HC Deb 14 December 1916 vol 88 cc937-86

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £400,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1917, for General Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and resale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the Ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war."

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)

The last Vote of Credit—which the House will remember was for the amount of £300,000,000 —was moved on the 11th October, and it was expected that that would supply the necessary expenditure until Christmas. On Saturday last the actual facts showed that there was a balance of 40½ millions, which will carry us on until Saturday of this week, so that the House will see the necessity, to which I referred on Tuesday, of having to-morrow the Report stage of the Vote of Credit now asked for. The Vote for which the House is now asked is £400,000,000. Assuming, and it must be assumption only, that the rate of expenditure continues the same as during the sixty-three days covered by the last Vote of Credit, this sum will carry us over seventy days—that is to the 24th February—and it will not then be necessary to come to the House before that date to ask for an additional Vote of Credit. There have been already four Votes of Credit during the present financial year. The total amount of those Votes is £1,350,000,000. To that must be added the £400,000,000 asked for now, and as this amount will not carry us to the end of the financial year—thirty-six days will remain—we must make allowance for the expenditure for that interval, and again, on the assumption that it is at the same rate as during the last sixty-three days, that will mean an additional £200,000,000. That will bring the total amounts of the Votes of Credit for the present financial year to the sum of £1,950,000,000.

My right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, estimated the total expenditure from Votes of Credit for the year at £1,600,000,000. Of course it is obvious, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, that an estimate in times like these must be nothing more than conjecture. No one can attempt to foretell what the expenditure will be, but using the customary phrase, we find the actual expenditure will exceed the Estimate to the extent of £350,000,000. That increased expenditure is due to causes pointed out by my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister in moving that Vote of Credit. It is due to two factors: the increase in the cost of munitions and additional loans to our Allies and Dominions. But I shall try to bring the facts home to Members of the House more clearly by a brief analysis of the position. In making that analysis I shall adopt the method which was always used by my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister, and which I think is best, of reducing the expenditure to daily averages. In the last Vote of Credit, the Prime Minister dealt with a period of 190 days, and during that whole period the average daily expenditure was at the rate of £5,000,000. But he dealt specially with the last seventy-seven days of the period, and during that time the average had increased to £5,070,000 per day. During the sixty-three days covered by the last Vote of Credit, the amount per day has increased to £5,710,000. That is, as the House will realise, an enormous increase. It is due, as I pointed out, to two factors —munitions and loans to Allies and Dominions.

As regards munitions, it is really not necessary for me to say anything in explanation of the increase. Everyone knows what a change has been made in that respect. If I were to put before the House the actual figures representing the change with which my right hon. Friends, who were colleagues in the late Government are familiar, if for instance I were to take the actual amount of munitions turned out in June, 1915, and compare it with the amount turned out to-day, the difference would seem to the House and to the country almost incredible. Indeed, I am bound to say, repeating a view which I have expressed before, that considering the nature of this country, considering how entirely all its energies were devoted to peace, it is marvellous to realise the way in which, on the whole, she has been organised for war, and in my belief no better indication of that change, no more striking proof of the vitality of this country from an industrial point of view is to be found than in the enormous extent to which our munitions have been increased during the last year.

The next cause of the increased expenditure was loans to our Allies and Dominions. The increase during the last sixty-three days on that head amounts to the enormous sum of £400,000 per day. It will be a gratification to the House to know that during the period of sixty-three days with which I am now dealing, as well as during the period of seventy-seven days which preceded it, that increase was entirely in respect of advances to our Allies. The amount advanced to the Dominions was almost nothing, for they had been able, by one method or another, to finance practically their own expenditure. It was pointed out by the late Prime Minister; indeed, it was not necessary to point it out, that in the struggle in which we are engaged these advances are just as much part of our own expenditure, are just as much necessary for the object which we as a nation desire, as if the money were spent in equipping our own troops who are fighting our battles in France to-day.

Two great advantages were possessed by our enemies. One was that they were prepared for war and we were not. But they had another advantage, and they have to-day another advantage which is almost as great, and that is that circumstances have so fallen out that the control of all the resources of our enemies is practically in one hand. One of the drawbacks of our alliance, as of every alliance of free countries, must be that it is very difficult to get this central control. To secure it in the past has been the object not only of this Government, but of the other Governments which are our Allies. During the last year—during the last six or nine months especially—a great deal has been done in that direction, and in my belief the success of this war, the rapidity with which we can bring it to a victorious close must depend on the extent in which all the resources of our Allies—men, munitions, money—can be pooled and thrown into the common cause, with the idea that we are fighting one fight which is the same to all those engaged in it.

Looking at the figures which have been presented to me, I find there has been considerable saving in some miscellaneous expenses, especially on food and also in regard to railways. I think it worth while pointing this out to the Committee, but I do not dwell upon it for this reason, that as my right hon. Friend opposite knows it is largely a question of book-keeping. As regards food, for instance, money is spent out of the Vote of Credit in making purchases, and later on it comes back when the commodities purchased are sold to the public. Therefore, though there has been this reduction, it docs not mean any real economy, and for that reason I do not dwell upon it. With regard to railways, for other reasons the same thing is true. But I think there is one point in connection with the railways which, in listening to the introduction of other Votes of Credit, I have always noted, and that is, that the House is anxious to know what has been the effect of the bargain made at the outbreak of War. In regard to that I can only say there is complete justification for what has been said on previous occasions that it was a good bargain for the State. It was good, not merely from the point of view of the convenience—the immense convenience which central control gives, but it has been good also financially. I have not been able to get detailed figures; I do not suppose I should give them if I had, but I may say this, that up till now it has been a good financial transaction, and though conditions have been changed, as the House knows, by the grant of a war bonus to the railway employés, I have every reason to believe, in spite of that, there will be no financial loss, but, probably, some financial gain in consequence of the arrangement which has been made in regard to the railways.

I desire, as I indicated on Tuesday, to be as brief as I possibly can, and to give only figures that seem to be necessary. There is only one other set of figures I would like to put before the House, although in general terms they are familiar to the Committee, for they have been mentioned in connection with every Vote of Credit, and that is the total amount of the Votes of Credit since the outbreak of War. These amounts are:—

For the financial year £
1914–15 362,000,000
For 1915–16 1,420,000,000
For the present financial year, including the Vote of Credit now asked for, but not making allowance for the period that will elapse after this money has been spent 1,750,000,000
That brings the total amounts of the Votes of Credit since the outbreak of the War to 3,532,000,000
But that does not quite represent the whole. The House knows Votes of Credit do not represent the whole of the expenditure of the Government. I have asked this morning for an estimate, and have got it, of the additional expenditure in governing the country, taking everything into account over and above the Votes of Credit, and the figures given me are these: Up to the 9th December, 1916, the total expenditure from Votes of Credit since August 4th, 1914, has been £2,984,000,000. The total expenditure, apart from Votes of Credit, has been £478,000,000. This brings the total expenditure of the country since the outbreak of war to the stupendous figure of £3,462,000,000, and that is a figure which it taxes the imagination of any man to realise. I do not think we can in the least grasp what it means. It is a colossal figure. I do not think it is an appalling figure. From the point of view of carrying on the War, which is the only point of view in the minds of this House and of this country, everything of this kind is relevant. I should like now to repeat the view which I have held from the beginning of the War. It is this: This is not a war in which, in my belief, it would ever have been possible to make arrangements to enable us to go on indefinitely as we did during the Napoleonic wars. In my belief that was impossible. Everything had to be thrown in. It is obvious to every Member of the House that the Armies which are now embodied by ourselves and by our Allies cannot be kept at the present figure indefinitely. All that can be hoped for is that they will be kept at a strong figure long enough to beat our enemies. In the same way as regards finance we cannot hope to go on on this scale indefinitely, but I, at least, believe that we can go on long enough to make sure that it is not from financial causes that we could fail to secure the victory.

I said on Monday that I intended to avoid any general discussion such as is usual in moving a Vote of Credit. I thought at that time that that seemed a convenient course for the House. Since we last met, however, something has happened on which, I think, it is necessary that I should say a word, but only a word. The newspapers are full of peace proposals from Berlin. Up till now no proposals have reached His Majesty's Government. It is obvious that in these circumstances no Member of the Government can make any statement on the subject, and, in my view, it would be better that very little should be said in the House of Commons. There is, however, one thing which even at this stage I think it is necessary to say in moving such a Vote of Credit. My right hon. Friend the ex-Prime Minister—and I hope, in spite of what has happened, and my share in what has happened, the House will not suspect me of insincerity when I refer to this—in the peroration of his speech on the last Vote of Credit, when, of course, the weight of personal suffering then borne by the ex-Prime Minister moved the House of Commons to its depth, used these words: They (the Allies) require that there shall be adequate reparation for the past and adequate security for the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th October 1916, col. 103. Vol. LXXXVL] That is still the policy, that is still the determination of His Majesty's Government.


I hope the House will permit me to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the interest and lucidity of his statement. The mass of figures which he has related remind us of the magnitude and difficulty of his task. Having stood in his place for upwards of eighteen months I can wish him no happier fate than that he may receive, in the execution of his duty, the same generous support from this House that I was always privileged to receive. On my part I can assure him, if he will allow me to say so, that my association with him in office has not only increased my personal regard for him, but my admiration and respect for his talents. He can on every occasion rely with confidence upon my fullest support in the difficult task he has undertaken. On one point I should like, as I know he would wish me to do, to congratulate him also—that is, that he is fortunate in having behind him a body of public servants of very remarkable ability and of complete devotion to the national interest. He will find himself served as loyally and as efficiently as I was served, and I am quite confident he will achieve the greatest results in the high office which he holds. To turn to the figures which my right hon. Friend has given to the House. I hope in one respect his picture was a little blacker than events may prove to be necessary. He gave us as an average of the daily expenditure out of the Vote of Credit during the last sixty-three days the sum of £5,700,000. If my memory serves me, those sixty-three days have been in one respect exceptional. There were brought into the account of the Vote of Credit large sums expended in the United States which, had it been possible to keep the accounts properly up to date ought to have been brought into charge at the earlier period. I believe my figures are right when I say that the true average expenditure during the last sixty-three days would be rather under than over five and a half millions a day.


was understood to assent,


Consequently unless, as may very properly be the case, our expenditure increases beyond the present scale we may hope that the total of £1,950,000,000 out of the Vote of Credit for the year may not be entirely realised. Last October, both my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister and myself, in speaking upon the Vote of Credit, warned the Committee that the Budget Estimate given at the beginning of the financial year was bound to be exceeded. As has been very fairly stated by my right hon. Friend opposite, the charge for munitions increases daily. It is 110 fault of the Munitions Department. It is no fault of the War Office. We are bound, to the utmost of our capacity, to supply our soldiers at the front with munitions of the latest pattern, of the latest size, and even of the latest cost. If, therefore, we find the estimates of March and April of this year have been greatly exceeded, we, as Members of the House—and I gladly recognise the duty—should exceed those estimates up to any point necessary for the proper supplies to our forces in the field. Again, in regard to other items of increase, I admit my responsibility for the increased advances to our Allies. That is a claim which we are bound to meet so long as we are able to meet it, and to the extent of our ability. The demands upon us are enormous. But there is one severe restriction with which my right hon. Friend will become only too well acquainted, the restriction that it is not easy to convert sterling wealth into dollar wealth. We have to pay in dollars for what we buy now, not only in America, but all over the world. In whatever country we buy, the arbitrage of exchange is brought into the dollar exchange, and we have to buy the whole mass of the imports for ourselves and for our Allies with cash in dollars. That is a limit upon our power to help our Allies. I am sure, however, I speak for my right hon. Friend in this respect, that there is no change in the policy of the Government; that within the limits of our capacity to find dollars we shall do our utmost to assist our Allies. I have nothing more to say. Like my right hon. Friend, I do not wish to enter into other and wider topics, and I will conclude by again congratulating him upon his very lucid statement.


I want to say in regard to this Government, that it is the policy of the majority of my party to support them in this new Vote of Credit. I hope we may see—I do not know whether or not it will be the case—this Vote of Credit carried, as others have been in the past, without a Division, and without any disunity on the part of the House of Commons. I only desire further to say that I am delighted to hear the report of my right hon. Friend in regard to the bargains that have been made with the railways. It seems to me to confirm what some of us have said with regard to other problems, that had they been undertaken with the same disposition and in the same way earlier in the War many difficulties which the Government have since met with would have been avoided. I will respectfully follow the excellent example of the Leader of the House, and say nothing except this: that I agree to the full with the final words he has spoken.


I should like to support the congratulations which have been offered by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer upon his very businesslike, clear, and lucid statement. I should like, if I may, to refer to the last passage of the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when he spoke of the hope that there would be—he understood there would be—no change of policy on the part of the present Ministry. I suppose he referred to their policy in regard to converting sterling wealth into dollar wealth. I do hope that there will be a change of policy. I, for one, think that the profligate and extravagant methods of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, if they had been pursued, would have got us into very considerable embarrassment. If there is any compensation in the change of Ministry, it is now that we have a different occupant of the office of Chancellor. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the great difficulty which, he said, the present occupant of his late office would have in converting sterling wealth into dollar wealth. I think he is perfectly right in that statement. I think also he himself is bound to confess that his policy—or the results of it—have certainly not made the task lighter for the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. His method of artificially supporting exchange and piling up our indebtedness to America has accentuated that position, has increased enormously, as the Board of Trade returns show, the excess of imports over exports, which question I hope the present Chancellor of the Exchequer will face very shortly, and which he will have to face. As I say, the artificial method pursued by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in issuing credits in America, artificially bolstering up exchange, and stimulating exports from America to this country has undoubtedly increased our indebtedness, as I think the Board of Trade returns bear out.

Let us briefly examine these Board of Trade returns. I think Members will agree that when they find, exclusive of munitions, our excess of imports over exports will be something like £500,000,000, and that if we have to add to that possibly £200,000,000 for munitions, our excess of imports over exports at the end of the year will be something like £700,000,000. I hope that is a problem which the present Chancellor of the Exchequor will face, and if he will, either by a drastic method of cutting down imports, or by a direct system of taxation, reduce the consumption and the purchasing power of the people of this country, he will be doing something to meet that position. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer always met it by asking for further drafts on securities and increasing debt, and by staving off that which he was bound to meet sooner or later by extravagant borrowing on the part of the exchange. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will meet that problem, which is a very grave one. It is perhaps the key to the whole position, because, after all, finance is the key to the position. If this War is prolonged, which God forbid, but if it is prolonged—if the terms of peace are not satisfactory, then I assume the War may be prolonged—it is as well that we should face the position. The right hon. Gentleman himself has stated he does not think it can go on indefinitely, and he is sanguine enough to believe we can bring the War to an honourable and a satisfactory close under the financial capacities and reserves which we at present possess. But we are here surely for the purpose of examining the financial position. It is no use deluding ourselves that we have an unlimited supply of reserves, and when we have regard to the past two and a half years, when we know that throughout the country there has been little or no economy, that wages have been paid in excess of any known records in this country, and that theatres, restaurants, and expenditure generally, instead of showing any decrease, has mounted up during those two and a half years, that does bring home to us the necessity of facing the position, and the supreme gravity of the task in which we are engaged.

I do hope, therefore, that, with a change of Government and a change of control in the Treasury, we will face the position, because it is evident that if you pursue a system of creating credits in America and raise an excessive amount of money by borrowing rather than by direct taxation, you are bound to land yourself eventually in an awkward position and to embarrass your finances, as we feel we are embarrassing them. Take the action of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day in instructing Messrs. Morgan and Co.—after two Debates in this House protesting against the increase of floating debt—to try to place Treasury Bills on the New York money market. He naturally incurred a rebuff. The state of the floating debt, something like £1,000,000,000 to £1,500,000,000, has been brought forward by Members on all sides—by Members of the Conservative party as well as the Liberal party. It is not a question of politics, but of sound finance, which has no regard for politics. If finance is unsound it is not made sound because it is the finance of a Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor is it made unsound because it is the finance of a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer. The laws of finance take no account of party, and if a policy is pursued of profligate borrowing and extravagant waste we are bound to suffer from it, and we are suffering from it to-day. That, I think, is a subject we in this House ought to face. That action of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer unquestionably did hurt British credit, because the action of the Federal Reserve Board in recommending institutions over there not to invest in our securities was undoubtedly to hurt British credit. Any banker will bear me out that the effect of that was at once reflected in the prices of our securities on the London money market. The reply given to our protest as to the excessive rate paid upon Exchequer Bonds was another action which affected our credit, and which unquestionably made it harder for the Treasury to finance this war. Therefore, I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman who has now succeeded to the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he is able to bring order out of the existing chaos he will de- serve the gratitude and the appreciation of this whole House. He has a colossal task, as he himself described it, before him, and I hope he will face it with success. I should like to say one further word. I presume I would not be in order in going into the details of the method of raising the money for this Vote of Credit, but perhaps I may make a passing reference by saying I hope some action will soon be taken to fund this large floating debt, and to issue some form of long term loan so as to get us out of our present embarrassment more or less.

In conclusion, I should like to refer to what the right hon. Gentleman himself touched upon, and that is the offer that has been made by Germany to this country. Of course, we are quite unable to discuss that, because, as he has very properly said, there are no terms before us. All that we know is what has appeared in the Press, that the German Imperial Chancellor has issued a Note, which, I presume, in due course will arrive to His Majesty's Government through some neutral Powers. But I would just, if I may, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as a member of the Government, while I for one do not abate one jot or tittle of our just demands in what we regard as a just War in its inception, I adhere to that attitude to which I have always adhered, although I have suffered perhaps through some misunderstanding in the desire for the speedy ending of this War in an honourable fashion, and I do not believe there is a dissentient voice throughout the country with regard to the primary objects for which we entered this War, and I think that if there are any dissentients at all it is with regard to the future, when you have some section of the community not content with achieving that which I hope we may achieve, the primary objects for which we entered into this contest, but who have some ideas of extending our domain or effecting a crushing victory upon the enemy. I do not believe that that is possible for one thing, and, in the second place, I think even if it were, it would be most unwise and impolitic. On a former occasion, I think, I quoted the Duke of Wellington that after an army had achieved the primary object for which it entered a campaign to pursue that for the sake of some temporary advantage, or to add a lustre to its name, was impolitic, and also, I think, an immoral proceeding.

We all recognise throughout this House and throughout the country the unquestionable valour and heroism of our men. If we feel that we have achieved, and I believe we are now within reasonable distance of securing, the primary object for which we entered this War, then we do feel that the heroic sacrifices of the men on the Somme, in Flanders, and in France, have enabled us to achieve that object. What was the primary object for which we entered this War? Surely it was to carry out our solemn treaty obligations, and to secure the complete evacuation of Belgium. Hon. Members forget, and perhaps the country forgets, that at the beginning of this War there was a very large and considerable section in Germany in favour of the annexation of Belgium—that there was a party in Germany who had the dream of getting down to the sea and carrying out an annexation policy with regard to Belgium. We forget that. We forget it was the heroic work of the British Army in the beginning of the War that checked the German legions in the onslaught on Paris. We forget it has been the heroic resistance of our men in France and Belgium that has prevented, and has now completely destroyed, the annexationist party throughout Germany. I do not think there is a serious politician now in Germany who talks of annexation, and if we refer to the German Chancellor's last speech we shall find that he himself—and let us give him credit for it—has never supported the annexation policy.

Then, I say, when we are apt to think to-day that we have not succeeded as we might have succeeded, when we look to the more or less sterile or barren victories of Germany in the Balkan Peninsular, TO forget the great battle of the Somme, one of the greatest battles of history— we forget what, through British resistance we have achieved, because this very offer on the part of Germany is an acknowledgment of defeat, and an acknowledgment that we have achieved the objects for which we entered the War. Therefore, I hope the Prime Minister, when he comes to make his statement, will bear that in mind. The Prime Minister has justly achieved in former days a great distinction and a great reputation for negotiation. He has shown himself to be a born negotiator, and, while he possesses at the present time, I believe, more or less the whole-hearted support of this country, I pray him, and I beg of him, not to be carried away by a desire to add some great and spectacular victory to our laurels, but that he should have regard, as no doubt he will first and foremost, to the fact that we have achieved the object for which we entered the War; and, secondly, when he has regard to the financial position and the economical position of this country, he will not, in a desire perhaps to achieve some spectacular victory, pile up suffering for those who come after.

5.0 p.m.


May I add my congratulations to those of my right hon. Friend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his very lucid statement! May I say also that I wish the Prime Minister every possible success, for indeed with that success is bound up the future of our country. There is one personal observation which I might make. The right hon. Gentleman said just now that he was not allowed to see the Prime Minister, by the doctor's orders. I hope that does not mean that the Prime Minister is more seriously ill than we suppose?


Oh, no!


I appear rather as a critic. Of course it would be impossible for my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to criticise his successor, because he has been responsible for the finances of the country. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he thinks would be the best occasion—whether now or one day next week—on which to raise a question as to the changes in the personnel and in the command of the Grand Fleet?


I am quite sure it would be much more convenient, if the right hon. Member is willing, that he should raise that question after the Prime Minister has made his general statement.


I quite agree.


I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, with regard to the suggested offers of peace from Germany, that the Government are going to take the only sane attitude which they could take, and that is wait until they see those offers and see what is in them. I hope the Government will not depart from that course. I hope the Government will not allow themselves to be pressed into any other position than that of saying nothing at all about them until they have been delivered in the ordinary way, and they know what those offers are. That is what the nation expects of them. We have been so accustomed during the last few years to pass large sums of money that the sum which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to-day, namely, another £400,000,000, does not surprise any of us. As a matter of fact, I do not think any of us realise what it does really mean. I wish, however, to be quite sure that if we prorogue next week the amount of this Vote of Credit has no relation whatever to the length of the recess. It is a very important point from the point of view of the House of Commons, because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has pointed out, this sum will carry on the War until 24th February. Therefore, it would be quite possible for the Government to prorogue on Friday of next week until 22nd or 23rd February, which would, of course, be a convenient way of getting rid of the Members of this House; and with the best intentions towards us, I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be relieved if some of us were absent for a little time. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make it quite plain that the amount of the Vote of Credit has no relation to the probable length of the recess.


I can say that.


Then, with regard to the spending of this money. There are one or two other questions which I wish to put. Money which is required for the Army and Navy, of course, none of us desires to criticise. I think the average view taken in this House is that whatever money is required must be found, and the only condition attached to that is that it ought to be spent in the most economical and least wasteful fashion. After saying that I should like to remind my right hon. Friend that in a recent conversation in connection with our own fighting on the Western Front I heard a remarkable story which illustrates the waste that has taken place. I shall not give any names, although I can supply them to him if desired. I heard of a small section on our fighting front in France where, after a certain battle was over, no fewer than 308,000 odd brass cartridge cases were collected, of a cash value of £75,000. That is an example of waste on the fighting line. Similar examples of waste at home could be given, and while not desiring to make too much of it, I wish to emphasise the fact that in the spending of this money, and more so now than ever, because the Departments have now gained experience, we have a right to demand that this £400,000,000 shall be spent in the most economical manner possible. Now with regard to other services than the Army and the Navy, I should like to know how the Government are getting on with regard to the discussion of the amount of separation allowances. This money will provide for the continuance of the separation allowances paid to the dependants and wives of soldiers and sailors. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Colonial Secretary, replying to me recently in the House of Commons, stated that the Admiralty and War Office had taken the matter into consideration, and not only taken into consideration, but favourably. Now we are approaching Christmas and are going into recess. There will be very little opportunity between now and the middle or end of January of directing public attention again, by questions upon the floor of the House of Commons, to this matter. Next week we shall be discussing the Appropriation Bill and more showy questions will be under consideration. Therefore, I wish to impress upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the amount of separation allowance which is paid is insufficient for the needs of the wives of our soldiers and our sailors. We are talking to-day about spending millions of money in the support of our Allies fighting on the front. The best allies our fighting men have got are their women folk at home, and I think it is extraordinarily distressing to know of the individual circumstances of some of those women. A few days ago a soldier's wife wrote to me from Southampton, stating that her separation allowance totalled 17s., of which she paid 6s. 6d. for rent, and after paying for necessary food for the week, which did not include meat, she had 1s. 4d. left to provide any such luxury as meat, all sorts of clothes, and boots. Another soldier's wife wrote that her baby, now nineteen months old, could not yet walk, on account of the nourishment which she was able to provide it with being insufficient, owing to the smallness of her allowance. I take it we are hoping to maintain this Empire, and that we look to the children of the Empire to carry on its traditions, and I do not think it is in the interests of the Empire that any soldier fighting at the Front should not be able to find his own child of nineteen months able to meet him on his own feet. Therefore, I hope the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not keep discussing this in departments, but will make a substantial effort between now and the close of the year to come to the help of these women. They have stuck it now for many months. They have stuck it very bravely.

To-day the Government appointed Lord Devonport as Food Controller to the nation. To-day we are getting in the hotels and other sections of the public, meatless days. What those poor women and their families want is not a meatless day, but one day of the week in which they can have some meat. I am not drawing a picture that is not true, or a picture the facts of which I could not fill in with correspondence from hundreds of those women, who are doing their best at home to keep up the hearts of their men folk. Amidst all these political changes, all these bickerings and these discussions as to whether this man or that man is the right man, do not let us forget the people who really matter. The women who have given their men to fight are depending upon us, who have more money, at any rate, than they have, for their maintenance. Therefore, let one of the first acts of the Government be in the direction of giving. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a Scotsman, or at any rate, very largely a Scotsman, and he knows the habit of Scotsmen at the beginning of the New Year. Let the Chancellor of the Exchequer give the soldier's wife a good hogo-many. I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a further question before I sit down. What are the Government going to do to make the Pension Bill, which is passing through the House of Lords, of real value to the soldier? Are the Government really going to tackle the question of the Royal Warrants? If they are going to do so, are they going to provide more money than this Vote of Credit to meet the needs of the soldiers who are disabled, and the widows and dependants of soldiers, and all the social wreckage coming from a great war? We prided ourselves recently upon setting up the kind of machinery which would make it possible for the State support to reach the soldier and the sailor in a quicker and a better way than it had previously reached them, but I would remind the House that there is a great deal which is untouched, and that with the best will in the world and with all the machinery set up the other week to deal with this problem, that machinery will be of no use unless you are going to fill in at the one end the raw material of money which will reach the soldier and the sailor at the other end. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows how many loopholes there are already in the scheme for dealing with the need of the soldier and the sailor. He knows the large body of soldiers, totalling already nearly 70,000, who have been discharged from the Army now for months, and who have no pension of any sort at all, and whose wives and dependants receive no separation allowances of any kind. The Government know they must deal with those men and must provide the money to deal with them; and that is one only of the number of cases that must be met. I hope the House will not misunderstand me, because for the moment I am talking of the private soldier. I wish also to say that the cases of the wives and children of officers have to be considered more closely if they are going to get anything like the proper rate of assistance out of the regulations as we know them. I am not prepared for one to allow this Vote of Credit of £400,000,000 to go through unless we have an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that some considerable part of this money, and so large a part as is sufficient must be ear-marked and set aside to find the money for the changes which we are going to propose in the Royal Warrants. The Royal Warrants which govern the rewards of soldiers must be torn up and burned. They are called Royal Warrants, but it is a disgrace to the adjective that they are so called, for they are the meanest kind of thing that we have in any of our provisions for dealing with the men. Now is the opportunity for the House of Commons to insist upon the Government doing those things. I do not want this Government, in its initial stages, to forget their own people. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will before this Debate closes, to give me an assurance that out of this Vote of Credit there shall be provided sufficient money to finance a scheme, of increased separation allowances and sufficient money to finance the changes which have been adumbrated by myself and others in this House and outside, changes in the Royal Warrants, which are necessary if you are going to make your pension scheme effective. The other matters with regard to the War I do not want to enter into. It is better to put my own point briefly and well and leave it there, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the assurance for which I have asked, because if he does, so far as I am concerned, it means support to the Vote of Credit. I am aware that technically this Vote is for other things, but I am beginning to wonder whether the time has not arrived when some of us ought to make a stronger stand for the people who really matter, and who are generally overlooked in a great political upheaval.


I should not have risen but for the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. David Mason), who made reference to the grave issue which has arisen in consequence of the statement made by the German Chancellor. A number of hon. Members of this House had determined on the Vote of Credit to raise the question of peace negotiations, but owing to the new and grave issue which has arisen we met together and decided to hold over what otherwise we might have had to say until after the speech of the Prime Minister on Tuesday next. I have only risen to make the point clear that our attitude is not due to any weakening in our consideration of this question.


I have only two observations to make with reference to the statement made to-day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I desire to offer to the right hon. Gentleman my congratulations on the fact of his attainment to the high office which he now fills. I saw a recent statement that he had disclaimed being a Scotsman, but whether he is a Scotsman or not, I am sure that he will be the first to admit that a great deal of his success is attributable to the fact that he was resident for many years in Scotland, and we rejoice at the high position which he has now attained. With regard to the loans to Allies, the right hon. Gentleman told us that the increase in the daily expenditure which has mounted to the vast figure of £5,710,000 per day, was Sue to the fact that the Allies were getting £400,000 per day more than they were a few days ago. They were getting before £1,440,000, so that, adding £400,000, we get at the figure for our Allies and Colonial Dominions of an amount per day of £1,840,000 in loans. I do not think that Chancellors of the Exchequer in the past have emphasised that enough in their statements to the House and the country. Not one man in ten in the country is aware that out of the £5,750,000 which are being spent daily on the War, there are close upon £2,000,000 of that sum given away in loans. I think when the serious statement of the tremendous expenditure of this country is being announced to the House and the public the Chancellor of the Exchequer might give the man in the street the grain of consolation of knowing that £2,000,000 of that is returnable.

I would like the right hon. Gentleman, when he has given up talking to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), to reply to this point, when he replies to the Debate. I would like him to tell us how much of those loans he anticipates getting back. He is a business man with business training, and when he lends money to any State or any Ally or Dominion he and his advisers certainly have in mind a figure which they think they will be able to get back. I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman expects to get back 50 per cent., 75 per cent., or 100 per cent. of these loans. Another point in the right hon. Gentleman's statement was with reference to the price of munitions. It has been said that the advance in the daily expenditure on the War is due partly to loans to Allies, and the right hon. Gentleman stated that it was also partly due to an advance in the price of munitions. I want the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the increase is due to an advance in the cost of munitions, or to an increase in the quantity of munitions. I think the country is desirous that, at any rate, part of this increase should be traceable to an enhanced quantity of munitions in the daily output, and we shall be glad to know that it is not traceable entirely to an advance in the price of munitions. I wish to say that a great deal of the success of the War in the future lies with the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. I believe the War will come to a successful and victorious issue, but that largely depends on whether the right hon. Gentleman can get, by one way or another, the cash to carry it on. If there is any rock on which he will split, it is the rock of want of cash, and if the right hon. Gentleman will convey to the Committee an assurance that in his view, and the view of his Department, we shall be able to finance the War to a successful issue, I am sure we shall more gladly pass this Resolution.


The figures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put before us this afternoon are, as he says, colossal, and I wonder sometimes whether even British credit can stand such enormous sums. There is one aspect which I do not think has been sufficiently considered. It was said some months ago that what we had already spent on the War would provide a comfortable cottage and an acre of land for every family in the British Isles. I suppose that now it would provide nearly two acres. The point I wish to draw attention to is that while the Chancellor of the Exchequer punishes us severely by taxation, nevertheless the great mass and bulk of this money is borrowed money, and someone will have to pay the interest. Our children and their children, and their children, and their children for many generations will have to pay. They will not only have to pay, but they will first have to earn it, and it looks as if there will be a charge on the National Debt of something like £150,000,000 a year for interest on debt. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a great deal more!"] Is it likely that generations of Englishmen yet unborn will go on working and toiling and sweating for produce which they will never enjoy and never consume in order to pay interest on this debt? I am not sure that one generation of Englishmen has a right to impose a burden of that kind on its successors. I want to say that these generations yet unborn are likely to be men who will not have much sympathy with the terrible enterprise in which we are engaged, and I think they will probably condemn the whole of this costly enterprise as the foolhardiness of their forefathers. I hope that by that time they will have set up amicable, harmonious, and pleasant relations with their neighbour nations, and that they will forever have abandoned the barbarous methods of settling their disputes with one another by destroying one another and one another's property. I hope we shall have set up instead a tribunal and judge, and that we shall accept his deci- sions just as readily as we accept the decision of the umpire at Lords or the referee on the football ground.


The Leader of the House, in the course of his speech, suggested that this Debate should be cut short, and that subjects of vital interest should not even be touched upon. That was his judgment, but just as the other night, referring to a right hon. Gentleman who is now his colleague, he spoke of his rhetoric, and, contrasting it with his own, said that he preferred his own rhetoric, I have contrasted his judgment with mine, and I prefer my own judgment. We have now reached the point at which we are entitled to ask, "What are we fighting for?" In view of the spectacle which the House presents to-day, it amazes us to find that we are now asking for £400,000,000 for a war of which we can see no issue—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh !"]—and of which the position step by step is growing steadily worse. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Months ago, in speaking on this very subject, I said that only one thing was constant, and that was the continual stream of blood, the continual squandering of wealth.

Do not think, however, that I have risen to make a peace speech. In listening calmly and considerately to peace advocates I have, in spite of myself, been impressed by the terrible force of their arguments, by their pointing out the unprecedented slaughter in this War, rising to amazing proportions, and by the way in which disaster and ruin are spreading throughout the length and breadth of Europe, and, facing these arguments like an honest man, I have felt compelled to say that they have almost entered my very bones. Yet, on the other hand, I would say, terrible as that may be, I hold that there may be one thing more terrible still, and that is of one's own free will to come under the heel of a conqueror and eat the bitter bread of oppression. Still that is a spectacle which has not been removed from the horizon, and I ask the Government now, What do they intend? Are they making for peace, as I believe the late Government were making for peace, if not ostensibly, honestly facing the issue, yet by the very futility of their acts and of the plans which they formed? Is the present Government going to drift in the same indeterminate way, or is it once and for all going to make up its mind to face the issue clearly to found in bold lines the necessary plans, and to carry those plans determinedly to their realisation, no matter what the sacrifice that makes for ultimate victory? The right hon. Gentleman pointed out one advantage of Germany, namely, they have one leadership, whereas the leadership of the Allies is divided. I should in turn like to point out that although there is one leadership there are four nations, and that one leadership has been gained by a certain predominance of ability, of willpower, and of greatness of plan. Is that impossible for the Allies? Should there not be one of the Allies, or one representative of the Allies, standing out far beyond the others, not in any way dominating them unfairly, but rather leading them by common consent? That one leader, or small number of leaders, might project the great plans, and infuse into all the others the necessary confidence to carry them into proper effect.

I intend to-day to speak with the utmost boldness and candour. The issues are far too serious for me to have any confidence in that game which has been played so long of seeking to meet the great victorious German advance by hiding the truth from this House and from the country. I will deal for one moment with the Western front, and I will say that there the operations during the last two months have been, if not a signal failure, at least a failure of such a kind that those responsible should take into serious consideration whether there should not be a radical change in the command. That proposition ought to appeal to all except those who, I believe, are unfortunately in the majority, and who in place of reality and in place of merit and in place of achievement, put mere names and reputations and titles. Some few months ago at the beginning of this year, we saw the determined advance of the Germans at Verdun. Time and time again—it is a matter of history now—Verdun was imperilled, but the German advance was finally stopped by the marvellous valour of the French troops. Looking back in retrospect, will any man say that the advance of the Germans upon Verdun was anything but a set back for the Germans? That is the view accepted in this country. Now look at the matter on the other side. The Great Push, as it was called, was begun in the early days of July. At the sacrifice of so many hundreds of thousands of men that I dare not give the figures, that advance has resulted, in what? In placing the Allied Forces face to face with precisely the same strategic problem as met them six months ago. Has that been a failure? Has the man entrusted with that great advance been a success, a man, moreover, who in his operations to achieve results wasted four times the numbers of lives of British soldiers as in the corresponding French move? Yet I will venture to ask the Minister for War whether he has the courage to replace that man. Has he the courage before the world in face of the title and reputation of that man to set him down as lately the Generalissimo of the French Army, who had given greater proofs of energy and of talent, has been replaced by another? I say that if he, the present Minister of War, lacks that moral courage he is unfit for his position, and if the Prime Minister fails to recognise that, he, too, will be found wanting, and in history will be seen to have been unfit for his position.

I turn from the Western front to touch upon the question of Greece. I speak on that subject with more confidence, because many months ago when my speeches were met almost with derision in this House, I offered a prevision of events which has been justified point by point, while those who answered me, those great men of judgment, those great leaders of the nation, those mighty statesmen, would be ashamed at the present moment to read their own speeches of twelve months ago. I ask with amazement: What power resides in them or in their offices that they have been able to persuade the House of Commons to accept as proof and valid arguments the abominable nonsense they have uttered? The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is not in his place, and I venture to say that is probably the best argument he could use, for I do not know a more miserable spectacle of a great statesman than that shown by him on the few occasions on which he has attempted to reply on this question—footling arguments, insincere excuses, gropings and fumblings with the whole question, unworthy of a man who is one of the leaders of the nation in this great crisis. He did, however, say this: He denied emphatically that this question had anything to do with a matter of dynasty. He said, further, that it was a question for all the Allies, and that all the Allies were agreed upon one common policy. I am able to refute him by his own words, because only the other day a very lengthy and striking speech was delivered in the Italian Chamber by Signor Boselli, the Prime Minister. He spoke with remarkable freedom and clearness, and with what the Italian papers called "a remarkable amount of wit, or esprit." During the course of his speech Signor Boselli touched on this question of Greece, and in the clearest and most decided terms he said that it was a dynastic question, and he referred to the whole movement of M. Venizelos in these very words, which for greater accuracy I took verbatim from the "Corriere della Sera": The Governments of the Allies would not favour adventurous anti-dynastic movements. That is the manner in which this movement of the patriotic Greeks, the friends of the Allies at whose invitation they came to Greece, is treated in the Councils of the Allies of which this Government forms a part. How can the Under-Secretary of State, or the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs rising perhaps in another place, declare that the action of the Allies is completely removed from the question of dynasty, when in the clearest terms before all Europe one of their representatives has declared that it is the essence of the whole question, and when they refuse to support those who had been called their friends, and at whose invitation they engaged in that affair, on the ground that they were adventurous anti-dynastic Greeks? It may be said in defence. "After all, admitting the Under-Secretary of State falsified the position, yet that indirectly justified him in substance, because that is the policy of the Allies." I say "No, he cannot avail himself of that argument." That was the argument of one of the Allies, and it is easy for those who have not the courage to strike out a bold policy of their own, the only policy likely to lead them to victory, to shelter themselves behind another of the Allies and say, "We agreed with that policy, and it cannot be attacked because it is the policy of us all." Signor Boselli, in this remarkable speech, gave other grounds proving that this was an anti-dynastic movement. He sketched the Mediterranean policy of Italy. It is possible that in the ultimate division of the spoils he might have seen a rival in Greece which might claim what he hoped would be Italy's future possessions. From my place here I would say to the Italian Minister, "You are selling the bear's skin before the bear is killed, and pursuing that policy will not lead you to victory, not to a division of spoils, but to such a defeat that Italy herself, so far from being one of the participant victors, will suffer the fate which has been meted out to Roumania."

What is going to happen in Greece now? As far as I can read the signs of the times, it is this: The Germans, having got the great oil wells and the grain fields of Roumania, will be content and close their campaign there. They will then come with overwhelming forces and throw themselves on to the French and Serbians who have fought so magnificently in Serbia, and will crush them by the mere weight of numbers. Then, joining hands with King Constantine, they will turn against Sarrail and make of Salonika another Corunna. Does not that seem not only a feasible plan but a plan capable of sure execution? It was the plan I predicted in this House almost twelve months ago. Twelve months have been wasted by our statesmen and by the Government, not in forming plans which, even if beaten, might have held the enemy, months wasted not in obstinate fighting, but in mere hesitations, delays, insincere excuses, nothing at all which in the least gave the electric touch of great men capable of leading a great nation in a great crisis. I will say further, that when history sums up all these events, and when history sees upon one side bold conceptions, bold imaginations, great and valid plans, forced rapidly and successfully to realisation, great feats of intellect, great cohesion and great courage; and on the other side the antithesis of all these great qualities, delays and hesitations, with that fatal vice of politicians, particularly in this country, of being content not to meet a crisis but to throw off the responsibility upon others; then not only will such feeble representatives be beaten, but history will say that it is just that they should be beaten. What, then, can be done? As I said before, I do not wish to make a speech either of peace or of despair. What still can be done? It is to form plans in which you yourselves believe, well considered, bold, great plans, with the very sign of success stamped on their inception; and after having formed those plans, to push them through resolutely at every point with the momentum at command of the total Allied Forces. By that means victory is possible, but even by that means victory is not possible without months, perhaps even years, of a most desperate and terrible struggle.

But consider for a moment what should happen if now the Germans joined hands with Greece. They will have all that part of Eastern Europe at their feet. They will have a clear run down to the Suez Canal. If you are not able to resist them at Salonika, or Bucharest, what guarantee have you that you can resist them at the Suez Canal? If you are unable to resist them at the Suez Canal, they have all Asia at their feet? Or if neglecting that plan which chimes in with their year-long ambitions, they are content for the moment to close up even that campaign, close up the Balkan campaign, close up the Roumania campaign, and now that Austria and Italy are almost at a deadlock, if they were not only to redouble the forces which are pressing Italy, but to multiply them, say, tenfold, could Italy resist that shock to a greater degree even than Roumania in a parallel case? What a spectacle would then be presented with the middle of Europe under their feet, with only Russia with its far away legions to oppose. Under such circumstances what would be the security for Calais, and if Calais is not safe, would you consider London safe; and if, neglecting all these warnings, you are playing not for victory, but for a renegade peace either directly, formally and honestly or by drifting, by hesitations, by delays, by a cowardly refusal to regard the problem in its reality, I would say that then you will not have improved your position, but your defeat would be accompanied by the ignominy of having deserted your friends, of having run away from Serbia, of having been afraid to tackle Greece, and of having left Roumania derelict to its fate. If then Germany, having made peace, were to reorganise her forces for another conflict, would this country obtain allies? And on what grounds? Would it be for faithfulness to friends, for capacity of fighting, for staunchness or integrity? No; this country would be isolated, and the whole forces of Germany, which the combined Allies find it so difficult to resist, would be hurled irresistibly against this country, whose history would be closed as definitely as that of Carthage was closed in the mighty shock with Rome. Those are the issues which, when really seen by great statesmen, will sweep away such miserable hesitations as those that tied the hands of the late Government.

Sir J. D. REES

On a point of Order. Should not the hon. Gentleman address himself to the issue before the House, rather than place other issues before us as he is doing?


I am bound to say that, while it is rather difficult to follow the hon. Member through his arguments, I did not observe that he was going beyond the question.


I agree with what you have said as to what was merely a querulous interruption. I was conducting a serried argument. I will now try to reduce my arguments to terms which could be understood by the meanest intellect. I will endeavour to put the issue in formal terms: that we are asked to vote a colossal sum of money, that we have a right to see why that money is expended and how. One of the great features which calls for that expenditure is the campaign on the Western front, and the campaign on the Eastern front, and I hold that on both of those fronts the campaign has been conducted with signal incapacity; and I hold further that in this country, as its past history has shown, there never has been a time when men of genius could not be called forth. There never has been a time in the history of France when, under the stress of a great crisis, men of genius were not called forth, as when the great Danton stamped his foot upon the soil and an army of devoted patriots sprang up. We had examples then of great men—Napoleon Bonaparte, Hoche, Desaix, Ney, Kleber, and the rest, who saved the country in peril and left their names to illuminate history. In this country men like Wellington have come to the front in the hour of need. We ought to have this test, which any man of business with a turnover perhaps of two or three thousand per year would not hesitate to put to his own employés, and that is to give them every chance to show their merit—to make good, as the Yankees say— and if they are unable to make good and to show victory, or the guarantees of victory, then no matter what had been their Press reputations, their garters or their stars, sweep them away until you have found men who can fight and win. I say, using that test, not only with regard to the Army, but with regard to the Government itself, and making that rule apply from top to bottom until you have found the men big enough, I believe they would in a few months change the aspect of the whole of this campaign. Such a man has been found in other circumstances, not by laying stress on the "Oxford manner," not by talking such humbug as that we will "muddle through," and that we are "not a logical people," and "that Oxford does not make brains but character." Get your men of brains, no matter where they come from. Test them by merit, and test merit by result. We have the great example, to which I have referred before, of the good homespun Abe Lincoln before us.

I will cease. Unhappily the opportunity will be given to me again and again to make speeches somewhat similar, but I hope not upon similar occasions. I wish well to the Government. I believe that the crisis and the whole events of the War have brought out two men of outstanding ability—one the present Prime Minister, and the other the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At any rate, they are the only two men who made any impression abroad. I say that while within my own small means I will second their actions, yet I will regard those actions critically and also test their merits by results. I desire to make a suggestion. At the beginning of this War all the chances were in favour of the Allies, and one by one, like spoiled children of victory, they have thrown away those chances, and, as I said the other evening, they are becoming the spoiled children of defeat. Avenue after avenue has been closed by their stupidity, by want of courage, by want of character, by want of grit. I think one or two avenues still remain open, and one of those is the fabrication of a gigantic air fleet. I was the first man in this House to draw attention to the necessity, or, at any rate, the enormous importance of that idea. Years afterwards, yes, literally years, the late Government did wake up to the idea that something should be done, and they gave us, not the gigantic air fleet we asked for, but an Air Board! Does the present Government think that Hindenburg and Mackensen are going to be defeated by these mere machinations of politics, these wire-pulling tricks, this chicanery of Parliament, this habit of off-shouldering responsibility? If they are going to tackle that question, and it will be a sort of touchstone of their whole character, they will at once sweep away that ridiculous Air Board, and give us an Air Ministry which will resolutely set itself to work to do that which is within its capacity, and utilise the one avenue of victory still left open to us. They will proceed to lay down on definite lines this great air fleet, studying the matter carefully and scientifically, and yet at every turn where difficulties arise crushing them down by the momentum which the promise of victory will give.

Colonel Sir MARK SYKES

On a point of Order. The hon. Member who has just sat down made several criticisms of a Prime Minister of an Allied State. As far as I can see, the publication of those criticisms would supply propaganda to the enemy, and would produce friction and ill-feeling amongst our Allies quite unjustified by the feeling in this country.


So far from having said anything in any way to injure even the susceptibilities of our Allies, I have quoted nothing that was not in extenso and verbatim in the "Corriere della Sera," which I read out a few minutes ago. There is no man in this House who is more desirous of victory with honour than I am, and no man in this House would be more revolted to find German domination in Europe. Rather than see them enter Paris I would wish to sacrifice my own life at the front.


The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity of counteracting the propaganda to which I referred.

6.0 p.m.


I have just returned from the Somme front, and I would be lacking in my duty if I did not ask the indulgence of the House for a few words in reply to some of the observations which have fallen from the hon. Member (Mr. Lynch). As one who has been out at the Somme front, it is with a sense of amazement that I have listened to some of the things he said. I have great respect for him. Out there, so far as one can go, one follows the proceedings of this House, and I personally read his speeches with interest and with pleasure. But I was amazed to-day to hear him say that the position—and I took a note of his words—on the Western front was "steadily growing worse."


I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish to misinterpret me. It was the whole position which I said was worse. As regards the Western front I said that the strategic problem was precisely the same now as it was when the great advance was begun.


I do not think that the hon. Member, whose second thoughts appear to be somewhat better than his first, has really improved his position. Certainly he left the impression on my mind, and I think also on the mind of the House, that he included in that wild denunciation which he made of the methods of our commanders, the position on the Western front. He spoke of the futility of the plans which have been executed on the Western front. Does he still adhere to that, or does he wish to make any change?


Not the slightest change. I judge by results. The results have shown.


But it is necessary to judge by results when results have had a chance to work themselves out, and it is a foolish judgment indeed which calls for results in face of difficulties which are not even now appreciated in this country but which, on account of the magnificent efforts that have been made, are being overcome. The hon. Member calls for an Abraham Lincoln. He calls for some big man, and complains of the stagnation of affairs on the Western front. I doubt whether even the biggest man in history could make marshes of mud dry with a gesture. The hon. Member knows, as everybody else knows, that the campaign upon the Somme has not stopped from inanition. It has not stopped because we are unable to beat the Germans. The outstanding feature of the present situation, as is well known to the Germans—and there is no harm in saying it in this House —is simply mud, thick consistent mud, which makes it impossible for either ourselves or the enemy—and he shares the same knowledge—to move up heavy pieces, and there is no ground whatever for fearing that, once decent weather conditions are restored, we shall not be able not only to resume the offensive on a vast scale, but to improve greatly upon former results.

It was with a sense of great pain that I heard that hon. Member talk about the Higher Command. If there is one man in France who is trusted by every officer and man, from the highest to the humblest, and in whom every soldier places the charge of his life in absolute confidence that it will be used to the best advantage of his country, it is Sir Douglas Haig; and when one considers the stupendous difficulties with which the Higher Command had to contend on the Somme, what has been achieved within the last six months is without doubt amazing. It is something which no sneers from any Member of this House can ever minimise, and to which history will in due course pay its proper tribute. I do not complain that the hon. Member has used criticism, but I must say that from the highest to the lowest the British Army trusts its leaders, and though I have differed on many points within the last few months from the present Prime Minister, I say here and now that he is idolised by the armies of France, and that his presence at the head of affairs, together with the confidence which they have in their leaders is one of the great factors in the victory that is coming next year. I do not complain in regard to criticism. If a very junior Member of the House may be allowed to say so, I think that there has been far too little criticism in the House of Commons in the past. When I had the honour of entering this House the Coalition Government had just taken office, and there was a feeling of fear in reference to Ministers, and many Members of this House felt daunted when they were called upon to criticise. Ministers then, I thought sometimes, were divided into two classes—those who thought the House of Commons a necessary evil, and those who thought the House of Commons an unnecessary evil; but I gladly gather from the fact that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has been present throughout this debate in a dual capacity, and has undertaken the burden of the Leadership of this House, that he at any rate is an exception to both categories.

In the difficulties which have occurred all along the House of Commons bears a very heavy responsibility. It was said by Pitt that the disasters of the American War were traceable to the servility of the House of Commons, and, if I do not mistake, the servility of the House of Commons during the first eighteen months of the present War had some responsibility for the shortage of munitions, the lack of co-ordination and the lack of men, and if these factors had not existed the War would have been nearer a triumphant close to-day.

One came back from the front with a most uneasy feeling. It was shocking to find that even at this moment, when the lines of the Somme are strewn with the bodies of unburied British soldiers, there was nothing in the Press, and nothing in the smoke rooms of the clubs but gossip about personalities. Therefore I welcome, and I am sure that my hon. Friends who have come back with me for the time being welcome also, the excellent display of spirit by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe, and I am sure that after that every man at the front will believe, that among the head participants in recent events there is nothing petty and nothing trivial. That is the spirit in which alone our difficulties can be overcome. They are much greater than many Members of this House realise today, and I firmly believe that if we are to carry out the express object with which we entered into the War, by force of arms alone, then we are engaged in a struggle for a victory which nothing but the most complete national unity and the most absolute devotion to the task in hand can ever achieve.

Commander BELLAIRS

I think the Committee will agree that it is worth while to have had this Debate, if only to have heard the eloquent appeal of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. I understand that Tuesday is to be devoted to those larger aspects of the War, such as Cabinet control, and I venture only to trouble the Committee with one or two points connected with the Navy. First let me say how general is the regret throughout the Navy at the loss of the services of the former chief, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He had shown in his administration, if I may say so as a student of naval affairs, all the qualities which should belong to a great First Lord of the Admiralty, and had he possessed the Board which he ultimately appointed I am quite sure that none of those particular aspects to which I myself have drawn attention, and asked questions about in this House, would have occurred. He possessed to an unusual degree the affections of the Service itself, and, had he possessed such naval advisers as he has now given to his successor, the naval aspects of the War would have been strikingly different from what they were during the past few months. It is unnecessary, with such a Board in existence, to deal with past mistakes, and it is very far from my intention to gather beads to add to a rosary of crimes with which to impeach the Admiralty. I am sure that everything possible will be done by individual members like myself to strengthen a Board such as we possess now—a Board of great prestige and authority.

What the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs did was to make vital changes. He brought into the Board of Admiralty two admirals who had command of Fleets throughout the War, one of whom had borne the responsibilities of the Grand Fleet from the very first day of the War up to a few weeks ago, when he went to the Board of Admiralty. Sir John Jellicoe brings to the Board all the prestige of an admiral who has borne very great responsibilities—responsibilities which involved keeping that great Fleet, which is practically a Navy in itself, on its war station, while, as the past First Lord said, it possessed no submarine-proof harbour along the whole East coast. That Fleet was the pivot of all the operations on all the fronts, for no operations in Europe could have gone on for a month against the German forces, nor could this country itself have held out for a month, if that Fleet had met with disaster. The right hon. Gentleman has also brought to the Board another admiral—Sir Cecil Burney, who has commanded a Fleet throughout the War and also Sir John Jellicoe's right-hand man, the captain of the Fleet—and it necessarily results that the Board which we now possess is one which can speak to our Allies with great authority and will do much to co-ordinate Allied efforts.

It is necessary in a case where efficiency depends upon very few men, the efficiency of the Service depending on the Board of Admiralty and that of the Fleet on its admiral, that the responsibility which attaches to the First Lord of the Admiralty and all those men is a very grave one, and it takes a very special type of civilian to choose those men so that we may get the best admirals at the Board and in command of the Fleets. The right hon. Gentleman not only brought to the Board of Admiralty probably the best admirals who could form a Board, but with great courage has appointed a junior admiral to the command of the Grand Fleet itself. In Sir David Beatty the Service gets an admiral of great prestige and authority, who has had unique experience in this War. He is the only admiral who may be said to have fought with capital ships of the "Dreadnought" era against capital ships of the "Dreadnought" era possessed by the enemy, except for the few minutes during which the rest of the Grand Fleet was in action at the battle of Jutland Bank. On two occasions Sir David Beatty has been pitted with his Fleet against capital ships of the enemy. He also had fighting experience in the Battle of the Heligoland Bight at the beginning of the War. The result is that we get to the command of the Grand Fleet an admiral who has been proved by war, who has great prestige throughout the country, throughout the Navy, with our Allies and with the enemy as well, and who enjoys, to a very unusual extent, the affections of the men of the Fleet and of this country.

I said just now that it requires unusual qualities in the civilian First Lord to be able to choose the right men and it necessarily also follows that when men enjoy such great command and such unusual powers as the command of fleets, rivalries also spring up and it requires a very unique quality of mind on the part of the civilian chief in order to prevent those rivalries from coming to a head. In the past they did exist very frequently, notably in the case of Keppel and Palliser, when the whole country took sides; and recently they existed in the case of Lord Beresford and Lord Fisher. If the right type of civilian chief had been at the head of the Admiralty when the rivalries first commenced between Lord Fisher and Lord Beresford, he would by tact and ability have prevented them doing any harm to the Service. Undoubtedly the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was in that respect a civilian chief to whom the whole Navy would look up with respect, and who would prevent anything of the sort happening. Sometimes, because I have been in the Navy and am a student of naval affairs, members and others asked me who could possibly succeed the former First Lord if he were to leave the Admiralty. I said the Navy would deplore such a change, but there was in my view only one man who possessed those requisite qualities and who could succeed him and be capable of choosing the best men and preventing anything in the nature of rivalries breaking out in the Service, and that is the First Lord who has actually been chosen. I am not speaking after the event, because I have said so in the recollection of many Members. Now, Sir, I propose to branch off to some of the many naval questions which will come before the Board and also before the Cabinet. They are questions of great importance in regard to the future. We know that this War is a question of transport supplies and numbers and that the supplies and numbers depend upon the solution of transport questions to a large degree. Whenever we plan to embark on an expedition like what may take place in Salonika involving a reinforcement or any attempt to cut the route across the Berlin-Constantinople-Bagdad railway, it involves an enormous amount of shipping, and therefore the transport question governs everything, as it does the economic conditions in this country. Therefore I would urge the Cabinet to tackle that question at once. The U boat campaign which is being carried out against our steam transport routes is carried out with the very object of creating difficulties for us in our most vital point, our shipping transport, and I would ask the Cabinet to declare that the arming of merchant vessels is the most vital consideration before us in this War, because, if ever we get to the point at which we can supply some 6,000 3-inch or 6-inch guns to our merchant vessels, we shall have solved this U boat menace, so it ceases to be a grave danger. I say 3-inch to 6-inch guns because not all merchant ships by any means could stand the strain of 6-inch guns.

But more measures than that are involved. We ought to take out of the hands of the Inventions Committee those inventions which deal with the submarine menace and make that a special department under, perhaps, so distinguished an admiral and inventor as Sir Henry Jackson, who ought to be allowed to choose his own committee, and such a committee ought never to sit in London. It ought to go to the naval ports to be able to requisition what it likes from the torpedo gunnery schools and from the dockyards, be armed with large public funds and be able to examine, without any red tape whatever, into every invention dealing with the submarine menace. The other questions which come up in connection with the submarine menace are these: Are we making the very best use of our forces? There is at this moment, for instance, a large Greek flotilla which is not being brought into use at all. The French took possession of it when the Allies brought pressure to bear on King Con-stantine's Government. Why not bring that flotilla and the Greek sailors, who are favourable to us ana have joined M. Venizelos, into existence as an armed force for the protection of Greek waters? The Greek sailors know best the Greek waters and the methods of supplying German submarines. Then there is the question of the Grand Fleet, which is the pivot of all our operations, which must be supplied with whatever is vital to it, but which must not necessarily be supplied with whatever is useful to it. There are other vital needs of naval warfare, and they must come before the merely useful requirements of the Grand Fleet. We must obtain the services of more destroyers in order to cope with the submarine menace. The next question is, How are we ever to get a munition route to Russia which will adequately munition Russia so as to enable her to bring in her enormous numbers of trained soldiers who at present cannot be munitioned? Some people think it can be done by the use of a much larger force in the East, but that involves again the question of a very large amount of shipping. There is the question as to whether we might not do so by opening up a route into the Baltic, whether by making new alliances with the Scandinavian countries, or by other means. Apart from that, however, I suggest that if we could but open the route to the Baltic for one day—and I think it perfectly feasible and practicable in conjunction with our Russian Allies— we could pass in a number of submarines, and then the whole blockade question would take on another aspect. If we could pass in thirty or forty submarines into the Baltic—the crux of the blockade question lies in the Baltic—we should be able to blockade Sweden and we should, by stopping her trade with Germany, take away from the United States their principal argument that we are not carrying out an efficient blockade. We should then be able to carry out a much more stringent blockade all along the line.


Is it in order to advocate the blockade of a neutral country?

Commander BELLAIRS

I was not advocating the blockade of a neutral Power.


It is not for the Chair to intervene in any matter of policy, but it seems to me that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going into very dangerous waters.

Commander BELLAIRS

I should put it this way, that the United States Government complained that our blockade is unfair because it cuts off the American trade with Germany and does not cut off the Swedish trade with Germany; and the way I ought to have put it is that we should be able to cut off the German trade with Sweden by placing submarines on the route between Germany and Sweden. We should then be able to strengthen our blockade in ail quarters of the world, because the American argument would be gone. I only put forward these suggested points as I think they ought to be faced at once by the new Cabinet. We have had many opportunities in this War and we have lost them. I think the hon. Member below the Gangway who enlarged on that point might equally well have made it in regard to naval affairs as well I desire that we should not lose opportunities in the future. It must be the case that a policy which was perfectly legitimate, and would have been rewarded with success at the beginning of the War, through the changing conditions which are going on from day to day, is unlikely to succeed now, and we have to adapt our views to modern conditions. But opportunities are soon lost, and we must be quick to realise them and think of them in advance. There was a sculptor once who carved a statue in which the face was concealed by hair, and it had wings on the feet. The sculptor was asked what it represented, and he said it represented opportunity. People asked him why was the face concealed. He said because opportunity was seldom recognised. They asked why it had wings on the feet. "Because, when recognised, men must be quick to grasp it, or it will be gone for ever." I trust that in the future our opportunities will be quickly recognised by the new Government and will not be lost.


In the admirable speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Shaw) there was one statement which, I think it is due to the House of Commons, should receive a single comment. He referred to the shock which he and brother officers received when, on returning from the front, they found the club smoking-room absorbed in the discussion of personalities. Since that statement was made to the House of Commons it is only fair that a Member of the House of Commons should hasten to say that for that condition of things the House of Commons itself is not responsible. Whatever internal difficulties the Cabinets of the last few years may have suffered from, they have never been due to the action or feeling of the House of Commons. So far as the Vote before the House is concerned, while I appreciate fully what I understand to be the view of the Leader of the House, that this particular Vote should not properly be made an occasion for a wide discussion on matters of policy, I doubt whether he, as a good Parliamentarian, will be altogether satisfied with the conditions and the course of the present Debate. What is the position? The Government is asking the House to give it another Vote of Credit of very considerable dimensions. The purposes for which that Vote may be used are covered and protected solely by vague and general phrases. I recognise perfectly, as every Member of the House of Commons will recognise, that it is impossible under present conditions of warfare, and, having regard to the present position on the different fronts to require from the Government any intimate detail of the forms of expenditure for which this Vote may be used. The right hon. Gentleman, in giving out that very serious and impressive statement concerning the great increase in the average daily expenditure for the conduct of the War, intimated to the House that the increase of expenditure was chiefly caused, first, by the increased cost of munitions, and secondly, by loans to our Allies. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman— and of course I have no doubt he will be sufficiently alive to the point—that the conditions of the present Debate may not necessarily serve as a precedent for the conditions of subsequent Debates. May I point out to him that in regard to these two great sources of expenditure the House of Commons, from first to last, has never had a single word of enlightenment or a single scrap of information? I do not say, and I would not suggest, that it is possible for the Leader of the House to give to the House of Commons in public discussion any intimate details or information concerning the way in which these two expenditures will be appropriated, but I would point out to him that whilst other forms of public expenditure have in the course of the War come under a more or less superficial and cursory process of examination by various special Committees that have been set up, these two particular sources of expenditure have always been rigorously excluded from the survey of any Committee that has been appointed since the War began. We all of us are aware that no inquiry was allowed by the Committee of Retrenchment in national expenditure into the forms of expenditure of the Ministry of Munitions, nor, was that Committee enabled to investigate as to whether there were possible economics in regard to that great spending Department.

In view of certain more or less authoritative announcements that have appeared in the daily Press that it is one of the intentions of the new Government to establish certain Committees by which this House may become; more fully in formed in regard to matters of policy and expenditure than has been the case, I would suggest that in the interests of the War itself, and in the interests of the efficient conduct of the War, and having in mind the perfectly frank and candid allusion which the right hon. Gentleman made as to the possible ultimate exhaustion of the resources of this country for fighting purposes, it is desirable that the new Government at a very early stage should establish some representative Committee—I do not mind how small —which may be informed by the Government of the purposes for which these various Votes are required, in order to avoid the necessity of divulging information which might not possibly be safely divulged to a full Committee in Session.

It is extremely important that the granting of these Votes for huge sums of money should not take the prefunctory form which they have taken in the past and are taking at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman referred to some forms of expenditure being remunerative. I gather he made an incidental reference to the deal of the Government with the railway companies. That is a point about which the House has a right to ask for some information. We were told when the arrangement with the railway companies was first made that the late Government had guaranteed the companies their full profit on the basis of a pre-war standard. It is a matter of common knowledge that from the date of that arrangement the facilities of the public have been more and more restricted, the staffs have been more and more depleted, and there is no evidence yet available to the House to show that the companies are being put to expenditure comparable to their pre-war expenditure. The time has come when the Government should give the country and this House some assurance on this point. If there is a continuance of these withdrawals of facilities and conveniences— which no member of the public really resents, and which are necessary, it may be, for the successful conduct of the War— we have the right to ask that some security shall be given to us that these savings of expenditure are not still further enriching the railway companies, and that the railway companies shall not receive compensation on a pre-war basis, unless they are necessarily and naturally being put to a standard of pre-war expenditure. There is another point to which I would like to refer, and which is of considerable importance. We have had an intimation that the Government is making various proposals to form separate Ministries. There is to be some process of decentralisation, for instance, so far as the Board of Trade is concerned. We are to have a Minister of Shipping and a Minister of Labour. I have read a report in the Press, which I hope is entirely unfounded, to the effect that the new Minister of Shipping is to be raised to the peerage and to have his seat in the other House. I hope the Government have no serious intentions in that direction, for considering the enormous importance of the Ministry of Shipping under present conditions it is probably one of the Departments which at all costs, and at all hazards, should be represented authoritatively in this House. In regard to the question of the Ministry of Labour, I gather that that will require legislation. I regret the intimation given by the right hon. Gentleman that our time for discussion is, according to the plans of the Government, somewhat restricted. He is aware that this question of the Ministry of Labour is a proposal which has been advocated by very many of us for many years past. In the estimation of some of us it may be made one of the most important Departments of the State, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman that when that Bill is presented to the House, full opportunity for discussion and examination of the Government's detailed proposals should be given?


I would remind the hon. Member that we are in Committee of Supply. We must not discuss legislation, actual, or anticipated, in Committee of Supply.


I understand that the expenditure of the Government in reference to the creation of a Ministry of Labour is covered by this particular Vote. Therefore, while I do not make any reference to ordinary legislation, I hope the Government will give us full opportunity for discussing their proposals in connection with the creation of a Ministry of Labour.


I had intended to offer some friendly criticisms in regard to this Vote of Credit, but when I heard the wild and whirling words of the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) I thought there was very little left but to go cap in hand to Germany and say, "We are a miserable lot of creatures, what terms will you take to settle with us?" Then I heard the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Shaw) and I was cheered up again, and I thought we might vote this money. I deprecate entirely, amateur strategists giving advice across the floor of this House. What is the use of our paying large salaries to our chiefs of staff, and putting them in the great positions they occupy, if we are going to bandy across the floor of the House words as to what they ought to do or ought not to do. According to the hon. Member for West Clare, the Army is wrong, and there is no chief there worth his salt. It is the same with the Navy. If that is so, I think that what he ought to do is to go to Trafalgar Square, stamp his foot, like Danton, and somebody will come up and put the whole thing right. It is ridiculous. It cannot do any good in our present condition to make these suggestions of what should be done here and what should be done there. It is outside our purview. The House of Commons is not a chief of staff, either in the Navy or in the Army, and we ought to leave these things to the Chiefs of Staff and the Army Council.

In regard to this Vote for £400,000,000, I would make an appeal for a wise spending of the money. I would remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that last year the present Prime Minister said that we are asked to provide for the Navy and keep it on the seas, to provide for a large Army, to finance ourselves, our Allies and our Colonies, to make munitions for ourselves and our Allies, and to provide transport. The right hon. Gentleman added, "To do all that is impossible." He is doing it, and a great deal more than that. Are we undertaking too much? An American humorist, in describing the life of Alexander the Great, said Alexander came to grief because he tried to do too much, and he added, "I have observed through life that when a man tries to do too much, he succeeds." I hope the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not come to grief by trying to do too much. There ought to be some curtailment of our liabilities. I think we have taken on just a little too much. However, I suppose they see their way to do it. I pity the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his job of framing his Budget, and still more do I pity him his job in floating the next loan. He will find that a very serious thing. I hope he will succeed, and so far as I can I shall do my best for him. The Government is up against a very stiff proposition if they are going to undertake to keep on doing all these things, which is far more than any of our Allies are doing. I say these things with the object of suggesting curtailment and limitation of our liabilities and responsibilities.

I feel sure that close examination will show that there is a very large sum of money extravagantly spent in certain Departments. You are making far too many Departments, and you are covering London with far too many offices. If you go into one of these Departments which have been established you will find interminable corridors, crammed with girls, and there is no concentration. If the Bank of England were to carry on its business in a series of corridors, like rabbit warrens it would require the whole City. The Bank of England takes a business view of things, and there are certain large rooms which hold a sufficient quantity of people. In the War Office or the Ministry of Munitions there are a series of rooms with one or two clerks, instead of there being as in the Custom House or the Post Office or the Bank of England large rooms, with certain rooms set off for the heads of departments who can get into touch at once with any clerk or any assistant they want. If you want to get to a man at the War Office it is an interminable thing, and the same remark applies to the Ministry of Munitions. In the Munitions Department there has been an effort made to concentrate the work; to get hold of a whole trade and to concentrate it and centralise it. If you had five years in which to do it, you might do it, but if you have only eighteen months you cannot do it. The result of this effort to centralise has been that a great deal of work has been multiplied. To those who have come into contact with these things it is known that there has been great delay in the manufacture of munitions through this attempt to centralise, instead of leaving the manufacturers themselves to deal with their own people, and to get the necessary means at hand to carry out their contracts with the Government.

As my hon. Friend (Mr. Sherwell) has said, we have no means of judging what this expenditure is for. We have no estimates for the Army, Navy, or Munitions. Money is handed to those Departments and spent wisely or unwisely. I am afraid a great deal has been spent unwisely. That being so—I cannot complain of it in war time—the obligation is all the more strong and binding upon Ministers to see that strict economy pervades the whole of those Departments, so that when they do come to give an account they will not be ashamed of their stewardship.


I should not occupy the time of the Committee if I thought there would be any opportunity of raising the question of the Air Service before the House adjourns. I quite realise that the new Government—and I should like to be among the first to congratulate the new Government—has before it many tasks of greater magnitude, but I would like to ask the present Government that at least they should not take a very definite decision— I am looking to this now Government to take definite decisions—before there has been some debate in this House on the reconstruction of our Air Services. I am sure that the majority of the members of the Committee agree that a reconstruction of the Air Service is absolutely necessary, even more necessary now than it was twelve months ago. The position is more critical to-day and the employment of a great Air Service is even more important to-day than it was twelve months ago. So far as I can see, the position is this: At the present moment we have a Naval Air Service, whose operations, such as they are, are under the direction of a Lord of the Admiralty. It is not in a position to carry out great operations because of the very reason for its existence—that is, to provide the eyes for the Fleet, because they have not the material for that purpose. They have a great personnel. Their existence as a Naval Air Service is rather difficult. On the other hand, there is the Royal Flying Corps, which is doing excellent and wonderful work in France under the direction of the War Office. The construction of machines is most important. The control of inventions as regards new types, which we are obliged to keep up to date, is one of the most important things. Owing to the friction that has arisen between the various services—the Army and Navy, the Flying Corps and the Naval Air Service—they have now decided, I understand, to put the construction in regard to this highly technical science in the hands of the Munitions Department. I should like to register a protest before that is done. I know the feeling of the whole of the trade in this country. I know that certain officers have had complete control as regards construction both on the naval and the military side. It has been a mistake from the beginning to allow officers of varying rank to have the control of the design and construction of aeroplanes, for the simple reason that on all these Committees that are set up we find a young officer, probably with one stripe on his arm, who is a master of the subject, having to oppose another officer with four stripes on his arm who has only just taken up the work, with the result that there has been and always will be confusion.

We are not going to solve the question by handing it over to the Munitions Department. To whom in the Munitions Department are they going to hand it over? It is a highly technical job, and it is quite a new science. Are they going to hand it over to officers, because practically every man in this country who understands the science of aviation is an officer, and is either in the Army or the Navy or has joined up. Are they going to take men who are experts from the Army and the Navy, or is the Army to lend them all the experts or is the Navy to lend them all the experts? I should like to ask the Government—and I do it in no carping or critical spirit—to think very seriously at the present moment, and when the reconstruction of what is or what should be a great offensive service is in the melting pot, not to take the easiest way out. The easiest way is not always—indeed, it is very rarely—the way out. We must have an Aircraft Construction Board, and it would be preferable if that were completely in the hands of civilians. If the construction of aeroplanes, the deciding of the types and the giving of orders is going to be made piecemeal in the hands of the Munitions Department, it will simply make another Department, and you will have to take officers from the Army and Navy or the constructive side of those sections to form that Department. I can assure the Government, from inside knowledge, that if that is done, the Department will not serve and the petty jealousies and that sort of thing which we want so much to defeat will occur. An hon. Member opposite, in certainly one of the most stirring speeches I have heard in the House for a long time, raised the question of personalities in clubs. It is the same inside the Services, as a good many officers know. The whole question is, not what shall we do, but who shall do it? The most important thing to decide, after deciding what shall be done, is to start with quite an unbiassed mind as to who is the most capable of accomplishing the task, quite apart from what he is or how many stripes he may have on his arm or how many stars he has on his shoulder. That is how I look at the matter. The position now is highly critical.

A good deal has been said this afternoon on the question of the submarine peril. I would point out that submarines have to go somewhere to get supplies and that they have to be constructed somewhere. I would suggest that the submarine is best tackled before it starts out or goes home. Surely our Admiralty are in possession of the facts. They should be in possession of charts and maps as to the position of the submarine bases. I do not want to mention numbers, but I can say that at the present time we have thirty or forty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty times more machines in the Naval Air Service than we had two years ago. We do not know what to do with them. We are lending some squadrons to the Army and are lending other squadrons to co-operate with the French. I would point out to the present Government that it is a mistake to say, "We have got three or four thousand machines which may be required; what shall we do with them?" I am going to suggest something. Fifteen per cent. of the personnel of that Service is being employed at the present time under war conditions. I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, so far as the Naval Air Service is concerned, to make a point of employing new squadrons in raiding submarine bases. There ought not to be a day or an hour, having machines of the type that we possess and plenty of them, when the enemy submarine bases are not being attacked. We ought to make submarine attacks impossible by constant and persistent raids—not by intermittent raids, say, one in three days. There is no need to report the raids in the newspapers. There should be one incessant raid of those bases where submarines and enemy destroyers are operating.

What is even more important is the preparations we are making, both in regard to the policy of construction and the policy of aggression, with regard to the air in the future. I do not want to repeat now any remarks I have made in this House on previous occasions, but I should like to point out that we have in this country at the present moment facilities for producing in the next six months five thousand aeroplanes without interfering in any way with the other munitions of war. If an Aircraft Construction Board could be set in operation you could have those machines in six months, if the design were standardised. I am quite aware that there is a danger of standardising the design for fighting machines or for observing machines, because if the enemy improves on that type of fighting machine he puts you out of the running. But there is no danger in standardising the design of a bomb-dropper. If a machine has a speed of eighty miles and is capable of carrying two, three or five hundredweights of explosives, provided it is accompanied on its raids by the latest type of fighting machine which is equal or superior to that of the enemy, there is no danger in standardising it. If we are going to produce them in any large number, we must back some design. You can never produce in great number by constantly changing the type. If we standardised the best type of bomb-dropper we might in six months very easily have five thousand aeroplanes of that type without in any way interfering with the output of munitions in this country, with the exception of the engines. I endeavoured to persuade the late Government, and will endeavour to persuade the present Government, that with respect to the engines we must look to the American market. We cannot, I am confident, produce the engines in this country that we want for the job without seriously inter- fering with the output of munitions which we cannot get abroad and which are urgently needed. I am suggesting the method, not of taking the American engine, but of standardising the English engine and taking over the American shops for producing it. The only point to be considered is the practicability of doing it.

7.0 p.m.

We can have the pilots at the same time. I have been trying to persuade the Lords of the Admiralty since December, 1914, that we were wasting our time in training pilots in this country. I have pointed out to them that my experience of aviation has shown me that it is a fortunate day when a young learner gets on an average four minutes in the air in England. In the initial stages of learning to fly, the atmospheric conditions must be more or less favourable. The result is that these young fellows are waiting about the aerodrome for their turn or for the weather. You can go to these places and find fellows who have not been up for a week. I understand that we have approached the French Government, that we have got their permission, and that after twenty-eight months of war and twenty-four months of persuasion someone has gone to the South of France to see if he can select a site. I would persuade the Government to take the matter in hand and to put it in charge of somebody. It does not matter whether it is under the Army or the Navy. Get rid of the intrigue in every way you can. Make it somebody's job—a civilian's job—to go to the South of Franco and provide facilities for training 500 pilots a week. That is a sweeping statement, but it is possible that with 100 machines—I say that we have now in this country 2,000 machines that could be employed—or 200 machines in the South of France, where the climatic conditions are favourable, we could be training pilots for twelve or fourteen hours a day, instead of merely early morning and afternoon, as we do at home. I would ask hon Members to consider what might have happened if we had started in February of this year a definite constructive policy, always having at the back of our heads a definite offensive policy, after consultation with those men who have had experience in operations in the field or in operations of bombardment by aeroplane, and to consider what we might do with 5,000 aeroplanes. What a different complexion we should have put upon the War? To carry out what I propose would create public opinion in Germany, and would show that we were really carrying the War into their country. That was a view which I stated some time ago, and if it had been adopted six months ago, or even two months ago, we should have had this air service. The task is not an insurmountable one in any way.

I have been asked when I thought the War would be over, and my reply was that I thought it would be at an end twelve months after the Government wakened up; and I can assure hon. Members that if only we took up this question of the air service seriously now, in six months' time we should be able to introduce a greater offensive still. It is because I believe this so seriously—and my belief is not founded on mere ideas but upon experience—it is because I believe in the possibility of a great air service, that I beg the Government to take the whole matter seriously into their consideration directly the opportunity arises. I beg them, however, not to take a short cut by handing the construction of aeroplanes to the Munitions Department or to anybody willing to undertake it. In France, the Army has every machine it wants, and I ask the Government to give to the Army or the Navy every machine it wants, where it is proved that it would be of value to either. In regard to the naval air service there is no justification for employing a gigantic personnel—no reason either on earth or on the sea. I would comb out some of them, as well as some of the Royal Flying Corps, and I would ask the Government to form this air service, and call it an Imperial air service if you chose, but it is no matter what you call it so long as it is created a separate service, a unit apart from the Army and the Navy, as a great aerial offensive service, which could operate under the direction of the Army, if you like, or it could be left to the Navy when necessary. But, without being critical of the naval air service and its functions, or of the Royal Flying Corps, I submit that they are not the material which is wanted. There are firms in this country which are still competing with each other, and the Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and now incidentally the Munitions Department, are concerned in this matter. I submit that the present Government should make a clean sweep, as they can do before any influences are brought to bear in one way or the other, and proclaim its intention of creating a Ministry of Construction or a Board based on the same principle as the Naval Construction Board, and this Air Construction Board would then be solely responsible for supplying the wants both of the naval branch and the military branch of a great Imperial air service, which I sincerely trust before the end of the War will come into being.

Question put, and agreed to; Resolution to be reported to-morrow (Friday); Committee to sit again To-morrow.

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