§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I rise in order to ask one or two questions upon a matter of domestic interest. Before I do so, I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he can add anything to the statement which he authorised the Home Secretary to make some months ago, that a very early opportunity would be provided for a full statement to be made with regard to our operations in the Dardanelles. At that time it was generally understood that an early statement would be made. I am sure I have no desire, and I do not believe any other hon. Members desire, to unduly press the Government with regard to such an important and delicate matter, but it is only fair to say that the public have not been treated too well with regard to this very important matter. We have never had one word of explanation or justification from the Front Bench with regard to that very important expedition, and all the information the public have had up to the present time has been the dispatches—undoubtedly important dispatches—from Sir Ian Hamilton, and the long list of casualties which have been furnished. I do not wish to ask the Government any questions which might be supposed to suggest that they should give any information which would be of any advantage to the enemy. Public interest is a very important term in these days, but public interest might sometimes demand that the people interested in sending their sons and brothers and members of their family to the Dardanelles should be supplied as often and as completely as possible with all the information which could be given consistent with the public interest. I would suggest to the Prime Minister that he is the one Minister, after all, to whom the public pay attention on these delicate subjects. We have had several statements from other members of the Government, most of them of a very optimistic character, which have been truly welcome to all parties, but owing to the great lack of information with regard 472 to this matter, the strict censorship which prevails, and the fact that men are coming back from the front and giving various versions of the operations there, I think in the face of all these facts it would be in the highest public interest that at the earliest possible date the Prime Minister should make a fuller statement than we have yet had. All I ask to-day is whether it is possible at the present time for the Prime Minister to add anything to what was said many months ago that a day would be given for the discussion of this matter. I ask the Prime Minister whether the time has arrived when he can announce a date for a day to be given.
I rose specially to call attention to a portion of a Vote which is covered by this Bill in regard to which, so far as I can recollect, not a single word has been said—I allude to money that is asked for and has been granted without any limitation for the assistance of the food supply in this country. I think that after the statement made yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this question becomes more than ever pressing and more than ever important. We have had during the last year some gigantic operations on the part of the Government in regard to the supply of sugar in this country. After practically twelve months I suggest to the Government that it would be a good thing if they could give us a balance sheet of the operations that have taken place, because it is important to note in regard to this matter that the Government hold a monopoly with regard to sugar. No one can send sugar into this country except the Government, and therefore we have Protection in its most complete form. It was interesting to note that the Government, according to the statement made yesterday, feel themselves able at the present time to reduce the price of sugar by 2s. 6d. or 3s. per cent. The fact that they are able to do that suggests that for some time sugar has been a little too high, and that it is possible for the Government to fix any price they please. They can make the price either low or high, and no one can interfere with them. If they desire to make huge profits, all they have to do is to keep the price high, the public being compelled to assist them all the time. Therefore, I ask the Government whether they can now tell us what the result of their operations have been? I want to know if they have been successful because 473 the price of sugar has been maintained at a high rate because we refuse to allow to come into this country sugar from America or Dutch sugar, and consequently there has been no competition. I think it will be disappointing if some substantial profit has not been made.
I should like to ask whether the Government are satisfied that this monopoly has been successful and what the advantages are that are claimed for it, and if it is intended that it should be continued? There has been a rumour that one firm, as a result of these operations, has made £200,000 since the Government took the matter over. I should like to know whether there is any foundation for that rumour. If these operations have been a success—and I am not prepared to say they have not been, because we have not the facts before us to justify us in coming to any conclusion—is it intended to use any of the money to reduce the price of other articles of food? I think that the root cause of our labour troubles to-day is the increase in the cost of living. According to the latest official figures supplied by the Government the increase has been over 34 per cent., and that on a workman's wages is a very substantial increase. I think to that alone is due the unrest which has prevailed in the labour world, and it will undoubtedly continue to exist as long as these enormous profits are being made at the cost of the poorest of our people. I said that the average was 34 per cent, increase, but it is even larger than that since the time those official figures were provided. It is remarkable to note in this connection that in Germany even at this time the highest to which food has gone is 65 per cent. I think with all the advantages which we have as compared with Germany the rise here has been ridiculously high. Prices have risen because there has been exploitation, because there has been no real Government control, because we have been thinking about the matter for twelve months, and because the Government has not stepped in and caught these exploiters by the throat and stopped them taking advantage of the troubles through which we are passing. Flour has gone up 45 per cent., bread 40 per cent., tea 30 per cent., granulated sugar 68 per cent., milk 11 per cent., "butter 19 per cent., cheese 33 per cent., and eggs 25 per cent. There has therefore been a very serious increase in the price of food since the War commenced, 474 and I regret that the Government did not at the very beginning step in and take full control as far as possible of the food supplies. They ought at any rate to have taken such action as would have prevented the holding up of the food of the people. Speculation has been going on, and no one has taken any action. The price of food has steadily risen, and so far as I can see the Government really have taken no action in the matter. We receive from time to time as Members of Parliament resolutions passed by working men. I have received many condemning the state of things in regard to this increased cost of food. They ask us what the Government are doing in the matter, and that is the question which I want to put to-day. What have they done, what are they doing, what do they intend to do? It is nearly time some action was taken. These exploiters and blood-suckers have had a good run during the year that has gone, and it is nearly time now that the nation had a chance. We should not allow them to exploit our people in order to make huge profits in a time of war. I suggest to the Government that they should have had, and should even now have, a Committee, say, of three outstanding business men, not politicians at all—we know that there are thousands of men throughout the country who have offered their services, and they have been turned down—three of the best men the country could provide to have charge of this matter, to advise the President of the Board of Trade, and really to give a guarantee to the public that it has not escaped the attention of the Government, because up to now really nothing effective has been done. Something was done with regard to coal, but that was too late. Fourteen months have now passed, and something ought to be done to prevent the rise in the price of food. Exploitation and profit-making are the real causes. Look at the balance sheets of the different companies, and there will be no difficulty in understanding the real cause of the trouble. Freight undoubtedly has been one of the main causes. I know of a case where a man bought a ship for £17,000. He made £17,000 during the year, and then subsequently sold the ship for a big profit. Shippers therefore have been making a substantial profit. At any rate, freight probably has had a good deal to do with the matter, and that is one of the questions to which the Government might 475 devote their attention. We are passing a good deal of money to-day, and I would like to know how much is to be devoted to this purpose. I suggest that some of it might usefully be used in order to carry out some policy which would reduce the cost of living.
We have had two Committees appointed on another branch of this question. We have had the Committee presided over by Lord Milner. They sat some considerable time, and reported a month or two ago. I do not know whether the Government are in a position to say whether anything is going to be done in regard to that Report. Of course, anything that could be done must be a long shot proposal. Nothing could be done as the result of that Committee's Report which would be of immediate effect so far as prices are concerned. They made several representations. One or two of them might be useful, but one or two of them are very bad. The principal recommendation was that there should be a guarantee to the farmers with regard to the price of wheat. That is a rather novel proposal, and I doubt whether it will be adopted by the Government, but as we have now a Tariff Reform Government the possibility is that there might not be an unfriendly feeling towards it. I would like to know whether anything is going to be done with regard to the recommendations of Lord Milner's Committee. I assume that you do not ask four or five important public men to sit day after day for weeks, calling witnesses, and presenting a Report without intending to do anything in regard to that Report. I should, therefore, like to ask whether the Government can give us any information whether any of the recommendations of the Committee are to be carried out. It was officially stated the other day in regard to Ireland that there are 250,000 less animals than there were a year ago. That was up to the end of June. It is a very important position, and it seems to me to require some attention on the part of the Government.
With regard to Scotland, we have also had a very important Committee, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Eugene Wason). That Report has been issued recently, and it contains many important and interesting recommendations. They do not accept Lord Milner's recommendations that there should be a guaranteed price to the 476 farmers. They make a number of recommendations which might be effectively carried out in time possibly to be of some use before the War comes to an end. I should like to ask whether the Government have noticed that Report, and whether they intend to take any action in regard to it so far as the food supply of this country is concerned. Some time ago we had a Royal Commission on Food Supplies in Time of War, which sat for several years and cost thousands of pounds, but so far as I know no recommendation which they made was considered by any Government. I hope that some attention will be paid to these two Committees. At any rate, the Government should let the House of Commons know whether they may expect any notice of them to be taken or whether the Government are going to take no heed of them at all. I suggest that we should have a statement from the Government whether they are paying any attention to this food supply question, and whether they can hold out any hope that the cost of living will be reduced. I am quite certain that Members will agree with me when I say that it is one of the main causes of labour unrest. The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Bonar Law) some time ago, when he had this matter before the House, said:There is a limit to the profit yon can allow to be made out of this War, and if that limit is reached I would be at one with those who say the House of Commons ought to step in.I say that there have been huge fortunes made out of the exploitation of the food of the people since the War began, and I say that insufficient notice has been taken of it by the Government. I therefore ask the President of the Board of Trade, who I know has many other matters to claim his attention, or whoever is going to answer on behalf of the Government, whether they can give us any information on the points which I have put, and, above all, whether some control over the rise in the prices of food will be exercised by the Government?
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I desire to join my right hon. Friend in his appeal to the Prime Minister. If at the beginning of the War he, as the head of the Government, had definitely told the country that no one was to make profit out of the War, nearly all the labour troubles in this country would have disappeared. It is solely on the grounds stated by Mr. Smillie, the President of the Miners' Federation, taking the mining industry as an example. It is because the Govern- 477 ment have not attempted to regulate profits, and, when a workman sees commodities selling at a high price, which are the produce of his labour, he thinks it is not fair that the employers should have the whole benefit of those high prices and that the producer should not have his share. It has been said, and will no doubt be said again, that the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday will tend to reduce prices. I think the contrary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement that the Government are about to take the excess profits to the extent of 50 per cent, does not go quite far enough, because next year the amount will be 67½ per cent., taking into account the Income Tax of 3s. 6d. in the pound.
Will the Prime Minister put himself in the position of a business man? He knows the Government is going to take 67½ per cent, of these profits, and, human nature being what it is, the business man will say, "If I cannot get the whole of the excess profit I shall be content to take the balance, and I shall be helping the Government by paying the 67½ per cent. into the Exchequer." But that is a very poor consolation to the poorer sections of the community. There are many people who during this War have lost their entire income. They are more or less confined, I know, to the professional classes. There are others who have had their incomes very largely reduced. On the other hand, many people have made very large incomes simply by exploiting the nation at a time when everyone in the country agrees, when the House agrees, and the Prime Minister agrees, that no one should make a profit out of the War. My right hon. Friend has brought this matter to the attention of the House. He has pointed out that the great mass of the industrial population in this country think that they have been and are being exploited unreasonably. Cannot the Prime Minister, even now, give the House some undertaking which will relieve that feeling?
I want to raise another question—that of the Censorship. I would ask what is the position to-day? The Home Secretary is presumably responsible, but the House well knows that it is the War Office which controls the censorship of news. I get papers sent me daily in which I read the official reports of the German Government. The American papers pub- 478 lish fully the German official news, which the people of this country are not allowed to see. People who are unaware that this news can be obtained in American papers are denied the privilege of knowing what is going on in Germany when the rest of the world knows perfectly well what the German official news is. In Germany the American papers are allowed to circulate freely, and I may add that all the official German news is also circulated freely in all American, Continental and neutral countries. In this country the people who think they are reading the German official news are doing nothing of the kind, because when they get it it is of a wholly different character to that published by the German authorities. For what reason do the War Office censor the German official news? I understood, from an answer given in this House some months ago, that the reason is that if the German official news were allowed to appear here it would be recopied into the German papers, and the German people would say that the news emanated from this country. Could there be any more nonsensical idea? Neutral countries have the original German official news, and it seems to me a curious proceeding that we should have to go to the American papers to see what is actually said about the conduct of the War in Germany.
A very important dispatch was sent by the German Government to the American Government relating to the use, by the British nation, of neutral flags all over the world. It was an official document to the American Government, and it was published as such, and yet the authorities would not allow it to appear in this country. Why should the people of this country be kept in ignorance of an official message sent to the United States Government which is published in the Continental papers, and which also appears in the South American and North American papers? Why should the people of this country be treated as children in a matter of this kind? The object of the censorship should be to prevent news reaching the enemy. No one wants to give any information to the enemy which would be of use to him. Everyone in this House would desire that there should be given no information which, either directly or indirectly, could assist the enemy. When the House of Commons granted these powers to the Government 479 at the commencement of the War, it was not for the purpose of concealing the truth.
What has happened has been this: When Lord Kitchener came to the War Office he laid it down that the people of this country should not have official news, and that policy has been persistently followed from the commencement of the War. Many of us have relatives in the Dardanelles, and when bad information comes from that quarter we have to get it from our relatives or friends. To use very mild language, the House has been kept in complete ignorance of the serious position there. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the House of Commons has never been told of the reasons why we went into that expedition. The Government has not thought fit at any time to give the House that information, and what has happened in regard to it has been the adoption of a persistent policy of secrecy. It was only when one of my right hon. Friends raised the question some months ago that a statement was made by the Government on the subject. Up to that time we had been kept in ignorance of what had been going on. I do not want to raise this question of the suppression by the Censor here of what appears in the American papers, but the Government do suppress information which is known to the whole world outside this country, and I shall put such information in the form of questions on the Notice Papers in the future if this policy is persisted in. Then it will be for the Prime Minister to take steps to prevent those questions appearing on the Notice Paper. But I am not going to take from the War Office any dictation regarding information of no military significance whatever. I am not going to allow it to say that it should be deliberately concealed from Parliament and from the country at large.
There is one other point I want to mention. I do not know whether I shall be strictly in order in doing so. I should like to ask the Prime Minister a question upon the forms which have been circulated by the Local Government Board. In my own Constituency boys of fifteen and sixteen have been and are recruited, and the Government are perfectly well aware of it. In fact a boy of sixteen was recruited in my Constituency, and his father and mother went to the headquarters of the Sherwood Foresters and tried to get him 480 back, but the authorities refused to allow him to go back, although he is only sixteen years of age. He came from Kirkby-in-Ashfield. In the same village another boy of fifteen enlisted, and his parents were unable to get him back. Are we to understand it is the policy of the Government to take immature boys of fifteen and sixteen when they have set down a definite military age at which boys may be enlisted? The question has been raised time after time, and we get no satisfaction from the Government. Surely no system of enlistment can be satisfactory which allows boys like that to be taken. The War Office well knows that the declarations made by these boys—made for patriotic reasons—are false. I am told that these young boys are unable to stand the fatigue of a campaign, and many of them have to return from the War after the country has been put to the expense of training them. No one in this House is in a position to express any views on the question of compulsory service until we have all the figures before us. It is impossible to express an opinion on the question, more particularly as we have no information regarding our obligations to Russia. I hope that the Prime Minister, before any question of compulsion is brought before this House, will definitely take the House into his confidence and give us all the information as to what our obligations are to Russia and to our Allies in the matter of the supply of munitions. My right hon. Friend would do well to present a statement to the House, showing what is the minimum number of men we must keep to maintain our position and to finance, not only ourselves, but our Allies. Until we have that information from the Government it is wholly impossible for the House to consider seriously the question of taking more men. I am not going to give a vote for Conscription in this House—although I should not hesitate to do so if it were necessary to bring the War to a conclusion—until all the information has been carefully considered by the House of Commons itself. When the Prime Minister says that the House is a deliberative assembly, he really must be laughing up his sleeve.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the 481 House of Commons was a deliberative assembly and voted in accordance with the Debates that took place.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I fail to appreciate the distinction. The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that he has the Whips behind him, who are financed by the money of the party, and that very strong pressure would be placed on those who did not fall into line with the general policy of the Government, as they always have done. To say that the House of Commons is a deliberative assembly, or tries to be a deliberative assembly under the party system of Government, is begging the question altogether. The House of Commons ought, I contend, to consider the question for itself. I do not trust the Government the least in this matter, and I am not going to trust them. I have never trusted them in their conduct of the War. For the consideration of what is to be done in the matter of bringing the War to a successful conclusion, every Member ought to have the information for which I am now asking. The Government ought not to ask for any definite plan under the party system of Government until the House and the country have that information before them.
§ Mr. CARR-GOMM
I wish to draw attention to the question of the second line Territorials. Last week a statement was made in regard to the cases of men under age. Everybody knows that those cases are of frequent occurrence. There are cases of boys giving a wrong age when enlisting. Boys are slipped in by giving the age of nineteen and are often found to be only sixteen or even fifteen years of age. With regard to the position of the second line Territorials, I should like to ask the Government whether they do not consider that the time has now come when they could make up their minds as to what are the functions of those bodies. Up till now they have given of their best to the first line battalions which are abroad. They are now reduced in strength and they suffer considerably through the lack of adequate material to carry on their training. The third line battalions have been favoured, I do not say at the expense of the second line battalions, but it is well known that the third line battalions have been well looked after. The second line battalions 482 seem to be very largely at a standstill. I do not wish to say anything that may be of a painful character, but undoubtedly one hears sentiments expressed of the state of men who join the Territorials and who join other portions of the Forces. That is a great pity. Probably a wrong impression has grown up in regard to these troops. The idea exists that they have been unduly overlooked. I hope the Government will make up its mind as to what is to be the future of these bodies. If they are simply to be depots for supplying drafts, surely the expense of maintaining the divisions and brigades and the staffs of divisions and brigades is a very costly one. You are paying officers large salaries to command these divisions, when the actual men who compose them are very few in number and are inadequately supplied. Further, the efforts of commanding officers in these battalions of second line Territorials have often been received with little favour. I mean that they have done all they can to improve the battalions under their command, and have been rather wet-blanketed. It is made difficult very often for a commanding officer, if he hopes to take his battalion to the Front and asks for regular officers to be detached to train his men, and if he asks for other privileges in order to make his battalion efficient. Over and over again cases have occurred in which these efforts have not been supported in any way, and they have really been suppressed by the War Office.
The other matter I should like to bring to the notice of the Government is the question of billeting. A great portion of the Forces are now leaving their summer quarters and going into winter quarters. The Government have had large experience of this matter by now, because they had to provide last winter for large numbers who were billeted in England. I suggest that the cost of billeting troops is very heavy. Billeting is, I suppose, the most costly and least convenient form of housing troops, physically and in many other ways. The feeding of the men is much more difficult when the men are in billets than if they were in barracks or huts. If it is necessary to keep troops in certain areas for strategic purposes, surely those troops should be housed in a better way than in billets. The Government knew that they had to have troops in these strategic areas, and why has no attempt been made by now 483 to make huts for their accommodation in these areas? We know that a great deal of money has been spent on the provision of huts. I do not suggest that they, have been built in the wrong places, but it does seem curious that in those areas where the Government send troops to be maintained for strategic purposes no better accommodation could be found than billeting them in small towns and villages, which are not at all the right places in which troops should be housed, and which are bad from every point of view. I put these facts before the Government. I do not ask for a definite reply on the question of the second line Territorials now, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, from the questions put in this House and the general feeling all over the country, it appears that the time has come when some—I do not say encouragement—but some fair hearing should be given and consideration paid to this portion of His Majesty's Forces. I quite realise that it is undesirable for Members of this House to back the claims of this or that portion of the Forces, but at the same time this case is a very urgent one, for the troops are not only in England but in Scotland and elsewhere. I ask respectfully that this matter should be looked into very carefully, and that a decision should be arrived at without any more delay.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I imagine that the subject of the Sugar Duty, which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir H. Dalziel) raised, would be more conveniently discussed on the Budget Resolutions, and that the same thing applies to the Tea Duty. When the question of the Tea Duty is discussed I hope an opportunity will be given to someone inside the tea trade to show that under the seeming equality of treatment there lurks a great inequality, not that the tea trade will object to the increase, or even to the amount of the increase, because they are anxious to support the Administration at this moment. Since the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) adversely criticised the Government just now, I think it is right to say that the trade is grateful to the Government for the prompt and efficient measures which it took, at the outbreak of war to enable it to tide over the difficulties which existed. I suppose we had better postpone the question of the Tea and Sugar Duties until we come to the Budget Resolutions.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I quite appreciate that. The question upon which I wish to trouble the House is the campaign in Mesopotamia—the most uniformly successful yet waged by our Army, and yet one about which, for some reason or another, it seems very difficult to get any information: I do not think that in this country the enormous difficulties under which our troops and the Royal Indian Marine have operated in the Persian Gulf and up to the Tigris, are appreciated. The heat during July and August is very intense. I have myself seen it up to 133 degrees in the shade. The inhabitants never venture out of doors. In the capital city of Baghdad they spend the days in the cellar and sleep at night on the roof. Yet it is in this most trying climate in the world, I suppose, with vaster expanses of sand on either side than in any other district, that our troops have maintained a gallant fight and have won several victories. I must say it is disappointing to me, as one who knows the country and the troops engaged, that we have not heard more about it in England, so that the country might legitimately rejoice in the extremely gallant exploits of this force, which has had to contend, not only with brave enemies in the Turks and also with the Arabs, who for once have acted with them in that district, but with a most pestilential climate and with many other difficulties. I do not know why no dispatch has been published, and why no official information is given on this subject. I do not suggest that the gallant troops and sailors concerned are greatly anxious about this, but I think we should know the facts. Some people in the country are anxious about the matter, and would like due honour to be done to their gallant and successful actions. I dare say the House will be aware that this expedition is fitted out from India. The dispatches are sent to that Government and the whole thing rests with the Government of India. I suppose that is one of the reasons why in this country we hear so little about it. It is a British campaign just as much as any other, and I would ask my right hon. Friend and his chief to give the matter the most kindly consideration and see whether they cannot give more information concerning the operations in Mesopotamia and the head of the Persian Gulf and the surrounding country, and not 485 leave that portion of the military operations so much out of sight as they hitherto have done.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman some time ago about giving the publication in England of accounts furnished to India of the action of Indian troops in Flanders and in France, and he gave me a satisfactory reply. I know it is impossible to arrange for the simultaneous publication of dispatches in this country with their publication in India. That, obviously, is perhaps impossible, though I really do not know why duplicate copies could not be dispatched East and West, so that the public here might be kept advised almost as quickly, as they would be in that event, as the public in India. At any rate, I make that suggestion. If that, for any reason of military etiquette, which I think should not stand in the way, is difficult, why cannot immediate publication, so soon as the post from Bombay can reach England, be arranged for in this country? In this matter, over and above the national interest which we take in it, naval interests are also very much affected, because some portion of this expedition is engaged in protecting the oil pipe line for which this country lately paid some £2,000,000 for the supply of oil on which the Navy is so dependent. For all these reasons I beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether something cannot be done to keep the public here better informed as to what is happening in Mesopotamia and the surrounding region, whereby he will not only satisfy public interest in a legitimate manner, but will do justice to an extremely gallant and well conducted campaign.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate devoted himself mainly to a criticism of what the Government had done or had not done in regard to our food supplies, and I think it will be convenient that I should at once give him the information which obviously he had not in his possession. He is so often well informed that I am surprised that he should have forgotten many of the large operations which have already been conducted by the Government with the deliberate object of keeping food prices down to a reasonable level, and preventing what was even worse than a rise in prices, namely, an absolute shortage, which would have led to a good deal more exploitation—of which he made a good deal in the course of his speech—and the absolute starvation of many among the poorer 486 classes of the country. The first item on which he made some inquiries was sugar. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been devoting his time, week after week and day after day, to the operations of the Sugar Commission, and he has certainly succeeded in providing in the early months of the War the necessary sugar for our manufactures and for domestic consumption, and in the later months of the War, in spite of German sugar being kept out of this country, which was a strategic move of considerable importance, he has kept the price steady, and the operations throughout the whole of last season have been so successful that it is now possible for him to prophesy, as he did yesterday, a drop in the price of sugar—sold by the Commission—by something like a halfpenny a pound. That does not sound like absolute failure, and indeed I think my right hon. Friend rather recognised that, for he suggested to us that we might follow the example of the Sugar Commission and deal with other commodities in the same way as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had dealt with sugar.
My right hon. Friend asked when we could have accounts as to the operations of the Sugar Commission. I am afraid I cannot answer his question. It is impossible to square up in a compact twelve months operations which were so gigantic and so world-wide as those in which the Commission have engaged. One of the charges that my right hon. Friend made against the operations of the Commission, and inferentially against the Government which was responsible for it, was that we had succeeded in putting into the pockets of one of the large manufacturers, I think he said, £200,000. I have no knowledge of the amount which has gone into that manufacturer's pocket, but if it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer's doing that £200,000 went into his pocket, I think we know now, or have known in the last twenty-four hours, that it will be the Chancellor of the Exchequer's doing which will take some of it out of those pockets. Indeed, much the best way of dealing with abnormal profits is that which has been followed by the Government, and the large taxation which was announced to the House yesterday, and received in every quarter with satisfaction, will do a great deal to prevent many of these high profits passing into private hands, of which my right hon. Friend may not approve. When he came to other topics, he suggested that there had been something in the nature 487 of holding up, and I am not sure that he did not definitely say that high prices had been directly the result of holding up. Last autumn one of the first steps taken by the Government was to ask the House to pass a Bill for dealing with withholding of food-stuffs and other necessary commodities, and any persons in this country who are guilty of withholding from the markets or from consumption food-stuffs or other commodities named in that Act are liable to a heavy penalty. We have made the fullest inquiries in every quarter. We have sifted a great deal of information which has come into our hands, and up to the present time we have not come across a single case where, after the first warning given by the Board of Trade, whatever holding up there had been has not at once ceased. My right hon. Friend takes for granted that we have done nothing since the War broke out. Indeed, he purposely framed his questions in this way—when are you going to do anything? We started our operations in dealing with food prices a week after the War broke out, and it has been our constant anxiety. Every one of the members of our staff who is concerned in this matter has dealt with it day after day ever since then, and I would suggest to him that if he knows of any case of holding up which may have escaped the vigilance of our staff, it would be as well for him to let us know where his suspicion lies, and we will at once go into any case and subject those who have been guilty of withholding to the utmost rigour of the law.
I do not know to what my right hon. Friend referred, but if we may take some of the principal items of which he complained, I would ask whether he is conscious of there having been held up beef or mutton, or bacon or eggs, butter, cheese, or milk, or any commodities at home here which are produced by our own farmers, or bread by the bakers, flour by the millers, or potatoes by those who grow them. Every one of these present difficult problems. No two of them are alike. I take, first of all, the case of potatoes. Last season there was a heavy rise in the price of potatoes, which undoubtedly fell heavily on people who consume large quantities of them. Since then, there has been a downward seasonal movement in the price of potatoes. If we are to be blamed for potatoes having gone up last year, I hope we may get the credit for their having 488 gone down this year. Neither the movement up nor the movement down this year has anything whatever to do with the Government. They were both really caused by the seasons, by the abundant crops this year and by the fact that exportation to America has almost altogether ceased. Take the case of flour and bread. No doubt what my right hon. Friend had in his mind was the balance sheet of a famous firm of millers in South Wales. I am not an apologist for that firm. I know nothing whatever about their operations, but I know that from the very first months of the War we have every month ascertained what stocks were kept in hand by that and every other firm of millers in the country, and so far as we can ascertain there has been no undue withholding from the market of flour by them or anyone else. How they made their profits, I do not know. I only know that the publication of their balance sheet and the sensational figures which they issued rightly raised apprehension in many quarters that they made their profits unjustifiably. As for that, I have nothing more to say except that, as far as the millers as a whole are concerned, we have from the first watched their operations in connection with the wheat market, we have adopted a standard for our own judgment of the amount which might rightly be absorbed by them, and as far as we can ascertain the millers, who undoubtedly made a good deal of money owing to forward contracts last autumn, have lost a good deal of money since then owing to the heavy fall in the price of wheat.
Indeed, it became apparent to us as time went on that what governed our flour market was the price of wheat. We have had more than one Debate on the price of wheat, and it is a commonplace to say that the price is not fixed in this country, and there is nothing which the Government could have done which would have kept down the world prices. The only way in which we could have kept down the price of wheat in this country would be by giving a definite subsidy in relief of the consumers who bought flour. That was considered by the Government and discarded. There is no intention of trying it, and none of the money which appears in the huge figures presented to the House yesterday covers anything in the nature of a subsidy to wheat consumers. With regard to wheat, some of the prophecies made by the Prime Minister in the Debate last February or March were fulfilled 489 almost to the day. The House will remember that the Prime Minister prophesied that when we reached the month of June, the Government anticipated that there would be a considerable fall in the price of wheat. He suggested that if the Dardanelles were opened that fall might be sensational. The Dardanelles, unfortunately, have not been opened. The Straits are still closed. But in spite of that the fall came, and it came with such alarming rapidity as even to embarrass the trade, which in the previous autumn had been making a considerable amount of money out of the rise in price. The wheat market now is a good deal lower than it has been in some years of peace. The high prices of last year have undoubtedly led to the sowing of a larger acreage abroad, and we anticipate that from Canada, from the United States, from Australia, and we hope from the Argentine as well, there will be larger crops of wheat imported into this country, or at all events imported into Europe, than we have experienced for some years past. These abundant crops will in themselves tend to keep prices down.
Now I come to the other food prices over which my right hon. Friend thinks we ought to have exercised control, namely, those commodities which are produced by the British farmer. I do not know whether he suggests that farmers had been withholding milk from the market. I presume he does not. Does he suggest that they have withheld grain from the market, for I can only say, if that is his suggestion, that the inquiries of the Board of Agriculture show that his information is not well founded, and that we are able to find no instances of farmers deliberately withholding from the market wheat which would normally have been offered for sale. As for eggs and bacon, both are influenced not by the production here so much as by the heavy importations from abroad. Eggs come in enormous quantities from Russia, Scandinavia, and even from Siberia. The same applies to butter. The Russian and Siberian supplies have been entirely cut off, and it certainly would be unreasonable to assume, those vastly important markets being cut off, that prices would remain identically the same. There is no evidence, so far as we know, of eggs having been withheld—of there having been any exploitation of the egg market—except by those individual villagers who, knowing our national anxiety to consume eggs, have taken full advantage of the opportunity to get perhaps 1½d. or 490 2d. for an egg which they formerly sold for a penny. I am quite sure that those are not the people whom my right hon. Friend had in his mind when he accused producers of deliberately holding up or exploiting.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No. What I deny is that we have any evidence of withholding food-stuffs from the market for the deliberate object of raising prices. In the only cases we have come across, the first warning has been sufficient to prevent a repetition. If my right hon. Friend has other instances, it is his duty to inform the Board of Trade or the Board of Agriculture, and in that event I have already promised that the utmost rigour of the law will be exercised. Now he suggests speculation. Of course, there has been speculation. When, in any time in our commercial history, has there been an absence of speculation? Speculation, however, brings with it losses as well as profits, and speculation is not confined to those who produce food. There has been speculation, but such speculation as there has been, we are informed, has not led to the heavy rise in prices. The heavy rise in prices has been entirely due to the effect of the extreme shortage that the whole world has suffered in the supply of the commodities to which I have referred. The right hon. Gentleman asks why have we done nothing. Let me point out to him that from the beginning—and we have told the House of some of these things already, so that they might have been in his memory—we have paid considerable attention not only to wholesale, but to retail prices. We called together those who could influence the retail prices of grocery. They met together week after week, and sometimes twice a week. After a time, when prices had become steady, they met once a fortnight. There was a good deal of haggling about prices, and prices were uncertain. Finally we reached a stage when prices agreed upon were advised by this Committee. They were adopted by all the great distributors outside, and were checked by reference to those retailers not trading for profit, like the co-operative societies, and we came to the conclusion that the prices proposed were just and fair. That went on for many months. For six months, every fortnight, these prices were subject to careful examination and scrutiny by the Board 491 of Trade. A number of the meetings were presided over by myself or the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not remember when they met last, but we have been watching the prices even when we have not been meeting. If there had been any undue upward tendency in these prices we should have called together the principal retailers, and should have pointed the matter out to them, and they would have had to adjust the prices As long as the prices show a tendency to go down, it is as well to leave the trade to look after itself, because the satisfaction the consumer will get out of the fall in prices is far more than we should get out of interviewing the grocers. The right hon. Gentleman forgets some of our operations. I have referred to sugar. One of the things that we regard as being most serious, and one in which we could have an actual active effect upon prices, was beef. I would remind the House, as I have done before, of the enormous increase that came at the outbreak of war in the consumption of meat. First of all, immediately you moved troops into the field, it was inevitable there would be a certain amount of waste. That waste we believe has now been largely reduced, but the fact remains that the individual soldier appears to consume more meat on active service than he does when he is living in civil life. As a rule his wife is much more economical than those who are responsible for the distribution and cooking of food in the field. The wife has additional reasons for being economical; money pressure induces her to be economical at home. That increased consumption of meat was not, however, confined to our own Army. The French came into the field as large meat consumers for the first time in history. It has not been the practice for the French soldiers to live on meat, but now they are doing it. That is also increasingly true of the Italian Army, especially within the last few weeks. We were conscious of all these facts, and we foresaw that unless something drastic was done to increase and control the importation of meat, especially of frozen arid chilled meat, into this country, we should have a positive shortage of meat dangerous to the health of the country.
It is true that the price of meat is a world price, and it is true that beef is under the control of a small number of 492 commercial houses. It became necessary, therefore, for us to enter into a contest with those commercial houses. I freely admit that politicians are no match for business men in their own business, but we had to try to see what we could do. I would like the House to know exactly what we did in regard to this vastly important matter of food supply, of which my right hon. Friend cannot have had any information when he made his speech.
Sir H. DALZIEL
(indistinctly heard) I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the operations of his Department in regard to the price of beef. Now he is going on to refer to recent arrangements with the Argentine and elsewhere. These facts have been fully published. That is why I never mentioned beef in the whole of my speech.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
When I am asked about food prices, I cannot leave beef out of account. The impression given by my right hon. Friend—I am sure he could not have meant it—was that for twelve months we have sat still and done nothing.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I said "these are the results; can you tell me how it is?" Whatever you have done has been ineffective.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to deal merely with the effect, I am willing to do so. I understand that he does not press the point that we have been idle for twelve months. That is an important fact, not only for this House, but for outside. He rightly says that the accusation that we have done nothing has had an effect in the labour world. If that accusation is ill-founded, I hope the effect in the labour world will diminish. At any rate, I will try to prove that it is ill-founded, and I will turn again to the question of meat, because I am not prepared to allow my good points to be swept away. When we found a shortage, the first thing we did was to see if we could increase the supply from the Argentine. That trade is nearly controlled by about six firms, very powerful firms, mainly controlled in America, and they can, if they like, move prices up or down. That has been our experience in times of peace. More than one Committee of this 493 House has sat to inquire into the operations of the American Meat Trust, controlling the whole meat supply of the world, when their influences are such as to make it expensive for our consumers. First of all, we tried to make contracts with them, but found their prices excessive. We tried to make arrangements with shipping companies, but found their freights were too high. They were asking practically 2½d. a pound for carriage from the Argentine.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Something like 8d. per lb. We entered into negotiations with the meat producers and the shipowners. We cut down the freight of the shipowners from 2½d. to ½d. That is something, especially when you are dealing, not with hundredweights, but with thousands of tons per month. We cut down the price of beef, as a result of our operations, nearly 2d. under the price asked by the beef company; but the only way we could do that was by requisitioning the whole of the tonnage that carried beef from South America to this country. Now I come to Australia. We at once had the willing co-operation of the Australian Governments, who took practical control of every quarter of beef and mutton exported from their country. They gave their producers compensation which was equivalent to 10 per cent, profit on their operations, which they regarded as reasonable. We took over the meat at cost price, with this 10 per cent, profit added. We carried it to this country in requisitioned ships, and we have supplied our own Army and the French Army, and we are giving other supplies to the Allies. Even after doing that, we have a considerable surplus which we are selling for the benefit of the civil population. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, will not grudge us whatever credit we can get out of that. They have been gigantic operations, and I shall not be surprised if, in the course of the next twelve months, we shall have bought, sold, and distributed, meat of the value of something like £50,000,000. It may be that we have not done it very well, but at all events we did not let the American Trust get all they asked for. We did not let the shipowners get all they asked for. The French Government have so much confidence in the way we have conducted this business that they have placed the whole of the conduct of it entirely in the 494 hands of the Board of Trade. I do not want to describe these operations merely in my own language. I will quote from a White Paper which was issued this morning, namely, the Archibald-Dumba letters. On pages 12 and 13 hon. Members will see an account of a conversation which Dr. Dumba says he had with Mr. Meagher. I do not know whether he saw Mr. Meagher, or spoke to him, but he says he did. I will give the House an extract from his letter. Mr. Meagher was angry because we held up some meat ships which we thought were bound for the enemy, and which, up to the present, the Prize Court agree have been bound for the enemy. But as those cases are under appeal, I will say nothing about them. Mr. Meagher was angry about this, and he gave Dr. Dumba to understandthat he had not yet played his last trump—namely, the refusal to import meat to England in any circumstances.The letter goes on to say:—He, that is to say, the two above-named slaughtering houses, controlled the Argentine market. At the present moment they are paralysed here also by the action of the British Admiralty, for the latter hare commandeered most of the English freight ships intended for the transport of meat from the Argentine.For the Admiralty I substitute the Board of Trade. It was the Board of Trade that did it.If England stood face to face with the danger of not being able to get any meat from the United States of America or the Argentine, she would soon give in.Having got the meat and the ships, we have no intention of giving in.
The only other points raised by my right hon. Friend were the Report of Lord Milner's Committee, and the suggestion as to the assistance we might get from outside. I will say nothing of the Report of Lord Milner's Committee except this, that it was carefully considered by the Cabinet, and the Cabinet decided that they could not adopt its recommendations. I doubt whether the recommendations made by Lord Milner would have tended to a drop in the price of wheat. I think they might have had a contrary effect, but that is only a matter of opinion.
§ Sir H. DALZIEL made a remark which was inaudible in the Beporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Yes, there are one or two minor ones of which I think the Board of Agriculture are taking advantage. Lord Selborne is now touring the country most energetically, urging upon the farming community the necessity of doing what they can to put their land to the best use, and to economise in production. 495 The final suggestion was that we should take advantage of the experience and knowledge of, say, three or four business men. We are not at all reluctant to adopt that suggestion, and wherever we can get the assistance of business men, who really know business, and will give us of their best knowledge, free of cost, without themselves getting any profit out of it, we are glad to take advantage of their experience. I am happy to say that in many respects we have been most fortunate in the assistance we have received. Take the case of meat. It would have been impossible for us to have conducted the operations if we had not received the willing assistance of two or three gentlemen who really knew the trade, who entirely disinterested themselves in it, and gave us to the full of their ability, thereby enabling us to carry through our transactions. In our operations in regard to Indian wheat, we could not possibly have done all that was undertaken by the Indian Wheat Commission had it not been for gentlemen like Sir George Saltmarsh, who disinterested themselves in the trade and gave their whole time and ability to the Government in the very difficult business we had to conduct with India. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that wherever we can get this assistance we gladly avail ourselves of it. At the Board of Trade we could not possibly have conducted our work in the last twelve months if we had not relied upon assistance from outside. Wherever we are able to get hold of knowledge, and that knowledge is disinterested, it is of inestimable value to us. But I think the fact that food prices in this country are now 34 per cent, and no more above prewar prices is largely due to the fact that we had this assistance. In Berlin the price of food is 70 per cent, above what it was before the War. That places the Germans at a great disadvantage. I only wish that our own 34 per cent, could be reduced, and if anything can be done by the Board of Trade to bring it down I can assure the House that we shall gladly do it.
§ Colonel YATE
I would like permission to say only one word to the House. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War, whom I am glad to see in his place, to try to accelerate the publication of the dispatches connected with the Mesopotamian Forces in every way he can. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India told us yesterday that he was in communication 496 with the War Office on the subject, and I hope that the War Office will now hasten the publication of these dispatches. The whole world is now beginning to realise what enormous sufferings the troops have gone through, and in saying that I am speaking not only of the Indian troops, but the men of the Royal Navy, the commissioned officers, and the men of the Royal Indian Marines, and I trust that an account of all the work which has been done will be given to the world as soon as possible. The Indian troops have done magnificent work, not only in Mesopotamia, but also in connection with the operations at Aden and East Africa. I trust that their services in this connection will not be lost sight of and that they will be brought to notice as soon as possible.
§ Mr. PETO
I desire to call the attention of the Under-Secretary for War to three or four points connected in the main with the interests of the soldiers and non-commissioned officers at present in the ranks. The first point—and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us as clear and conclusive an answer as was recently given by the President of the Board of Trade on other matters—is what I may term the after-care of wounded soldiers. At present, when our soldiers are discharged from hospital, they get pay and allowance which amounts to 10s. 6d. a week. In some cases where a man has a home to go to, and a room waiting for him, and friends and relations to look after him, very likely that sum is quite sufficient to ensure a reasonable chance of his complete recovery. But when a man has to hire lodgings, and perhaps the only place he can go to is some great city or town where the cost of living is much higher than it would be in the country, the allowance of 10s. 6d. a week does not give that man the necessary material comforts, quite apart from the reasonable medical attendance that he may have to pay for in a sudden emergency—such as, for instance, if his wound breaks out again. Quite apart from that, the 10s. 6d. does not give him a fair chance of getting sound and fit again. Therefore, looking at it even from a mercenary point of view, I have a suggestion to make which I think should have careful consideration. Why should there not be county boards formed to act on a detailed report made by the medical officer on the discharge of a man from hospital, whose duty it would be to 497 inquire into the case, see where the man is going, look after him, and see that he has in every respect a fair chance. Such boards should have power given to them within certain limits to vary the amount of the allowance, so that in every case, considering the circumstances, there should be sufficient to give a fair chance of complete recovery.
The second point is with regard to noncommissioned officers. In the case of noncommissioned officers at any time, owing to some fault, the punishment may be allotted of reduction to a lower rank, or even in some cases reduction to the ranks. In peace time no doubt the punishment might be perfectly appropriate, on consideration of the fault for which the man incurs it.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
What offences are you referring to?
§ Mr. PETO
I am not suggesting exactly what offences are committed, but for the violation of various rules that is a punishment which is inflicted—the reduction in rank from sergeant to corporal or from corporal to the ranks. Cases of this kind have occurred within my own knowledge where the man subsequently has been wounded in action, and has consequently gone to hospital, and has at last been discharged from hospital as unfit for further service, and consequently this punishment, which in peace time might operate for, say, twelve months, until by good conduct the man had been restored to his original rank, has the effect in time of war of spreading the punishment over the whole of the remainder of his life, and depriving him of being able to say, "When I was discharged from the Army, I had the rank of sergeant, or whatever it was." This casts a stigma upon him which he never has a chance of removing, and which is a positive financial disability for the whole remainder of his life. I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman that in such a case the punishment is not really just, that it is really too serious for the original offence, and I would ask that he should call the attention of officers commanding to that question, and that they should take into very serious consideration the effect which this injustice has on these men who are discharged from hospital to go back into civil life, and who will have it to say, "Because I committed a comparatively trivial offence, advantage has been taken of it to deprive me for the rest 498 of my life of the benefits of the pension which I might have drawn after such and such a number of years' service as a sergeant in the Army."
The next point to which I would refer is a slightly different matter, and it trenches more nearly on the great question of economy. I desire to refer to the horse camps. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for York in the early part of this year on more than one occasion called attention from the point of view of cruelty to animals to the state of affairs in the horse camps. From my knowledge and experience last autumn when in France, I know that in the biggest horse depot there the state of things—I am not complaining of it—was extremely unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. PETO
At Le Havre. There was no covering overhead, and I found in November, when it was pouring rain, and the mud, of course, was of almost inconceivable depth, that the horses had to be positively dug out on most occasions before they could be moved at all, and the horses drinking troughs in many places had to be discontinued from use altogether, because it was impossible for any horse to get near them owing to the mud. We are now at the end of summer, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is common knowledge that there is no great demand, and no great use for Cavalry or Light Horses in this War—I am speaking broadly—and we have at present still a very large number of horses in our great horse camps here. We have also a great shortage of horses upon our farms, and I would suggest, considering the enormous cost of forage, and of men to attend upon the cleaning and exercise of these horses, and the amount of the officer's pay up to the rank of colonel, in connection with these horse camps, that very large and substantial economies, with the advantage of better health to the horses themselves, could be achieved at once if the right hon. Gentleman would consider the system of boarding out, under the supervision again of competent county committees, in small areas, with approved selected farmers, certain numbers of these horses, two here, three there, and half a dozen in other places, leaving it to the farmers instead of the taxpayers, to pay for the cost of keep, and leaving the farmers responsible for cleaning, and obviously for providing proper exercise of these animals in the useful duty of helping to produce food in 499 this country. I put that forward as, I believe, an absolutely practical suggestion. The War Office will not lose touch with a single animal. They will all have the Government brand. The farmer who would take any horses would be responsible for replacing them in case of any accident while they were under his care, and, if proper and responsible farmers were chosen, I do not believe that there would be the slightest difficulty in remustering these horses almost at a moment's notice in better health, and having saved the cost of their keep in the meantime.
There is another thing to which I would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, more for the purpose of eliciting information than for the object of making a suggestion. I refer to the question of hut camps. I raised this question in the early part of this year. An enormous amount of work was going on all through the whole summer, and it is going on still. A great deal of labour is employed upon the completion of the hut camps, which it is almost amusing to notice in most cases means putting in roads, which, of course, should have been the first operation performed. I say the first operation, but there is a further point. We have now heard that in some of the larger hut camp areas light railways are now being constructed. Consider what this means. We have first of all had horse traction. Then we had road traction by heavy tractors, breaking up and destroying the roads, and the cost of putting them back into something like the condition in which they were before, and which I believe the right hon. Gentleman can tell us approximately amounts, I believe, to a figure of not less than £50,000 in one area alone. Probably the aggregate cost is enormously greater than that. We now have these light railways being constructed, which, if they had been constructed in the beginning, would have saved the country hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But it is to the question of the labour employed there that I desire especially to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. I have brought to his notice flagrant cases where the men were giving practically no return in adequate labour for the very high wages which were paid. When I visited these camps the foremen in charge had practically no control over the labour gangs, because they did not dare to speak to any man, as, if they did, he would simply put on his coat and go away; there was 500 such a shortage of labour—and the right hon. Gentleman admits, I believe, that the class of labourer was very unsatisfactory. That was because they had to work with everybody they could get hold of to do this work, and I believe in that case they did not take proper precautions in the beginning. If they had allowed no man inside of any hut camp or in contact with troops to be quartered there who was not enlisted in the military engineers under military discipline, I believe that they would have got all the men they wanted, and I believe that there would have been proper discipline among what is now civilian labour, and that they would have got a fair return, and would not have interfered as they have done, terribly, with the production of food in all the southern counties by the scarcity of labour which they have caused. However much there may be to do to-day, there cannot now be anything like the same pressure of work and the same demand for labour that there was, say, in the month of February last, when you had literally hundreds of thousands of men billeted out all over the place waiting for these huts to be completed, so that they might be got together and their real training might commence under proper military discipline. Now that is not so. The heavy work, I believe, of the hut camps is completed. Cannot something be done, now that there is not the same demand for labour to sort out the men, to deal with those who are the most unsatisfactory, and to keep, and make it a privilege for them to be kept on, only those who have given reasonable service? I am told that even at the present time it is absolutely demoralizing to the labour in these districts, and I find that when they go to a hut camp to do any work they leave it undone, and go to sleep in the hedges or in half-finished huts, and this is really looked upon as a matter of no consequence, involving nothing, and is totally overlooked. I want the right hon. Gentleman also to consider to what extent the principle of paying, instead of a lump sum to the contractor for the job—with such-and-such a percentage on outlay, is responsible for the state of things which is costing the country so much. I would like to know how many existing contracts are going on under the vicious system of paying, not upon the job, but according to the amount of money the contractor has disbursed. I would further like to know what steps have been taken to enlist this vast labour force, 501 a huge proportion of which consists of unmarried men. They openly say they prefer having a safe job of work under the Government to enlisting, and I would suggest that they should be enlisted when the very unsatisfactory services that they have rendered as civilians can be dispensed with. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will take very seriously into consideration the effect of this state of affairs upon agriculture, and I would ask him whether he proposes, as a result of the Registration Act, to sift all this labour force carefully, putting the men back on to the land who can render the best services, and seeing that the men who have refused to enlist are not given an opportunity of seeking to get a more lucrative job under the Government on a neighbouring site. Another point I desire to raise is a larger one, with which certainly I am not competent to deal in any detail, but it has been brought to my notice that at present the men who are not passed as fit for foreign service are mixed up in the same command with the men who are fit for foreign service, and for whom it would be worth the country's while to provide full training in order to enable them to render satisfactory service when sent abroad.
I am told that certain steps have been taken to assist farmers—this will not apply only to the harvest now practically completed—by giving them the labour of soldiers or of men who have been enlisted. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it must be an uneconomical plan to spend all the money that is necessary—because this can all be translated into money—to fully train men who are not fit for foreign service up to the same standard as those who are fit for foreign service. This would seem to me to open a field for vast economy in our national expenditure on the Army, if all the troops in this country were divided into first, second, and third line troops. The third line troops I should classify as men not fit for foreign service, but who should be given such training as would fit them to carry out all the military duties for which they are fit, namely, Home defence. To give them that standard of training is obviously all that is needed, and it would cost very much less, since they would acquire that amount of military knowledge which in the opinion of the War Office was necessary for men only fit to defend the country here at home in case of emergency. When they have got that amount of military knowledge they should be allowed to assist the farmers, or 502 to go back to any other suitable civilian occupation, of course being always in touch with their depots, always under the liability to be called up at a moment's notice, and always ready to return for their fortnight or month's training, or whatever the War Office may consider necessary. By the mere fact of selecting them out from the whole mass of troops you make a third line, and the members of that third line would be the proper men to assist the farmers in agriculture, and not the men who are fit for foreign service. Such a system would work far more smoothly and certainly save a large amount of money. These are points which I think really need the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, and I have taken the earliest opportunity I could to bring them to his attention, and I hope he will give us some satisfactory reply
§ Mr. BUTCHER
There are two special points raised by my hon. Friend which I desire to emphasise. The first is the question of non-commissioned officers who, for some very trivial or venial fault, have been reduced in rank. When a non-commissioned officer has been wounded in action, and is told by the Medical Board that he is unfit for further service, he is then retired from the Army on the reduced rank. I would give an illustration within my own knowledge, and which appears to me to be one of very great hardship. It is the case of a man who was in the Army before the outbreak of the War, and who had I would almost say a distinguished record of service, there not being a single complaint of any sort or kind brought against him. When the War broke out he rejoined, and he reached the rank of acting sergeant-major—I think it was in the Army Service Corps. During his period of training he committed a fault, a very light one. I have investigated it, and it appeared to me to be an extremely venial one; and thereupon, as I was told, he was automatically reduced to the rank of private. In that rank he went out to the front and was wounded. He has returned to this country, and it is very doubtful whether he will ever be fit for service again. That man retired under the stigma—if he does retire from the Army—of having been reduced to the ranks, all his previous good service having been, in effect, wiped out without the opportunity being given him, owing to his wounds, of getting restored to his former rank. Perhaps it would be going too far to say that in all cases where non-commissioned 503 officers have been reduced in rank they should be given a pension according to their former rank, but there ought to be some distinction made between them, and, where the fault has been of a trifling kind, I do urge that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend should be adopted, and that when a man is retired in the circumstance I have described, it should be on the rank he formerly had.
In regard to the question of the horse camps, it is perfectly true that in the late autumn and the winter of this year many horses suffered a considerable amount of hardship from being exposed to the conditions under which they were quartered throughout the country. It is quite true, also, that later on proper stables were put up, especially at the big remount camps, and again at a later period in March or April, the conditions under which they were housed, so far as I saw in several of these camps, were extremely satisfactory. My hon. Friend has made a suggestion which, from the point of view of economy, I think is well worthy consideration. You have a very large number of horses in the country at this moment. Many of them are not being at this time mobilised for various reasons, and many of them are not likely to be used for some time to come. They are being detained in the remount camps at very large cost necessarily for fodder, and the labour which is employed is expensive, there being large numbers of persons in these camps. I submit that the proposition of my hon. Friend should be borne in mind, of boarding out horses with farmers, thus saving the expense of fodder, and so on. If you select the farmers with whom to board out the horses you will be able to get the animals back when you want them, and in all probability in a better condition than when they were sent. Everyone knows, who knows anything about horses, that there is nothing worse for a horse than to remain in camp with nothing to do. Both man and horse are all the better for exercise; in fact, they cannot do without exercise; and in these large remount camps it is quite impossible to give horses, as I think in many cases, the exercise necessary to keep them in proper condition. If they were sent to various farms, they would immediately get proper exercise, and, under such supervision as my hon. Friend suggests, you could ensure their being returned in a better condition than when they were sent away, and you 504 would also avoid very largely the expense of fodder. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will consider those points and give some favourable consideration to the suggestions which have been made.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will begin my answer to the observations which have fallen from various quarters of the House by making a few remarks upon the subject of second and third line units of the Territorial Forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe, who is not in his place now, asked me if I could make some statement on the subject. He seemed to think that second and third line units are under some kind of ban at the War Office, that certain things have been suppressed, and that they have not had the amount of consideration or fair hearing which they demanded. I am sorry my hon. Friend has taken that line, and thinks that kind of treatment has been meted out to these units. I can assure him and the House that there is no kind of reason for entertaining those suspicions. The truth is, of course, that while the original second line units were meant to supply the drafts for making good the wastage of war, that is not so now. They are now the machine for so doing, but the third line units have been created for that very essential purpose, and the second line units will be utilised in all probability as fighting formations to go abroad when the time comes. There have been further depletions in order to make sufficient fighting units for Overseas, and men unable to take the full foreign obligation have been drafted into provisional units. I really wish my hon. Friends to realise that we consider this second line unit as being of great importance in the military machine, and we feel it very wrong on his part to make such suppositions as have been made, namely, that the fullest consideration is not given to those units. Perhaps I may pass from that to what the hon. Member opposite said about the military operations which have taken place in Mesopotamia, and I think he is aware that is a subject which properly appertains to the Secretary of State for India, and not to the War Office in so great a degree; but inasmuch as it is a military operation, and one of considerable importance for which the House generally and the country are most grateful, I would say I will certainly bring to the notice of the Secretary of State for India the observations of the hon. Gentleman, and also those of the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Colonel 505 Yate), in the hope that fuller details of the actual operations may be given to the House. I hope that may be done.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly consider the recommendation that dispatches should be dispatched here at the same time they go to India?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not know whether it is possible or not to have simultaneous publication of dispatches in this country and in India. That is a question which only the India Office could answer, but I will of course make that part of my representations to the Secretary of State for India, in the hope that the fullest publicity shall be given to those gallant exploits which I am sure we all recognise and appreciate. I come now to the speeches of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) and the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher). If I may take first the question of the reduction in rank of a non-commissioned officer to that of private, I would say generally that I am amazed to learn that for what has been described by my hon. and learned Friend as a venial, and even very venial, offence so heavy punishment has been inflicted. I am sure he will agree with me that that is a very unusual circumstance. Only for grave offences is reduction in rank made. I think he may take it from me that that is so.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I shall be most grateful if he will let me investigate the case he has in mind. Whether it is too late or not to go back on the decision I do not like to say. I am sure he will realise there are very grave difficulties in the way of altering a decision of the kind. Generally speaking, I would ask both the hon. Member for Devizes and the hon. and learned Member for York not as a rule to criticise, unless great injustice is done, questions of discipline in the Army. They are very difficult questions, and most important issues are involved in them. I make that appeal to them merely in the interests of a very great and rather delicate machine, in order that nothing should go forth to the public that miscarriages of justice are at all common. I am desirous that no such sentiment or idea as that should enter into the minds of the soldiers, and I am sure both hon. Members are equally desirous that no suspicions should attach to the justice 506 administered by Courts-martial to soldiers. Those hon. Gentlemen also referred to the question of horses, and they put forward certain proposals. Speaking without the book, and without the opportunity of consultation with the military authorities concerned, I think we might very well take the matter into our favourable consideration. Whether it is a practical suggestion or not, I am not able at the moment to say, because, as the House may realise, the demand for horses may come like a thief in the night. We do not know when that might happen, and it might be that in a great emergency we might not be able to get the horses back from the farmers in time, or in the condition in which we would want them. I only throw that out to my hon. Friends as one of the first ideas which strikes, indeed jumps at one, as being a possible defect to the proposal that they have made.
I was very glad to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York describe the remount camps at Southampton and elsewhere which he visited as being in an extremely satisfactory condition. I think there was a time when he did not entertain that view. It is very satisfactory now to hear him bear the testimony which he has given to the management of the horses in those camps, and especially is it so to those in the Services. The hon. Member for Devizes raised a question with regard to the discharge from hospital of soldiers, and a sum of money, 10s. 6d. I think he said, being given to them as part of their pay.
§ Mr. TENNANT
If I am not mistaken that is a recommendation of a Committee set up by the Statutory Committee on Pensions of this House. Is not that so?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I really do not know whether it is supposed that 10s. 6d. is sufficient for the man to live upon where he has to keep himself?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I understood it was a supplementary sum on having been given some other things, but if the hon. Gentleman will put it before me in writing, then I will be able to examine into it. A change 507 has been made in recent times with regard to discharges from hospitals to convalescent homes, and although I have not been able to remind myself of all the details of the new arrangements, I have in recollection that quite recently the director of the Army Medical Service decided upon a new method by which he hopes that not only will there be greater comfort, as it were, for the wounded soldier, but also greater rapidity of recovery from wounds and sickness, and that by that means the soldier will be more rapidly set free to return to his duties at the front.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will first refer to another point raised by the hon. Gentleman, namely, that which he adumbrated as to the reorganisation of the Army. I think perhaps in the middle of a great war is not quite the right moment to make an attempt at a revolution, as it were, in the organisation of the Army, therefore I will not now enter seriously on that point. With regard to huts, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will give him a detailed answer as to this matter, but I should like to say this about what the hon. Member said. He remarked that it was ludicrous that we should have built last year our huts first and roads second. If we had built the roads first, the poor soldiers we wanted to house would be out in the cold until April and May.
§ Mr. TENNANT
You cannot build roads and then huts when you are in a great hurry. If you have lots of time, then obviously you would build your roads first and then your huts, but in a case of great haste you would have to do the reverse.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I wish to call attention to a subject which has not been discussed in this House for some considerable time, namely, the Press Bureau and its methods of dealing with the news of the War. The last time that this question was discussed here, we had the advantage of an official Opposition in the House. That meant that the House was able, through the mouth of the official Opposition, to criticise the policy of the then Government; but with the Coalition has come not only the absence of all criticism but the contempt in which the Coalition holds the 508 House of Commons. The Front Bench at the moment and all this afternoon is a striking example of that. There is not a single Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench. It is only half-past five, or a little over an hour and a half since questions have finished. Probably those who are now on the Front Bench ought to be in the Cabinet, but that is another point. The point which I think ought to be emphasised is that the House of Commons is entitled, during all these Debates, and particularly on a Debate on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, when there are so many vital matters of interest that can be raised, at least to the presence of some Cabinet Minister who may be supposed to have some interest in the proceedings of the House of Commons. There are twenty-two of them—a first eleven and a second eleven—and surely we might have the courtesy of the presence of at least a member of the second eleven.
I was remarking that when this question was discussed before we had the advantage of an official Opposition, which did criticise to some extent the policy of the Press Bureau. The position taken up with regard to the Press Bureau by the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now Colonial Secretary, was one which had the general assent of the House. The right hon. Gentleman considered that while the censorship was essential in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, there were many directions in which the Government might be more frank with the information which they gave to the country. He held that view very strongly and expressed himself upon it very strongly more than once. Since he joined the Coalition Government he seems to have receded from the position he then took up and to be acquiescing like the rest of the Cabinet in the withdrawal from the public of every item of information which has any interest at all. The Press Bureau has been in existence for more than a year. It is perfectly true that some of its earlier defects have been remedied. There is an earlier release of news and articles from the censorship, and there have been other improvements. But the relationship between the Press Bureau and the Press is again becoming extraordinarily confused. My first criticism is that at the moment the Press Bureau is so constituted there is no one directly responsible to the House of Commons in real 509 touch with the censorship. I know that the Home Secretary, who will probably have something to say on the question, does in a sense represent the Press Censorship, but he certainly does not represent it in any way like those who were at its head before.
The present Solicitor-General was the first head of the Press Bureau. That arrangement did not work satisfactorily, and, if I remember rightly, the House of Commons insisted that the Home Secretary should become responsible and answer for it in the House of Commons. I have a distinct recollection of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer doing that on one occasion. That arrangement failed because the Minister was not directly responsible. When he replied he was a briefed Minister. He had his brief from the officials, and he did his best with what was given to him. Then we had a third arrangement by which the present Lord Chancellor was made head of the Press Bureau. As a distinct result of that arrangement we had several Debates in the House of Commons when the present Lord Chancellor, who has now gone to an atmosphere of quiet and calm in another place, defended himself with considerable heat. The imposition of the direct responsibility upon a Minister of the Cabinet had that good result. As a result of those Debates the then Leader of the Opposition laid down the only terms upon which the then Opposition would agree to the continuance of the Press Censorship. They were two in number, namely, that the Press Censorship should be entirely free from the charge of suppressing criticism of executive acts of the Government, and that there ought to be a franker disclosure of information. It was also on that occasion that the Prime Minister admitted the value of the criticisms directed against the Press Censorship, especially against the absence of any news from the front, and he promised—I am sorry that the promise has not been fulfilled with the regularity for which we hoped—that in the absence of any other information we should at any rate have a bi-weekly report, or two reports weekly, from Sir John French. The exact term does not matter. The point made by the Prime Minister was as to the regularity. He promised also that there should be sent to the front accredited representatives of the Press who would give us from time to time information as to what was happen- 510 ing in Flanders, France, or even the Dardanelles. These promises have been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Week after week there has been no information from the General commanding the Forces at the front, and while the French Government are able to supply this country and their own country with two communiqués each day from the front, which is much more accessible to the enemy than our country, we have been unable to get any information from our own General.
I insist—I have insisted before, and I shall continue to insist—that the public have a right to know a great deal more than they are knowing about this present War. They are entitled to be treated with a great deal more candour than the Press Censorship is allowing in the matter of such information. It is rather a dangerous power which we are placing in the hands of a few people. I remember the present Lord Chancellor claiming that he, as Press Censor, had the power to suppress, if he cared to, any criticism, as he termed it, that would lessen confidence in any Minister of the Crown—an absolutely preposterous claim, from which he afterwards, I am glad to say, departed. There are many ways in which the Press Bureau operates against the public interest. It is not my business in the House to hold a brief for one paper or another, nor for the ideas which they promulgate in their columns, but there are certain things that can be said about the actual facts published in those newspapers which, I think, are vital to the discussion and the criticism of the Press Bureau. I take one example, in regard to which I have the exact facts. There is one newspaper in the Metropolis which, right through the War, has conducted a very keen opposition to the continuance in any public office of anyone connected by birth or surroundings with the German people. It is not for me at the present moment to discuss whether that is right or wrong. It is, at any rate, a matter of public importance. One of the persons against whom this particular newspaper directed its criticism was an official in a very important position at the Foreign Office. That official is an under-secretary married to a German wife, with a German mother, and therefore obviously biassed in favour of the associations which arise from that fact. I do not mind that for the purpose of this Debate. What I do mind is that that is a legitimate form of 511 criticism for any newspaper which cares to take it up. A speech was being made in the country—I think at Buxton—by a public man whose writings, whether we agree or disagree with them, are familiar to us all.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Mr. William Le Queux. Some of his writings are extremely entertaining, if anyone takes them on a railway journey, as also are some of his writings on the question of spies. But let the Home Secretary make no mistake. I am not worrying about opinions. It is the facts of the case that I want to bring before his notice. This gentleman was making a speech in the country, and in the ordinary course of news a report of the speech was sent to the newspaper office. But prior to that a note was sent from the Censor to the editor of the newspaper telling him that he would get this information from the speech of this particular gentleman, and calling upon him not to publish it. That information was followed by a letter, in which he tried to persuade the editor of the newspaper not to pursue the topic. The Home Secretary will see what that means. It means that the Censor was taking advantage of knowledge which he possessed to hold up the publication of information about the policy adopted by a newspaper, which might be right or wrong, until the Censor could have his own way about it. I do not care very much about the point, but the process by which the point was made is important from the point of view of other newspapers. There is a more important point than that. The Home Secretary will remember that criticism has been directed against everybody representing the Press Bureau for taking up the position that they represent only the Department responsible for the news, and do not act upon their own initiative. That is to say, the Press Censor always says, "was told to do this by the Foreign Office," or "I was acting on instructions from the War Office," or "I was acting on instructions from the Admiralty," and so on. It is never done by the Press Censor himself. I want to ask the Home Secretary the distinct question, whether that policy is now changed? The reason I ask is, that I have in my hand a copy of a letter written by Sir E. T. Cook, who, I presume, is the executive 512 head of the Press Censorship at the moment, dealing with this point. In that letter he says:—The Foreign Office bad nothing to do with the expression of opinion which was that of the directors of the Press Bureau. We take this opportunity of thanking you for noting our advice,and so on. Has the policy of the Press Bureau been altered? Are the directors of the Press Bureau now able or allowed to express their opinion with regard to the manner in which news shall be used, or are they simply the medium for transmitting the desires and wishes of another Department? That is an important and serious point which ought to be made perfectly clear to the public. With all the good will in the world on the part of the Press of this country, acting in co-operation with the Press Censor, it is extremely difficult to do the right thing. I want further to raise the question as to how the work is done; who determines when and how valuable information is to be communicated to the public? Take the case which we have had within the last few days relating to the accident—to call it nothing more—which occurred to the Russian Arsenal at Ochta. That disaster occurred in April, 1915. The arsenal at that time, according to the information we have now, was destroyed. We were given to understand that it was destroyed as a result of German espionage in Russia, and that the effect of the destruction of the arsenal was very great upon our gallant Allies. The House will see that this is a fact of great importance in relation to our own services. This House will remember that from another newspaper this country was suddenly made aware of the fact that we had an extraordinary shortage of high explosives, and this resulted in, among other things, in the formation of the Coalition Government. At that time hon. Members will remember that there were a great many voices, not only in the Cabinet, in this House, and in the other House, but in the country, speaking on different platforms, and that everybody, from the Prime Minister to the War Minister, were involved in these contradictory statements.
I am perfectly certain that if this country had been informed, as I think we ought to have been informed, as to what was the real reason for this extraordinary shortage, and as to what was the real reason why the Russians were put into this position, that it would, if anything would, have bestirred both the muscle and the recruiting energy of the people of this 513 country, and they would have made redoubled efforts. The only paper that had the courage to deal with this extraordinary story in the face of the Censor—and I understand from the reply in the House of Commons the other day that the matter is a subject of investigation by the Public Prosecutor—was one connected with the Amalgamated Press. I do not like the Amalgamated Press so far as their politics are concerned, and I think they do a lot of things in a way I should not attempt to do them, but I admire their courage. I think that they have done a national service in flying in the face of the Press Censor. It is a thing that I commend, and I hope when the Public Prosecutor does take action that he will be rapped over the knuckles. The Amalgamated Press, however, did have the courage to publish this particular fact about the Russian arsenal. If they had refrained from publishing it I suppose we might not have heard of the story yet, although it is true to say that other newspapers, or rather another newspaper interest, with other newspapers attached, the great "Daily News" with its evening "Star," and so on, had also been at the Press Censor for the purpose of getting permission to publish this story. Why should we not have known it? Russia knew all about it as far back as April. Germany certainly knew all about it. America knew all about it. So did Italy. So did the civilised world, with the exception of Great Britain. What reason is there then that the Censor of the Press Bureau should withhold from the public of this country a fact known to the whole world except ourselves? For what substantial reason?
The House will remember that after this information had been published by the Amalgamated Press in one of their weekly editions, one of the weekly papers, the "Evening News" was courageous enough to publish it. Subsequently the "Star" sought permission to publish it. I believe that newspaper men would say the "copy" was "released" by the Censor after the "Star" had been "put to bed" on the particular evening on which the "Evening News" was displaying these facts on their bills throughout the whole of the Metropolis. It is ironical. But it is not the end of the story! I want further to know why the Press Bureau fears one class of newspaper and favours another, and in addition to that favours the foreign journalist as against the British journalist. Take the case of our 514 Fleet—that great, silent instrument of war in which we have so much confidence and which has done such brilliant work for us since the War broke out. What do we, or what does anybody in this House, outside the councils of the people—who ought now to be on the Front Bench, but who are not now there—know about the doings of the Fleet? We are never told. No British newspaper or journalist has yet been enabled to tell the story of our Fleet. Who has been enabled to tell it? The American journalist! Permission has been given to an American journalist, and his article even appeared in a paper that has already published a grave scandal against our commander in the field in France. That American journalist has been given permission to visit our Fleet; nay, more, has been permitted to tell where our Fleet is, or was. He has actually named the Firth of Forth, in which the Fleet was lying at the moment of his visit—a fact which no British journalist or newspaper would have dared to publish. Why is it that we have to get our information regarding our Fleet viâ New York? I do not, I cannot, really understand it, nor can I understand what is the objection on the part of our Government—what is the object on the part of the Press Bureau—in concealing facts which would hearten everybody in this country.
Is it or is it not true, for example, that the British Fleet has sunk fifty German submarines since the beginning of the War? Everybody who has any knowledge of the facts knows that. If it is true that we have sunk that number of German submarines, why does not the Government tell the country that we have sunk them, and let the people know that our Fleet has not been inactive, that it has been doing its work? I can see, for example, the reason why you ought to conceal where those submarines have been sunk, and how they got sunk or captured. I can conceive that you may want to conceal the way in which they have been destroyed, but I cannot for the life of me understand why you want to conceal the fact that fifty of these submarines—
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend says more than fifty. Why can I mention this fact on a recruiting platform, or at a street corner, in Edinburgh or elsewhere, and have nothing done to me, whilst the British journalist or the British newspaper cannot communicate that fact to the people of this 515 country? I do not know what other Members of the House feel about it, but I am sick to death of the method in which the country is treated by the Government and by the Press Bureau. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give us some information which will enable us to feel that we are not to be played with. Let us know, for example, whether he is, and continues to be, the responsible head of the Press Bureau. His office is the office of Home Secretary. It is perfectly obvious that the Press Bureau is an addition to that office. I presume the Home Office is an office which takes up a considerable amount of time. The fact that the present occupant of it is a distinguished lawyer means that probably he is giving his services to a great many other Departments of the State and that, therefore, his time is very fully occupied. But I assert that the House of Commons has the right to have sitting on that Front Bench some Minister responsible to the House of Commons for the action and principles upon which the Press Bureau is working. We ought to be able to come more closely into touch with the Press Bureau than through the medium of the Home Secretary. I appeal to him for more frankness on the part of the Government with regard to the information which the country ought to have. We do not want to be told at the end of the War everything that might now be cheering about the progress of the War. The people of this country are greatly in need of the opportunity of being allowed to cheer and to have some of the information which many in this House know. We think it can be published, and that the opportunity ought to be taken to do so.
Let us have a great deal more frankness and a great deal more common sense. Do not let us have the Press Bureau allowing Lord Esher, for example—who is, after all, a Government official and a man in a high post—publishing in the Press of the country a letter to the newspapers in the morning which, when the evening newspapers copy it from the morning papers, gets them the disfavour of the Censor for having published something without his approval. That is what I mean when I say, "Let us have some common sense." It is ridiculous that a man of Lord Esher's eminence should be allowed to publish something in the morning which brings the evening papers who repeat it up before the Press Censor, and possibly threatened with the Defence of the Realm Act. Let 516 us also be sure that the rule laid down by the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman is maintained: that information is conveyed to the Press Bureau through and on the responsibility of the Departments, and not on the responsibility of the Press Censor, whoever he may be and however able. There are a great many other points in connection with the Press Censorship with which one might take up the time of the House, but I have said enough to express a view shared by a great many people both inside and outside of this House, and I hope my right hon. Friend, therefore, will see his way to be even more frank on the subject than he has been.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. SIMON
As I understand that there is no desire further to discuss the Press Bureau—[An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"]—I understood to the contrary, and that was why I intervened at this stage. I do not want, either, to take up too much time, as there are other questions which may be raised in this Debate. At the same time I want to deal with two or three of the points which have been made this afternoon. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has devoted his speech to the Press Bureau. Earlier in the afternoon the hon. Baronet the Member for the Mansfield Division of Nottingham also made some remarks upon the subject. First of all, I have rather a difficult and embarrassing point to deal with—the question of why I should answer for the Press Bureau. Whatever else I may say about it, I think I shall have the sympathy of the House when I declare that, as far as my personal choice goes, I should be very glad indeed to be rid of the embarrassing subject. I cannot imagine that any Minister, however greedy for work, is anxious to take upon his shoulders this particular task, and I hope when I offer some reason why it should be dealt with by whoever happens to be head of my office, that it will not be supposed that I am greedy for an attractive job. It is a mistake to say that there is no one in the House of Commons who is responsible for, or ready to answer for the doings of the Press Bureau. Obviously the Government in some form must be answerable, and the real question is what Member of the Government shall be so answerable. I think there is a good deal to be said for the arrangement—I am not speaking, of course, of the personal individual—as it at present exists. 517 On the "whole it appears an advantage that the Minister who assumes that responsibility should be a Cabinet Minister, because it does happen from time to time—it has in my own experience—that the questions that have arisen in this Department are questions which call for Cabinet consideration. I am not altogether satisfied whether it is the best practical plan that you should have a Minister who practically devotes the whole of his time to this and nothing else. The complaint is sometimes made that we have too many Ministers and too large a Cabinet. I doubt whether, taking a Member of the House of Commons who is holding office in the Government, it is desirable that you should require him to devote the whole of his time to the details of this Department, and I will point out why. To a large extent the questions involved in the administration of the Press Bureau are technical and practical questions which can be judged by those who, either by training or by experience, know the ins and outs of the working of the Press.
The idea that the Press Bureau is some tyrant who sits there and automatically chops off this man's head, and destroys that man's article, is, of course, quite unfounded. It may not always succeed, but it is constructed in order that it shall be as responsive, and as responsive as quickly as possible, to this most elaborate organism, the Press of the United Kingdom. Anybody who goes to the Press Bureau will see how there is constantly coming out the representative of this or that agency, or this or that newspaper, and the amount of matter it has to deal with is, of course, voluminous. No Minister could possibly personally and by his own observation, and with his own blue pencil, deal with matters of that sort. What you want is someone who is prepared to take the responsibility here, who does his best to keep in the closest touch with the heads of the organisation, and who makes it his business to see that the organisation is efficiently staffed, and is carried out, so far as he humanly can secure, in the way he thinks, and the House of Commons thinks, to be satisfactory. It is really a mistake to say that no one is responsible. I am responsible for the Metropolitan Police, and I am responsible in exactly the same sense for the Press Bureau. You may say it is undesirable that so much responsibility should be put on one pair of shoulders. But it really is not an accurate view of the matter 518 to say, constitutionally or practically, there is nobody in the House responsible for this Department.
I am sure I do not want to institute comparisons, but I did hope that, looking at the thing broadly in the light of experience, and of the great efforts made in that office night and day to co-operate with the great journals of the public, it would have been thought by those who criticise that a great deal of good work had been done, and that in the course of time improvements had been effected. We found, for example, that the heads of the Press Bureau were not sufficient in number to secure an absolutely continuous service at all hours of the day and night, and that raised some inconvenience, more particularly when you had to deal with air raids. That was corrected, and I believe with the general approval of the Press of this country, after taking some trouble to get advice on the matter, and I do not believe that any responsible journalist will come forward and say, as regards any one man at the head of that Department, that he is not a man who is administering it, so far as a person humanly can, in the way and in the spirit which could be desired. The details of this case and of that are quite another matter.
The large question as to whether or not you are to have regard to the views of the War Office or of the Admiralty when you are invited to publish military or naval news is another question. That does not lie in the mouth of Sir Edward Cook, Sir Frank Swettenham, or Mr. Mitchell—or, indeed, in my mouth. If the House of Commons really, in the midst of what may be regarded as the greatest War of all time, in the position in which it now stands, really wants to say, "I do not care about the opinion of the soldiers or the sailors; I say the newspapers ought to publish what I think ought to be published, and not what those people think," then there is nothing more to be said. All I will say is that I will not for a moment, so long as I am responsible for the Press Bureau, tolerate that proposition. Soldiers and sailors can make mistakes like other people; but if anyone has the slightest idea of what is involved in carrying on a great war, or the smallest realisation of the efforts made by our enemy to undermine our position by publishing undesirable news, they will accept without question the judgment of military and naval people who are responsible in both cases as to the censoring of military and naval news. 519 My hon. Friend referred to two or three specific cases, and so did the hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield. Let me, without any sort of rhetoric and in the most direct and simple way, deal with the cases mentioned.
Take the hon. Member for Mansfield first. He has raised the first question before. He asks why official news which is circulated by the German Government is censored in this country. Well, I must repeat an explanation I tried to give some months ago, and which still holds. Really we are very suspicious in this country about some things, but are babes about others, and the very same Gentleman who will be enormously suspicious about spies, and very much concerned about flashlights, seems to think there is no conceivable reason why you should not publish in this country whatever the good German Government ask you to publish. Let me tell my hon. Friend and others who take an interest in the subject what this official news of the German Government really is. When we talk about official communiqués published by ourselves or our Allies, they are statements of facts relating to events which have happened—that such a position has been taken, that such and such an advantage has been gained, that the enemy has suffered as we believe such and such loss, and we have incurred such and such loss ourselves. That is what an Englishman, Frenchman or Russian means by an official communiqué. But does the House of Commons really suppose that is the nature of the German communiqué which we are accused of foolishly censoring? I will tell the House what the German communiqué is. The German communiqué is sent out to a large extent by wireless. Owing to the British Navy and British cables and other things, it is the only way they have of sending it out. So much the better. They would be delighted if the British Government would accept the invitation of some of its critics, and undertake in all circumstances to publish whatever news Germany chooses to send out by wireless telegraphy.
What do you suppose is the news Germany does send out? It is quite true she includes in it information corresponding to our own communiqués—that is to say, the statements of her own general staff that Vilna has been taken, that there was or there was not treasure, that prisoners were captured, that Von Hindenburg has done this, or Mackensen has done the 520 other. We publish that just the same as we should publish French, Russian or British communiqués; but, interspersed with information of that sort, in what is called a German official communiqué—that is to say, its wireless news—are all sorts of representations which we are invited to publish solely for the purpose of influencing neutral opinion against ourselves and in Germany's favour. I cannot obviously give you examples of it. I have got them in my pocket, and have been reading them in the last quarter of an hour, and I have been asking myself what would be the position of the unfortunate Cabinet Minister who is answerable to the House and to the country for the operations of the Press Bureau, if he were to say, "I do not care about Lord Kitchener, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. I think, and people in the House of Commons think, that the whole of this communiqué should be published." Anybody who looks at such a document and considers it fairly would see immediately that we are being invited by the German Government through our own Press to act as advertisement agents for the German Government in every neutral country in Europe. I refuse to do it, and when I say that, do not imagine I am setting up my personal judgment, which is a mere layman's judgment, against the judgment of all other laymen in this Assembly who are quite as well able to judge as I am, except that I have seen the documents, and they have not. I am merely saying that, in a matter of this sort, I must ask the House of Commons to accept the judgment, which, from time to time, has been confirmed in the Cabinet, of the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty that certain parts of this document ought to be censored, and, when we consider the issues at stake, I cannot believe that the honourable and patriotic newspaper Press really make it a grievance that they are not entitled to publish this matter, which is directly designed to assist the enemy and injure ourselves. To do the papers justice, I have never learned from the Press Bureau that it is a subject of complaint from practical journalists at all. My hon. Friend says, "I subscribe to the American papers"—well, that is one way of arriving at truth—"and I know the facts of the War only a week late with completeness and accuracy, and I want to ask the Home Secretary and the Press Bureau why on earth do they put these obstacles in the way of the country learning the facts of the 521 War a week earlier?" I wish to speak with all respect of the American Press, which publishes, no doubt, freely anything offered by the Germans or other people they think interesting; but I deny altogether that the versions which the Germans are pleased to publish everywhere are to be accepted as gospel truth even when it does come from a German source, and even when it is printed in an American newspaper. I hope I shall not be thought to be saying anything fantastic or absurd if I say that, if the same material were published promptly in the most responsible and authoritative British newspapers, it would get in the minds of neutral readers an imprimatur, an added authority to any authority it gets when it is published in a pro-German American paper. That is the answer I give when my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield says, "Why on earth do you ever hesitate to publish in the British papers any mortal thing that the German Government chooses to issue and label 'Official'?"
There is a further matter raised by my hon. Friend. He says there is some dispatch issued from the German Government to the American Government which has been censored by the Press Bureau. All I can say is that I have been making inquiries most of the afternoon of the Press Bureau, the naval censors, and all other persons likely to have any knowledge of this missing dispatch. Nobody knows to what my hon. Friend is referring, but, of course, if he regards any tittle-tattle included in a German wireless as a dispatch it is perfectly possible that it has been censored. All I can say is that I believe the principles on which it has been censored are perfectly proper principles, but I do not for a moment believe that a dispatch handed by the German Ambassador to the United States Ambassador is censored in this country, and, if he knows of such a case as this, I hope he will give me further details about it. So much for my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield.
Now comes the hon. Member for Edinburgh, who referred to two or three other cases. There is one case that I am sorry he felt it his duty to raise in this House, but I cannot believe that anybody would refer to this matter unless he felt himself under some solemn and overwhelming sense of duty to do it. He referred to the fact that a gentleman, to whom he gave a most flaming testimonial, William Le Queux, had delivered a speech at Buxton 522 in which he thought fit to make an elaborate attack on the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, in view of certain domestic relatives. This gentleman not only made such a speech, but realising that it was very unlikely to attract much attention unless he called attention to it himself, or unless someone in the House of Commons could be got to call attention to it, he took the trouble to telegraph his speech at great length to the newspapers. I have heard of people about to make a speech, thinking perhaps that their eloquence might escape the attention of the public Press, resorting to certain devices to secure at any rate that reporters should not be entirely unprovided with what they hoped to be able to remember to say; but however eminent in the literary world, I have never heard of a gentleman who thought it necessary to telegraph in extenso a personal attack on an eminent public servant to the newspapers in order to ensure its appearance. That was called to my attention, and here let me say that I take personal, individual responsibility for everything that was done. It was not a question of anyone's responsibility but mine, and I am prepared to answer for it. I think that to make an attack of that sort upon a permanent servant, whose daily and nightly toil is at the service of our Foreign Minister at a time of great difficulty and crisis, is a cruel and unpatriotic thing to do. I asked myself how can I expect the Foreign Secretary to get the full service of this gentleman's attention, who has been devoting the whole of his life to our Foreign Office, if he is to open his paper the next morning and see this kind of attack, telegraphed by the man who made the speech at a halfpenny a word—I wish it were a penny!
At the same time I did not think it was possible that the Press Bureau should censor it in the ordinary way, because although I thought the attack was cruel and plainly calculated to distract people's attention from more serious things at a time of great crisis, still I did not think that on the principles we tried to act, it was right to censor it. Therefore I myself authorised the letter being sent to the two or three newspapers to whom this gentleman particularly presented this attractive bait, which we were careful not to say that we censored as news, but we did call attention to the fact that it was coming, and we asked the editors of the newspapers, as I ask my hon. Friend now, to consider whether in a crisis and time of 523 war it really is in the public interest that you should make assaults of that kind, of a personal character, upon a public servant. The editors of the newspapers one and all thought that that was a reasonable appeal, and nobody published it. As the matter has now been brought out by my hon. Friend in the discharge of his public duty, let me say I thought then, and I think now, that the editors in this instance, as in so many others, showed a real spirit of patriotism; they responded to the appeal that was made, not because we gave them any orders, but because they said it is possible this will come in late when there will not be time to think about it. Consider whether it is assisting the foreign policy of this country to deprive the Foreign Secretary of the full attention of his principal permanent servant by this sort of flaming attack, telegraphed by the orator himself. That is the defence, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks nobody is answerable for the Press Bureau in that matter let me tell him that I am answerable for every single thing that was done, and I take the fullest responsibility with the greatest pleasure in life. The hon. Gentleman referred to a report recently published about some explosion in Russia.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I did not mean to address myself to any other point. I thought the point he made was: Has there been a change of policy at the Press Bureau, and do the Press Bureau themselves decide these things instead of the Departments? My answer in this particular case is that I took upon myself to decide it personally. I did not consult anybody else because I thought that would be invidious; I took the responsibility and I will stand the racket.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Yes, he consulted me, and I am Sir Edward Cook's superior in this matter. I expressed the opinion, and he agreed, that it was not proper to censor the telegram in the ordinary sense of the term, and I agreed that a letter should be written in the sense I described, and that was the letter. Apart from that, the 524 House will appreciate that the Press Bureau takes the same responsibility it has always taken in censoring news. Certain rules are laid down by our naval, military and other authorities. They do their best to apply those rules fairly, and when they find that the rules do not fit the case, they do their best to communicate and consult, and although I know this machine is bound to be rather a creaky and lumbering machine, it must be remembered that we are not accustomed in a free country to a Press Bureau, and one of the great objects of the War is to produce a state of affairs in Europe in which it will not be necessary to have a Press Bureau. In the pinch of war you have to have it, and while I know it is a creaking and lumbering machine, I do not think justice is done to it, if fair allowance is not made not only for the energy but for the sympathy with which it is conducted by those who are responsible day and night for this work. My hon. Friend referred to a rumour about some Russian explosion. Is it not a little unfortunate that the moment any newspaper in the Kingdom states a thing of this kind, it seems in the eyes of my hon. Friend, with all his acuteness, first of all, that it is a fact, and then in another sentence or two, a fact known to the whole world and then a fact known to everybody except ourselves. Here I must plead a state of ignorance common to the rest of the House, but which my hon. Friend says he is not labouring under. I do not know whether it is a fact or not. The Foreign Office does not know. I hope my hon. Friend will consider, as we are fighting a war with some Allies, whether it is not desirable that we should consider the interests of our Allies as well as ourselves, before we are too positive about it. All I know is that whether this be an exaggerated statement or an exact statement, it is a thing about which I have no information, and really I do not believe anyone has.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I can only say that to whatever extent such a statement is exaggerated, its true effect is a thing which is not known to the responsible authorities in this country. I do not deny it, because I do not know. I cannot agree that the newspaper that flouts the Press Bureau and publishes this in order to secure what is sometimes called a newspaper scoop deserves quite all the encomiums which the hon. Gentleman 525 poured upon the proprietor of the "Evening News." I do not think it requires much courage. I think what is necessary is that people should consider what really is the public interest in this matter, and whether when you profess, as the proprietor of the "Evening News" does, complete confidence in Lord Kitchener, it might be just as well to see whether Lord Kitchener's own subordinates think it well it should be published before you publish it; but that is a matter upon which every man will form his own judgment. All that happened in this case was that having been published, be it true or false, be it as accurate as all the rest of the news published in that paper, or be it even more accurate, two other newspapers did what was perfectly proper, they came to the Press Bureau and said, "We see this news, may we publish it in our papers?" and the Press Bureau did the only thing it could do. It said, "There is a regulation under the Defence of the Realm regulations which says in plain terms that newspapers are not to publish without leave information regarding the resources in munitions of our Allies." Does the House of Commons suppose we really make that regulation without some regard to the wishes and feelings of our Allies? We have to have some regard to that, and I do not think it is a very unnatural request. The Press Bureau said, "that being so, we really cannot give you leave to publish this, although it has been in another paper, but we will communicate at once with the military authorities." The military authorities considered the matter, and took the view that in view of the fact that this had already been published without leave of anybody, it was not a reasonable thing to ask other newspapers to obey the law. Is it worth while to make a House of Commons case out of that? I cannot think that that is the way in which the House of Commons is going to assist the country to show a united front. It is as easy as possible to get up disputes and difficulties on small points connected with an office like this. I could give many such instances any week, and some of them come before me personally.
I have done my best, and I believe the Press Bureau has done its best, to make this machine work smoothly, and, generally speaking, I make no complaint of the Press, for the Press, generally speaking, have co-operated with us admirably. A great many of the rules we have laid down 526 were laid down at their suggestion, and a great many of the improvements we have made have been made because we found it would suit their convenience. I do not think, therefore, that the public interest is necessarily served by picking out the instances which strike this hon. Member and that, and treating them as fair specimens of the ordinary everyday work of this very hard-working and extremely complicated office. Let nobody suppose that I allege that such an instrument cannot be improved. All I say is that the suggestions that have been made from time to time have not been scouted. We have done our best from first to last to incorporate them into our working as far as we could. I do not retract one single inch from the position I took up when I first spoke on this subject, namely, that there is only one reason for censoring any news at all, and that is that its publication is calculated to assist the enemy or damage ourselves. I have never departed from that simple rule. On the other hand, the House of Commons must have enough self-control and patience—my hon. Friend talked about common sense—to realise that it is quite impossible for the critic or layman always to judge what is the true significance and the true weight of the reasons which move the military or the naval authorities. Obviously, I cannot give an example of what I am saying without disclosing the very thing which they wish to conceal. You may arrive at a great deal more that is helpful to the enemy and damaging to yourselves by carelessness and by inattention than perhaps is altogether realised.
I venture to think that there is one example of that truth which is present to the mind of everybody and of which we have had actual experience within the last twelve months. I will venture to say that if I had stood up at this box before there had been any air raids in the United Kingdom and had said that it was important to conceal where the airships came, and the route by which they travelled, Members in the House of Commons would have got up and would have attacked me and the Press Bureau and would have said, "There you are. You are endeavouring to throw a veil over the whole scene. You will not publish a perfectly harmless and very interesting piece of news." Will anybody say so now? Everybody knows that the policy is right which the Admiralty have insisted upon from the beginning—that we should not 527 disclose to the enemy information which will enable him either to ascertain or to confirm his passage when he is over this country. I would ask the House to believe that what is true as to the necessity of concealing details about air raids, and which we know is true, because of the fact that we are living in these Islands, is really equally true when you are dealing with operations at the front, and when you are dealing with highly complicated diplomatic negotiations between one country and another. Therefore I do not offer any apology for the rules which have been laid down. It will be our constant effort to pay attention to complaints that are made, and to rectify errors where they occur; but the broad principle is right that in time of war we have to put up with a great deal of this inconvenience for the sake of much greater things. It is far better sometimes to make the mistake that we do not release a piece of news which some people think harmless than that we should present to the enemy by accident some information which would be to him a gain and which would lead to our own misfortune. I apologise to the House for having taken so long. It is difficult to deal with points of detail unless you take them in detail. I think the explanation I have given will, at any rate, show that there is somebody in this House who is prepared to be responsible for the Press Bureau.
§ Mr. MOUNT
Whatever the House may think of the conduct of the Press Bureau, I think everyone will appreciate the defence which the right hon. Gentleman made of Civil servants who are not here to speak for themselves. I wish to bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary of State for War a grievance felt by a large number of National Reservists. I hope, when the War is over and when the War Office perhaps have a little more time to spare, that they may see fit to alter the system under which proficiency pay is given. It does seem to me extremely hard that many men equally efficient as others should not get it. Naval men, for instance, are not entitled to proficiency pay. The grievance I wish to bring to the hon. Gentleman's notice is the demand which is being made by the War Office for the refund by men of proficiency pay which has been paid to them in error. It was discovered some time ago that there were considerable classes of men to whom this money was paid by mistake. The demand was made 528 that this money paid by mistake should be refunded by them to the War Office. The question was raised in the House of Commons by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher), myself, and other Members some time in April, and the hon. Gentleman who was then Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Harold Baker), in his reply, said:—The general principle followed in such cases, where public money has been wrongly issued, is that part of it, at any rate, should be recovered. It is not always fair, it is not always possible, to recover the whole, but it would be extremely impolitic to lay down the general principle that money once wrongly paid away should in no circumstances be recovered from those who had received it. What is usually done, and what is done in this case, is that only part of the money is recovered, and it is recovered in small and gradual instalments, which I hope will not inflict undue hardship upon those who, remember, have already had the enjoyment of this money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April 1915, col. 507, Vol. LXXI.]I was not quite satisfied with that statement, but I felt that, at any rate, some redress would be given and that these men would not be asked to refund the whole of this money, and from what I have heard from some of these men that was the impression they gathered. I do not complain of the principle that public money paid in error should be recovered, nor do I ask the War Office, at a time like this, when undoubtedly every possible form of economy should be practised, to unduly stretch a point, but I think it is hard that these men, who are not overpaid, and who are doing good work, and a useful service for the State, should have been asked to repay this money which has been paid to them, I admit by mistake, but by no mistake of their own. The demand for the repayment of this money leaves the married men with as little as 2s. a week for themselves, a sum which is entirely inadequate. There is a special circumstance in the case of the particular unit to which I refer which, I think, perhaps, will enable my hon. Friend to view their particular case with some special favour. These men for some considerable time were guarding German prisoners on ship. They were at that time entitled to an extra messing allowance of 4d. per day. All of that messing allowance was not paid, and when they left the ship their commanding officer very properly refunded the balance to the War Office. The War Office may very properly stick to that money, but, if they do, they ought to make some allowance to the men for the proficiency pay paid to them in error and not ask for the whole of it back. I can assure my hon. Friend that this is a real grievance felt by a considerable 529 body of men who are doing a valuable work. It is a grievance which when they go home on leave they carry with them, and it does not help recruiting. I hope in view of the whole of the circumstances of the case my hon. Friend will see if he cannot meet these men in some way or other.
§ Lieutenant-Commander WEDGWOOD
I want to say one or two words about the question of unnecessary waste in the Army. We all know that during the coming winter there will be far more men in huts than there were last year. A smaller proportion will be billeted and a larger proportion will be in huts. It is precisely when men are being rationed and done for under those circumstances that most waste occurs, and it would be a scandal if there were waste on the same scale during the coming winter as last year. It is perfectly simple, by means of bonuses and by means of additions of pay, to stop this scandalous waste. It is not as though the food were doing anybody any good. It is merely thrown away. That is only one side of the question. If you go abroad you will see there waste of an even more scandalous description. There rations are issued to the men, but being land where cooking is exceptionally good, and the men being in receipt of 10s. 6d. per week, they naturally spend a large amount of that money in getting themselves decent meals and at the same time pleasing the inhabitants among whom they dwell. The consequence is that the greater proportion of their regular rations are wasted. This, it seems to me, is a difficulty which ought to be met in two different ways. In the first place, there ought to be a bonus for returning unused rations, or there ought to be some means, whether by company or regiments, whereby people who do not take their rations should receive pay in lieu thereof. That seems to me a matter rather difficult to work out at the present time, but it ought to be within the power of the commanding officer of a regiment to make arrangements on those lines. The other day I saw a man who had been round cleaning up the billets of some of the men, and he told me that he found eighteen tins of bully beef, each of which had had the bayonet stuck through it. That meant sheer waste. It meant that the labour necessary to provide that food was all thrown away. Those rations had been 530 brought up under heavy fire at the risk of men's lives, and the whole thing had been wasted.
I think something should be done in the way of paying the troops not altogether in cash. I believe there would be a very large body of opinion among the men themselves in favour of receiving part of their wages in Loan Stock, so that at the end of the War there would be a sort of investment which would enable men to seek work across the Atlantic or to set up an establishment instead of being cast empty upon the labour market in what is likely to be the fiercest competition they have ever seen. I do not think the sole advantage would be this nest-egg at the end of the War. The main advantage would be that there would not be the same waste of rations that there is at the present time. I do not think one ought to suggest that this payment in War Loan in lieu of wages should be confined to the common soldier. The time is certainly coming if the War lasts long enough when we shall have to pay very largely in paper, not only the common soldiers, but also the officers; even Members of Parliament, and all those who are in receipt of official salaries. I do not think that it will be at all a bad thing when that time comes. You cannot have a greater incentive to economy than a reduction in cash income, and what I may call a forced loan in lieu of cash. I think when we are contemplating an Income Tax running up to 4s. in the pound it is worth while considering also whether we may not have a forced loan on the same lines applied to salaries, so as to relieve the immediate needs of the Exchequer.
That is all I want to say on the question of waste. First of all, there should be a latitude given to commanding officers to give money in lieu of rations; a much severer check on the waste of food abroad; and there is this other point, that there should be much stronger measures taken to recover from the dead and wounded the rifles and equipment, and the cartridge cases from fired shell. These are all questions which come under the Financial Secretary, and I am glad to have this opportunity of putting before him ways in which money can be saved, not only without doing any harm to the soldier, but by relieving men of work that has to be done here owing to the returned rifles and empty cartridge cases. There is another thing I wanted to say, which does not concern the Financial Secretary, but which I think anybody who has had 531 association with the Army abroad or at home must realise is of the utmost importance. It is that we ought to draft into the new armies at home a far larger proportion of experienced soldiers, both officers and men, than they have at the present time. Now your new Kitchener's Army, as it is called, has officers who are new, and men who are new. There is hardly any mixture whatever of the soldier from the front. Before they go out, it is true, some of the officers go out for a week at the front to understand the lie of things, and get the hang of the job. But that is all the connection the regiment has with active service in only too many cases. On the other hand, you have coming back into this country week after week long tales of wounded men. These men and officers recover from their wounds in most cases, fortunately, and are, therefore, ready for military work.
Anyone who has been wounded knows that for a certain period after you have been wounded you do not want to go back to the front, and run risks again. That wears off after a time, but for a time you will find men who have been twice and three times wounded who would give anything to avoid the frightful strain of going under fire again, knowing what it may mean. These are men, officers and men alike, who would be invaluable for the men under training. I do not say they would be better for battalion drill and signalling, and that sort of thing, but they would give confidence, they would be able to tell what would be expected of the troops, what they would be expected to face, and, going out with them afterwards, the fact that some of their officers and non-commissioned officers knew what it was, were accustomed to the sound of shell and bullet, and all the rest of it, would give that regiment a far greater self-confidence than it can possess at the present time. Both for the sake of the officers and of the new regiment it would be an enormous advantage if officers and men who liked to apply could transfer themselves to these new regiments. A difficulty is, of course, that with the commanding officer of the old regiment. He likes to get his men back. That is a selfish point of view. He only looks at it from the point of view of his regiment. But when you think that the country wants not one good regiment and one raw regiment, but a regiment that has in it the making of a good regiment, then the desire to get the old officers back ought 532 not to outweigh the necessity of getting tried men capable of converting a far larger proportion into a better and more capable fighting unit. There is one difficulty in that connection. It is that officers who transfer into these new regiments would not find at the end of the War that their positions in the old regiment had been kept open. If they are to transfer in any number at all, then it is essential that their position and seniority in their old regiment should be recoverable at the end of the War. It is a difficulty which should not be insuperable. This policy is one that has been discouraged, but I think that if officers and men at the front could say what it is they most want, they would say it is some arrangement like that which would give them a chance of having safe employment in between two periods of very great danger.
There is one other thing I would most seriously press upon the Secretary of State for War, and it is this: that those men who have been out in France ever since Mons, or Christmas; who have been at the front for all these months, nearly seven months now, or, to go back to Mons, over twelve, ought to have their leave at home, particularly the married men. I think in nearly every case the officers have had that leave, but I have come across case after case of men who have been out there the whole time. They are, indeed, to be counted lucky for being alive at all, but those men are getting war weary, and it ought to be perfectly possible to arrange a time-table of leave so that the strength of regiments would not be materially reduced, and yet those men be given an opportunity of seeing their relations. That is all I have to say. I am sorry the Under-Secretary of State could not be present, and I can only hope that the Financial Secretary will see that these points are met, and that something is done, particularly for the strengthening of our Home Army by means of these wounded fighting men, and for giving leave to the men who have been out there for a great many months.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I am entirely at one with my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Commander Wedgwood) with reference to the desirability of giving leave to men who have been out at the front for such protracted periods as he mentioned. Arrangements are now in force by which men take their turn in getting leave. Of course it is difficult to arrange leave for large numbers of men, and I will not go 533 so far as to say that the arrangements made are as complete, thorough, and far-reaching as one might desire. But something is being done, and will continue to be done, until these men have had their leave. I should like, if I may, to tell the House an anecdote of the spirit which animates the men—a little incident that came into my own experience, and one which I think redounds to the credit of the soldier involved. It is a simple little story, and may very properly be told. A private soldier was sent home on leave, and he got, whatever it was, his four days at home. While he was there, not feeling very well, he consulted the doctor. The doctor said, "Why, my lad, you ought to have a fortnight's rest, and I dare say you would be very glad to have it," and the man said he would. The doctor said, "I will give you a certificate, and I think I shall be able to make arrangements that will give you another fortnight at home." And the man said he would be very glad to have it. The certificate came, and when he saw it he said to his mother that he did not think he would care to use it. He said, "Although I should be very glad to have that fortnight at home, if I stay, my pal, looking forward to coming back when I return, would be kept waiting." He did not use the certificate. He went back, and his pal got his turn in due course. That very simple little story happens to be true, and I think it reflects the spirit that animates our troops abroad, whether fighting the enemy or thinking of one another. I think we may very well be proud of them, and I am quite sure the country will not grudge any money that it has to spend to give them the leave that we all admit they want.
My hon. and gallant Friend made further suggestions which I will bring to the notice of the Secretary of State, with reference to the more purely military questions on which he will realise I have no title to speak. I can only say that the suggestions he has made shall be carefully considered by the highest military authority. Then he raised the question of waste, and invited me to use such energy as I have in its prevention. Since I have taken up my present post, I think the subject of waste has hardly ever been out of my thoughts by day or by night. Certainly it is no fault of my many friends scattered all over the country if I am not continuously thinking of it, because they are good enough constantly and untiringly to direct my attention to the various elements of the problem. 534 No one can deny that waste exists, or that there is abundant room for improvement, even though I think some improvement has been made during the past few months. The hon. Gentleman made a suggestion, with regard to the rations, that larger money payments should be made, and a smaller contribution in kind. I think that although there may be a good deal to be said for that, the one point we have to keep in front of us is this: the thing that matters is the feeding of the man. The ration is designed for the feeding of the man, and I am happy to think that it is universally acknowledged that no Army in the field has ever been so well fed before. The object of the ration is to feed the man, and that is the governing factor of the ration.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FORSTER
And to see that it is as well cooked as possible. I will come to that in a moment. My hon. Friend knows that part of the ration is issued in cash and the balance in meat and so forth. Personally, I very much doubt whether you could make a larger contribution in cash without running the risk of some part of the ration being wasted, especially as I understand him to suggest that the money is issued to the man and not to the commanding officer to spend on his behalf. Then my hon. and gallant Friend suggested the possibility of making some portion of the payment due to the men in War Loan scrip, or something of the kind. I think there is a great deal to be said in favour of this suggestion of his, provided it is applied to everybody all round. I do not think it would be fair to single out the soldier, who, after all, is not overburdened with cash, and say that he and the military element of the population is the only element which is to be paid in this way. When the time comes, if it ever should come, that other classes of the country's servants are to receive part of their emoluments in War Loan, then I think it will be time to consider the question of whether or not it would be proper to include the soldier among those classes. Personally, I think there is a great deal to be said in favour of the principle of the provision of a nest-egg which the individuals concerned would find useful when more normal times are restored. My hon. and gallant Friend made a further suggestion as to the desirability of using every effort 535 to collect the arms and equipment of those who fall at the front. I understand that the fullest possible steps are taken—although I speak without the first-hand knowledge that my hon. and gallant Friend possesses—
§ Lieutenant-Commander WEDGWOOD
I managed to re-arm the whole of my men with the rifles of the dead.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I understand that steps are taken to do that, and that every possible effort is being made to retrieve useful weapons. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Mount) raised a different question—the question as to the refund of proficiency pay which had been issued in error to certain units which he mentioned. As my hon. Friend knows quite well—in fact, I think he admitted it—where public money is issued in error some serious attempt must be made to see that it is recovered. I agree that cases might occur where the recovery of the complete sum which had been issued in error would constitute a hardship to those engaged on behalf of their country. I am not able at the moment to give him a definite assurance as to those on whose behalf he has raised the question. The question as to whether or not the whole sum is to be recovered, or whether, on review of all the circumstances, we should be content with a partial recovery, cannot be decided until we are in possession of all the facts. I am sorry to say that I am not, at the present moment, in complete possession of the facts, and until I am I do not think I can give my hon. Friend the assurance which he would wish me to give and which I would wish to give him. I can only say that I will give my most careful attention to the facts when I am able to judge them as a whole, and the case at any rate will not lose by the moderateness and reasonableness of the request my hon. Friend has put forward on their behalf.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) drew attention to the question of labour in and around the hutted camps which have been built during the past winter, spring, and summer, and the difficulties which have manifested themselves in connection with that problem. My hon. Friend speaks with great experience on these matters, and if he has, as I have no doubt he has, visited the camps and seen the conditions, he will have realised the extreme difficulty, not only of the War Office, but of the contractors themselves 536 who are employing the men to whom my hon. Friend directs attention. For various reasons, primarily, I suppose, owing to the influx of a large proportion of men otherwise normally engaged in the building of huts into the Army, the class of labour—this is the information which I have, and which I think my hon. Friend may confirm—at the disposal of the contractor is not so wholly satisfactory as we could wish, and complaints reach me that the men they are now able to get are less willing than in normal times to do a fair day's work for a fair day's wage. Of course, if you skim the cream off any industry, it follows that the people left behind are not so satisfactory as the general ranks of labour in normal times. My hon. Friend asked me if I thought that the system of employing contractors on agency terms was responsible for, at any rate, some degree of the problem to which he alluded. I have looked into the question with such abilities as I can command, and I am not satisfied that it is.
It seems at first sight that it would be to the interest of the contractor not to worry whether his men worked hard or not; he is paid a percentage on the total cost, and therefore, as I say, he does not need to worry. But it does not really pay the contractor to make a profit out of the idleness of his men. I have looked into the question as closely as I can, and I am having it still more closely examined by those who are more accustomed to deal with this particular kind of employment than I have had the opportunity of being. I am not prepared at the moment to say whether or not the system which is now employed is the system which would be most applicable to, and best to be used for future requirements, but I think the House generally will feel that it was the best system that could be obtained when it was practically impossible to get competitive tenders, and when you had to provide, as we had to provide during last autumn and winter, an enormous amount of accommodation—accommodation that had to be purely of a temporary character, and which had to be put up with the greatest possible expedition. I do not think that when the whole of the facts are brought into review we shall find that there is any very serious reason to quarrel with the result.
§ Mr. KING
I am sure all those who listened to the Home Secretary must have felt again, what many of us have felt before, how greatly we respect his 537 sincerity, character, and principle, and what an excellent advocate he is. Personally, I agree a great deal with the defence he put up for the Press Bureau, and I must admit that in connection with one or two matters of merely journalistic import he succeeded in establishing his case. But if he were here now I should like to remind him that the really great charge that has been made repeatedly against this Government for many months past, from all sides of the House, was not that at all. The charge which I have against the Press Bureau and the Government is not that it sometimes treats newspapers unfairly—though I do say that in that respect it is guilty—my real charge against the Press Bureau and the Government is this: that they are deliberately deceiving the public. Two months ago the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division of Kent (Mr. R. McNeill) used these words. He said so repeatedly in the House, and even challenged denial from the Treasury Bench:—The Government has deliberately deceived the public.About the same time the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) used these words:—The Executive at the present time gags the Press and gags the House of Commons, and the House of Commons is, as a whole, just as servile as the Press is, with the exception of a certain group of Members.Then he went on to speak of the deliberate misrepresentation of the War Office. Then the hon. Member for Oldham used these words on another occasion:—England at the outset was hypnotised by the curse of the censored Press, full of vain hopes and comfortable lies.
§ Mr. KING
The hon. Member for Fareham (Colonel Lee), reappearing last week in this House after an absence of over a year, used words at the outset of his speech on which he based the whole of his arguments. He said:—It is the deliberate policy of the Government to prevent the country knowing the real truth.The charge that was met by the Home Secretary is not the serious charge that we make and that he ought to meet. We say that the Government is deliberately keeping from the country the real truth that it ought to know about many things, and is setting up, either by a suggestion of falsehood or a suppression of the truth, a totally wrong set of ideas in the minds of the people. I will proceed to give a few 538 instances of this, because I think it is worth while that the Government should, at any rate, have the opportunity, in case they care to listen to me, of knowing what a great many people say and what is the real charge against them, so that they need not ride off on mere questions of journalistic practice and the Press Bureau. I will take one case which happened so long ago that it cannot possibly affect policy to-day. It is a matter I brought repeatedly before the authorities privately and upon which I received a refusal of all information. I refer to the fact that all through January last we were being told that Roumania was coming into the War. The House of Commons at that time was not sitting, and it was impossible to ask for any information, but repeatedly we were told in all the papers, from the "Times" downwards—
§ Mr. KING
That Roumania was coming into the War. On the 13th January the "Times" used these words:Roumania will take part in the War in February.On the 19th January the "Times" published an article over a map headed—Roumania's theatre of war.And on 28th January the "Times" actually published details of a British loan to Roumania, and these are the particulars that the "Times" then gave:BRITISH LOAN TO ROUMANIA.Arrangements for a loan of £5,000,000 from Great Britain to Roumania have resulted from negotiations with the Roumanian Financial Commission which has been on a visit to this country. The loan will take the form of an advance by the Bank of England against Roumanian Treasury Bills.Either that loan was carried through or it was not carried through. It is absolutely obvious that there must have been something of that kind, or I decline to think that the Press Bureau would have allowed that to get into the columns of the "Times." Either Roumania has or has not had £5,000,000 from the British Government. I have not raised this in the House before, though I have applied privately for information upon it, but at this length of time, nine months after the event, I say we are entitled to know how we stand with Roumania. What is our policy towards the Balkan States? How can we know what the policy of this country is if on a fundamental fact like that we are to know nothing whatever? I call attention to this not only to complain of the absence of 539 news and the way in which the public are misled, but in order to emphasise what I believe to be the fundamental difficulty and danger of our position as a nation at the present time, that we do not know what the national policy is. Policy and war in a great War like this always must march together. We cannot have a steady approach to victory unless we act upon a steadily conceived and carried out policy, and when our policy, especially in the East of Europe, differs from day to day, is exposed to public view in the "Times" and all other papers one day and then discreetly veiled with falsehoods another, the fact comes to my mind—I am afraid I must regard it as a fact—that whether the Government know or do not know their policy they studiously keep it from the country.
I proceed to carry on this argument by referring to another question of really prime importance, and that is what has been the internal position of Russia—the internal strength of Russia—during the last nine to twelve months. I believe that the true facts about Russia have only been stated by the "Labour Leader," and that is why the "Labour Leader" was prosecuted, because it really braved the censorship and the Press Bureau and stated what all the other papers did not dare to state, but what they afterwards copied from the "Labour Leader." It stated that Russia has been and still is passing through an internal revolution of an extraordinary character, that the whole Government is being shaken to its foundation, and that revolutions, changes, and difficulties are arising of which the mass of our people have no idea whatsoever. We had one fact stated the other day. Although it did not come as a surprise to me, it came as a thunder-clap to most of the British public. I mean the fact that the Grand Duke Nicholas, who had been held up as the great general of the War—
§ Mr. KING
I am not discussing the affairs of Russia. I am only discussing the refusal of the Government to allow the public to know what facts are going on. Of course I bow to your ruling, but I should like in that connection to quote very significant words used by the hon. Member (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), whose articles in "Reynolds's Newspaper" every Sunday are very well known and are read 540 by most people. The hon. Member is a prominent member of the newly-formed Russian Society, and is therefore well acquainted with the position in Russia. Referring to the retirement of the Grand Duke—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is doing the very thing I said he is not entitled to do. We have nothing whatever to do with the internal arrangements of Russia. We are not discussing them now. We are now discussing how these millions which have been voted are to be applied, and whether they shall be voted or not.
§ Mr. KING
I am very sorry to have transgressed. I may, however, possibly refer to the diplomacy which has been carried on by our Government in connection with the other Balkan States, and especially let me point out that the policy of our own Ministers with regard to Turkey and the other Balkan States has varied and has been so changeable and uncertain that to my mind again here the conviction is brought in that they are uncertain of their policy, and if a country is uncertain of its policy in time of war it cannot make progress. I will refer to the position in connection with Bulgaria. In Bulgaria we have a nation in the Balkans which, by tradition and ancient sympathy, is most keenly devoted to us as a friendly Power, and a nation, too, which owes its origin as an independent nationality to the Russian Government. It therefore might seem that of all the problems in the Balkan policy the one that could be most easily solved would be to get the Bulgarians into line with the Allies at the present time, partly because we have announced again and again that we are fighting for small nationalities and that we intend the map of Europe to be settled on lines of nationality, and apart from that there is this fact, that the Bulgarians realise that our power, both in arms and at sea, and above all in wealth, is such that no other nation can compare with us. All the Balkan States are out to get money, and I do not blame them. They have had recent wars them selves which have depleted them—
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I should like to know whether any money voted in this Bill has anything to do with Bulgaria.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to develop his argument and show how this is connected in any way with the money which is going to be voted. I may point out that criticism of the past 541 is not in place on this Bill. This is not the ordinary Appropriation Bill at the end of the Session, when a general review of the whole situation can be taken. This is a special Consolidated Fund Bill for the voting of a certain sum of money—so many millions—which is to be applied to naval and military purposes.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No. That is covered by the ordinary Votes in the course of the Session. This is a special Vote for the maintenance of the Army and Navy and purposes closely connected with the War, not for the ordinary administration of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. KING
I would indicate a matter which I am perfectly certain you will allow me to speak on as germane to the Vote. I want to suggest that our position as a nation now is not more satisfactory than it is because of our lack both of policy and of generalship. The conduct of the War as it is carried on to-day is, as I view it, failing to achieve our success because our policy is not clear and our generalship is so deficient. Let me illustrate this by a short argument which I am sure will appeal to everyone. We are constantly being told, in words which are very striking and of course go home to the heart of every Englishman, that Germany has been preparing for this War for years. There is contained in that statement, which is so often made, a truth and also a falsehood. Of course, Germany has been preparing for war for years, but so have we. Does the Treasury Bench realise that the Army expenditure in the year 1914 of the four Allies—Great Britain, France, Russia and Italy—was £161,000,000, and of the German group—Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey—only £111,000,000, and that the naval expenditure of the four Allies was £113,000,000, and of the German group only £32,000,000? Therefore of the total expenditure on armaments in the year before the War broke out the four Allies spent £274,000,000 against £143,000,000 spent by the German group. If you throw into the Allies' group the expenditure of Belgium, Serbia and Japan the year before the War, the Allies were spending more than twice as much in military preparations, admittedly to defend themselves against Germany, as 542 the Germans were themselves. I must look upon the position as alarming and on the statements of Ministers as intentionally and deliberately misleading if they go about the country saying that Germany was preparing for this War and we were not, when all the time the group of our Allies spent twice as much money upon armaments as the German group.
§ Mr. KING
I say this with some hesitation, and some courage I hope I may be allowed to say, in speaking of facts which have been before the minds of those who have thought them out for months and months past. When we make representations for more facts we meet with failure. When we ask for explanations of policy we are told that our policy is secret and we must not know. It gives me no pleasure to speak here in such a way as this. If the country's cause was succeeding, it would be a different thing. But the country's cause at present is not succeeding. What were we told of the position on the Western front? Again and again we were told that with the spring the position of the Allies would be far stronger than it was at the beginning of the War. Is it? Again and again we were told from the beginning of the Dardanelles expedition that in a few weeks we should see the thing through.
§ Mr. KING
I do not want to be led away into facts which, of course, are known to all, but which do not get the consideration, either from the country or from the Government, which they deserve. The fact is that our policy is shifting and uncertain, and the statesmanship that we require is, so far as I can see, utterly lacking. I should like, if possible, but it will be out of order, to deal with the action of Russia in certain directions, which I consider to be courageous, wise, and right at the present time. Russia has given us a great example in clearing out generals who have not been successful, and we ought to be wise and courageous enough to do the same. Russia has 543 given us a great example in trusting the people, and in summoning new Ministers who have popular support. I wish, conversely, that our Ministers would trust the people here and give them facts instead of fables; give them truth instead of secrecy, and show that they are ready to grasp the difficulties, not by misleading the public, not by deliberately hiding from us the position of affairs, but by sweeping away those officials who have failed, by recalling those generals who have not succeeded, and by courageous action of that sort give that confidence to the country which the country deserves to have.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Thursday).—[Mr. Walter Ilea.]
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.