§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I wish to take advantage of the Motion for the Adjournment to draw the attention of the Government and the House to several questions of considerable importance concerning a large number of persons and large classes in this country, particularly the questions relating to the cost of food, the position of freights, and also to those questions relating to the use of manpower by the War Office which I have several times referred to in the course of the present Session. Firstly, I desire to deal with those particular questions in relation to the general situation of the War. During the last three months we have had a great deal of good news from the different theatres of the War, and, coming as it did in contrast with all that had gone before, this produced a very real 2506 and marked feeling of satisfaction and even of optimism, and people have been inclined to spring to conclusions, some of which, at any rate, are not warranted by the facts of the situation. Nothing has happened either in the East or in the West which affords us any certainty of a speedy end to this conflict. The progress in the East against Austria has been brilliant, but we must never forget that very large distances have to be traversed in those regions. In the West at Verdun and on the Somme the strategic deadlock continues. The intense fighting, which has now lasted for more than six months, has not produced any sensible change in the general strategic alignment of the Armies. The losses on each side are largely a debatable question, but this, at any rate, is true, that the German Armies in the field on all fronts were never more numerous or better equipped than they are to-day. They have more divisions in the field to-day than at any other moment in the War. We have against us a larger German Army than at any previous time. What is behind that Army is quite another question. The diminution of the German Reserves, as I said three months ago when I ventured to address the House on these general questions, in relation to the growing power of the Allies constitutes the secure foundation upon which 2507 we may build our just hopes of a certain victorious conclusion of the struggle. But the actual fighting formations of the German Army are fully maintained at the present time in every respect.
We have the marked demoralisation of Austria; we have the wonderful recovery of Russia and General Brussiloff's victory, a victory unequalled in importance since the turn at the Marne in 1914; we have the increasing exertions of Italy; we have the unflinching resolution of the French; and, last of all, and perhaps most important of all, we have the ever-growing strength and power and the splendid quality of the great new British Armies. These are all facts of glorious and encouraging import. They give us the assurance that we are definitely the stronger, and they justify my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Lloyd George) in his expectation that the time will soon come when we shall be able to see our path ahead much more clearly than we have hitherto done, but none of these facts carry with them the assurance of a speedy peace of the kind that we mean to have. It is astounding that Europe should have been fighting with this terrible intensity and on this universal scale for more than two years. It seemed incredible beforehand that such a thing could happen, but now, after two years, that the War should continue for another year or even more does not seem incredible. We hope that it may not be so, but it is not impossible, and certainly it does not seem incredible. At any rate, it would be most wickedly foolish, after all that has happened, to make our plans on any other assumption than that the War will go on. The time has come—it came long ago—and it is evident to all that it has come when all our plans, both at home and abroad, ought to be made with a view to the continuance of the War for a long period, and all our plans ought to be made with a view to the conditions of a state of war becoming the basis of the whole of our national, social, economic, and industrial life.
We cannot go on treating the War as if it were an emergency which can be met by makeshifts. It is, until it is ended, the one vast, all-embracing industry of the nation, and it is until it is ended the sole aim and purpose of all our lives. Everything in the State ought now to be devised and regulated with a view to the 2508 development and maintenance of our war power at the absolute maximum for an indefinite period. If you want to shorten the War, do this. If you want to discourage the enemy, let them see that you are doing it. If you want to cheer our own people, let them feel that you are doing it. Behind her widely extended fronts Germany is fretting and chafing. She has been less contented with victory than the Allies have been with repeated disappointments and defeat. Let her now see that her most formidable antagonists, for so we are now coming to have the honour to be, are coldly, scientifically, and systematically arranging their national life for the one supreme business in hand. That will dishearten Germany and her leaders far more than anything else we can do or say, however optimistic or enthusiastic. It will dishearten them more than anything we can do, apart from actual victories in the field.
I take the question of food supply and food prices as an example of the need of getting on to a sound permanent basis, having regard to the fact that we must count on a prolongation of the War, and I say to the Government: Why do you not put the question of food prices beldly on to a war basis? The First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Harcourt), who acted as President of the beard of Trade in the absence of the President through needs of health, gave an answer to the right h-on. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) last week, in regard to food prices, which gathers together in a single line of figures a most striking and formidable series of facts. He showed a steady and unbroken rise in prices from the beginning of the War down to the close of the last recorded month, July. In September, 1914, he said, the rise was 11 per cent.; from that it rose to 37 per cent, in September, 1915; and it rose from 36 per cent, last August to 65 per cent, in the currency of the last completed month, July. Those figures raise very grave and urgent considerations, and we should be doing less than our duty if we did not take the opportunity, the last opportunity that will present itself for a long time, provided by the Debate on the Adjournment, to press their significance upon the Government.
Why has this steady rise been allowed to continue absolutely unchecked by Government action? There is no doubt whatever that the tendency has undergone no 2509 abatement or fluctuation in response to any measure which the Government during this long period have found it possible to take. Does anybody suppose that a rise in the price of food like that can give us a sure foundation for the waging of war, however long, until victory is secured? Can anyone, looking at this line of figures, pretend that the problem has been grappled with manfully or effectively, or even that it has been faced? Are we not proceeding in regard to the supply of food in exactly the same way that brought us to disaster in regard to the supply of munitions, and later on in regard to the provision of men, namely, putting off drastic treatment of the problem in the hope that the War will finish before it is necessary to abandon our dearly cherished, go-as-you-please, old-fashioned methods? That? is the question which I ask the House and the Government this afternoon, and I say that you cannot allow these food prices to continue to rise in this way without affecting materially and very definitely your war-making capacity, and also the temper of the people upon which that war-making capacity is founded. It is not that the people of this country will not stand privation. They will endure any suffering and any privation to win the War, but they will not stand privations side by side with enormous profits made by private persons, and they will not stand them unless they believe and feel that everything humanly possible is being done to relieve them to the utmost.
I am not able with the resources at my disposal, I say quite frankly, to analyse this volume of the rise in prices into the various causes to which it is due, and I am not able to show—I have no doubt that it will not be a difficult task for the President of the. beard of Trade—or to form any accurate estimate of the proportion of the rise which is due to natural and to irremediable causes or military causes, and of the proportion which is due to artificial causes which are to be controlled, but I do not believe that the natural causes are the real or even the main explanation. The seas are free; the food production of the world outside Europe is practically unchecked; the resources of our own soil are very considerable, and have been to some extent increased, and are capable of much greater increase. I do not believe that natural and military causes by any means account for the rise, but that a very large proportion of the 2510 rise is due to extortionate profits made, not by persons outside our jurisdiction, but by persons who are within the control and authority of the State. Take, for instance, shipping. The movement of freights to their present height is an absolute scandal. Here, at any rate, is a vital factor in the fixing of prices. It is under your entire control. What nonsense it is to pretend, if you could organise the supply of munitions, with its infinite complications involving every industry and reaction between so many different industries, as has been done and done successfully, that you cannot also regulate freights and shipping, The services of transport and communication stand on an entirely different footing from all services of manufacture. They are more suitable for State control on every ground and for every reason, and they have always been treated as more suitable for State control. If you can take over armament works, you can take over shipping. There is no reason at all why shipping should make special profits out of the War. They have no more right to make special profits out of this War than the railways, and there is no more reason in principle, apart from certain difficulties in practice, why they should not be taken over than there was against taking over the railways, which operation has been one of the most successful steps that the Government have taken in the domestic field since the commencement of the War. Where there is extraordinary service in time of war there may be a claim for extra profits. Where you expect special initiative and exertion, and where you require great, new, individual enterprise, a case may be made out, and a necessity may be shown for a higher rate of reward, but nothing of that sort is present with regard to shipping. It is a service of transportation. The ships go to sea almost as usual; the war risk is covered by a moderate insurance, which naturally finds expression in freights. All that has to be done, all the new effort required by the situation so far as the shipowners are concerned, is the effort of fixing freights by a stroke of the pen; yet, while we take over and regulate with the utmost minuteness, and in some cases with great celerity, all those businesses which are required for munitions, changing their whole character, altering their whole method—while we do that with these 2511 businesses where special exertions are required from their owners and great efforts by their staff in the organisation of great changes in their plants—while we take over all those complex businesses we continue to allow the shipping interest to exact an enormous toll, simply for carrying on their business in the old way. I am speaking of the main movement of freights; and that is the fact as it presents itself to-day.
Very extraordinary conclusions may be drawn from it. The British Admiralty are blockading Germany, and the success of their blockade is largely measured by the movement of prices, but owing to the uncontrolled rise in freights there has grown up—unconsciously, of course—a virtual blockade of this country by the shipping interests, which blockade is again represented, and accurately represented, by the movement and elevation of prices. The British Navy, when they blockade Germany, do so by long and perilous vigil on the seas, but the movement of prices which is due to shipping freights is effected simply by a stroke of the pen in the offices of persons living in this country. Not merely do our people lose a great part of the relief which our Navy has won for them, but we actually suffer at the hands of our own citizens—unintentionally, I admit, and unconsciously, I believe; but the fact remains, we are actually suffering at the hands of our own citizens the evil of a blockade which no foreign enemy could put upon us. Of course, shipowners are just as good citizens as other classes in the country, and the fault does not lie with them. When there is no effective regulation and matters are left entirely to price movements, you must expect these results. In the absence of all other forms of regulations this is probably the only method by which the necessary competition of purchasers and consumers can be adjusted, but it is a wrong to the country—it is a wrong to the ship-owning class that they should be left in this position. The natural operation of the market and the whole conditions are bound to create a situation which forces up freights, and that in turn reflects itself in the condition of prices at home. I say to the Government, as I used to say to them very often in bygone days, "You ought without delay to take over the control of the shipping industry."
2512 At the beginning of the War the Admiralty were inundated by telegrams and letters from many shipowners asking to have their ships chartered by the Government. The Admiralty rate is a fair rate; it is a thrifty rate, but it is fair. It allows a fair return on capital and for working expenses, and the shipowners were quite content with it then. They were quite satisfied with the prospect of those rates, and the security which Government employment afforded them, having regard to all the then unknown possibilities of naval war. There is no reason at all why they should not be contented with that rate now. There is nothing in the service they are rendering, in the special exertions required from them, in the special aptitudes which they are called upon to display, which should render them dissatisfied now with rates which they would have jumped at in the first three or four weeks of the War, with the security attaching to those rates. I am not going to go into detail, though no doubt an answer will be given of a detailed character. I have in former times entered considerably into detail on this matter from the Government point of view, and I say there is no reason whatever why you should not charter every ship at Admiralty rates and then recharter it to the owner under such conditions as the interest of the State may require. Nothing would make me believe there is any insuperable difficulty in that if the beard of Trade would tackle the job in earnest with the skill and power that they have shown in dealing with other matters. This question should be approached in the spirit which has been brought to bear upon the regulation of the manufacture of munitions, and in the spirit with which great industries like the armament firms on the Clyde and the Tyne have been transformed. If this business of shipping were approached in a similar earnest and resolute spirit there is no reason whatever why it should not be satisfactorily settled. Of course, it is rather more difficult than the railways, but it is incomparably less difficult than what you have done in the case of munition factories.
I know of two arguments which have been used against it, apart from the many arguments about the difficulties of detail which I do not at all underrate, but which I believe you can successfully override. But there are two arguments against it. The first which I have heard used is: "We need taxation; we need every penny we 2513 can get for revenue; and shipowners are making immense profits, and by the Excess Profits Tax the State gets 60 per cent, of those profits." The second argument is: "Admitting they are making high profits, is it not a good thing for this great and important industry to have in hand a capital reserve at the end of the War? "I consider both these arguments are wholly vicious and illegitimate from the point of view of State policy. First of all, if it is a system of taxation that we are invited to contemplate when we look at shipping freights, I say you could not possibly have a greater evil or a worse system of taxation than to use one great interest as if they were the farmers of the revenue and let them collect the revenue with a large percentage of profits for themselves from the taxation of food and the necessaries of life. That is a proposition which really seems to combine within itself all the vices which a system of taxation, according to the views which have long prevailed in this country, can possibly involve. If it is a question of accumulating a reserve of capital for the shipping industry after the War, then I say that is not an argument which can be advanced in a democratic country. This emergency and the general stress and strain which the masses of the people are subjected to in time of war should not be used as a means to accumulate a capital fund in private hands to be used by them at the end of the War for their own benefit. They have always, hitherto, succeeded in keeping, at the end of a victorious war—as we all hope this will be—succeeded in keeping against the greatest possible competition and without any adventitious aid their position. Such an argument is wholly illegitimate. But there is another argument whose validity deserves very close examination. It is said that there is need to restrict consumption, particularly consumption of imports, and that, with high prices ruling, that object is in a certain measure achieved.
If it be necessary, as I think it is necessary, to restrict within limits the consumption of imported staple foods, you could not do it in a more cruel or more unfair way than by the agency of price, because in regard to food, as everyone knows, the poorest class suffers out of all proportion to any other class. The housekeeping, not only of the rich, but even of the well-to-do—going a long way down the scale of economic well-being—the housekeeping of the rich and of the well-to-do is not 2514 materially affected by a price which would simply starve the poorest classes out of existence. The classes which are affected by the rises which have taken place and are continually taking place in the price of foodstuffs are soldiers' wives on separation allowance, the discharged wounded with their weekly allowance of 20s. if married and 10s. if single, the old age pensioners whose cases have been brought repeatedly before us, the professional classes, the poorer-paid industrial workers and clerks—all these classes are being seriously affected, but the case of no class compares for one moment with that of the poorest class, because there is a limit below which it is not possible, with the strictest economy in the home, however miserable, to maintain life. Therefore I say that to begin to restrict consumption, which it may be necessary to do, merely through the agency of price, through the agency of unregulated, fortuitous rises of price, is the most cruel and the most unfair manner of dealing with a great national and economic problem. In time of war particularly you should have regard for the broad claims of social justice. A war with all its evils should at least be a great equaliser in these matters. If we are to look upon the whole nation as an army, on our men and women as an army struggling for a common purpose, then they are all entitled to their rations and to secure the necessary supplies at prices which their strenuous labour is not incapable of meeting. The restriction of consumption could be achieved if it is required, and as it is required, by the direct regulation of consumption. I quite agree you cannot avoid privation; you ought not to avoid it altogether. I do not for a moment take the view that if there is a rise in prices wages should instantly conform to it in time of war, or that everything should go on just the same, and that freights should be just the same as if there was no war. There must be privations, and there must be thrift and economy in every class except the poorest class, which cannot be expected to make any diminution.
I say that the Government ought to keep steadily in mind two objects: First, the regulation of oversea supplies according to what, for the national finances, we are able to afford—that is the first; and, secondly, the distribution of whatever food is brought into the market at a reasonable and a moderate price to all classes. I am 2515 not again going to plunge into the constructive detail of problems of this kind. A private Member always gets into impossible difficulties if he attempts to plunge into these great detailed problems which can only be handled by the Government; but if it be desired, as it is desired, to restrict importation from oversea, and to keep consumption in this country to the narrowest limits compatible with the development of maximum physical efficiency, then I say that bread and meat tickets, or the institution of so many meatless days in each week, or both these methods combined, is the proper path along which you should advance; it is infinitely preferable to and will entail incomparably less hardship and disadvantage than this unregulated use of the agency of price. In regard to coping with prices, freights are, as I have said, the chief and prime factor which should be dealt with. The spirit of the people continues always to surprise everyone who has witnessed the growing severity of this great War. The dauntless spirit, the dogged spirit with which every hardship is cheerfully borne and every sacrifice and every loss is sustained gives us all a confidence that there is no difficulty and no privation which this people here cannot go through to carry our cause and our flag to victory. On the other hand, the people of this country do require to know that the sacrifices and sufferings they endure arise solely from the needs of the War and of the action against the enemy and that they are not added to by any lack of grip and energy in dealing with the freight problems here or by the accumulation of extortionate profits in the hands of private individuals.
I trust that the Government will be able to make some statement on this serious argument which, I hope at not undue length, I have ventured to address to it. Before I sit down there are two matters which also require to be considered from the point of view of a prolonged war. On one of these I have already frequently addressed the House, therefore I shall only put a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War upon it—I mean the use made of our man-power by the War Office. Before we get to the War Office let me say one word on the work of the tribunals. Most wonderful and admirable has been the work of the tribunals all over the country. That such an organisation could have been brought so swiftly into being, that they should have dealt 2516 with a vast number of cases and the immense complexity of the cases they have had to face is really one of those facts which show that you can dc anything in this country if you have the will and the intention to do it. It should be possible for the tribunals to be given a little more co-ordinating guidance from on high, from the centre and the head of the State—I am not thinking of anything higher—in regard to the classification of the cases with which they have to deal. At first the one object was to call them into being and to handle the great volume of cases which required attention. But gradually we have got our heads above water in that respect, and it ought to be possible to introduce a greater systematisation and co-ordination between the work of the different tribunals. The point with which I am chiefly concerned is the use made of the men after they have been handed over to the War Office. I know the immense and multifarious labours of my right hon. Friend at the present time, but I do assure him that there is an enormous field for administrative advance and improvement in this respect. I shall not trouble the House with them, but I have here a number of letters selected out of hundreds which have reached me, which show as in a series of tableaux the kind of typical cases of hardship and the misdirection of energy which are occurring at the present time. There is the case of the war-broken soldier, recovered two or three times from wounds and sent out to the front with his nerves shattered. There is the case of the man who has spent fifteen or eighteen months in the trenches, who writes home and says:Is there any future for the British soldier but to remain here in the front line until he is either killed or wounded?There is the case of a man who is taken from managing a business; employing 1,200 or 1,300 men, which owes its existence entirely to his own personal contribution, and who becomes a private in the Mechanical Transport Corps. There is the case of the Army Service Corps and the messes in this country, some of them employing twenty, thirty, or more able-bodied men in the service of the mess, whose duties could be discharged by these tired-out, war-broken soldiers who come back from the front. Side by side with these you get the passionate demands of a very large number of single young men of the highest military efficiency who enlisted and volunteered at the beginning of the War, who 2517 are clamouring to be allowed to go out and do their share at the front, but who have been kept here all the time. There was one case brought to my notice of an Army schoolmaster who was recommended for a commission as an officer and who volunteered to go as a private rather than remain in a position in which he was giving instruction to a number of small boys, but who was not allowed to go. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend, with his great authority, power, and energy, examines the whole question of the employment of individuals from the point of view of getting the utmost possible service out of them and to yield war energy to the State, he will render an immense service to the country. The Army will be represented by stronger and more efficient battalions, and the sense of waste and mismanagement which must arise when so many of these cases are brought to the notice of large numbers of people throughout the country, will be utterly excluded from their area.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer before I sit down. If we are bound to consider that the War will be a prolonged one, and if we ought to approach all problems on that basis, on such a basis that if it were a short one and, perhaps, the end came unexpectedly, so that it would be wonderful and something upon which we had not counted but which came with all the more satisfaction to us—if we are to proceed on the basis that the War is going to be a long one, I say that the equipment of Russia with munitions of all kinds is almost the most important measure which is open to us to take. The great frontier in the East, extending over so many hundreds of miles, is the first that will crack when those nippers of which my right hon. Friend spoke lately bring their full pressure to bear. The manning of that enormous frontier against the repeated attacks of the inexhaustible armies which Russia can develop and bring into the field is the one insoluble problem which confronts the German General Staff at the present time. In view of the hopes which may legitimately be entertained that the Austrian demoralisation will be progressive and continuous, the difficulty of maintaining the Eastern front will be increasingly felt throughout the whole German military organisation in the near future. That all depends upon the supply of munitions you can secure for Russia. I know that the Government have made great exertions in that respect, and that 2518 the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made great exertions in that respect, but I do beseech and implore them not to allow financial considerations to stand in the way of meeting the needs of Russia in every possible manner. Order the necessary supplies where your credit enables you to order them, and the means of paying for them will be found when the time comes. After all, what is £50,000,000 or £100,000,000 in a matter of this kind? At £5,000,000 a day, it is a fortnight or three weeks of the War. If you shorten the War, as you might easily do by many months if the Russian Army has reached its fullest possible development of strength and power and the whole front is smashed as if by a gathering deluge, then you will relieve your finances from dangers and perils vastly greater than any that can possibly threaten them by any ordering of supplies, however ambitious, at the present time. I put these points before the House, and I trust that they may receive the attention of the Government. Ministers are often offended with discussions which take place in this House. They are vexed when they are criticised.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman supports all evils with a tranquil mind, but some of his colleagues are vexed when they are criticised. The slightest opposition renders them indignant, and they are always ready to attribute mean motives to those concerned in it. The remedy for all this is in the hands of the Government. Let the Government show that they do not merely hold the offices of State, but that they hold the key to the solutions of the difficulties with which they are confronted; that they do not need to be pushed by the House of Commons and by the Press into action on so many occasions, but that they can go forward spontaneously with good and well-thought-out arrangements; that they are really the leaders of the country in its hour of peril, not because they are willing to go in front of the country, but because they are willing to show the country the way in which it should go for its safety. If that attitude and characteristic were to be developed and displayed by the Government, then, when they return from their holidays, which we all hope they will enjoy and get benefit from, they will certainly find no difficulties in the House of Commons and there will be no diminution 2519 of that wonderful loyalty with which the House of Commons has supported them through all the hazards of this time of war.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The main part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was devoted to the question of food prices and shipping freights. I confess I listened to his observations on these matters with the keenest interest, not unmixed with a considerable amount of wonder. I am still perplexed as to the reason for the right hon. Gentleman's newly-born interest in this question.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The War has been going on for more than two years, and I believe I am correct in saying that this is the first time the right hon. Gentleman has spoken in this House upon the question of the rise in prices. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government for the first twelve months of the War. What did he do as a member of the Government to deal with the question of the rise in shipping freights?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have said nothing to-day that I have not repeatedly said at the time I was in the Government.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that when he was a member of the Government he made a speech similar to the speech he has made this afternoon? Does he say that during the time he was a Minister he ever raised his voice in this House on the question of the rise in prices?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The right hon. Gentleman in the earlier part of his speech was rather severe in his criticism of the Government for their inactivity on this question, but he must take some share, at any rate, of the responsibility they must have in this matter. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's observations, because this is not a new question to some of us. Ever since the War began, and for long years before the War broke out, we on these benches were urging the importance of this question. Prices had been rising for fifteen years before the outbreak of the War. There has been an aggravation of tendencies which were previously at work during the last few years. I wonder what is the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman's attitude upon this 2520 question. We, by our propaganda in the House and in the country, have made this a popular question, and it has now become so popular that it pays politicians to begin to take an interest in it. Repeatedly during the first twelve months of the War we from these benches urged the Government to do something. We met with no response. Repeatedly, with a great deal more knowledge than the right hon. Gentleman has manifested this afternoon, we have put forward those demands which he has now stated. In the early days of the War we asked that the Government should take over the shipping of the country, and we were met with precisely the same objections that the right hon. Gentleman was in the habit of throwing at Socialist proposals. I wonder if he knows that the proposal he made this afternoon is a plank in the Socialist platform. For years the Liberal Publication Department was circulating a speech of the right hon. Gentleman, "An attack upon Socialism," showing the impossibility and impracticability of Socialism, proving how unwise it was to trust the State with anything, and talking about the incompetence of the State. The War has, indeed, made many changes, but surely it has wrought no greater miracle than to convert, the antagonists of Socialism into the protagonists of Socialism. But there are two sorts of Socialism, The "Times" had a remarkable leaderette a week or two ago, which stated that we must have a great deal of Socialism after the war. It; said, for instance, that it was inconceivable that the railways should ever pass again under private control. But the kind of Socialism we are to have, it went on to say, was a Socialism which must come from the top and not from the bottom. That is to say, it is a Socialism which is to be imposed upon the; people and not brought about by the people themselves. It is a Socialism which is; to be an aid to capitalism and not a Socialism for the benefit of the people. And that is the kind of Socialism to which the right hon. Gentleman has become a convert.
I turn from the right hon. Gentleman's speech to deal with the topic which was the purpose of my rising. I want to call attention to a very grave? and urgent matter, namely, the passing into the Army of men who are physically quite unfit. This is not the first occasion upon which this question has been raised. Other Members, as well as myself, have repeatedly, both by question and in Debate, 2521 called the attention of the War Office to this serious matter and we have not been alone in directing attention to it. For months past the scandal has been so grave that even tribunals throughout the country have been compelled to protest against the practice. The Deputy-Chairman of this House, who presides over one of the military service tribunals upstairs, has more than once denounced the way in which the Medical beard and the military doctors are passing men into the Army who are physically totally unfit. Speaking in March last of men who had provided themselves with evidence of unfitness, he said:They have submitted themselves to medical examination again and have been passed—for general service some of them—some with the remark that they may be of use as non-combatants—I presume that means clerical work at a military office. Mr. Maclean went on to point out what a wasteful policy this was and that it was not using the man-power of the State, to use the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill), in the most economical way. Each soldier, he went on, cost something like £300 a year.We do not desire for one moment to be associated with the ignorant outcry which is directed against the War Office in many respects. We realise fully what a tremendous undertaking is theirs, with millions of men flung at them and with a limited and depleted medical service at their disposal, but we do think that, with the evidence put before us, this matter should, in the interests of the State, be promptly and effectively grappled with.Mr. Maclean's protest had no effect, and he had occasion to call attention to the matter a month later in even stronger terms. He had before him a retired Civil servant who was actually in receipt of a pension because of his physical disability. This man was claimed by the military authorities. He had been passed by the medical military authorities as physically fit, and the chairman of the tribunal said:This is another example of the way the Army medical examinations are conducted. In the interests of public economy we say this man should not be subjected to further medical examination. We shall forthwith exempt him.Mr. Maclean has not been alone among chairmen of tribunals in calling attention to this grave public scandal. We have another Member of this House who is a chairman of an important Appeal Tribunal: I mean the hon. Member (Mr. Nield). He has repeatedly called attention to this scandal in the chair of the tribunal. Repeatedly he has threatened to report cases to the War Office. The most notorious of all the depots in the 2522 country for the examination of recruits is Mill Hill. Only a day or two ago a case was reported in the newspapers where a man had tried to enlist ten times. He had been rejected ten times, and finally he was told if he went to Mill Hill he would be passed. He went to Mill Hill and was passed. Only two nights ago a man called at my house. He had appealed to the local tribunal on grounds of physical incapacity. He was a poor, miserable, physical wreck to look at, his hand was crippled, and his fingers were drawn. He was thirty-seven years of age and weighed 7 St. 5½ 1b. He had been sent to the military depot at Mill Hill. He was never asked to strip. The doctor examined his finger and said, "You have had a bad thing there some time," and with that examination he was passed for garrison duty abroad. Sir Frederick Milner has repeatedly called attention to this scandal, and has given some very glaring cases which have come under his own observation. I recently had a letter from a man in the Army who is attached to the Somersets, and this is what he said:They are still sending Somersets here. Hundreds came in during the week. It is a crying shame. The men they are sending now ought never to have donned the uniform. One fellow they brought in yesterday they had to carry from the station. He could not walk. There are heaps of consumptives here, fellows with a tile loose, men with short legs, men with weak backs, and men with other various complaints. Most of these men will be fit for nothing, and it is only an expense for the country keeping them here.This sort of thing is not confined to one part of the country only. I could produce evidence, if time permitted, from all over the country showing that the examining medical officers of the Army are passing unfit men everywhere. I have here three cases from Lancaster and in every case, if necessary, I could give the name and address of the person concerned. A certain man who lives in Victoria Avenue, Lancaster, was passed for the Welsh Fusiliers. He had a deformed foot. He was discharged within three weeks. Another man was informed that he had a strained heart and would most likely never be required. He was called up in the Welsh Fusiliers. A third man also had a diseased heart, and within a fortnight of being called up he was in a hospital suffering from pneumonia. There was a case in Accrington, which is close to my Constituency, of a man who was very well known in the town. For nine years he had not worked, except very occasionally. He had to winter at Torquay. He had only been out of doors five times in six months 2523 when he received a notice calling him up for military service. His friends went to the recruiting officer, who knew the man, but they were told he must report. He was unable to go to Preston, which was the examining centre of the district, by train and had to be taken in a taxi-cab all the way. He was passed for Home service. Like other Members of the House, I receive letters almost every day from men who have been passed for active service, and men who are on active service, suffering from hernia or from double hernia, who have to wear trusses. I have here two extremely painful cases. This happened in my own Constituency at Whalley, in Lancashire. This man could never work. He was consumptive—born in a consumptive family. He was passed at Liverpool Barracks for the King's Liverpool Regiment. In three weeks he was dead. I have a case here from Hull of a man who was passed last April for general service, although the Medical beard was aware that he suffered from hernia and eczema in the feet, and he was then under treatment for stomach complaint. He was called up again two months later and reexamined at his own request and bullied for having dared to ask for a re-examination, and was passed again although he brought this certificate from his private medical man.The bearer of this note has been under my care for about fourteen days, suffering from gastritis, and under Dr. Morgan previous to this for about six months. He lost two stone in weight, during the last six months. Occasionally he has vomited streaks of blood. His diet at present consists wholly of Benger's Food. I may add that his father died of cancer in the stomach in April, 1915, at fifty. I am seriously concerned about this man's condition, and have advised him to take some special professional advice. Although he is young, I feel that his symptoms are grave, especially considering his family history.That was ignored by the War Office and the man was passed. Here is a case from Norwich, and I certainly must insist that the War Office will pay attention to the awful scandal that is brought to light in this document. This is of recent date. This man, on 13th July, was passed at Britannia Barracks, he is aged thirty-five. He is married and is consumptive. He had been under treatment for one year and three months. He had come out of a sanatorium, where he had been for thirteen weeks, discharged as incurable. He was unable to work. He received notice. He went to his private doctor, who said, "I suppose you will have to respond to the call, but of course it will be 2524 merely a formal matter and you will be discharged at once." He went. He was passed for Home service and sent to the 5th Middlesex Regiment. May I be allowed to read a line or two from a letter which this man has written from his regiment. He says:I was examined by two more doctors this morning, who asked me a lot of questions. They wanted to know if I had been medically examined at Norwich, and how long the doctor was doing it. One said, 'I suppose he put the stethoscope on your chest and took it:>ff again.' They were very nice to me, and said it was a disgrace for me to be passed into the Army, and they carried on and even swore about the doctor at Norwich, and I should not be surprised if he did not hear further about this.I should be very much surprised if the doctor did hear further about it. I want to trouble the House with only one further case.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Have any of these cases been brought to the attention of the War Office? This is the first time I have heard of them.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think when he has heard the case he will agree that it is a sufficient answer, because it is a case which I submitted to the War Office. It relates to Horace Pile, of Chichester. He was well known in the district as a consumptive, but to the surprise of everybody he was passed. In just over three weeks from the date he was passed he was dead. I raised the case by question in this House. The late Under-Secretary for War promised to make inquiry and he did so. Some time later I received the following reply, signed by H. J. Tennant. I may say that it took him five weeks to make the inquiries.You will recollect asking a question in the House on the 2nd of last month with reference to the case of the late Private H. Pile, of the 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. I have had inquiries made, and I find that there seems little doubt that the medical officer who examined this man overlooked signs of old-standing phthisis. It is, however, within the bounds of possibility that the old lesions had healed when the man was examined at Chichester, and that the attack from which he died was a recrudescence or tubercle of the lungs of the acute pneumonic form, which undoubtedly might show all the signs of a frank, acute lobar pneumonia. I need hardly say how much I regret that this man should have been passed for service.I am told by people who knew this man well that it did not require a doctor to see 2525 that he was suffering from consumption. Any man must know that the moment he set eyes upon the man. The letter of the War Office admits a good deal, and in that respect it is quite an exception among communications from the War Office replying to complaints. It admits that the medical officer was quite incompetent, in that he had passed for the Army as fit for service a man in a state like that, but the letter does not go on to say what action the War Office has taken. It is extremely probable that that medical officer is still sending men to their death. I want to know what action was taken.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I want to get at the facts. This case does not really answer the question which I put. Two or three cases which on the face of them are very bad cases have been quoted by the hon. Member, and I ask him whether the attention of the War Office has been called to them. His answer is to draw attention to a third case, in which the man has died. In other cases the men are still alive.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Some cases were referred to in which the men are alive. I understood that the man with gastritis and the man who has got tuberculosis and who went into the Middlesex Regiment are alive. Has the attention of the War Office been called to these cases?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The attention of the War Office has been called to some of the cases I have mentioned.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I want the facts of each cape, and the names of the persons concerned There is nothing here to give me the slightest clue as to who the persons are. If the facts are given to me, of course I shall inquire into them.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I gave a name to the right hon. Gentleman just now. I told him that I have the names and addresses of all these persons and am perfectly willing to give them to him.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
If the right hon. Gentleman had the time to look through the questions put in this House during the last six months he would see that I have brought many cases forward. Two of the cases I have already mentioned in Debate, but no action appears to have been taken. It would be quite impossible for me, having to do all my own work myself, to 2526 bring to the attention of the War Office every case that is brought to my notice. I have not the time to do it. I should require a number of secretaries to do it. The Financial Secretary to the War Office knows quite well how many letters he gets from myself and other private Members. Our hands are full. In mentioning these cases, I want to point out that this sort of thing is going on all over the country. The "Daily News" for some days now has been calling attention to these matters, and publishing instances of men who have been passed into the Army totally unfit. I will give the right hon. Gentleman another case. I had a lad in my own Constituency whose eyesight was so bad that if he put his glasses down on the table he could not find them again except by groping. I had a long correspondence with the late Under-Secretary of State for War about this case, and finally it was decided in this way: The Under-Secretary told me that he had had a special examination of the lad by Army oculists, and that they had come to the conclusion that if he had three pairs of glasses he would be fit for active service. As such letters usually are, the letter was typed, but the late Under-Secretary had evidently read the letter and had come to the conclusion that it was capable of a very foolish interpretation, and he wrote in his own handwriting at the bottom these words: "I do not mean that he is to wear three pairs of glasses at the same time." That lad is now in France. With any pair of glasses his condition is such that if the glasses get dim he cannot see. The reason why he has been provided with three pairs of glasses is that he may change them occasionally—that is to say, that when a German is about to attack him he must ask the German to kindly wait until he has changed his glasses. Only this morning I had a letter from my own native place from a man who writes to tell me of a friend of his who this week has been passed for service. He is totally blind in one eye, and his vision on the other eye is three-sixteenths abnormal. With glasses that man cannot distinguish an object three yards away.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Many of these men are passed for Home service; many of them are passed for sedentary work. It is most important that our National Reserves should be utilised in the most economical 2527 way. I will tell the House what the War Office are doing. They are taking university men, and men occupying important business positions, who are really doing useful work, and although these men are not fit for general service—at the very best they are only fit for garrison duty at home—they are taking them away from useful work, and the State is maintaining them in that practically useless position. What is the reason for this? I think I have the explanation. I put a question to the Secretary of State for War yesterday, which he answered, asking if he would give the figures of the number of men who had been recruited under the two Military Service Acts? He refused to do that. He said it was not desirable that this information should be conveyed to the enemy. I could have understood that if there had been no precedent for such a thing, but when the Government wanted a reason, or, at any rate, an excuse, for imposing compulsory military service, they did not hesitate to publish figures then of the number of recruits which had been secured during the preceding few months. They gave those figures to the world, and it was upon the strength of those figures that they secured their two Military Service Acts. The simple fact of the matter is that the Military Service Acts were obtained by fraud and deceit. The shirkers, married and single, were never there. The last six months have proved that to be the case, and all the recruiting officers throughout the country are now being instructed to rake in every possible man in order to get as large a number as possible. It was stated in the newspapers yesterday that instructions had been sent to the various recruiting officers to get every possible man, and the tribunals have been told the same. There is the one-man-business man whose case was promised sympathetic consideration when the last Bill was before the House. Thousands of men have been ruined throughout the length and breadth of the land, and I have had numerable letters from men who have had to leave their businesses for garrison duty at home simply for the purpose of getting numbers and not to add to the efficiency of the Army.
I see the representative of the beard of Agriculture on the Front Bench. He knows quite well that men are being taken from farm work who ought to be left at farm work. I submitted to him last week the case of a man who had been taken from a? 2528 farm in Cornwall. The cows were left un-milked and the hay waiting to be got in, and nobody to do it, and yet at the same time the War Office are offering 27,000 soldiers to go to do farm work. They are offering the help of untrained, unskilled soldiers to do farm work, and at the same time they are taking away trained and qualified men from the farms. Is that national economy? Is that adding to national efficiency? I assure the Secretary of State for War that the matter I have brought to his attention this afternoon is causing a great deal of concern in the country. From one point of view it is perhaps not to be regretted, because the administration of the Military Service Act is causing so much dissatisfaction in the country that those who want to see this institution made permanent after the War will, I think, find considerable difficulty in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman has already intimated that he will be prepared to consider particular cases that may be submitted to him. He ought to realise that it is an utter impossibility for a Member of Parliament to submit every case. What we want is some general plan by the War Office which will prevent any of these cases arising. One thing I would suggest is that in such a case as the case I cited of the consumptive who was passed and who died in three weeks' time, an example should be made of the medical officer who was guilty of such a dereliction of duty. If there were a few examples like that they would have very salutary effects.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
The speech to which we have just listened is a very valuable one from the point of view of the administration of the Military Service Act. I think that we could probably have that Act administered with a great deal more sympathy and intelligence? if there were set up some sort of Committee of this House before whom these cases could be brought. After all, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), when he is not making a party point against other Members of this House by accusing them of popularity hunting, gets sent to him a large number of these cases. People naturally come to him about them, and I believe that he is honestly anxious to have them put right. Therefore, with good feeling on both sides, good feeling on the part of the War Office—which certainly exists at the present time—and good feeling on the part of Members of this House, it might be possible to set up a satisfactory organisation 2529 which would be able to co-operate with the War Office in administering what is necessarily, in view of its hurried adoption and the difficult circumstances in which it is being carried out, an Act of great difficulty, involving great hardships if it is not thoroughly looked after. I might, in passing, refer to the case of the passive resister which was brought up the other day. I brought it to the notice of the War Office, and I received, I think obvious proof of the genuine anxiety of the Financial Secretary to have the case inquired into and put right, and I think I carried with me the entire House on this point. Of course, the inquiry was not satisfactory. I will not go into that now; it was not the fault of the Financial Secretary. It was simply because there was no Committee of this House which would look into these things, and which could visit the War Office, see the officials concerned, take part in inquiries, and genuinely co-operate in the helpful administration of an Act which happens to be necessary at the present time.
That is only one point in the purview of the War to which I want to refer. I thought the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) was extraordinarily useful from this point of view: It brought before the House the real necessity and the reason for not being? carried away by headlines and laudatory paragraphs into thinking that this War is going to be over this year, or that it is merely a question of a few months before we shall be back in normal times. If that is so, so much the better; but for goodness sake let us make our plans now as if the War were going on for a couple of years, for in our organisation we have got to lay our plans so that we shall not be living from hand-to-mouth any longer. The question of Treasury Bills as compared with loans was dealt with the other day. The question of recruiting black troops I have already brought up several times. There is also the question of a reserve of men. There are other questions as well. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee raised the question of food? prices and shipping freights. I have not gone into the question of shipping freights, but it does seem to me, primâ facie, that good solid arguments? can be brought forward in support of the shipping being taken over, because so much of the shipping has been taken over already. A lot has been chartered by the Admiralty. Some shipowners have lost a 2530 lot of their ships, and other shipowners, more lucky, have not lost their ships. Primâ facie, in the interests of fair dealing between shipowners and shipowners, some sort of uniform treatment would be advisable. More than that, even though the ships be taken over by the State and run by the State, or leased out to companies, it is quite possible that this may not have an effect on food prices, but at any rate the people who are paying these prices will feel that they are being treated honestly and fairly by the Government. They would have confidence that they were not being robbed for the benefit of private firms. And in a war like this people will undergo a great deal of hardship. They do not mind so much the hardship; what they do resent is the sense of injustice in being made to pay more because some private firms are taking more than their fair share of the public wealth. Therefore I think there are good arguments to be brought forward in support of the suggestion in favour of the nationalisation of the shipping.
Another question on which I want to say a word is the waste of bread. Everybody here knows perfectly well that there is a considerable amount of waste day by day, on the part of hundreds of thousands of people in this country, while at the other end of the scale there are people paying 10d. and 1s. a loaf and definitely suffering because of the shortage of bread. That also gives rise to a strong sense of injustice in the breasts of the people who are really being victimised. Everybody knows that we have got to curtail supplies, and cut down the demand. Everybody knows that every ton which we save on imports from America helps us to carry on this War satisfactorily. I do say that in those circumstances we ought to check imports and we ought to check consumption as much as we can. At the same time we ought to have fair, honest dealing between man and man, and the poor ought not to suffer unnecessarily in this matter as compared with the rich. This is an extremely strong argument in favour of bread tickets and meat tickets if the Government are capable of arranging them fairly. We have not, thank goodness, the bureaucratic organisation of Germany, but I believe that in this matter Englishmen, are able to think out ways and means and lay their plans just as those of the Germans were thought out, and that we ought 2531 to be able to institute some fair system of economising our food supplies every bit as well as it is done in Germany.
While I say that it is necessary to organise this country as if we were to have some years more of War, yet even more important is it to my mind to organise the Empire. In this country we have a very lively appreciation of the War. It is before us every day. All our plans are modified by, and all our thoughts are centred in the War. But if you go to outlying parts of the Empire you do not find that at all. You find that the War is very far away, and the impression you get is that many of these countries are not merely affected by the War, but are adopting an air of benevolent neutrality towards the War. They have not got the heavy taxation and the heavy prices during the War which we have got. This is not true, of course, of our self-governing Colonies, though even in the case of Canada it took some time before they appreciated that they had to bear their part of the War every bit as much as the Mother Country. But take the case of India, for instance. There you have a vast population, skilled in all the arts and trades, a country which is at present enjoying a wave of phenomenal prosperity, with companies paying 50 per cent, dividends, and all their produce fetching enormously high prices, a country which we have been accustomed to look upon as poor, enjoying the best seasons which it ever had. How have they helped the Empire? I am not speaking for a moment of the patriotism and loyalty of the Rajahs and Maharajahs, who have given such proofs in connection with ambulances and a hundred other ways of their willingness to make great sacrifice for the good of the Empire. Nor am I speaking of the Indian soldiers, who have fought so excellently in France, or in East Africa, or in Mesopotamia, particularly in Mesopotamia. Very little is known in this country of the glorious fighting of the Indian divisions in those battles on the 21st January and the 18th March, but no record in any past history of fighting by those Indian troops is equal to that of the fighting which has there taken place. It is the Indian Government that is not fully living up to this War and is not appreciating that it is its duty to take part in this War as strenuously and as self-sacrificingly as the people in this country.
Consider the question of a loan. They have not raised money where they might 2532 have raised money. Then take the matter of taxation. They have put on the shoulders of the Imperial Government the cost of all the expeditions outside India. Though we are being taxed up to 5s. in the £1, there has been little or no increase of taxation in India. Then in reference to ammunition. Eighteen month's ago this country revolutionised the production of ammunition. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War converted the whole of the industry of this country to the production of ammunition. We have in India a race of people who are excellent engineers. The place is full of engineering shops, steel and iron works and railway workshops. But what part has India itself taken in the production of ammunition? There has been no marked increase in the amount of ammunition turned out by India during those last two years. They are going on in just the same old way. No new factories have sprung up, no new machinery has been installed. There have been no new proposals for carrying on this War, upon which the whole existence of the British race depends. There is a lack of energy, a lack of initiative, about the government of these distant Dependencies which I think we ought to take in hand, so that we may inspire them with the energy of which evidence is being given in this country. As a practical immediate proposal I would strongly recommend—and I believe that in this I would have the support of most of those people who have studied the question—that the whole of the Indian Army should be put under the War Office here. We know quite well that there are drawbacks to the War Office in this country, but they are alive to the necessities of the situation, and the strain which this War is putting upon us. I believe that under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War we should see inspired from here a far more lively energy in that great Dependency than we have seen up to now. But it is not only the case of India. The Crown Colonies as a whole are going along as they used to do. There has been no additional taxation and no additional demand on their men, while they still depend for all their supplies on us, and they are not more self supporting than they were two or three years ago. The Colonial administration wants stiffening. It wants driving on, just as much as does the Government of India. We cannot contemplate carrying on this 2533 War for another two years relying solely upon Great Britain, or even solely upon Great Britain plus the Dominions—South Africa, Australia, and Canada. We have got to get the whole British Empire into line. We have got to get the assistance of each Colony, and we must have that which each can produce best—munitions from India, black troops from Africa, or foodstuffs from our Colonies. It seems to me that on an occasion such as this, when we have a long, long road before we get there, we should take advantage of such an opportunity as this to speak of these things and to see what we can do to put them on a sound footing.
I turn from that to certain minor matters in connection with the Army—minor only as regards the big strategics of the question, but of infinite importance to the officers and men themselves. The first question to which I wish to call attention is the awarding of rewards of merit. We heard, the other day, that there were 3,000 people recommended for the Military Medal. Why should there be all this waiting before conferring these Military Medals? Of these 8,000 men who were recommended for the medal before this last advance, how many of them will live to get it if they are kept waiting much longer? Every other nation engaged in this War has made arrangements whereby these medals can be given on the field, and whereby they can be given immediately after an action by the General in Command. We alone wait and wait. Probably the War Office is already overburdened with work and therefore cannot possibly deal with this matter in any reasonable space of time. From what I know of the Army I believe there would be nothing that would give more satisfaction than the award of these medals immediately after an action has taken place. There is another matter of the same sort about which we all know, and it refers to those men who have been at the front all through, who have not been soldiers before, and who came raw from the office, the workshop, or the mine. These men have received no medals, and is it not time that we should urge the War Office to award medals to men who have been at the front in the trenches for over a year. I do not see why you should not. These soldiers have been in the front line for over a year, and they ought to be able to show to the world that they have got the proudest medal any 2534 Englishman has ever worn. If you wait until the end of the War very few of them will get it. Give it to the men now. Let the men wear the ribbon, and let their families have the medal, and that will give undoubted satisfaction, except to some old women, whose prejudices have always led them to consider that the medal must be given at the end of hostilities.
I am sorry to detain the House, but these things are of enormous importance. I wish to refer to the Special Reserve officers—men who were in the Army, and left it before the War; many of them have retired as long as ten years ago. These officers of the Special Reserve if they return to the Army have to return to it in a rank junior to that which they had when they retired. A number of these officers, who have come into the Army are over forty years of age, and they have to enter as captain or lieutenant, ranks junior to that at which they had retired, and in consequence they find by their side young men who have become majors and colonels. Special Reserve officers who returned to the Army at the outbreak of the War still occupy grades as captains and lieutenants, the only alteration being that they are now forty-two years of age instead of forty. There is no promotion for the Special Reserve. Surely it ought to be easy enough to make some arrangement whereby the Special Reserve shall have promotion altogether outside the normal promotion in the regiment, or in the Artillery, so that it should not hamper or block other peoples' promotion, and yet be some sort of recompense for the two years' service given by these men who have done the finest service in the War. You must remember that they are in Regular service battalions, and that they see side by side with them young men who hold superior rank to theirs. I heard only the other day from a correspondent, who states that he was a private, and that now he was a major, and that he had only jumped one step.
Numbers of these men have been rightly and justly promoted, but what must be the feeling of the old Army man who has returned as captain or lieutenant when he sees men of infinitely less experience than himself put over his head. Therefore I would press upon the Secretary of State these three things. First, the awarding of these military medals on the field instead of waiting till the close of the War; secondly, that medals should be awarded to those who have served a year at the front in the trenches; and thirdly, that by 2535 some arrangement you should give promotion to Special Reserve officers. There are other things with which I had hopea to deal, but I have already taken up too much time of the House. I would only suggest that it is monstrous that men who have been at the front ever since the battle of Mons should not receive these medals. It is not what they suffer in having been continually at the front, but it is the bad effect their grievance has upon public opinion in the various districts from which these men come. It astonishes everybody, not because the men are suffering, but because it creates a sense of injustice, and, in times like this, all that you have got to do is not so much to avoid hardship as to give everybody the impression that no injustices will be tolerated.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I desire to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the question of posthumous honours. The present position in regard to that subject seems neither reasonable nor practical. If a man performs a particular act of gallantry and survives, he receives the award of a medal, which is handed on to his family and his successors; but if a man performs a gallant act and falls in the moment of his heroic action, nothing whatever is done. The man receives nothing, his family receive nothing, his successors receive nothing. It may seem a small thing, but I think hon. Members will agree that those who survive the man who has died under those circumstances would greatly value something which they could hand on to his successors, and which would serve as a reminder to those who come after of the way in which their son met his death. I do not say that it would take away the sting of the family's loss, but it would tend to assuage their grief to know that they would have, even if it were only a bit of ribbon or a medal, something which would commemorate forever in the family the heroic deeds by which their son had met this death. I called the attention of the former Secretary of State for War two or three times in the House, by means of questions, to this subject, and the first answer given to me was to the effect, "We have no precise record of all the acts of gallantry done in this War which deserve recognition of this sort, therefore we will give none in the future at all. We cannot give it to the dependants of men who have already lost their lives, and therefore we cannot 2536 give it to the dependants of men who may in future lose their lives, for it would be unfair to the dependants of men who had achieved distinction in the past to give it to the dependants of men who might similarly achieve it in the future." That is a most fallacious argument. One might be told, in the case of the Victoria Cross, where the system of giving posthumous awards was instituted not so long ago, that it would not be fair in future to give the Victoria Cross posthumously, because it had not always been given posthumously. That is an argument which might be advanced in objection to any reform, that you are to give no advantage to anyone in future because no one had got it in the past. Therefore, I would respectfully request the Secretary of State for War to consider this question, and see if it would not be possible for this, which I think a very necessary reform, to be carried out. I was told, in answer to one of my questions, that some generals in the field do not approve of it. On the other hand, I have spoken to distinguished generals who have come home, and they all seem to think it to be a very desirable and beneficial change to make. For my part, I can see no objections whatsoever, and I can see many advantages in the change, and I hope we shall have the Secretary for War's attention given to the subject.
There are one or two other small points to which I wish to refer briefly. The first is the question of the delay in the payment of separation and dependants' allowances. I have in my pocket correspondence regarding cases where great delay has occurred in awarding or in paying these allowances. I will not trouble the House with those cases, and probably every Member of the House has had similar cases brought to his attention. I want to ask the Secretary of State for War if he can issue to the different pay offices in the country some special direction that they shall as quickly as possible decide what the allowance is to be given by means of pensions, and that orders shall be given that the pensions shall be issued as soon as possible. The hardship upon the families and dependants of men who are away fighting when the money is not forthcoming and the separation allowance is not paid is really something intolerable. I know that at the beginning of the War the Pay Office was greatly overburdened, but I should think by now it ought to be fairly in order, and I do hope that the Secretary for War will issue some strong direction 2537 to the heads of the pay offices in the country requiring them to pay attention to this matter. Another question to which I desire to refer, and to which I call the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, has reference to new potatoes which have been sent to the troops at the front in France. The reason why I make a representation on this subject is that a number of persons in Yorkshire have sent large consignments of new potatoes to our troops in France, and they assure me that under the conditions in which the new potatoes are sent, and having regard to the character of the potatoes, in their judgment it was not possible for them to reach the troops satisfactorily. I do not expect to receive an answer at this moment on the subject, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will make inquiry, in order to see if those consignments have arrived in good condition, and, if not, that steps will be taken to see that any future consignments of potatoes shall reach the troops in proper condition.
§ 6.0 P.M.
I wish to refer to the question raised just now by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) and to call attention particularly to the action of medical boards in driving into the Army and passing as fit for service men who are totally unfit. If left in their present position these men might be useful to the country in carrying on their ordinary occupation and helping to produce the wealth to enable us to pay our debts and carry on this War, but who, by being passed by medical boards, are drafted into the Army and become a burden and a trouble to the country, to the officers, and to the whole conduct of the War. Every morning newspaper brings reports of the scandal. Here is a paragraph from a paper of yesterday, stating that the military representative pointed out that a man who had been passed for Home service was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and had an open passage from the interior of his mouth to the other ear. Such a man was totally unfit for any military service whatever. It is not to that class of case that I wish particularly to call attention to-day. There are men who are physically incapable of carrying on military duties—men by the hundreds if not by the thousands—who are being sent into the Army only to be turned out within a few days afterwards, and some of them when in the Army are put under discipline and within a few days are dead. Here is a case of a man who 2538 attested under the Derby scheme and who was called up some weeks ago. On presenting himself he was sent back for two weeks as being unfit for training, and at the expiration of that time he again presented himself and was ordered to join up on last Saturday week. On the Tuesday following he was lying in a military hospital dead. His last remark on saying good-bye was, "They will not have me long." He leaves a wife and family, and what is to be done for them? These scandals are more or less scattered all over the country, but they are concentrated in certain tribunals to an extraordinary extent.
Some of these medical boards have acquired notoriety of a very unenviable character, and perhaps prominent amongst them is the one at Mill Hill. Here is a case I take from this week's "Hornsey Journal," which circulates in the neighbourhood in which I live:The tribunal reversed the decision of the Mill Hill Medical Board in the case of a young business man who had been passed for general service. He produced a certificate from a well-known heart specialist stating that applicant was totally unfit for any form of military service.In the course of the discussion before the tribunal a remark which had been made by an hon. Member of this House, who was chairman of the Middlesex Tribunal, was repeated in which he said that Mill Hill Medical Board was the best board in the country for getting recruits. In this particular case the decision, on medical testimony of the specialist, was reversed, and the man was not sent into the Army. That kind of thing is going on all the time. How is it that these boards are so anxious to send unfit men into the Army when if they know their business they must know that they will not be a source of strength but of weakness, whose embodiment in the forces must inevitably make more difficult instead of less difficult the winning of the War? Why are they so anxious to induce men to come and be examined, men who under other circumstances would not come to them?
There is a case about which I have written to the Under-Secretary, and as I notice that he has just now received my letter I wish to ask him some questions about it. On Saturday evening a young man came to my house and gave me the following particulars. He is a young man of thirty-one years of age who attested on 11th October of last year. At that time he was in good physical health 2539 and quite prepared to join the Army. He got his armlet on the 9th December, and he was placed in Group 37. In the spring of this year he broke a blood vessel. That has had the effect of almost destroying his health, and he is now almost incapable of lifting a heavy weight or of undergoing any great physical exertion. He lives in the district which Mill Hill Medical Board serves. He is employed close to Shoreditch. On 3rd May he went to Mill Hill and was examined by the medical board. His physical condition was such that even that board certified him as medically unfit and put him back for three months. When the period had nearly expired he went to the medical board, which is close to the district in which he works, within five minutes, that is at Shoreditch Town Hall, and was examined. A certificate was at that time given to him declaring him to be totally unlit, and he was rejected as totally unfit for service in the Army. I want an explanation as to what authority there is for this. A few days afterwards he received a letter from Mill Hill Medical Board, in which they say:Please attend at this office on Monday next, 14th August, at 11 a.m., for further examination, the result of which will be final, as the three months have now expired. I understand that you went to Shoreditch on the 4th August for examination, but the final examination must take place before the medical board for the area in which you reside by War Office instructions. Please bring this letter with you.He replied to the effect that he had been examined at Shoreditch and had been rejected, and therefore did not propose to present himself for further examination. He gets a letter in reply:With regard to further examination, you are instructed to attend at this office for final examination under War Office instructions on Monday next, 21st August, at 10 a.m., and bring this letter with you.I may say that in the interval he had been to the military officer in his own district, and he informed him that the certificate of rejection which he had received was perfectly legitimate and that no medical board had any title to call him up. The officer at Mill Hill concluded his letter:You have not been correctly informed by the recruiting officer at Shoreditch on this matter.I want to know whether there is any order of the War Office which precludes a man from being examined in the district most convenient to himself and which he can visit with the least loss of 2540 time and trouble and money, and having obtained such a certificate declaring him physically unfit for service, can the board of the district in which he lives demand his attendance again for further examination? What is the explanation? Is it in the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave some little time ago to the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) that there was a fee of a half-crown for each recruit examined with a maximum of £2 per day? This point to which I have referred is one which affects a very large number. It is very important that those who are now being called up for examination should know whether they must proceed to a particular board or can be examined by the board most convenient to themselves, and if they obtain a certificate from that board if it is to apply finally or not. I have had occasion before to complain of the multiplicity of examinations to which recruits are subjected. I gave an instance once before of a young man who had been examined on four separate occasions, and had four different decisions given in his case. I think that finality ought to be reached some time, so that the men should know where they stand, because otherwise it is quite impossible for them to make suitable arrangements.
I wish to refer to the treatment, the differential treatment, meted out to a certain class of men in the Army. I refer to the question of inoculation. We gave to our soldiers certain rights from the start. I have raised this question more than once, and again and again since the outbreak of War I have been assured by Minister after Minister that inoculation is not compulsory. The very last occasion was yesterday, when the Under-Secretary said that inoculation is not compulsory, but "its benefits have now been so completely proved that a vast majority of officers and men avail themselves of the opportunity of escaping enteric fever." That is a matter of opinion which I do not wish now to enter upon. It is not a matter of fact but a matter of opinion, and when we have the figures from Gallipoli showing exactly what have been the results there I shall be more prepared to discuss the question than I am at the present moment. We had that assurance given again and again, and just before he died Lord Kitchener wrote me a letter in which he declared that the practice of inoculation was purely voluntary, and that no pressure ought to be 2541 put on men to force them to undergo that operation. I am having the most pathetic letters day after day from the wives of men, serving in different parts of the country, in France and elsewhere, complaining that their husbands, who have never been guilty of any crime and who have never had any legal punishment inflicted on them, have been denied leave for one year, for two years, and in some cases ever since the War broke out, and that the only explanation is that they have refused to undergo this process of inoculation, which they have a perfect legal right to refuse, and which they are justified in refusing on the assurance of Minister after Minister, including the late Lord Kitchener, who sent me the letter to which I have referred just before the journey which resulted in his death. I have a letter here which I wish to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. It is from the mother of one of these men, and is dated 14th August:I am writing to ask for your kind interest and help in reference to my son and another, Privates H. Hardy and G. Latham, now in India with the 2/6th Royal Sussex Regiment, and commanded by Colonel Johnson, under whose continued cruel and illegal persecution and punishment their existence is made unbearable, and I fear fatal results will be the issue unless immediate steps are taken in the matter, their only offence being their objection to inoculation.I will not read the whole of the letter, but the facts of the case are these. These two men, comrades, enlisted at an early period of the War. They refused inoculation and wore subjected to the most cruel persecution on the part of the colonel under whom they served. They had illegally been awarded punishment in the shape of imprisonment for twenty-eight days C.B. on the voyage, for refusing inoculation and for nothing else, because no other crime was committed by them. They were awarded a further fourteen days for complaining to the British Consul at Mysore. They also complained when they reached India to a general, and they were told that the sentence was illegal. These facts have been before the War Office for some time. They are not the only facts that have been before them. Again and again I have asked that these cases shall be taken up by the War Office and that when officers are proved to have acted illegally that they shall have visited on them the same kind of treatment as that which privates receive when they offend against the orders of their officers. After all, the will of an officer is not supposed to supersede the law of the land, 2542 and those who volunteer to give their lives for the sake of their country are surely entitled to claim the benefit of the law. I ask the new Minister for War if he cannot take a strong line in this matter, and see that men who, from conscientious motives, decline to give up the rights which they possess in law, and which they have been assured by Minister after Minister that they possess, shall not be punished for doing things which are perfectly legal.
There is one other matter I would like to refer to, and I will not keep the House more than two or three minutes. I want to call attention to the prosecution of a man for what I regard as no offence at all. Some time ago, many Members of this House received a circular from a young man who is a constituent of mine. It was as follows:The following letter has been received by Mrs. Beavis, of 171, Church Street, Lower Edmonton, from G. H. Stuart Beavis, her son: 'Just a line. We have been warned to-day that we are now within the War zone, and the military authorities have absolute power, and disobedience may be followed by very severe penalties, and very possibly the death penalty. So I just dropped you a line in case they do not allow me to write after tomorrow. Do not be downhearted if the worst comes to the worst. Many have died cheerfully before for a worse cause.—Stuart.' Write to the Prime Minister, Mr. Tennant, M.P.'s, and others. Beavis and other conscientious objectors were sent to France in handcuffs on 31st May, 1916. Are they to be shot? H. Runham Brown, "Fairleigh," 11, Abbey Road, Enfield, 7th June, 1916.Other conscientious objectors were sent to France, in handcuffs, on 31st May, 1916. Were they to be shot? The circular was signed by a Mr. Brown. I attended the hearing of this case. A grosser travesty of justice I never saw. The case was evidently decided in the mind of the chairman of the bench of magistrates before it had been presented, and it was perfectly evident, within five minutes of the opening, that condemnation would follow. The man was fined £50. I make no complaint of that, but I do want to ask if there is anything in this circular to justify a prosecution, and, if so, who is liable for it? Here is what is merely an attempt by a friend of a man who happens to be a conscientious objector, and who is, therefore, unpopular, to save the life of that friend. He had the impression—as his friend had the impression—that the sentence of death was meant to be carried out. We in this House know that that sentence was not intended to be carried out and that it was to be commuted, because we had the promise of Ministers that men should not be shot merely because they were conscientious objectors. Here is a perfectly 2543 simple case of a man endeavouring to save the life of his friend by merely circulating amongst a few people a copy of the letter sent by the man to his mother, and taken by the mother to the person who was prosecuted, and who was asked by her to take the case up. Yet the Government of this mighty Empire suffers from the jumps and from nervousness to such an extent that it finds it necessary to prosecute the man for doing this. He is prosecuted on the ground that his action is likely to be subversive of discipline in the Army. The circular would never have reached any soldier; it was simply sent to a few Members of Parliament and to people in the neighbourhood in which the man lived, with the object of bringing influence to bear to prevent his being shot.
Is that a dignified act on the part of the Government? Are we so nervous, have we so lost self-control, that it becomes necessary to drag into the Courts for a simple act—an act which is not only natural but honourable to the man who performs it—a man who endeavours to save the life of his friend? Are we reduced to such straits? Then, if so, I say, God help us. I think that many of the prosecutions which have taken place have been no credit whatever to us, and if we were a little less afraid of casual expressions in circulars, and if we refrained from starting a prosecution which only make the assertions more popular and more widely read and more influential in the minds of the people, we should not only be acting in a more dignified way than at present, but we should be really doing less than we are doing to make ourselves ridiculous to the eyes of the world. I have little doubt that a prosecution of that kind will bring joy to the hearts of many of our enemies. There are just three points on which I would ask for a reply: First, what is to be done to regularise the actions of the Medical Boards? Secondly, what is to be done to ensure the legal rights of men who have joined the Army on the assurance of Ministers and on the law as it stands? Thirdly, are we going to go on with these ridiculous and absurd prosecutions which make us a laughing stock?
§ Colonel NORTON GRIFFITHS
I rise to support the appeal which my hon. and learned Friend made to the Secretary of State for War in regard to posthumous honours. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give every possible consideration to that appeal, for I can assure him that 2544 if he could promise us to-day in this House that he would follow the suggestions which my hon. and learned Friend has made it would be welcomed throughout the British Army. I think the main objection is to dealing with the cases in the past. I think the past can well look after itself. If evidence is forthcoming that any gallant deeds have been done in the past, surely we need not be mean over regarding them. I think this has a more important bearing from the national point of view. The country will recognise that where gallant deeds and brave works have been done in the field and are rewarded, that this is a matter of great importance. It will increase local feeling and will set an example-to the young to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before and who have laid down their lives for their country. There is one other point on which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman's kind consideration, and that is with reference to the award of two-year medals. I know personally, and I have heard it from one end of the line to the other, that those who have completed their second year feel they might well be entitled to receive their medal now. I am sure it would be much more popular than the giving of the wounded badge. It was said, indeed, that one individual, directly he heard about the wounded badge, sat down upon a drawing pin and then found his way to the nearest casualty station, and thus became entitled to the badge. No doubt that is a stretch of imagination, but it would give great joy to the British Army if the War Office could see their way to ensure that the people serving two years should get a medal for those two years. With regard to the remark made by my hon. Friend about conscientious objectors, I will just say this. He said, "God help the country if we prosecuted in cases such as these." All I have to say is, "God help the country if we allow conscientious objectors to go on as they are going!"
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
There have been a variety of subjects discussed and suggestions made on matters referring to the Department over which I have control. First of all, there was the question raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) and what I have to say in reference to him will apply to a large extent to what was said by the hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Chancellor). Before I come to individual cases, I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind the exact 2545 conditions under which the Act was passed. Take every other case of Conscription in the world. It is a system which has been set up in time of peace, which has been in operation for two or three generations and, in some cases even longer than that, and they have had time and leisure to correct all sorts of mistakes and to find out the categories into which men should be placed. There I can understand the machine working with great perfection, but even there I do not mind saying that you will find just as many Members of Parliament who would be able to gather together and present a sheaf of grievances—probably legitimate grievances in many cases. But let hon. Members look at the conditions under which the Act was brought into operation here. It was brought into operation in the middle of a great War. You had to schedule practically the whole of the young men of this country during a few months, and to carry through in the course of a few months an operation which has taken generations to bring to anything like maturity in any other great country. It was almost inevitable that you should have a number of cases where there are anomalies, hardships and probably something which, taken alone, will look like a crying scandal. The marvel to me is in these complicated circumstances that there have been so few cases. I think I may appeal to the sense of justice of my hon. Friends below the Gangway as to whether that is not a plea which should appeal to them. The hon. Member for Blackburn gave a description of the condition of things, and suggested that the cases he cited were not isolated cases. You might have imagined that all this was wholesale.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will guarantee that the cases which he described do not accurately represent the position. He spoke as if the bulk of the battalions brought into existence under the Military Service Act contained men who were paralysed, or purblind or actually blind, or crippled—miserable, shrivelled people of 70 pounds weight, or something of that sort. Such statements would give rich reading for the enemies of this country if they were to be accepted as a description of the new British Army, but the hon. Member knows that his description does not in the least represent the actual condition of things that prevail. The men 2546 coming in now are about the best men who have come in since the beginning of the War. That is what I am informed, and. the hon. Member has only to go to the Horse Guards Parade any morning and to look at the men there who come both for parade and attestation, and who are sent on, to see that they are fine, upstanding fellows. I have no doubt there might be some amongst them who might not be quite up to the average physical standard, but in the main the new men are as good men as have been brought to the Army since the beginning of the War. Physically and mentally they are first-rate fellows. My hon. Friend must know—he ought to know now because he has devoted a good deal of attention to this—that you get two categories: you first get the men who have been passed for general service—the men who are sent to the fighting line; and then, on the other hand, you get the men not quite up to that standard, but who are useful for the subsidiary services of the Army, some of whom may be employed as clerks or in other occupations. Some may be of doubtful physical endurance, but still they may be of service; you in the first case pass such men provisionally, and then they are sifted out. Some of them, though they are not very strong men, and cannot stand the wear and tear of a campaign, can be very useful in the office in a sedentary occupation. The hon. Member has given a description of matters before there has been any sifting out. We are to take what he describes as a sample battalion of the men who are being received into our Army! All that I can say is that if the Germans make the mistake—I do not think they will—of believing what the right hon. Gentleman, says, that it represents anything like the facts of the case, they will subsequently have a very unpleasant disillusionment. If the Germans make the mistake of thinking what the right hon. Gentleman has said corresponds in the slightest degree to any of the facts of the case, and arrange their campaign accordingly, then I will say that the hon. Gentleman has rendered a real service to the War. I dare say, owing to the great pressure upon the time of those engaged in the work, that some of these candidates have been passed who ought not to have been passed. One has read of cases of the sort where men complained, of certain symptoms, but, for all that, had the material for first-class soldiers. There 2547 was one that passed under such circumstances, and very proud he was. Doctors make mistakes. They make some very regrettable mistakes.
An HON. MEMBER
The Insurance Act!
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Even under the Insurance Act they sometimes give certificates when they ought not to do so. Hon. Members must have heard of very good doctors making mistakes. They examine the chest and the constitution, and it may be that they fail to discover that there is anything wrong. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] My hon. Friend perhaps speaks feelingly. Let anyone think, and in the course of his experience, or perhaps it would be better to say, in the course of his observations he must have come across a good many cases of the kind. Professional men are not perfect. Mistakes are made even by men in hon. Members own profession. Here is a case which my hon. Friend mentioned, the case of a man in which the examiner failed to discover that there was tuberculosis. There may be many cases of the kind. I do not think the disease is easily discovered. I should have thought it was quite possible that the medical man might have passed a case of the kind, but to say that because for the time being the doctor fails to discover the presence of disease in a man who is apparently in good health that he is to be punished—that he is to be "dealt with," those are the words—I do not know what they mean—that he is to be dealt with by punishment—well, then, that will raise up champions for the doctors, who will say, "Are you really going to punish a professional man because he fails to discover a disease?" If you say that, how many doctors would survive?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not hold that to be gross professional negligence in the least—just because a man who is examining hundreds and thousands of men fails to discover a hidden and very insidious disease!
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am taking the case which has been given, and that case I only heard of from the description of it in a speech this afternoon. The doctor 2548 failed to discover it. I am not at all sure that a fairly good doctor, especially if he had a lot of work to do, might not have passed over the case of this man without discovering the disease; but to call it gross professional incapacity is a thing which, I am sure, is not deserved. An impartial medical man would, I think, come to the conclusion that it was a gross abuse of speech on the part of an hon. Member to say such a thing. I have no doubt that there are cases which have been passed which ought not to have been passed. I have no doubt, also, that there are cases which have been let off which ought not to have been let off. There are two sides to the question. All one can do when attention is drawn to cases of this kind is to see that inquiry is made and that justice is done. These are cases which I have heard for the first time to-day. The statement is an ex parte statement. I have had no opportunity of testing it. It is a description given of a man himself of his own condition. That is all I know. I do not say it is not absolutely accurate.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am referring to the cases of the hon. Member for Blackburn. I do not know of the case of the man who died. A man might have died two days after he had been in the Army without the doctor having previously discovered his condition. I do not in the least know—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Here is a case in which the prosecutor, as it were, does not know the facts himself. The whole British Army is to be arraigned upon facts of that kind! I think really it is hard for people who are a little hard pressed and who are doing their duty under very trying conditions to have this sort of thing said. All I can say is that if there are cases of this kind, and my attention is drawn to them, I will see that they are investigated. But may I suggest that before they are dragged here there will be an opportunity given to the Army to investigate them? It is only fair that that should be done, because to do otherwise creates a bad impression outside. I venture to say that 2549 anyone reading the hon. Member's speech would get a very false notion of what is going on in the British Army, the type of men who are brought in, and the way in which the British Army is doing its duty. I think, therefore, it is only fair before cases of this kind are brought to the House of Commons that an opportunity should be given for an investigation of the cases.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
May I just say one word in answer to the objections of the right hon. Gentleman when I was speaking? In every case in which I received a complaint of this character I either myself submitted the case to the War Office, or I wrote to the people to ask them to submit the case themselves.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I know! I cannot get an answer to a very plain and straightforward question that I have put to the hon. Gentleman. I have asked him once, twice, three times, and I ask him for the fourth time, if he sent these cases to be investigated by the War Office?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
And I will give an answer for the second, if not for the third time, and it is that I did mention the cases. There was the man who was recommended to get three pairs of glasses, and also of the man who died in three weeks. There was another case.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Member is evading the question entirely. I am asking about the two cases that I have got, and upon which a question was put. The one was the case of a man who, I think, joined the Middlesex Regiment, and was said to be suffering from tuberculosis, and there was the case immediately in front of that of the man suffering from gastritis. Were these cases sent for investigation to the War Office? All I can say is that they were not sent to me.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would see the cases if I did send them. These were the first two cases I mentioned.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Will you allow me to answer the question in my own way; it is not your business. These are two of the many cases I have mentioned. I have told the right hon. Gentleman more than once that I have submitted to the War 2550 Office all the cases I mentioned this afternoon. If I did not myself submit the case to the war Office I wrote back to the people and told them to submit the case to the War Office, and to demand that the War Office should have a special examination.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
All I can say is that the hon. Member does not know whether or not the cases were submitted to the War Office. That is really what it comes to. I still say it is important that these cases should be investigated by the War Office. The facts must be given. There was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme a suggestion that there might be a Committee of Members of the House of Commons who would investigate these cases and send them forward to the War Office, so that every opportunity should be given to the War Office to put the matter right. We are not anxious to get people of this type. There is no advantage in getting them. They cannot be of the slightest use to the Army, and in this matter no one will be better pleased than the War Office to have the matter put right. If there could be some sort of oversight it might be well if the House of Commons could help to rift the facts, and send these poor people home where they might be of some use, and so disencumber the Army of the presence of people who would only be in the way. It would be better for them, better for the Army, and better for the country. If the desire of any hon. Member is not so much to criticise the Army as to see that justice has been dispensed, that is the best way to go about the matter. I am not complaining in the least, but here is a suggestion put forward by the hon. and gallant Member which will enable all these cases to be sifted and examined, and I heartily commend that suggestion.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether one tribunal has a right to refuse the decision of another medical board—to call a person who has been rejected arid subject him to a further examination?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
A man can be dealt with by any medical board, whether it is in his own area or not, and orders have been given to that effect.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would not like to say anything about that. I cannot condemn without hearing the other side of the case. The hon. Member must know that it is quite impossible for me to pass judgment upon the action of a medical board without hearing what they themselves have to say. I come now to the question of the military medals in the field. The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in the Field can award the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. In the case of the Military Medal alone he can delegate his powers to the Quartermaster-General. The ribbon is given in the field. The medal is given afterwards. So that arrangements can be made at the present time to enable the Commander in the field to award medals without reference to the War Office.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, no; not the Brigadier. It means the General Officer Commanding in the Field, but he has the power to delegate his authority to the commanders of corps in the matter of the Military Medal. Beyond that he has not got the power of delegation.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It could be extended, but I should not like to answer straight away as to the desirability of that, and I certainly could not do it without consulting the military authorities. I understand my hon. and gallant Friend wants it given to the Brigadier. I am not sure whether that is the case in the French Army, but I should doubt very much whether the power is given to the Brigadier.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I rather think so, but I am speaking from memory. I should not like to be held absolutely to my statement without further investigation. It is only my recollection, but obviously it is desirable it should be done. I quite agree that it is highly desirable they should be awarded as soon after the gallant deeds as possible, whilst the action is fresh in the minds of the company and the men. It is much more encouraging to the men. I come to the question of posthumous honours. Personally, I have a good 2552 deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend in this matter. We are too apt to forget the gallantry of the parents where the gallantry of the men is great. The suffering of the men is great, but it is nothing to the suffering of the parents and those who are left behind to grieve for the loss of relatives, and I have always felt with the hon. and learned Member that it would, I will not say cheer them, but certainly sustain, solace, and comfort them if they saw before them the recognition of the valour of their lost ones. A considerable difference would be made to them if there were some-sort of recognition of the gallantry of their brave sons, and I sympathise deeply with the case put forward by my two hon. Friends. That is one of the things I shall look into with very deep sympathy. I agree with them in respect of the contention that it might be regarded as unjust to those whose claims you cannot follow now because there is no record. You have to begin with these things, and I do not think anyone will regard it as-unfair to the others if it were found impossible, owing to the absence of record of their heroism, to reward them. I shall certainly go into those matters with a good deal of sympathy with the claim put forward by my hon. Friend. At the moment I cannot give a definite answer until I have further opportunity of consulting the military authorities.
Another point which has been raised is that with regard to these two years' medals. That is one of the things I am investigating at this moment, but I cannot answer until I get a definite view. I did not quite follow the statement made by the hon. Member for Blackburn about what has happened since the Military Service Act was passed being a proof that it was based on fraud and deceit—I forget what the other words were. On that matter I can only call my memory to my aid. On the contrary, the number of men who have come in under the Military Service Act already is most substantial. They are of a first-rate quality. [An HON. MEMBER interposed a remark.] The tribunals have not finished their work yet. They are going through it as rapidly as they possibly can, but the work is enormous. You are crowding into a few months the work of years, and I certainly, speaking on behalf of the War Office, do not complain in the least of the delays. The cases are being considered with as much celerity as you can possibly expect under the circumstances, but we have by no means got 2553 through the bulk of the work. Not merely have we a considerable number of men, but they are of the very best quality—an excellent quality—and it has enabled us, to a very large extent, to grade the men so as to get men of a certain age called up, and to postpone others until later on when their services will be more valuable.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I cannot give any guarantee of the kind. That would give great satisfaction to my hon. Friends below the Gangway. That depends entirely on the exigencies of the War. I can assure my hon. Friends we mean to win this War, if the resources of this country—men or material—will allow it, and that is the only consideration that will dominate the Government. That is the answer I give. So far, the number of men who have come forward under these Acts has been a complete justification of the Government in inviting the House of Commons to give us the necessary powers.
I now come to the considerations with regard to the War as a whole which has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. I do not want to give a military estimate of the situation; I could only do so in a very few words. I will invite the House of Commons to look at the state of things a few months ago, and contrast that state of things with the conditions at the present moment. Then the fate of Verdun hung in the balance, and, although the fall of Verdun might not have been of great strategic importance, yet, from a moral point of view, it would be a very serious blow for the cause of the Allies. Two months ago the fate of Verdun hung in the balance. The Austrians appeared to be pressing into the plains of Italy. They were everywhere advancing and making great captures of men, guns, and materials. The Russians appeared at that time to be held, apparently, in the East. The Germans were worrying our lines along the whole front with determined attacks, some of them successful. The new Russian levy was, to a very large extent, like our own New Army—untried, and no one knew how well they would do when they were put to the test. That was the condition two months ago. What is the position now? Along the whole of the battle front, East and 2554 West, the initiative has been wrested from the enemy, almost for the first time, along the whole front. There is only one possible exception, and that is Mesopotamia, where, owing to climatic reasons very largely, our own Army is quiescent—not a very important exception.
Take the West, along our front and along the French front. Take the Eastern front, where the Russians have won such conspicuous victories. Take the notable victories won by the Italians. Take the great victories in the Caucasus. The whole situation has completely changed. I have heard a good deal of criticism of our offensive, and some of the critics imagine that its only justification would be if you were to break through. Not in the least. The enemy had two alternatives. He might have said, "All right; march on! Capture trench after trench. We will give you one after another of these French villages. We might throw in a few French towns. We will give you not merely kilometre after kilometre; we might even give you departments. But we will not let go of Verdun, and we throw our force on to the Eastern front to prevent the break up of Austria." The enemy might have done that. That would not satisfy him. He might, on the other hand, say: "No, rather than let you break through here and drive us back, we will take guns and munitions from Verdun. We will concentrate our troops in front of you rather than let you have this territory." He chose the latter. That suited us. It relieved the pressure on Verdun, prevented the enemy from pouring his forces to the support of the Austrians, and the great advance of General Brusiloff went on from week to week with gigantic results. I want those who are thinking about this offensive in mere terms of metres and yards and kilometres to realise the full effect of this achievement. Breaking through would have been a success, but forcing the enemy to bring his Armies there from Verdun to prevent us breaking through was equally a great achievement. The latter we have accomplished, and, in addition to that, we have wrested a considerable proportion of French territory from his grip.
That is not the end. No one pretends that the enemy is yet at the end of his resources. I agree with what fell from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) that at the present moment his Armies are just 2555 as numerous as they ever were and his equipment is as formidable as it ever was. That is true of the Germans alone, but it is not true of their allies: not in the least. And if it is not true of their allies, it is because we have been able to concentrate such great forces that we have held the Germanic power whilst the Russians were dealing with some of her allies. That has been our contribution, a I great contribution and a costly contribution, but not as costly as the enemy makes it out to be. His account of our losses have been grossly, ludicrously exaggerated. At the present moment we are pressing him over territory the value of which cannot be reckoned by the number of yards, but rather by the importance of the positions we are capturing. Any man who looks at the contour of the map of this particular battlefield will see what it means, and our losses, although deplorable, as all losses must be, are relatively very low, while the enemy, forced to counter attack over ground which is exposed to our artillery, suffers heavily.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right; we ought not to treat this as if it were the end. It would be a mistake for us to do so. We are fighting a very great military Power with gigantic resources; they have an enormous population to draw upon, and let us realise that. No one realises it better than our foe. What a change has come over the spirit of the scene! He knows for the first time that his forces are being held, that he is now on the defensive, and that makes a great difference in the whole character of the campaign henceforth. But there are many valleys to cross, there are many ridges to storm, before we see the final victory. We shall need more men, more munitions, more guns, and more equipment, and we shall need all the courage and the endurance of our race in every part of the world in order to convert the work which has been begun, more especially during the last two years, into a victory which will be really a final and a complete victory. We are pressing the enemy back. I have got here something which has been handed to me in the course of the afternoon as I was listening to my hon. Friend—I do not know whether it has appeared in the papers—which shows how we are gradually pressing him back here and there over ground, every metre of which is important at the present moment, be- 2556 cause of its position, its dominating position, in that particular country. Sir Douglas Haig reports:In Guillemont the enemy's garrison is still maintaining obstinate resistance, in spite of very heavy losses from our artillery bombardments.In the vicinity of Pozieres we have again made considerable progress. We have advanced on a front of half a mile, and are established at the road junction outside Mouquet Farm, and have pushed forward along the right of the Pozieres-Miarumont road.In the Liepzic salient we have extended our gains and advanced our positions to within a thousand yards of Thiepval.Over 100 more prisoners have been taken.That does not seem to be a very big achievement, but it is all in one direction. We have secured the ascendancy, instead of being pushed back as we were before Verdun, yard by yard, until they got nearer and nearer to the fortress itself. What is happening now? We are pushing the enemy on the Somme, and the French are doing the same. Near Verdun, instead of being driven back gradually, day by day and week by week, what is happening is that the French are regaining ground that they had previously lost. All that is a change, but in order to convert that into a real victory, a victory which will enable us to impose the only terms worth our while for having entered into this War—in order to establish that, it is necessary we should get every possible support that either this-country or the Dominions can possibly give us. My right hon. Friend has pointed out the importance of the equipment of Russia with heavy guns and heavy ammunition, and no one has attached greater importance to that than I have. The whole of these fateful months the enemy knows perfectly well that if Russia had been equipped with heavier artillery and ammunition, her progress would have been much more rapid than it has been during the last few months. It is upon considerations of that kind which involve greater sacrifices, still greater drafts upon our tenacity and courage, it is upon questions of that kind will depend the one great question whether we shall see the end of this war in the coming year. We have captured the ridge; we can see, at any rate, the course of the campaign. I think in the dim distance we can see the end. The enemy has been driven off the dominant positions which he held at the beginning of the campaign, and that in itself is a great achievement. He has lost his tide. At first he had three or four countries which were unprepared when he was 2557 prepared. He had France not fully prepared, and yet the best prepared of all and the most highly organised country in the alliance was still in a sense unprepared. Russia also was unprepared, and Britain had no Army—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—yes, with practically no Army. I am speaking in the Continental sense. We had an Army for policing the Empire, but we had no Army in the sense of an Army for a great Continental campaign.
I am the last man to disparage the work which our first Expeditionary Force rendered, and I have no doubt when the history of the whole war comes to be written it will be said that the action of that gallant little force saved the situation. But this country in the Continental sense, as a country engaged in war with empires that could put millions in the field, had practically no Army. Now that has gone. France is equipped and Russia is rapidly becoming equipped. The Italian equipment is getting along in a way which has amazed even her best friends. Then we have had the story of our equipment. We have now in the field one of the greatest Armies any empire could command. Germany has missed her chance, and she knows it. And without in the least pretending to predict times and seasons, it would be a mistake for us to expect to see an early victory. That we cannot get; it would be a mistake for us to anticipate an early victory; that would only produce disappointment. I am one of those who never in the least underrated the greatness of our task. I never cried out victory when, as a matter of fact, we were sustaining defeat, as I have always thought it better to tell the people frankly and fairly what was happening, because the people of this country are not the kind of people to be terrified by any facts, and I knew that their exertions would be in proportion to the difficulty of their enterprise. Having always taken that view, and now surveying the whole situation in the light of existing facts, and upon the advice of those who are far more competent to express an opinion than I am, I have no hesitation in saying that all this country and the Allies have got to do is to march together steadily, work together loyally, as they have done in the past, and then victory, assured victory, will rest in their hands.