§ Order for Third Beading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I desire to draw the attention of the House to the petrol question, and in doing that I should like the House thoroughly to understand that I have not the slightest objection to any restrictions being made which are really necessary. If it is necessary for the more successful waging of the War to inflict inconvenience on people using either private or public motor vehicles, I should be the last man to object to that being done. We all have to put up with inconvenience, and we as a nation, I think, have shown that in the vast majority of cases we are quite willing to put up with that, or any other inconvenience, which is necessary to pursue the campaign to a successful issue. While I hold these views very strongly, I think the Government must remember, and the Petrol Committee must remember, that Englishmen do not care to be treated unfairly, and that the duty, both of the Government and of the Petrol Committee, is to administer the particular subject which they are called upon to administer in a fair and proper manner. It is no excuse to say, "We have not any time to attend to it," or, "We have not a staff." If the Committee have not time to attend to it, they should not take up a job; and if they did take it up, they were bound to carry it out in a proper and businesslike manner.
The question divides itself into two parts; the first is the method of the Petrol Committee, and the second the method of dealing with the supply of petrol by the Government. With regard to the method of dealing with the question by the Petrol Committee, I have a large number of letters here showing the manner in which applicants for petrol have been treated. Some of the writers of these letters ask me not to give their names; others are willing that I should so do; but I think it might perhaps be simpler if I give, what I do not myself like doing as a rule, my own case, because at any rate I am not ashamed of my own case, and I can state it more or less correctly. My daughter told me that there was going to be a limitation of 124 petrol, and produced a form, and asked me how I should fill it up. I have done my best to comply with the request of the Government, and to use as little petrol as possible. We have had no chauffeur for more than a year, and the only time my car was used was when my daughter could drive it. She looked after the machinery. There is no question of any joy rides, or anything of that sort, and it has only been used for the purpose of taking me to the station to come to this House—I happen to live six and a half miles from the station—and for duties connected with my magisterial work in my county. I said, "Fill up the form properly." The form asked, "What is it used for?" I said, "Put in what it is used for, and the number of gallons, and whatever it is you require." She said, "Some friends of mine are going to put in a very much larger number than they require, and they say that you will be very foolish to put in the number you require." I, very foolishly, said, "I do not agree with that at all. I feel sure that the Committee who have sent out the form in which they have asked you to fill up and give all sorts of particulars will like to see what particulars have been put in it, and," I ventured to say what perhaps I ought not to have done, "when they see my name they will believe that I have told the truth; or, if not, they will make some inquiries." So we put in a certain number, which, so far as I remember, was 15 gallons a month. I receive 6 gallons in a month; 1½ gallons a week, and it takes me a gallon to go to the station, so I can go once to the station. I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman here who sometimes think that I take up a little more time than I ought to do, are concerned in this matter, but I can go only once to the station. My car is a 20–30 Renault. I thought I had experience of Committees. I thought the Committee in the multitude of their work and the great number of applications had overlooked my application, so I approached one of the members of the Committee. I said, "I think you have made a mistake, you probably have not seen the form I filled up, and when I tell you what has happened you will be inclined rather to increase the allowance." He said, "Oh, no, certainly not! We cannot do anything of that sort." I said, "Why not," and he said, "We do not look into individual cases. We have not time. What we do is this: We find out how much petrol used to be given, and we say, 'A person applies for 125 a 100 gallons; we will give him so much. Another applies for 50 gallons; we will give him so much. Another applies for 20; we will give him so much'"—the percentage, I believe, decreasing slightly as the amount rose.
That seems to me to be a most extraordinary way of undertaking a duty. We do not want a Committee to do that. A clerk could do that. A small staff of clerks could do that. We do not want all the paraphernalia of a Committee merely to receive an application for 100 gallons and to give so much and another applicant for fifty gallons and to give so much. What has been the result of that? I have a case where certain people who own a car applied for two amounts and each have got their amount. That is an absolute fact. There was a case stated in the "Morning Post"—this I do not know myself—and it was sent by a gentleman who gave his name. He was apparently connected with some motor institution, and he filled up an application for a lady. Then as she thought he would probably forget it she filled up one too, and she got both. There is a case that the London and Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers have given me: There was a man called Jacobs who had 100 gallons allowed him a month, another man, 90; another, 80; and then there was a driver with one cab who had 70 gallons allowed him and another only ten.
§ Sir C. HENRY
For three months?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
For one month. I shall be very glad to give the particulars to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt). I understand there again that one cabman by error filled up two forms and got petrol for both. I have a variety of letters broaching upon, this subject. I do not know that I need take up the time of the House with all of them, but I have one from a clergyman, whom I know, and he says:I see you are kindly taking up the cudgels on behalf of the poor motorists. You won't have far to go to find a good instance; for I, with my three Parishes, seven miles long, and my Rural Deanery, twenty miles by thirteen, am to be reduced to less than a can a week. Whatever shall I do? I told them that I had already reduced my consumption to the lowest possible level. This was partly, though not wholly, from selfish reasons. I suppose they will think me an ass for being so honest as to let them know, and I hope you will kindly wire into them.That is a very good instance of what is occurring, and what I object to. I have here a copy of a letter which has been written to the Committee:I have to-day received an intimation that I am granted a licence for thirty gallons of petrol per month, 126 but I think that the Committee must be under a misapprehension with regard to the use to which my motors are put. They are in no sense of the word pleasure cars, they are only taken out for useful purposes, and I never take a drive in them just for the sake of the drive—I am cutting out a good deal—I am living at my country house which, at the urgent request of the military authorities, I have turned into a convalescent hospital for officers. The nearest chemist is four-and-a-half miles distant, and there is no station nearer than two-and-a-half miles. My horses were commandeered at the outbreak of War, and there are no facilities for hiring conveyances in the district. The patients I have here at present are for the most part seriously wounded, and were unable to travel from London by train, I was therefore obliged to hire a Daimler car last Tuesday to bring them down here, as I had not the petrol to enable me to use one of my own motors for the purpose—What is the use of restricting the amount of petrol in this way? What difference does it make whether it is used in a Daimler car or a hired car? In all probability, the hired car uses a larger amount of petrol.On Thursday another patient had to be brought from Londonderry House. He was a stretcher ease, but in order to economise in petrol I had to use my small car, and the poor man had in consequence a most uncomfortable journey.It shows that here is a case where the requirements were not for pleasure purposes, but really for doing some good connected with the sufferings of soldiers and the War. I might bring forward any number of examples, but I do not want to weary the House. I think I have given quite sufficient. I will leave, for the moment, the question of the Petrol Committee to consider the question of the manner in which the Government has dealt with the supply of petrol, because that has also something to do with it. It was only a short time ago that we had a discussion in this House, on the Vote of Credit, about ten oil tankers, and we were informed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office that the Admiralty had taken those ten oil steamers and filled them with barrels. I believe they did so under the impression—I am not quite sure about this—that they would not sink if they had barrels in them. They found that the experiment was useless, and they had to take out all the barrels. Those barrels are blocking up space which is required for something else wanted for the War. The cost of this experiment, including the loss of the steamers to the country for some time, was something like £800,000.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think that is so. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman here. He very kindly offered to give me 127 the figures, and said they would be given before the Public Accounts Committees. He did not want to take away clerks from the Admiralty for that purpose. I was informed again to-day, by a Member of this House who knows, that the loss was something like that sum if you include the loss owing to the steamers being laid by all that time. I do not think I am far wrong. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was an experiment owing to the War, and he was a little angry with me because I said it was owing to the inefficiency of the Admiralty. I am not going into it again. It is quite evident that, while the Government knew that this question of petrol was important, they must have known that, if they made experiments upon these steamers, they would lose the opportunity of importing a large quantity of petrol into this country. They might have made the experiment by filling one steamer with barrels, not the whole ten, and so found out whether or not the experiment was a success, while, in the meantime, they might have used the remaining nine steamers to bring the petrol over. This is a curious circumstance, which will interest the House: 40 per cent, more petrol was applied for by users than has been brought into the country. That ought to have opened the eyes of the Committee. They found this out and knew it, and ought to have said to themselves, "This is a curious thing; we must investigate it." They said, "We have not the time and the staff." This Committee was appointed in April, more than three months ago, and surely in three months, especially with the extraordinary instance of 40 per cent, more petrol being applied for than was ever brought into the country, they might have looked into the matter and endeavoured to treat users with some sense of justice.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
Does the 40 per cent. include the petrol used by the Government, or is it for private and commercial users?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I said that 40 per cent. was applied for by private consumers and not by business people. The applications that went to the Committee were for 40 per cent. more petrol than came into the country.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
Will the right hon. Baronet say how that can be if the country did not know what was the amount used for commercial purposes before?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That was found out by the Committee. A certain amount of gallons were applied for by the people who had to go to the Committee, and when the Committee added up the total amount of gallons applied for they found that it was a very much larger quantity than that coming into the country. It was evident that the people had applied for more than they were in the habit of using. This is a matter which does require investigation and amendment. It may be said that it is a very difficult task to set any Committee, and I may be asked, "What is your solution?" The solution is this: That the Committee ought to have said that a certain proportion of petrol should be given to the owner of every car. It may be that the owners of the very high-power cars might have had a little less in proportion. An endeavour should have been made to make everybody use his car in a proper manner, and not to allow, as I have shown to be the case, a large number of people, by misrepresentation, to obtain a much larger quantity of petrol than that to which they were entitled. I do not believe there would have been any great difficulty in so arranging the method of dealing with the applications that a fixed amount, according to the size of the car, could have been allotted to each person who applied. The result would have been that everybody would have been more or less on the same footing and there would have been some attempt to prevent those people who had been using their cars merely for the sake of pleasure going on with it, and, at the same time, allowing those people who use their cars for practically business purposes to continue their use.
I might mention that in discussing the matter with one member of the Committee I was told I could use horses. It is not everybody who has horses at the present moment. If they have horses, as in my case, they have no men. All my men have gone to the War, with the exception of my head man. Certainly around me, and I believe in the greater part of the country, local authorities have had the very foolish idea, chiefly in the interests of motorists, of tarring the roads, and the result is that when there is a slight shower of rain the roads become like ice. I have three miles of tarred road over which I have to go to the station. It must be remembered that the condition of the roads has altered very much in the last two years, and if you deprive motorists of the legitimate means 129 of motoring you do inflict a very considerable hardship on them. Another point, which I do not press, but which has been brought to my notice, is that they pay taxes to the Government for the privilege of using motor cars. Now the Government come down and give them such a little petrol that they cannot use their cars. Is the Government going to return the tax? That would not be an unfair proposal. I do not see much encouragement from the representatives of the Government present for that idea. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Acting President of the Board of Trade will look into this matter and see if genuine hard cases cannot be reconsidered. I have never yet met a Committee which did not sometimes make mistakes, and I have never yet met a Committee who refused to consider the mistakes when they had made them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give me some assurance that this matter will be reconsidered as soon as possible.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Harcourt)
There are many other points to be discussed on this Bill, and it may shorten the discussion on petrol and be for the convenience of the House if I tell them now as much as I can on the matter. First of all, we have to consider the circumstances which led to the present situation. There is plenty of petrol in the world available, but the supply in this country depends upon a sufficiency of what are called tankers or oilers—ships specially constructed for the carrying of petrol in bulk. At the outbreak of war there were barely sufficient of these ships for our then consumption, but since the War our consumption has greatly increased, and at the same time the supply of tankers has diminished. It has diminished for several reasons. First of all, because of submarine accidents—those were insignificant in themselves, but annoying; secondly, the diversion of certain neutral American oil ships to trading in what they regarded as safer seas—such as trading with the continent of South America; and, thirdly, there was the commandeering of commercial tankers by the Admiralty.
What happened was that the number of oil-burning battleships and other ships had greatly increased and had been greatly accelerated, but the oilers to serve them were slower in delivery. Both Admiralty and commercial tankers were being built to meet the needs of these new ships, but they could not be built quick 130 enough for the purpose. The fact is that all the labour in the shipyards for a long time was necessarily taken for warships. The residue of labour that was left was required for commercial and trading ships of all kinds, and could not be devoted merely to the production of oilers or tankers. From the very first day I went to the Board of Trade—only about nine weeks ago—I pushed on with the completion, the very urgent completion, of tankers that were nearly ready to take the sea and make their first voyage. But I am sorry to say that on the first day I got them on the water ready to sail for their petrol they were commandeered by the Admiralty. Well, I did not complain. Yes, I did. After a good deal of discussion I recovered some of them, but only a fraction. I recovered only one out of three. The whole of these difficulties really depend upon the unforeseen and unforeseeable rapidity of the delivery of oil-driven battleships, which, from another point of view, is, of course, a great satisfaction to the country. Tankers are wanted by the Admiralty for the delivery and storage of heavy and other oils. There is no dispute as to this necessity. There can be from our point of view no dispute as to the surrender of absolute necessities to the Admiralty. At the same time, the Army requirements have grown enormously, and are constantly increasing—I mean for petrol. What the recent push in Picardy meant in the way of petrol would stagger this House, but for quite obvious reasons I cannot give the figures. It is an interesting fact, perhaps not known to a great many people, that at Verdun, after the first week of its defence, nearly the whole of that battle has been fought upon petrol transport, because all the lines of communication were destroyed by artillery or bombs behind the French lines. We contributed largely to the petrol for Verdun. We contributed gladly also. The French and the Italian supplies had to be taken to those countries either in our ships or at our expense, or our loss, because the petrol might otherwise come here if it was not required in France or in Italy. We do not complain, but we have all of us got to go short. I should like some of those who do complain to try France or Italy for a few weeks' tour, or still more, if they could get there, Germany or Austria, and see if they were better off. 131 They would find that in the Allied countries they would be much worse off than we are here. I have done what I could. I have scoured the whole world for oilers. Talk of tiger hunting, it is not in it with tanker hunting. It is a very exhilarating and exciting sport, but, unfortunately, the head of game is very few. There is hardly a tanker in the world to-day of which I do not know the position, the owner, the tonnage, the capacity, and the charterer. They are as much sought after as first-folio "Shakespeares" or Great Auk eggs. They are almost as scarce and quite as expensive. Of the tankers which are within our jurisdiction we have requisitioned or commandeered all. Others there are that belong to powerful neutral countries which are accustomed to combine and control their oil on a big scale, and have fought shy of our seas, which they regard as risky; but I ought to say this, to remove a common misconception, that I can find no trace or evidence of cornering of petrol or oil. They have a remunerative and hungry market in this country. There has been, so far as I can discover, no holding up except for the want of vehicle for safe transport. You cannot convey petrol by sea safely or in large quantities in drums, or barrels, or tins. They are apt to leak, to vaporise, and then to explode. You must have tankers which are specially constructed, with proper ventilation. I am told even a benzine ship is unsuitable to carry petrol because petrol has an exceptionally low flash. I hope the Admiralty will soon, perhaps very soon, be in a position to launch and supply more tank steamers for their heavy oils, and so release petrol tankers which are now being used for that purpose.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I said just now that in the early part of the War almost all construction, except of essential battleships, submarines, and torpedo-boat destroyers, was suspended in all yards. Of course that is not so now and has not been so for many months, and the construction of tankers, both for the Admiralty and for the public, has been resumed. There are many on the stocks which are being worked at now and accelerated, and I hope they will now be available.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
When will they be delivered?
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I cannot give the date at the moment. The House, in what I am saying, must not think that I am offering any apology or defence or excuse, because I do not think any is necessary. The Petrol Committee is the ogre of today, but it will not be very long before we shall all come to the conclusion, not that we have been treated unfairly, as the right hon. Baronet says, but that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Petrol Committee for the promptitude with which they have acted in a national crisis; and I am quite certain that the public some day will convey a proper meed of gratitude to Mr. Oliver Bury, the chairman of that Committee, the ex-general manager of the Great Northern Railway, a man of great business capacity, who has devoted his whole time and energy and knowledge to the operations of that Committee. In my opinion it has acted at the proper time and in the right way. The result has been unpleasant to us all, but this is exactly one of those perhaps somewhat rare occasions on which we might pause for a moment and remind ourselves that we are at war. Other suggestions have been made for dealing with the petrol difficulty. One was that we should stop all Sunday motoring. I was rather inclined to that myself, but there were others whose opinions I highly value who did not take the same view, and I know from discussing the matter that there are many arguments both ways; but I should like to warn the House that it may yet come. I think everyone will agree that it is a sad sight in the middle of such a War as this to stand on the road leading from London to Maidenhead or to Brighton on a Sunday and count the cars which are going there. I had a count of those cars made two Sundays ago. It happened to be a very wet day.
§ Sir C. HENRY
Have you had a count made of motor cars going to race meetings?
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Yes, but not an accurate one. I have seen them. In parenthesis, I should like to ask my hon. Friend if he has seen the statement which was published a week or two ago that at my instance the Jockey Club has decided to license no more of these race meetings after those which had been licensed at the time when I went to the Board of Trade, ending 10th August. I have taken all the action I can to deal with the matter. I was saying that on this wet Sunday outside Maidenhead and Brighton, where I 133 had the cars counted, there were 600. I think I ought to add, because there is a good deal of misconception on the matter, that they were all civilian. There was not one naval or military car on that day at either Brighton or Maidenhead.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I admit all that, and that is what I want to stop, but that is not being stopped by the method in which the Petrol Committee is acting. It is being encouraged.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Baronet is not entitled to interpose another speech.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
A great deal of extravagance in Service cars has been alleged, and it may have been so in the past, but I believe it is better now. Waste and extravagance at the front have also been a good deal advertised in the papers. If it is true, we should regret it; but we should grudge it much less than the other extravagance and waste at home, which are criminal. I hope it is not as bad as is believed. Largely, at my instance, an Army Council instruction was sent out on 22nd June. I will read only the material parts of it:No lady or other unauthorised person will be permitted to travel without the authority of the General Officer Commanding in any car for which free issues of petrol are allowed on any pretence whatever, either in the company of an officer, or soldier, or otherwise. Strict disciplinary action will be taken against the driver of the vehicle or any officer or non-commissioned officer for any disregard of this instruction. Owing to the urgent importance of economising petrol, no motor car will be used where railway facilities exist for any journey exceeding forty miles, without the previous sanction of the General Officer Commanding. The Assistant Provost-Marshal and the military police have authority and are required to stop any War Department vehicle carrying ladies or civilians. Any instance where it appears that a primâ facie case of unauthorised travelling exists should at once be reported to higher authority.I think that is a satisfactory circular, and it has had satisfactory results, but I should like to add that the man who washes his car in petrol, or who empties his aeroplane tank on the ground is a traitor to the best interests of the Army and his country, and I hope he has ceased, or is ceasing to exist. If we can get the public and the Army to realise that petrol is really as valuable and as necessary as high explosive, or as bread and meat, I think we shall do a great deal to cure some of our difficulties. If the public will exercise ordinary care and reasonable economy, everybody might be happy in a short time, and I do not really regret this pinch if it brings the public to their senses in the matter of extravagance in petrol.
134 The House has had quite enough of causes and results: they will want to know something about our methods of dealing with the situation. They have been drastic, but essential. The object of the Petrol Committee has not been to build up any reserve or to withhold any of the available supplies. They have made an estimate of what is in store and what is in sight, and their object is to ladle it out to the very last pint in proper quantities to the best national advantage. I am not permitted to state the present requirements of the Army or the Navy, but they are immeasurably and unforseeably greater than they were last year, or at the beginning of this year. Everyone will agree that those requirements must be met first, and therefore it is only the balance, after naval and military requirements are met, that is available for commercial and civilian life. All of us have to go short for a time, and I hope that time may be measured by months and perhaps by a few months, but I make no pledge. The problem was to see that the amount available was equitably distributed. What I wanted was distribution by quantity and not by price. If you left this matter to a scramble on price, it would only be the rich who would be satisfied, and commercial vehicles, omnibuses, taxi-cabs and people of moderate means would all have to do without it. I have taken the other course, which I believe to be both just and economical. I know what is in store and what is in sight. We ask people their requirements, and then we distribute the petrol pro rata between classes according to the urgency and utility of their service. The right hon. Baronet suggests that there has been some exaggeration and untruthfulness. I am glad to say it has not been as great as the cynic might have expected. The right hon. Baronet gave a figure. I did not quite know how he arrived at it, but it was correct. The total civilian consumption last year was 111,000,000 gallons. The civilian requirements, as stated now on the returns they have made, are 153,000,000 gallons. That is an increase of 40 per cent. over the civilian consumption last year. That might be regarded as rather an optimistic inaccuracy. There is no doubt that some people when asked about their requirements—but only a few—looked upon it in their statements rather as the schoolboy when he was asked to define a lie, and defined it as a very present help in time of trouble. But on 135 the whole I am bound to say that honesty has predominated, even where it did not seem to be the best policy. There has been an enormous increase in the demand for commercial cars, and they have been largely increased in number and consumption since the beginning of last year. Since the War began, of course, they have lost their horses and they have lost many of their men, and the use of commercial cars and their consumption of petrol have very greatly increased. Private cars, on the other hand, have decreased in number, partly from the absence of their owners at the front, partly owing to the cost of petrol, partly from the necessity of domestic economy, partly from the voluntary surrender of pleasure, and partly, I hope, from the growing feeling that today joy-rides are shame rides. We were bound to deal with the situation promptly and, as the right hon. Baronet thinks, especially in his own case, drastically. The Petrol Committee received 324,000 demands for licences. That does not mean demands for 324,000 cars, because the London General Omnibus Company were able to send in one card for the whole of their fleet. To give some illustration of the work that is falling upon the Petrol Committee, I may mention that their post yesterday morning was over 20,000 letters. I hope that we shall be able to give further consideration to classes and to individual cases when time and petrol permit. At the start we were bound to take what was the available reservoir and the supply in sight for twelve months and apportion it according to the national necessities. Some 153,000,000 gallons were demanded in the returns for the whole of the civilian population. Only 70,000,000 gallons are available, or less than half. We have already licensed 75,000,000 gallons, so that the House will see that we have already outrun the constable, and we have no more available. This is for everything except the Army and Navy. The House will see that less than half the demands can be met. I will state the proportion in which this available surplus supply will be allocated. The owners of commercial cars will get 60 per cent, of their demand. Industrial processes will also receive 60 per cent, of their demand. Taxi-cabs, omnibuses, and public vehicles will get 50 per cent, of their demand. Doctors and veterinary surgeons will get the full amount up to a 136 maximum of fifty gallons per month. Private cars will get 25 per cent, of their demand, with a maximum of thirty gallons per month, and motor cycles will get two gallons per month. Perhaps I may tell the House what that means in petrol, and how it is distributed amongst the various classes. The petrol available for distribution in a month is 6,300,000 gallons, and this is how it is distributed: Commercial cars get 2,100,000 gallons, industrial processes 812,500 gallons, taxi-cabs, omnibuses, and public vehicles 2,087,500 gallons, doctors and veterinary surgeons 418,750 gallons, private cars 700,000 gallons, and motor cycles 181,250 gallons, making up exactly the supply for the month of 6,300,000 gallons. That is all that is available. If hon. Members say that A ought to have more petrol, then B has got to have less.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I would ask the hon. Baronet then to tell me who is B. The demands of the Army and Navy must be met. Then comes the conveyance of the wounded, then doctors and veterinary surgeons, and if any increase in petrol becomes possible at all, their fifty gallons maximum should be the first to have further consideration where a special need can be shown. Of course the carriage of munitions in this country is essential, and it must and will be provided for, even if it entails a total stoppage of private cars, and further limitation in regard to cabs and omnibuses. Two million eight hundred thousand gallons per month were asked for for private cars, and, as I stated just now, we have only 700,000 gallons available for 110,000 private cars. Therefore, they can only get one-quarter of their demands. It means that on an average they will get rather less than seven gallons per month for each private car. The House must remember that repeated notices have been issued warning the public that petrol stocks were low, and economy was necessary. Let me refer for one moment to the right hon. Gentleman's point as to the assumed dishonesty of the people making the return. I believe that proof of the general honesty of the returns is to be found in the fact that the bulk of private owners, 85 per cent. of them, only asked for from eight to twenty-four gallons per month. Those who asked for eight gallons will get 75 per 137 cent. of what they asked for. Those who asked for sixteen gallons will get 50 per cent., those who asked for twenty-four gallons will get 33 per cent., and those who asked for over thirty-two gallons will get only 25 per cent. No one, whatever he has asked for, will get more than thirty gallons per month. On the whole, people have been fairly honest. Everyone has asked for more than he has got, and he wants more, naturally. The situation as I found it called for prompt and energetic action. It was impossible to make detailed inquiries, as the right hon. Baronet suggested should be done, in 324,000 cases of owners who represent a far larger number of cars. Drastic restrictions were necessary for our military and national needs. When those national and military needs have been adequately met and some further surplus seems available, we shall be delighted to distribute more petrol to the most deserving classes. I hope I have been able to convince the House that more we cannot do now.
§ Mr. A. STRAUSS
After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I feel that it is my duty to call the attention of the House to the disastrous effect caused by the restrictions of the Petrol Committee on the driving of taxi-cabs. Of course, the requirements of the Army and Navy are of the first importance, and every other consideration must be set aside to meet those requirements, but that does not justify the unnecessary wrong done to a deserving class simply through want of organisation. That there is a lack of organisation on the part of the Petrol Committee I shall have no difficulty in showing. As soon as the licence census was called for, the Union of Taxi Drivers were anxious to help the Government in economising the use of petrol. With that object in view they communicated with the Petrol Committee, and urged all their members to apply for the very minimum quantity which they might possibly require, suggesting ninety gallons per month. Regardless of the assistance which the union gave the Petrol Committee, that Committee allotted only 50 per cent. of the acquisition to all the taxi-drivers, thus penalising the honest ones and rewarding the dishonest ones. As an illustration of the result I will give a few figures. Gardner for one cab was allotted 140 gallons, Davis 70 gallons, Butler 18 gallons, and so on down to a man called Cove, who 138 was only allotted 10 gallons a month. These figures show that I am justified in saying that the Petrol Committee was guilty of want of organisation, if I may use no stronger term.
In consequence of this allotment a meeting of taxi-drivers and owners was held on the 23rd July at which a resolution was passed condemning strongly the unequal distribution of the petrol and demanding that the distribution should be such as to give at least a fair livelihood to all who were interested. After this meeting I understand that negotiations took place between the officials of the union and the Petrol Committee, and the Petrol Committee consented to give two gallons a day to every driver who has a licence, and knowing that their own organisation was very faulty they asked the union to collect the old licences which had been given and to give them up by the 10th of August in order that they might get the new licences instead. Two gallons a day means starvation for the journeyman driver and absolute ruin to the owner driver. Take the journeyman driver first. If you take into consideration all the tips which he gets and also all the incidental expenses which he has for petrol and for what he has to give for standing and so on, with three gallons he is lucky if he gets from 25s. to 30s. per week. But two gallons a day would only give him something like 15s. or 16s. a week, for half a gallon a day must always be calculated for empty mileage. The House must not forget that journeymen drivers are not like other trades or artisans who can put up the price of their labour. They are only allowed to charge 8d. a mile fare and they cannot ask for a higher percentage, say, 25 per cent., from the owner, because that was settled by a board of arbitration which was appointed by the Board of Trade in July, 1913.
But if it is starvation for the journeyman driver it is absolute ruin to the owner driver, a class which deserve our special sympathy, for they are all men who by their temperate habits and by their thrift were able to invest in their cabs on the hire system, which costs them about £3 a week, and if these men only get two gallons a day not only will they not be able to earn a living at all, but they will be obliged to sacrifice all their savings for which they have worked all their lives. It must not be forgotten that these owner drivers are mostly old men, and therefore it is all the greater hardship on them to lose their little belongings. With this 139 two gallons a day, which has been allotted by the Petrol Committee, a very large number of taxis will not be able to go on the road at all, and the men will only be able to work three days a week. The consequence, of course, will be a great deal of inconvenience to the public, but I suppose that in these times we must not mention anything about inconvenience. Everybody is inconvenienced. But what ought to be taken into consideration is that about 50 per cent.—indeed, I am credibly informed that about 75 per cent.—of the fares nowadays are men in khaki. The taxis are used for Army and Navy men who go from one station to another with their luggage. If they cannot get the taxis of course this will be prevented.
The drivers are convinced that if proper restrictions were made to other classes something might be done to meet the situation. As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, they might of course cause greater inconvenience to the owners of industrial cars. They might even impose greater pecuniary loss. But that would not have the effect which this restriction has on the taxi-cab driver. It would not mean starvation and ruin. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech gave us several instances in which restrictions might take place, partly in commercial and other businesses, which are not so important as taxi-drivers. Therefore the drivers are not far wrong in their supposition. They certainly do not owe the debt of gratitude to the Petrol Committee which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. The drivers are willing and anxious to help the Government, and they suggest that since Scotland Yard possesses a list of all the drivers who have licences, the Petrol Committee should work conjointly with the police authorities. Every driver is obliged by police regulations to return his licence at once if he does not drive a cab for any reason whatever. If the police authorities were acting in conjunction with the Petrol Committee every attempt at fraud would be avoided. But the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had scoured the whole world for petrol. I know a case, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of it too, in which petrol could be got. The Crown Oil Company, Ontario, a month ago offered to supply 4,000,000 gallons per month to the Admiralty and to the War Office.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Have they got the tankers?
§ Mr. STRAUSS
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Will the hon. Member tell me whether they are supposed to be afloat and ready?
§ Mr. STRAUSS
All I know is they say that they have got the petrol for immediate use. I have seen a letter—
§ Mr. HARCOURT
As the hon. Member has made a statement may I say that I have gone into this case most carefully with the gentleman who has written the letter. The information he has given me is that his tankers are still on stocks. They are not completed and not likely to be completed until the end of September, and would not arrive until October. He has not been able to give me the names of the ships even, or to convince me that he has any hold over them at all.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I am very pleased to have that information from the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he has now made arrangements to get this 4,000,000 gallons a month.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I must have the tankers for it.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
The right hon. Gentleman has seen the correspondence and has made the matter clear, but I hope that in any case he will see whether something can be done for the taxi-cab drivers. The Control Board is not using the best methods of distribution, and I think that some more practical and sympathetic system in the distribution of petrol than we have at present should be adopted, so that taxi-drivers may get their three gallons a day instead of the two gallons a day, and with that quantity could meet their requirements for the present.
§ Mr. WILES
The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very fair statement of the exact position as to petrol as it stands in this country, and I am sure we are all very glad to have that fair statement, because there was a feeling that there was something very mysterious about the management of the petrol, and also the feeling—though I am very glad that this, also, has been cleared up—that members of both the Army and the Navy were joy-riding occasionally on petrol which might be used for other purposes. I am very glad, further, that the right hon. Gentleman has told us, among many other things, that the 141 number of cars which were counted going to Maidenhead and Brighton amounted to 600.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
These were wet Sundays.
§ Mr. WILES
The right hon. Gentleman told us how he has allotted the petrol. I think he said the commercial cars have 60 per cent., which seems a very reasonable amount, and I do not think there can be any complaint about that. He told us what the manufacturers are getting, and it seems to be rather a small amount. Then there is the case of the doctors and surgeons. I cannot help thinking that he might have taken a little off the doctors and surgeons, who, we may suppose, are just as likely to exaggerate their requirements as are others, and I would point out, too, that they too have great opportunities for having pleasure rides. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] That is my view. I want, where we can, to squeeze a little off the quantity allotted here and there, though it is rather difficult, perhaps. Still the right hon. Gentleman may have something up his sleeve—something about the steamers or tankers that are being built. We hope also that his advice to the Army will do good, and that these tales about cars being emptied in the field before being put into the garage, and stories of that kind, will not be heard more of. The other day I heard of cars being emptied in that way, and that sort of thing ought certainly to be stopped. I desire to support the observations of the hon. Member opposite who brought forward the case of taxi-cab drivers. I believe those drivers have been reduced by various advisory committees and by various tribunals to the minimum, or to what is considered the lowest amount that can be arranged for that business in London and other large towns. The men who are concerned are mostly over military age, and, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, a considerable number of them own their own cars. They have not bought them, however, in the ordinary way. Some have one car and some two, and they have got to pay for them on the weekly or monthly hire system, and if they do not keep up their payments they may find that the whole amount which they have paid is likely to go in the same way as under the furniture hire-purchase system.
These men have been careful and have saved money to buy their own cars, and I 142 am trying to see if we cannot get a little more petrol for them, in order that they may carry on their business properly. The hon. Member for Paddington stated quite correctly that 3 gallons a day is the minimum on which a man can make his taxi-cab pay. Two gallons a day is not enough for him, because on that quantity he cannot quite make his taxi-cab pay, with the expenses and hire-purchase money he has to pay. I am convinced that the last thing the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is to put these taxi-cab drivers out of work, leaving their cabs to be returned to the garage. I do think that, in his ingenious way, the right hon. Gentleman might conceive some plan of saving here and there in order to give the taxi-cab drivers another gallon a day, so that he would be able to make his cab pay. If the taxi-cab driver gets the extra gallon we shall be perfectly satisfied. I have made some suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman where he can reduce the amount of petrol allowed, and I think that in the case of those 600 who ride to Maidenhead and Brighton the supply could be reduced very largely. I cannot make out how the petrol has been allotted. I know that the Department has had a tremendous lot of work to do, and that they have had to deal with some 304,000 cases. It would appear that the right hon. Gentleman has taken everybody's quantity used and divided it by two.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
§ Mr. WILES
I am speaking only of taxi drivers' cases, which have been divided by two, and not in many cases by four. I think my right hon. Friend might find some way which would enable him to get the extra gallon, which would put on their legs again those taxi-cab drivers who have managed to purchase their own cars, by saving and striving, in order to become owner drivers.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
We have had a very interesting statement from the right hon. Gentleman as to the allocating of available petrol, but I would rather direct the attention of the House to the reasons why we are in this difficulty, and to that want of prevision and co-operation in the Government Departments, which have brought us into this position, so that we may see, after what has happened, whether we cannot devise a better way in future, and avoid great inconvenience and loss to the country. If we take the 143 Department of the Admiralty, we find that not very long before the War oil fuel was being used. It was found to be a very great success; and when new ships were designed—and I understand even some ships were subsequently altered—they were designed to burn oil fuel instead of coal. It might then have occurred to the Admiralty that they ought to take care to build oil tank steamers in order to have a supply in time of war. That does not seem to have been done. After the War began, when we placed orders for fourteen war ships, I understand that the great bulk of them were oil burners, and still even at that time no great attention appears to have been paid to providing on account of the nation tank steamers to bring fuel for those war ships. Reliance seems to have been placed on the tank steamers which belong to private owners. That was a very dangerous reliance, because practically all of the tank steamers of private owners were used in bringing to this and other countries the necessary oil for illuminating purposes, fuel purposes, petrol, and so forth. Consequently this tonnage could only be taken by the Navy at the risk of causing very serious interruption to commerce and injury to the community.
My first point therefore is that the Admiralty do not appear to have exercised reasonable prevision in providing tank tonnage. It is quite true that since the matter became so urgent the Admiralty have taken a different course, and have, if I am correctly informed, laid down now quite a considerable number of tank steamers for their own needs, and have also converted a number of cargo steamers for the same purpose. Unfortunately, tank steamers taken by the Admiralty were taken at first to an unnecessary extent. There was a considerable number of tank steamers which might have been filling up reservoirs and reserves, and which were used in a wasteful manner. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City referred to one instance, and there have been others. There was, for example, the excessive use of tank steamers as storage. It has been suggested to the Admiralty that they might make more use of storage ashore. Unfortunately private owners were unable to supplement the supply of tonnage by placing further orders. It is well known that in the shipyards work was suspended except for Admiralty account. Conse- 144 quently, while the Admiralty took a number of the ships and the submarines caused certain losses, there was no increase of supply from the builders. That has been altered now, but that was the state of things for a considerable time after the outbreak of war. Apparently, as far as I can judge, there has been no co-operation, until recently, at any rate, between the different Departments of the Government as to the general needs of oil and petrol of the country. Each Department of the Government appears to have been working in a watertight compartment. Take the Army. Apparently as long as there was petrol for the Army the needs of commerce and of the other Departments were hardly considered by the War Office. The Army was for them the main tiling, and as long as it got all the petrol it required the War Office really did not concern itself with what was required at the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, or any other Departments concerned.
I know, for example, that at the War Office, as long ago as last April, suggestions were made that they should endeavour to save tank tonnage and also economise by bringing petrol that they needed in France direct from America to France, instead of bringing it to England as they have been doing up to now. What happens? A tank steamer is filled with petrol and brought across the Atlantic to England. The petrol is pumped ashore into tanks, and afterwards from these tanks put into tins, which are put into cases. There is a lot of labour employed in making the tins and cases, and in shipping the cases aboard the steamer, and possibly bringing them by rail before they reach the steamer. They are then taken across to France and to the front. After the petrol has been used the cases and tins have to be returned to England, so far as they are not destroyed, and there is, of course, a certain percentage of wastage, but a considerable proportion are sent back again, and take up room in train and steamer, and again cause labour in this country discharging them. It surely seems evident, in this time of War, that we ought to try to economise labour, especially when we can do so with economy in cost. If this petrol were shipped from America in cases direct to France, as has been suggested, you could ship it in a cargo steamer, and not require a tank steamer. What is the answer to that suggestion? The right hon. 145 Gentleman tells us that it would be a dangerous proceeding, because of the vapours from the petrol which would cause risk of explosion. Some steamers are fitted with ventilating pipes to take away the vapour. There is no inherent difficulty in doing this, and, as a matter of fact, petrol is shipped to-day in the way I have described to other countries in Europe.
Supposing it were the case that there is an extra risk; is not this one of the occasions on which we ought to take a risk of the sort while, of course, at the same time taking every possible precaution. We would thus save the valuable space in the tank steamers and money by doing so. The cases and tins we make cost 12s. 4d., and in America 2s. 6d. It is true that the latter are different cases, and thin tins. The tins are not the same as our 2-gallon tins, they are 4-gallon tins in America, with two to the case, and ours are 2-gallon tins with four to the case. The tins from America could be used for carrying water, or other things, and the wood of the cases for the trenches, as they are not good enough to be brought back. You would save very considerably in transport, and I am informed by those who know that this suggested course would save 28s. per ton on the petrol sent to the Army in France, while at the same time saving the tank steamers for use in the commercial interests of this country. At the time the suggestion was made it was immediately practicable, but now it is extremely doubtful whether it could be carried out promptly owing to the great demand for tins in America, but certainly they could be got in the course of a month to six weeks if the Board of Trade, or rather the War Office, would give their serious consideration to the matter and hot put it by as they did when it was suggested four months ago. That is one direction in which some alleviation might be found. The Board of Trade have had very little influence on naval or military waste, and it is very likely the Board of Trade had itself no estimate of the quantity of petrol used in this country for commercial purposes as opposed to private use. I suppose until the census was taken the Board of Trade had no clear perception of the needs of commerce in this country as regards petrol. However, now they have got an idea of the great quantity necessary. What do the figures reveal? They reveal that the com- 146 mercial use is far greater than any use of petrol for joy riding or anything of that sort. Taking 315 gallons of petrol to the ton, I have converted the figures into tons. In 1915 the total imports of petrol into this country were, in round figures, 500,000 tons, a little less than half coming from America and a little more than half coming from the Far East. We have had from the right hon. Gentleman the figures of the private consumption. The private consumers ask for 100,000 tons. But let us remember that there are many people who have applied as private consumers who are really using petrol for business purposes. Many men living in the country use their cars for going to and from their business. Contractors and men who are surveying building and other operations go round to look after the work m their cars. There is no doubt that these people apply as private consumers. Therefore from the 100,000 tons for private consumers it would be fair to take at least 30 per cent. as being really for necessary commercial purposes.
What is the commercial use? Rather more than double that of the private consumer—that is, rather more than 200,000 tons. There you have 300,000 tons between private consumption and commercial purposes. The difference between that and the total imports of 500,000 tons last year went for Government purposes. I understand that the Government requirements are now greater. Here is the point I want to make. If the Government could by any means provide people who have petrol to bring with one large steamer of 15,000 tons, or two steamers of 7,500 tons, or, if I am in danger of putting the figure too low, say three steamers—these steamers would bring over 100,000 tons a year—the whole difficulty would be met. I do not say that there would be plenty, but there would be ease in every direction. Trade and commerce would not be injured as they will be by the present shortage of supply. How can you get these steamers? Some of us, rightly or wrongly, have an idea that if the Admiralty would really set their minds to this matter and avoid using steamers for storage purposes to the extent that they do—Dover is one place, Halifax another, and there are other places I need not mention where they have steamers lying up as stores—they could squeeze two or three out of the very large number of steamers that they have—it would not be right for me to give the 147 number of the tank steamers they have, but it runs well over a hundred—and that would relieve the whole situation.
The alternative to that is to acquire other steamers for the purpose. I know that the acting President of the Board of Trade said, quite truly, that he has looked round for steamers and found it almost impossible to get them in suitable position. There are a large number building—far too many in my opinion for the needs of the world. There were recently forty-nine tank steamers building in this country, and fifty-two or fifty-four in the United States. That is apart from the steamers launched since the War began, and apart from the steamers ordered but not yet laid down. Consequently, you have beween 100 and 150 tank steamers ordered or building. That is an enormous number. Taking an average capacity of 7,000 tons, and five voyages a year, these tank steamers will carry 4,500,000 tons of oil. Consequently, we may look forward to a surplus of tank tonnage as soon as the War is over. Some of these steamers are now built, and so far as those building in this country are concerned no doubt the Admiralty will requisition every one of them as soon as they are ready. But the steamers that are being built in the United States and in Norway are available in addition if the Government see their way to acquire some of them. No doubt the price is exceedingly high. At present it is exorbitant, because if they are neutral steamers not liable to requisition they can get such enormous freights that a neutral owner will not sell unless he gets a very long price. There is a steamer now ready—a boat of about 6,000 tons. The price at which that steamer was offered to some friends of mine four or five months ago was a little less than half the price at which it is offered to-day. If the Government had foreseen four or five months ago what was going to happen, they could have got that steamer for half what it would cost them to-day. There is another steamer available in the United States in the month of October. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman knows of this one. She is available for charter for ten years at 12s. 6d. a ton. The present rate is over 50s. a ton, but this boat would take 12s. 6d. for ten years. That is, of course, a long time. The Government rate in the Blue Book is 9s. 6d., so that the House 148 can estimate what the loss would be. But that loss is not stupendous compared with the loss suffered by the country through the want of petrol.
Prices are very high at the present time. Supposing the Government were to buy two steamers for the sole purpose of easing the petrol situation, and supposing they were to lose £500,000 over the deal. That is to say, suppose they lost that on the depreciated value which will exist after the War. They will require the steamers all the same. Therefore they probably will not resell them, and realise their loss. Still, there is a loss on paper. Supposing the loss is £500,000. That is a far less loss than the country is suffering by the present policy. The loss must be running into millions. We have heard a great deal about taxi's and the loss to taxi-drivers. That is a mere trifle compared with the loss the country is suffering. One would think that the taxi's were the important point; but taxi's are not really the point. Take the case of farmers. I have a farmer in my Constituency who lives about eleven miles from the market and six miles from the station. When war broke out his horses were taken by the Government. He had to get to market and to the station, so he bought a cheap car. He now finds that the allowance of petrol is such that he cannot run his car. Consequently, he is suffering not only serious inconvenience, but great loss in his business. I have a letter also from a grocer in my Constituency, who says that he has not a horse now, but has a car in which to deliver his goods. In consequence of the shortage of petrol he cannot deliver his goods in the country districts, and the people are suffering great loss and inconvenience through not being able to get their supplies. He writes that he cannot get a horse without great difficulty, and that if he could get one he could not get hay for it, because the Government have bought all the hay. Consequently there is very great and undoubted inconvenience and loss. I have here a letter from a gentleman who, from patriotic and public spirited motives, helped to start a co-operative dairy system in Dorsetshire. He writes:We now deal with upwards of 6,000 gallons of milk per day. We have, at considerable cost, bought two 3-ton motor lorries this spring, and now take up milk from the farmers over a radius of ten or twelve miles, because their horses and men have gone for Army purposes. The Petrol Control Committee have given us an allowance of sixty gallons per month, or two 149 gallons a day for two three-ton motor lorries. We applied to them for 600 gallons a month, which we use. If their decision is held to we must shut down, as it is, of course, impossible for us to go on.The writer goes on to say:You will see what a disaster this will be to the farmers in this district. How we are to carry out our contracts in London I cannot imagine. Milk must go to London for the hospitals and other consumers, and to expect us to work on two gallons a day and to carry 6,000 gallons of milk is impossible.I only want to point out to the House that these are much more important matters than the question of whether or not we get taxi's. After all, a taxi-driver is not going to be very much hit, because there are thousands of jobs waiting for him. The taxi-driver can get a job; and it ought not to be too difficult for us to get about. Here in London there are undergrounds, and there are other means of conveyance, but those people in the country are seriously injured. Their business cannot be run without something to move the goods which have to be moved. I have perhaps said enough to show that the Government have shown no foresight in regard to this matter. There does not seem until lately to have been any cooperation between the Board of Trade, the Admiralty and the War Office. Within the last three months they seem to have appreciated what was coming. But they did not buy steamers when they might have done so, and it is only within the last two or three months that they have wakened up to what was already obvious to everybody, that there was going to be a great scarcity of this very necessary article. As an example of official ineptitude I think it would be very hard to beat the example of the treatment of the petrol question by our Government.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
The right hon. Gentleman in his interesting speech gave us a great deal of information, and, I think, cleared up a good many misconceptions. The substance of his speech I take to be this: That the supply of the available petrol for commercial, industrial, and private motor cars is about half the amount which is demanded. In some points we are all, I think, in agreement. I think none of us can complain if the Army and Navy have the first claim on the country for petrol. None of us can complain, though we suffer, whether in our business or necessities, and though there be serious discomfort and loss—even serious loss. The first thing is that the Navy and the Army must not suffer. There is another thing which I think the right hon. Gentleman did well to mention—that is, that at 150 a time like the present waste of petrol is a little short of criminal. I was glad to hear from him that steps are being taken in the case of the Army to avoid unnecessary waste of any sort or kind. We have seen officers of the Army going long distances by motor cars when trains were available; we have heard of messages being sent by motor cars when much less expensive modes of communication were possible. I am glad to think that the Army has taken the matter into consideration, and is going, at any rate, to reduce that form of waste. There is another matter upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched. I hope he will give it a little further consideration than he has yet been able to give it, and that is the matter of pleasure or joy-rides. I suppose a great many people in the country like pleasure rides and think that joy-rides are a necessity of life. Whatever they may be in normal times, joy-rides cannot be held to be necessities of life during war time and during this stupendous crisis with which we are confronted. I hope those concerned will take their courage in both hands and stop joy-rides, at any rate on Sundays, for every class of the community. If there is equality all round I do not think anyone need complain. So much for the points of agreement. When, however, the right hon. Gentleman told us that the Petrol Committee had allotted their available supplies in the most equitable way possible I confess I could not quite go with him. Let me take the case of the private motor car. How is the petrol allotted to the private motor-car owner? By some rule-of-thumb, according to the amount which he demands, and by no other consideration. I gather that the mode adopted is this: You see what the man asks for and then give him a certain proportion of what he asks, that proportion diminishing according as the amount that he asks increases, and you leave entirely out of account the two most vital points, namely, whether the man has asked for more than he is entitled to, or needs, and, secondly, the purposes for which he is going to use it. See what abuses arise from that system! That there are some dishonest men who made fraudulent returns I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will deny. There is the mere fact that the demand is more than last year. I think he gave the figures. Last year it was 111,000,000 gallons. The amount demanded this year, when the returns were sent in, was 151 150,000,000 gallons. That conveys to my mind that, at any rate, there was a great deal of dishonesty in these returns.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I explained that the great increase was in regard to commercial motors.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I must not forget that. But I doubt that the 40 per cent, increase can be explained away by the increased commercial traffic. I doubt it very much. We must remember we are comparing war time with war time. We are not comparing pre-war time with war time. No doubt since war time the amount of petrol used in lieu of horses used for commercial purposes has been very much increased, but allowing everything you like for the increase in commercial requirements, I think that part of that 40,000,000 gallons increase must be due to dishonest requirements. There has been no investigation whatsoever into the honesty of the returns. I should have thought that if a man had a private motor car and demanded 100 gallons per month, or something of that sort, primâ facie there was a strong case that he was making a fraudulent return. So far as I know there has been no inquiry into such a case. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if it could be done some of these cases of exorbitant demand should be inquired into, and if it is found that the return is a fraudulent return the man who has made it should be cut off from every drop of petrol in future. It may possibly give a lesson to all concerned that honesty is sometimes the right policy. So much for the amount demanded as to which no inquiry is made.
Secondly, let me come for one moment, very shortly, to the purposes for which the petrol is demanded. I think I am right in saying—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that in allotting the proportion to the total amount demanded the Petrol Committee have taken no account whatever of the purposes for which it was demanded, so far as private cars are concerned. They did not consider, for instance, whether a man was going to use it for purely pleasure purposes joy-rides, or whether he was going to use it for purely business purposes, to go to the station, whether he needed it for coming down to this House, or for purposes which I will call purposes of necessity. Let me give one or two illustrations 152 of what I mean. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say a word or two about the doctors, because in my own locality a doctor with a very large area over which he practises asked for fifty gallons per month, which was the least he could do with to see his patients. He was allotted twelve. That, I think, must have been a mistake.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Yes, and it will be corrected.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me take another illustration which will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman from personal and what I may call ancestral reasons. Take the case of the Archbishop of York. I think the great-grandfather of the right hon. Gentleman—there being no motors in those days, fortunately—used to drive into York, a distance of 3 miles, in a coach and four with two outriders. I wonder what he would have done if there had been motor cars. The present Archbishop of York does not drive in a coach and four, but he drives in a motor, and, as everyone knows, he has an enormous area to cover in his diocese, and as on about four or five days every week he is visiting some remote parish, district, or town in his diocese, the amount of petrol he uses is considerable. He made an application for an amount considerably less than his normal requirements. He applied for 60 gallons a month. It was really less than would enable him to discharge the duties of his diocese in the way he has done in the past. Apparently no regard is paid by the Petrol Committee to the archbishop's duties, and the fact that every gallon he demanded would be spent in the discharge of his duties. They allotted him twelve gallons a month—about enough to enable him to go to the station and neglect the rest of his duties.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question, which affects not only myself, personally, but a very large number of farmers and others in the country? What is the rule with regard to petrol used for pumping by petrol engines in agricultural work? Is the user of such an engine given the amount which he has been in the habit of using, or is he given some less proportion? In my own ease, I require a small amount of petrol for the purpose of pumping water. I do not suppose I could live in the house without pumping water. I asked for a very small amount, and I was 153 rewarded by getting a half. Then, with regard to the farmer, is he to get the full amount, or not? Perhaps my right hon. Friend, or someone else on the Treasury Bench, will be able to tell us later on. I see the Under-Secretary there, and he might be able to tell us, because where it is a matter of absolute necessity for carrying on the business of a farmer, or to enable you to live in your house, there ought to be some more consideration than where it is only a matter of ordinary comfort. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that some relief is coming in future, owing to the advent of some of these tankers, and I hope the state of things to which he has looked forward will come about, and that "At no distant date"—to quote his own words—"I hope there will be further consideration for classes and more consideration for individual cases," though I am bound to say he added some sinister qualification—"when time and petrol permit." I hope the Petrol Committee will find more time to discharge their duties so as to make a more equitable distribution, and I hope we shall be able to get tankers and a better supply of petrol, and so meet the commercial needs of the country.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I can, of course, only reply to one or two questions with the permission of the House. I find myself torn between the sorrows of archbishops and taxi-drivers, and the hon. and learned Member who spoke last suggested that it was either my duty or that of the Petrol Committee to assess when a sermon is a duty or a joy. He asked me whether pumping and agricultural machinery was to receive its full amount. Nobody receives its full amount—that is impossible. Agricultural machinery is treated like commercial cars for commercial requirements, and receives 60 per cent., which is the most anyone receives except a doctor. The hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn (Sir A. Williamson) spoke of two gallons a month having been given for agricultural lorries. That, of course, is an accidental error which will be put right at once, and they will get 60 per cent. The hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Strauss), who spoke about taxi-drivers, believed that taxi-drivers could not possibly make a living with only two gallons a day. Well, within the last two days I have spoken quite accidentally to taxi-drivers who have driven me to various points, and asked them 154 whether they could make a living on two gallons a day, and they have said, "Yes, as we shall have two gallons of paraffin mixed with it; on that we shall do very well."
There was another point raised by two hon. Centlemen as to the special hardship on taxi-drivers who are in process of purchasing their cabs on the hire instalment system. In ordinary times, if a taxi-driver, having paid a certain number of these instalments, ceases further instalments the company which has made the bargain with him is able to confiscate the cab and any instalments paid up to that date. Happily, during the War, the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act comes in, and they are unable to do that without taking the matter into Court., I am quite certain that where a driver has been very strictly limited in the amount of petrol received and is able to show the Court that he is not able to continue paying the whole of the instalment, the Court will treat him with justice and equity. But there was one class of drivers I was anxious about, and those were the drivers who have begun their instalments on the hire purchase system since the declaration of war, because they are not brought under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act. They are not numerous, but quite sufficiently numerous to deserve consideration. I therefore collected together all the managers of the companies which sold cars on the instalment system, and I have from them a personal promise that those men who do not come under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, because they commenced their instalments since the beginning of the War, will be treated exactly like the other men, and get the same consideration.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Has the right hon. Gentleman reason to believe this promise will be carried out?
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Yes, Sir, I have not the least doubt.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
The right hon. Gentleman dealt so fully with the matter that there is very little for me to say, except that I thoroughly endorse the appeal that has been made that, as soon as possible, more petrol should be supplied both for trade and for agricultural machinery. I have been requested by doctors and veterinary surgeons in my neighbourhood to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman for 155 a more liberal allowance, as it is absolutely impossible for them to carry on their profession with the amount of petrol that has been allocated, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee recognise that if the doctor has not the means of getting about amongst his patients, it means increase of pain and even loss of life to human beings, and that if the veterinary surgeon is prevented by lack of petrol from getting over the district to treat sick cattle, then, also, there is a pain and very serious financial loss. The right hon. Gentleman showed that he appreciated this, and in his speech stated that he had gone a considerable direction towards1 meeting the demands of those two professional classes. But, notwithstanding that, I would like to quote a letter which I received yesterday from a veterinary surgeon in practice in Cornwall. He states that he applied for 480 gallons of petrol, and received only a grant of 300 gallons, whereas from the 31st December up to that date he had used 518 gallons. He contends that it is impossible for him to get over his district unless the allowance is increased. He is the Board of Agriculture inspector under the Contagious Diseases Act for nearly half the county of Cornwall; he is a county council inspector for a large district; he acts also for the War Office Remount Department, and holds other public offices. To aggravate the difficulty he is so situated that four of the adjoining veterinary surgeons have joined the Army, and his assistant has also joined, and he finds it impossible to carry out these important duties unless the Petrol Committee can make a more liberal grant than 300 gallons. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has shown that he appreciates the importance of these professions being supplied, and that he will endeavour to still further meet their requirements both as regards professions, trade, and agricultural machinery. I hope he will use all the available petrol for these purposes and not for the promotion of the joy rides of which we heard when he spoke of no less than 600 motor cars being seen on one Sunday on the roads to our coast towns. We all feel that in these matters we have to make a sacrifice because of the conditions of the War. Surely we ought to use the petrol we have in perfecting human life and animal life, and also in business rather 156 than in unnecessary pleasure, which is quite unjustifiable on the present occasion. We recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has done the best he can under the circumstances. I hope he will persevere with the suggestions he has made and get more petrol at the earliest possible moment for the professions I have mentioned, for trade and agricultural machinery, for they ought to be dealt with, as liberally as possible.
§ Mr. MORTON
I hope that the result of this Debate to-night will be that the right hon. Gentleman and the Petrol Committee will consent to reconsider some of the cases brought before them, especially now that we are told that there is not a short supply in the world, and it is only a question of getting it here. I want to say a few words in regard to the public health department of the City of London and the use of petrol. The City Corporation have found it necessary, especially during the last two years, owing to the short supply of men, to buy machines for cleansing purposes which use a good deal of petrol, in order to keep the City in the clean state in which it has always been kept. They use 2,500 gallons of petrol a month, and they applied for that amount. They only asked for what would be used. The Petrol Committee said they could have 1,500 gallons a month. Now it is very necessary that we should keep the City in a clean state for sanitary reasons, and for the sake of public health. I congratulate the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury) upon the fact that he represents a district which is the best kept in the whole world, and we want to keep up that reputation in the City.
As a matter of fact, about 1,000,000 people come to the City every weekday. Of course, on Sundays they do not come so much. About 400,000 of these people work in offices. I know we have been told that there is no population in the City, but the population is 1,000,000 in and out during every weekday. We cannot keep those people in a healthy state unless we can have the City properly swept and cleansed, and it has been found necessary that wood-paving and asphalte-paving should be washed down every night, and we can only do this by having petrol machines to take round our tanks. I trust that somebody will tell the First Commissioner of Works what has happened, and that he will, in the interests of public health in the City of London, 157 which is the best cleansed city in the world, consider the question of our demand, and at least compromise matters with them. I hope the right hon. Baronet who represents the City of London will assist me in getting more petrol so that the City can be kept in a clean state. After what the First Commissioner of Works has said, I do not see any difficulty about it. It is only necessary to get more ships which will probably not be very difficult, and then we shall have petrol enough to keep the ordinary business and the health of the nation at the highest possible point.
§ Mr. LOUGH
The First Commissioner of Works, before he left the House, I understood, stated that he would reply to the whole Debate later on. Our difficulty is that he does not hear exactly the complaints which are made. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will make some reply to the specific questions which have been raised.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The right hon. Gentleman who has been acting for the President of the Board of Trade has answered a number of questions by leave of the House, but we cannot allow those points to be gone into over again.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I was referring to points which have not been answered in the Debate. I only want to say that we think these restrictions have been very severe, and we are not satisfied with the answer which we have got on the present occasion. There is no harm in pressing for some further reply. We only got a speech which was prepared before the Debate occurred. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) who generally makes a very specific case and is often too easily satisfied—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
§ Mr. LOUGH
He is always satisfied when he gets what he wants—is quite satisfied with the answer that he has got. Everybody else is more or less dissatisfied. A matter of very great importance has been raised. No proof has been given, and in the nature of things no proof could be given, that any necessity exists for the drastic restrictions that have been imposed. That point ought to be met, and I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Pretyman) if a Committee of this House could not be appointed to consider the question of the petrol restric- 158 tions. This is a matter of the very greatest, importance and the House ought not to part with the control of it. Another of these private Committees has been appointed and the Government ask us to accept any drastic action that any private Committee of this kind chooses to propose. We ought not to part with the control of a matter of this kind. It touches the livelihood of hundreds of thousands—I might even say millions of people—and the convenience of the whole nation. Some means ought to be taken to prove that these very drastic restrictions are absolutely necessary.
None of us complain of the fact that the requirements of the Army and Navy come first. We were told that they were very great, and they have got to be met, but we are not satisfied on the point. We have had one or two speeches by business men in the House who are familiar with the details of this matter. I spoke to another hon. Member, perhaps the best authority in this or any other country, on this question, and I said, "I suppose you are going to take part in the Debate?" He replied, "Oh, no! It is no use any-business man talking. My advice was offered earlier in the War, and it has never been taken." We have that feeling. The advice of business men, which might help to solve the difficulty, was not sufficiently taken in this matter before the restrictions were imposed. The case of some tankers, which it was alleged were available, was mentioned, and my right hon. Friend at once, with that artfulness which I constantly see displayed on that bench, said, "If you can give me any particulars I will inquire into these tankers." We were completely at his mercy. I would not be foolish enough to mention a business case if I knew one, because the Treasury would fly at me again. Business matters cannot be dealt with in open debate in this House, but they could be elucidated before a Committee of this House, and there ought to be a better qualified and more impartial tribunal than this Committee if the House is to accept these restrictions.
The whole nation now is absolutely dependent upon motor traction, and yet we hear that a perfectly automatic rule has been applied. We hear that one-fourth of the quantity required by the private car owner is given to him. My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate appears to have fared pretty well. He got 40 per cent, of the quantity for which he asked. It does not appear to have been much use 159 to him, but he only asked for what he wanted, a very small number of gallons, and he only got 40 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman stated that, on the average, the private car owner got 25 per cent, of the quantity he asked for, and he went on to say that, speaking generally, the applications appeared to be perfectly honest. If they were perfectly honest there should have been a better response than to give them only a fourth of the quantity they asked for. This matter applies so widely now, and so many important interests will be injured, that some Committee ought to be appointed or some step taken by the Government to assure us that it is absolutely necessary to impose such severe restrictions. There was only one fact given by my right hon. Friend. He said that 600 cars were counted on the road between Maidenhead and Brighton in one day. That would be twenty-five cars an hour, or one car every two minutes. I do not think there is anything in that. When he began to think that he had not made an imposing case, he said, "Oh, it was a wet day. There would have been a great many more if it had been a fine day." I believe the people of the country are "behaving in a very patriotic way and that motor cars are being used as moderately as possible and greatly for the benefit of the wounded and those who are home from the War. I imagine that there are extremely rare cases now of people who are having joy-rides and washing petrol after the strong appeals made lay the Government.
I have not a word to say on behalf of anybody who wastes petrol anywhere or who makes any use of it that could be avoided, but we are touching something most vital to the life and health of the people. Take the case of the City of London mentioned by my hon. Friend (Mr. Morton). There ought not to be a drastic rule, and they ought not to be told that they are only going to get 60 per cent. when the quantity they apply for is absolutely necessary. The Government ought to exhaust the business resources of the country in seeing whether the supply can be extended before such very drastic restrictions are imposed. I do not think the business men have been brought into it at all. I should like to ask whether the Admiralty consult the War Office about the supply they require. Is there any authority over both of them who can unify 160 the whole of the supply of the two Departments? I understand that there is not. I understand that there is not even any consultation between the Transport Department of the Navy and the Admiral Commander-in-Chief. He is simply told, "I want so many tankers," and he must get them. I do not like to quote the example of Germany, because we have got just as good ideas and we can work things out quite as well as any German, but we hear that the buying of all such things in Germany was put into the hands of one man who was over the Army, the Navy, and every other Department, who could unify the demand, and who could decide the best steps to be taken to exhaust the business abilities of the nation before treating the matter in a drastic manner.
At an early stage in the War the building of tankers was stopped. It was then discovered that this was a great mistake, and tankers are now being hurried on. We asked when they would be ready, and my right hon. Friend could not tell us. I believe that some of them are now ready. That question ought to be answered, and, if it cannot be answered, then a Committee ought to be set up. The agriculturist, the business man, as well as the alleged private car owner, and all the industrial resources of the country will be tremendously hampered and great restriction will be put upon them if some intelligent action is not taken by this House. I would like to say a word with regard to the private car. Most private cars are business cars. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Yes, I venture to say they are mostly business cars, and that they are mostly being used in a business way at the present time. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I think so, the great majority of them. We have these large numbers quoted, and you invent a a word, which comes, I think, from some newspaper—"joy-ride"—and then you think everybody is joy-riding all the time. I do not believe any large or considerable section worth mentioning of the people of this country are joy-riding at the present time. On the contrary, they are all influenced by patriotic motives, trying to help the Government in every way they can, and I believe that instead of giving any real assistance to the great struggle in which the nation is now engaged we shall throw difficulties in the way of the Government if something is not done.
161 I do not think any complaint can be made that we have had too long a Debate, because the Prime Minister said we should be into it within an hour of the beginning of the discussion, while it did not begin until twenty-five minutes to eight. On this first day of the restrictions, I assure everyone in the House, there will be great interest taken outside in what is done in this matter, and it will not be long before there is evidence of public dissatisfaction. I would make two suggestions. Firstly, may I ask the Government to consider whether a Committee of this House cannot be appointed to which the actions of the Petrol Committee could be referred, and which Would have an opportunity of examining them and suggesting means of increasing the supply, and at least of giving this House an assurance that the heavy restrictions are absolutely necessary? Secondly, I do think it must be admitted, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to satisfy us on this point to-night, that the Committee have been acting in too automatic a manner. It has cut down everything, and there ought to be a sort of little Court of the Committee which would listen to hard cases, and which would go into the truth and necessity of these difficulties, and would say where an absolute restriction should not be required. I should be very glad if some reassurance could be given to the House on these matters and some reply made generally to the questions that have been raised.
§ Mr. DILLON
I venture to raise another subject, and before doing so I desire to say that I think my intervention at Question Time to-day has been more than justified by what has taken place. I was told by the Prime Minister that the Debate on the Gallipoli Bill was going to last about an hour, and that, therefore, we should have the whole night for the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. As a matter of fact, the Gallipoli Bill lasted about three hours and a half, and took half of the night, and I am therefore glad that the Prime Minister practically pledged himself that the settled practice of the House would not again be departed from, and that the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill should always be put down as first Order.
The point to which I want to call attention is an exceedingly important one, and ought, in my opinion, to have been 162 raised in the House a long time ago. It is the operation of the military censorship over the newspaper Press in Ireland. It is really an abominable scandal. The military authorities in Ireland have taken up a position which, I venture to say, is wholly unknown in this country. Although the censorship in this country has been fairly strict, in Ireland it is not only much more strict, but it is wholly different to the censorship exercised in this country. As I understand the censorship it is confined in this country, or should be confined, to the censorship of the publication of news which may be detrimental to the interests of the Empire, or the Army, or the War, or of the publication of articles or expressions of opinion of a treasonable character. Here I have in my hand a document, as one sample, of what is now m force in Ireland, which was served on the office of the "Freeman's Journal" on the 14th May last by a soldier in uniform with his bayonet fixed. That is another departure. I understand the censorship in this country is always exercised with decent civility, and that at most a policeman calls at the office, or, rather, I think, the general custom is that some communication is made to the editor of the newspaper. But this document which I am about to submit to the House was delivered by a soldier with his bayonet fixed, as being a kind of intimation that at the next visit he would drive the bayonet into the editor:Headquarter, Irish Command,Parkgate, Dublin.Sir,—I am directed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief to inform you that his attention has been drawn to several articles which have appeared recently in your paper, the purpose of which appears to be to criticise and bring into contempt the administration of martial law in this country, and to foster sympathy with those who have taken up arms, or plotted to do so, against His Majesty's troops.These articles to which the communication refers are articles urging the stopping of the executions, and urging clemency to the rebels who have been taken in arms.I am to inform you that the publication of such sentiments—observe, this is a wholly new departure—cannot be tolerated, and that the appearance of any further articles of this nature in any newspaper under your control will render you liable to immediate action being taken under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act. The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief is well aware that the suppression of the rising inevitably entails the regrettable arrest and detention of a certain number of persons who neither encouraged nor took part in the rebellion, or in preparation for the same.163 That is one of the crimes the newspaper was charged with—drawing attention to the fact that a large number of innocent people had been arrested.These cases are being investigated with all possible dispatch, and though some time must elapse before all such innocent persons can be liberated, Press comments dwelling upon and emphasising in flamboyant and incendiary language—the military officer there proceeds to literary criticism. He criticism the language—any such case of hardship and injustice can but have a prejudicial effect on the peace of the country which it is the object of the General Officer Commanding-in* Chief to restore as speedily as possible.Therefore, by his own admission, the comment of the newspaper on cases of hardship and injustice is calculated to interfere with the General Officer Commanding in maintaining the peace of the country. The exertions of the General Officer Commanding in maintaining the peace of the country have been unhappy, and I think it is one of the most monstrous things in the exercise of authority that I have ever known that a gentleman, a military officer, is to be at liberty to send a uniformed soldier with drawn bayonet to a newspaper office, and to inform the editor that if he dares to comment on admitted cases of hardship and injustice—that is his own language—the newspaper will be shut up and he will be subjected to severe penalties.
That is one of the cases to which I draw attention, one specimen of the system that exists in Ireland, and that system is still in full force. But there is another point much later on. About four or five weeks ago a communication was received at the office of this same newspaper from a gentleman, a Noble Lord, Lord Decies, now the Military Censor in Ireland, forbidding the publication of a letter of a certain Catholic bishop. I have nothing to say about the letter. This bishop is a very great enemy of ours, and I must say a very scurrilous enemy of ours, and I do not make any comment on the letter of which the publication was forbidden. But will it be believed that the communication forbidding the publication of this letter was written on the official notepaper and headed by the stamp of the Kildare Street Club? Anybody who knows Ireland will understand the outrage, the cynical stupidity, of the Irish Censor who resorts to the Kildare Street Club, and from that sacred Ark of the Covenant of Toryism, of the most bitter and benighted Toryism in Ireland, proceeds to censor Nationalist 164 newspapers, and to forbid the publication of a letter from a Catholic priest. I do not know whether I could give any illustration to bring home to the minds of hon. Members of this House what would be an analogous proceeding in this country than to ask what would be said in this country if a gentleman sitting in the Carlton Club and using the notepaper of the Carlton Club addressed a communication to the "Daily News" or to the "Daily Chronicle" forbidding them to publish the letters of an English bishop, or, say, the Rev. Mr. Hughes or Dr. Clifford, or some great lights of English Nonconformity? That really would be the only case analogous to the proceeding of this military officer in Dublin. That is an intolerable state of things. I want a declaration from the representative of the War Office in the House to-night whether he means the new régime which was started in Ireland last night to continue this military censorship or whether he is prepared to give an undertaking that the censorship in Ireland shall be conducted on the same principles and with the same decency and restraint with which it has been exercised in this country. That is the first question I warn; to put.
The next question I desire to raise is this: There is in force in Ireland at this moment a Proclamation issued by Sir John Maxwell, who, I may say, in spite of the repeated statement of the Prime Minister, is as far as I can ascertain the unchecked and unlimited ruler of Ireland at the present moment. I do not know how far that will be the case after last night, but up to that moment and up to this time Sir John Maxwell is the only man who has had any authority in Ireland. He issued a Proclamation a long time back forbidding any public meeting to be held in any part of Ireland without the assent of the police—the very worst system which prevails in Germany and Russia and certain Continental countries, and which has often been made the subject of eloquent speeches in this country contrasting the freedom of England with the system that prevailed in Continental countries. I believe that even before the War, in Berlin, it was not possible to hold a public meeting without obtaining the consent of the police. That certainly is the case in Russia. Even under the old Coercion Act no such rule obtained. In the days of the Coercion Act of 1887, which was the worst Coercion Act, we were not bound to ask leave of the police to hold meetings. But 165 under this Proclamation, which is law, you cannot hold a meeting, not even in a room—not a public or open-air meeting—without the permission of the police. I am informed that in many parts of Ireland, where the police are sensible, they ignore the Proclamation altogether and allow meetings to be held. But that is not the law. In those parts of the country—this is my information, and the representative of the War Office will correct me if I am wrong—where the police are cantankerous or disposed to be troublesome they do enforce the law and have insisted upon people coming to them and petitioning, after the manner of the Huns and the Prussians, for permission to hold a meeting even in a room. I am not foolish enough to say that while the insurrection was going on, or for some weeks after the insurrection was put down, that these extreme measures were not necessary—at all events so far as large open-air meetings were concerned. But that has all passed away, and I do say that it is in the highest degree in the interests of the restoration of peace and confidence in Ireland that as rapidly as can be done consistently with public safety all these oppressive Regulations ought to be swept away. It is absurd and most mischievous to put this restriction on public meetings indiscriminately. To my own knowledge, quite recently in some parts of the country, at all events, meetings, for instance, of our own national organisation—quite small meetings—and meetings of other associations which have always been in conflict with the Sinn Fein movement and have been working hard to maintain the constitutional movement against the revolutionary movement in Ireland, have been obliged to go cap in hand to the police and ask permission to hold their meetings. That is an intolerable state of things. It has a most provocative effect upon those men who, throughout all the recent disturbances, have remained loyal to the Irish party, to the Government, and to the War. That ought to be swept away. Of course, the Government, after what has happened, have instructed, I have no doubt, the police to prevent Sinn Fein meetings and meetings of the Revolutionary party. That I can understand, because, after what has happened, those meetings are undoubtedly illegal, and the Government is perfectly entitled to prevent them, and even to prosecute the men who take part in them. What I object to is, 166 that there should be no common sense shown and no distinction made between meetings which are not only lawful but are opposed to the revolutionary party. The whole thing seems to be classified as if the country were all combined, and as if we were to accept the definition of Lord Salisbury and Lord Midleton that Ireland South of the Boyne is all revolutionary and that we are all pro-Germans. That is a very stupid position to take up. If you treat people in that way you may produce very horrible results. It is not true. The vast majority of the Irish people at this present moment, in spite of all we have suffered—God knows we have suffered enough!—are with you, and it is not really fair or rational, and it certainly is not statesmanlike, to treat them in that way, to lump them all together and treat them all as if they were in sympathy heart and soul with the Sinn Fein movement and pro-Germans. I therefore now ask the representative of the War Office to give us to-night an assurance, first, that the Press censorship will be taken out of the hands of the military, or, at all events, put on a basis exactly the same in point of view of principle and also in the decency of its exercise with the system that prevails in this country; and, secondly, that the Proclamation forbidding meetings without leave of the police should be immediately withdrawn.
§ Mr. F. E. MEEHAN
I wish to call attention to a matter of great importance which recently occurred in my Constituency. Very soon after the rebellion in Dublin a detachment of the Sherwood Foresters was sent to my Constituency for the purpose of arresting members of the Sinn Fein organisation. No one can accuse me of being in any way partial towards the Sinn Fein policy, as I can boast of being the only Member of this House who ever fought a Sinn Fein election, and, I am very pleased to say, won it by five to one. Ever since then I have been in favour of a constitutional policy and a great supporter of my Leader. I have asked several questions in reference to the occurrence of the night of 13th or 14th May at Manorhamilton. A detachment of the Sherwood Foresters, in charge of Captain Jackson arrived there on the Saturday evening and took forcible possession of the Temperance Hall, which belonged to the temperance organisation. Without asking anyone's permission, they went to the caretaker and ordered him to hand over his key, and said 167 that if he did not he would be placed under arrest. He handed over the key and they took possession of the hall. Before they left it they did damage to the amount of at least £15. I am not in the least surprised at it being the action of the Sherwood Foresters, considering that they had just come from the fight in Dublin and that a number of their comrades had fought and suffered and died there, and I sympathise with them. It was not the wish of the great majority of the Irish that they should be persecuted, and, after all, it is very unfair that they should try to take revenge on innocent people. They damaged a splended oil painting by putting several stabs of a sword through it, and they damaged musical instruments belonging to the band and broke several presses. They refused to pay any compensation. When I asked a question, I was told, in the usual procrastinating style of the present Government, that inquiries would be made and the hon. Member would be informed later on. After putting a third question, I decided to raise the matter in the House. I ask the Financial Secretary: If, after all his inquiries into the matter, he has made any inquiries at all except from the military or the police; has he ever asked any of the temperance party to whom this hall belonged; or has any person ever approached the very Rev. Father Soden who had charge of this hall? I saw the damage myself, and can bear testimony to it. The hon. Gentleman stated that a number of non-commissioned officers of the Sherwood Foresters were prepared to state on sworn testimony that no damage was done whatsoever. I think if a public inquiry is granted I can produce several independent witnesses who are prepared to swear that this damage was done while the Sherwood Foresters were in sole possession of the hall, and I now make the demand that a public inquiry shall be held into the action of the soldiers on this occasion. Not satisfied with the damage they did in the hall, they made arrests, I believe, on information supplied by the police of the district. I cannot speak with any authority on this matter, but I do not know of any other person who could have given information regarding the parties who have been arrested. There was no disturbance whatsoever in the district Sinn Fein had been practically killed for upwards of seven years After my election it had never dared to raise its head in the 168 district. They arrested a young man of the name of Dolan, a most respectable merchant, just because he happened to be a brother of a member of this House who adopted the Sinn Fein policy. He had long previously given it up. I know that of my own personal knowledge. He was arrested about nine o'clock on a Sunday morning, and was not allowed to go to divine service. They proceeded to the village of Kiltyclogher, a village 9 miles away, and near the village they made an attempt to search a house belonging to a national teacher, a most respectable young man, who has never in any way been identified with the Sinn Fein policy, and while searching his premises they took from him property amounting to the value of £7, including a golden sovereign, some safety razors, and other articles of value. Then they went to Kiltyclogher and searched the post office, but did not succeed in finding any documents. Not satisfied with their raiding there, they ordered some people who were in the street to come over and be examined. Naturally a man does not want to go before the military to be examined. He declined at first, and the officer in charge said if he did hot obey orders he would let him see what he could do, and forthwith two soldiers took charge of him and jabbed him with their bayonets. That was cruel treatment for a law-abiding citizen. I make an appeal once more to the hon. Gentleman to have no more shuffling in his reply. I must admit that his replies have been most courteous and all that, but there is too much shuffling about it. There is very little to be gained by question and answer, especially when an Irish Member is concerned, but I appeal to him to grant an independent inquiry into the matter, in order to show where lies the blame, and not to be peddling for a paltry sum of £15, that everyone in the district knows represents the damage done by the military.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I desire to take this opportunity of calling attention to a matter which has several times lately been raised. I mean the treatment of friendly aliens. This matter was first mentioned by the Home Secretary on 29th June, and in the course of that speech he said quite frankly;We cannot impose compulsion upon those (friendly aliens) who are not British subjects, but these men are being invited to enlist, and a not inconsiderable number are enlisting.169 Then he went on to say that in the case of those who did not enlist:They will be expected either to offer their service to the British Army or to return to Russia to fulfil their military obligations there.I am not quoting the whole passage, but that is, I think, the main purport of what he said. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Yate) said:Will they be deported it they refuse to enlist?Mr. Samuel: I do not put it quite so uncouthly as that.Mr. Outhwaite: Are these men not political refugees?Mr. Samuel: I do not think they are, but the case of all political refugees will be more sympathetically considered, and the tribunal will have instructions to that effect."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1916, cols. 1084–1085, Vol. LXXXIII.]I want to say at once that I believe that statement of my right hon. Friend created a very painful impression among a large number of men who have held Liberal principles, men who believed that this War was a war of liberation and a war for small nationalities. I do not want to be personally offensive, but I may say that it created all the more pain coming from the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite aware that since the subject has been raised by one of the hon. Members for Somerset (Mr. King), and my right hon. Friend in answer to-him made a considerable speech, I did not hear the speech, but it was a speech in which he, to some extent, modified the policy which he laid down on 29th June. So far as I can remember, he said that these friendly aliens will have an opportunity of going before a a local tribunal and of endeavouring to satisfy them that they are entitled to exemption, if they think they are, and failing that they will be deported. That is, I understand, the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech last week. As regards all these aliens, it seems to me—apart from the question of the Russian Jews, which I am going to deal with more specifically later—that this is an unfortunate way of endeavouring to increase the military efficiency of the country, if that is the right hon. Gentleman's object. I do not believe that when the House of Commons passed the Defence of the Realm Act, and gave tile Government enormous powers under that Act, for dealing with people who are aliens, that they intended to make it really an extension of Conscription. Up to a little while ago it was impossible for an alien of any sort to enlist in the British Army, and I feel very jealous of a Department which proceeds to make use of administrative powers of this sort in order to go beyond the expressed intention of Parliament. I 170 do not believe the right hon. Gentleman has the right to compel men to enlist m this way, as he is now doing, be they Belgians or Frenchmen, or Russians, or whatever they be. I believe it is a most unconstitutional proceeding on the part of the Home Office. I believe it is absolutely contrary to the privileges of this House, and I believe it is contrary to the traditions which the right hon. Gentleman came here to defend—that is to say, the traditions of free government as opposed to bureaucracy in this country. Therefore, I object in toto to the sort of policy that the right hon. Gentleman bas entered upon, namely, the policy of endeavouring to compel what we call friendly aliens to enlist in this country by the threat of deportation. As regards Belgians and Frenchmen and other of our Allies there is nothing like the same objection as there is so far as exiles from Russia are concerned. Belgians have some voice in the government of their country, and we presume that they want to take part in the War; I am sure most of them do, and so there is a great deal to be said for the view, if we have Conscription in this country that the Belgians should, as far as possible, fight for their country. The same remarks apply to Frenchmen in this country. But when you come to Russian Jews I want to ask what possible justification you have for proceeding to treat these men in the way that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to treat them? Everyone who knows anything of the history of Russia or of Judaism knows that the treatment of Jews in Russia has been a disgrace to civilisation. No one knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman, and he is not entitled, under any conditions, to destroy the right of asylum which has been one of the great prides of this country for 120 years. He has no right to send these men back to Russia to slavery, perhaps to exile, perhaps to death, to persecution certainly, or, failing that, to compel them, against their wish, to go into the British Army to fight for a cause in which they do not believe.
You do not dare to treat Irishmen in that way. You do not dare to treat Indians in that way. As regards these Russian Jews, you say, "Unless you fight for the Russian Empire which you came over here to avoid because of your dislike of it, and unless you fight for the Allies of the Russian Government"—that is how they regard it at present—"you 171 are to be sent back to Russia, to be exposed to the tender mercies of the Russian Government, and perhaps to be sent to Siberia." That is altogether unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. It is unworthy of the Liberalism which he professes, and is unworthy of his own race, of which he ought to be proud. It was quite true that at the beginning of this War we were told that this was a War for the liberalising of Russia. We were told that all the advanced elements in Russia were in alliance with France and this country because they believed that it would mean the modification of Russian despotism. No one desired that more than I did myself. I had something to do with Russia in the past, because I took a prominent part in extricating from the jaws of the Russian Government, from a Russian prison, with my hon. Friend opposite who sits for an Irish Constituency, a British subject, Miss Malecka, and I came to understand what Russian methods were in these days, as regards people who were in disagreement with the Russian Government politically. I found out then that if a person was found to belong to a society which had for its object the alteration of the Russian Government, that is to say, what is called a students' society, or a society of that sort, under Article 102 of the Russian Constitution, if a person was merely on the list of members of that society, he could be sent off to Siberia for the rest of his life, and deprived of all civil liberty. This woman, Miss Malecka, who was a British subject, was condemned to exile in Siberia. We had the greatest difficulty in rescuing her, and her friend who was not a British subject, is in Siberia to this day. I regret to tell the House that after making most careful inquiries into this matter, I believe that the treatment of the Jews in Russia is in some ways even worse than it was before.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are not discussing the affairs of the Russian Empire. We are only discussing them in so far as there may be any fear on the part of those whom the Home Secretary may have to deport. The hon. Member must confine himself to that.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I will endeavour to confine myself to that, but I submit that it is material to inquire how far the assertions that have been made that this War has entirely altered the treatment of the Jews are being borne out. I hope that I 172 am not out of order in asserting that that is not so, and that therefore the threat which was made in this House by the right hon. Gentleman to the Jews who failed to enlist in the British Army to have them repatriated to Russia is a very serious thing. I hope that I am not out of order in going so far as that. I certainly do not want to transgress the Rules of the House. The question is far too serious a one to wish to impart any unnecessary standard of criticism. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman desires to deal fairly with these people. If he pursues the policy which he laid down tonight, and which, so far as I can see, he did not defend last week when he spoke of dealing fairly with these men, towards his compatriots, men of his own race, he will be doing one of the worst things ever done by one man to another of his race. The treatment of the Jews by the Russian Government is not the sort of treatment we desire for these people who have been living under our protection in this country. I say that the right hon. Gentleman has no right for the present to send these men back to Russia. These men have sought refuge here. They come here, very wisely, because it has been our boast that we give asylum at all times to men who seek refuge in this country from a Government which they thought was unjust. I have nothing to say of Russian subjects. I only say, as regards the Jews, that we are bound to insist that their privilege of asylum shall be preserved. It has been the pride of this country that we have treated this race—I think one of the greatest races of the world—in a way no other country in modern times has dealt with them. We have seen a Jew Prime Minister of this country, we have one now at the head of the Home Department, we have a Jew Lord Chief Justice, and we have some of that race in this House, as I. am glad to know. It is quite true that all these people who have adopted our laws, have, in effect, become Englishmen. Some who have come from Russia recently to the East End have not yet learned the benefit of our laws, yet they are to be driven into the Army to fight in a war in which they have no concern. Is that the object which the right hon. Gentleman has in view, that these men shall be driven into the Army, though they have not yet naturalised themselves? These men, many of them, cannot speak our language. They have a horror of militarism; they have not yet learned 173 patriotism, as we hope in time they will do. The fact that this is so ought to make us all the more careful about treating them in the way now proposed. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the British Army is going to be benefited by compelling men of this sort, who have come here for asylum, who have no country to which they belong, to fight our battles? Does any one suppose we are going really to increase our military efficiency in this way. I think it is a bad day for the British Army if you are going to recruit it in this way. I cannot understand on what ground my right hon. Friend thinks it is necessary for him to attempt to force men into the British Army in that way. I say I regret that very much. I have claimed in the past close personal friendship with the right hon. Gentleman. I am under obligations to him. I followed in his footsteps in South Oxfordshire. I do not say one word in any way personally against him. I admire the Jewish race, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has a right to be proud of his race. Therefore I do suggest to him, and I ask him to pause before pursuing a policy which, if be carries it out, will, I think, bring infamy on his name.
I think it is as well that I should rise at once to reply to the speech of my hon. Friend who has ended with so dire a threat, and I shall proceed afterwards to make a few observations in answer to the remarks, on an entirely different subject, of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). Let me point out, in the first place, what is the situation with which I have to deal with respect to the Russians, most of them belonging to the Jewish race and religion, who are in the East End of London, in Manchester, Leeds, and in some other towns. This House has enacted, rightly or wrongly, compulsory military service.
§ Mr. MORRELL
Not for aliens.
It has required that all British subjects living in this country, with certain exemptions and exceptions, should take their share in the heavy sacrifice which this War entails, and in bearing the heavy burdens that fall upon our population. Those Acts are now in full operation. Day after day young men are required to leave their homes and go into the Army, businesses are closed, and other trades and industries are hampered and crippled. In the East End of London the 174 English population sees its young men taken away, some of them against their will, many of them applying for exemptions which have to be refused, shops are closed, families are separated, and in the same district there are to be seen thousands, approaching tens of thousands, of able-bodied young men, a large proportion of whom have lived in this country all their lives and who have carried on their trade there and prospered there, and who belong to a belligerent country in alliance with Britain, and who are bearing no share whatever of those burdens and sacrifices. It is not surprising that there was growing up a feeling of bitterness and antagonism in the East End of London and in those other towns which it was impossible for the Government to ignore, and least of all was it possible for a Home Secretary, who himself belongs, and who is proud to belong, to the Jewish race, to ignore, with all the perils which might follow from such a situation.
I view the matter, however, with complete impartiality, seeking to do merely my duty as a member of a British Government in the presence of a problem not easy of solution. On one thing I was quite clear, and that is that I could not adopt the policy, which apparently my hon. Friend recommends, namely, to do nothing. Suppose I had done nothing, suppose I had allowed this feeling, of which I had plenty of evidence from police information and from other sources reaching me from many quarters, to grow unchecked, suppose I paid no attention to this problem and ignored its very existence, and merely said, "This is a difficult matter because, after all, these are aliens, and there are objections to sending them back to their own country, and suppose the very possible eventuality that, after a time, perhaps stimulated by a violent Press agitation, there might be riots and disturbances in the East End, and that those families who had seen their young men taken away adopted violent measures in protest when they saw their trade being captured by others living in their midst, and when they saw neighbouring families in the same street making none of those sacrifices, what would have been said of me then? The Government would undoubtedly have been blamed for not foreseeing the possibilities, and, indeed, the probabilities, of the situation—for acting too late, for not having 175 had the courage to tackle a difficult and troublesome problem. What other alternative is there? I do not know any country which has legislated in order to apply a measure of direct Conscription of aliens living within its own borders. All measures of Conscription apply only to the nationals of the country by which the legislation is passed. My hon. Friend approves that. He realises that the Military Service Act could not be applied in this case. What third course is there? My hon. Friend adopts the easy role of critic. He has not, nor have those who think with him, made any practical, definite, or possible suggestion of any kind.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I said that if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to compel friendly aliens to serve in the British Army he ought to come to this House to get powers to do so.
I do not know what our Russian Ally would say if we had endeavoured to apply compulsory military service to her subjects who might be going back to Russia. I do not know; I have not approached the Russian Government on the matter. I know that they have publicly expressed their willingness to allow their subjects living in the territories of the Allies to enter the Armies of the Allies, and we are acting in accordance with that declaration. It would not be possible, in nay view, as at present advised, to legislate, to apply the Military Service Act simpliciter to this case. It would not be possible to leave the whole problem alone. The only course open was to invite these men, subject to certain exemptions, to serve in the British Army, and to say, "If you do not serve in the British Army, we must consider your return to your own country." True, as the hon. Member said—and I rejoiced to hear him say it—England for centuries now, certainly for generations, has treated the Jewish population within her borders with absolute fairness and generosity. That fact is fully realised by the Jewish community as a whole. But if full rights have been given to the Jews, they recognise fully also that they have duties in return, and so far from doing anything injurious to the Jewish name, I think I should have been most blameworthy if I, personally, had neglected to take action to bring home to the members of the Jewish people living in 176 this country the fact that where they enjoy rights they should also share the burdens. My hon. Friend asked what justification have I for treating these; men as I propose. What justification have they for shifting the burden that all should bear in common? Hon. Members say that they have a justification because they are asked to fight in the Army of England and England is in alliance with Russia. Is no Frenchman to take part in this War because France is an ally of Russia? Is no Belgian or Italian or Japanese to take part in the War because Russia is engaged in it? What a doctrine to express in the British House of Commons at this very moment when most glorious deeds are being performed by the Russian Army which is rendering immeasurable service to the cause in which the Grand Alliance is engaged in common? There is no possibility of excuse on the ground that these men are not to engage in the British Army because Britain is tainted forsooth by alliance with Russia. When I quoted my hon. Friend's words and spoke of faintest, I referred, of course, to the hon. Member's doctrines. He says that some, or many, of these men may be political refugees. Quite true: it may be so! But I can see no reason why a political refugee from Russia should not serve in the Army of Free England1 Why should he not enlist and serve side by side with any member of the British race? The hon. Member assumes that I am engaged in a campaign to deport political refugees to Russia. Nothing of the kind! No man will be deported if he is willing to serve in our Army. [Laughter.] Why should he not serve? Furthermore, we have made arrangements that all of them who fulfil the statutory requirements—which I have no power to alter—in regard to length of residence for naturalisation; if they serve in the British Army, if they are persons of average character—not bad character—if they fufil the statutory requirements as to residence—after they have served in the Army for a period of two or three months they shall be naturalised without any fee whatever. I recognise to the full that those who are willing to fight on the battlefields of a country ought to receive the rights of citizenship of that country. That offer has been publicly made, and will be brought home to those men in a prominent and effective fashion. The course it is proposed to adopt is; They will, in the first instance, be asked to submit themselves, 177 like the others, to medical examination. If they are rejected as unsuitable for the Army, the tribunal—and one will be specially set up with several representatives sympathetic to their point of view, and certainly two or three representatives of the Jewish faith, as well as others experienced in the work of the local tribunals—they will be able to obtain exemption from military service on precisely the same terms as any British subject. If they plead that they are engaged in work of necessity for the country, or their case is one of domestic hardship, or anything of the kind, they may, by the tribunals, be exempted the same as any British citizen. If exemption is refused, then they will be invited to enter the British Army. Even then, if they decline to serve I confess I should be chary of sending back to Russia any person who can clearly prove that he is a political refugee.
On the other hand, I do not want to give an open invitation toevery one of these persons—for in all races and classes there are a certain proportion who do not like military service—to declare themselves political refugees simply to secure exemption. That is just leaving the problem in the East End of London and elsewhere just the same at the end as at the beginning. The case of the genuine political refugee will be most carefully considered, but the hon. Gentleman must see that it is essential that you should not give currency to the idea that any Russian may exempt himself from the whole proposal simply by signing a paper to the effect that he is a political refugee.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Supposing a man has reached the stage of being deported, will he or will he not have the alternative, if he thinks he is a political refugee, instead of having to go back to Russia, of leaving England for America?
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Will they have the alternative of trying?
I will consider that—as to whether that course should be taken if they are genuine political refugees, and have some good reason for refusing to serve in the Army. I am the last man in the world to seek to deprive this country of what I regard as one of its greatest glories, the fact that it has always been the sacred asylum of political refugees 178 flying from countries where they are liable to oppression. I do not know if it is necessary for me to say I propose to make a fuller statement on this question later, and perhaps I need not trouble the House now, but will take some other opportunity of making public the details. I may say that hitherto no steps at all have been taken under this scheme. There seems to have been some misapprehension on that subject. There is a person whose name has figured in the Law Courts and this House, namely, Sarno, a man of most disreputable character, who, in order to avoid deportation, declared himself a political refugee, although he left Russia when sixteen years old. This man's case has no connection whatsoever with regard to the proposals I made for military service—
No, Sir, he definitely declined. My hon. Friend has been misinformed. I am afraid my hon. Friend is too credulous with some persons who approach him, and, in the benevolence of his disposition, he is rather too apt to believe that these people who come to him with grievances are always quite accurate in their statements.
Let me turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) on an entirely separate matter. I confess that when I heard the hon. Member was to speak in the Debate this evening I viewed the prospect with some little alarm. I thought he was in the mood of one who goes about seeking whom he may devour. At the beginning of the sitting to-day he fell with fury upon an entirely innocent measure of my own which I introduced, on which I had consulted the Chairman of the Irish party, and secured his approval, a Bill the draft of which I had sent to one of the Whips of the Nationalist party and which received his cordial endorsement. I do not think the hon. Member for Mayo was quite fair to me to-day in denouncing that little Bill—[Mr. DIILON: I never heard of it.]—dealing with Irish time, on the ground that it was introduced without consultation of Members of the Irish party. I have no personal interest in the measure whatsoever, but introduced it solely because I was assured all sections in Ireland desired it. That by the way. Tonight, however, my hon. Friend has spoken in terms of strong censure, but also 179 with, if I may respectively say so, complete moderation of tone. Let us, however, remember in connection with the matters to which he has referred, and his complaints of some of the actions of General Maxwell in the administration of martial law in Ireland, that, after all, there was a rebellion in Ireland, that the rebellion was of a serious character, that it took possession of the capital of Ireland, or portions of it, for a considerable number of days, that there were disturbances over a certain number of other parts of the country, and that after the rebellion and the immediate manifestations of rebellion were suppressed, there was still for a long time, and indeed there is now a certain effervescence of feeling, if I may term it so, which is not to be ignored. General Maxwell had an exceedingly difficult task. He performed the hard task set to him with success, and I think that if the House reviews the speech of the hon. Member for Mayo, now some three months after the rebellion took place, and estimates the complaints that he has addressed on General Maxwell's administration, it will have every reason to be satisfied that they are not of a more serious character.
The hon. Member spoke of the action of the military in sending a soldier with a fixed bayonet to convey the prohibition to the "Freeman's Journals" on 14th May. The 14th May was very soon after the rebellion, which only began on the 24th April, when the condition of Dublin was still one of some disturbance. I have not seen the answers to which the hon. Member refers. I did not know he was about to raise this special point to-night, and consequently I can say nothing as to the character of those articles, but I am assured by the military authorities in Ireland that they have exercised the censorship in a spirit which they regard as one of the fairest, and that only where articles are of a gravely injurious character have they desired to take action with respect to them.
I would point out to the hon. Member that even in this country it unfortunately becomes the duty from time to time of the Home Secretary to undertake proceedings in respect to a certain class of articles in the Press, which I am afraid are very unwelcome to the publishers of certain journals. The hon. Gentleman complained that one of these prohibitions was served on notepaper addressed from the 180 Kildare Street Club. I do not know whether any explanation can be given of the incident by the officer concerned. I have not been able to make any inquiry as to the facts on the other side, but even accepting the fact that no answer can be offered to the hon. Member's accusation, the fact remains that this is, after all, not a grave incident; it was a failure of tact certainly, and a measure to which objection could very properly be taken, but, after all, it is not a matter attended with very grave consequences in the administration of martial law after a serious rebellion.
§ Mr. DILLON
May I ask whether it is the law and custom in this country for the War Office on its own initiative to send soldiers round to newspaper offices to tell them not to publish certain articles?
No, Sir, but the circumstances are different. With respect to meetings it is the case that those who desire to hold meetings should apply for permission beforehand.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
What is the objection to a letter being addressed from the Kildare Street Club?
I know nothing of the incident, but I understand that it is regarded as a somewhat partisan institution, and that this was an official letter sent dealing with the question of the censorship, and perhaps it should not have been addressed from a club of that character. With respect to meetings, permission has to be obtained beforehand, but that permission has been very rarely refused. I do not think my hon. Friend has complained that that permission has been arbitrarily or unreasonably refused with regard to meetings. The cases of refusal have been extremely rare and the justification for this measure is, I think, that it was not possible after the rebellion to permit an open propaganda to go on which might be of a suspicious character. I think my hon. Friend fully recognises that. It is not easy to draw a line beforehand or to lay down in black-and-white a definition of organisations that should be permitted to hold meetings and organisations that should not It is not difficult, of course, for any body inclined to sedition to pass off its meetings as very harmless gatherings of one kind or another under cover of sports, or indeed under the cover of propaganda of an entirely innocent character and which 181 may yet carry on activities of the most objectionable order. Therefore, it was necessary to require all persons to submit their proposals for holding meetings in order that they might be examined, and in order that the doubtful and dangerous cases might be separated from those that were obviously innocuous and reasonable. Suppose measures of a restrictive character had not been taken, suppose a seditious propaganda had been carried on in Ireland without effective interference by the Government, and suppose that after a few months fresh disturbances had broken out in various parts of Ireland, the Government and the military authorities in Ireland would have been severely blamed by this House and by public opinion. It was better in the grave situation in which Ireland was for a time, if there were error, to err on the side of security rather than on the side of too great laxity. Now, however, that matters have quietened down, although there are some disquieting symptoms, as the Prime Minister stated yesterday, it may be hoped that the new Chief Secretary, when he is appointed, after a fresh review of the situation, may find it possible to mitigate and perhaps even to withdraw some of the measures to which my hon. Friend alluded. If that, indeed, be practicable, no one will rejoice more than the Members of His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. CRUMLEY
I wish to bring to the attention of the Home Secretary the difficulty that exists in holding any meetings in the constituency which I represent. Through all the troublesome times that has passed no arrests have taken place in the county of Fermanagh in connection with the Sinn Fein rising, and it ought therefore to be exempt from martial law. Not long since I was approached by a gentleman who represented a football club. I went to the County Inspector of Police and asked him for liberty for these men to hold a football match. He requested me to write to Sir John Maxwell. I did so, and he replied very courteously and said that I was to apply to some other authority. I went again and saw the County Inspector of Police, and, after a great deal of hesitation, he gave permission to hold the football match. If I go home and wish to consult my Constituents on the topics of the day or on what is passing in this House, have I to go to Sir John Maxwell, cap in hand, for liberty to hold a 182 meeting in a county where no disturbances whatever took place, which has supplied a very large number of men for military service, and which has lost many lives in this War? I think the Home Secretary ought to have martial law abolished so far as that county is concerned.
I come to another question. I think it would be worth the consideration of the Home Secretary to publish the names of the 550 men still detained in English prisons for their connection with the Sinn Fein rising. I have no sympathy whatever with them, but there is many an innocent man who, perhaps, is lying in these prisons and has no opportunity of being brought before a public court to be tried or to give evidence on his own behalf. I can state cases where many innocent men have been imprisoned. I wish to bring to the notice of the House the fact that I left this House on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. I was invited to spend Easter Sunday in Dublin. On the 26th I left the place where I was staying, a little outside the City, and I went in to get a pass to go to Westland Row to see how a friend of mine was off for provisions. I was told to go to Ballsbridge to get a pass. I went to Ballsbridge, and there were three people waiting before me before the door of the office. I stopped for twenty-five minutes and sent in my card. A captain of the Irish Rifles passed me after twenty-five minutes, and I said: "There must be a great deal of red-tape In this office when it requires over half an hour to give a pass to three or four people." He said to me: "Consider yourself under arrest." My hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) has said, one man went with a fixed bayonet to the "Freeman" office, but a sergeant with eight men with fixed bayonets surrounded me. It was my great misfortune that I was not at Portobello Bridge. I was kept there for four hours, from 3 o'clock to 7. This captain of the Irish Rifles never asked me my name. He never put a question to me, but handed me over to the soldiers, when he had said: "Consider yourself under arrest," who marched me down into a cell or place, where they detained me for four hours, and then brought me back. I know nothing about what his religion was, and I do not care. He then asked me my name. I said: "If you had asked me my name you would not have in the first instance arrested me." His name was Captain Hutchison. He then began to apologise because he found I was a Member of 183 this House. I said: "Don't apologise to me. I will ask you to apologise on the floor of the House of Commons." I never had an opportunity till to-night to bring this gentleman's conduct before this House. I do not want any revenge on him. There was a sergeant who was commanding these eight men with fixed bayonets who stood surrounding me for four hours, and the only thing I said when I was leaving was: "If you would do a service to this sergeant recommend him for a commission, and when he gets the commission he will have a cooler head than you." I do not want to deprive this gentleman of further promotion.
I do not know what would have happened had I not been a Member of the House of Commons, and had I not in my pocket a letter from General Friend who I sent into the office. He never told them in the office that he had arrested me or that I was there for four hours. I do not want the man to be prosecuted or persecuted, but I do say that it is abominable that such a man should be in command of men. It was on the same day that Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington and two other unfortunate men were put to death. I might have been in Portobello Barracks myself!
I come now to the case of two men belonging to my Constituency who have been arrested and in regard to whom I put a question on Monday last. These men were tried in April in Enniskillen as being men who had evaded the Military Service Act. They had been working temporarily in this country. When they were brought before the petty sessions they were discharged. Within the last ten days they have been rearrested, and were first kept in the military barracks at Enniskillen. I went to the War Office last week and asked that they should not be taken from Enniskillen until their eases had been investigated, but they have been brought over to Warwick Prison or Barracks. One of them is blind in one eye. They are men who have been tried before a resident magistrate and discharged, but now they have been arrested again. I appeal to the representative of the War Office to see that justice is done to them, and that, if possible, they should be set at liberty at once.
§ Mr. CATOR
I wish to put in a plea for the Cyclists' Battalions. I am anxious that the War Office should, if possible, give more consideration to the esprit de 184 corps of those battalions than they have been able to do up to the present time. A great many of these battalions had been formed for several years before the War broke out. One was raised in my own county of Norfolk, another in Huntingdon, drawn very largely from my own Constituency; there is another in Essex, and I have no doubt there are others. They have all done good work and have raised themselves to a high degree of efficiency. In certain cases they represent the old Volunteer movement, which goes back a great number of years They have had extremely tedious and monotonous work to do watching the coast, but, especially in the case of officers, they would feel compensated if there were a chance of their being sent to the front. It appears that it is found necessary to take drafts from these cyclists battalions for foreign service. I am not sure whether any have been sent out already, but in one case they expect to be sent out shortly. Men will be sent out in drafts, but the officers and non-commissioned officers are to be left in this country. They regard that as a very great slight. Of course, there are older men who are unfit to go out to France, but there is a great number of young officers and exceedingly efficient non-commissioned officers, many of them holding first-class certificates, men who though efficient in every way, are condemned to see their men leave them and go out to the front while they remain behind to train other drafts who may be sent to them. Who are the drafts who are sent to them when their men have gone to the front? I am given to understand that they are Home service men and men who are physically unfit. It surely ought to be possible to send the young officers and the non-commissioned officers, if they are fit, with their men out to the front. Secondly, the drafts should be filled up in the case of the cyclist corps by others than those who are unfit or for Home service only. Obviously cyclist work requires a man to be in a very high state of health and of good physique, and it seems extraordinary that the places of the cyclist régiment should be filled by men who are either unfit or fit for Home service only.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
I wish to bring forward the question of the recruiting of black troops. I was unable to get any reply from the War Office the last time I spoke, and I have no doubt the question has engaged the attention of the War Office since then. I want the House to 185 realise that the shortage of men in this War will very likely become as serious in the months or even the years to come as the shortage of munitions was a year and a half ago. Every week that this question stands over, and the War Office or the Colonial Office does not pay serious attention to this question of the enlistment of fresh troops for the fighting forces, makes the completion of the War more difficult and makes it more difficult to carry it on in the way we ought to do. We have in East Africa certain fighting tribes. Are they going to be recruited for the British Army to take the place of white troops in India or in Egypt or at Aden? Are we going to raise black troops from conquered German East Africa? Are we going to approach the South African Union Government with a view to raising Zulus, Basutos, and Matabele and other fighting tribes in South Africa? Is the Colonial Office going to approach the Crown Colony Government of Nigeria and the Gold Coast with a view to raising Ashantis, Urubas, and Haussas? These are fighting tribes, and are the very best fighting material for the British Army. We have the biggest black Empire in the world, and so far we have done practically nothing to tap that source of supply. The French have tapped it and have used black troops not only to replace white troops on lines of communications, but even for the fighting line.
After six or eight months' training I am quite certain these black troops would be quite equal, if not superior to a great many of the Indian troops that are employed in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and elsewhere. The Governments of most of these Crown Colonies do not, I believe, appreciate the need this country will have for troops next year. They do not see that they have got to play their part in this War just as the Mother Country is playing her part, and the sooner the Government and the War Office impress upon them the absolute need we shall have for every resource, not only of men but of finance and munitions from those countries, the better it will be for the conduct of the War. The attitude of benevolent neutrality which a great part of the British Empire adopt at the present time is not one which can go on indefinitely. We have got to use every material resource from the Crown Colonies, from India, and from the Union of South Africa, It is quite possible that there may be an idea that we can ultimately get conscription passed in Australia or Canada, or something of that 186 sort, whereby we can get extra white-man power, but even those resources, if they are brought forward will not yield a very large supply after the magnificent response that those great dominions have made hitherto. You cannot tap an inexhaustible supply of white troops, and you must come back to black troops sooner or later if this War goes on. When we are sweeping the highways and the hedges for everything in this country to go into the firing line I think it is about time we turned our attention to every source which is available, and which we ought to use. I got no answer from the War Office on the question the other day. I do hope that the Financial Secretary to the War Office will be able to tell us to-night whether the Government are doing anything in that line, or letting the matter slide until a more convenient occasion arises. It seems to me that it is the duty of this House to insist on everything possible being done to increase our resources.
The other question is entirely unconnected with the enlistment of black troops, but it is of vital importance, I believe, to the successful conduct of the War, just as is the enlarging of our supply of men. If the democracy in this country begin to think that this War is bringing us down to the Prussian level; if they begin to think that every injustice is going to be tolerated now and that when the yoke is firmly on their necks it may remain there after the War—if these sorts of ideas are to spread among the democracy in this country we shall be injuring our position in carrying on the War more than I think most of us realise at the present time. Three or four years ago, there was a big coal strike in this country, and during the strike a fireman on the North-Western Railway went down to Aldershot to distribute what are known as the "Don't Shoot" leaflets. He was prosecuted, and he made a defence which was pure Tolstoyan doctrine. I will read his defence to the House so that hon. Members may see the sort of man that Frederick Crowsley was. In his defence he said:—You are traitors to your creed. You say with your mouth, 'Lore one another,' but in your heart, you say, 'shoot, and shoot straight'! Why are you prosecuting me for distributing leaflets which preach what Tolstoy preached all his life in Russia undisturbed. You may-send me to prison. I shall not be the first or the last to go there unjustly. You will have to send many more before you can hope to suppress the truth, and you will stand condemned for ever before the eyes of truth and freedom-loving people. I know ana1 believe every word in the leaflets to be true. Why are you so blind to the truth"?187 Obviously anyone who listens to that sort of defence knows perfectly well the type of man that makes it. He is one of those who are convinced believers in the creed of Tolstoy, known as the non-combatant class. While I have been away in East Africa the Conscription Act has been passed, and apparently by some rather stupid muddle, by the ignorance of the officials concerned, proper provision does not seem to have been made for men like that. Obviously, conscientious objectors cannot be allowed to go free. They have got to be dealt with. A short term of imprisonment or something of that sort would be quite justifiable. But they have not been dealt with in that way. This man has appeared before a tribunal. One would think that he would have been excused active service, because if ever there was a notorious non-resister this man was. His case has been debated in this House over and over again. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, which was reduced to four. Though it was notorious that this man was a passive resister, the tribunal does not treat him as such. He is sent into the army. You would naturally think that if he refuses to obey orders he would be court-martialled and given imprisonment. That is not what happened. He has written a letter, not to me, but to a friend of mine:—I don't know if I shall get a chance to post this on my way to-morrow. I think I am going to Wands-worth. To-day I have had three hours standing with my face to the wall; punched round the square; horse flannels thrown at me and drawn across my face; knuckles rapped; walking-stick pushed up my nose. Still this is nothing compared with the rack and thumbscrew, and the stake. All this does not affect me, but a kind action in the end fetched tears. As I was being taken back to the cells I asked for a drop of water. The man said, 'you won't get no bloody water.' Another fellow went and got it and brought it to me. There is still a lot of kindness in the world.I understand that that sort of thing is not uncommon. I can only say that that sort of thing is intolerable in this country. It is not my business to see that the treatment of passive resisters is a little bit more decent. It is the business of the Government and the War Office. I happen to know this man for six years. It is a case for court-martial and nothing else. The men who are doing that sort of thing are degrading the Army. When you think of the men at the front going over the parapet with the light of heaven in their eyes, do you think that they would treat a man like that, a Christian man who has conscientious scruples so strong that he 188 would, if necessary, stay in prison for the rest of his life, rather than abandon them—do you think that these men who are always face to face with death would do that sort of thing? The sort of people who do that are the scum of the old Army, the men sent back from the trenches because they were shell-shy; dug-outs, who have never seen a man killed in their life. These are the people who are dragging us in the mud, who, filled with the nature of the brute bosche themselves, want to drag down the British nation to the same, level. But they will not do it so long as the House of Commons is here. So long as these cases go on and the War Office do not correct them, and do not punish the men who do these things, yon will have trouble in the country, you will have opposition. You will have unpopularity for the Army and all the difficulties that we so particularly want to avoid at the present time. How are you to have the union sacrce if things like that go on? I ask the Secretary for War, when will he have an inquiry into this and have these men court-mar-tialled? I will eat my words if a single one of these men has ever been wounded. You know the type. We do not want them in the British Army, and the sooner they are cleared out the better.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
I meant to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office to two points of some importance. We have heard from the Home Secretary his view of the administration of martial law in Ireland, and, one would infer from the way he spoke, that Sir John Maxwell, as Military Governor of Ireland, was very popular with the people, and that his administration of martial law was entirely in accordance with the wishes of the people, and universally satisfactory in every part of Ireland. I wish to call the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office to the fact that there was published in Dublin by at least two or three publishing firms, Protestant Unionists—one of the firms was Ely's, Limited, another "Irish Life," and the third, Wilson, Hartnell and Company—certain booklets which showed the streets of Dublin as they were before the rebellion took place, and the results after the departure of the military, when whole buildings had been knocked down. These publications were made under martial law, and since the rebellion occurred, so that they must have had the authority of the Press Censor, otherwise they could not 189 have been published. Other publishing firms published portraits of the leading rebels who took part in the rebellion, and who were afterwards shot under sentence of court-martial. Some were tried by court-martial, others were not. What I want to point out is this extraordinary thing: These booklets and portraits were allowed to be exhibited in the shop windows of Dublin, and they were also allowed to be sold at the railway stations in Dublin. They are allowed to be sold in London, too. I have myself seen them shown for sale at Euston and Paddington this very week. A month ago I found where I was living, that under some alleged military order the established authorities and police would not allow the booklets to be exposed for sale in the shop windows.
What I want to know is this: If these publications and portraits were illegal, and should not be exhibited for sale in shop windows, then they should have been prohibited altogether by the authorities? It was absolutely futile for the Home Secretary to say what he did to us on these benches as to the administration of martial law in Ireland under Sir John Maxwell. It would appear that for the purposes of martial law, Ireland has been divided into districts, with the result that martial law is not applied equally in every part of Ireland. The very week in which the constabulary authorities went round I had an interview with the County Inspector and the District Inspector, who informed me that the military order did not prevent the exhibition for sale of these booklets and portraits in the shop windows, but I know, of my own knowledge, cases where the police went round and compelled the removal of these books and portraits from the shop windows. On the morning of the same day on which the books had to be removed I saw copies exhibited in the windows of every stationer's shop in the city of Dublin. I want to know whether Sir John Maxwell has the administration of martial law over the whole of Ireland, and whether Ireland, for the purpose of martial law, is divided into provinces. I have some reason to believe that the Province of Munster is under martial law through some gentlemen in Queenstown. I would also like to point out that during this last week there was an exhibition of the books and portraits in Tralee, county Kerry. I had a letter from Major Price, commanding in Dublin, who said that no Order had been issued 190 under the Irish command in Dublin, prohibiting the exposure of these books for sale in shop windows.
Yesterday I put a question to the Home Secretary as to the arrest of young Irishmen in London. I was under the impression because there were police present that the Home Secretary was responsible. On 16th July (Sunday), there were Irish sports at Lea Bridge, and, as is usual in Ireland, a number of Irish boys and girls resident in London went to those sports. The day turned out wet, and a football match was not finished. That night thirty or forty of those young men, accompanied by twenty-three or thirty young Irish girls, went to Hackney to a public hall in which United Irish League meetings are held, and held a dance and social performance. What was their surprise when military accompanied by members of the Metropolitan police came in and placed eight young men under arrest. I asked a supplementary question to-day whether young men of military age should carry their registration forms on their person, or at their residence. If the information I receive is correct, the regulation and custom is that a man is not bound to carry it on the person, but to keep it at his residence. Each one of the young men had the registration form at his place of residence and one had it in his possession. Each one gave his name, address and all the information required. A man going to a dance surely is not expected to carry his registration form in his pocket. Because those young men had not got the forms with them they were taken possession of to a military barracks, and detained for some hours. In reply to my question the Home Secretary said:—The police report that they have no knowledge of any young Irishmen having attended sports as stated in the question; but it is the case that, on information that a number of men of military age were congregated at a recreation hall in Hackney, the Provost-Marshal of the London district, in company with the Metropolitan Police, entered the hall and required the men present to show their registration papers. Some sis, who had no papers, were taken to the police station until their identity could be verified. No charge was preferred against them, and as soon as their addresses were verified they were allowed to go.Are we living in an unchristianised and uncivilised country or are we not. Here we have a body of young men, well known, resident in London, every one of whom had his registration card at his home; and who gave their names and addresses. It has not stopped there. These innocent men were liberated after detention of some hours by the military and constabulary 191 authorities, some of whom have now followed the addresses of those men into city offices and public departments where they are working, and no later than yesterday morning two or three were hauled up before the supervisors. They would not get time to consult their friends, and had to answer in black and white what they were doing on 16th instant. I call that not only prosecution but persecution of the worst form. If the Under-Secretary for War is going to bring over to London those practices of military law which are being carried out in Ireland he is preparing a hot bed for himself and the Coalition Government.
§ Mr. DORIS
I should like to call the attention of the House to the administration of the Military Service Acts in relation to migratory labourers who come from the West of Ireland. As most hon. Members are aware they come in thousands every year from my part of the country, spend a few months in this country and then return home. This year they have come as usual, though not perhaps in such large numbers, and a number of them have been arrested under the Military Service Acts, have been convicted and fined and forced into the Army. I hold that that is illegal; it is against the provisions of the Military Service Act itself. As the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago, the Act applies to ordinary residents in Great Britain. There are exceptions even to that. The very first exception mentioned in the Schedule is:—
"Men resident in Great Britain for the purpose only of their education or for some other special purpose—"
Surely coming over here to assist the farmers for a couple of months in the year is a "special purpose," and men who do that should not be liable to military service or compelled against their will to join the Army. I will give two or three cases which have come before my notice. The first is that of Michael Nolan, from my Constituency. He came to England in April last as an agricultural labourer, and was shortly afterwards seized by the military at Molesworth, prosecuted, convicted, and forced into the Army. He is the son of a widow, and has two brothers already in the Army as volunteers. He was the only son left to support that poor widow. His father was killed when he was four years old, and perhaps in consequence of that he was illiterate. Since he has been sixteen years of age he has come over to 192 this country to earn a little money to take back for the support of his widowed mother. I submit that that is really a violation of the provisions of the Act, and whoever is to blame there should be some remedy. I have communicated with all the authorities, but I have not been able to find it. In this case the registration paper was left at his lodging, and as the man was illiterate it was filled up by an English lady there and no mention was made of his home address. So that when the paper was returned to the authorities they went and searched for the man, and took him for a defaulter. Another case is that of Thomas McHale, in the same district—an almost similar case, except that he has only one brother voluntarily in the Army. He is the support of his old father and mother. He came over and was arrested on a farm in Cheshire. He was never ordinarily resident in England. He spent only a few months here every year. I have another case—that of John Battle—almost similar, but I will not trouble the House with ten or twelve other cases from my Constituency.
The question is of some importance altogether apart from the hardship upon these men and their dependants. Hundreds of men, hearing of these cases and seeing the reports in the English papers, have refused to come over this year, much to their own loss, of coarse, and to the inconvenience of the English farmers who are glad to get Irish labourers, and I am glad to say treat them very well. They are on the very best terms. I wrote to the authorities on the subject. I put questions in this House, but got no satisfaction. I received a letter from Lord Derby this morning, in which he says:—I am afraid that nothing further can be done in this case. The civil courls alone are able to decide whether or not a man is ordinarily ft resident in Great Britain within the meaning of the Military Service Act. The civil court decided that McHale was a resident in this country, and it was on the finding of the civil court that the War Office acted.But it was the War Office that took action in the first instance! No one acquainted with the facts can deny a single statement I have made. I submit that not only is these three cases, but in others which I shall submit to the authorities within the next week or two, careful consideration should be given, and that, notwithstanding the adverse decision of these Tribunals, who seem to think that every man who comes before them, whether or not he is exempt by Act of Parliament, should go into the Army. No matter what 193 the decision of the Tribunals may be the War Office should exercise some discretion and see that their own Act of Parliament is carried out.
I have just another matter to call your attention to. I was very proud of the fact that my county of Mayo had nothing whatever to do with this foolish Sinn Fein insurrection. But I was amazed to find one fine day that in the little town I come from no less than about thirty young men had been arrested in connection with the rebellion. The authorities must know very well that the people of that town and the young men who were arrested had no knowledge whatever of this rebellion, no connection with it, and no sympathy with it. The arrested men had been what are called Irish Volunteers. Like the Ulster Volunteers they took it into their heads to have route marches with rusty old guns. They walked up the hill and down, and nothing more was done. A few days afterwards the police had about thirty of them arrested, and sent over to different parts of England. That has done a lot of mischief in the district, because everybody knows that no matter how unwise these men may have been as Irish Volunteers, they had no knowledge whatever of the rebellion. It came just as much as a surprise to them as it did to Mr. Speaker, or any Member of this House. A number of them have since been released. I could go before the Advisory Committee, and with a knowledge of my own town that is not surpassed by anyone connected with the town, swear that in my opinion none of these men had any knowledge of, or connection with, the rebellion. What really happened was that years ago the police had some trouble in connection with cattle-driving and similar cases, and they awaited their opportunity to get even with the men suspected. The Defence of the Realm Act gave them that opportunity, and they said: "Now we will run them in; let them get out when they can!" That is a very unfair way to administer an Act of Parliament. It has done a great deal of mischief in the district, which was very quiet throughout all the trouble; had no sympathy whatever with the Germans, and has helped the British Army to a considerable extent in this War. It is a great pity that such things should happen. I hope very soon to hear of the release of these twelve men.
§ Mr. MEAGHER
I certainly feel very grateful for the opportunity given to me to address this House. The, few instances I shall bring before hon. members will, I think, convince them that no city or town in Ireland was so free from crime as the County and City of Kilkenny. I certainly agree with my hon. friend that no Sinn Feinism, or anything of the kind, was ever known in the City of Kilkenny. There was some difference between the police and the people a long time ago. Nothing, however, happened till one fine May morning the tranquility of the City of Kilkenny was disturbed by the arrest of a lot of innocent men, and the placing of them in prison. It was the most insane act of injustice ever perpetrated on a peaceful city. I am one of those who most emphatically condemn the cruel murder of Capt. Fryatt, but I have brought before this House two or three instances which I think the House will agree with me in believing were far more cruel than the cruel murder of Capt. Fryatt. The morning after arrest these very respectable men from Kilkenny were marched to the railway for the purpose of bringing them to England. One respectable gentleman, a Mr. Keily, was taken out of a sick bed when he was given over by the doctors, and put in prison. The morning after he was marched to the railway station, surrounded by men with fixed bayonets. During the march the local doctors implored the military doctor to examine the man to see if he was fit for the journey. Between the goal and the railway station the man fell down dead, leaving a widow and young family. I ask whether that was justice and fair play. Can anyone regard that as being fair, reasonable or honourable? I am very sorry the Home Secretary is not in his place to-night. I think I could refresh his memory with a number of other instances. There is the case of a young man named Patrick Bealan, a most respectable, law-abiding person. I knew his father for a number of years in my Constituency, and I never knew a more law-abiding man. His son went to Dublin and was at 177, North King Street, and at the time of the rebellion was working with another in the kitchen of the house which he was managing. Without any cause or reason the military rushed into this house and asked whether any shots had been fired from that house. He replied, "No, we have never left the kitchen all the time." The military took the two men down to the cellar and shot them like dogs, and buried 195 them there. They did not even get a Christian burial. They were crushed into a hole. Talk of the murder of Captain Fryatt! This was the most disgraceful murder on the face of the earth. I ask the House whether this is not a case for a public inquiry. At the coroner's inquest a woman next door swore on her oath that a soldier came in and told her that this young man was innocent. He had never left the kitchen, but by the orders of the officer, the soldier said, "We had no option but to shoot him, and, unfortunately we had not instruments sufficient to bury him properly, and so made a hole and crushed the legs and head together." I ask whether there ought not to be a public inquiry? What was the result? That unfortunate man's father, an old age pensioner, died on hearing of the death of his poor son. Was that not a more cruel murder than what you speak of as the fearful murder of Captain Fryatt? Look at these two cruel murders by the military! See what we have been called upon to suffer and then ask whether you think the spirit of Irishmen can stand this kind of torture or not. I ask the Financial Secretary to pay special attention to this matter and to press upon the Government the necessity of having a public inquiry and to ensure that the families of these men will be sufficiently compensated for this cruel murder which is a disgrace to civilisation. As an Irishman I am shocked at the tyranny of the British Crown and the British Government with regard to the treatment meted out to the Irish people during Easter week and I protest against it.
§ Mr. KEATING
I wish to make a few observations in support of the incidents to which my hon. Friend who has just sat down has referred. The case he has mentioned has moved the hearts of people all over Ireland in the deepest manner, and I wish to impress upon the House the necessity of meeting the demand for a public inquiry. The Home Secretary, when he was replying to the hon. Member for East Mayo, justified himself and the action of the Government by reminding the House that after all there was a rebellion in Ireland and it followed naturally that everything the military did after the rebellion was to be justified simply because they did it. There have been many rebellions in history, but I do not know of any rebellion in modern his- 196 tory that was followed by such cruel punishment as has been meted out to Irishmen in this case. With regard to this particular case, although I do not say the military authorities were responsible, the members of the Army who committed this crime are a disgrace to the Army. The soldiers simply marched into the house and took these young men, who had not been out in the streets, and no shots had been fired from the house. The soldiers walked in, took these men from the kitchen down into the cellar and shot them like dogs. I know the English people fairly well, and I think in the main they love justice and fair play, and I submit this case to the House with full confidence that there is not an hon. Member here or a man in the country who would for a moment support action of that kind. I confidently appeal to the House to support the claim of my hon. Friend that there should be a public inquiry into this case. The Prime Minister yesterday said that the Sheehy-Skeffington case stood alone, and that he was endeavouring to have a public inquiry into the case in order to ascertain the truth, and to see that justice was done. The Sheehy Skeffington case was not one bit more brutal than this case, and you cannot satisfy the people of Kilkenny or the people of Ireland by ignoring this passionate demand for a full inquiry. This young fellow was a decent, respectable man, absolutely harmless, industrious, and honest. He was the sole support of his poor old father, and this bread-winner of the family was suddenly taken away under these cruel and horrible circumstances. No satisfaction of any kind has been given either to the family or to the people who knew and respected him. It is a case which calls for a full inquiry, and the family should be compensated.
I should like to take this opportunity of putting my views upon one or two other matters, and I trust that they may serve-as some indication of the feeling of the-average man in the Irish Nationalist party. The Home Secretary some time-ago explained the present treatment of Ireland on the ground that there had been a rebellion. I do not know whether I have-got my facts quite clear, but I am credibly informed that when the Jameson raid took place General Maxwell was not unknown. Were the leaders of that raid executed? No, the leaders of that rebellion did not suffer the penalty of death.
197 12.0 M.
There was a rebellion in Ireland before, in '48. Were the leaders of that rebellion executed? No. The British statesmen of those days had more sense of justice, or at all events more common sense, than the present Coalition Government has, because the leaders of the '48 rebellion were simply deported to Australia, and remained there some time, and they were eventually released. Some of them became Prime Ministers in Australia afterwards. There was a rebellion in Canada. Lord Durham, when he took the matter in hand, advised that the leaders of the rebellion in Canada should simply be deported from the country, and that that was sufficient punishment. The British statesmen of those days did not quite agree with Lord Durham, and recalled him for having given that advice. But having recalled him, and sent another man in his place, the other man who was sent by the Cabinet to replace Lord Durham carried out Lord Durham's policy, and not one man was shot as the result of that rebellion in Canada after it was crushed. I will not go into the recent rebellion in South Africa because it has been referred to already.
I venture to draw the attention of the House and of my fellow citizens in England to these circumstances, and to ask them whether there is one of them that wonders that the knowledge of this in the minds of Irishmen—that they are being unfairly treated, I say insulted, by the theory that because there has been a rebellion you are entitled to take fourteen or fifteen men and shoot them, three or four a day in a fortnight—has created horrible distrust in the minds of the Irish people, and of the Irish race throughout the world? Of course, we feel that this circumstance deserves to be resented and resisted in the utmost possible way. Here you have martial law to follow all these things, administered by this gentleman who has been associated with a rebellion himself, unless I am misinformed—and, if I am, I will withdraw gladly, because I do not wish to make an unfounded accusation. Martial law is for the protection of the people, the Prime Minister said the other day. You have these abortive and miserable negotiations which fell through, and you say that in order to protect the Irish people, and for their good, as it were, you give them the benefit of another Chief Secretary, bolstered up by 40,000 soldiers, in order that they may enjoy the benefits 198 of your conception of what among the Irish people ought to be government. I warn you, I know the Irish people well. You are sowing something now by the continuation of martial law, and you have sown something by the execution of these leaders in defiance of the ordinary practice of civilised Governments, which will reap a very bitter crop one of these days,, which you will very bitterly reget, unless measures be taken in the near future to try to undo the mischief you have done. I have no desire, I have had no desire, to do anything in this country but to try and establish an entente cordiale between the Irish people and the English people. I have done my very best, and will continue to do that, but I denounce the folly and stupidity characterised by the Coalition Government and their representative in Ireland, and I do so in their own interest as much as in the interest of the Irish people.
I hope that the opinions that hon. Members expressed from these Benches will not be passed over lightly by the House or the Government or the country. The true way to win peace and prosperity in Ireland is to give effect as soon as possible to the democratic principle of allowing the people to be governed by themselves and the leaders whom they trust. I find in conversation and in reading newspapers that some people who talk without regret of the failure of these negotiations have the audacity to say that the Irish Party are relieved, that the negotiations have fallen through because we are afraid to face our own people, and to take the responsibility for an Irish Parliament. It is the old mistake the British people are always making in connection with Irish affairs. I know that my fellow-members of the Party share my view that we are not afraid of either Unionists or Sinn Feiners in our constituencies, that we have the confidence of our people and that when we get Home Rule we shall be able to give effect to their feelings, desires and character, rather than to the false and mistaken although,. I believe, well-meant advice inspired by the want of knowledge of people en this side of the water. We are not at all afraid of the responsibility of governing our own people.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that any question arises upon this Bill in connection with the matters to which the hon. Gentleman is now referring. All the earlier part of his speech was quite in order, I do not 199 think there is anything in connection with the negotiations which would be relevant to this Bill.
§ Mr. KEATING
I was under the impression that we could talk about anything upon this Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The matters must be strictly limited to the Notes contained in the Bill.
§ Mr. KEATING
I apologise for the mistake I have made. I have said all I wanted to say, except to appeal, with all the sincerity at my command, to the Coalition Government to realise the enormous dangers which will ensue from the continuation of martial law one moment longer than they consider it to be necessary, and especially to bear in mind what has been said by the two hon. Members from Kilkenny with regard to the death of Mr. Kiely in the horrible circumstances which have been described. That has aroused a feeling which must be satisfied. The men who were responsible for it must be discovered and punished, for they are a disgrace to the Army, and the relatives of this unfortunate man must be compensated.
We on these benches have listened with the regret and disappointment which have now become usual to a reply made by the Home Secretary to the speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Dillon. With regard to the regulation forbidding meetings without the permission of the police, he made no case whatever. My hon. Friend pointed out that here was a vexatious and intolerable restriction, which is in no way necessary now, upon the freedom of public opinion in Ireland. The Home Secretary said that, owing to the state of unrest that had continued in Ireland since the rebellion, this restriction was absolutely necessary. He reminded me of a passage in the Prime Minister's speech yesterday, when he said it was necessary to continue martial law, and in a breath or two later assured the House that not even during the rebellion itself, much less in the three months which have elapsed since, has martial law ever once been used, and that it was all done under the Defence of the Realm Act. The best answer to the Home Secretary is the assertion, which cannot be disproved, of my hon. Friend that, although this is supposed to be a strict injunction of General Max- 200 well's under martial law or the Defence of the Realm Act, there are hundreds of places up and down the country where it is not enforced by the police at all. One of the great mischiefs of the course the Government has now embarked upon in Ireland is that it is almost impossible to get an equal administration of the law. In one parish where there may be an officious policeman no one, no matter what his purpose may be, will be allowed to hold a meeting without the police first granting permission, and in a neighbouring district the policemen will not bother their heads at all, and no one will dream of going to the police to get permission. Even in a matter of this kind it would be possible for the Government, and for the Irish executive, if there is one or is going to be one, to exercise a little ordinary intelligence, because whilst this restriction is as a matter of practice worked properly in any district in Ireland, there would be no real difficulty at all in withdrawing this restriction, which is only irritating and aggravating people, and in the case of any meeting where the police had the smallest reason to believe there was a seditious purpose or any breach of the Defence of the Realm Act likely to be committed, they could step in and prohibit such meeting being held. That would be an obvious and an easy course for the Government to pursue, but merely because it is the right course they seem determined not to pursue it. I wish to make this charge against the Government that with all their troops in Ireland, with all their powers under martial law, and with all their powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, and under the Crimes Act, which is now partly in operation, their policy in Ireland, even now, is not the equal administration or enforcement of the law, but only the enforcement of such law in Ireland as at suits the executive to put into operation. I would ask the Home Secretary or any Member of the Government dealing with Ireland, if they reply, to say whether they deny that fact. There was issued in Ireland only the other day a new Proclamation under the Defence of the Realm Act, which prohibited all over the country the marching and drilling in public of unauthorised armed bodies. Why was that Proclamation issued? I believe under the law that the existence of the Ulster Volunteers and the National Volunteers is illegal, but this great Government which is determined to maintain law and order in 201 Ireland, and to exercise all these powers under martial law, the Defence of the Realm Act and the Crimes Act, does not venture to assert the law in this particular and to put down either of those bodies, though it is plain and obvious to us that if they only had the National Volunteers to deal with and not the Ulster Volunteers, supported by the Tory party and the Tory power in this country, they would not hesitate for twenty-four hours to put them down, as they put down the Sinn Fein Volunteers in the recent rising. They do not even declare them illegal in the Proclamation. This very strong, powerful man, General Maxwell, to whom such a great tribute was paid by the Prime Minister yesterday, has not the courage or strength of character to carry out the law, and has not the smallest intention of carrying out the law in that respect, neither has this Coalition Government, which sent him, and which is sending a Unionist Chief Secretary to govern Ireland.
There are only one or two other matters I wish to refer to, one of which has been dealt with very fully by the hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Doris). Last week I raised two questions on the Vote of Credit, one of which related to an Army contract in connection with the establishment of an officers' training corps at the Curragh, where 600 officers are now being trained for the Army. This contract was given in Dublin, and we find to our surprise that it is being carried out in London. I went very fully into the matter then, and as I understand the Financial Secretary to the War Office is going to deal with it, I will not do more than refer to it now. The second question I asked on the second reading of this Bill, and the Home Secretary informed me he was unable to answer as it was a War Office mat ter—namely, the date of the publication of Sir J. Maxwell's despatch. I pointed out what an extraordinary coincidence it was that whereas this despatch was dated 25th May—I presume it was sent to the War Office in London on the day on which it was dated—it lay there until the very day when the Coalition Government made up its mind to break the settlement in connection with Ireland. On that very day, owing to the action of somebody behind the scenes, it was decided to publish the despatch of Sir J. Maxwell. I asked who was responsible, whether it was an official of the War Office or a 202 Member of the Cabinet, because the significance of its publication upon that date was this, that Sir John Maxwell in the course of his despatch made grave and serious charges against those who took part in the rising in Easter week, many of which were without foundation at all. He said in his despatch that the police had to be withdrawn as they were an unarmed force, because wherever they were found they were shot down, and they would have been shot down by the rebels. The facts were that although there were over 1,000 policemen on duty in Dublin on that day only two policemen were shot by the rebels, and while we all deplore and regret the shooting even of two unarmed policemen, in the circumstances it was not right for a man in the position of General Maxwell to make a sweeping charge to try to prejudice feeling in this country against these unfortunate men. My hon. Friend says that one of these policemen was actually shot by the military—I presume in error—but we are entitled to an answer to these questions, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, will deal also with that question.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) referred to the question of aliens in this country being forced into military service. He said you did not do that in the case of Ireland. My hon. Friend, the Member for West Mayo, pointed out that whenever you got the opportunity you did it in the case of Ireland, and you did it in a rather mean and unfair way, for a great government and a great empire like this. It is quite true that conscription is not in force in Ireland, that you did not venture to propose it for Ireland. But, unfortunately, we have had a great many cases, as my hon. Friend pointed out, of people coming over for casual labour to this country from Ireland, many of them ignorant, illiterate people, who are not acquainted with the technicalities of the law, or the regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, and who are forced and unfairly forced into the Army. My hon. Friend said that he had a letter only to-day from the Under-Secretary for War, the Earl of Derby. So had I—only this very day. Although it deals with quite a different case of a man from my own Constituency in the West of Ireland, the facts of which I will give to the hon. Gentleman, the wording of the letter is practically identical with that of the letter read by my hon. 203 Friend, showing that the Under-Secretary for War is evidently taking up a stereotyped attitude in all these cases.
The case I want to bring to the notice of the hon. Member is the case of a man named Miles Cosgrove from my division of North Galway, and this man, who was at home in Ireland for well over a year before he was last in England, came over on the 22nd February to Glasgow, and he worked in a chemical works called Brotherton's, at Townhead, in Glasgow, till the 26th May. He was told by the foreman of the works there that if did not register he would be taken to prison and made to join the Army. Here was a poor man who, in these circumstances, did not know what to do, and, of course, he went at once and registered. But when I put the facts before the Under-Secretary for War last week I had this letter from him:—I return the enclosure to your letter of the 21st of this month. Cosgrove was correctly informed that he was obliged to register under the National Registration Act 1915. Whether or no, a man is ordinarily resident in Great Britain within the meaning of the Military Service Act is a question which can only be decided by a Civil court. It does not appear that Cosgrove, when called up raised the point that he was exempted from the Military Service Act on the ground that he was not ordinarily resident in Great Britain; but that he was resident here for a special purpose.I am afraid, therefore, that I can do nothing in the matter.Does it not appear to be an extraordinary thing that an ignorant man, coming over from Ireland to work for a period in Glasgow, should be told by the War Office, in an official communication of this kind, that if he had any complaint against the authorities for his treatment in being forced wrongly into the Army his only remedy is to go to a Civil court. I say that that is not the right attitude for the War Office to take up in cases of this kind, and say they ought to go into these cases themselves, and that if they find on investigation that on the merits these men were unfairly or wrongly taken into the Army, on their own responsibility and without going to the Civil courts at all the War Office ought to release these men when they want to be released.
There were a few other matters which I wanted to bring forward before the attention of the House on this Debate, but as the hour is so late I will only deal with one of them. The other night several cases of glaring extravagance and waste were brought forward from those benches in connection with Army matters, and no answers were returned. But the War Office, even in Ireland, is not always 204 extravagant, and they can be parsimonious and mean enough when they like. There is the case, for instance, of the civilian clerks in the Army Pay Department in Dublin that I would just like for one moment to bring to the attention of the Financial Secretary. In October, 1914, it was agreed that the pay of these civilian clerks was to be 35s. a week. They have received no increase in pay or any war bonus since. They applied last May for an increase of 7s. per week and that was peremptorily refused. Later they applied for a war bonus and the extraordinary answer was returned on the part of the War Office to their application that it would not be given them because they were too highly paid in 1914. I say that that was an extraordinary attitude for the War Office or their officials to take up in view of the general increase in the cost of living, in view of the fact that almost every branch of service has had an advance given to it for the period of the War, and that only the other day you decided to give it to the police force in Dublin. I say then that these men have a just and fair claim upon the consideration of the War Office, and I hope that because they are merely civilians that claim will not be overlooked. These are the only matters that I have at present to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office to, and I hope that with regard to the first two he will be able to give me a satisfactory assurance, and that with regard to the third case I have brought to his notice he will look into it.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I am sure the hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House will realise that I stand in need of some measure of indulgence, because for the last twelve months I have been deeply absorbed in questions of Army finance while the administrative questions which they have raised have been dealt with by my hon. Friend, who is now the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Tennant). In the absence of any notice that they were going to raise the questions to which they have drawn attention it has been quite impossible for me to equip myself with the knowledge which would be desirable in dealing with these matters. The hon. Gentleman for North Galway (Mr. Hazleton) was good enough to send me notice that he was going to raise the three points to which he first drew attention, and perhaps I may be allowed to deal with those first. The first case was one 205 that he described as an Army contract for the manufacture of uniforms for an officers' training corps. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to send me information with regard to it, and I think there is a misunderstanding as to the nature of the contract. It is not a War Office contract at all. Members of officers' training corps, equally with officers in the Army, are given a money contribution and find their own outfit. The arrangement has been made in this case, I gather, with a Dublin firm for the supply of uniforms to the whole of the members of the officers' training corps, and I think that must have been dons by the officer in command. I do not know whether it was done with or without the concurrence of the members of the officers' training corps. It is a matter in which the War Office does not make a contract for itself; it leaves the uniforms to be provided under arrangements made by the commanding officer of the training corps or provided by the cadets themselves. All the War Office does in the case is to make a money contribution towards the cost of the uniforms. With regard to the point that although the order has been placed with an Irish firm, the work is actually being carried out in London. I am afraid that is a matter which the hon. Gentleman and the Dublin Members will probably take up themselves.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Well, I should imagine with the firm which has got the contract. I think the hon. Gentleman will see it is not a matter in which the War Office could interfere, as the arrangement is a private one between the firm and the commanding officer.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Does the hon. Gentleman consider it fair that where the Treasury make a contribution, as in this case, that a commanding officer should have absolute right to place the contract where he likes without having tenders or any competition. Is it not then a mere family arrangement?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I am not in the least satisfied, without investigation at any rate, that the commanding officer did not call for tenders and invite them.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
It is to be hoped he did.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will communicate with the commanding officer on this question and find out what did occur?
§ Mr. FLAVIN
And if any Irish firms were asked to tender?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I see no objection to doing that, but it must not be understood that I make a promise to bring pressure to bear upon the commanding officer. I see no objection, however, to ascertaining what did occur.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
You want to know how your money was spent anyhow.
§ Mr. FORSTER
When the hon. Gentleman asked me if I could explain the mystery of the date of the publication of Sir John Maxwell's despatch, and he drew attention to the fact that it was published on or about the date on which the Prime Minister announced the breakdown of negotiations in regard to Ireland. It is a matter of pure coincidence. Naturally the publication of dispatches has to be sanctioned by the Government, and the War Office sent out this dispatch for publication in the "Gazette" as soon as the Cabinet had passed it for publication. I have consulted my right hon. friend, the Secretary of State for War, with regard to it, and he says that so far as he is aware there was not the slightest question of an arrière penséeabout it at all; it is a pure coincidence. The hon. gentleman would not be justified in drawing from that fact the conclusion that there was any ulterior motive in the delay. Then he drew attention to some statements in Sir John Maxwell's dispatch with regard to the withdrawal of the Dublin Metropolitan Police because it was alleged they were unarmed and were being shot. The hon. gentleman said that, so far as he knew, only two policemen had been shot. I have made inquiries, and I am informed that three members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police were killed, and that eight were wounded. I think the hon. Gentleman will see that these figures go a great deal further than he was prepared to admit, in justification of the statement in Sir John Maxwell's dispatch.
§ Mr. BYRNE
Were any of these policemen shot by the military? Is the hon. gentleman aware the military fired on the principle police station in Dublin?
§ Mr. FORSTER
No, Sir, I am not aware that any of the policemen were shot by military.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I would be glad if the hon. gentleman would inquire into the statement, which is absolutely correct.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I will see. Hon. Members must forgive me for passing over lightly the individual cases that have been raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I frankly confess I am not in a position to deal with them seriatim. I have not knowledge of all the details, but I will look into them and take note of the views that hon. Gentlemen have expressed in regard to them. The hon. Members for West Mayo, Forth Kilkenny, South Kilkenny, and others have raised these individual questions to which I will draw attention in the War Office. There are one or two other matters as to which I would like to say a word before I sit down. The hon. Member for North Kerry asked a question as to whether it was essential that registration cards or registration papers should be carried on the person. I am afraid, as the hon. Gentleman did not give me notice, that he was going to raise the question, and as it is, I think, largely a matter of law, if not of regulation, that it is not one I can pronounce upon with authority.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I keep mine at my house, but I am obviously over military age. I think in the case of every young man within military age that it would be a very desirable precaution that he should take or carry his registration card or papers upon him in order to avoid any unpleasantness or worse such as the hon. Gentleman referred to.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
The point I made was that these young men gave their names and addresses, and stated they had their registration forms at home, yet the military and constabulary combined in taking concerted action, and for some reason, which I cannot make out, after receiving full information from these young men, they broke up their social dance, placed them under arrest, kept them under arrest three or four hours, and then discharged them, and having discharged them they have not since preferred any charge against them.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I should imagine that instead of being placed under arrest they were detained.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
They were not only placed under arrest but were taken to a police barrack accompanied by the military and the police.
§ Mr. FORSTER
That would be done until inquiries were made. The Member for West Mayo and the Member for Galway raised the position of those who are known as migratory labourers—that is Irishmen who come over for the harvest and go back home on the completion of their work in this country. Everyone knows that these men are not subject to the Military Service Act, and I think precautions have been taken in Ireland by means of posters and otherwise to disseminate information, but attention has been drawn to one or two individual cases where men have been brought before the courts to ascertain whether or not they were ordinarily resident in this country. The case which the Member for North Gal way quoted seems to me one in which there must have been considerable doubt, because he quoted the case of a man who I understand had been resident more or less continuously in this country for some period. He then went back to Ireland for a year and after that returned to work in Glasgow, practically, as I understand, at a permanent engagement. I do not think a case of that kind would strike the ordinary lay observer, at any rate, as coming within the category to which this exception was intended to apply.
Two other questions have been raised, one by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Hunts (Mr. Cator) with regard to a cyclist corps. He drew attention to the fact that younger officers were not allowed to go abroad with their men, being required to stay in this country in order to train men who are in many cases not fit for general service. My hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I am not able at the moment to deal with that in a manner which he will regard as satisfactory. I cannot do that without making inquiries, but the inquiries will be made. I can only hope that the desire—which I think is a natural desire—of the younger officers to go and fight will be fulfilled. My hon. and gallant Friend die Member for Neweastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) has raised the question of the enlistment of black troops. I heard his former speech on this subject some days ago, and I can assure him the matter is engaging the very active attention of the Army Council. Fresh steps have been taken within the last two or three days. My hon. and gallant Friend will realise the necessity of consulting those in responsible positions in the Colonies with regard to the enlistment of these coloured troops; 209 that is being done, and I hope before long we may be in possession of the views of those we have consulted.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
If these views are adverse, will that be final?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I should not like to prejudge the question by giving an answer to that question. What I should prefer to say is that the whole question will be considered in the light of the views of those who are responsible. I cannot say that it would be decided finally. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to what I think no one could refrain from describing as the brutal treatment of the conscientious objector whom he named. I can assure him that those who are responsible for the administration of the Army are just as keen, and just as anxious, and just as resolute, that ill-treatment of those who are brought under military discipline shall cease, if it has taken place. My hon. and gallant Friend I am sure, would court the fullest investigation into all the circumstances to which he has drawn attention, and he would not expect me, or anybody else, to pass a final judgment until the investigation has taken place.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
Shall I be permitted to be present at the investigation?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not know; I cannot make a promise on that point. What I can say is this: On behalf of the Army Council, that it is entirely foreign to the spirit of both officers and men that these regrettable occurrences should take place. I do not think there are any other points to which I need now refer. I apologise to the House for the rather sketchy manner in which I have answered the point raised.
§ Mr. BILLING
I apologise for intervening in an Irish Debate by introducing another subject of national importance. In fact, I feel I cannot allow what happened at Question Time to-day pass with out some form of protest. I have received in this House many insulting replies to questions I have asked—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Order, order! That is not a parliamentary word to be I used in respect of answers given by I Ministers or by a Member's colleagues in this House.
§ Mr. BILLING
Then may I say insolent reply. Is that possible?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That is also an unparliamentary expression.
§ Mr. BILLING
Then all I can say is that I have received replies to which it is impossible to give a Parliamentary term. To-day I have received a type of reply which, to use an Irish expression, is even worse than no reply at all. It was silence. As one who represents to some extent the Air Service in this House, it seemed right to me to ask whether, in view of the raids on several counties of this country, it was considered desirable to institute reprisals; and to that question no reply was forthcoming. I would like to tell the Prime Minister, if he were here, and as he is not here I would like to address myself to the Treasury Bench, which is unusually full, and say to them that it is a mistake to believe that because, for the past six months, there has been no agitation on behalf of the public for protection from Zeppelin raids, and no agitation to carry the air war into the enemy's country, that the public are in any way satisfied. I have held a number of meetings all over this country in the last six months and I have addressed some millions of people, and I can assure the Treasury Bench that the people of this country are not satisfied either with the air defences of this country or with the offensive against Zeppelin bases. I consider that we have—and, in fact, to my personal knowledge, we have—aeroplanes and men and bombs in this country to carry out reprisals. I would suggest to the Government that it is time that we took our gloves off in this matter as in some other matters in connection with the conduct of this War. Six months ago I offered the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Scotland to lead him by the hand and show him these bombs and these machines and these men, and now I repeat that offer to anyone on the Treasury Bench who will accompany me. I would like to ask how many Zeppelin bases have been bombed or attacked during the last six months? Surely the authorities must have known that the only reasons why we were not attacked was that it is not a Zeppelin's business to attack by day, and that these attacks would take place immediately these conditions were propitious. At the present time we may say that the Zeppelin season has commenced, and unless some steps are taken, steps for the more adequate defence, or at least unless the public are shown that it is our intention to act in this matter, I think that the agitation that we 211 had six months ago will be repeated. I would like to ask the Government to tell us how much damage it is necessary for Zeppelins to do before any definite action is taken. I wonder whether if a well-directed bomb were dropped in the centre of this House some action would be taken—whether it would do any great harm it is not for me to say, but I think it would have this effect and it would wake the Government up in this direction at least. In the last three days I have had many telegrams and letters from all over the country with reference to the raid on Saturday night. I know that a mere Zeppelin raid is not a matter that, this House regards as a very serious thing, and I know that this House has very many serious questions to deal with. There are so many broken pledges of the Prime Minister which had to be shifted, twisted or turned, and there are so many excuses which have to be given to all those whom he has deceived, that when it comes to the question of a mere Zeppelin raid, of course, in American parlance, it does not cut much ice; but it does cut a considerable amount of ice with those people who are interested in the Air Service of this country. I have pointed out before that, the fact that no military damage is done is not the whole story. You cannot have a raid by one or ten Zeppelins, dropping one or a thousand bombs, and say that no military damage is done. There is military damage done if thousands of special constables are kept up till three o'clock in the morning, as they were to my personal knowledge yesterday morning.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
They do not object.
§ Mr. BILLING
But most of these men are carrying on work of national importance, and if they spend the whole night walking about with a whistle and a stick they cannot do their work next day with the same amount of energy with which they would otherwise do it. Not only that, but these raids hold up munition workers and trains and transport throughout the country, and that is a serious matter. The Zeppelin season has now commenced just before the House of Commons adjourns, which it will do, and leave the country to its fate until we meet again in October. But I think before we adjourn we ought to have some sort of undertaking from the Prime Minister that some form of offensive which is the real form of defence by the Air Service will take place. Another matter I would like to call atten- 212 tion to are the very foolish inspired communications which are issued by the Press Bureau to the public. Only yesterday I read of a case in one of those communications of a pilot who engaged a Zeppelin thirty miles from the East, coast. He aimed two trays of a Lewis gun into the Zeppelin, and in putting a third tray the gun burst and stunned him. I have used a Lewis gun myself many times, and I have never known anything likely to burst and stun the pilot without doing him pretty considerable harm. Then it is stated that the pilot was stunned and became unconscious—this was evidently a single-seated machine—and when he recovered consciousness the Zeppelin had disappeared. That is the sort of story which might be told in the nursery, but to anybody who understands aviation it is an insult to his intelligence to issue such a communication as that. The pilot's name was not mentioned, and presumably the pilot was the only one present and therefore the only one to give the story. We all know that to engage a Zeppelin with a machine gun unless it has explosive bullets is not much good, but to issue such a statement and to bring it out in the Press in big headlines is realy too fatuous for anything. It is typical of what the Government do all day long. They are using the floor of this House as a megaphone to shout statements to the public, which before very long are found to have no foundation in fact. I was lunching today with some of the finest air pilots, and they simply laughed at the report authorised to be issued by the Press Bureau. There is nothing wrong with the pilots. I think the House admits that and I think the country admits it. We have the men and they are quite prepared to go anywhere and do anything, and they have all the bombs and the machines as well.
As far as these raids, which I have been referring to are concerned, I quite understand that the business of the Army Flying Corps is being carried out now a great deal better than has ever been the case before. They are doing their work, and they are occupied. I was referring on the raid question more to the Naval branch—the naval wing—of the Royal Flying Corps. At the present minute I think I can say that, with the exception of a few aeroplanes which they have in France, they are neither occupied nor justifying their existence or expense, and there is a very strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction 213 throughout the Air Service. At the Air Inquiry—to which I cannot refer as the report has not yet been issued—I asked that the Royal Naval Air Service should be inquired into. Whether the First Lord of the Admiralty did or did not threaten to resign if that was done I cannot say. Anyhow, it has not been inquired into, and unless some drastic reforms take place in the naval branch I shall have things to say on the Floor of the House of Commons, which I think will justify an inquiry.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
Do I understand the hon. Member to say that the other part of the Air Service is now perfect?
§ Mr. BILLING
Not perfect. I should say that the other part of the Air Service is now much more efficient than it has been at any other time during this War.
§ Mr. LYNCH
At this juncture I wish to rise on a point of Order. My reason for interrupting the hon. Gentleman is that his speech is so important that it ought not to be heard at one o'clock in the morning. We are here through having been deceived, no doubt, quite inadvertently, by the Prime Minister himself.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)
That is not a point of order.
§ Mr. BILLING
I have not very much more to say. So far as the reports which I asked for earlier in the sitting are concerned I desire to put this to the House. I asked the Prime Minister that a certain report which had been made by the Minister of Munitions on a firm of engine-makers should be either laid upon the Table of the House or handed to the Air Committee. The reply I received was, "We know nothing of such a report." Are we to understand that a Government Department, having been given a certain amount of particulars and the date of a report, finds it absolutely impossible to trace that report from one Department to another? I will give all the assistance I can to the hon. Member for Rugby (Major Baird) in the matter. It was a report made by the Minister of Munitions on the firm of Austin, engine-makers in Birmingham. I have seen the report, and so I know that it exists. In fact, I have a copy of it, and if it is not produced I shall read it to the House. 214 That report states that the Royal Aircraft Factory engine is a mechanical impossibility and an engineering scandal, that it has caused more trouble, friction, and delay in their works than any other proposition the firm has ever had to deal with. The report states, or infers, that it is in the interests of the country that these engines should not be made. Yet they have been ordered in thousands.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Who made the report?
§ Mr. BILLING
I do not think I can say who made the report, but if the Government say it is not in existence I will hand a copy to the hon. Gentleman representing the Air Committee on the Treasury Bench. But this report must be forthcoming. It should be handed to the Air Committee as something on which to base their decision as regards this particular type of engine which, when one has done and said all, is the crux of the whole question. It is the engine which caused me to make the speech I made in this House some months ago when I said—as I repeat—that it was tantamount to murder to send men up in machines engined with this type. Gradually but surely all the people who have identified themselves with air reforms in this country are beginning to appreciate that this engine is not only a mechanical impossibility, but a scandal, and I consider it is most essential that the Air Committee should have that report.
Then we had the Committee that reported on the Royal Aircraft Factory. They go down there and make a report at some considerable length. What is the result? The Air Board is another organisation which the Government have brought into being to defend themselves on these air problems, and Lord Curzon has said that this report is tantamount to nonsense, and that they do not agree with the findings of the report. I should like to ask what is the good of appointing an expert committee to go down and report on a factory, and when they report and say the factory is this, that, and the other, the Air Board say, "We don't agree with you at all." In the meantime an Air Committee is reporting on something else, which, when you have done and said everything, is only half, and the lesser half, of the service. What will be the position if Lord Curzon takes up the same attitude to the Air Committee? No, I really think it is time that the Government and the 215 country took the air services of this country into serious account. It is reasonable, I submit, for some of us who fight, perhaps, a lone battle in this House with our particular beliefs and particular work to take exception to the evasive replies which we receive from the Treasury Bench. I cannot expect Members of this House who are interested in other matters to be interested in the air. But I do think I have a right, and do say that it is my duty, to deal with this problem. I was returned to this House on a very definite mandate, from a constituency which had suffered considerably, to try to get some reforms brought about in our air services, and of the methods I have adopted in this House and outside to obtain those reforms I am the better judge. Some reforms have been carried out, but there is a very great deal more to be done. I do not wish to detain the House any longer. I simply want to say that I do protest against dealing with air raids as we are dealing with them and not retaliating in any way whatsoever, and I appeal to the Government for action in this matter, at least, if they have not the courage to take off the gloves in other matters. I am perfectly confident that the vast majority of the British people would be behind them if they would give orders that all the men and all the machines and all the bombs that are at present in this country doing nothing were to be employed in returning the raids and retaliating on the enemy for the raids they are making over this country. There is absolutely no reason why that should not be carried out, and if the Prime Minister would advise our enemy that for every raid that takes place over this country we would raid Germany on two occasions while we had a machine and a man left it would do more to stop Zeppelin raids than any amount of the high faluting talk which takes place in this House very frequently in my presence.
§ Major BAIRD
The hon. Member referred quite naturally to the reappearance of the Zeppelin raiding season, and invited the Government to announce their determination to make reprisals. I cannot imagine a more unpractical way of dealing with the question than to say in this House what we intend to do with regard to the enemy. Surely nothing would please us better than if the Germans announced to us when it was their intention to raid this country. I must say that the hon. Gentle- 216 man's closing remarks in which he said that he advocated all the men, all the bombs, and all the machines now in this, country, which are doing nothing, being sent over to raid Germany show in an hon. Member who has had the experience he has had in the Air Service an extraordinary forgetfulness—
§ Mr. BILLING
I was referring to suitable machines.
§ Major BAIRD
That was a very important omission. The hon. Member said, as he has said in the country, that all machines in this country which have duties allotted to them by competent airmen should be taken off those duties and sent to raid Germany. In the first place a great many of them could not go to Germany. As the hon. Member knows, they were not built to go to Germany, and to send officers off on machines of that sort would indeed be murder, to use an expression which the hon. Member has employed in connection with the Air Service. It is very unfair to the Air Service to use expressions like that, particularly when they come from an hon. Member who has belonged to the Naval Air Service, and therefore speaks with some authority. That the hon. Member should make use of an expression of that kind is very unjust and very unwise, and is likely to create an impression in the country which would be most unfortunate. The hon. Member alluded to large stores of explosives. I should have thought he would have, noticed from the morning newspapers that we dropped a little matter of seven tons of explosives on the German lines yesterday from the air. That was reported in the communiqué of the Army, and the hon. Member really must allow the officers who are directing our operations as a whole to decide where we can use our forces most effectively. If you have a choice between dropping explosives on the fighting men, ammunition trains, depots, and artillery of the enemy in the field on the one hand, and on the peaceful towns where the women and children belonging to the soldiers are living on the other, I for one would plump for dropping those explosives on the soldiers every time.
I venture to think when there is talk at large, about going to Germany directly a Zeppelin shows its nose over hers that we prefer a very much more honourable means of retaliating, not on the women 217 and children of Germany, but on the soldiers of Germany, which is what we do. I do not for a moment say that the time may not come when there may be unpleasant surprises in store for Germans in their own country, but it would be extremely unwise to say anything on that point, or to announce in this House what was our intention in that respect. The hon. Gentleman referred to the men, and the machines, and the explosives to which he was prepared to lead anybody by the hand. We know quite well that we have the machines, but I venture to remind him that they are allotted to specific work; that the necessary replacement of machines is immense in the conduct of operations such as we are engaged upon now, and really I do think the hon. Gentleman exaggerates if he imagines that there is a large stock of machines in this country that could be put to this use. Certainly they are not suitable. They have duties which they perform day and night, and I do not think I should have any difficulty in persuading him in private, as I have already had to do, that the machines are there and are rendering very good service.
With regard to the employment of special constables on the occasion of Saturday night's raid, I don't know what that trouble was. We do have special constables, and when a man undertakes the duty of being a special constable he is liable for duty when Zeppelin raids take place as well as anybody else. I do not see where the trouble comes, in there. As regards the communiqué issued in connection with a combat between a Zeppelin and a naval aeroplane off the coast, I think the hon. Member failed to notice that the communiqué was issued by the Admiralty. If he had noticed that, doubtless he would have called the attention of the Admiralty to this matter.
§ Mr. BILLING
Am I right in supposing that the hon. and gallant Gentleman represents the Air Service or the Air Services in this House—military, naval, or both?
§ Major BAIRD
The functions of the Air Board were laid down quite clearly in its reference, and I need not weary the House with that, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to remind him of a subject which he is perfectly capable of understanding. Our reference was quite clear. We do issue a, certain number of communiqués for the Royal Flying Corps, but the Admiralty issue their own com- 218 muniqués. I do not think it is a matter of any importance, but it is the fact, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think it discourteous on my part if I do not deal with that particular point.
§ Mr. BILLING
There is still some confusion, then.
§ Major BAIRD
As regards the answer I gave the hon. Gentleman to-day, he said I gave no definite reply. I can only say that he asked rather an elusive question, because if he had given in that question the information he gave in the House this evening a great deal of time would have been saved and the hon. Gentleman would have been saved the inconvenience of receiving an unsatisfactory reply. I said in this reply that if he would furnish us with more information we would cause search to be made and endeavour to satisfy him. He has complied with that request, and I will certainly carry out my part of the bargain. With regard to the answer of the Prime Minister it is no part of my functions to deal with that, but I do think the hon. gentleman should realise that he did not give notice. His question was not on the Notice Paper, and the Prime Minister was, therefore, not able to prepare an answer to deal with it. I think I have dealt with all the facts the hon. gentleman has raised, but if not I shall be very happy to do so.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I feel almost constrained to apologise for rising at such a very late hour, but that is not my fault. We have heard to-night from these benches an indictment of the Government of such a character that the comment which springs most readily to my mind is that those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. After a number of the acts of the last few weeks or months I, at any rate, for one have arrived at this decision which I declare before the House with the utmost frankness, and which I will endeavour to declare before the country with the utmost energy, that that Government must go. Tested by their acts, they have been found wanting, and their whole course from the beginning of this War has been marked by the most rank hypocrisy. Tonight we heard the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Samuel), who generally is one of the most mild-mannered of men, and as I heard him speak I traced down that curious course of a Liberal politician serving under a Tory regime; 219 because, having to defend the most indefensible Acts of his Administration in Ireland, he spoke in the good old style to which of yore Tory statesman had accustomed us. He seemed to me to be taking a leaf from amongst English statesmen, from Strafford or Cromwell, as if in Ireland "thorough" was the motto.
That has been tried before by men who were real strong men, and not the mere painted effigies which is the real character of the so-called strong men of the front bench. Men accounted strong before the war were accounted strong before they were tested, and at every test they have shown the greatest weakness of character and lack of all the qualities that we have a right to expect from the leaders of a great nation at a great crisis of its history.
Before I sit down I mean to give to the best of my ability a certain constructive policy, and would remind the members, more especially the Government, that the attitude of justifying all the illegal acts committed by the military is being judged not alone by them, because nothing seems to ruffle their complacency, but is being judged by neutral countries, the goodwill of whom is of the highest importance to this nation. These questions are being scanned almost as closely in America as in England, and even though the Government is continually resorting to the weak weapon of weak men, trying to hide the truth by putting up a wealth of censorship, even these weak devices turn to their disadvantage, because the American people, feeling that they have no confidence in the representations made by this Government, are only the more willing to listen to exaggerated reports which find their way through the correspondents who may not be friendly to this nation. I think it is a matter of the greatest importance to the Government and that they should weigh well that consideration whenever they attempt to justify these acts of the military in Ireland, which must inevitably cause in the United States the most invidious comparison to be made between Ireland and Belgium. We have reached a point where I do not know if the advantage will remain with this country. No matter what shocking brutalities the Germans have committed in this war, the word has been passed round to the military—they have had that wisdom which has been denied to our Government—that they must make an attempt to conciliate the Belgian 220 people. Whereas, by every step in the Government's administration, and by the vexatious way in which that is carried into effect, by muddling, interfering, and rancorous actions, they are week by week irritating, and finally antagonising, great masses of the Irish people which six months ago were heart and soul with the Government in the conduct of the War. I ask my colleague, if in my language now I have exaggerated a single point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
What, then, is the positive policy which I would indicate? I would say this, instead of dealing with this Irish question in a narrow, legal, I would say pettifogging, manner, they should have allowed their imaginations to have free play. They should have risen to the height of truly great men, inspired by great motives and showing that generous spirit which captures the imagination of those with whom they had to deal, immediately after the rising had been suppressed, instead of indulging in these excessive executions, which, although they pleased them, shocked the civilised world, they should have seized the very first opportunity of declaring a general amnesty, and by that large measure of generosity which would have been accepted by the Irish people as a large measure of generosity, seizing their hearts, and striking their imagination, they would have won them once more to their side with a greater ardour than before.
There are examples for that. I will not refer for the moment to the example of South Africa. There a great man dealt with a great situation. Great men are rare, and I have often been tempted in late weeks to come down to the House with a lantern like Diogenes of old, looking for a man. You found a man in South Africa—Louis Botha, my old Friend, who when face to face with a situation still more dangerous and threatening, by that great exercise of his large and generous nature won his opponents to his side. After having declared a general amnesty, I certainly would have abolished martial law—martial law with its strain of coercion, of sounds so hateful to Irish ears, so fateful in Irish history. Do you, after your hundred years' experience of the Irish people, believe they are a race who can be crushed under the heel, who can be treated like Babus in India, who, if you fail to win them, can be made to follow you, to be crushed down and obliterated? Oliver Cromwell tried that. 221 He said he would drive them to Hell or to Connaught. Are not Irishmen as powerful in Connaught to-day as in Cromwell's day? As to the other place of his pre-direction, you will never have Home Rule there because our enemies will always be in an overwhelming majority. But you are coming to coercion, and if you continue upon the false route which you have chosen you will have coercion rampant all over Ireland. That was tried within the recollection of many of you by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who has become wiser in his day after the experience he has had, and if he were consulted I do not think his voice would be given for coercion of the Irish people. They have reached a stage at which they forgive him and when they look with a certain tenderness upon his past misdeeds. If I were asked who were the creators of modern Ireland I would say Mr. Parnell and Mr. Balfour. Mr. Parnell put a new spirit into the country, and carried out a great constructive policy. The First Lord of the Admiralty, by endeavouring to coerce them, by endeavouring to flog them into obedience, welded them into a nation which stood up as one man to resist him. We are coming to coercion, and in the nomination of Mr. Duke we have a reductioad absurdum. Mr. Duke, I suppose, has been appointed on the lucus a non lucendo principle.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not see that the appointment of Mr. Duke has any relation to the contents of this Bill. There is nothing for his salary in this Bill. We are not discussing the future Government of Ireland to-day. That was yesterday or the day before.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I will avoid that. I thank you for calling me to order. My point can be dealt with when Mr. Duke's salary comes up for consideration. That will give me a wider scope than I can have by speaking to this Motion, and in doing so I think I will acquire a considerable popularity not merely in Ireland but throughout the length and breadth of the country. But I would not further detain the House. There will be other opportunities because the blunders of this Government will be continually leading them into fresh difficulties and into the most disastrous circumstances. The Prime Minister will come down to this House to ask for some enormous Vote of Credit and the sole ground upon which he will ask for it or the sole palliative will be that he 222 will call to his aid that grand talent of his of the scene painter who is continually falsifying the perspectives and who, when he has a disastrous situation in the exterior, paints it in glowing colours to deceive this docile House. And that is called wisdom and judgment and statesmanship in this House. But when a man in a high position offers judgments from time to time which are invariably falsified by the actual fighting, when he still retains the power to convince—I say those are not qualities of a great leader or a great statesman; these are the qualities of a great comedian, and history will endorse that judgment. That is all I will say, as I desire to make way for other colleagues of mine who desire to speak. I hope they will all be in full cry after this Government. I will conclude with this image. If this Government sets up coercion it will lead to much bitterness in Ireland. It will lead to the restoration of the old rankers, but it will never by any chance lead to the subjugation of Ireland. We have nothing to fear. Irish nationalism will rise stronger than ever from this contact with the earth, and the new Chief Secretary after a few weeks of office will be a chastened and a sober man, and in his final efforts he will be like a distinguished Marius weeping over the ruins of the Coercion Act.
§ Mr. P. WHITE
I regret more than I can express in words that the Financial Secretary to the War Office and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary both sat down without responding in any way to the request that was made from these benches for an inquiry into the excesses of the military in Dublin. I regret it more especially at the present moment, when the Press of this country is trying to excite the civilised world into a feeling of resentment at the unfortunate fate which befel Captain Fryatt. These lofty souls with microscopic eyes can see the smallest speck of this campaign, but they can see no goodness outside of it. I regret that these methods have been allowed to pass without a word of notice, without a word of comment, without a single promise being made of an impartial inquiry into them. I regret it for the sake of the discipline of the Army; I regret it for the sake of the honour of this country and for its reputation as a highly-civilised people. But that is their own business and I leave them to it. My duty is a sad one. It is to add more names of men who have been shot in cold blood in Dublin to those already given 223 to the House. I lived for some twenty years of my life in the heart of the city of Dublin in a place called Henry Street, and the House where I lived with others is now in ruins. Opposite to me was North Street, and on each corner of that street were two respectable well-to-do citizens doing a flourishing trade. One of them was chairman of a board of guardians and district council. He had a house in the country as well. On the evening of one of those fateful days in Dublin he was ordered by the military to leave his house. He was complying with that order and was turning the key in his own door when he was shot in cold blood and fell a corpse upon the paving stones. On the other side of the street was another man in the same trade. They were both my dearest friends and neighbours. I had affection and respect for them because of their character, and because of their high principles. This man was shot through the neck. Fortunately he is alive and all right to-day. But a few doors lower down a man and his wife and daughter lived, doing business in a small way. The wife and daughter walked across the street into a neighbour's house to escape from the flames which were overtaking their home. They got inside the door. The husband was walking behind them and was shot dead by one of the military in cold blood, although he was trying to comply with the commands of the military. Another shopkeeper a few doors away from where these tragic acts took place—one of two brothers—was also shot in his own house. Yet when we come here and point out these hideous tragedies—which are so revolting to us and revolting to every man with a proper feeling and respect for humanity—Ministers on that bench remain silent. If these things occurred in Belgium or France what tones of anger would we hear from those benches But because they occur in Ireland, at their own door, they are silent; they will never satisfy the Irish nor vindicate their own men. Well, everything comes home to roost, and these things will some day come home to roost and Ministers will deeply regret their action at this present moment. In North Street people tried to escape for their lives. There was a machine gun at the head of that street. The white flag was raised to allow citizens to escape. They were shot down in heaps in the street.
224 They have arrested a number of peaceful law-abiding citizens, and they took them and hearded them in a yard intended for horses. Subsequently, they were taken to the barracks, where they were treated in such a way as did not befit human beings. Without sanitary accommodation and the appliances which go to make life tolerable, and they were treated with the greatest harshness and cruelty. I deeply regret that it is my duty to bring these facts before the Mouse and to press them again and again, and I can only regret that Ministers will not rise to their duty and treat requests from this side of the House with more respect. Ireland has sent 100,000 soldiers to fight your battles, and she deserves to be treated with respect. We are now under the military rule of Sir John Maxwell, and we are told by the responsible Minister in this House that Sir John Maxwell has control of the police. Let us consider what that control means in Ireland. Unfortunately the police in Ireland have been used for a long time as semi-military force. One of my most distinguished colleagues on these benches applied for a permit for a relative of his to visit her daughter in her approaching confinement. He was refused that permit by the military authorities. Then I applied by letter, and I was refused that permit. Subsequently, I went to the authorities in Dublin and stated the case. I told them that we vouched for the lady, and that she wanted the permit to go and visit her daughter on family business, and that she might never see her daughter again. We were not listened to, and why? The word of a village policeman w as taken at Dublin Castle, and more value was set on it than on the word of two Members of Parliament. The authorities in Dublin acted on the word of a policeman who had some little old grudge against this lady, and attached more weight to that than to all that we had said. The most that could be said about this lady and her family was that they sang some Irish songs in their own language. That was the only offence that could be urged, and simply because they used the language of their own country the passport was refused to the mother. Under such circumstances it is impossible that you should expect any representative men who have any regard for their own dignity to assist you in perpetuating such a rule; and you cannot expect us to come here except to denounce your rule so long as your rule is such in Ireland.
225 Another question I would like to ask the Secretary of State for War is why, when the Irish prisoners were interned at Wandsworth, they were kept in solitary confinement. Is there anybody who can answer that? These were untried prisoners, and they were kept in solitary confinement, and why were they told that if they spoke to each other they would be subjected to a long term of bread and water? Is that civilised government? The Home Secretary may say that this does not come within his purview, and that the War Office is responsible. Well, whoever is responsible, it is, at all events, very unfair and a very improper way to subject untried prisoners, most of whom have since been set free because there is nothing against them, for such terrible punishments. Another question I would ask the Home Secretary is this: Why does he refuse to allow the daily "Hansard" to be sent to the prisoners? Is there anything so vile in the statements and utterances made in this House that they are unfit to be read by the prisoners? Why is that refused them? Why is the knowledge of what is going on in this House and in the country, knowledge of the deeds of the Empire in the field, denied them?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Has it been denied them?
§ Mr. WHITE
I applied for permission last week to send copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT to the prisoners, and I have not got a reply yet?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
There has been no refusal.
§ Mr. WHITE
I presume that the Home Secretary has given permission. Then, as to the rebellion, I must say that it was not a Sinn Fein rebellion. Sinn Fein means "Ourselves alone"; and it means what a great English statesman once said of this country, "Splendid isolation." It means ourselves alone, and perhaps the greatest propagandist of the Sinn Fein movement was the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister yesterday, when, he communicated to the Irish people that in future they must rely upon themselves alone and not trust in the promises of Liberal statesmen. That drives us back on ourselves alone, and in doing that I say the right hon. Gentleman was a great propagandist of the doctrines of Sinn Fein. This movement has no connection with armed forces 226 whatever. It is a libel on the movement to connect it with the rebellion. Therefore I would ask the Members of this House not to connect the recent rebellion with the Sinn Fein movement. Yesterday I heard in this House the words of the Prime Minister, and I heard different words with the same substance from the Home Secretary this evening. The Prime Minister said that restless and anarchical forces were at work in Ireland and the Home Secretary said the same substance, though in different words. He said that a grave situation existed in Ireland. That brings me back to the 'eighties, when in this House a Tory Minister used to rely for his indictment of Ireland upon police statistics to show that there was crime there, and the right hon. Gentleman and his leader in Ireland are now relying upon the same kind of evidence. They have already poisoned the wells of information in Ireland, and they are completing the business by sending a Unionist Chief Secretary to govern Ireland.
Between the new Unionist Chief Secretary, the present Unionist Attorney-General, and a distinguished Civil servant, in the person of Sir Robert Chalmers, depend upon it the Government will get information from Ireland which will lead them, unconsciously perhaps, along a certain path until the time when they will be in conflict with the whole of the people in Ireland, and the whole Irish race; and I say the Irish people will not shrink from that contest if it is forced upon them. I regret more than I can possibly convey in words, that we Irishmen should have to go back and retraverse ground which we had hoped was finally left behind. I say, quite seriously, that the innate distrust; which Ministers have of Ireland will be their own undoing. What is the position? It is that Ministers rely, as always they have relied, upon police statistics, upon official information; that they rely, in fact, upon anybody and anything but the elected representatives of the Irish people. They have made their bed; let them lie on it. They will find, like those who went before them, that it will not be an easy one, but a thorny one.
With regard to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, I may tell the House that the hon. Gentleman met some Irish Members a week or ten days ago in regard to the question of wool. The duty fell upon his Department of purchasing wool for the Army. What happened? He gave us an undertaking that in this matter 227 of the purchase of wool Irish people would be treated in a way exactly similar to the way English people are treated, and that there were to be set up an Advisory Committee and local committees throughout the country. We, representing our colleagues on these benches and the Irish people, asked him to model the Irish procedure as nearly as he could do upon the English procedure. We waited upon the hon. Gentleman, and he promised to let us know his decision before Monday. This is Tuesday night, or, I ought to say, Wednesday morning, and we have not heard from the hon. Gentleman since. I do not wish to blame the hon. Gentleman himself, because we all know that he is busy; but I do think that when he gave a promise to Members of the House of Commons that he would do a certain thing he ought to try to fulfil that promise. Certain regulations laid down in the rules for the purchase of wool, I am informed, have been violated. We were told that purchasers of wool on behalf of the Government in any part of Ireland would have a choice of persons to whom to send it to be graded before it was forwarded to the Government, and we do not think it right that dealers should be compelled to send the wool to any one individual. It is essentially a matter of business, and, considering what we were told, we think that fair play is not being given to regular Irish wool-buyers. I wished to bring this matter before the House, but as the Financial Secretary to the War Office is no present on the Treasury Bench perhaps it would be better if I raised it again on another occasion.
But there is another question to which I should like to direct attention. The War Office is also purchasing hay for Army horses. What is it doing? It is paying too much for hay in England, and too little for hay in Ireland. The Financial Secretary to the War Office stated in this House the other day that there was more moisture in Irish hay than there was in English hay, and that was the reason why Irish hay was worth less money than English. As a matter of fact, everybody knows that Irish hay is subjected to a longer process of drying than English hay. It is subjected to a scorching sun day after day until it is thoroughly dry, and when it is thoroughly dry—and not till then—it is removed from 228 the meadow land. I have often seen as much as two hundred tons of that hay put together in one place, and it has kept all right just because it was dry. Yet we are told by men, apparently gifted with common sense, that there is more moisture in Irish hay than in English hay, and therefore it is of less value. I cannot conceive how anyone could think of that and believe that it really is so, when, as a matter of fact, Irish meadow hay is brought in under the best possible conditions that could be obtained, and is of the best quality. Then there is the question of public meetings in Ireland at the present time. Is it not a humiliating thing that Members of this House, Members whose loyalty you have tested, men who have stood by you faithfully in the hour of peril, should be compelled to go to a local policeman and ask for his permission to address meetings of their Constituents? Would English Members of the House of Commons submit to such treatment as that? What would any English Member think if he went down to address his Constituents, and before he met his committee in a room he had to give notice three days in advance to the local police? Would you stand that? Do you think that Irish people have so lost their self-respect and their dignity that they do not resent it? We do resent it and we think that it is all due to Castle Government. When the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, came back from Ireland after the rebellion, he said that Castle Government had broken down and was a failure. We always knew that it was a failure, but now, instead of admitting that it is a failure, you are going to prop it up again. What you require is to bring a new broom which will sweep clean and sweep the Castle out from top to bottom, and put Irishmen in charge of Irish affairs. Until you try to improve your methods and place more confidence and trust in Irishmen whom you know, and give them a chance of governing their own country, you will always be in trouble, you will have an uneasy conscience, you will be trusting to espionage to keep you informed of what is going on, and in the end it will all result in complete failure. I beg of those Ministers who are present that they will listen to this warning and that they will apply themselves to the problem. The Home Secretary is not long in office as a Minister representing Ireland, but he has fallen into just the way his predecessor did. I feel I must congratulate him that he is not going: 229 to be long in the office, because, distinguished man as he is, and clever as he is, I believe that in the end it would be too much for him. He has shown to-night, and before to-night, that he is going to rely on the information he gets from that unclean thing, Dublin Castle, and that he is going to back up officialdom in Ireland whatever it says to him—even if it comes from that distinguished man who has spent so many years of his life in Ceylon, but knows nothing about Ireland. Anything that comes from that man Ministers will get up and stand by in this House. That reliance on officialdom is what has always hampered your efforts to deal with Ireland and made you uneasy about the future of the country. I beg of you to take your courage in both hands, to break with the past, and to sweep out the Castle, even if abuse must go along with it. If you put Irishmen in power you will never regret it; if you trust them you will not be disappointed. But arrest them, treat them with dishonour, load them with indignities and the Irish question will remain to trouble you as it has troubled your predecessors. There is only one way of governing Ireland, and that is by handing over the government to Irishmen themselves. I have nothing more to say.
§ 2.0 A.M.
§ Mr. LUNDON
We who sit on these benches to-night cannot have heard the speech of the Home Secretary without coming to the conclusion that we in Ireland are in for a dose of coercion, and he treated the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) with what I may call absolute contempt, because when my hon. Friend complained that the Chief Press Censor in Ireland Bent letters on the notepaper of the Kildare Street Club, the Home Secretary replied to him by asking what did it matter whether the message was on the Kildare Street Club notepaper or not. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman before to-night has heard of the Kildare Street Club, but if he does not know what it has done in Ireland I am going to tell him now. It stands for all that is bad and rotten in the political life of Ireland. It is within its walls that the downfall of our country, that the plot to overthrow our country for the last 100 years has been laid. Its members constitute the people who arogate to themselves the right to speak for Ireland in support of the Allies in this War, and if I am right, if what I am going to say now, what is common cant from one end of Ire- 230 land to the other, is correct, everything that is being done to-day by Sir John Maxwell in Ireland is being done because he is asked to do it by the members of the Kildare Street Club. We were told by the Prime Minister yesterday that martial law was to continue in Ireland, and that Sir John Maxwell and 40,000 troops would be kept there until such time as peace and contentment would return to our country. It was a nice message for him to deliver to our people, but bad as martial law is, I would ask the Home Secretary if it would not be possible that Sir John Maxwell himself should be withdrawn from Ireland and somebody more conversant with Irish ideas and Irish sentiments sent over to enforce martial law. You had, at any rate, ten days ago—I do not know whether he is in the country now nor not—an Irishman who, if he were sent to Ireland to take the place of Sir John Maxwell, would do a great deal to bring about that peace and contentment which we all long for. You had Sir Bryan Mahon, and if he were sent over to Ireland in place of Sir John Maxwell, the position of Ireland would not be what it is to-day. Sir John Maxwell may have been a great man when he was out in Egypt. I understand he occupied the position of Sirdar in that country. He tyrannised over the Egyptians, and he came with a flourish of trumpets to Ireland as if he was dealing with some one similar to the people of Egypt. He thought that by executing ten or twelve people he would put down Sinn Fein and all it stands for in Ireland. To-day, he sees the difference. The only thing that his mad, brutal, and reckless action in Ireland has done is to make our position more difficult, and to create 10,000 Sinn Feiners for every hundred there were before the rebellion. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to come to this House and say that everything Sir John Maxwell has done in Ireland has been done with the consent and approval of the Government, but I believe, and I say it here, that not alone is Sir John Maxwell acting as military dictator in Ireland, but he is not acting in a fair and impartial manner. I say that Sir John Maxwell is actuated by political and by jealous motives. He is actuated by these motives as the result of the influence of Army officers in Dublin whose antipathy to Ireland is absolutely known. Sir John Maxwell in his report on the Dublin outbreak mentioned the fact that dozens of policemen were shot down in the streets of Dublin, and that every defenceless citizen 231 who fell into the hands of the Sinn Feiners was either shot or would have been shot but for the protection of the military. Many infamous documents have come from Ireland to this country from the representatives of this country in Ireland to the Cabinet, but none more infamous, none more lying, none more deceiving has ever been sent from Dublin Castle than that penned and sent by Sir John Maxwell. I am sorry that Members of this House, and some of us, have been driven to say things that we would not have said, possibly, if the settlement which was being arranged a few days ago had been carried through.
But the Cabinet have been treating us in the most callous fashion, and we have taken off our gloves now, and will not put them on again until they go out head, neck, and heels. We have sat silent on these benches, knowing of the atrocities committed up and down the country by the military all through the rebellion. We have incurred the displeasure of our friends in Ireland for not standing up in defence of those poor victims; but we did it only in the hope that a settlement would be arrived at, and that a union of the North and South would be brought about. The cup was placed to our lips, and was dashed from them, not by Lord Lansdowne or any Unionist Member of the Cabinet, but I am afraid it was dashed from our lips by a united Cabinet. I am one of those who for the last five years, in season and out of season, on platform and elsewhere, he fought Sinn Fein; and I am not ashamed of having to say that not a single one in my constituency was deported to this country for having taken part in the rebellion. But there is a limit to human endurance, and I will tell the Home Secretary from this Bench that he may introduce coercion in Ireland and send for his Dukes, his Earls, and his Maxwells, and men of their stamp, but he will never crush the indomitable spirit of the Irish people. A man may have professed Sinn Fein, I may be opposed to him, but when we are attacked by the common foe both of us will unite in order to defeat his object. Many of the men who took part in the recent insurrection have now come to see the absolute foolishness of what is known as the physical force policy in Ireland might possibly rally to the standard of the Irish Party, and help to defeat the machinations of this Govern- 232 ment, or any Government that is going to follow. We listened to-day to the Prime Minister saying, in reply to a question from these Benches, as to what was to be the course to be adopted in the next Session in regard to fifteen or twenty days of supply being given. He said: 'I cannot answer for what is going to happen in the next Session, because the House will possibly be under the leadership of some other person."
I have hoped from the bottom of my heart that when we come here next Session it will not be under the leadership of the man who leads the House now, because, as far as I am concerned, I would prefer to have as Prime Minister of this country a man of the stamp of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), or a man of the stamp of Lord Halsbury, to a Gentleman of the type of Mr. Asquith. The present Prime Minister will say one thing to-day and another thing tomorrow. In conclusion, all I have to say is: send your dukes and your earls to Ireland; introduce all the Coercion Acts you like; you will never kill the spirit of the Irish people; it will live after you have gone, whether it be in a year or two years, or ten years, or fifty years, or in a century, the spirit of Ireland will remain, and an Irish Parliament will be set up in Dublin, despite the influences of any party or of any section, or of any man, no matter how powerful he may be, or what influence he may command.
§ Mr. O'DOWD
I do cot intend at this early hour in the morning to take up very much of the time of the House. I recognise that this Debate has been, essentially, an Irish Debate, and that most of the speeches have dealt with the recent abortive insurrection in Dublin—I will not say Ireland, I say Dublin. I rise with no acrimonious spirit, but I do so with two objects in view: one is to protest against the continuance of martial law and coercion in Ireland, and the other is to appeal for the release of all the unfortunate suspects—I will not call them prisoners—who are at present confined in various gaols in England. At an earlier stage of the Debate my hon. Friend the Member for North Leitrim instanced a case in his native town, the capital of his constituency—a place called Manorhamilton—where, under this regime of martial law, a detachment of soldiers were sent down to terrorise the town without any cause, and to desecrate 233 St. Clare's sacred hall. Who was responsible for that? I do not say any individual was. As I said, I did not rise in any acrimonious spirit. I do not wish to throw the apple of discord into any settlement or projected settlement of Irish grievances. But it is no wonder that such a thing can arise, when Ireland is placed under the double-barrelled pistol of coercion and martial law. It is no wonder that these soldiers would be sent down to that peaceful district, seeing that martial law is in existence, and seeing that Sir John Maxwell has, as one of his chief advisers, Major Price. I may be in error, but if I am, I will be corrected in what I say. I wish to know from some responsible member of the Government: is this the same Major Price who is the Chief Adviser of Sir John Maxwell in these critical times in Ireland, who some seven years ago was a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary in a place called Newmarket, in the county of Cork? An election was on there at Newmarket, in county Cork, in which I took part myself. The two candidates lived in one town, and both had their own supporters. And on a Sunday evening they came into contact. District Inspector Price was in charge of fourteen or fifteen of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and he could easily have dispersed this crowd, which was of very small dimensions indeed, for I was present myself and saw it. But he allowed the crowd to grow and grow. What was the next thing he did? He ordered the police to fire, with the result that one innocent man, who had nothing to do with the squabble at all, was shot dead, and several others were wounded. I may be in error in saying this is the same Major Price, but if he is the same Price who was the District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the case which I have just narrated, I say, and say deliberately, that it is an absolute scandal to have him appointed Chief Adviser to Sir John Maxwell, and I would like to know who is responsible for the appointment of such an individual to such a position of responsibility?
We are not unused to coercion in Ireland—not indeed, by any means. I know what coercion means myself. Thirty-five years ago, when a young man, advocating the principles of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, I was taken out of my bed at two o'clock in the middle of the night, rushed across the country, and planted in a gaol in the north of Ireland, 120 miles from where I lived. 234 We are not unused, I say, to coercion. Without being charged with any crime, and merely when we were suspected it was sufficient in those days for an ordinary policeman under the Coercion Act of 1881, to point his finger at any individual and to have him arrested, detained, and imprisoned as a suspect for eighteen months. Those were the terms of the Coercion Act of 1881, and I repeat what I said a short time ago, that I am not surprised that such an outrage was perpetrated in my hon. Friend's constituency, because it is a revival of the coercion that we thought we had done away with thirty years ago. What was the object of this outrage? The policemen were sent down to Manorhamilton, probably by Price. They were sent down under the system that I have described of martial law and coercion, to hunt round for suspects, as they did in 1881. We thought all that was done away with; that that state of affairs was a thing of the past, but we find now that it is not so, notwithstanding the fact that since the War broke out we, the Irish Members, myself among the number, acting according to our instincts, in the interests of Ireland and of the Empire, became recruiting sergeants for two years and travelled the towns and villages to get recruits. We thought we should get a better return at this time of day for what we did, than this system of coercion and martial law combined. We got enough of coercion in the past and our forefathers knew what martial law meant. I feel very strongly on this matter as an individual who has gone through every national movement during the last thirty-five years, and what we suffered from in 1881 is now an accepted law of the land. I do not care what any man may say, you have the farmers and peasants, the owners of groups of farms, you have the expropriated landlords, contented with their lot, and living on better terms than ever they lived in the past with their neighbours.
The fact is that you have become more democratic. I speak from knowledge—we were imprisoned in 1881 for trying to bring about that change. That change has come about, and really we do not want to revive coercion. I heard a lot yesterday in the Debate, if I may be permitted to refer to it shortly and not in detail—I heard a lot in the speeches from the opposite side of the House, well-intentioned speeches I am sure, about the unrest prevailing in Ireland. That is a fallacy; that unrest is non-existent. I know as much about the West of Ireland as any other man, and I 235 say clearly that the people are contented. But the people will be disappointed at the action of the Government in robbing them of their hopes at the eleventh hour when they expected their fulfilment. I am one of those individuals who believes earnestly in the doctrine of true nationality as the union of all parties and creeds. That is the doctrine preached by Thomas Davis, one of the very great Protestant preachers. If everybody was of my way of thinking there would be no falling out over religion; everyone would go to any place of worship he chose, just as they did in Great Britain and in America. Unfortunately, our country is one of the few countries in the world where we are deprived of our freedom, mainly through confiscations and through the system of sowing the seeds of bigotry in Ulster under James I. I think the best policy would be—but I am not a statesman, and I do not lay down a policy—what I do say, however, is that if Irishmen would only unite among themselves, and quit their foolery, to use a common word, and follow the example of what I hope may be soon an accomplised fact of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford, and shake hands, and if all the people would show a little more give and take among themselves and throw away their foolish suspicions, engendered in their hearts by landlordism for the last two or three hundred years, that would be a good thing for Ireland; and that is what should be done. We are all proud of Belfast. It is a thriving city, and a great city.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid that matter is not referred to or included in the Bill which we are supposed to be discussing.
§ Mr. O'DOWD
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I am sorry to have transgressed. I do not mean to refer to Belfast at any length. I merely mentioned it to say that for the sake of Belfast itself it would not do to shut Belfast out from her best customers in the south and west of Ireland. I only say this, and I do say it with all my heart, that if everyone were of my way of thinking in Ireland there would be no religious bigotry at all, and you would have one 236 Irishman as good as another. I will quote the words of Moore, if I remember them. Here they are:Erin! thy silent tear never shall cease,Erin, thy languid smile ne'er shall increaseTill like the rainbow's lightThy various tints unite,And form in Heaven's sightOne arch of peace.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I did not intend to say anything on the subject before the House to-night, and would not have done so but for the use of the words, by one of my hon. Friends behind me, of "English chivalry." Since I came to this House I have seen very little of that boasted English chivalry. I desire to refer to the prisoners in gaol, who have been kept there for the last three months without trial. You talk about the atrocities on Nurse Cavell and Captain Fryatt, and you try and make the best you can of them in your newspapers. Of course, I abhor those atrocities, but I say, how do they compare with the treatment that has been meted out to lady prisoners arrested during the rebellion in Ireland? The shooting of the two brothers Pearse is such a crime as will be remembered for the next hundred years as one of the blackest crimes over committed by the English Government against Ireland. The shooting of Pearse, junior, because he was a brother of Pearse, senior, is a thing which can never be excused. Two of our lady prisoners have been clamouring for a trial. They say they are not afraid to face a judge and jury, and they expect that they will get a fair trial by judge and jury; but they get no trial at all, and what becomes of your boasted English chivalry? I have been looking for it for the last three months, and I must say that you show very little of it to our Irish prisoners. The prisoners were sent to gaol, and how were they treated there? Thirty or forty of them v ere thrown into one room, 12 ft. by 14 ft. square. They had to eat, drink, and sleep in that room with a leaking dustbin left in the room as the only lavatory accommodation.
I have seen it. I witnessed it in Dublin, and it would have continued in Dublin if the Prime Minister had not gone over there. When the right hon. Gentleman went over things changed. What do you propose to do now with our 570 Irish prisoners at Frongoch? There are 570 of them to be interned. For how long? There are 570 men who have been refused the assistance that you would give to the commonest criminal in the land. You refuse 237 to allow them a legal defence. You are forgetting the families of these 570 prisoners. Do you think you are making their families more loyal to England by detaining their husbands and sons at Frongoch—detaining them, too, without trial? Nobody knows what questions they were asked, what statement they were allowed to make; and, if what I hear is true, you are detaining them because they refused to give you information about other people. Some of them were asked questions—did they know So-and-so? When they said "No," the Advisory Committee thought "You do know, because we have it here"; and they are keeping them in prison. For how long? No order is made. Nobody knows for how long. I say that if you arrested a criminal on the charge of murder you would give him the best legal defence in the land. Why are our 570 Irish boys denied that right? Why do you desire to keep them? Why is there this great secrecy? Why do you deny them the right of civil trial? Some of our men were tried by a prejudiced court-martial. Some of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from six months to penal servitude for life. Some of them were denied legal assistance. Is it not only fair to expect that you would give our boys in Frongoch a fair trial by jury? If you deny the right to the boys of a trial by jury, why do you not give us an example of your much-boasted English chivalry? Why do you not give a fair trial to our lady prisoners at Lewes? They are not afraid of a trial. They have asked for a trial. They are prepared to go before a judge and a jury opposed to them in religion—opposed to them in everything which they stood for. One of these lady prisoners chanced to be employed by a trade union whose leader took part in the rebellion, and because of her employment this lady is denied the right of a trial, and the is denied the right of legal assistance. Can any of you English gentlemen answer me this? Is that your much-boasted English chivalry? We in Ireland have seen no examples of it—never! You talk about the Belgian atrocities. You are doing with our Irish prisoners to-day, and you are doing with Ireland to-day, exactly what Germany has done in Belgium. You refuse to compensate the dependants of the unfortunate innocent victims of the recent rebellion. Our friends in America, who have supplied Ireland with money for many a good cause before, have come 238 forward to do the work which the British Government should do—that is, to provide a means of livelihood for the unfortunate people. They land with money and with instructions from the American people as to how they should distribute the funds when they get to Dublin, and the Home Secretary's Department makes an order that the two well-known American citizens entrusted with this duty are not to be allowed to proceed to Ireland. These two gentlemen are well known. Do you mean to tell me that you fear them going to Ireland to distribute the money? Are you not more afraid that they would find out the secret ways which you have in dealing with that country and take back the news to America? Have any of the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench read in the American Press within the past three months the expressions of indignation from the Irish Americans on account of the way in which you treat our Irish prisoners? Will you allow—it is not asking much from you—the evidence upon which the prisoners were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment or executed to be printed and placed upon the Table of the House of Commons? You have allowed the rebellion Commission to give their side. I think it is only honest and only fair to ask that the evidence on the other side should also be placed upon the Table; and we could show you that to satisfy the lust for blood of your military despots in Ireland they have executed men who in ordinary times would not have been sentenced to a term of six months' imprisonment. Did our Irish prisoners get a fair chance when they were brought before an Advisory Committee and some of them were discharged? They went back to Dublin and were brought before another Advisory Committee and were reinstated in their employment. Is it fair that, because a representative of the old aristocratic ascendancy part of- Ireland asks you a question about a certain man or men—do the Government think it is honest or just to pander to that representative in this House by dismissing these men from their employment? Is that your much boasted-of British justice or your English chivalry? Have we seen much if it in Ireland? One man, who I am proud to say is an Irishman, politically opposed to me in everything which I stand for, I admire—I mean the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Sir Edward Carson). He is one of the few Members of this House who 239 has showed determination. He is a man who went into the Cabinet among a lot of weaklings, and shook them like a terrier would shake a rat. And then to come back and go out of the Cabinet, and go back to his colleagues, with everything that he wanted in the palm of his hand—a man who has won all along the line, a man who, through determination, who, through threats of civil war, was allowed to carry on a gun-running escapade in the North. When the Howth gun-running took place for the Irish Volunteers to do exactly what the right, hon. Member for Dublin University had advised his people to do, on the day on which that Howth gun-running took place, where did they give the instructions to the military from? Was it not from the Tory political headquarters in Dublin, well-known as the Kildare Street Club?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
All this has nothing whatever to do with the Bill which we are now discussing, and I would invite the hon. Gentleman to give his attention to the Bill rather more closely.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I am sorry to have transgressed the rules, but I have heard the Kildare Street Club referred to and I thought it might perhaps be relevant.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Not in the least in connection with the matters to which the hon. Gentleman is now referring.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I will not transgress further, and I will not delay the House much longer. I will ask the Members of the Cabinet to show Members on the Irish benches the meaning of those words "English Chivalry." They can do so by giving us some good example. So far, we have seen none. They have the opportunity of doing so by ordering the immediate release of at least the two lady prisoners who asked for a trial and were refused. You have three there, and two of them asked for a trial. If, also, the Cabinet were to allow the 550 Irish prisoners to take a trial in the Civil Court, and to be granted the facilities that the Government would grant any ordinary criminal. I do not think I am asking too much if that is to be the example of your so boasted English Chivalry.
I understand we are asked now to vote a considerable amount 240 of money for the support of the Army, and before we proceed with that vote I should like to make a little enquiry as to what this money is going to be utilised for. Early in the Debate a question was asked by my hon. Friend, the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) with reference to the holding of meetings. It is an exceedingly important affair, and I may give an illustration. I do think it should be considered as money is to be voted by this House to support a campaign which started in some of the rural districts of Ireland to prevent Friendly Societies from holding their meetings. Some of these Friendly Societies have to hold their regular weekly meetings for the purpose of paying sick benefit to their members. I have had not one but a number of occasions to write to Sir John Maxwell, and I wish to say here, and I express my thanks, that on any occasion on which I have come in contact with him he has treated me with the most perfect courtesy. I have not a word to say against him personally, but he is not able to control many of the policemen in the country who are throwing obstacles in the way, and are threatening these people. I believe all this was done at the inspiration of his officers—this gentleman who has been alluded to as Major Price. I hope someone is going to reply, however late the hour, because men's lives and liberties are at stake, and I do think that when Members representing the Government come here they have an obligation to answer these questions and to deal with them when Members take the trouble to come to the House to speak on behalf of their constituents.
Another question I should like to raise is this: There was an enquiry. I mention this because the Military have to deal with it. We are going to keep a large standing Army in Ireland, and I do think we should know the reason why, because one and all will agree that it was understood that the money which had been voted was for the purpose of crushing military tyranny in Europe. It is given as the reason for everyone being engaged in this War, that it is to destroy the power of the Kaiser, and to try to prove that right is might. I think we have got to a state when we are going to imitate his example in this country, and that we have got to a point at which we are going to assert that might is right. The enquiry took place a short time ago with regard 241 to the death of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington, and it was proved that the person who ordered the shooting was insane, a lunatic. This was sought to be proved by his actions previous to the rising. I want to know what right have we to pass over this, and not to ascertain who was the Military Authority who entrusted the control of troops to a lunatic, and how many more lunatics there were in charge of the military forces in Ireland. I think there must be an enquiry, and that we must ascertain what men there are in the military service competent to take charge of these troops so far as Ireland is concerned. This gentleman holds his Commission still, and are we to understand that a man will be allowed to hold the position of Captain who, according to the report of the Commission of Inquiry, is a lunatic? I do not think anyone wants the Army which is to represent this Empire to be controlled by lunatics. That is one point I am particularly anxious to have ascertained. I would also like more inquiries made with regard to this gentleman, Captain Price, because I think an inquiry into his mental condition would do no harm. I have had an opportunity of meeting him on a number of occasions, and I may say that, instead of trying to ascertain the means necessary to quench the rebellion that took place in Ireland, his chief function at the interview I had with Sir John Maxwell was to condemn the Irish Parliamentary Party, and to suggest, in the presence of Sir John Maxwell, that they were responsible for the actual organisation of this rebellion.
I would also like to know who it was wrote this report sent by Sir John Maxwell, because, according to the statement made, I think by the Home Secretary, there were eight policemen shot. I hope he will give us the names of those eight policemen, because some of us have grave doubts that there were any such number shot, and that they were shot—if they were shot—by the rebels It was not a case, as suggested, of a cold-blooded murder, because anyone who knows Dublin, and was in Dublin during this time, is aware of the fact that, during the first day, practically all the Metropolitan policemen were orderd off the streets before there had been any effort on behalf of the insurgents to shoot a policeman. There would have been no difficulty in their shooting a large number if they had wished to do so, and I hope the Home 242 Secretary will give us some information as to the names of these men. We have asked not once but repeatedly from these benches that there should be an inquiry into the whole of the shootings in Ireland. I say that should be done as much in the interests of the Army as in the interests of these people, because I do not join with, anyone who is going to bring a charge-of wholesale and reckless shooting against the Army as a whole. I know the Dublin Fusiliers were there and the Royal Irish Rifles too; I know there were many regiments there, and while there might well have been cases of individuals who were-reckless, I think, viewing them as a whole, the soldiers tried their level best to carry out their unpleasant duty—and it was an unpleasant duty. I have come across not one instance but several during that period of soldiers of the Dublin Fusiliers belonging to Dublin—men, in fact, belonging to the district where I live—who were present. I know several young men from that district, and I think, if the information which the Home Secretary receives is not entirely tainted and poisoned, he will find that there were many men of the Dublin Fusiliers who were ordered during that period to fire upon their own comrades and neighbours, and I have yet to learn that Sir John Maxwell, or anyone else, has any reason to complain that these men in the Dublin Fusiliers did not carry out their unpleasant duty, believing that they were acting in the best interests, not alone of their country and of the Empire, but of their own city. I would like these matters to be considered and to have some information upon them, because I think in the shootings in Dublin only a small number of the military took part. But the shootings of those who did take part have created not only dissatisfaction in the city, but have produced horror throughout the whole country. It is idle for Members representing the Government to suggest that some of these men were accidentally shot. We have it upon record that not only did they shoot men they had taken prisoners, but they actually fired upon the white flag, which, I believe, is a terrible crime, and against all military usage Let me give you an abstract from the affidavit sworn by one of these people. I do not think I am going outside the Debate in giving it, because we have voted money for the upkeep of the military, and we should like to know what control there is over the military, and what the necessity is for 243 having such a large body of them in Dublin? Here is a statement made by one of these unfortunate people:We had lived in our house, No. 8, Moore Street, for nearly forty years, and were there on Easter Monday, from the beginning of the rebellion. One day in the middle of that week, it may have been Wednesday, when matters were becoming very serious, my father went up to Britain Street to ascertain if it would be possible for us all to leave the house, but he was stopped by the military, and told that if he dared to proceed another step he would be shot. The orders were to return immediately to his house and remain there. We then remained there till Friday evening, and the firing became so terrible in the street, also down Moore Lane and on the back of our house, we thought it would be advisable to leave the house, and we proceeded by way of the garden and stores out to No. 6, where we were able to effect an entrance through our workshops. We were here from about 6 p.m. on Friday evening till 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, 29th April. During those hours the fire, which originated at the General Post Office, had burned steadily on, and the barricade which was across Henry Street became ignited, thus setting on fire the houses on the opposite side of that street, and ultimately the adjoining block in Moore Street." (I ask Members who are anxious to slumber to realise that this is a case of life and death, and I hope that for a moment they will arouse themselves from their slumbers and consider the lives of the people.) "About 5 a.m. we discovered that the house, No. 4, was on fire, and it was quite obvious that we could not longer remain on that side of the street, as we were hemmed in between Moore Lane and the fire. So in conjunction with other residents of the street who had taken refuge in No. 5, we decided to cross to a house on the opposite side. We all went out together, a very orderly crowd, mostly composed of women and children and a few men, none of whom were armed or in any way connected with the rising. We had the protection of white flags, one being carried by Miss Morris, of 4, Moore Street. We were crossing the street, when we were fired on by the military at the barricade, and my father fell dead instantly, being shot in the throat, opposite the house we were going to for safety. The barricade was situated across the top of our street in Britain Street. That was about 5 a.m. on Saturday. We remained in that house for some hours, and then it took fire. Miss Morris walked up the street alone with a white flag to the military at the barricade, and told them that there was a defenceless crowd of men, women and children imprisoned in one of the burning houses, and asked them for God's sake to let them out and not to fire on them. Permission was refused absolutely. The girl knelt on the ground to the senior officer, and after very considerable delay he gave permission for the women and children to be marched up the street and across the barricade, and the men were to be taken prisoners, and confined in a separate house, she being retained there as a hostage. When we got into Britain Street my mother and I, together with the rest of the women and children, were locked into a tenement house directly facing Moore Street, and were left there from 8 o'clock that morning till late at night without any food. During that time we saw our property, 6 and 6½, Moore Street, reduced to a heap of burning ruins, and my father's corpse lying on the pavement opposite. That evening, after the surrender of the Volunteers, I got permission from the officer then in charge of the barricade to go down the street to get the corpse. I went down, accompanied by Miss Morris and the white flag, and when I was just kneeling down, trying to raise him, we were 244 again fired on"—(this is the third or fourth time that the white flag had been fired on)—"and very narrowly escaped being shot, as several bullets hit the ground around us. When I returned on the following Wednesday to the house we had lived in, No. 8, I found it completely looted, money, papers, clothes, jewellery, everything was gone, and the walls and roof completely ruined by the fire. As a consequence of the rebellion and the subsequent actions taken by the military authorities, my father's life has been taken, and we, who before were self-supporting citizens, are reduced to complete destitution, only saved from starvation by relief from the Vincent de Paul Society.3.0 P.M.
That is signed by the daughter of the man. That is one instance; I can give a dozen. Here is another affidavit regarding a man who, while he was standing in his own little room and lighting his pipe, was fired at through the window and was shot dead. When his wife rushed over to him the bullets were coming through the window. Can anyone suggest that that sort of thing is to go unpunished? Do hon. Members opposite imagine that with this sort of thing in the minds and hearts of the people you are going to have peace and good will in Ireland? Everyone knows that Members on this side of the House have done their duty in connection with this War. May I go a little further and suggest that previous to this insurrection recruiting meetings were held in every portion of Dublin? I should like to know how recruiting meetings can be held in the City of Dublin to-day? Do the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Bench know that during the weeks and months previous to this insurrection in King Street and that district soldiers were worshipped and wounded soldiers regarded as much as heroes as are any wounded soldiers in London? That was because most of the people in that district had husbands or brothers or sons fighting, but the feeling is changed and has turned to resentment against soldiers. That is what we have got to face and what the military dictatorship has got to face during the next few months. In the interests of the dictates of humanity, in the interest of the Army, and in the interest of justice, it is necessary to insist that there should be a public inquiry. You may say that it would be against public policy to have an inquiry, because so many things happened that were a disgrace to the Army, but I think people ought to be courageous and face it. In the interest of the Army itself it is absolutely necessary that an inquiry should take place, because it is evident that quite a small number of men are responsible for all these misdeeds.
245 But I will say this, that those people who are in want by reason of the insurrection must be given compensation. You cannot bring back the lives of the men who were shot—and speaking for myself, I do not want any human punishment for the perpetrators of the outrages; the punishment of their consciences and of a just God will suffice. But we are entitled to ask whether the Government are going to permit these widows and orphans of the men who are shot down to go without compensation. The argument put forward is that there is no proof that the men were shot down by the military; but the Government will have no proof because they will not permit an inquiry to take place. The consequence is that no doubt there will be some exaggerations of the outrages. It appears that the Government are seeking by their Press censorship, to prevent news of these occurrences reaching America, but I may inform the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government to-night that it is no use trying to prevent this news reaching America, because it is there already, and to try to prevent it is like trying to stop the tide with a pitchfork. If the Government will not allow the information to be published, some of us must take means to let it reach America, and it will not be to the interest of the Government or the Allies if that has to be resorted to. I am one who has tried to do his best on behalf of the Allies in the War. I know every inch of the country. I think that one of the revelations which possibly would be a surprise to this House—in view of the statement made that the organisation I happen to be secretary of is supposed to be watching for an opportunity for worsting the British Empire—that it is an organisation of an international nature which has sent more men to fight than any other organisation—I refer to the Ancient Order of Foresters. Why 6hould there be a standing Army of 40,000 soldiers in Ireland? Could not these men toe more usefully employed fighting the Germans? Do you not want every available man for that purpose? Why, then, do you keep this large military force in Ireland, instead of giving the Irish people some indication that your desire is to get fair play and justice? So far as I can see, Members of this House are not sufficiently interested in this important matter. There are not forty Members present at this moment, and I do not think we should continue the Debate under those circum- 246 stances. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to draw your attention to the fact that there are not forty Members present
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. KING
I am sorry to intervene if by doing so I prevent hon. Members from Ireland addressing the House on questions which interest them. We have listened for four and a half hours to a very sombre and sad Debate. I shall not do more than remark upon it that I have been recalling once again, as I have listened to the speeches, the words we heard describing Ireland at the beginning of the war—that Ireland was the one bright spot. What does the Government say about Ireland to-day? Surely we can all agree that Ireland is the darkest tragedy of this War! But I do not rise to speak upon the Irish question. I gave notice last week in the House that I would take this opportunity of referring to a question which has already been discussed. I gave notice to the Home Secretary and others of my intention to refer again to the question of the threatened deportation of aliens, and I believe that, late as the hour is, the House would like me to keep my word. After all, it is not much that a Member of Parliament can do in these days, but at any rate a private Member can try to keep his word. We listened about four and a half hours ago to a remarkable speech, full of eloquence and patriotism, from the Home Secretary; and may I at once thank him for the steadiness with which he has sat through and listened patiently to this Debate? In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has to spend many hours attending Cabinet meetings and working at the Home Office and elsewhere, I am sure the whole House is indebted to him for the way he has attended here, and if I differ very strongly from him in the action he has taken and the threatened action he contemplates, yet I have found nothing but consideration, courtesy, and patience in my dealings with him. The Home Secretary has referred to a recent case which has been before the Court—to a man named Charles Sarno, a Russian subject, who a few days ago was threatened with deportation. Being a man of some means Sarno was able to brief counsel, and a writ of habeas corpus was applied for. When the hearing came on a rule was granted and the man was discharged for this strange 247 reason, that though the police were intending to deport this man, yet no order of deportation had been issued by the Home Secretary. Therefore the man was immediately released. That is a very remarkable thing, and I think it ought to be cleared up in the Office of the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary has again and again been telling us that he has not deported anyone.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
§ Mr. KING
I mean any of these Russian subjects who were ready to join the Army, or who were to have an opportunity of going before a tribunal if they would not join the Army. I can quote the cases of two other men, both of whom have been threatened with deportation, although no order has been made for their deportation. They were threatened by the police. They were told by the police when they went to their houses that if they did not come to the station next day ready to depart for Russia, they would be apprehended. They had naturally supposed that there had been an order of deportation made against them. I have no doubt that many men have in that way been juggled with and, I will say, tricked by the police. I do not suppose for a moment that the Home Secretary has been a party to the game played by the police of tricking these men into supposing that they were to be deported. But the facts of the Sarno case—a man threatened with deportation when no order had been issued—suggest what I fear has been happening in many cases, namely, that men have been tricked by the police with a threat. The hon. Member for West Wilts (Mr. Geoffrey Howard) and the hon. Member for North Kerry (Mr. Flavin) were kind enough to call Sarno my friend, although as a matter of fact I have had no dealings with him whatever. When the Home Secretary said that I had been too credulous with regard to this man it is well that I should tell the House that I have had nothing to do with him, although I have received one or two deputations of people interested in this subject. The man in question is said to be a rascal and a rogue. Let it be so. He may be. There are many rascals and rogues in the world. But this man was threatened with deportation, and the explanation of the Home Secretary is that it would give the police too much trouble to get all the evidence and lay it before the Court, and therefore with the powers he has it is much easier 248 and simpler to deport him straight away. If anyone could have a case brought against him in the way the case was brought against this man, I say that none of us is safe, and everyone of us had better be careful that he excites no suspicion whatever or he may have some terrible experience at the hands of the Home Secretary.
Here is a more important point still. Sarno claimed that he was a political refugee. Whether he really was or was not is immaterial. I am inclined to think that he was not a genuine political refugee, because I know a number of eminent scientific men who are political refugees from Russia—they are my friends—and they informed me that they knew of no such man who was a political refugee. Anyhow, he claimed to be a political refugee, and no rebutting evidence was brought forward. The man expressed his willingness to join the British Army. The Home Secretary said that he refused to join the British Army. All I know is that the man actually put in an affidavit, which was read in Court, and in the course of it he declared on oath, "I am willing to join the British Army." A statement in an affidavit, which, as far as I know, was never controverted in the Court, must be accepted even by the Home Secretary, even though it is inconvenient for him to-accept it. In this case the Home Secretary has been misinformed. I do not blame him, because I know that he has far too much to do to look into all the details of the case. He has either jumped to the wrong conclusion, or he has been incorrectly informed by his informers. Sarno declared that he was a political refugee, and, in spite of that, the Home Secretary deports him. That is a distinct breach of the pledge which he gave.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
A breach of what pledge?
§ Mr. KING
The pledge that if a man claimed to be a political refugee and was not able to join the British Army, as you did not allow this man to do, he should go before a tribunal.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I never said anything about political refugees. Moreover, the hon. Member himself has said that this man was not a political refugee, and three judges each said he was not satisfied that he was a refugee. Further, in no case whatever was any pledge given with regard to military service, and this case 249 has nothing to do with military service. This man was a man of a criminal type of whom the country is very well rid.
§ Mr. KING
That is all very well, but the Home Secretary is now changing his ground. He does not deny that this man was ready to join the British Army.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The British Army has nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. KING
No; the Home Secretary cannot get out of a case like this by saying a man is a criminal. After all, he may be mistaken, and the law of the land is plain. We hold a man innocent until he is proved guilty. The right hon. Gentleman has all the law officers of the Crown and the law at his disposal, and instead of bringing this man to justice by the ordinary way of British justice, before a judge and jury, and instead of getting a conviction and applying to the judge, as he can do, for a deportation order at the conclusion of the sentence, he chooses to put in force his power of deportation. All I can say is that if this is to be used just as a convenience in order to save the time of the police, we shall not have much justice left at the end of the War. I know it is a difficult case, and it is very easy for the Home Secretary, who admittedly made one mistake over it—
§ Mr. SAMUEL
§ Mr. KING
Trying to deport him when you had not signed the Deportation Order. It is very easy to deny my facts, just as I deny his. I am going to give one or two other cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Yes, I could go on at considerable length, but I will try to be considerate. The right hon. Gentleman said just now, when an appeal was made to him, that he should allow these Russian Jews to go to any neutral country that would have them, that there was no neutral country that he knew of which would have them. Had not I told him that they were able to go to America, and had not he documentary evidence offered to him that America was now receiving many Russian Jew refugees from France, and that there had been a constant exodus from France of Russian refugees, especially Jewish refugees, after the threatened anti-Semite agitation got up in France a little while ago, and also that the Government is asking them not to go to America, but to stay and con- 250 tinue their peaceful employment in Paris? The right hon. Gentleman may say he is not aware of these facts, but they are notorious. They have been printed in a report which has been sent to this country, through the Foreign Office, and for him to say that these Russian Jew Refugees are not able to go to any neutral country is absolutely against the facts, and against the facts which have been put before him, and which he ought to know. He really must be more careful of the way in which he makes statements in the House which may help him to keep up his campaign against his own compatriots and co-religionists, but which are contrary to the facts.
I will give another case from which he will see that he is quite inaccurate. He has represented again and again in this House that he is acting with the support of general Jewish opinion in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] He is not at all. I maintain that when he threatens to deport Russian Jews to Russia, he is going against the feeling, the almost unanimous feeling, of Jews in this country. He is quite right when he says he wants them patriotically to offer to serve. That is quite right. Although I am against Conscription, I have always been strongly in favour of recruiting, and I do my utmost to make these men serve voluntarily in the Army. I will not say, however, "You serve, and if you do not, I am going to send you back to Russia in which you have been persecuted, and from which you fled in despair to this country as an asylum of refuge." Up to a point the Jewish community is so patriotic that they want these men to enlist voluntarily, but the Jewish community is completely against the right hon. Gentleman when he says that if they do not enlist in this country he will deport them to Russia. I have a letter here, and though I am afraid I have not the writer's permission to mention his name, I can read certain parts of the letter, from an official, not written in the name of the Committee but as a member of the Committee of the Committee of Refugee Jews—a very well-known and highly respected body. He says, in the course of his letter:—I have read the report of the question which you addressed to the Home Secretary on Monday last—that is Monday of last week—and the reply made to it. I desire to say that your information with regard to the Board's decision is quite correct, and that the Home Secretary's statement is not correct.251 That is from a member of the Committee of Refugee Jews, and was in reference to a resolution which was passed there, and with regard to which he writes to me—that I am correct, and that the Home Secretary is not correct. I might follow the letter at great length, because it is extraordinarily well written, and extremely cogent. It continues:We merely support the principle of enlistment, but certainly not the principle of deportation—and he adds:there is hardly a Jew in this country who does not resent to the very Uttermost the proposal to deport Jews back again to Russia.I will add only one more quotation from this letter:There is heartfelt gratitude to yourself and other Englishmen who have made this cause their ownI think I must claim to say, after reading that letter which comes from a man whose name is well-known in the Jewish community, that in the line I have taken I represent the feeling of Jews in this country much better than the Home Secretary. Here is another case. (HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh!"). I promise that I will not, at any rate, call a count while I am speaking. At this late hour, any Members of the House who do not care to listen, to me any longer can go home. Here is another very important point on which I asked a question some days ago. I asked on the 25th of last month about Russians who had, previous to the War, applied for a naturalisation and been refused; and I asked whether there was a feeling of resentment among such men that they were now being offered the opportunity either of enlistment or of deportation to Russia.
The Home Secretary, in his reply, stated on the 25th of last month he did not know of any such case. I have a letter here, written by a student in one of our universities—and, remember, we have a large number of Russian Jew students in our universities, especially at Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Sheffield, and in the medical schools of those and other universities there are also a large number of Jewish students—I have a letter that one of these wrote to me after this question had appeared on the Paper. He informed me that on the 18th of last month, just before my question was put, he wrote to the Home Secretary, informing him of the facts of his own case, that he had applied for naturalisation in 1911, been one of several students who did so, and, largely because he had no papers whatever to 252 show his nationality—he had come here as a child with refugee parents—his application was refused. This man, naturally, resents what has taken place. He wrote beforehand quite unknown to me but entirely confirming the point of view I take. Having applied before the War to become a British citizen, and having been refused more or less on a technical ground, he bitterly resents being now offered the opportunity of enlistment or deportation to Russia.
§ Mr. GERSHOM STEWART
On a point of Order. Is it in order for a Member of this House to make an attack upon one of our Allies who are doing such noble service against the Germans at the present moment?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot control the hon. Member in what he says if he keeps to the subject which is before the House.
§ Mr. KING
I was not making any attack upon the gallant Russian Army. I have not said one word against the Russian Army. I respect their success too much to make any attack upon them. It is those who see attacks when no attacks are meant, who are themselves to blame. I am not going into all the mistakes of the Home Secretary. I have half a dozen cases here, but I am not going to show him up too much. I must, however, just give another instance of the sort of thing which shows how badly thought out and how miserably inadequate his policy is. I have a letter here from a gentleman, a Russian Jewish doctor, who has been serving as a military doctor in the Serbian Army, and was with that army until it evacuated Serbia. He has been through the whole War with the Serbians. He then comes to this country and offers his services to the War Office. He sent me a letter which he has received from the War Office. He is a Doctor of Medicine of the University of Berne, and I believe it is well recognised that the medical diplomas of the Swiss university are even higher in standard than those of either Germany, France, or this country. He is a highly qualified medical man, and spent something like a year and a half in warfare with our Allies. He sends me a copy of a letter which has been sent to him by the War Office. It tells him that he must go to the Jewish War Service Committee—that is a committee which sits in Lord Rothschild's office in the City—and there he will be able to get papers and particulars which will allow him to enlist in the ranks of the British 253 Army. Then he is further referred to the Army Order, and to the other statements which show that if he does not now enlist in the ranks of the British Army he will be liable to be deported to Russia. I say that a man like that, who has been serving as a doctor and an officer in the Serbian Army, to be treated like that is a perfect scandal. For such a man to have a letter like that naturally moves him to indignation, which he expresses in this letter to me.
The fact is, the Home Secretary has endeavoured to grasp too quickly and very unskilfully a very difficult and complicated problem. He has rushed at it. He has been too occupied with other work. He has not taken good and sound advice in the steps which he has entered upon, and the result is this, that you have a feeling of irritation and annoyance among all the men against whom this policy is directed, and I am afraid it will be very difficult to get anything good out of them. Last week a meeting was held of patriotic men in the East End of London, and a gentleman named Mr. Powell, a well-known leader of the Jewish community, went down to address that meeting. This gentleman was supposed to be in favour of the Government policy, although, I am told, he, personally, is as much as almost every Jew against the policy of deportation. Yet, being known as a patriotic Jew in favour of enlistment, and having taken part in recruiting campaigns, he was regarded as in favour of the Home Secretary's policy, and a hue and cry was got up, and when he got to the meeting they were not able to have a meeting at all, the hall being packed with protesting Russian Jews, indignant, not at the idea of a patriotic or recruiting meeting being held, but at the threat which has been held out to them by one of their compatriots that they may be deported to Russia. That state of things produces annoyance, suspicion, and irritation. That is the state of feeling which the Home Secretary has aroused in the breasts of dozens of his co-religionists.
If he would give the people who understand the question an opportunity of putting their case before him, or if he had appointed a small committee, either of Members of this House or of the Jewish community to advise him after having carefully inquired into the matter, he would have been saved from any difficulty, and there would have been a very different state of things. Instead of that, he has irritated these people, and made far more 254 difficult the whole of this problem. I might say a very great deal more upon this matter, but at this late hour I shall not do so. I will venture to say, however, when the Home Secretary announces his policy, the details will be given just at the end of the Session, when there will be no opportunity for discussing them or of elucidating these matters, or of pointing out the difficulties which the Home Office will encounter. The matter will be put into me hands of some officials, who will rush the matter through, and strive by brute force to beat down the opposition, which is very intelligible, and which is not going to be beaten down in that way. The matter may result, I am afraid, not in the success which I trust will be achieved. Let me say, further, that I hope, whatever he does, he will put, first of all, upon the tribunals which are to deal with this problem men who will be generally trusted. There are certain members of the old Jewish community who are not really closely in touch with these later emigrants from Jewry in foreign countries. These members of the old Jewish community are some of them men of great eminence like members of the Rothschild family; they are great men, and patriotic Englishmen, but they are not the men who will really have the confidence of these people, and who will understand their point of view and be patient with them. I hope very much indeed that those who will be selected will include representatives of the Jewish community who will receive the unanimous support, not only of the old-established Jewish families in this land, but also of the newcomers who are still to a large extent foreign and not so thoroughly and entirely British in patriotism and public service as, for instance, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herbert Samuel) sitting there.
I will not burden the Home Secretary with too much of my advice on this matter, but I will warn him that he is playing with fire. I believe this matter has got into the position that it has done because of an anti-Semite agitation which has taken place in certain papers. The "New Witness," and other such papers, have brought about a bitter feeling in the East End, which the right hon. Gentleman now has to cope with. He is playing with fire in regard to this anti-Semite agitation, and a very dangerous fire it is. I trust that whatever happens there will be no countenance given to the feeling that if we allowed foreigners in our midst to continue 255 peaceful avocation while we went to war, it was only natural that there should be raids and attacks upon them. That is not the sort of spirit we should be shown by the man who is in charge of the police of London. In my opinion the right hon. Gentleman made a speech in this House entirely unworthy of him and of the high office he adorns. The remarks I have made come from a deep feeling of conviction of the gravity of the subject, and of the possibly effects of the mistakes that he may be making. I sincerely hope that he will have caution and discretion, and that he will carry, as far as possible, the whole of the Jewish community, as well as the general public, with him in the various steps he thinks right to take. If he does that no one will be more pleased, and no one will congratulate him more heartily, than I shall.
Mr. T. F. SYMTH
I desire to protest against the continuance of martial law and the revival of coercion in Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Sligo said, we are not unaccustomed to coercion in Ireland. In 1887, when this country was celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the late Queen Victoria, there was witnessed in Ireland the greatest coercion, but Irish Nationalism would rise phoenix-like from its ashes whatever coercion was practised on it. None of us were in sympathy with the Irish rebellion. We all deplored it, but we think that now a general amnesty should be given. If that were done it would palliate us in some way for the treatment we have recently endured. If we have been misled badly it is another in-instance of promises to Ireland being broken by distinguished British statesmen. This rebellion was to be deplored very much, but if, now it is all over, the Prime Minister would do as General Botha did in South Africa, give a general amnesty and an act of clemency for the men imprisoned it would be one of the best day's work done by the British Government in the interests of the British Empire. When that great pillar of Liberalism, the late Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man proposed to give Home Rule to South Africa, the present First Lord of the Admiralty stated that he did not think it would be wise to grant Home Rule to that colony. I am sure that no Gentleman in this House, no matter in what part of it he sits, would now say that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was foolish in what 256 he did. If we were treated in Ireland in the same way as our Colonies were treated there would be no more loyal sons of the Empire anywhere than would be found in Ireland. During the past two years the Irish party, under the distinguished leadership of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford, went through Ireland and did what we could to get recruits for the Army, with the result that at present 150,000 Irishmen are fighting for the Empire. Had Home Rule been granted at that time the position of the Empire would be much stronger to-day, because it would have more troops from Ireland and you would have far more sympathy and support from the different Colonies of the Empire. If the Government could introduce an Amnesty Act and release these; prisoners who were deported to English gaols it would be the best day's work they could do in the interests of Ireland and of the Empire.