It is with the greatest sense of responsibility that I take upon myself what may be the opprobrium of being unable to bind myself to the request made a few minutes ago by the Prime Minister. At a time like this, people have got to do what they think is right, irrespective of pressure brought to bear upon them, from whatever source it may come. If I were convinced that the raising of this subject once more would in the very least degree prejudice the chances of the Allied Forces in the great engagement in which they are now involved, I would not waste one minute of the time of the House in raising the subject. I do not think the argument put forward by the Prime Minister was based upon any suggestion that the raising of this subject would interfere with the course of the battle, but merely that it would raise a contraversial issue. I maintain that the case which we put forward is not controversial in the least. [HON. MEMBERS indicated dissent.] I maintain that the case we put forward is purely a matter of recognising facts, and dealing with figures. Our opponents, I think, believe, indeed they have expressed it on more than one occasion, that we are out to run something other than appears in the words we use. Some little time ago it 767 was suggested that there was a plot. Our one and only desire is to put before the country, or at any rate to obtain from the Government, such information as we believe the country should know to enable them to decide for themselves whether or not the present system is likely to bring us successfully through this War.
One other reason why I fly in the face of the Prime Minister's request is that the opportunities granted to us are very scarce, and definite opportunity to discuss the subject has been refused. The line that may be taken may be that the mere fact that we have been so successful in the last two or three days, is an argument against the necessity of a change of system. I maintain that it is an additional reason why we should grapple with this problem at once, because these very engagements which are successful entail heavy losses which we know must be in excess of our weekly enlistment returns. I think that, so far as encouragement to troops is concerned, the argument still holds good that the effect of whatever we do here at home, to show that we are prepared to undertake any responsibilities, and to give up any old prejudices if necessary, will be very great indeed. In the last two weeks, since the Debate took place, I have had numerous communications from correspondents, all of whom say how glad they are because we are once more taking an active part in the interests and the welfare of the soldiers who are fighting for their country at the front. It is that class of encouragement which strengthens me to take the risk of displeasure, if it may be called so, from the Treasury Bench, and to raise the subject again.
At this very moment, since the last discussion in the House on this subject, events of the greatest importance, as the Foreign Secretary announced to us this afternoon, are in the balance. I think I am right in saying that any indication that we are making a greater and stronger resolve to prosecute this War would surely have a steadying effect upon anything that the Bulgarian Government might propose to do. I cannot conceive how the adoption of this principle, with all that it entails, can do other than strengthen the attitude the Greek Government take in relation to the present situa- 768 tion. Last week we abided strictly by an undertaking not to raise the subject, in order to give the Government time to consider the report of the Cabinet Committee, which we understand went closely into this question. We also gave time for the public mind to regain its normal balance. We also thought that the consideration of the Budget, with all that it entails, should not be in any way interfered with, so far as we are concerned, by other discussions. Of the Debate that took place a fortnight ago, we cannot help feeling that it did good. The only unsatisfactory part about it was that it elicited no reply on facts from the supporters of the vountary system. It obtained a good deal of what we naturally expected would be forthcoming, that is, somewhat prejudicial objections. It obtained absolutely no acknowledgment from the Government in any shape or form. I do not think it is asking too much when a body of Members feel sufficiently strongly about a certain cause that their existence and their request for a deputation, and their efforts to obtain opportunity for debate, should receive some recognition, however slight. We realised during that Debate that we were speaking to a prejudiced audience. We knew that the House of Commons, and that many Members with whom we had worked—I particularly mean Friends with whom I have worked in the past—were under the influence of this suggestion of a plot. The few days that have intervened have satisfied them that that was an unnecessary thought to occupy their minds. We also realised that the public at large was prejudiced by disinclination to accept even truth from a certain unpopular section of the daily Press. Those prejudices, I think, can only be removed by regarding the necessity of this matter upon the hard ground of common sense and fact. It is not a question of politics. The Prime Minister said that we are engaged in the biggest battle probably that this War has ever seen; but in war, I submit, with great respect, delay is not permissible.
These precious days since the House met have all meant weekly wastage in the field. Unless you get your new machine working at the earliest possible moment you will not reap the fruits in time. We think the public mind has been extremely badly handled, first of all by the House of Commons allowing the Government to send it away on a six weeks' holiday at a most critical moment, when the public 769 mind was in an uneasy and unrestful condition on this particular subject. That holiday gave an opportunity to the Press to indulge in a sort of internecine squabble, which has done nothing except prejudice the minds of their readers. We think that the moment has come when the opponents of National Service must put up their case. If that section of the House of Commons to which we refer, and if the Government will give us a guarantee that they are satisfied that they can obtain a sufficient number of recruits weekly to keep up a certain number of divisions—let them say what number of divisions they like—that will be needed from now until the end of the next twelve months, I think they will have established a case sufficient to keep us quiet. We put our case as simply as we can, without any desire to be controversial. On the last occasion when I had an opportunity of giving a few figures in this connection, attempts were made in some quarters to prove them to be wrong. There is nothing that I would welcome more than the closest possible criticism of every figure that has been put forward, because it would satisfy me that someone is taking the trouble to look into the matter from the point of view of figures, which is the only way to arrive at a decision on this point.
Perhaps more important than figures is policy. The number of divisions which the Government think it incumbent upon us to keep in the field is what has got to decide the number of troops you may require, and of course the number of recruits which we require weekly to keep them up to strength. It is very difficult for us, without the complete knowledge which is at the disposal of the Government, to know what their policy is, but by merely following what we read in the daily Press, and by using a certain amount of intelligence, it is not difficult for us to draw some of the following deductions. As we know, the developments of the last eight months merely throw a very largely added burden upon us. We know that it is necessary to give a very much larger share of support to our Western Ally. We know that we have an expensive enterprise in the East to conduct to a successful conclusion, and we know that that is bound to employ and to occupy a very large number of troops. I do not think that it is unfair to submit for consideration that our commitments, and, if I may add, our defensive commitments, will not be far wrong if the following figures are accepted. The suggestion that 770 I made, that it was our moral duty to take over a certain number of miles at the Front, has not received contradiction in any quarters, so I am enboldened to think that it was a reasonable one to have made. I would be only too glad if the suggestion that it is too much is met by a definite statement of the Government on that point, but until it is met I am prepared to submit to the House, as a reasonable basis for calculation, that you require from forty-five to fifty divisions on the Western Front. We require—I believe we have got—twelve divisions in the Dardanelles. Another ten at least are needed for commitments such as Egypt, India, Persia, and East Africa; and there is something surely necessary for Home defence. If that is an excessive estimate of our commitments I shall be only too glad to stand disproved. That brings us to almost seventy divisions. I do not think it unwise to accept seventy divisions as an estimate for the purposes of calculation. It may be sixty-eight or seventy-two, but without accurate knowledge it is impossible to do more than to strike a reasonable mean.
The only figures then which it seems necessary to consider are: how many men are required to man those divisions, and keep them in the field for twelve months? Seventy divisions mean 1,400,000 men to be kept in the field for one year, involving reserves in training at a wastage, which I think is reasonable also, of 120 per cent. per annum, or 1,700,000 men. When last this subject was discussed, I submitted to the House that the pre-war estimate was about 7½ per cent. per month, making it as nearly as possible 100 per cent. per annum. Since then we have been told by those who have studied the question, statisticians and others, that in some cases it has been even 150 per cent. per annum. I take it at the middle figure, so as to run no risk of exaggeration, and suggest that for the purpose of replacing that wastage 120 per cent. per annum would not be an excessive figure. Making allowance for 500,000 men fully equipped and armed for Home defence, that brings us to a total for the next twelve months of 3,600,000 men. The only object of introducing those figures is to see how they compare with the number of men which we have been able to raise under the voluntary system. The Prime Minister a few days ago gave us to understand that nearly 3,000,000 men had offered themselves for service. I submit that the term "offered" is somewhat ambiguous, and may also be misleading. 771 In fact, when the question was submitted shortly afterwards as to whether or not the men, who had come up for enlistment and had been either accepted for a short time, as has been the case in many instances, or were not received at all, were included in that number, the Prime Minister found himself, for reasons of his own, unable to give a reply. I must then make my own deductions. I subtract first a figure, which no one can possibly doubt, the saddest figure, of them all. I must subtract 250,000 men to include those who have been killed, or probably so much disabled that they will be unable to take any further part in the War. Then there is at least another 100,000 out of our casualty lists who will play, at any rate, a very small part during the remainder of the War. And then some figure must be made out for recruits who have been accepted, but after a very few weeks of training, at a great waste of public money, have been dismissed as being physically unfit to proceed. I am prepared to submit a figure, such as 7 per cent., to the Government, to represent that class. I have information from many sources that that estimate is an extremely low figure to have settled upon, but, taking it to be a reasonable one, it means that altogether we have to subtract from those 3,000,000, who, the Prime Minister said, offered themselves for service, 560,000. That brings you down to 2,440,000. In order to fill a need which clearly exists of 3,600,000 men—
Whether or not the Colonial troops were included in the 3,000,000 mentioned by the Prime Minister, I am not prepared to say.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The statement has been made that they were not included, and your figures are all wrong.
The Colonial contingents assume, of course, certain proportions. I think that I know probably pretty well what they are. I dare say that they do not exceed numerically the forces employed in the British Navy, and as the Navy are included in the 3,000,000, I do not think that the extra figures of the Colonial troops really very seriously alter the argument, because we arrive at a point which indicates at least that we are over 1,000,000—actually 1,160,000 men, short of 772 the requirements of our minimum. Suppose that the Colonial contingents make up 200,000 of that, that will still leave us over 900,000 men short of what I maintain we shall require in the course of the next twelve months to keep up seventy divisions in the field. Can the Government guarantee us that we can obtain recruits at a sufficient rate, week by week, to produce that 900,000? If they can then, as far as I am concerned, my case falls to the ground. The figures which I have given did not make allowance for the Colonial contingents, and that does, to a small extent, alter my figures. I had worked it out without these contingents. My figures involve a weekly recruiting of nearly 25,000 men. They will be altered to a small extent if the Colonial contingents are included, but in any case the number will be about 20,000. If the Government can guarantee that week by week for the next twelve months they can be sure of getting 20,000 recruits, then I admit that my case falls to the ground. If they cannot make that guarantee, then I say that they have no right to delay for an instant adopting a system which will guarantee it, and I say that if they do not face it, and face it bravely, the country will not forgive them.
It seems to me that the obtaining of these additional men will be more difficult from now onwards than it has been in the past. But not only is it more difficult, as I suppose is indicated by the falling off in recruiting, but the selection of the men becomes far more important. Those who have been already indiscriminately accepted have gone. Their places have been filled, and the labour market has more or less adjusted itself, but every man from now onwards will cause greater dislocation, unless the selection is very carefully gone into. I submit that under our present system they cannot guarantee to obtain a sufficient number of men week by week to keep our Forces up to strength, and I submit also that, unless they are selected and obtained with the greatest care as to where they can best be spared from, all the difficulties which have shown themselves during the last few months will be doubled, trebled, or quadrupled in the twelve months to come. There is another point. The Debates the week before last indicated clearly that labour was in a very great difficulty. In my humble opinion it has been most unfairly handled. I will give an instance. 773 The Trades Union Congress, the Labour Parliament, representing 3,000,000 of men, and perhaps more—I can be corrected if my estimate is too low—was allowed to meet and pass resolutions of the greatest importance, and the greatest seriousness, without the fullest possible information on this particular point having been given to it by the Government. We cannot be expected to believe that the Government had not realised, before we separated for the holidays, that there was a very large number of people who were uneasy as to whether the present system would stand the strain, and the Trades Union Congress was allowed to meet without the information upon which, and upon which only, it could arrive at a fair decision.
Little as I know of labour, I do know that it is as determined as, any other section of the community to do its utmost to bring this War to a speedy and successful conclusion. But it is not unnaturally suspicious. It has not been treated, in my opinion, with that confidence which should be given to it. The statements now made, somewhat at random, that labour has definitely committed itself against the introduction of National Service, I do not believe to be true. I do not honestly believe that if all the facts were placed before it that it would refuse to fall into line, and I think for anyone to suggest that, with all the facts before us, labour would rise in rebellion and refuse to do its share is the grossest libel upon the working men. The present attitude of the Government, and the attitude of the Government I think generally, is unfair to the House of Commons. It expects it to be silent when it feels so deeply on certain points. The Government's attitude towards the Press is almost past belief. Its efforts of censorship have been the laughing-stock of Europe. It is unfair to the voluntaryists. How can the voluntary recruiter succeed now with the difficulties of this discussion still in the way? The sooner the discussion is definitely settled the better it will be for either policy, whichever be adopted. It is unfair to those who believe in National Service, because, after all, our only one object is, if possible, to help to shorten the War. It is unfair in the last degree to labour, upon whom ultimately the success or failure of the War depends.
The remedy, to my mind, stares us in the face. The necessity for the adoption of National Service can easily be proved or disproved by the hard logic of facts; 774 but, if it is proved to be necessary, its acceptance may prove more difficult and requires the exercise of the right spirit. The voluntary acceptance of National Service involves, I submit, spiritual regeneration. I also submit that these are not times in which anything can be accomplished that is not undertaken in the most serious manner. I think the Government must decide promptly and bravely and give the country a lead. I think politicians should demand the fullest possible information as to the situation, and more particularly how we are to support this military burden placed upon us. They should go forward to different districts with complete knowledge in order to explain the facts of the case. I think labour should be given guarantees that no advantage will be taken of this time of war to in any way affect their status or position, and that they in turn should be asked to drop suspicion and distrust. I think that the churches and chapels must lent their aid, and I think that those combined forces may be trusted to promote the cause of real patriotism before it is too late. This War appears to me to be a conflict between two systems of government, between two completely different conceptions of life—a struggle between autocracy and democracy, a struggle between repression and liberty. Our system is now on trial. If democracy cannot prove its superiority, we are doomed. If you refuse to accept methods calculated to achieve success because you think they are tainted with Prussianism, the whole hated system will inevitably be fastened on our necks. If liberty will not brook discipline, if freedom degenerates into licence, if duty is forgotten, we shall assuredly go down before a people who are trained to subordinate all personal and class interests to the common weal; and whatever we may think of the inherent brutality of their methods, or the materiality of their aims, they are certainly animated by an all embracing spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice.
§ Sir CHARLES HENRY
It is not my intention to follow my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I rise to make an appeal to him not to allow this discussion to continue. I am one of those who, in connection with this question of National Service, feel that the appeal made by the Prime Minister this afternoon cannot be disregarded, and that we should wait until we have the information and knowledge which 775 the Government are receiving. My hon. Friend recognised the gravity of the position, and of the decision to be arrived at. Surely my hon. Friend must be aware that premature criticism of this matter would be ill-advised, and he and I and other supporters of National Service will, I think, further our object by possessing ourselves in patience for a week, for two weeks, for even three weeks, until the Government can come down and give us their decision, fortified by the facts and information obtained from the pink papers. I trust that those of my hon. Friends who joined with me in the deputation to the Prime Minister will not continue this discussion; in fact, I go so far as to say that I think it would be a breach of faith to do so. I do not think any Parliamentary advantage can be obtained from this discussion. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that I am sure he should be the very last to start this discussion. Only a very short time ago he was one of the Whips of the Liberal party, and he expected us to follow him, and I think he will admit that so far as we could that is what we desired to do; but, on this occasion, I think that the least we should desire to do now is to follow the Prime Minister, after the appeal he has expressed.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
I should like, if I may, to enforce the view of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I have been in France for the last seven or eight weeks, and from what I have seen there my views with regard to compulsory service have not been altered; but I do not think that this is a moment when Members should endeavour to air their various opinions in regard to compulsory service, as it is called, or National Service. I think we ought to be prepared to restrain the expression of our own view on this matter, while the Government is giving it consideration. We have a Government representing all sections of the House, and I believe representing all views on this question. The hon. Member who opened this Debate alluded to the Trade Union Congress, and the fact of its having come to a decision without full knowledge. I submit the hon. Member himself has not full knowledge on the question; and although I have been in the confidence of the Cabinet for many months during the course of the War, at the present moment do not know what new facts may be in the possession of my late colleagues and the 776 new members of the present Administration. Without full knowledge I deprecate a discussion of this kind at the present moment. The House little realises the way in which disputes of this kind, and the delivery of controversial speeches, encourage our opponents, and, to a certain extent, discourage our forces fighting in the field. When, a few days ago, I was in the shell-zone of the fighting area, I was told that speeches such as were recently delivered in this House in regard to the question of compulsory service were being distributed amongst the Germans in the trenches opposite, and that the Germans were cheered by sentiments which they believed showed a difference of opinion among us. I feel that our soldiers in the field deprecate discussions which show any differences in this House at the present moment. They are quite prepared to leave this matter in the hands of the Government, and until the Government can come down to this House and make a statement which really supports compulsory service, I have no doubt that many Members who hold the same views as I do, will subordinate their views, if a case can be proved. At the present time many of us believe that a case has not been proved, and, in my humble judgment, it has not been proved by the hon. Member who initiated the Debate this afternoon. I do not think we should discuss the merits or demerits of National or compulsory service, or of the voluntary service on which our armies are maintained and on which they are now fighting for us, and I feel that, for the present, we must trust the Government which represents all sections of the people of this country.
Captain STANLEY WILSON
I wish to assure the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that I do not intend in any way to enter into the merits or demerits of the question of National Service, but I do feel that I have an obvious duty to perform at this moment of grave crisis in the history of our country. The Prime Minister this afternoon appealed to the House to say nothing at this supreme moment in the history of the War. I believe that at such a moment as this the declaration by the Government of National Service would be of enormous and very far-reaching effect. At the present moment we have gained in France and in Belgium a preliminary success. It is only a beginning, and the only way in which we can possibly press that success home is 777 by means of men and more men. We must have recruits in huge numbers. I do not consider this is entering into the merits or demerits of the question. The only question I want to ask the House is: Can we get all the recruits we require by the present system? I wonder if hon. Gentlemen opposite realise what has happened in the last few days in France, whether they realise the casualties that have occurred during the past three days, and which are bound to be of the same heavy character, and, indeed, may increase in the next few days or few weeks, and become enormously high. These men must be replaced at once, and I do not believe they can be replaced by continuing our present method of recruiting. I am not here, and I do not profess to speak on behalf of the Army at the front, but for the whole of the past year I have been in the very closest touch with that Army, both officers and men, and I can say to the House, without fear of contradiction, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said from the Front Opposition Bench, that the whole Army at the present moment is anxiously waiting for a declaration by the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Such a declaration at such a moment they believe, and we all believe, would have an immense effect in Germany, and not only in Germay. It is awaited anxiously by our Allies, by France, by Italy, and by Russia. I further say that such a declaration would have an immense effect upon our Armies in the field, and I can assure the House that it is my confident belief that such a declaration would be accepted by the people of the country, and I believe that it would assist enormously in bringing the War to a victorious conclusion in the very near future. It would, I believe, put new life into our Allies and into our Army in the field, and I confidently believe would bring a feeling of despair to the German nation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have listened to a very characteristic speech from the hon., and I believe gallant, Gentleman opposite. The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was going to follow the advice of the Prime Minister and say nothing for or against.
I said I was not going to discuss the merits or demerits of the case, about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke from the Front Opposition Bench.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
As I understood the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech subsequently was upon the merits and demerits of the case.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am quite prepared to admit that the hon. Gentleman did not argue it. His speech consisted of a number of unconnected assertions, unsupported by facts or evidence. For instance, he said he was not able to speak for the Army, but that for the last twelve months he had been in close touch with the Army, both officers and men, and that he could say the whole Army wished the declaration of which he was in favour from the Government.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I understand that is the declaration for compulsory military service. That has invited a contrary expression of opinion and it is a challenge to have those opinions supported. Consequently I think that the hon. Gentleman was taking up a totally inconsistent position in alleging in the first instance that he was going to speak in a judicial spirit, and then firing out a string of unsupported assertions in favour of the policy of compulsory service. I cannot conceive what object the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Guest) had in initiating this discussion this afternoon. We had a discussion about ten days ago upon this subject in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman made, if he will allow me to say so, a very able speech. He was in that Debate supported by a number of other hon. Gentlemen in this House. They, I believe, put forward the case for compulsory service in a very temperate way.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was introducing another adjective for a change, but because I did not repeat the adjective which the hon. Baronet has used he will not assume that I intended to suppress it. In view of what they did then I cannot see what they gain by initiating a discussion now. I know that when the Second Reading of this Bill was begun they decided then not to continue the Debate, at least they intimated to the Government that if the supporters of voluntary service did not continue the Debate they would abstain from the discussion. I think that is the 779 situation. I am quite willing to be corrected, but that at least was the statement made to me. I know that a week ago, or rather on last Wednesday, a number of us came down to the House expecting that the hon. Gentlemen who had previously dealt with the subject were going to continue the Debate, and we on that occasion were prepared to continue the discussion. But in view of representations made from the Government that there was no intention on the part of the Conscriptionists, if I may use the term, to continue the discussion we on our part refrained. However to-day that has been altered. The hon. and gallant Gentleman comes down to the House and puts a private notice question to the Prime Minister and asks him whether the Government were going to make a statement before next Tuesday. Why next Tuesday? I confess I never heard a question of a similar kind put in the House of Commons to the Government before in which a specific date was mentioned before which the Government must make up its mind. But apparently because the Prime Minister is unable to give the undertaking that the Cabinet will announce its policy before next Tuesday, and in spite of the strong appeal made by the Government, the hon. and gallant Gentleman initiates a discussion to-day and makes a speech which is practically a repetition of his speech of ten days ago, with the exception that he has revised the hypothetical figures he gave us then. It does not seem to me that by methods like these will either the cause which hon. Gentlemen have at heart be advanced or is it likely that the decision of the Government, when that decision is given, will be received with a stronger force of public opinion behind it.
I think under the circumstances that this discussion is not likely to advance national interests, and that must be the main concern of all hon. Members, whatever point of view they take on this question. It further seems extremely strange that hon. Gentlemen who hold strong views as to the necessity for discipline for the whole country should themselves set discipline at defiance in the extraordinary way in which they have done to-day. I can understand undisciplined people like myself who believe in the voluntary principle doing a thing of that kind, but I cannot understand people who believe in discipline, and who constantly call on the Government for leadership and on the 780 Government to put us under order, why those Gentlemen after the sort of appeal made by the Prime Minister, such as that he made to-day, should have flouted that appeal as it has been flouted this afternoon. I listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman with great care to ascertain whether he had really any sound ground for refusing to respond to the appeal of the Prime Minister. I found that he complained that the Government had treated labour unfairly, and had treated the Trades Union Congress unfairly, and that the Government had mishandled recruiting. He also complained of the censorship and of the amount of information given by the censorship. In every one of those respects he asserted that the Government had failed, and that the Government had either omitted to do what it ought to have done or that it had done badly what it had attempted to do. But in spite of all those failures he asserts that the Government, which has been consistently failing in all those respects, is fitted, in spite of its failures, to do the very difficult duty of selection and inspection of all the trades of the country for the purpose of further enlistment for the Army. That seems to be an extraordinary position to take up. If the Government is so stupid as he alleges it can be, can he trust the Government to go and select from all the industries of the country those men, and those men only, who ought to be selected for the purposes of the War?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He apparently realises the inconsistency of that position, but I find that he is greatly troubled about the Trades Union Congress. I can very well understand him being troubled about it, for the simple reason that the Trades Union Congress has come to a conclusion different from his. The Trades Union Congress has, however, we are told, been misled apparently by imperfect information, and it has received no information from the Government, and it has not been told by the Government those facts which apparently the hon. and gallant Gentleman has reached by intuition. The Trades Union Congress has not been informed by the Government of the amount of mileage we have to hold in France, which apparently is a piece of information which has been communicated to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Trades Union Congress 781 has not been informed of how many troops we have at Gallipoli, but which apparently has been communicated to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Trades Union Congress has not been informed of the amount of wastage, and apparently that is a doubtful point, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman has increased his estimate by 20 per cent. during the last ten days. But after all, if he revises his estimate in ten days, surely that is a ground for hon. Members suspending their judgment on this question. If the matter is so doubtful that the hon. Gentleman changes his mind on a very vital point once every week, then surely he should allow the Government some little time to deliberate. We were told when the National Registration Bill was passing through that it was intended to give the Government full information as to the resources of the country in men, but up to the present the Government have not had time to tabulate that information, while precisely those Gentlemen who advocated the National Register and pushed the Government into passing the National Register are now endeavouring to push the Government into another decision before the Government has the information which the National Register was intended to give. That surely is a very irrational position. The hon. and statistical Member for North Hants (Sir Leo Chiozza Money) says that I resisted the National Register. I do not deny that I did, but I did so because it seemed to me that the Government could obtain all the required information at much less cost than by means of a National Register. I resisted it on perfectly intelligible grounds. I did not object to the Government taking a register of all the men in the country and of all the women in the country, although it does not appear that the register of women is to be put to any use at all. I did not object to those things. I simply took the view that the Government could ascertain what were the resources of the country in men without the costly machinery of National Registration.
In the same way on this question as between voluntary and compulsory enlistment I think that up to the present no case has been made out that the voluntary system has failed. After all, before we abandon the voluntary system a case has to be made out as to its failure. I can understand hon. Gentle- 782 men who have always believed that the compulsory system is better than the voluntary system requiring no evidence and no further information to induce them to support the change. But, after all, the voluntary system is the policy of this country, and under the conditions under which we have been legislating hitherto we have been acting on the honourable understanding that there should be no change in the policy or in the principles guiding the Government, unless it could be shown that the system which we had in the past pursued had broken down. It has lain with those who seek to bring about a change to establish by clear evidence that that system has broken down, but no real substantial attempt has been made to do that. We have had a great many figures quoted, but they are nearly all hypothetical. No official figures of any kind are given to indicate that the voluntary system has broken down. We have indeed had very extraordinary figures of the success of the voluntary system. Nobody could or would have foretold that by purely voluntary means an Army of the dimensions of our present Army could have been raised.
We are entitled to claim that as the success of the voluntary system. I am not entering into figures. There is no doubt that something between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 men have been raised under the voluntary system. That, I think, is a fair statement to make. The mere quotation of those figures is a tribute to the success of the voluntary system up to the present. I do not know how the figures for recruiting are going at the moment. Some hon. Members profess to know what they are. It may be that our methods in the past have not been sound. I believe that for a considerable period during the last thirteen months, the voluntary system has not really had a chance. I believe that, in the first instance, it was worked by people who did not believe that it was going to be successful. They went on the principle that they were not going to get the men by the voluntary system, and that explained why they went in for indiscriminate recruiting. We know that when they were surprised by the rush of men to the Colours, they had to do something to restrict the number of recruits. What did they do? They did not go in for a process of intelligent selection, or selecting 783 the men from the trades from which they ought to be taken. They went in for the rough and ready and unscientific method of raising the height and increasing the chest measurement. That is not against the voluntary system. It is against the bad handling of the voluntary system.
If the voluntary system has done so well, in spite of that bad management, it should be an encouragement to us to go on with it, to handle it better, and to give it a better chance in the future. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not argue the question."] I was not arguing; I was merely making the point that if we are to make a change the burden of proof is upon those who are in favour of the change. That burden of proof cannot be discharged merely by bringing in conjectural and hypothetical figures, but only by the House and the country being put in possession of the facts. I am quite willing to argue the question on the facts when the facts are available. The Prime Minister has said that within a reasonable time the Government will state its policy, and the facts upon which that policy is based. In view of that it seems to me to be completely futile for the House to endeavour to force the Government into a change of policy without the thorough consideration which is required before any such change is adopted. It does not seem to me that the hon. and gallant Gentleman advances his case when he talks about National Service meaning spiritual regeneration. I am a Scotsman and, as a Scotsman, understood to have a natural interest in anything of the nature of spiritual regeneration. In that part of the country we are all understood to be nurtured upon these interesting theological propositions. But I cannot see any connection between compulsory National Service and spiritual regeneration.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not know what my hon. Friend means by "its acceptance." The very fact that you are going to force it on the nation excludes the idea of voluntary acceptance. We talk about sacrifice. Compulsory sacrifice is a contradiction in terms. Sacrifice to be of any value can only be voluntary on the part of everybody concerned. You will never get spiritual regeneration by a 784 compulsory Act of Parliament. A man is doing considerable discredit to his country when he suggests, after the universal and spontaneous exhibition of patriotism in this country during the last thirteen months, that spiritual regeneration is required. In any event we are apparently to accept spiritual regeneration by adopting the methods of the Prussian bureaucracy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke about this War being a conflict between two systems of government, two different sets of principles. It seems to me that one at least of the principles for which this country has stood in the past, and for which it has been understood up to the present it was fighting in this War, is that of liberty, which will be menaced if the policy urged by the hon. and gallant Gentleman is adopted by the Government.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pringle) has come forward in a new rôle. He now says that whenever the Government say, "Oh, please do not make a speech, do not raise an awkward question," everybody in this House should immediately comply with the request of the Government.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I said that hon. Gentlemen who believed in discipline were in an inconsistent position, but that I who did not believe in discipline was in a quite different position.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Those were the words of the hon. Gentleman. At any rate he will have to prove that the Members who are raising this question are under the orders of the Government. A good many of us are not under the orders of this or any other Government. We are, I hope, independent Members of Parliament, ready to express our views without fear or favour, and without regarding whether it may be convenient or inconvenient for the Government of the day. What is really the reason why my hon. and gallant Friend raised this question to-day? We were told to trust the Government, and that as the Government had said that they would in due course—or whatever was the actual phrase—consider this question, and let us know the result, we ought to wait until that result was announced. Let us see what happened. We have been fourteen months at war. 785 During those fourteen months the Government ought to have considered whether or not National Service is necessary. Indeed they ought to have considered it before there was any question of war. Apart from that, this question was raised a fortnight ago. During a war one cannot wait and see. If you are to be successful in war, you must make up your mind what you are going to do and act accordingly. The policy of waiting may be all right in politics, but it is fatal in war. That being so, after waiting fourteen months, my hon. and gallant Friend came down a fortnight ago and asked the Government what they were prepared to do. The Prime Minister stated that he would not give a day for discussion, but that in due course a statement would be made. My hon. and gallant Friend has waited a fortnight. Surely at a time like this, a fortnight is enough for the Government, with all the facts before it, to make up its mind. My hon. and gallant Friend was prepared to wait even longer. He asked whether the Prime Minister would make a statement before Tuesday next. If the Prime Minister had said that he was prepared to make a statement within a fortnight or some definite time, I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend would have accepted that statement.
But what took place? The Prime Minister said that when the Government had made up its mind he would make a statement. Under these circumstances can anybody blame my hon. and gallant Friend for thinking that that was merely a device to postpone the question, and that we might have to wait not only for another week or fortnight, but for many months before we got an answer? That being so, my hon. and gallant Friend was justified in taking the course that he did. The hon. Member opposite said that no case had been made to show the failure of the voluntary system. Last week in the City of London I saw a scene which I had never seen there before. There was a large crowd opposite the Royal Exchange, and on the steps were two soldiers endeavouring to persuade people to come forward to fight for their homes and country. Is not that evidence that the voluntary system has failed? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If it is necessary that people should go about making speeches to induce men to come forward, I say that the voluntary system has failed. Is it voluntary if you go to a man and try to 786 persuade him to come forward? The voluntary system means that people come forward of their own free will.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I cannot conceive how hon. Members can talk about election time. Has that anything to do with fighting for your country?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The two things are totally different. That is one reason why I was so perturbed at what I saw in the City. It was just like election time. Personally I think there is often a great deal that is degrading in people getting up and making all sorts of statements with a view to capturing votes. Very often it is perfectly well known, the thing ends by statements being made by people that it is known will never be carried out. I am willing to believe that every one who takes any part in this controversy is influenced by a sincere desire to do the best he can for his country. I am quite prepared to give, at any rate, the great majority of opponents of National Service the credit of being genuine in their opposition to the scheme. I ask them, however, on the other hand, to give us who are in favour of National Service the same consideration. If that be the case what is the objection to this matter being discussed?
If the Government had come forward and stated that after due consideration Lord Kitchener had come to the conclusion that the recruiting was satisfactory, and that the War could be carried on in a proper way by voluntary service, I should, of course, give way and should not pursue the subject any further. But we cannot get that out of the Government. We cannot get them to say one word or the other. They will give an answer—later on! Do not press it now—it is awkward! But, as I said before, you have got to press these things in time of war and come to a decision quickly. The hon. Gentleman opposite asks, "What is the evidence for the failure of the voluntary system?" We know what Lord Kitchener said last week in the House of Lords. He said that there had been a falling off in recruits and that the matter was serious. What more evidence does the hon. Gentleman want than that? If recruits were coming in then the hon. Gentleman's attitude would be right. The Secretary of State for War tells us that recruits are not coming in 787 and that the situation is serious. I do not myself know what further evidence is required to show the failure of the voluntary system.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am not a prophet. Perhaps the hon. Member is. If the Government will come forward and tell us that the falling off is only temporary and that they have quite enough men for the present, then I will not pursue the matter further. Let me give an instance which tame within my personal knowledge. Some three weeks ago I was sitting as a county magistrate at my usual Court. We cleared the Court in order to try children's cases. There were several boys, six or seven, about the age of thirteen or fourteen, who had been brought in for some small offences. I was sitting next to the chairman, and a very small and sickly-looking man, who looked as if he had not had anything to eat for a long time, and three small boys, suddenly appeared. The chairman turned to the magistrate on the other side and said something to him, and the three boys and the man disappeared with the magistrate through another door. I said, "What did you do that for? If these boys are defendants in this case why do not they go into the dock?" The reply was, "They are recruits." That is an absolute fact. I saw it myself. [Laughter.] I do not think it is anything to laugh at— that boys of that sort should be taken into the Army. Does the hon. Member who laughs know what it means? It means that if they are taken their lives will be in danger because they have not the physique to stand the strain of a campaign. It means costing the nation enormous sums to restore them to health, and it means that we shall not be able to stand up in the field with men of this sort against trained men.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I suppose they said they were over eighteen. There are many cases where recruits under age have been accepted. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Guest) tells me that the age limit already has been rescinded. Let me give another case, not within my own personal knowledge, but told to me by a friend who is a general in command of a division, and whom I have known all my life. I should take what he told me as 788 being a strict fact. He informed me that in his division a large number of young boys were being sent. These were passed by the civilian doctors and subsequently rejected by the military doctors. They had to be sent back home again. That, he said, was costing the nation a considerable sum of money. That, I assert, is how the Army is being made up at the present time to a very great extent.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It is really a very serious question. If the hon. Member disagrees from me, I shall be very pleased to listen to anything he has to say afterwards. I do not think it is a better way to interject questions of a sort which are meant to be humorous and are not.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My own belief is that we should bring forward this matter now, as we cannot get anything out of the Government. Having obtained the signatures, which, I am glad to say, we have obtained, it is necessary to press the matter forward and show the conclusion that we are all united in our desire to bring the War to a speedy conclusion. How are we going to bring the War to a speedy conclusion? By exercising all the force that we can. If we are not going to do that, then we shall drift, as we have been drifting for the last fourteen months. Another point which appeals to me very much is the question of expense. How are we going on now? We have had to spend very large sums of money. We cannot go on doing that for ever. Unless, therefore, we make an effort now when we have the opportunity, within a year or so we may find that we cannot go on, for the simple reason that we have not any money with which to go on.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
In saying that, I am well aware that that point has been brought forward by opponents of National Service. I do not think anyone who advocates National Service proposes to reduce by a single penny the pay of the soldiers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] But it will be cheaper, and I will tell hon. Members why. We shall not then be obliged to send men out to the Front to get them trained. At present we send them out, and then find they are skilled engineers or skilled 789 artisans, and that we want them back home, and we have to try to induce them to come back. Under National Service we shall never send such men out. We shall only send out the men who are not wanted either for the making of munitions or for agriculture work, or for any of the trades connected with export. That will bring about a very considerable diminution in the expense. Then, again, we shall not take men over forty with five or six children—which unfortunately happens today—when we can get unmarried men. These various things show undoubtedly, I think, that a system of National Service would not only provide us with a better Army, but would provide us with a cheaper one, without in any kind of way interfering with the money which particular soldiers are getting.
After all, it is only a question of organisation. We are fighting one of the best organised nations in the world. If we do not follow her example, and fight after her methods, I am afraid that the chances of success are not very great. Apparently, from what I see in the papers, and in the speeches of hon. Members who oppose National Service, some people appear to be under the impression that everybody of military age will at once, under the system, be taken and pressed into the Service. Nothing of the kind will happen. As I understand it, what would happen would be that there would be different classes of the populace between the ages of twenty and thirty, and these men, if they were engaged in certain work, would not be taken. Under a National Service scheme, which does not mean Conscription in the sense of foreign nations—where every man between certain ages is immediately drawn upon—only the number of men required would be taken.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
No, of course not. Though, as my hon. Friend says, perhaps it would not be a bad thing. The hon. Member, who is so fond of discipline, no doubt would support such a proposal. The way in which the men would be chosen—at least, I hope so—the way that occurs to me—is by ballot, just the same as in the case of the old Militia.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I think I remember the hon. Baronet making a speech not long ago in which he said one of the advantages of Conscription was that we should be able 790 to discipline the railway workers here; and he instanced the case of France at the time of their railway strike.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member must have been dreaming. I never said anything of the sort. I really do not know from where the hon. Gentleman could have got that idea. It may be a good idea or it may be a bad one, but it has nothing whatever to do with National Service. The hon. Member must indeed be short of argument if the only arguments he can bring against National Service is the possibility of railway men getting a little discipline.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
We have nothing to do with railway directors at present. What would happen would be that if a railway director was of military age, and was not engaged in any such work as I have described, he would be liable to serve his country just the same as anyone else. In fact, National Service is the most democratic service that can be devised.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Perhaps not, but the hon. Gentleman who sits beneath did a moment ago. That is the worst of hon. Members coming to make a speech, not prepared, and with weak arguments, and therefore not delivering that speech as well as perhaps they thought they had. I have endeavoured shortly to put before the House the views which I hold upon this very important question. I am sorry that the Government have, by the line they have taken up, compelled us to take up the line that we have done this afternoon. I am glad that there are present three Members of the Government. The rest of the Government have made themselves conspicuous by their absence. Whether they agree or disagree with the subject that is being raised now, I venture to say that it shows great disrespect to the House of Commons that they should not be present on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, when a national question like this is being raised, and at any rate listen to the arguments. It is only another proof of what has been occurring during the last eight or nine years—that the Government care nothing for the House of Commons, and that unless the House of Commons makes itself felt it will 791 get nothing from the Government. That is the excuse for the action of my hon. and gallant Friend. Until the Government can tell me that I am wrong, and give me some reason, or bring forward some authority like Lord Kitchener to show me that I am wrong, I believe the only thing that is going to save the country is National Service. I shall certainly advocate it with all the power that is within me until the Government condescends, after fourteen months in which they ought to have considered the question, to show reasons why they will or will not accept National Service. At present we do not know whether they are or are not in favour of it.
§ Colonel Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I desire to say a few words upon this question, based solely upon my own personal experience. I should like to say at once that I do not regard this as a question of principle at all. So far as principle goes, I confess that before the War I was not in favour of National Service, and to-day I much prefer a volunteer soldier to a conscript; but the whole question is one of figures, and what I say is this: you have got a much larger Army at the front now, including France and the Dardanelles, than at the beginning. Can you maintain that Army with drafts? Can you keep it up to numbers, or are you going to allow that Army to fall back and diminish in numbers, so that after some months of fighting it is half the strength that it is at the present time? That is the whole question, and I say from my own experience that, unless you get a greatly accelerated flow of recruits, you cannot possibly maintain the Army as it is at the present time. I think the House of Commons, and I am sure the public, do not appreciate the magnitude of drafts—the enormous number of men you want in order to keep an Army up to strength in the field on account of wastage. It is not only casualties with which you have to deal. It is not only men killed or wounded in the field. There is that tremendous wastage due to sickness going on day by day, week by week, and month by month, so that the wastage in this present War has reached figures that are absolute extraordinary.
I can quote one example. I will not give the name, but I will give it to any hon. Member present who would like to know it privately. I will give the case of a regiment which had one battalion at the front during the first twelve months of the War. During 792 the first twelve months the reserve battalion sent out 2,450 men to keep that battalion up to strength—that is to say, a battalion of 1,000 strong required 2,450 men to keep it up to strength in twelve months. That means the wastage is 245 per cent. Can we do it at the rate at which we are getting in recruits at the present time? At the present moment you have a much bigger Army at the Front. We had, say, originally 120,000—I will say 180,000. You have now got—I am sure I do not exaggerate—in the Dardanelles and in France somewhere in the neighbourhood of one million. The amount of drafting you have to do is correspondingly greater—at least five time as great as a year ago—yet recruits are coming in much more slowly than a year ago, with the inevitable result that in a short time, instead of one million men at the Front, you will have 800,000, then perhaps 700,000, and then perhaps half a million. If we are going to win, we are going to win by our drafts and by keeping up our Army at full strength.
Let me give one or two further examples. I know two regiments, to both of which I will refer. One of these regiments had both its battalions at the front almost at the beginning. Its reserve battalion last year was unable to keep these two battalions up to strength. Taking every man it could, the reserve battalion was unable to keep these battalions up to strength last winter. There are now five battalions at the front, and recruits are coming in more slowly than last winter. How on earth are you going to keep up your five battalions? It must be clear to any hon. Member opposite, however much he may dislike the principle of National Service—and I quite agree their objection is rooted in the principle—that unless you get more recruits, which you can only do by National Service, you cannot possibly hope to begin to maintain your large Army at the front now up to strength. It is quite true that in this particular regiment, as in others, they have now two reserve battalions, but two reserve battalions do not make more recruits. Each reserve battalion has to get its recruits from the regimental district, and every recruit for the second reserve battalion is one less for the first reserve battalion. Two reserve battalions are an excellent plan, because you have two separate cadres and two separate organisations to carry out the training; but you have to get the men, and I am convinced you will not get the men unless 793 you have National Service. Let me give another example, with more exact figures, in regard to which I think I can prove my case up to the hilt. A certain regiment with which I am acquainted was drafting one battalion during last year. It has now got five battalions at the front. It sent out 2,450 men in twelve months, which works out roughly at a reinforcement of fifty men per week. As it has now got five battalions at the Front, that means on the same scale 250 a week. We may suppose that now there are more units out there, each unit will not be used in the firing line so frequently as the fewer units were. Let us say, therefore, that the drafting necessary is 200 a week. How many recruits is that regiment getting for drafting at the present time? During the last eight weeks—that is to say, from 1st August until 25th September—for drafting purposes it got 287, which is roughly 36 a week. How on earth can you possibly maintain all the battalions up to strength if you have got to send out 200 men, when you have only got 36 men in the shape of recruits? These reserve battalions in a very short space will be absolutely bankrupt as regards trained men, and the result must be in a very few weeks that the battalions at the front will fall down from their proper strength, and, instead of being whole battalions, will be half, and the whole Army will suffer correspondingly.
What do we want to do? We want to put forward our whole strength; we want to carry this War to a successful and speedy conclusion. We believe we are a bit on the upper side now, and we want to push home our victory. We want to make good the losses and keep our cadres up to strength. From practical experience, and not from any a priori reasoning, I have been driven to the conclusion that without National Service it cannot be done, and for that reason, and that reason alone, I am in favour of National Service. Something has been said about the quality of men—that not only are we not getting enough, but that we are getting the wrong sort. In a sense that is true. I do not wish it to go forth that I say, generally speaking, we are getting the wrong sort, because we are getting a great many of the right sort—absolutely the right sort. It would he most ungenerous of me, having had to train a good many, to say that we are getting the wrong sort; but I am very much afraid we are taking a great many unfit for drafting, or work at home, who are a mere burden on the State. I do not know 794 whether it is true, but it occurs to me as a possibility, and I am very much afraid that the recruiting officers and the medical officers have been given the tip, so to speak, to pass anyone they can, so as to swell the numbers and make out a case against National Service. At all events, I know this: a particular reserve battalion I have come across has had to discharge a great many men as unfit, not merely for foreign service, but for Home service. That is not all. When we have discharged men as unfit they have mysteriously reappeared and been requisitioned for Home service. In my judgment many are not fit for Home service at all. In that way the numbers are swollen. These men are counted twice over; they are recruited and discharged as unfit, and then they are recruited again. They count as two. We know the old plan in the days of peace, how War Secretaries used to get up in this House and say, "I have got so many recruits for the Line, and so many recruits for the Militia," and, adding them both together they would say, "My grand total is this." Those in the Militia knew quite well that the great bulk of the Line recruits went through the Militia and were counted twice over. Now the same thing is being done at the present time. A large number of men have been discharged as unfit for any form of service, and now they have been re-engaged and are counted again, and, in my judgment, a large number—I do not say all—are really a burden on the State, and not fit to serve in any capacity whatsoever.
Take another example. Next week, in the brigade in which I am quartered, a gentleman is coming down from the Ministry of Munitions to address each battalion of the brigade. What for? To persuade men who are skilled mechanics, and so forth, that they must leave their battalion and go back to munition making. It is perfectly right. As a commanding officer I do not object; but why were they ever enlisted? That is the point. We have taken men indiscriminately in order to build up a grand total which will look well, and we have here men who ought never to have been enlisted at all, because they can do better work for their country in the factories and workshops. After all, these considerations, which I have only mentioned in passing, are of less importance than the main proposition I have put forward. I want to draw the attention of the House and the country to the enormous magnitude of drafting, and 795 keeping our forces up to strength in the field, and I say I know this from my own personal experience, that whereas we could do it with a small Army last year, we cannot begin to do that with the big Army at the present time. Not only is the Army bigger and requires about five times the drafts, but the recruits are coming in slower now than ever since the War began. If we are to keep up our Army, we must tap sources hitherto untapped, and, in my opinion, it can only be done by National Service.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I greatly regret that I was called out of the House immediately after questions, and certainly when I left it I never imagined for a moment, after the question put to the Prime Minister by my hon. and gallant Friend on my right, and the Prime Minister's reply, that this Debate would have been raised immediately. I say that, in spite of the speeches of the hon. Baronet behind me and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just made a great number of very interesting statements from knowledge, which he tells us, he has acquired on the spot. What was it that passed between the hon. and gallant Member and the Prime Minister? He asked him if he would undertake to make a statement on this subject before a certain day, and the Prime Minister replied that at this moment, when we are in the midst of the gravest crisis of the War, meaning that a great deal, as I have been informed in other quarters, may turn upon what is being done at this very moment, there could not be a worse time, in the interest of the country and the success of the War, than the introduction of a question like this. The hon. Gentleman told us that they do this from a sense of duty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I clearly understand that, and I believe it, and it is because of that intense anxiety that they feel it their duty to raise this question now. But is that not the feeling of every single person in this House? Are we not all animated by the same desire to bring the War to a speedy conclusion and win a victory in that great struggle in which we are fighting in the interests of the safety and peace of Europe, and indeed of the world? Do those hon. Members suppose that those considerations are absent from the minds of other hon. Members or from the mind of the Government? Is it conceivable that the Government, on whom everything depends, are not animated by even a deeper anxiety 796 still? What is the difference between their position and those Gentlemen who have been making speeches so hostile to the reply of the Prime Minister this afternoon? The Prime Minister told us that at this moment the Government were examining into a whole variety of different considerations to which they were giving their closest and most careful attention upon this particular question. That is what the Prime Minister said this afternoon, and why should we suppose that they are not better informed than the critics who have been addressing themselves to a condemnation of the Government this afternoon?
I think this discussion, in the interests of the country, is the most regrettable thing that I have ever heard myself in this House. We are told that this is really a question of the strength of the Army, and that it is a question of numbers. Surely those are questions which must be within the purview of the Secretary of State for War, and I suppose that even his severest critics will not pretend or profess that they are better informed than him. It seems to me that they must hold the opinion that whatever Lord Kitchener's views are of the strength of the Army or of the necessity for increasing it, he is afraid to come forward and say so. Nothing on earth would ever induce me to believe that if Lord Kitchener thought there was any real necessity whatever at this particular moment for Conscription he would hesitate for one single instant about saying so. To make an attack upon the Prime Minister and those who are responsible for the conduct of the War on an occasion which we are told is the gravest crisis that has occurred in the War, when we are in the midst of it still, seems to me to be a very deplorable thing, and I cannot help thinking that that is the opinion of the majority of the House and those who have heard this Debate, and the sooner it is brought to a close the better.
§ Captain AMERY
For my part I confess that I cannot understand why there should be all this dread of a discussion on this subject. Is the House of Commons so poor and useless a thing that whenever serious matters arise it should be shut up, or is it so mean and irresponsible a body that it cannot be trusted to deal with grave matters in this crisis without introducing party rancour? In spite of the condemnation of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, it does not seem to me that 797 the earnest and sober speech made by the hon. Member who opened this Debate could possibly afford any encouragement to our enemies or discourage a single soldier serving at the front. This ancient House, which has been responsible for the government of this country for so long, has a duty to perform to the country and the Government in soberly and temperately discussing with care the, grave questions which are before us. I do not believe the House can do any harm by discussing these questions.
An hon. Member opposite asked why we had raised this subject again within ten days or so of the last discussion. May I remind the House that in those ten days more than one thing has happened which casts a new complexion upon this matter, and which, in our opinion, reinforces tenfold the arguments we were using only a fortnight ago. We are all proud and glad of the brilliant success that our arms have won in the last few days, and we hope it is not an isolated success. We hope and believe that the German lines have now been broken through for good, and that we are now going to drive the Germans out of Belgium and France. That, however, will only be achieved at a very heavy cost. Those who have seen something of fighting and who have read in dispatches of this or that place being taken, retaken, and then recaptured by us, will know what we have had to suffer in casualties during the last two or three days. If we are at the beginning of a great successful movement now, we have to prepare ourselves for half a million casualties in the next two or three months; and does anyone who has listened to my hon. Friend's speech, which was built on facts and personal experience, believe that under present conditions we can find the drafts to make good those losses under the present system?
Take the other alternative. Let us suppose this success is followed by only one or two other successes, and that we fail to break the German lines for good. We have then to face the fact that even when losses are made good the Army we have at the front is insufficient for the task of breaking through in the West. We shall want, not only more drafts, but new divisions, which, again, require 100 or 150 per cent. of drafts. Where are the men coming from to bring that about? It is not only in the West that things have happened within the last ten days. The course of the War has been moving on in Russia, and we have had 798 very satisfactory victories in Galicia. We have been immensely relieved to know that the Russian Army, by hard marching and gallant fighting, has escaped from the menace which threatened it. But it is no use ignoring the fact that, even if the Germans failed to bring about another Sedan, that during those ten days they have made a most substantial advance, and that they have gained by their menace one of the most important railway junctions in the whole of Russia by taking Vilna.
The gain of Vilna is an immense addition to the fighting strength of the German lines on the Russian front. But more than that has happened. We have seen in the last few days a new menace arising in the Balkans, which, indeed, has not been new to anyone who has had to follow that situation close at hand, as I have during the past few months. I want the House to consider what that menace means in the first instance to our gallant Allies, the Serbians. I am sure the sympathy of the whole House must go out to the gallant. Serbian Army prepared to face attack both in front and in the rear. It must also go out to the Greek nation, which has responded to the call of danger with such promptitude and in such a fine spirit. If I may digress for a moment from the subject of this discussion, I should like to say a word about Greece, because I believe in this country the attitude and temper of the Greek nation has hardly been fully understood. If there were differences between statesmen in Greece, if there were differences between the King of Greece and M. Venezelos, they were not differences as to the general attitude of Greece, because in this War the Greek nation is one with us in sympathy and in object. The only difference was as to the reality of the menace threatened from Bulgaria. Once that subject has become clear the Greek nation are as one with us in this matter. The Greek nation has at its disposal an Army whose full value has scarcely been realised in this country. Many of us have had impressions derived from events of fifteen years ago or more which would put the Greek Army on an inferior footing. I do not profess to speak as an expert, but as one who has seen a certain amount of soldiers, and who has had some intercourse with officers. I believe the Greek Army is one which in leadership, in the efficiency of its officers, and the fine spirit of its men is one which is 799 certain to do justice to that country and the ancient renown of the Greek nation.
I ask the House what this menace means not only to Serbia or Greece, but to the whole position in the Balkans if it should be that Bulgaria takes a mistaken step and by that step Germany is able to get into touch with Turkey. We shall then have to face at the Dardanelles not a shortage but a greatly increased supply of munitions. There is scarcely a square yard of ground there that is not under shell fire. Not only in the Dardanelles but in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and in Persia, and in other places the menace we have to confront will be infinitely increased if once Germany could break through and get into touch with Turkey. There are in Turkey hundreds of thousands of able-bodied men who could be made soldiers to-morrow if rifles could be found for them. If Germany breaks through in this way it means that at the very moment when her resources of manhood are beginning to be exhausted she will find fresh resources of manhood in Turkey. But there is another side to this question. If Germany can break through she will have at her disposal the wheat harvest of Bulgaria and the barley harvest of Turkey, and all the economical resources of a great new region. In the North-East of Serbia is one of the richest copper mines of the world. See what that means to Germany in her present state? From Cilicia and other parts of Asia Minor she will be able to secure-cotton. In fact, if she succeeds in what she is attempting to do, it means to a great extent the breaking down of our blockade and neutralising the advantage which we have in the command of the sea. The question naturally occurs as to how far the danger which threatens to-day could have been averted. It would be an easy but not a profitable thing to discuss the diplomacy of the Allies in the Balkan States, and there is only one thing I will mention. The conviction was planted in my mind when I was in the Balkans that the only thing which really affects the attitude of Bulgaria is the question of the strength of the forces on both sides, and the moment the Russian defeats began and our failure at the Dardanelles became manifest the danger with which we are confronted to-day became an obvious danger and ought to have been dealt with lay the Government of this country. There 800 was only one way of meeting that danger. If the British Minister at Sofia could have gone and said, "We are raising another million or two million men and shall use as many hundreds of thousands as are wanted to see that the position of the Allies in the Balkans is not changed for the worse," then it would have had a most important effect in deciding the attitude of Bulgaria.
The need there as well as on the Western frontier is for more men and greater strength. It is obvious on any consideration that more men can be obtained. I was at a small seaside place recently, and I could have swept up a battalion of young men between eighteen and thirty. None of them were munition workers; all of them were young gentlemen of the commercial class. I do not say that they were short of patriotism. I believe if the call of national duty were put to them that they would come forward as cheerfully as any of those who have volunteered. They are only waiting for a definite summons of the law to come. It is obvious from figures which the Prime Minister has given that not more than 2,000,000 men in addition to those already liable for military service have come forward, and there are more than 9,000,000 men of military age in this country. There must be five or six million men of military age in this country who have not yet been called upon. Allowing for the unfit and 2,000,000 men who ought, to be retained for essential services, there must be at least 2,000,000 men who might be drawn upon, and who would not weaken either munition work or a single essential industry. The fact remains that the men are not coming forward. Could anything be more convincing than the speech of my hon. Friend? I know that when I referred to those facts in the House the other day, and ventured to point out that recruiting had fallen to such a state that recruiting officers were unwisely tempted to let through men who were not fit for military service, I was accused of libelling them. Why should I libel the gallant men who have been fighting at the Front, or the gallant men who have come forward, even although unfit, and are ready to serve their country? The fact remains that there is scarcely a battalion of Reservists, drafting battalions, who have not a large proportion—5, 10, and 15 per cent.— of men whom their commanding officers consider unfit for any military service whatever. Many of them, because they 801 cannot walk a mile or two, have been transferred for Home defence to form that swiftly moving field force which is to protect us against invasion! Surely it is not necessary that we should enlist that sort of men, who might be doing very good work in other directions, and who at the present moment are mere burdens upon the National Exchequer.
My hon. Friend referred to the enlistment of men who ought to be doing munition work. What is the use of going down to battalions and asking colonels at great sacrifice to spare their men for munition work, if when they come back to the factory other men refuse to work with them, because they are non-union men? The argument the men are using at Messrs. Thorneycroft's works, where a strike is going on at this moment against men brought back from France, is this, and it is a most interesting argument: "They ought not to have brought back non-union men; there are a good many union boiler makers and others with the Colours." Is there any power in the Minister of Munitions to bring back trade unionists rather than non-unionists? There is no such power, and can be no such power under a voluntary system. These men, although they do not realise it, are really striking for compulsory service. They are striking for organisation, and for order and method in our procedure. I believe, if the nation understood this question, that would be the demand of all. I believe we are not doing an unfair or provocative thing if we respectfully press upon the Government the need for an early decision in this matter. This is not an ordinary political question with regard to which a tiresome and Vexatious Opposition is to be kept in its place by being told to wait until the Government decide at its leisure. It is not we who raise this question. It is raised by the situation outside. Is Bulgaria going to stop mobilising her troops until the Government have given full and mature consideration to this matter? Is the Government going to tell Germany to postpone their attack upon Serbia until next Session, or whenever their decision is to be made? Are we to ask Hindenburg to "wait and see" until we have decided? Events are marching every day, and every day we delay to decide this matter the fate of this country is being decided against us, and the internal condition of this country is not being improved either. If there is one thing which will lead to dis- 802 union at home and to defeat abroad, it is this continued indecision of the Government. Let them decide, and we, the people at home, will rally round them, and will see to it that we get victory abroad.
§ Sir R. PEARCE
There is no question at all about the need of men to be debated. The only question which is really a useful one at the present time is whether there are the men. That has never yet been stated by any man of authority, and the Government have refrained from saying anything about the number. It seems to me a very few words will show that we are really doing all that we can. There are only 47,000,000 people in the country. There are 23,000,000 males, and of the males the infants, old men, idiots, lunatics, criminals and paupers number 13,000,000, leaving 10,000,000 adult workers available for the sustenance and the defence of the country. We have it agreed with more or less quibbling about half a million of men that the Army now numbers 3,000,000 or 2,500,000. Putting it at 3,000,000, that leaves 7,000,000. Out of the 7,000,000, 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 are necessarily required for the provision of munitions and the maintenance of the fighting men. That leaves 4,000,000 adult males only, from which you can by any possibility recruit, and they are wanted to carry on all the other business of the country and to sustain and maintain the whole fabric of society. They cannot do it, and it is admitted that they cannot do it, because you are already obliged to draw upon the women. I beg of those who are clamoring for Conscription or National Service to remember that at the present time we are doing all that it appears to be reasonably possible with the numbers available for service abroad.
§ Sir STEPHEN COLLINS
As a member of the rank and file I wish to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) in raising my humble protest against the introduction of this Debate after the most solemn appeal which the Prime Minister made to the House after questions. I do not say this is not a grave question, and I am at one with every Member in attributing the utmost sincerity to those who are advocating Conscription, or National Service, whichever you please to call it; but after the Prime Minister's second appeal I am simply astounded that it should have been raised. It seems to me that the House of Commons is getting out of hand, and losing 803 all deference, I will not say for authority, but for the appeal of the highest Member of the House, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, not the leader of a party, but the head of this Coalition Government. When hon. Members come down in their misjudged enthusiasm and practically flout the Prime Minister it is serious. I am surprised at the hon. Baronet opposite. A week or two ago in my hearing he appealed to the House to trust the Government. Why has he fallen from that high estate? Was not this question in his mind?
§ Sir S. COLLINS
I hope the hon. Baronet is not laying himself open to the charge that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. He is coming very near it in his eagerness and enthusiasm when he flouts the head of the Government. I am sure hon. Members will not carry the country with them in this respect, serious as the question may be and open as it is to argument in this House and on the platform. Every Member must know that the Prime Minister knows much more about this question. Do not hon. Members think that he must thoroughly have weighed his words before he gave that reply to the hon. Member for East Dorset (Captain Guest)? Do they think he would have uttered those words lightly? Does he not know the peril of the country, and would he come down here and beseech us as he did to-day, Members on all sides, to abstain from bringing forward this question? I have a great respect for the hon. Member for East Dorset. He represents a part of my own county. He has been under authority, and I am sure that he not only obeyed the orders of his commanding officer, but he had respect for his suggestions. Not very long ago some of us were under the hon. Gentleman. He was our Whip, and we delighted to obey him. What would he have thought of us when he was our Whip if some of us, when he give us his orders, or even when he gave us his suggestions, had flouted him and had acted contrary to them? We did not do it. Let us listen to authority—listen to the wise and weighty words of the Prime Minister. If it is not too late, I would appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to let this question drop. I could argue it, but I am not going to be tempted to do it at this time. I am willing to take 804 the advice of the Prime Minister, and if my words are of any use at all—perhaps they are not—I do implore hon. Members now to leave this question, to leave it to the Prime Minister and to the Government. The Prime Minister has told us that the Government is debating it and looking at it from every point of view. I will repeat the words of the hon. Baronet, "Trust the Government." At the proper time they were bringing the question forward.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.