Conscription. I am referring to no Members in this House, but I believe that the supporters of this movement for Conscription wish it for ends other than the public good.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The hon. Member interrupts me by saying it is a disgraceful statement, but I really do not mind what the hon. Member thinks. The hon. Member and his friends invited us to debate this question. When I am stating what I believe are well-established facts, the only argument with which I am met is an insulting interruption by the hon. Member. 264 I shall continue to state what I know to be the facts without paying the slightest regard to an attitude of mind like that. I repeat that this agitation for Conscription is in a measure the result of disgraceful influences working for other ends than the public good.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Yes, in a measure due to disgraceful influences working for other than the public good, and taking advantage, as I say, of the time of stress and strife in which the nation finds itself.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I shall state just as much as I think it proper to state on this occasion. I remember the hon. Member opposite said on the floor of this, House, in connection with the same subject, that no citizen in this country had any business to think or to act or to work except as he was directed by the State. I am going, with great respect, to venture to act upon different principles. I am going to refuse to be Prussianised, even by the hon. Member and his friends.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think the hon. Member is getting unnecessarily heated. My interruption was perfectly courteous. The hon. Member made a statement that other things are in view. I have only asked him to state what those things are. Of course he is acting entirely within his own discretion in refusing to do so.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his further interruption. I am quite sure he did not intend anything discourteous, and I am sorry if I conveyed a wrong impression. I do not propose on this occasion to enter into any considerable discussion of the aims and objects of the Harmsworth press. Some of those aims and objects are in course of being revealed, and I think the revelation of those aims and objects and the mere statement of those designs will be sufficient to prevent their successful achievement. We are told that Conscription is necessary in order that we may fulfil our duty in this War. I listened to the hon. Member for 265 Fareham (Colonel Lee), who stated that we were not holding more than one-seventh of the line in France, and he said that it was our duty to hold much more than that. I listened in vain for any reference to the work of the British Fleet, or the operations of our Army in the Gallipoli Peninsula. I listened in vain for any reference to the work of this nation in providing munitions of war for ourselves and for our Allies, or for any reference to the financial help that has been given by this nation. We have to decide to what extent we are able to give further military assistance in France, bearing in mind the necessity of carrying on our own national life and industries, and being able to bear the financial strain involved in this War.
We are rapidly getting to the point when we are becoming slaves of phrases. The phrases "national organisation" and "national mobilisation" loosely used are of no value to us whatever. To talk so easily of "national organisation" and of every man, woman and child doing exactly that form of work which the State orders is to talk in vague phrases that have no meaning whatever when reduced to terms of practical life. The work of the nation is being done, and is being adequately done. Our trade and industries are being carried on, our Army in the field is being recruited in unbelievable numbers, the equipment and the supply of the food of those Armies goes on as the result of the work of the civil population, and we want to interfere as little as possible with the national life which, within certain narrow restrictions, ought to pursue its normal course. When the "Times" and the "Daily Mail," and people like the Bishop of Pretoria—who has had some experience in South Africa—ask that the lives of every man, woman and child should be ordered by the State, they are asking for something which is absolutely impossible. Nor is that request sincerely meant, because you would have to have the population of these Islands doubled before you could carry out that demand. Let us get rid of these vague phrases, and let us face the situation boldly and bravely. Let us limit our demands to what we know we can accomplish. I am not pessimistic, but I confess that I am alarmed at the financial position of this country. It has been said that if our Army had never been raised to its present extensive proportions the Allies generally in France and Europe would have been in a better posi- 266 tion. Certainly it is true that as you increase the Army now, so you decrease the ability of this country to continue indefinitely to stand the financial strain.
I wonder if the House would pardon me if I tried to point out that our own action has reduced some of this financial strain upon Germany. There is a successful blockade of Germany at this moment, and we all desire to prevent any munitions of war and any contraband of war reaching Germany. But what has happened as the result of the blockade which prevents other things reaching Germany, such as luxuries? Germany has adopted a rigid economy, and she finds now that she can support herself in a matter of food and the bare necessities of life. Having been prevented from importing luxuries she has become more economical in consequence, and is now in a stronger financial position for that reason. I do not want to weary the House with any pedantic arguments, but I wish to point out that had Germany been free to import costly articles, which were not necessaries of life or munitions of war, she would have been in a far weaker financial position, because she would have had all those imports to pay for without being able to send out any exports. I submit that that is a consideration based upon a solid foundation that we should do well to remember. I now come back to the argument that I was trying to develop, namely, that it is not possible for us to give unlimited military assistance in France and at the same time to finance the Allied nations, and carry on our own national industries in such a way as to be able to keep up our exports, and to stand the necessarily long and severe financial strain imposed upon us by the War.
We have to decide the limits of our contribution in men. We have to define the limits of our co-operation with our Allies. It is not for the hon. Member for Dorset (Captain Guest), or for the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Hants (Colonel Lee), to come down and speak to us in terms of mileage and to treat us to elaborate statistics of the most overwhelming nature without taking into account these other considerations which I have ventured to place before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for East Northampton (Sir Leo Chiozza Money) rises in his place and treats us to those statistics of which he is a master; the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Amery) does the same thing relating to the male 267 population of this country. One would think as they use these figures that they were giving us statistics of lathes, or of public-houses, or of rifles, and that they are not giving us statistics relating to the men of a free nation. To omit all these human factors and all these other considerations when dealing with the number of men in these Islands is to shut one's eyes to relevant, and indeed to vital, considerations. The case against Conscription has been put with much force, and the case for it has also been put with much sincerity and with much force, but I feel constrained to say that, however strongly the case for Conscription is put, you put arguments for a principle which it is impossible to apply in this country, however great may be said to be the military need.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) wished to draw a distinction between Conscription and National Service. He was not appealing for Conscription; he was appealing for National Service. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, what did his distinction amount to? It amounted to this, that whereas Conscription meant forced military service, National Service meant not only forced military service, but compulsory labour as the Government of the day might direct in addition. That is a demand which the labour organisations in this country, and which the great body of the working classes in this country, would resist to the utmost, and they would be right in resisting it—I should be sorry if they did not resist it—for the demand is at once unjust and unnecessary. The voluntary system has not failed either in the labour world or in the military world. The War, and all the arrangements in connection with the War, have been a triumph of the voluntary system. No other system could have called forth the self-sacrifice, the devotion, and the heroism which this system has called forth. You speak of its crudities and its inequalities. What are they compared with the crudities and the inequalities, and the injustice which must follow a system of Conscription in this country? It has been said in the course of the Debate that skilled workmen are at the front who ought to be here at home, and that Conscription would enable that matter to be remedied. Can it not be remedied to-day? What is there in Conscription which would enable us to remedy it? If 268 the skilled workmen can be traced and brought home under Conscription, they can be traced and brought home to-day. I wonder if it is seriously suggested that men who are at the front, who have had six months' or a year's training, and who are good soldiers, trained now in their new profession of war, should be brought back from the trenches against their will probably, and their places taken by "ignorant slackers"? I think that is the term. The proposal does not appear to me to be a wise one, or one that is going to get us out of any of our difficulties.
I desire with deep sincerity to urge this further consideration in connection with the question of Conscription. There is a great body of men and women in this country, not all of whom and not most of whom belong to the Quaker body, but religious men and women who though they recognise the right of other people to order their lives as they will, yet feel that no circumstances would justify them in compelling others to go and fight for them, and to go and shed blood. It is a religion with them. You are up against final principles. We are all living in a fool's paradise if we think that the great number of our fellow-countrymen who hold these views could be coerced. They could not be coerced. We could not coerce them. The net result of the introduction of Conscription would be a fatal division amongst our people at home. It is no use rushing into this policy, and then relenting too late the fatal consequences that would come from it. We should be up against the conscience of those who could never compel others to bear arms. We should be up against organised labour, which would never consent to what they would deem not only a great injustice but a great crime, and in place of the national effort and the national unity which now exists we should have disunion everywhere. We should have social troubles and strikes, and I think it is not unreasonable to say that we should be in very considerable danger of a social revolution. I am amazed that amidst this background of horrible tragedy newspapers and publicists should be so eager in this time of crisis to try this experiment. In time of peace, after the considered judgment of the nation, it would require years before any system of compulsory service, complicated as it is now by compulsory labour, could be brought into operation. Those who now ask for it appear to think that in the middle of this great War it 269 can be brought into being at a few days' or a few weeks' notice. I believe the attempt would be fraught with disaster. I believe further that it is entirely unnecessary, that the whole agitation has been engineered, that it does not represent any real need, and that it does not represent any real opinion on the part of the majority of the people of this country. I beseech this House to remember all the indications that have reached it of public opinion in this country. I beseech the Government to go to their own representatives, who went as their agents to the Trades Union Congress, and to obtain from them their unbiassed and impartial views upon the resolution, and upon the convictions that were expressed in such a remarkable way at that congress. If they obtain this evidence, if they weigh all these considerations which I have ventured to submit, they will come to the decision that, although in resisting Conscription they may run some danger of some disunion, yet by seeking to introduce Conscription they will run the far greater danger of introducing into our national life far greater discord and disunion. I oppose with all sincerity, and will oppose to the utmost of my resources, both in this House and in the country, a policy which I believe will be attended with irretrievable disaster.
§ Mr. DUKE
I rise to offer a few observations in this Debate, under a profound sense that its initiation was ill-timed, that its results cannot be conclusive, and that the House of Commons will be fortunate if they are not mischievous. Of what has the Debate consisted? For the most part it has consisted of prognostications. No man has a greater regard for his colleagues in the House of Commons, individually and collectively, than I have. But a Member of Parliament is not elected to be a prophet. If he were, all I can say is one-half of those whom we have heard must be mistaken. One sect warned us that, unless steps are taken, as I understand, this week, to enlist people against their will and by some system which has not been provided, there will be military disaster. Another set of prophets warns us that if steps are taken, either this week or this year or next year, to call people to the Colours who had been uncertain whether they will go or not, and if they are to be compelled to go at the call of duty there will be social disaster. I ven- 270 ture to disagree with both of them. But I do not set up as a prophet on that account.
One great advantage of our deliberations in this House is usually that there is a set question, and that there can be a set answer. There is no question, and nobody will know what would have been the answer if there had been a question. The Prime Minister yesterday, I thought, rather deprecated the taking of any action which would throw an apple of discord into the House or into the country. I am entirely at one with the Prime Minister on that. The position is one of very great difficulty for the Prime Minister. For my part, I do not think there is any man in this country whom the House of Commons is bound to have under its more constant consideration than the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman undertook a task from which he would have shrunk if it had not been laid upon him as a public duty, namely that of becoming the Leader by invitation of a Coalition Government. He is loyally carrying out that task. No one can doubt that. I trust that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will recognise that, although there may be here and there in this House discordant notes with regard to the policy which the Cabinet has pursued down to the present time, the country places its trust in the Prime Minister and in the Government, and, as I believe, places its trust in the Government in a very considerable degree, because in this crisis of our affairs, and taking all considerations into account, it has confidence in the Prime Minister. I deplore the suggestion that somewhere there is some intrigue or some cabal. Nous sommes trahis. That is not the language of the House of Commons. There is no English expression which fits in with it, and for my part I shall decline to believe that it is true until I see Parliamentary evidence of it, and if I see Parliamentary evidence of it, then I believe there will appear in this House and in the country men who will show their readiness to punish any man, high or low, who endeavours to break down this Coalition upon which our public credit and, as many of us believe, our public security at the present time depends. With regard to the absence of a question, before we decide aye or no, will we take some new steps to procure recruits, those who are responsible to the country must upon their responsibility state the problem. What is the problem? A great War is going on. This country, as 271 I understand, in addition to its usual Regular, Reserve, and Territorial Forces, has about 2,000,000 men.
I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. I did not notice that he used the words "in addition."
§ Mr. DUKE
Yes, in addition to the usual forces I estimate the number at about 2,000,000 men. I believe there is nobody in this House who is not ready to face the possibility that the time will come when for the purpose of the security and the success of the men now in the fighting line you must have another million men. I face that possibility. If it becomes a certainty, what will be the answer of the country? Can we decide it to-night? Do we help the country to make up its mind to decide it by angry exchanges, sometimes of personal observations, no doubt courteously withdrawn, and sometimes of the disclosure of the direst apprehension as to what is going to happen if one view or the other is taken? I venture to say that this is not the time or the method in which we can deal with the problem, because we have no problem stated. What is the next thing? Have we got a plan stated? Why, the plan ranges from the systematisation of labour to Conscription by military force. No one tables his proposition, so you have no problem formulated, and you have no proposals to meet it. So, again, the old academic discussion, with the old polemics and passionate party controversy, is let loose in a Debate which indeed is not informing to our constituents, who are most concerned in this matter. I venture to say that the position of Members of Parliament to-day is the most difficult and the most responsible in which men have been put, at any rate, for 100 years. I would wait to answer until the question is put. Now we come to what His Majesty's Government have told us. I had the advantage of hearing what the Prime Minister said yesterday, and the advantage of hearing in another place what was said by the Secretary of State for War. They made two consistent statements. To my mind they made it clear that if we have a long extension of this War, in which our present Forces now in the field are brought into constant conflict with the 272 enemy, we shall want a large body of new troops. There is nothing appalling in that prospect. The country is not alarmed by the prospect of anything it has undergone. If a responsible Minister comes down here for a Cabinet which, under his leadership, remains a united Cabinet, and states the problem, and says, "The only solution which I can recommend to Parliament and the country is a resort to some new measure of obtaining recruits," I venture to believe that among the 670 Members of this House there are not ten who will withdraw their support from the Government to whose exertions at this time we owe so much. That is my belief in the matter.
I have not said a word, I hope, to disclose, whether if we had a Division for or against Conscription, how I would vote. We are not in time of peace, and we cannot afford academic discussions. What passes through my mind when I hear some of these discussions is a declaration on one side, "Well, if there is Conscription, there will be industrial war." If there is needless Conscription we shall run needless risks; but, if there is a righteous Conscription, where is the man who will stand up in the hour of his country's need, in the face of his countrymen, and say with regard to the two millions of our fellow-subjects under arms, "We will leave them to their fate, because we will not take the necessary measures to recruit their ranks"? There is courage enough in this country, but it does not take that false and perverted line. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), who exerts, as he himself has declared and, as many of us know by intimate means of knowledge, said truly that he exerts himself day by day and month by month to maintain a loyal unity among that large body of the working classes with whom he has influence—the hon. Member made a speech, which I hope he will read over to-morrow and upon which I hope, because it was made with warmth, as he himself said, he will see that it is necessary that he should place explanations which bring the hon. Member into line with the unanimous resolution of the Trades Union Congress. I cannot believe myself that the hon. Member intended to do other than to conform to what was declared, practically unanimously, at the Trades Union Congress? What was declared? The leaders of organised labour in this country declared their determination to prosecute this just and righteous War in the spirit in which the Prime Minister declared that we ought to prosecute it, 273 with all our resources, and to prosecute it because it is a War upon which not merely common justice but the fate of humanity depends, upon which the triumph over the evil influence of hell is to be gained by the forces of this country, but because it is a War in which our national safety and our national interests are so involved that it is incumbent upon us to redeem to the letter—aye, and even more than to the letter, that pledge so admirably expressed in one of the speeches of the Prime Minister.
That was the declaration of the Trades Union Congress. I venture to believe that the hon. Member for Derby did not depart from that. The hon. Member speaks in this country usually on behalf of the great body of railway servants, a body of men numbering the greater part of a million of organised labour. Does anybody in this House suppose that that million, or 900,000, or whatever their number may be, constituting the organised labour of the railway servants of this country, will stand aloof from their countrymen, or will grudge any sacrifice which the nation requires and which their countrymen are ready to make? I do not think anybody will say that. I have dwelt upon that speech, and I have dwelt upon this phrase in it for a purpose, because excepting that speech I think it is true to say there is not a Member in this House who has contributed to this Debate who has not declared, with regard to the question adumbrated in the speeches to which we have listened and the question underlying them, that if the time of emergency is present and His Majesty's Government states the facts upon which it founds a decision that new means of reinforcing the Army must be arrived at. His Majesty's Government may expect the loyal co-operation of this House. I cannot conceive that His Majesty's Government would desire more. I do believe that nothing could be more lamentable than that there should be a snap decision here upon a question not formulated, upon facts not stated, and that I should either bid His Majesty's Government to introduce compulsory measures or that it should ban those measures and defy His Majesty's Government ever to consider them. That is the mischief of considering this question in vacuo.
We are very much in the position of the blind man who went into the dark room to look for a black hat which was not there. From a Parliamentary point of view I protest against a position of that kind. We are here with grave responsibilities. The 274 Government are here, and we have put them in that position by our common consent and with the common consent of our countrymen, with greater responsibilities, with supreme responsibility. Surely at this stage of the transaction, when we have two million men, when, if rumour speaks truly, they are not all yet ready for the field, His Majesty's Government may have time—a reasonable time, not months, but a reasonable time—to come to its conclusion upon the facts it knows and which the House of Commons does not know, without being harassed and embarrassed by Debate in the House of Commons, which leads to some of the lamentable suggestions we have heard. What I apprehend is that all the prognostications of evil will be published broadcast in Berlin. They will not affect the minds of the electors of this country. The people of this country know their House of Commons, as they know a great many other things which they are not suspected of understanding. These things will not do any harm in this country. There have been speeches here from Members who have lately adopted views which they have expressed with very cogent force, supported by arguments which cannot fail to weigh with their countrymen, and those views will be considered in the country, but I trust that the English working man will go about his tasks in spite of this Debate in the House of Commons with the confidence that he is not going to be forestalled by any rash decision anywhere, and that the Government is not going to consent to have put upon it a determination of this grave question until first of all it has ascertained what is the immediate problem and what are the relevant facts, and then has ascertained what is possible to be done to meet them.
I think something more ought to be said. It is quite true that we have in the field these gallant Armies whom one saw in the making, and of whom one hears without any surprise the encomium which the Field-Marshal commanding at the front has passed upon them, and which is endorsed by Lord Kitchener; but one knows that if the time comes we may have to find considerable numbers of new soldiers. My confidence in the Government extends to this, that I cannot believe that in this period, when the crisis does not take the acute form which is apprehended, when there are men at the front to the great number of which we have heard, and Reserves in this country which will supply 275 what is called the wastage at some period of time, His Majesty's Government will sit still. I supported the proposal for a National Register because I thought, as I said then, that the first element of true decision in this matter was knowledge. His Majesty's Government have it, or will have it soon. You talk of compulsion. There are many other means besides the adoption of the French or the German system of deciding whether our countrymen are ready, as all our countrymen profess to be, to wage this War with all their strength. I have said that if the responsible Government notified to a man, with the authority of the Legislature, that in its view he was a man who was not serving the State and who ought to elect what he would do, there were not many who in the face of their neighbours would declare that they meant to do nothing. There is a stage in this matter which does not involve Conscription, and which does not involve the sending of a man to the front to be shot because he does not want to fight.
The Government at this time under these conditions, when the question of immediate action does not arise, is well able to formulate its scheme and to declare what it thinks necessary by way of precaution and preparation. If you enacted Conscription this week I do not know when you would get your first soldiers at the front; but if the Government knows that behind a united Cabinet, loyal as this Cabinet will be to its chief, stands a united House of Commons, united at any rate to the extent which makes individual eccentricity negligible, and behind that united House of Commons a united country, united labour pledged to the resolution of the representatives of the organised trades of this country, the English nation to-day as it has been in the past will prove invincible. It will not stint its resources. It will not withdraw from its international pledges. It will sustain those upon whom it has placed a tremendous and terrible responsibility. It will expect to have any decision that is taken supported by a declaration of necessity endorsed by the Government on whose responsibility it is made, and I believe it will expect that before the day of emergency arises the Government shall take whatever steps are required by reasonable precaution, steps which would commit the community to no action one 276 way or the other on this vexed question, and which would make it master of its own fate, and if the Government keeps itself in touch with organised labour, retains behind it this united House of Commons and this united country, and in the meantime takes reasonable precautions and makes the reasonable provision which the Government ought to make in a crisis of this kind, I believe it will have done its duty, and that the country which put that burden upon it will not shrink from the response it ought to make.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The right hon. Gentleman has said that a great responsibility rests upon the Members of this House. At the same time all through his speech he argued that we just have to loyally accept whatever the Government at any particular time may suggest, and in the meantime we should not discuss this question. If that be the case, there is no responsibility on this House. This House might just as well not exist under the dictatorship of the Cabinet, and might as well be shut up. As I conceive the present duty of Members, it is as far as in them lies, and with what knowledge they have of the conditions existing in the country, to express their views as to the likelihood of the success of the proposal which has been brought before the country. The hon. Member (Mr. Amery), in the very remarkable speech he made yesterday, said that on the fatal afternoon of 3rd August, 1914, some hon. Members had spoken with more courage perhaps than prudence. I spoke on that occasion. But since then I have taken this line, that I support every proposal made by the Government for the defence of the realm—everything necessary for military requirements. I should oppose both in this House and, if it were not too late, outside the House, any proposal to enforce Conscription on this country. My opposition to this proposal has been strengthened by the speeches which have been made in its support, and in particular by the speeches which were made yesterday by military Members of this House. They recognise, and wisely recognise, that the only way they can get the people to consider this proposal is to suggest that imminent danger exists to our Forces in the field. It is necessary, therefore, I consider, that this statement should be subjected to some criticism. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duke) said we should not make prognostications. I do not want to make prognostications, but as a plain lay Member of the House to 277 deal with a few facts which were brought forward by these soldiers. Let me say at the outset that it is very hard indeed for any Member to criticise the statements made by a soldier in this House. We are all full of sympathy with these men, who come from what one might call the very antechamber of death, and come here making proposals which they think are necessary for the rescue of their comrades, whom they have left in the trenches. Though we have that sympathy, and I feel it very honestly myself, I think at the same time we must criticise their views. The hon. and gallant Member for East Dorset (Captain Guest) bases his demand for Conscription on an urgent need, and in particular on the fact that the Russian armies have been forced to retreat. He went on to say that not for eight months could the Russian armies again take the offensive. Obviously, if we had Conscription to-morrow, we could not get a conscript into the field within eight months, nor within eighteen months. So that if the need is the urgent need of the moment, Conscription will not meet it, considering that it would take a year or eighteen months, if we had Conscription to-morrow, before we could get a conscript soldier into the trenches. If the millions of soldiers Russia is calling up will be able to take the offensive in eight months' time, then the need as presented to-day will no longer exist.
If a great crisis is upon our Armies in the field at this very moment, nothing more disastrous could be done than to raise at this time an issue that will disunite the country. If this crisis exists, and I do not believe for a moment that it does, what we need to do at the moment is to keep our nerve, and not to get excited and panic-stricken. That is the very worst thing which we could do, and yet the only hope of carrying Conscription at this moment is by raising a panic cry in the Press and in the country. That is what has been done in this House. The speeches which have been made, especially by these hon. and gallant Members, have confirmed me in my view that the introduction of this Conscription propaganda, for that is what it is at this moment, would be most disastrous to our Forces in the field. We have a right to do everything that may be necessary for the defence of the country. Let us, then, consider whether this danger exists. That is determined by the fact whether the men in the trenches in France can keep their lines intact; whether the 278 French trenches can be held. The suggestion of urgency is determined by that. I have the greatest respect for these gallant Members who speak in this House, but I have a greater respect for the views expressed by Lord Kitchener, and we know that yesterday he made the following statement:—The French trenches along the entire front have been developed and strengthened, and they now everywhere present a network of almost impregnable fortifications. Of this I have been able to satisfy myself during a visit which I was lately able to pay to our Allies at the invitation of General Joffre.If that is the situation in France, I say that the panic danger on which the whole agitation for Conscription is based does not exist, according to the views of Lord Kitchener. Therefore we who oppose Conscription on the facts before us cannot be said to be doing anything to endanger the liberties of this country. The remarkable fact in all the speeches that have been made by these Gentlemen is that no reference whatever was made to the work of the British Navy. To my mind so long as the British Navy is on the seas, with its absolutely supreme power, as it is to-day, there is no danger to the liberties of this country. There is no danger of invasion. If we are in danger of invasion, and if by force of arms our liberties are likely to be taken from us, then every man who values liberty will rise and come forward as a soldier.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Yes, voluntarily. Let us see what is the implication in the statement made by an hon. Member opposite. He said, "Would any man dare to go on a platform in this country and say that there are 2,000,000 of our fellow countrymen in danger in the field and not advocate Conscription?" I say that if you went on a platform in this country to-day and said that 2,000,000 of your countrymen were in imminent danger of death because more men would not come forward, those men would come forward at once. The implication in the hon. Member's statement is that the people of this country do not care whether their countrymen die or not, and have to be forced to go out to save them. I believe that if recruits do not come forward in as large numbers as is desirable, it is largely because you conceal facts, and because you will not let people know that great danger exists, if it does exist. I will give an example. I am told in letters which I have received from friends that the whole of Australia 279 is virtually in a flame, and men are pouring in, and the reason is that they believe that their fellow countrymen in Gallipoli have been set a terrible task, and that it is necessary for them to go out and stand by their side. The same thing would happen in this country if you presented the case to the people in the proper way. It is happening to-day. I was in Scotland lately, and a man of great knowledge in the Highlands told me that in some of the Highland parishes 97 per cent. of the men of military age had enlisted, and that is because of the news of the terrible casualties in the Scottish regiments which contain men who come from these districts. Therefore, I believe that the methods of voluntary enlistment have not been entirely perfected. Greater knowledge of the position of affairs is desired.
I do not agree that even if you cannot get sufficient recruits under the present system that Conscription is the only alternative. I believe that one of the reasons why men are not coming forward, young unmarried men, is a material reason. It is because they do not like to go and leave their dependants to the tender mercies of the pensions officer. I made a statement in the Press the other day in regard to this matter, and I have received letters from all over the country. An old man writes me to say that he has seven sons in the Army and the Navy, and he relates his experience. This old man is a cripple, and he has had to walk four miles to go before the Pensions Committee, which consisted of one man. He tells of the absolutely degrading questions that were asked by the pensions officer. Recently, in "The Star" newspaper, for weeks there were letters detailing these degrading examinations by the pensions officers. Therefore, before the voluntary system is exhausted you should take away every material bar in the way of a man enlisting. There is one way, and it is a proper way to get more soldiers, and that is to pay the private more than 1s. or 1s. 2d. a day, or whatever the amount may be. We talk about conscripting an army of men. I think that the first thing we need to do is to conscript wealth. I would reduce every man in this country, if necessary, down to the wage of the soldier, and I would pay the soldier an amount which would enable him to go to the Front and feel that his dependants are not left to the tender mercies of the pensions officer. I do not say that there is any greater 280 patriotism in the enlistment of the Colonial soldiers than in the enlistment of our own soldiers, but I have never been able to understand why an Australian, a Canadian, or a New Zealand private should get 6s. per day and a non-commissioned officer 10s. per day, while the British soldier should only get 1s. 2d. per day. I cannot understand why a man who is doing military work in the factory here should get a higher wage than the man who is doing military work in the trenches. Or, to put it the other way, I do not see why the man in the trenches should get a less wage than the man who is working in the munition factory. But I believe that if you raise the pay of a private it would enable men to enlist who hold back today for a reason which we can well understand: that they do not wish to leave their dependants to poverty or to examination for the precarious dole given through the Pensions Committee. Most emphatically I declare my opinion that the introduction of this Conscription movement at the present time is likely to be fraught with disaster.
Many people seem to forget what is the chief reason why so many men have joined the Colours from the working classes. It is because they were told that this is a War against militarism, a War against a system which they loathed, a War against Prussianism. The day you introduce Conscription into this country the mass of the people will say: "We have Prussianism here; we have militarism here; we have no further concern in this War, we have been sold." And they are trying to force this system in here in the same way as it was brought in in other countries, by appealing to the people's fears. The German people no more desire to be Prussianised or militarised than any other people. The present Minister of Munitions told us virtually that this was so in 1908, when he used these words:—You can understand how reasonable are Germany's fears. If you were placed as Germany is placed with Russia on one side and France on the other as enemies in the event of a European war, would not you arm, would not you build up? You would.That was the appeal made by the Prussians to the German people. "You must be militarised. You must accept the military system because other nations on your borders will try to do the same thing." That is the meaning of all those speeches and appeals to cowardice, calling on people to surrender their liberty, because of danger. I know well from personal experience that the people are united to- 281 day, and if you introduce this system they will no longer be united, and the men today who are enthusiastic for this War will be against this War as the only way of preventing Conscription.
I have no intention of following the Debate which has taken place in reference to Conscription. I regret greatly that so much time has been devoted to the consideration of this question. After all, what we are considering is the voting of a credit of £250,000,000. Those who have desired to advocate Conscription have done themselves an injury by bringing the matter forward at the present time. I think that what we should consider to-day is: how is the money being spent? Are we getting full value for the money, are the Departments spending it exercising proper supervision over its expenditure? If the House had devoted its time to the consideration of that aspect of the question it would, in my opinion, have been occupied with a very much more profitable discussion than we have had during the last two days. I want to say quite frankly that I do not think that the country is getting full value for the money which is being voted and spent. Several times I have raised in this House the question of the expenditure by different Departments. Since then we have all been scattered about different parts of the country, and from one quarter of the country to another we have heard constant complaints of the gross waste of public money which is taking place. Everywhere that huts have been built for soldiers I have heard of complaints about waste of timber, nails and other things. In many districts where these huts were built, and where there had been a decent standard of wage, there was an increase of wages. The standard wage was 8½d. an hour, and the moment hut building began there was an increase. Boys were employed to carry the workmen's bags, and were paid 6d. an hour. I think that is great waste; but the greatest complaints I heard were as to the waste of timber and other things in connection with the building of huts. From one quarter to another there has been nothing but complaint of waste of money. I am not quite sure that the suggestion which I made at the beginning of the War is not one by which this waste of money might have been avoided. We are carrying on this War with various Departments, each represented by a Minister who sits in this House, and that Minister is expected to 282 do all the work which passes through his Department—though in many cases it is ten times as great as it was before the War—in precisely the same manner as if we were at peace. What could you have done at the Board of Trade? You could have had five or six committees watching the expenditure carefully, and similarly in connection with the Office of Works. You could have had Committees to watch the War Office expenditure, and, until something of that kind is done, you will continue to have this great waste of public money.
Apart from this waste of money, what you have to ask is whether the country is getting full value for the money which is spent. So far as Scotland is concerned many efforts have been made by the Scottish people to tender for things required during the War. In the early stages of the War I had several letters from people complaining that they were compelled to go to Woolwich in order to see the samples of the things required. In many cases they got no response to their letters, and in some cases they were asked to tender for certain things by a given date, and were informed that they must apply to Woolwich for their specifications. In many cases those specifications came on the day when those tenders had to be put in. That was not fair, and I pressed upon the House, at a very early stage of the War, that there should be places appointed in different centres all over the country where samples could be seen of the things required by the War Office, so that every district would then have an opportunity of tendering for the articles required. That was a very simple business proposition, which could easily have been accomplished by anybody who knew anything about business. It could have been done easily, but it has never been done by the War Office. The last time I spoke on this question, one of the biggest firms in Scotland had tendered for certain things, and they were referred to Woolwich in each case; they always had to come to Woolwich, all the way from Edinburgh, to see a sample of the article required.
After strong pressure, and twelve months after the suggestion was made, the War Office appointed a place in Glasgow where samples could be seen. First of all, the samples were sent to the Chamber of Commerce, but they did not send any person to supervise them, and the result was things were in chaos. A little later, instructions were given that the Labour Ex- 283 change should have charge of the samples. Would you believe it, that one room, twelve feet by fourteen feet, contains the whole of the samples on which Scotland has an opportunity of tendering? It is too absurd. I wonder whether the House here realises that the output per man in Scotland is greater than in any country in the world because there is a larger proportion of machinery used in Scotland than anywhere else, and if there is any one country which is capable of tendering for the goods required it is Scotland. Yet you have this wonderful room of twelve feet by fourteen feet which contains the whole of the samples on which Scotland has to tender. The morning I went there they had inquiries from four separate firms, some in Glasgow and some in Edinburgh. They wanted to see a sample of a tin which was required for munitions, but there was not a tin there. Why was not that sent? Another inquiry was for a tin lamp which was specially asked for and no sample was sent. Why was it not, and was it expected that the firm was to go to Woolwich to get a sample of a tin lamp? It is really absurd. The whole thing could very simply have been dealt with, and I say as a business man that the country is absolutely disgusted with the way in which the War Office has carried on the expenditure of money in this great crisis. I know of men who travelled from Inverness to London in order that they might do something and find out what kind of munitions they could make, and they were told they were of no use. I know of a first-class firm which makes the highest class of drills, and a firm which has been successfully competing against the Germans in that respect, and some of whose biggest customers had been in Berlin. They did everything they could, and asked what was wanted in any form and they would make it, and though they were busy with other stuff they would stop that. They wanted to do some service to the country, but the War Office had no use for them. I say that that is a perfect scandal, and if a Vote were to come before this House, if the political consequences were not such as they are, I would vote against them deliberately for the way in which they have managed the War from purely a commercial point of view.
Take another case. A firm wrote to me a very serious complaint about being compelled to go to Woolwich. After the Department had been established in Glasgow, 284 each time they were asked to tender they, of course, went there to see the things required; but in no single instance did they find a sample of anything for which they were asked to tender. I say it is an absolute scandal that you should treat people of intelligence and who were willing to render service to the country in that way, and for the War Office to decline to listen to suggestions which have come from reasonable and responsible men who were anxious to have some opportunity of rendering service to the country. I have brought this matter up for the past twelve months, and the position is very little better to-day. I say deliberately, if there was the opportunity of casting a vote just now which would have the effect of wrecking the War Office as it stands, I would vote for it, and for anything which would stop the disgraceful way in which the War Office has carried through the commercial side of this War, in which so many lives have been at stake in the country.
§ Mr. KING
I think we are all very much indebted to the hon. Member who has just spoken in that he has brought the discussion upon this Vote of Credit back to practical issues. Personally, I am extremely glad, having read all yesterday's Debate, and having listened to all to-day's, to feel that there are Members who are looking at the question not merely from the point of view of what the Government after all will have to decide in the first instance, but as to what each man in his own sphere and in his own experience can bring towards helping the country at the present time. There are several matters that have been brought before me and which I am sorry have not been raised, though some of them have been rightly referred to in connection with this Vote. One to which I must draw attention, and on which I feel very strongly, is the lack of real information which we are given by the Government. The ignorance, which I have found amongst intelligent men who read their papers in my Constituency, of the facts—economic, political, and military—which are all hidden from the people at present, is to my mind, absolutely deplorable. The hon. Member for Fareham (Colonel Lee) made a great point of this, using these words:—It has been the deliberate policy of the Government to prevent the country knowing the real truth of the situation.I repeat the words because I believe they are absolutely true. I appeal to the Government to consider whether they will not 285 tell us a little more than they have done in the past, and allow the Press to know a little more and to say a little more, with a little more fairness, a little more fullness, and a little more impartiality. I have had brought to my notice a number of cases of the unfairness and absurdity of the Press Bureau. The difficulties under which the Press has to go on are lamentable. They would be ludicrous were it not that they result in the country's not realising the seriousness of the position. I will give one or two instances. Most people think that the "Times" is a well-informed paper. Certainly it gets from the Government a great deal of favour which it does not deserve. The day before Warsaw fell the "Times" made this statement:—There is an even chance of saving the City. Probably Warsaw will be saved.There are a number of other instances in connection with this paper's news from Russia; and the Government assists it in deliberately misleading the public. It is noteworthy that the one paper which the Government have prosecuted recently is the "Labour Leader." I do not agree altogether with it, but I do say that the "Labour Leader" has imparted to the country knowledge which has been most desirable. A great paper like the "Manchester Guardian" quotes from the "Labour Leader." A great financial paper like the "Economist" takes its information from the "Labour Leader." A great Liberal organ—the greatest Liberal critical organ in the country—the "Nation," quotes from the "Labour Leader." The "Labour Leader" has for weeks past told us what is the real position in Russia. It is the only paper which has consistently told us the truth about Russia, and that is the paper which the Government tries to suppress. All I can say is that if the Government want to destroy my confidence in their statesmanship, in their understanding of the people, in their knowledge of how to carry on with dignity and success the affairs of a great and enlightened people at a time like the present, they had better have a few more prosecutions and follies like the attack on the "Labour Leader."
I will quote another instance showing the gross partiality and unfairness of which the Press Bureau and, I suppose, the military and Foreign Office authorities are guilty. The story can be read in the "Daily News" of to-day. For many months past there have been rumours of great disasters to the munition factories 286 of Russia. It was only on Monday last that the story was given in anything like detail and circumstantial accuracy by one of the papers. In one of the papers of the Harmsworth press, called "The Great War," this account appeared. On the following day, Tuesday, the "Daily News," which held this information for ten months—since November, when the explosion and destruction of this armament factory really took place—the information had been kept back by the Press Bureau—asked permission to publish it. Leave was refused. On Tuesday afternoon the "Star" applied for permission to publish the facts that had already appeared on the Monday, and it was refused. Yesterday the "Evening News" published it again. The "Star" was again refused permission by the Censor to publish the story. Only this morning is the story told in the "Daily News." Here you have a fact of the greatest importance. A thing happened ten months ago, and the knowledge of it must with absolute certainty have been known to the Germans eight months ago—perhaps, indeed, the day after it occurred—and when it is allowed to be published in the English Press the Harmsworth papers get several days start of the rest with it. I say that is a scandal. It is disgraceful. It is very significant, and not at all a credit to the Government, that allows such things to go on. I have previously given facts like this to the House of the injustice and gross incapacity of those concerned at the War Office.
I will give another case, as I see the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gulland) on the Front Bench opposite, to whom I have previously complained about this matter. I am in the habit of receiving from neutral countries printed matter and books. I have lately had two communications asking me to receive and read books that had been sent from Switzerland. Both of these parcels—one contained several numbers of magazines—have been stopped. I have not received them. On application to the censorship at the War Office they declared that they had not stopped them. I have to-day seen a certain gentleman who came to me in the Lobby and said that he had at last received similar parcels that he expected after very considerable delay. There, again, you have an absolute stoppage of information which could not possibly help the Government. To my mind it is important 287 that those of us who take an interest in foreign politics should have an opportunity of knowing what is the feeling and what is the information which is given through neutral countries. Yet we are stopped, we are suspected, we are hampered in every possible way, and then we are told that such things have not occurred. If anything could make me feel that the Government is not carrying on this War with dignity and propriety it is the way it treats its supporters and friends and Members of Parliament, and, above all, the way in which it treats the Press in favouring one set of newspapers and hampering, prosecuting, and hindering others simply because they give information which for some reason or another—inconceivable to me—the Government do not want the country to know.
I want to refer to another matter of even greater importance in my view, and that is to the fact that the Government give us no information here upon what I may call the statesmanship and strategy of the War. The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), yesterday, in a speech which, to my mind, was one of the most striking speeches which have been delivered in the course of these two days, used these words:—We know that there has been colossal blundering with regard to the Dardanelles.And then he went on:—I wonder if anyone has been cashiered for those mistakes, which cost us so many thousands of lives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1916, col. 65.]When the First Lord of the Admiralty immediately sprang to his feet as soon as the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy sat down, I did hope and expect that some word at least might be offered in justification and defence of the Government to so grave and serious a charge. Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual airy ease and grace, gave us a few facts about provisions made for the defence of London against aircraft; but as regards the far more important questions of the blunders of statesmanship and strategy that are being raised in this House, Ministers do not think that right hon. Members and hon. Members who raise them are worth any consideration or reply. In spite of this discouraging experience which my right hon. Friend had yesterday, I intend to point out to the Government a fact which, to my mind, explains largely, if not entirely, the whole of this Conscription dis- 288 cussion that we have had and the fact is. this: If you study military history—take any war you like between great nations, wars covering a large area and a considerable period of time—the issue does not depend only upon men and material of war; it depends as much, and even more, upon statesmanship and strategy. Now statesmanship in the Dardanelles, we have had none of it. Strategy, as far as I can understand, is a thing that the Government either does not know anything about or does not care anything about, and if I tell them what I candidly think about the whole of the Conscriptionist business, it is this: That if we keep up our men as we have them now, and if we keep up our supply of the material munitions of war, and increase them for our own Armies and for our Allies, we shall win if we have the right statesmanship and the right strategy. But without the right statesmanship and the right strategy it is impossible that any amount of men that we can raise, any number of munitions we can supply, will gain us the victory which we all desire. I say that this is the teaching of history, and not only the teaching of history but the teaching of common sense to anyone who will look at the facts of war that stare you in the face, and I propose to give to the hon. Members who are on the Treasury Bench two instances from history which I think are worth consideration at the present time. Within the last 150 years there have been only two cases so far as I know—that is, cases on the grand, large scale—of newly-raised armies which have been victorious in great wars.
The first instance is that of the French, who in 1792–3 very quickly put 750,000 men into the field, and after a year of heavy reverses, won a magnificent victory all over Europe. How did they do it? It was not only the putting of the men into the field, but they raised up a tradition of generalship which was the greatest in modern times. It is almost inconceivable to think of, but during that war—in three years—the French Government cashiered 600 generals, one after another, on the slightest show of incapacity, and others were appointed in their place. I would like to know how many we have cashiered, and I would like to contrast their mistakes with the mistakes for which the French generals were cashiered, and for which our generals ought to be sent into retirement. It was due to this policy of cashiering the generals that the war was successful, 289 because at once it led to the promotion of officers who were successful. This policy brought forth Napoleon. It was not influence or high position which brought Napoleon to the front as a great officer. Murat, Massena, Hoche, Ney, Soult, were men absolutely unknown and without any advantage except their capacity. If this War is going to be won by a military victory of our forces, it will not be won by the old fossils in command now. I do not like to speak disrespectfully of these men, who have, of course, done great service to the country. They are men of high personal integrity and honour, but, believe me, what I say now has been said for many months by all accepted critics of military affairs. That is what the average man who takes an intelligent view abroad—especially in the United States and neutral countries—has said again and again, and it is now commonplace, certainly in America, that Great Britain will not win with our Armies on land until it cashiers its present generals and starts with a new lot.
I have given one instance to prove my thesis that it requires statesmanship and strategy to win a great war. The other case I will cite is even more remarkable. I refer to the United States in 1861. In that year the United States had to raise very rapidly a citizen army against the Confederate States. It had, as we have now, the command of the sea, but at first it suffered terrible land reverses, and for two years its fortunes were absolutely at the lowest ebb on land. What was the result? It was not until two years after the outbreak of war in April, 1861, that Grant won his first substantial victory, and it was two years later that Grant forced Lee to capitulate. The success from 1861 to 1865 was due to great generalship, and Abraham Lincoln, amongst his other statesmanlike qualities, held that if his armies were to be successful in the field he must at once cashier any officer who failed. One defect of an officer and he had to be cashiered. That was the plan which Abraham Lincoln went on, and consequently great officers like McClelland, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker, all popular and influential men, were cashiered. And what is the result? When we think of that great war there are two outstanding names of great generals, great victorious generals, that live not only in the minds of every citizen of the United States but practically in the heart and mind of every educated man all over 290 the world, the names of Grant and of Sherman. Grant and Sherman were young and inexperienced men at the beginning of the war, absolutely unknown. They were both men under or just about the age of thirty. Yet these men were advanced because of their capacity and ability; and it is absolutely notorious to all men who study military history that the campaigns of Grant and Sherman in the great American Civil War are typical and masterly, and should be studied by all strategists at the present time.
I want to say very clearly and strongly to the Government that unless they have courage, wisdom, and patriotism—it requires all—to make changes, radical changes, in the personnel of our headquarters staff both in France and the Dardanelles we shall not see the victories to which our brave men are entitled, and which our Armies deserve. It is, of course, very difficult and very trying to have to speak this plainly, with a strong note of criticism and a strong feeling of dissatisfaction and with a considerable amount of distrust, to Ministers to whom this country and this House have in many respects deservedly given so absolutely whole-hearted a measure of support, but I say this here to-night, not because I speak on my own authority, but because I know that there are many men of far greater military authority than, of course, I can claim—I claim none whatever—men of the highest reputation, knowledge and judgment who are saying these things to-day. There are men who realise that this War is not going to be won by masses of men nor mountains of munitions unless we have at the same time the statesmanship and the strategy which are the absolutely necessary concomitants of those things in a great War like that in which we are now engaged. I am sorry that I have not had an opportunity of making these remarks when some member of the War Office was present. I do not know whether they would have received any more attention than the repeated protests which have been made to my knowledge two or three times before by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Price) in respect of those possibilities which the Scottish people have of providing the munitions of war. I do not hesitate to say that if anyone like myself who has studied earnestly and seriously the issues of this War comes to a conclusion such as I have come, not within the last few hours, because I came to the same 291 conclusion more than two months ago, and if after consultation with the best authorities I find my views confirmed and strengthened I should consider I was lacking in my duty as a Member of Parliament if I did not give expression to them here. I conclude, therefore, by saying that in my opinion all this talk about Conscription is absurd and ill-timed and in any event useless until this Government adds to its call for men and munitions the determination to use statesmanship and wisdom and to avail itself of the best military generalship which may be found. Until they do that we shall not achieve the success which our Armies deserve and for which we are all praying.
§ Question put, and agreed to.