§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
—rising at ten minutes after four o'clock—I am afraid I shall have to claim the indulgence of the House in making the observations which I have to make in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I am still suffering a little from my throat. I appear before the House of Commons to-day, with the most terrible responsibility that can fall upon the shoulders of any living man, as the chief adviser of the Crown, in the most gigantic War in which the country has ever been engaged—a war upon the event of which its destiny depends. It is the greatest War ever waged. The burdens are the heaviest that have been cast upon this or any other country, and the issues which hang on to it are the gravest that have been attached to any conflict in which humanity has ever been involved. The responsibilities of the new Government have been suddenly accentuated by a declaration made by the German Chancellor, and I propose to deal with that at once. The statement made by him in the German Reichstag has been followed by a Note presented to us by the United States of America without any note or comment. The answer that will be given by the Government will be given in full accord with all our brave Allies. Naturally, there has been an interchange of views, not upon the Note, because it only recently arrived, but upon the speech which propelled it, and, inasmuch as the Note itself is practically only a reproduction, or certainly a paraphrase of the speech, the subject matter of the Note itself has been discussed informally between the Allies, and I am very glad to be able to state that we have each of us separately and independently arrived at identical conclusions.
I am very glad that the first answer that was given to the statement of the 1334 German Chancellor was given by France and by Russia. They have the unquestionable right to give the first answer to such an invitation. The enemy is still on their soil; their sacrifices have been greater. The answer they have given has already appeared in all the papers, and I simply stand here to-day, on behalf of the Government, to give clear and definite support to the statement which they have already made. Let us examine what. the statement is, and examine it calmly. Any man or set of men who wantomly, or without sufficient cause, prolonged a terrible conflict like this would have on his. soul a crime that oceans could not cleanse. Upon the other hand it is equally true that any man or set of men who out of a sense of weariness or despair abandoned the struggle without achieving the high purpose for which we had entered into it-being nearly fulfilled would have been guilty of the costliest act of poltroonery ever perpetrated by any statesman. I should like to quote the very well known words of Abraham Lincoln under similar conditions:We accepted this war for an object, and a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained. Under God I hope it will never end until that time.Are we likely to achieve that object by accepting the invitation of the German Chancellor? That is the only question we have to put to ourselves. There has been some talk about proposals of peace. What are the proposals? There are none. To enter at the invitation of Germany, proclaiming herself victorious, without any knowledge of the proposals she proposes to make, into a conference, is to put our heads into a noose with the rope end in the hands of Germany. This country is not altogether without experience in these matters. This is not the first time we have fought a great military despotism that was overshadowing Europe, and it will not be the first time we shall have helped to overthrow military despotism. We have an uncomfortable historical memory of these things, and we can recall when one of the greatest of these despots had a purpose to serve in the working of his nefarious schemes. His favourite device was to appear in the garb of the angel of peace. He usually-appeared under two conditions, firstly, when he wished for time to assimilate his conquests, or to reorganise his forces for fresh conquests; and, secondly, when his subjects showed symptoms of fatigue and war weariness, and invariably the appeal 1335 was always made in the name of humanity; and he demanded an end to bloodshed at which he professed himself to be horrified but for which he himself was mainly responsible. Our ancestors were taken in once, and bitterly they and Europe rue it. The time was devoted to reorganising his forces for a deadlier attack than ever upon the liberties of Europe and examples of that kind cause as to regard this Note with a considerable measure of reminiscent disquiet. We feel that we ought to know before we can give favourable consideration to such an invitation that Germany is prepared to accede to the only terms on which it is possible for peace to be obtained and maintained in Europe. What arc those terms? They have been repeatedly stated by all the leading statesmen of the Allies. My right hon. Friend has stated them repeatedly here and outside, and all I can do is to quote, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did last week, practically the statement of the terms put forward by my right hon. Friend:Restitution, reparation, guarantee against repetition.so that there shall be no mistake, and it is important that there should be no mistake in a matter of life and death to millions. Let me repeat again—complete restitution, full reparation, effectual guarantees. Did the German Chancellor use a single phrase to indicate that he was prepared to concede such terms? Was there a hint of restitution? Was there any suggestion of reparation? Was there any indication of any security for the future that this outrage on civilisation would not be again perpetrated at the first profitable opportunity? The very substance and style of the speech constitutes a denial of peace on the only terms on which peace is possible. He is not even conscious now that Germany has committed any offence against the rights of free nations. Listen to this from the Note:Not for an instant have they (they being (he Central Powers) swerred from the conviction that the respect of rights of other nations is not in any degree compatible with their own rights and legitimate interests.When did they discover that? Where was the respect for the rights of other nations in Belgium and Serbia? Oh, that was self-defence! Menaced, I suppose, by the overwhelming armies of Belgium, the Germans had been intimidated into invading that country, to the burning of Belgian cities and villages, to the mas- 1336 sacring of thousands of inhabitants, old and young, to the carrying of the survivors into bondage; yea, and they were carrying them into slavery at the very moment when this precious Note was being written about the unswerving conviction as to the respect of the rights of other nations! I suppose these outrages are the legitimate interests of Germany? We must know. That is not the mood of peace. If excuses of this kind for palpable crimes can be put forward two and a half years after the exposure by grim facts of the guarantee, is there, I ask in all solemnity, any guarantee that similar subterfuges will not be used in the future to overthrow any treaty of peace you may enter into with Prussian militarism? This Note and that speech proves that not yet have they learned the very alphabet of respect for the rights of others. Without reparation, peace is impossible. Are all these outrages against humanity on land and on sea to be liquidated by a few pious phrases about humanity? Is there to be no reckoning for them? Are we to grasp the hand that perpetrated these atrocities in friendship without any reparation being tendered or given? I am told that we are to begin, Germany helping us, to exact reparation for all future violence committed after the War. We have begun already. It has already cost us so much, and we must exact it now so as not to leave such a grim inheritance to our children. Much as we all long for peace, deeply as we are horrified with war, this Note and the speech which propelled it afford us small encouragement and hope for an honourable and lasting compact.
What hope is there given by that speech that the whole root and cause of this great bitterness, the arrogant spirit of the Prussian military caste, will not be as dominant as ever if we patch up a peace now? Why the very speech in which these peace suggestions are made resounds with the boasts of Prussian military triumphs of victory. It is a long pæan over the victory of Von Hindenburg and his legions. This very appeal for peace is delivered ostentatiously from the triumphant chariot of Prussian militarism. We must keep a steadfast eye upon the purpose for which we entered the War, otherwise the great sacrifices we have been making will be all in vain. The German Note states that it was for the defence of their existence and the freedom of national development that the Central Powers were con- 1337 strained to take up arms. Such phrases cannot even deceive those who pen them. They are intended to delude the German nation into supporting the designs of the Prussian military caste. Whoever wishes to put an end to their existence and the freedom of their national development? We welcomed their development as long as it was on the paths of peace. The greater their development upon that road, the greater will all humanity be enriched by their efforts. That was not our design, and it is not our purpose now. The Allies entered this War to defend themselves against the aggression of the Prussian military domination, and having begun it, they must insist that it can only end with the most complete and effective guarantee against the possibility of that caste ever again disturbing the peace of Europe. Prussia, since she got into the hands of that caste, has been a bad neighbour, arrogant, threatening, bullying, litigious, shifting boundaries at her will, taking one fair field after another from weaker neighbours, and adding them to her own domain, with her belt ostentatiously full of weapons of offence, and ready at a moment's notice to use them. She has always been an unpleasant disturbing neighbour in Europe, and no wonder that the Prussians got thoroughly on the nerves of Europe. There was no peace near where she dwelt.
It is difficult for those who were fortunate enough to live thousands of miles away to understand what it has meant to those who lived near their boundaries. Even here, with the protection of the broad seas between us, we know what a disturbing factor the Prussians were with their constant naval menace, but even we can hardly realise what it has meant to Prance and to Russia. Several times there were threats directed to them within the lifetime of this generation which.presented the alternative of war or humiliation. There were many of us who hoped that internal influence in Germany would have been strong enough to check and ultimately to eliminate this hectoring. All our hopes proved illusory, and now that this great War has been forced by the Prussian military leaders upon France, Russia, Italy, and ourselves, it would be folly, it would be cruel folly, not to see to it that this swashbuckling through the streets of Europe to the disturbance of all harmless and peaceful citizens shall be dealt with now as an offence against the law of nations. The 1338 mere word that lead Belgium to her own destruction will not satisfy Europe any more. We all believed it. We all trusted it. It gave way at the first pressure of temptation, and Europe has been plunged into this vortex of blood. We-will, therefore, wait until we hear what terms and guarantees the German Government offer other than those, better than those, surer than those which she so lightly broke, and meanwhile we shall put our trust in an unbroken Army rather than in a broken faith. For the moment, I do not think it would be advisable for me to add anything upon this particular invitation. A formal reply will be delivered by the Allies in the course of the-next few days.
I shall therefore proceed with the other part of the task which I have in front of me. What is the urgent task in front of the Government? To complete and make even more effective the mobilisation of all our national resources, a mobilisation which has been going on since the commencement of the War, so as to enable-the nation to bear the strain, however prolonged, and to march through to victory, however lengthy, and however exhausting may be the journey. It is a gigantic task, and let me give this word of warning: If there be any who have given their confidence to the new Administration in expectation of a speedy victory, they will be doomed to disappointment. I am not going to paint a gloomy picture of the military situation—if I did, it would not be-a true picture—but I must paint a stern picture, because that accurately represents the facts. I have always insisted on the ration being taught to realise the actual facts of this War. I have attached enormous importance to that at the risk of being characterised as a pessimist. I believe that a good many of our misunderstandings have arisen from exaggerated views which have been taken about successes and from a disposition to treat, as trifling real set backs. To imagine that you can only get the support and the help, and the best help, of a strong people by concealing difficulties is to show a fundamental misconception. The British people possess as sweet a tooth as anybody and they like pleasant things put on the table, but that is not the stuff that they have been brought up on. That is not what the British Empire has been nourished on. Britain has never shown at its best except when it was confronted with a real danger and understood it.
1339 Let us for a moment look at the worst. The Roumanian blunder was an unfortunate one, but at worst it prolongs the War; it does not alter the fundamental facts of the War. I cannot help hoping that it may even have a salutary effect in calling the attention of the Allies to obvious defects in their organisation, not merely the organisation of each but the organisation of the whole, and if it does that and braces them up to fresh effort it may prove, bad as it is, a blessing. That is the worst. That has been a real setback. It is the one cloud—well, it is the darkest cloud—and it is a cloud that appeared on a clearing horizon. We are doing our best to make it impossible that that disaster should lead to worse. That is why we have taken in the last few days very strong action in Greece. We mean to take no risks there. We have decided to take definite and decisive action, and I think it has succeeded. We have decided also to recognise the agents of that great Greek Statesman, M. Venizelos.
I wanted to clear out of the way what I regarded as the worst features in the military situation, but I should like to say one word about the lesson of the fighting on the Western front, not about the military strategy but about the significance of the whole of that great struggle, one of the greatest struggles ever waged in the history of the world. It is full of encouragement and of hope. Just look at it. An absolutely new Army! The old had done its duty and spent itself in the achievement of that great task. This is a new Army. But a year ago it was ore in the earth of Britain, yea, and of Ireland. It became iron. It has passed through a fiery furnace, and the enemy knows that it is now fine steel—an absolutely new Army, new men, new officers taken from schools, boys from schools, from colleges, from counting-houses, never trained to war, never thought of war, many of them perhaps never handled a weapon of war, generals never given the opportunity of handling great masses of men! Some of us had seen the manoeuvres. What would now be regarded as a division attacking a small village is more than our generals ever had the opportunity of handling before the War. Compared with the great manoeuvres on the Continent, they were toy manoeuvres. And yet this New Army, new men, new officers, generals new to this kind of work, they have faced the greatest Army in the 1340 world, the greatest Army the world has ever seen, the best equipped and the best trained, and they have beaten them, beaten them, beaten them! Battle after battle, day after day, week after week! From the strongest enternchments ever devised by human skill they have driven them out by valour, by valour which is incredible when you read the story of it.
There is something which gives you hope, which flls you with pride in the nation to which they belong. It is a fact, and it is a fact full of significance for us— and for the foe. It is part of his reckoning as well. He has seen that Army grow and proved under his very eyes. A great French general said to me, "Your Army is a new Army. It must learn, not merely generals, not merely officers, but the men must learn not merely what to do, but how and when to do it. They are becoming veterans, and therefore, basing our confidence upon these facts, I am as convinced as I ever was of ultimate victory if the nation proves as steady, as valorous, as ready to sacrifice and as ready to learn and to endure as that great Army of our sons in France. That is all I shall say at the present moment about the military situation.
I should like now to say a word or two about the Government it self, and, in doing so, I am anxious to avoid all issues that excite irritation or controversy or disunion. This is not a time for that. But it must not be assumed, if I do so, that I accept as complete the accounts which have been given of the way in which the Government was formed. My attitude. towards the policy of the late Administration, of which I was a member and for all whose deeds I am just as responsible as any one of them, has been given in letters and memoranda, and my reasons for leaving have also been given in a letter. If it were necessary, I should have, on personal grounds, welcomed its publication; but I am convinced that controversies as to the past will not help us as to the future, and therefore, as far as I am concerned, I place them on one side and go on with what I regard as the business of the Government under these trying conditions. I should like to say something, first of all, as to the unusual character and composition of the Government as an executive body.
The House has realised that there has been a separation between the functions of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. That was because we came to the conclusion that it was more than any 1341 one man, whatever his energy or physical strength might be, could do to undertake both functions in the middle of a great? war. The task of the Leader of the House is a very anxious and absorbing task, even in war. I have not been able to attend the House very much myself during the last two or three years, but I have been here often enough to realise that the task of the Leader of the House of Commons is not a sinecure even in a war—friends of mine took care that it should not be so. So much for that point. Now there are three characteristics in the present Administration in which it may be said it has departed, perhaps, from precedent. First of all, there is the concentration of the Executive in a very few hands; the second is the choosing of men of administrative and business capacity rather than men of Parliamentary experience, where we were unable to obtain both for the headship of a great Department; and the third is a franker and fuller recognition of the partnership of Labour in the Government of this?country. No Government that has ever been formed to rule this country has had such a share—such a number of men who all their lives have been associated with labour and with the labour organisations of this country. We realised that it is impossible to conduct war without getting the complete and unqualified support of Labour, and we were anxious to obtain their assistance and their counsel for the purpose of the conduct of the War.
The fact that this is a different kind of organisation to any that preceded it is not a criticism upon its predecessors— not necessarily. They were peace structures. They were organised for a different purpose and a different condition of things. The kind of craft you have for river or canal traffic is not exactly the kind of vessel you construct for the high seas. I have no doubt that the old Cabinets—I am not referring to the last Cabinet—I am referring to the old system of Cabinets, where the heads of every Department were represented inside the Cabinets—I have no doubt that the old Cabinets were better adapted to navigate the Parliamentary river with its shoals and shifting sands, and perhaps for a cruise in home waters. But a -Cabinet of twenty-three is rather top-heavy for a gale. I do not say that this particular craft is best adapted for Pardiamentary navigation, but I am con- 1342 vinced it is the best for the War, in which you want quick decision above everything. Look at the last two and a half years. I am not referring to what has happened in this country. When I say these things I would rather the House of Commons looked at the War as a whole, and took the concerns of the Allies as a whole. We are all perfectly certain, and I shall have the assent of my right hon. Friend in this, that the Allies have suffered disaster after disaster through tardiness of decision and action, very largely for reasons I shall give later on. I know in this I am in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend. It is true that in a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom. That was written for Oriental countries in peace times. You cannot run a war with a Sanhedrim. That is the meaning of the Cabinet of five, with one of its members doing sentry duty outside, manning the walls, and defending the Council Chamber against attack while we are trying to do our work inside.
Some concern has been expressed at the relationship of this small executive to other members. It has been suggested there is danger of lack of co-ordination and common direction. It has been wondered how we can ever meet: one very respectable newspaper suggests there ought to be weekly dinners to discuss matters of common concern. What is the difficulty? Whenever anything concerns a particular Department you follow precedent. This is not the first time you have had heads of Departments outside the Cabinet. As a matter of fact, the practice of putting every head of a Department inside the Cabinet is quite a modern innovation, and the way in which Governments have been in the habit of dealing with that situation is whenever there is anything that concerns a particular Department, the head of that Department, with his officers, attends the executive Committee and you immediately get into contact with each other and discuss those problems which require solution. That is an old practice. I think it is a very effective practice. It is very much better, especially in time of war, than keeping men away from their Departments discussing things which do not directly concern them. But while undoubtedly their counsel may be very valuable, when you have a considerable number of people brought together you 1343 are apt to create confusion and thus to delay decision. There is another point of departure and another change, and that is the amalgamation of the old War Committee with the Cabinet. The old War Committee had what the Cabinet had not, it had secretaries to keep a complete record of all decisions, and this no Cabinet has ever had. They were always a question of memory. I do not think my right hon. Friend, or any of his predecessors, ever took a note of the decisions.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Perhaps I may explain. It is desirable there should be no mistake. It is the inflexible unwritten rule of the Cabinet that no member shall take any note or record of the proceedings except the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister does so for the purpose—and it is the only record of the proceedings kept—of sending his letter to the King.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is so. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. That is the real difference between the War Committee and the Cabinet. In the War Committee a full record was taken of every decision and the minutes were sent round to each member for correction. The matters dealt with there were just as confidential—I might even say more confidential—than the vast majority of questions decided in the Cabinet. Henceforth there will be no distinction between your War Committee and your War Cabinet. The secretary will always be there; we propose to strengthen his staff so that we might have more direct means of communication and a more organised means of communication between the Cabinet and various Departments than you have ever had in the past. I come now to the other point, which has caused some misgiving. There seems to be a little concern lest the new organisation should have the effect of lessening Parliamentary control. I wonder why on earth it would do that. Each Minister answers for his Department exactly in the same way as under the old system. Each Minister is accountable for his Department to Parliament, and the Government as a whole are accountable to Parliament. The control of Parliament as a whole must, and always must, be supreme because it represents the nation. There is not the slightest attempt here to derogate in any particular from the complete control 1344 of Parliament. I do not think the present methods of Parliamentary control are efficient, but that is not a change which has come about through the new Administration I have always thought that the methods of Parliamentary control, and I speak here as a fairly old Parliamentarian, rather tended to give undue prominence to trivialities—my right hon. Friend and I have talked over this matter many a time—and on the other hand that it rather tended to minimise and ignore realities. Whether you can improve upon that I personally have never had any doubt, but I have always thought—I do not know whether I carry anyone with me on this except my hon. Friend who sits there—that the French system was a more effective one—the system whereby Ministers have to appear before Parliamentary Committees, where questions can be asked them, and where they can give an action which they would not care to give in public. I think that in many respects that system has helped to save France from one or two very serious, blunders. I am not committing the Government to that beyond this, that we are investigating that question. It is just possible we might refer the matter to Parliament to settle for itself, because it is not so much a question for the Government as a question for Parliament itself to decide, subject, of course, to any criticism or suggestion which the Government might wish to make, as to the best and most efficient methods during a period of War of exercising Parliamentary control over the Departments. Now I come to the work of the Government, which the Government is cutting out for itself. I had hoped to be able to tell the House of Commons a good deal more upon three or four very vital matters than I am in a position to do owing to reasons over which I have no control. I have not been able to confer with heads of Departments nor with my Friends in the Cabinet, and therefore two or three questions upon-, which I should have liked to pronounce decisions to-day I am not in a position, unfortunately, to do so. My right hon. Friends yesterday—the Home Secretary, in introducing a Bill, and the Leader of the House subsequently—gave a very detailed account of the probable working of the new Ministries, and therefore I shall have very little to say with regard to these. Take the Ministry of Labour. It has been urged for thirty years by organised labour in this country, and my experience in the Ministry of Munitions has. 1345 taught me this, that it was desirable there should be a Department which was not altogether in the position of employer to employed to those who were concerned whenever there was a dispute about labour conditions or wages; but I hope that this Department will not con-line itself merely to the settling of disputes, That is but a small part of the whole industrial problem, which I hope this Ministry will assist in solving. I hope it will become in a real sense a Ministry with the well-being of labour in its charge. In the Munitions Department I had the privilege of setting up something that was known as a Welfare Department, which was an attempt to take advantage of the present malleability of industry, in order to impress upon it move humanitarian conditions, to make labour less squalid and less repellent, and more attractive and more healthy. A number of very able volunteers are organising that Department, and I am glad to be able to say about some of them that they belong to the Society of Friends and have had a rooted objection to war, which is due to the creed they profess—no one has doubted their sincerity—but they have never carried it so far as to say that during a War they should take no part in any national burden; and they are working hard in this Department. Then I am hoping that this Department will take a leading part in assisting in the mobilisation of labour for the purposes of the War, a matter to which I shall refer later on. I think my right hon. Friend has already indicated to the House what we propose to do with regard to shipping. It was never so vital to the life of the nation as it is at the present moment, during the War. It is the jugular vein, which, if severed, would destroy the life of the nation, and the Government felt the time had come for taking over more complete control of all the ships of this country and placing them in practically the same position as are the railways of the country at the present moment; so that during the War shipping will be nationalised in the real sense of the term. The prodigious profits which were made out of freights were contributing in no small measure to the high cost of commodities, and I always found not only that, but that they were making it difficult for us in our task with labour. Whenever I met organised labour under any conditions where I would persuade them Vol.
1346 to give up privileges, I always had hurled at me phrases about the undue and extravagant profits of shipping. This is intolerable in war time, when so many are making so great sacrifices for the State. Sir Joseph Maclay, one of the ablest shipowners in the United Kingdom, has undertaken to direct this great enterprise with one sole object—the service of the country. He is now conferring with the Admiralty and the very able Shipping Control Committee over which Lord Curzon presided, and I hope I shall be in a position to inform the House of the plans and projects he recommends should be taken not merely for the more effective nationalisation of the ships which we have already on the register, but the speedy construction of more, so as to make up the wastage which, I fear, is inevitable in any great war, especially when you are dealing with such piratical methods as those which have characterised the maritime policy of the German Empire. With regard to mines, here the Government also feel, as the late Government did, that they are dealing with an essential commodity which is the very life of industry. It is an essential ingredient to our military and industrial efficiency, and we ought to assume more direct control over not merely one coalfield, but over the whole industry. The conditions are being carefully considered and will be stated to the House of Commons, but I am not sure whether we can place our plans before it before we separate. Now I feel I must say something about the food problem. It is undoubtedly serious and will be grave unless not merely the Government but the nation is prepared to grapple with it courageously without loss of time. The main facts are fairly well known. The available harvests of the world have failed. Take Canada and the United States of America. As compared with last year the harvests were hundreds of millions of bushels down, and that means that the surplus available for sale abroad is diminished to an extent which is disastrous. In times of peace we can always make up the deficiency in any particular country by resorting to another. If America failed there was Russia or the Argentine—but the Argentine promises badly—and Australia. Russia is not available; Australia means almost prohibitive transport. When we come to our own harvest, which is not a mean ingredient in the whole, not merely was the 1347 harvest a poor one, but, what is still more serious, during the time when the winter wheat ought to have been sown the weather was almost prohibitive, if not altogether, and I do not believe more than three-eights of the usual sowing has taken place. Let us clearly understand what it means. Let us get to the bottom of this. Unless the nation knows what it means you cannot ask them to do their duty. It is true that to a certain extent you can make up by the spring sowing, but as any agriculturist knows that never produces anything comparable to the winter sowing.
Those are the main features so far as the harvest is concerned. We have always got the submarine menace which, in this respect, is not the most important one to consider. Under these conditions, it was decided by the late Government to appoint a Food Controller, and we have actually appointed him—an able, experienced administrator, especially in these matters, and a man of great determination and force of character. He is assisted by the ablest experts in this House. We always know the quality of a man by opposing him for years, and my hon. Friend (Captain Bathurst) many a time found it to be his duty to make himself very active on Rills which I had the burden of carrying through this House, so that I know something about his qualities. At the head of the Board of Agriculture we have a man who is singularly gifted and who has as thorough a knowledge of the principles and the practices of this question as any man in this or any other country. I felt it important that we should secure the very best brains in the country to bear upon this very difficult and very dangerous problem. The problem is a double one; it is one of distribution and of production. In respect of both, we must call upon the people of this country to make real sacrifices, but it is essential, when we do so, that the sacrifices should be equal. The over-consumption by the affluent must not be allowed to create a shortage for the less well-to-do. I am sure we can depend upon men and women of all conditions—to use an ordinary phrase which I am sure the House will allow me to use because it is thoroughly well understood—I hope we can appeal to men and women of all ranks and conditions to play the game. Any sort of concealment hurts the nation. It hurts it when it is fighting for 1348 its life. Therefore, we must appeal to the nation as a whole, men and women—without the help of the whole nation we can accomplish nothing—to assist us to so distribute our resources that there shall be no man, woman or child who will be suffering from hunger because someone else has been getting too much.
When you come to production, every available square yard must be made to produce food. The labour available for tillage should not be turned to more ornamental purposes until the food necessities of the country have been adequately safeguarded. The best use must be made of land and of labour to increase the food supplies of this country—corn, potatoes, and all kinds of food products. All those who have the opportunity must feel it is their duty to the State to assist in producing and in contributing to the common stock, upon which everybody can draw. If they do this, we shall get food without any privation, without any want, everybody having plenty of the best and healthiest food. By that means and that means alone will the nation be able to* carry through the War to that triumphal issue to which we are all looking forward. It means sacrifice. But what sacrifice? Talk to a man who has returned from the horrors of the Somme, or who has been through the haunting wretchedness of a winter campaign, and you will know something of what those gallant men are enduring for their country. They are-enduring much, they are hazarding all, whilst we are living in comfort and security at home. You cannot have absolute equality of sacrifice. In a-war that is impossible, but you can have equal readiness to sacrifice from all. There are hundreds of thousands who have given their lives, there are millions who have given up comfortable homes and exchanged them for a daily communion with death; multitudes have given up those whom they love best. Let the nation as a whole place its comforts, its luxuries, its indulgencies, its elegances on a national altar consecrated by such sacrifices as these men have made. Let us proclaim during the War a national Lent. The nation will be better and stronger for it, mentally and morally as well as physically. It will strengthen its fibre, it will ennoble its spirit. Without it we shall not get the full benefit of this struggle. Our Armies might drive the enemy out of the battered villages of France, across; 1349 the devastated plains of Belgium; they might hurl them across the Rhine in battered disarray, but unless the nation as a whole shoulders part of the burden of victory it will not profit by the triumph, for it is not what a nation gains, it is what a nation gives that makes it great.
While the nation is making such enormous sacrifices as those I have already pointed out, it is intolerable that any section should be permitted to make exceptional profits out of those sacrifices and by that means actually increase the burdens borne by others. A good deal has already been done by the late Administration to arrest unfair private profiteering out of the War. The Govern-men have come to the conclusion that they cannot ask the nation for more sacrifices without even more drastic steps yet being taken. There are several ways of dealing with this problem. One is the annexation of all war profits; another is the cutting down of prices so as to make excessive profits impossible. The Munitions Act adopted both of those expedients. Eighty per cent. of the profits in controlled firms were annexed. In addition to that, there has been a most searching and minute revision of prices in the controlled firms, and enormous reductions have already been achieved in those firms. The problem is now being carefully examined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others, and we hope to be able to make an announcement shortly as to the course the Government intend to adopt. It is quite clear that if the nation must be asked to make further sacrifices in order to win the War, the road should be cleared by action of this kind.
I now come to an even more difficult subject, one which is equally vital to the success of this country in this great War. I have hitherto talked largely of the mobilisation of the material resources of the nation. I now come to the mobilisation of the labour reserves of the country, which are even more vital to our success than the former. Without this— let us make no mistake—we shall not be able to pull through. It is not the mere haphazard law of supply and demand that will accomplish that which is necessary to save the nation within the time that it is essential it should be accomplished. It is not a question of years. It is a question of months, perhaps of weeks. Unless not merely the material resources of the country but the labour 1350 of the country is used to the best advantage, and every man is called upon to render such service to the State as he can best give, victory is beyond our reach. The problem with which we are confronted is a difficult one. Nearly a year ago we decided that in order to maintain our Armies in the field the nation must have complete control over all its military resources in men. But it is impossible to take men into the Army without taking them from civil employment of greater or less utility, and it has been our object—an object that becomes more and more plain as times goes on; it was plain to the late Administration as well as to ourselves—to establish such a system of recruiting as will ensure that no man is taken into the Army who is capable of rendering more useful service in industry. To complete our plan for the organisation of all the national resources, we ought to have power to say that every man who is not taken into the Army, whatever his position or rank, really is employed on work of national importance. For instance, I was constantly appealed to as Secretary of State for War to release men for agricultural work. The Army Council and those in charge were quite prepared to do so, but there was absolutely no guarantee that, if the men were released, they would be used for agricultural purposes—not the least. The moment they were released from the Army they were free to go to munition work or to any other work where they thought they could sell their labour to the best advantage, or where they thought they could live under the most pleasant conditions.
We could not ensure that these men, if released, would be used for agricultural purposes, and we were constantly confronted with these difficulties. That is one of the problems with which you must deal if the nation is to have the full benefit of such labour reserves as are still left to it. At present it is only the man who is fitted for military service, and has not established a claim for exemption on whom the nation can call. The unfit man and the exempted man are surely under the same moral obligation, but still there is no means of enforcing it. It is with this imperfect organisation of our industrial man-power that we are called upon to confront an enemy who not only exercises to the full his undoubted right over his own population, but has introduced a practice hitherto unknown to 1351 civilised warfare of removing the civilian inhabitants of occupied territory to make good the shortage of labour in his own factories. It is necessary that we should make a swift and effective answer to Germany's latest move. As our Armies grow, our needs for munitions grow. There is a large part of our labour for munition purposes which is immobile. There may be a surplus in one factory and a shortage in another. We have no power to transfer men. As the months go by the cost of the war increases. Our purchases in neutral countries become more difficult to finance, yet there may be and there are thousands of men occupied in industries which consume our wealth at home, and do nothing to strengthen our credit abroad. Yet we have no power to transfer them from employment where they are wasting our strength and their own to employments where they could increase it. We have not even the organisation necessary for utilising them as volunteers.
These are the powers which we must take, and this is the organisation which we must complete. I could dwell upon it by the illustration of agriculture. There is undoubtedly in this country a considerable number of people skilled in tillage of the soil who are not producing food, but we cannot mobilise them. We cannot direct them. I believe that there are scores, if not hundreds of thousands of people of that kind—there is no question here of military age—who, if we could utilise them to the best advantage, could produce great quantities of food in this country, but we cannot do it. Not only that. The difficulty in agriculture is the want of skilled men. You may have two or three skilled men on a particular farm, or the farmers may have no skilled men at all, yet two or three skilled men, if you could treat them as commissioned officers, could look after not merely one farm, but several farms, with the aid of unskilled ment or women working under them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I thought that I had made that fairly clear. I cannot in the course of a speech like this give the whole details of the plans of my right hon. Friends here, with regard to agriculture, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that 1352 there are schemes of very great magnitude which have been formulated, and which are in course of being put into operation. They will involve great local organisation throughout the country, and I think that my right hon. Friend will be very satisfied with them when he sees them. The matter was considered by the War Committee of the late Government, and it was unanimously decided by them that the time had come for the adoption of the principle of universal national service. It was one of the first matters taken up by the present Government, and the War Cabinet have unanimously adopted the conclusions come to by the preceding War Cabinet. I believe that the plans which we. have made will secure to every worker all that he has the right to ask for.
In order to do this it is proposed to appoint at once a Director of National Service, to be in charge of both the military and the civil side of universal national service. The civil and military side of the directory are to be entirely separate, and there, shall be a military and a civil director responsible to the Director of National Service. The Military Director will be responsible for recruiting for the Army, and will hand over to the War Office the recruits obtained. Here I need not elaborate, because it is not proposed to make any change in recruiting for military service. As regards civilian service it is proposed that the Director of. National Service shall proceed by the scheduling of industries and of services according to their essential character during the War. Certain industries are regarded as indispensable and the departments concerned will indent upon the Director of National Service for the labour which they require for those services, and other services will be rationed in such matters as labour, raw material, and power. Labour that is set free from non-essential and rationed industries will be available to set free potential soldiers who are at present exempted from military service and to increase the available supply of labour for essential services. This labour will be invited to enrol at once and be registered as war workers on lines analogous to the existing munitions volunteers, with similar provisions as to rates of pay and separation allowance.
I have no doubt that when it is realised how essential to the life of the nation it is that the services of every man should be put to the best use we shall secure an adequate supply of these volunteers. We 1353 are taking immediate steps to secure by this means the men we want. We shall begin as soon as may be to classify industries and invite the enrolment of volunteers. If it is found impossible to get the numbers we require—and I hope it will be possible—we shall not hesitate to come to Parliament and ask Parliament to release us from pledges given in other circumstances and to obtain the necessary power for rendering our plans fully effective. The nation is fighting for its life, and it is entitled to the best services of all its sons. We have been fortunate in inducing the Lord Mayor of Birmingham (Mr. Neville Chamberlain) to accept the position of Director-General under this scheme. It was with very great difficulty that we induced him to undertake this very onerous duty as the task with which he is identified in Birmingham is a matter of first-class importance to that great city, and it was only the urgent appeals made to him that induced him to undertake this great and onerous task. He will immediately proceed to organise this great new system of enrolment for industrial purposes, and I hope that before Parliament resumes its duties in another few weeks we shall be able to report that we have secured a sufficiently large industrial army in order to mobilise the whole of the labour strength of this country for war purposes.
I wish it had been possible for me to have said something to-day about Ireland. I had hoped to be able to do so but the circumstances to which I have already referred have made it impossible for me to devote my time and attention to the problems which have arisen in that country. I have had one or two preliminary interviews with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, and I have made arrangements for others on certain questions, but unfortunately I have not been able to attend to this and to many other equally insistent matters in the last few days. All I should like to say is this: I wish it were possible to remove the misunderstanding between Britain and Ireland which has for centuries been such a source of misery to the one and of embarrassment and weakness to the other. Apart from the general interest which I have taken in it, I should consider that a war measure of the first importance. I should consider it a great victory for the Allied Forces, something that would give strength to the Armies of the Allies. I am convinced now that it is a misunderstanding, partly racial and partly religious. It 1354 is to the interest of both to have this misunderstanding removed, but there seems to have been some evil chance that frustrated every effort made for the achievement of better relations. I wish that that misunderstanding could be removed I tried once. I did not succeed.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The fault was not entirely on one side. I felt the whole time that we were moving in an atmosphere of nervous suspicion and distrust, pervasive, universal, of everything and everybody. I wets drenched with suspicion of Irishmen by Englishmen and of Englishmen by Irishmen and, worst and most fatal of all, suspicion by Irishmen of Irishmen. It was a quagmire of distrust which clogged the footsteps and made progress impossible. That is the real enemy of Ireland. If that could be slain, I believe that it would accomplish an act of reconciliation that would make Ireland greater and Britain greater and would make the United Kingdom and the Empire greater than they ever were before. That is why I have always thought and said that the real solution of the Irish problem is largely one of the better atmosphere. I am speaking not merely for myself, but for my colleagues when I say that we shall strive to produce that better feeling.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We shall strive by every means and by many hazards to produce that atmosphere, and we ask men of all races, and men of all creeds and faith, to help us, not to solve a political question, but to help us to do something that will be a real contribution to the winning of the War. I must also say one word about the Dominions.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir HEDWORTH MEUX
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the Navy before he sits down?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. and gallant Friend knows that the achievements of the Navy speak for themselves. I do not think that anything I can say would be in the least adequate to recognise the enormous and incalculable services that the great Navy of Britain has rendered, not merely to the Empire, but to the whole Allied cause. Not merely would victory have been impossible, but the War could not have been kept on for 1355 two and a half years had it not been for the services of the Navy. Now I come to the question of the Dominions. Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged the splendid assistance which the Dominions have given, of their own free will, to the old country in its championship of the cause of humanity. The great ideals of national fair play and justice appeal to the Dominions just as insistently as to us. They have recognised throughout that our fight is not a selfish one, and that it is not merely a European quarrel, but that there are great world issues involved which their children are as concerned in as our children. The new Administration are as full of gratitude as the old for the superb valour which our kinsmen have shown in so many stricken fields, but that is not why I introduce the subject now. I introduce the subject now because I want to say that we feel the time has come when the Dominions ought to be more formally consulted as to the progress and course of the War, as to the steps that ought to be taken to secure victory, and as to the best methods of garnering in the fruits of their efforts as well as of our own. We propose, therefore, at an early date to summon an Imperial Conference, to place the whole position before the Dominions, and to take counsel with them as to what further action they and we can take together in order to achieve an early and complete triumph for the ideals they and we have so superbly fought for.
As to our relations with the Allies—and this is the last topic I shall refer to—I ventured to say earlier in the year that there were two things we ought to seek as Allies—the first was, unity of aim; and the other, unity of action. The first we have achieved. Never have Allies worked in better harmony or more perfect accord than the Allies in this great struggle. There has been no friction and there has been no misunderstanding. But when I come to the question of unity of action, I still think that there is a good deal left to be desired. I have only got to refer to the incident of Roumania, and each man can spell out for himself what I mean. The enemy have got two advantages—two supreme advantages. One is that they act on internal lines, and the other is that there is one great dominant power that practically directs the forces of all. We have neither of these advantages. We must, therefore, achieve the same end by other means. 1356 The advantages we possess are advantages which time improves. No one can say that we have made the best of that time. There has been a tardiness of decision and action. I forget who said about Necker that he was like a clock that was always too slow. There is a little of that in the great Alliance clock—Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, Roumania.
Before we can take full advantage of the enormous resources at the command of the Allies, there must be some means of arriving at quicker and readier decisions, and of carrying them out. I believe that that can be done, and if we quicken our action as well as our decisions it will equalise the conditions more than we have succeeded in doing in the past. There must be more consultation, more real consultation between the men who matter in the direction of affairs. There must be less of the feeling that each country has got its own front to look after. They have carried it so far that almost each Department might have a front of its own. The policy of a common front must be a reality. It is on the other side, Austrian guns are helping German infantry, and German infantry are stiffening Austrian arms. The Turks are helping Germans and Austrians, and Bulgarians mix with all. There is an essential feeling that there is but one front, and I believe we have got to get that more and more, instead of having overwhelming guns on one side, and bare breasts, gallant breasts on the other. It is essential for the Allies, not merely to realise that, but to carry it out in policy and action. I take this opportunity at the beginning of this new Administration of emphasising that point, because I believe it is the one essential for great victory, and for the curtailment of the period before victory arrives.
I end with one personal note, for which I hope the House will forgive me. May I say, and I say it in all sincerity, that it is one of the deepest regrets of my life that I should part from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith). Some of his friends know how I strove to avert it. For years I served under the right hon. Gentleman, and I am proud to say so. I never had a kinder or more indulgent chief. If there were any faults of temper, they were entirely mine, and I have no doubt I must have been difficult at times. No man had greater admiration for his brilliant intellectual attainments, and no man was happier to serve under him. For eight 1357 years we differed as men of such different temperaments must necessarily differ, but we never had a personal quarrel. In spite of serious differences in policy, and it was with deep, genuine grief that I felt it necessary to tender my resignation to my right hon. Friend. But there are moments when personal and party considerations must sink into absolute insignificance, and if in this War I have given scant heed to the call of party, and so I have, although I have been as strong a party man as any in this House. If I have not done that during this War it is because I realised from the moment the Prussian cannon hurled death at a peaceable and inoffensive little country, that a challenge had been sent to civilisation to decide an issue higher than party, deeper than party, wider than all parties—an issue upon the settlement of which will depend the fate of men in this world for generations, when existing parties will have fallen like dead leaves on the highway. Those issues are the issues that I want to keep in front of the nation, so that we shall not falter or faint in our resolve. There is a time in every prolonged and fierce war, in the passion and rage of the conflict, when men forget the high purpose with which they entered it. This is a struggle for international right, international honour, international good faith—the channel along which peace, honour and good will must flow amongst men. The embankment laboriously built up by generations of men against barbarism have been broken, and had not the might of Britain passed into the breach, Europe would have been inundated with a flood of savagery and unbridled lust of power. The plain sense of fair play amongst nations, the growth of an international conscience, the protection of the weak against the strong by the stronger, the consciousness that justice has a more powerful backing in this world than greed, the knowledge that any outrage upon fair dealing between nations, great or small, will meet with prompt and meritable chastisement—these constitute the causeway along which humanity was progressing slowly to higher things. The triumph of Prussia would sweep it all away and leave mankind to struggle helpless in the morass. That is why, since this War began, I have known but one political aim. For that I have fought with a single eye. 1358 That is the rescue of mankind from the most overwhelming catastrophe that has ever yet menaced its well-being.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My first duty—and it is a very agreeable one—is to congratulate my right hon. Friend with all my heart upon his accession to the highest and most responsible place in the service of the Crown. No one knows better—no one knows as well as I do—the extent and the degree of the cares, labours, anxieties, which at a time like this incumbency of that office brings with it. I earnestly hope for him, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of the country and the Empire, that he will sustain a full measure of physical strength and energy, and I can assure him he will have, in the prosecution of a task of unexampled magnitude and difficulty, the whole-hearted sympathy of persons of all classes and all parties in this House. My right hon. Friend, at the close of his speech, proclaimed that during this War he had shown scant regard for the claims of party. That is a claim which others may make also. In fact, so far as I know—and I have followed the Parliamentary progress of the War as well as its other aspects since its first day—there has never been a time in our history—there have never been two years in our history—when the voice of party has been so silent, the deflections of the party current have been so rare, and a united nation has presented a more united front. It is eleven years now since I spoke from this side of the House, and if I speak from it to-day it is not because I claim in any sense to be the Leader of what is called an Opposition. Opposition! I believe there is none, and although I have had in the course of the last few weeks most gratifying testimony that I retain the confidence of my old political associates, at whose side, and in later years at whose head, I have fought in all the great domestic controversies of the last thirty years, I do not stand here and speak here as the head of the Liberal party. I have been for the last two and a half years the person mainly responsible for the conduct of this War. I do not care for the moment by whom the Government of the country is conducted, although I am very glad to see a man of such ability as my right hon. Friend in the place which he so worthily occupies—whatever, experience I have gained, whatever it is worth, is at the disposal of the Government.
1359 I have said during the time of the War party has ceased to exist. But let me add one qualifying word. It is in abeyance, but in good time it will revive. In my judgment government by coalition is only suited to special emergencies, and for the normal conduct of our affairs the party system, with all its defects and all its drawbacks—and by the party system I mean the clash of organised opinions, definite policies and responsible leadership is the best expedient, imperfect though it be, which has yet been devised for the conduct of democratic government. I say that by way of preliminary. I do not wish to say anything as to the circumstances which have led to my transferring my seat from that bench to this. I am entirely with my right hon. Friend that they belong to a past which it would serve no useful purpose now to retraverse. I would not, indeed, devote a sentence to my own personal position were it not that I have had the honour of being Leader of this House for the best part of nine years, and with that record behind mo I am proud to think that to whatever quarter of the House I turn I see the faces not only of fellow Members but of Friends. They will understand me when I say on the one hand it is to me a relief, and in some ways an unspeakable relief, to be released from a daily burden which has lately been carried under almost insupportable conditions, and, on the other hand, a matter for natural and deep regret that I should be compelled to leave unfinished a task at which I have so long and so strenuously worked. Let that suffice on the personal question.
But, apart from and beyond any personal consideration, I wish to deal with the suggestion—not, indeed, I agree, put forward in the least by my right hon. Friend—he would be the last to do it—but industriously circulated outside—that in some vaguely defined way the late Government failed or were failing in the resolute and effective prosecution of this War. I am not going for a moment to assume the attitude or to adopt the language of apology. Errors of judgment, defects of method, there may have been and there undoubtedly have been. Not only our gallant Allies, but the enemy himself, if he were for once in a candid mood, would make the same confession. But that there has been slackness or lethargy, infirmity of purpose, above all want of thoroughness and want of whole-heartedness in our 1360 concentration upon our common task, not only on my behalf, but on behalf of my late colleagues, as well those who sit upon that bench as those who sit upon this, I emphatically deny. The full story cannot, of course, yet be told. Critics in time of war— I refer not merely to irresponsible slingers of mud, but honest and patriotic lookers-on—critics in time of war have the enormous dialectical advantage that, while they are free to speak and to write—some people think a little too free—the men whom they are attacking are of necessity, by the responsibilities of their position, by their duty to our military and naval advisers, by their obligation to our Allies, to a large extent tongue-tied. It is not a new phenomenon. It is one that has been observed ever since public opinion became vocal and found a daily or weekly articulate organ. It was so in the days of Lord Chatham. It was so in the days of Mr. Pitt. It was so in the time of the Napoleonic struggle, and never more conspicuously than in its most critical phase, when Castlereagh and Wellington were the favoured targets of the darts of the omniscent amateur. Sir, I would only say this: I am quite content, when all the facts come to be disclosed, to leave my Administration, and the part which I myself played in it, to the judgment of history.
In the meantime, I hope the House will not think it irrelevant if, for just two or three minutes, I ask them to accompany me in a brief general survey. When this War was forced upon us and our Allies, after every conceivable effort had been made by my Noble Friend Lord Grey, who had justly earned for himself in the preceding years the title of the Peacemaker of Europe, after every effort had been made by him to avert it, we had not, as my right hon. Friend has; reminded us, an Army on a Continental scale. It was never any part of our policy to create or maintain such an Army. We had a more than adequate force for Home defence, and we had an Expeditionary Force always ready, if needed, for foreign service, which could be mobilised—as it was—almost at a moment's notice, and which, as the event proved, was. in quality and equipment, both of officers and men, as fine a body of troops as ever took the field. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, and he spoke of the Armies of our country as being a new Army, the call of patriotic duty which rang through the Empire summoned into the field a 1361 force twenty or thirty times as great as that with which we originally started and, largely owing, I most gladly acknowledge, to the zeal, fertility, and energy of my right hon. Friend himself, that force was in due time fully supplied with the best munitions, with the result that, as everybody agrees, the troops that we have now fighting in the field are, both as regards the quality of the men and their equipment, second to no Army in any of the theatres of the War. That was no inconsiderable achievement.
But there were two factors from the first which we have been able to contribute to the common cause which were peculiarly and essentially our own—naval supremacy and financial resource. A wise and far-seeing policy, steadily pursued by all parties for many years in peace, had given us the means of asserting and maintaining the command of the sea, and though we had far less gold in reserve than many of the great Powers—several, at any rate, of the great Powers—yet our commercial and economic position was so sound in its basis, so extended in its scope, so liquid in what I might call its mobility, that we were able to create and develop credits on an unprecedented scale; and the House knows, from the figures that I see were given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week in moving the Vote of Credit, the measure in which we have, under wise and skilful management, been able to carry on our shoulders the ever-growing burden of Allied finance. I do not attempt at this moment to appraise the relative importance of these three things, for I am certain than the last two, taken together, have not been less potent or less weighty than the first. Well—the House will forgive me for this retrospect—it very soon became apparent that in all three domains— the military, the naval, and the economic—not only we, but all the Allied Powers, had to confront entirely novel conditions. On land we have seen the culmination of the last refinements of modern science in the mechanism of destruction, with the revival of methods and practices of mediaeval or even earlier times. I say, and I want to call particular attention to this, it took a comparatively short time for our Navy to clear the seas of the cruisers and the armed merchantmen that were preying on our commerce, and the enemy has rarely indulged our sailors in the luxury of a stand-up fight on the 1362 open sea. But the novel feature of the War in that respect, of course, has been the mine and the submarine. Even that development would have been far less formidable if it had not been accompanied, as it has been, by systematic violation of all the established conventions and practices of international law. You cannot protect the oceans of the world against the possible torpedoeing of trading ships. It is an impossible task. You cannot do it; I wish you could, but you cannot. And this practice goes on. I am certain—I will say so much for the quality of our foe—it is carried on by men acting, against their will, but under instructions of a superior power which compels them to defy all the rules with regard to capture and prize which have hitherto been held sacred in maritime warfare. Much has been done in the course of the last three months, by vigilance and ceaseless observation, and by devices which I need not describe, to minimise the danger. For months past we have been anxiously engaged in providing armament for our own merchant ships, which is the best, and, in the long run, the most efficient safeguard; but, important as that is, that does not compare with the vital urgency of what has become the primary duty of our Fleet—the maintenance of the blockade. To enable it to perform that duty with ever-increasing efficiency, the number of auxiliary vessels has, during the last two years, been multiplied altogether to enormous dimensions. There are complaints, I know—I have heard it in this House—that, out of tenderness to neutrals, the blockade is not as stringent as it ought to be. Yet there is no part of the War in which the problems to be confronted are more difficult than in this matter of the-blockade. For my part, I rejoice to see that it is still in the most capable hands of my Noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But, great as the difficulties are, the evidence which comes from many different quarters is irresistible and even overwhelming, that it is the steady, ever-tightening pressure exerted by our Navy which is sapping the springs of German vitality and turning the thoughts and hopes of the mass of their people in the direction of peace.
To turn, just for a moment, to the other head to which I referred, namely, finance. We have again had to deal with unexampled conditions. We have, as my right hon. Friend has reminded us—and it lies at almost the root of all our difficulties in 1363 this country—we have as our enemy in the two Central Powers, two countries which are geographically contiguous, and which are on the economic side to a large extent mutually self-supporting, and which, in particular, were fully equipped at the beginning of the War for the fabrication of munitions upon a practically unlimited scale. In this respect I agree with him— as in the sphere both of diplomacy and of strategy, and it all comes to the same thing—in the sphere of finance as well as in that of diplomacy and strategy, he started with, and he has maintained, the initial advantage of waging of war on interior lines. Exactly the reverse has been the case with the Allies. I will not recapitulate familiar facts. It is sufficient to say that, while their power of exporting goods has been, particularly in the case of France, and to some extent of Italy, and, of course, wholly in Belgium, largely curtailed, the gigantic imports of food, munitions and a hundred other necessaries of war, have had to be made through neutral countries, and, for the financing of these transactions, as well as for the transport of the commodities themselves, Great Britain has made herself primarily and mainly responsible. That there has been no breakdown— serious as I agree the prospect is in many respects—that there has been no breakdown in the performance of a task so unprecedented reflects the greatest credit on the Departments, and not only upon them, but I wish to add this, upon the members of the various Committees who have assisted in their work—Committees wholly composed of volunteers, the greatest experts in the different industries and vocations in the country, who have given unstintingly of their time and of their energy to the public, without notoriety, and without reward. I trust and believe that in the reorganisation of some of the Departments, and in the creation of the new offices which my right hon. Friend has adumbrated to-night, and with the general purposes of which I may say at once I am in complete sympathy, full use will continue to be made of this invaluable reservoir of organised voluntary effort. You cannot get on without it. You may co-ordinate, you may prevent overlapping, you may diminish friction, you may bring about concentration and economy, but you cannot dispense with that which has been to us one of the most valuable auxiliaries in the discharge of 1364 the great responsibility of carrying on the War. As I have said, the prospect both in regard to finance and in regard to transports is, in my judgment, a very serious one, but it is not so serious as to justify misgiving and, still less, alarm. It will not be solved any more than will any other problems of war as some of our outside critics who are apt to mistake bustle for business and vehemence for strength—I am inclined to think it will not be solved by short cuts and by a series of coups de main.
Before I pass to the future let me add one word on the military situation. I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about Roumania. It has been a bad business, and although it is not possible at this moment, even if it were desirable, to go into the matter, and although it is not possible precisely to apportion the different degrees of responsibility for it—I have no desire to enter into that question—yet I am heartily in agreement with him. As he knows, for we have often discussed the matter together in the late Cabinet, and I do say that is a very good illustration of the desirability, nay, the urgent necessity, of more intimate co-operation between the General Staffs and the politicians of the Allied countries. Of course it is very easy to say, "Why have you not brought that about?" An alliance of this kind, working under these conditions, is without any example in history, and, during the last twelve months at any rate, the constant interchange of communication, of conference between ourselves and the French, has grown into a practice which may now be regarded as one of the normal incidents of our Allied action. I and my right hon. Friend have crossed the Channel together, I do not know how many times, with others of our countrymen, and the greatest good has resulted from that interchange of views. You cannot, unfortunately, in this world get over the limitations imposed by time and space, and the consequent difficulty of bringing together in constant and intimate communication not only the soldiers, but, still more, the representatives of the four Powers, so widely separated geographically and otherwise, as those who constitute this Alliance. Those difficulties are, I will not say insurmountable, but they are very great. If the right hon. Gentleman, with his colleagues, can devise some method by which to bring about more intimate communication, he will have rendered one of the greatest 1365 services that it is possible to render to the cause of the Allies. I do wish him all success in that effort.
The outstanding military feature of the last few months is undoubtedly the operations on the Somme. Those operations were carefully concerted and prepared by the Allied General Staff in advance. So far as our Army is concerned, I believe there is universal agreement that they have been carried out with the most admirable skill, tenacity, and courage by Sir Douglas Haig and the officers associated with him. Their value is to be measured, I need not say, not merely in terms of square miles of French territory which have been recovered from the Germans' occupation; their primary and immediate oject was the relief of Verdun. Verdun had been for months the principal object of German strategy. The Crown Prince had hurled against it the finest troops in his Army. It has sustained, I suppose, the most terrific and prolonged bombardment of any fortress in history. The loss of Verdun would have been the greatest blow to the Allied cause since the beginning of the War. How do we stand to-day? Not only is Verdun not lost, but the work of the enemy during months of costly effort has been wholly undone. To-day we congratulate the gallant General Nivelle on being appointed to the Chief Command in France; we congratulate him and his heroic Army upon the glorious success of their new offensive. The operations on the Somme have done much more than to relieve Verdun. They have prevented the withdrawal of large bodies of troops from the West to the East. They have inflicted enormous casualties upon the enemy—far greater, I believe, than he has inflicted upon us and the French combined. Lastly, and perhaps most significant of all, there is overwhelming evidence in the number of prisoners taken and in the concurrent testimony of all who have firsthand knowledge of this campaign, whether as spectators or as combatants, that while the moral of our troops, always magnificent, has steadily advanced, the moral of the enemy has as steadily declined.
I wish to say a word with regard to the future. I think what I have said is sufficient to show that the efforts we have made, of naval, military, and economic, have not been ineffectual, and, if further proof were required, it is to be found in the so-called Peace proposals which have been somewhat clumsily projected into 1366 space from Berlin in the course of the last week. It is true, as my right hon. Friend has reminded us, that those proposals are wrapped up in the familiar dialect of Prussian arrogance. And how comes it that the nation which, after more than two years of war, professes itself conscious of military superiority and confident of ultimate victory, should begin to whisper, nay, not to whisper, but to shout, so that all the world can hear it, the word Peace? Is it a sudden excess of chivalry? Why and when has the German Chancellor become so acutely sensitive to what he calls the dictates of humanity? No, without being uncharitable, we may well look elsewhere for the origin of this pronouncement. It is born of military and economic necessity. When I moved the last Vote of Credit—I think it was in October—I dealt by anticipation with this topic. I said there was no one among us who did not yearn for peace, but it must be an honourable and not a shame-faced peace; it must be a peace that promised to be durable and not a patched-up and precarious compromise; it must be a peace which achieved the purposes for which we had entered upon the War. Such a peace we would gladly accept; but anything short of it we were bound to repudiate by every obligation of honour, and, above all, by the duty we owe to those, and especially the young, who have given their lives for what they and we believe to be a worthy cause. Since I spoke two months ago, their ranks have been sadly and steadily reinforced.
I should like to refer, in passing, to one of them, a friend and colleague of my own, Lord Lucas. Apart from the advantages of birth and fortune, he was a man of a singularly winning personality, fine intelligence, and the strongest sense of public duty. He worked hard and inconspicuously in the early days of the Territorial Army. He served for some years at the War Office, and shortly before the War he became a member of the Cabinet. At the time of the Coalition he stood aside without a murmur, and volunteered straightway for the Royal Flying Corps. Now he has met his death in a gallant reconnoitring raid over the German lines. He was not, I think, more than forty, but he had a full life. That is not a singular, it is a typical case. We must not forget, we cannot forget, nor ought we to forget, the countless victims, both among our own people and among the Allies, through the ruthless and organised violation of the 1367 humane restrictions by which both on land and sea the necessary horrors of war have hitherto been mitigated. That we must keep in our thoughts, not for vindictive motives, but for security. For myself, I say plainly and emphatically that I see nothing in the Note of the German Government which gives me reason to believe that they are in the mood to give to the Allies what, the last time I spoke, I declared to be essential—reparation and security. If they are in such a mood; if they are prepared to give us reparation for the past and security for the future, let them say so! While I was still at the head of the Government I on several occasions indicated, I believe, in quite unambiguous language, the minimum of the Allies' demands before they put up their swords, as well as the general character of the ultimate international status upon which our hopes and desires are set. I have no longer authority to speak for the Government, or for the nation, but I do not suppose the House or the country are going back upon what I have said in their name and on their behalf. It is not we who stand in the way of peace when we decline, as I hope we shall, to enter blindfold into parleyings which start from nothing and therefore can lead to nothing. Peace we all desire. Peace can only come—peace, I mean, that is worth the name and that satisfies the definition of the word—peace will only come on terms that atonement is made for past wrongs, that the weak and downtrodden are restored, that the faith of treaties is observed, and that the sovereignty of public law is securely enthroned over the nations of the world.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
The House has been deeply impressed with the speech to which we have just listened. That, however, is nothing new with the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. This, however, has been an exceptional occasion, and for my part I do not envy the man who in any part of this House listened unmoved to the patriotism and, may I say, the reticence and magnanimity of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It is impossible, in my opinion, for any man of any party in this House to listen to that speech without recalling the past career of the right hon. Gentleman, and all that he has meant in the history of this country for so long—of the great labours and of the great ability which he has devoted to the service, not only of his 1368 own party but to the House of Commons as a whole, and to the Empire as a, whole. Certainly it is quite impossible for me as an Irishman to speak on this occasion without recalling with gratitude his devoted labours for so many years to realise those ideals for the future liberty and happiness of my country that we have held in common. Whether or not it be reserved for him in the future to preside over the final fruition of these ideals, history will give him the credit of being their author. Certainly Irishmen will never forget that it was his genius and his labours that made their fruition possible, and, as I believe, certain. The right hon. Gentleman has promised his support to the new Government in the vigorous prosecution of the War. In doing so he has voiced the feeling of every section of every party in this House. He has in effect asked for fair play for the new Administration. That fair play, they, of course, will receive from every section of this House. The right hon. Gentleman disclaimed the position of the Leader of an Opposition in the ordinary sense of the word, and we all understood his meaning. But it will be of enormous value to this country and to this House, and, let me respectfully say, of enormous value to the new Government, if they find, not an organised Opposition in the old sense of the word, but a body of responsible opinion led by a man of the experience of the right hon. Gentleman who, while supporting the Government on main issues, will subject them to reasoned and responsible criticism, instead of leaving them subjected to the irresponsible criticism of irresponsible men.
Those for whom I speak in this House are as deeply interested in a speedy and victorious ending to this War as any section of Members within its walls. We have, I say, made as great sacrifices. We have as great interests at stake. Our fellow-countrymen in the field have given as devoted and gallant service as the sons of any other part of the Empire. The new Government may rest assured, therefore, that on any policy which we honestly believe is calculated to speedily and victoriously end this War they will receive no opposition from us, but, on the contrary, a ready support. That, however, does not mean that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to count upon a blind, indiscriminate, and unquestioning support from the Irish party. Our attitude from 1369 day to day must depend upon the proceedings of the Government. I listened with the deepest anxiety to the references of the right hon. Gentleman to Ireland, and I heard them, I must say, with the deepest disappointment. They were vague. They were indefinite. They showed an utter and complete absence of that quick decision which, we were told, was to be the characteristic of this Government. With one statement of the right hon. Gentleman I completely agreed. The reconciliation of Ireland is a war problem—a war problem of the highest importance, and, I would impress upon him, one also of the highest urgency. Can anyone doubt that? The Press in all parts of this country admits it.
When the War broke out in 1914 and Ireland, for the first time in her history, was found arrayed on the side of the Empire, the effect all over the world was instantaneous. In Australia, where the Irish form at least one-fourth of the population, enthusiasm among those Irishmen sprang up instantly. It was the same in New Zealand. It was the same in Canada. It was the same in South Africa. The Irishmen in those great Dominions—the sons of Irishmen, and in some cases the grandsons of Irishmen—flocked in thousands to the Standard. I made such inquiries as I could, and I believe I am correct in saying that at the very least one-fourth of all the troops you have got from the Dominions across the seas are men who are either Irishmen, the sons of Irishmen, or of Irish blood. They were told at the commencement of the War— and they believed it!—that Ireland's rights had been conceded, and they flocked eagerly and proudly to the defence of the Empire. The same happened here in Great Britain. In Ireland itself, for the first time in history, the recruiting sergeant became a popular personage. Great popular ovations, which I myself have addressed, and which I have witnessed, cheered the troops on their departure from the various ports where they embarked for the front. In neutral countries the effect was the same. Let any man who knows what he is talking about consider for the moment the effect of this in America, where the great Irish population has always been more extreme in its hostility to this country than has any other section of the Irish race. That population in the main came into line—80 or 90 per cent. of them came into line and supported the Allies. Purely public opinion 1370 was thoroughly friendly and upon the side of this country. I ask the House of Commons can anyone really measure the incalculable value which all this was to this country in her emergency, and can anyone count the incalculable injury to the highest interests of this country which has followed from the unfortunate change which has occurred in reference to Ireland? The last time I spoke in this House I dealt at some length with the causes of that change, therefore I will not dwell upon them to-day It is, indeed, a thankless task.
The effect already of what has occurred is plain to the whole world. We see it in the absolute disappearance of enthusiasm for the War in Ireland, the strengthening of all anti-British forces in that country, the slump in recruiting, the profound disappointment and resentment in every Dominion across the seas. I say that advisedly, in the presense of the men upon both Front Benches, who know the absolute truth of my statement. The profound resentment in every one of your Dominions is evidenced in a hundred ways. It is evidenced in their Press, in the dwindling recruiting in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere It is evidenced in the defeat of the Referendum proposals the other day in Australia, and it is evidenced in the most alarming way of all, perhaps, by the change in the public opinion of America. It is a thankless task to dwell upon these things, and it is the duty of practical men to recognise the situation and to deal with it. From that point of view I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest pain. In the general programme of energy, promptness, quick decision, is the Irish question to be the only one to be allowed to drift? The enemies of the late Government were very fond of denouncing the policy of "Wait and see." Is the policy of "Wait and see" to be the policy of the right hon. Gentleman with reference to this urgent war problem of Ireland? Upon the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government on this question must, of course, depend the attitude of the Irish party towards the Government. What is that attitude to be? There are two kinds of methods of treating this Irish problem. One is by palliatives and the other by a radical cure, but the right hon. Gentleman to-night has not suggested either. It was suggested to me that the Chief Secretary would speak 1371 in this Debate, and that he might be in a position to say something definite. But, so far as the Prime Minister is concerned, he has not suggested the smallest palliative. He says he would like to see the atmosphere improved. Yes, but what suggestion does he make for the improvement of the atmosphere? He makes no suggestion as to a palliative, and he makes no suggestion whatever as to a radical cure. By a palliative, I mean the mitigating or removal of the immediate sources of irritation and bad feeling in Ireland. What are they? You are, in the face of the world and of the Allies, governing Ireland under a Proclamation of Martial Law. I do not believe that the Chief Secretary, who is listening to me, and who has been most diligent in his inquiries in Ireland, and most industrious in his work, could honestly stand up in this House and declare that the maintenance of the Proclamation of martial law is of the smallest value, but that, on the contrary, it is a source of irritation and danger. Why is is maintained? If the right hon. Gentleman wants an improvement in the atmosphere of Ireland, why not take that stigma off the Irish people? The effect undoubtedly would not only be good in Ireland, but in neutral countries and the Dominions of the Crown.
Then you are holding in English prisons—it is an extraordinary thing to think of—between 500 and 600 untried prisoners. Let the House understand what that means. Those men are imprisoned under a certain provision or Proclamation under the Defence of the Realm Act which gives power to keep interned men who are proved to be of enemy association. If they are not men of enemy association they are illegally detained. Now I venture to say that, in the majority of those cases, it would be impossible to prove that these young men are of enemy association, and a writ of habeas corpus would lie in the case of each one of these men. You may say they are dangerous men and you do not want to let them loose because they have extreme opinions. Surely that is going back to the old evil English rule in Ireland. These men are dangerous so long as they are where they are. They cease to be dangerous—they become far less dangerous—the moment they are released, and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to create a better atmosphere in Ireland and a better feeling, let him instantly release 1372 these men. Let him do it to-morrow. Let him do it as a Christmas gift to the Irish people, and let him withdraw the Proclamation of martial law. That does not exhaust the subject of prisoners arising out of the rebellion. There are a number in penal servitude. Sonic of them are young boys, of whom we have heard a good deal at Question Time this afternoon. We ask that they should get better treatment, and I am glad to admit and express my acknowledgments to the late Home Secretary that our claim on that point has been met and that these men are being treated now more like political prisoners than any political prisoners, I believe, that ever were held by this country in consequence of a rising in Ireland. But, even in that case, if the Government would take their courage in their hands and make a general gaol delivery, I am convinced they would be doing more to create an improved atmosphere and a better feeling than anything they could possibly do. The right hon. Gentleman not only has not promised to do this, but he has promised nothing. I make great allowances for the plea he has put forward—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made no allowances. I think he might make some allowance for that. As a matter of fact, he knows I was actually in consultation with the Chief Secretary when I was taken ill, and I have been utterly unable to see the Chief Secretary again until to-day. I kept the door open, for the simple reason that I wanted just two or three days to go into-the matter quite thoroughly. I have had no opportunity, but I must say the hon. and learned Gentleman is making it difficult for me.
§ Mr. REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman took the words out. of my mouth. I was just going to allude to the fact of his illness, which everyone of us regretted immensely. We know the right hon. Gentleman was considering this. We know he has been considering it not only for the last few days but for a very long time. I discussed it with the right hon. Gentleman before he was Prime Minister, and I know what his opinion was, and I do think that it did not require any adjourned debate with the Chief Secretary to come to a decision on this point at all. I do not see why this question of the release of these prisoners could not have been decided without any delay whatever. He had 1373 not had the opportunity before becoming ill, but he has had an opportunity since recovery of discussing this matter.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, I have not. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this. I have not had any opportunity of any sort or kind. I have had only one opportunity before falling ill. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks as if I had been Prime Minister for months. I have only been Prime Minister a few days. I was taken ill a couple of days after the Government was farmed, and one of the first things I did was to discuss this matter with the Chief Secretary, and the first opportunity I had of talking to him was to-day. It was with the greatest difficulty I was able to come to the House to-day, as a matter of fact. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not merely unfair, but, if I may suggest, a little impolitic, at any rate, not to give me a couple of days to discuss this matter further with the Chief Secretary without suggesting that I am simply bringing forward the vaguest suggestions without any sort of meaning.
§ Mr. REDMOND
If the right hon. Gentleman in his speech had said this matter was under consideration, and that he would make a definite statement before the House rises, of course that would be a horse of a different colour. But he never alluded to the question at all, and I put it to him now that it would be to the interests of the whole country that he should come to a speedy determination on this one point, and release those prisoners. That is so far as palliatives are concerned—so far as measures to improve the atmosphere—to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase. But there is something far bigger than that. You cannot settle this urgent war problem simply by palliatives, and I confess I was disappointed that I did not hear in the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he intended to deal with this question. No one suggested that he would make any definite pronouncement to-day, but if he had told us that he recognised the urgency of this problem, and that the Government intended to deal with it, it would have gone a long way to meet the case. But if it is the intention of the Government—and I hope it is, although he has not said so—to deal with the final reconciliation of Irish opinion by a settlement of the Irish question, there are two or three things I would like to say to him. The first is that time is of the essence of this matter. He is mistaken if he thinks it 1374 will be easier for him in a few months than it is now. Promptness is essential. The worst thing that could happen for this. Irish question is that it should be allowed to drift. The next thing I want to put is. that I hope, if the right hon. Gentleman decides to deal with this question, the Government will deal with it boldly on their own responsibility, that they will take the initiative themselves, and put their own proposals forward, and not seek to evade any portion of that responsibility by putting it oh the shoulders of other people. In other words, I do not think there is any use in the right hon. Gentleman thinking that he can settle this question by renewed negotiations. What the Government have got to do is to make up their own mind, to take the initiative themselves, and to act on their own responsibilty. Further, I would like to say that the right hon. Gentleman would certainly have to proceed on different lines, from the lines he was proceeding on the last time he tried to settle this question. I. make no reproach to him—I have never done so—about the last occasion, and I know perfectly well the truth of what he-says as to the atmosphere of suspicion that existed. He was attempting to do an almost impossible task. But if, instead of coming to this section and that section, and to this person and that person, and endeavouring to get them to agree, and thus relieve the Government of responsibility, if he would take his courage in his hands, make up his own mind, and take the full responsibility on the Government, then, I believe, that on other lines—not on the lines he attempted twice before and failed, but on the lines of a united Ireland, I do believe in the near future he would be-able to settle this question.
There is the one other thing I want to-say—that he must not, in dealing with this-question, mix it up with conditions about, recruiting or Conscription. That question-must be left to a change of heart in Ireland. You cannot bring that about by attempting to make it a condition of doing justice to the people, and, therefore, I would earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman, acting on those lines, would not allow this question to drift, but would endeavour to deal with it speedily. I believe that the time is ripe for such drastic, and decided and bold action on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. I believe it is within his power to out an end to this pressing war problem. He has-powerful influences at his back on this 1375 subject, in the Press of all parties, and in the opinion of leading men of all parties. I may be sanguine in my opinion, but my view is that three-fourths of the House of Commons, or more, would gladly see the right hon. Gentleman take this bold course and settle this question, rapidly and at once, and on his own responsibility. He has the sympathy also of the entire Dominions throughout the Empire. He has the sympathy of all men of good will in the Empire, and all I say to him on the subject is, under those circumstances, in Heaven's name, do not let him miss the tide.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I should like to add a word or two to what the hon. and learned Member for Waterford has just said with regard to Ireland. I would remind the Prime Minister that with regard to the settlement of Ireland the members of the Labour party have taken a very significant step by passing a resolution asking him and the Government to do all that lies in their power to settle this matter at the earliest possible moment. I cannot associate myself with everything the hon. and learned Member has said, but I associate myself with him in this, that the whole desire of the labouring classes of this country is to see this open sore removed from our party politics and settled, and if that can be accomplished—and the Prime Minister has very persuasive ways—no one will rejoice more than we shall, and the Government and the Empire will be all the better for it. I will not, in any degree, enter into the problem of the old Government or the new. The Labour party was associated with the old Government, and it is also associated with the new Government. The one great burning desire of the working classes of this country is to see this War brought to a successful conclusion, and see their sons, and brothers, and husbands brought back home. I do not think they are war weary, but I believe there is growing in the country a greater horror of war to-day and a greater desire for peace. Before war was something which they read and heard about, but now they have looked it in the face, and so far as the working classes are concerned the desire that this should be a War which should make wars in the future almost impossible has grown into an intense passion.
With regard to the question of the entry of labour into the new Government I think the Government have certainly 1376 been very generous, but I want to put this to the Prime Minister. The question of the mobilisation of the working people of this country and organised labour is an exceedingly difficult problem. Many of my hon. Friends have taken their political life in their hands by entering the present Government, and in certain quarters taunts have been thrown out that they desire office for the emoluments. I hope that is not a general taunt, because I am sure most of my colleagues stand to lose more than they are likely to gain from a monetary point of view by their acceptance of office in the present Government. The question of the mobilisation of the forces of Labour in this country is not an easy task. National service we agree with, but the application of compulsion in this connection is a matter that will require the most careful consideration of the Government. If they will take into their confidence those members of the party who have already joined the Government, and especially if they will try to get the opinion of the country on their side, I do not believe they will find any difficulty in getting the working classes to throw their whole heart into the civil work of the War, as they have thrown it into the Army, of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken so proudly. The new Army in the main is one of the working classes of this country. Of course, I know that it comprises all classes, but in the main it is composed of members of the working classes, and just as they have thrown themselves with enthusiasm into the War, and are still willing to continue to fight, when it comes to the question of mobilising labour that is a problem which must be faced in the same way. It is a problem which is full of very grave difficulty, but that has been increased by the methods adopted in the past with regard to this very problem.
Had this problem been faced six or twelve months ago it would have been much easier to deal with, but that is no reproach to the late Government. More than six months ago the Prime Minister, when he was Secretary for War, might have had a plan for the mobilisation of labour carried out on the lines which he is now willing to adopt, but which apparently at that moment he was not willing to accept, and had that been done many of the problems and troubles with which we are now faced would not have faced us now. What I allude to is the trade card scheme, which was initiated by a Committee of which I was Chairman in May of the present year. 1377 This scheme was put before the Director of Recruiting, and it received his sanction. It was also put before the Minister of Munitions and was held up for some time, but eventually the Director of Recruiting and the Minister of Munitions agreed to the scheme, but nothing came of it. Now, seven months after that the same scheme and the same plans are put forward dignified by the name of the mobilisation of labour, and, had that scheme been accepted by the Secretary for War and the Minister of Munitions of that day, I believe a great deal of the difficulty with which we are now confronted would not have existed. Like two or three previous speakers, I am afraid I am suffering from an affection of the throat, and I cannot continue any longer.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I desire to say a few words about some of the matters mentioned by the Prime Minister. I wish to endorse what he has said about the problem of food production, and I allude to the suggestion as to what the Government are going to do in providing seed in connection with the food problem. Farmers both in England and Ireland have during the autumn been prevented from sowing a very large number of acres on account of the difficulty of procuring seed. I should like to have heard the right hon. Gentleman say something in regard to the question of the provision of seed for agriculture, because I think it is a very serious and grave problem as to where the seed is to come from. The cost will be enormous, and, as regards Ireland, there has been a failure of seed both in connection with potatoes and wheat, and when the right hon. Gentleman is seized with the problem, I should have liked to have heard from him something as to how this food problem is to be dealt with next spring in connection with seed. The spring wheat is not at all equal to the winter wheat, and we have lost that, and it creates a very serious and grave situation. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has touched upon it, but he has not suggested a remedy. It is no use breaking up land if we have not the wherewithal to seed it.
I have never been so much in favour of the seed potato Acts as the means of providing seed, but the time has come when something in the nature of a revival of those measures has become necessary, not merely because of the absence of seed, but 1378 because poor people are unable to pay the price for seed at the present time. Some people recommend the immediate stoppage of the export of potatoes, but in this matter I prefer to place my commercial conscience in the hands of experts who understand the problem. If you are going to allow our seed to be exported to such an extent that the poor will be unable to obtain seed for their land owing to the high prices, you will have neglected one of the most important duties of the State. I was glad to hear from the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), for the first time since these prisoners have been put in gaol an appeal to the Government. I think the only grain of comfort that I have had in the downfall of the late Ministry was in the disappearance of the late Home Secretary (Mr Herbert Samuel), whom I now see in his place. I believe he has been pointed out as the one member of the late Government whom the present Prime Minister wished to retain in his office. In my judgment he is the man who is more responsible than any other Minister for the bitterness of feeling that exists in Ireland at the present time. I am delighted to think that he is out of office, and I hope he will never return to it, at any rate as far as anything connected with Ireland goes, because a more cruel and heartless administrator of the Acts he had to deal with never stood at that box. Accordingly I am delighted to think that he has gone. I must, however, own that for the first time in the history of Ireland the right hon. Gentleman had an Irish Member, the hon. Member for Newry (Mr. Mooney), agreeing to this incarceration of his countrymen. In all the long years that Ireland has had to complain of ill-treatment at the hands of England, no Irish Nationalist has ever before come to the assistance of the gaolers of the country, as happened on a recent occasion. The late Home Secretary was fortunate enough to be able to boast that for every man he kept in gaol he had the mandate of a leading lieutenant of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. That mandate still remains. The signature, or whatever document may be necessary for the incarceration of these men. bears the impress of a Nationalist Member.
The Government have this matter to consider from two points of view. They have to consider the possible results of a liberation of these untried men, and they have to consider what the effect would be 1379 on public opinion in the two countries. The first thing that I look at is this: Here are 600 men against whom no charge has been made. Three hundred of them, I believe, are as innocent of complicity in the late rebellion as any member of the late Government. Half of them are there upon the miserable suspicion of policemen to whom at one time or another in the course of their activities they have given annoyance. I know personally one of the men to be innocent, and he is being most foully and shamefully treated. While the prisoners at Frongoch have been kept in the way that they have been kept, prisoners in other parts of the country, and notably in Reading, have been treated in the most humane manner. The prison at Reading is a prison from which not a single complaint has come from any Irishman. The prison at Frongoch has been the scene of desolation, of hunger, of hunger strikes, of rats gnawing the unfortunate prisoners, and of terrible bitterness and ill-feeling.
I will look at this matter, first, from the English point of view. Immersed as you are in a great war, and with the great duties which you have towards Europe, you would be entitled, if these men were a public danger, to keep them locked up. I pledge myself, I pledge my honour as an Irishman, and my opinion that you may safely discharge every one of them without the smallest danger to your Empire in this War. I think the Prime Minister knows me well enough to know that I would not give that pledge in face of this House if I did not think that was true. Accordingly, I say that I believe they may all safely be discharged. I have gone through Ireland from one end of it to the other, and no doubt there is bitterness, but there is no real activity. I believe if you had the general body of Irish police officered the same as the Dublin police, namely, by officers who have risen from the ranks, you would get the same advice from the Royal Irish Constabulary as from the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I venture to say, if you take the opinion of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, that they will tell you to discharge every one of them. I remember the difficult conditions. This is a heritage and a heirloom that has come down to the Government, but I hope they will take Irish opinion as a test, and Irish opinion that is friendly to the Government, because since the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. 1380 Duke) became Chief Secretary I hope I have shown him nothing but friendliness and unrestrained cordiality. Therefore, I am advising him as I would if he were a brother Irishman.
The case of the prisoners who have been convicted is peculiar in this respect. The Government have given them some measure of consideration in the terrible conditions of penal servitude. But you cannot forget that they were only convicted as the result of a drumhead court-martial. There was no publicity of any kind, except, I think, in two cases. There were thousands of men arrested all over the country and kept in these miserable barracks in Dublin, behind barbed-wire and bayonets, and I say now to the House, as I said last night, that, whether you got penal servitude or whether you were discharged, depended upon the jerk of a policeman's thumb. Numbers of these men in penal servitude are also, I believe, innocent. They have behind them, no doubt, conviction by a military authority. I am not acquainted with any of these men, and I am not going to give any such guarantee as I gave in the case of the untried prisoners, because I have no authority to speak for them, but I think I know my countrymen sufficiently to say that there is nothing in the present state of Ireland to justify these men being detained. They. are at any rate entitled to claim this. Pass an Act entitling them to public trial before an English jury. Give them an appeal to the English Criminal Court of Appeal. It is not a great matter to ask. Let every convicted prisoner have the right to say, "I insist upon having my case retried before the English Court of Appeal." That is not a large demand to be made by men who have been convicted by a drumhead court-martial, and I venture to say that the English people would have an object lesson of some of the methods during the recent rebellion. These men, however— a number of them, at any rate— rose in rebellion. There is proof to some extent against a number of them, and I am not making the same claim in their case as in the other, but I do claim that they are entitled to a public right of appeal such as that I suggest. Above all, I say that I think the Prime Minister is entitled to make the claim that he has made, namely, that we should give him some little time, especially as he has had such a recent illness, and in view of the terrible demands upon him, and I for my 1381 part will gladly accord him any reasonable time which he suggests is necessary to make up his mind on these matters.
With regard to the general Irish question, I never blamed the right hon. Gentleman for the failure of May last. On the contrary, after the many conflicts which we have had I felt reconciled towards him that he should have taken in his hands— he was then Minister of Munitions—this terrible armful of thorns at a time when he might have neglected the matter. Although he failed, it was a bold and courageous act, and since that time I have never had anything but the best feelings towards him for the spirit which he then showed. I therefore pass from the main subject of Home Rule in order that he may have an opportunity of making up his mind on the general question which he claims, but I wish to say one word upon a smaller matter which is not without its bearing upon it, namely, the question of the Irish railways. The Government have done the right thing in taking over the Irish railways It is part of the great national problem, and I hope that they will never again be restored to private hands. It is a matter, in dealing with our country which is susceptible of treatment in a way, so as to contribute to the solution of the problem of government. The English railways have very properly been allowed to remain largely under the command of the English directors and the old managers. That condition should not be allowed to obtain in Ireland. These wranglers have prevented amalgamation in the past. There are two little railways in Cork which had offices in the same building. The secretaries' doors were opposite each other, and each secretary used to go out to the post and put a penny stamp on his letter to the other rather than drop it into the letter box of the door right opposite. That miserable spirit has gone through this whole system of railway communication.
My suggestion to the Government is this: Roughly speaking, it is a question of £40,000,000. Forty million pounds to-day comes to about two years' of the Irish tax assessment. Our tax assessment in the year which comes in course of payment next March will at least amount to between £22,000,000 and £23,000,000. Therefore, the problem which you have to handle is a problem of dealing with two years of Irish income. I would issue Treasury notes for the £40,000,000 that is necessary to pay off the shareholders. 1382 There would be no difficulty about it. With regard to railways such as the Great Southern and Western railways which have not been paying dividends on their ordinary stock, I would have a tribunal which would fix a price for the stock which would do justice between the shareholders and the State. You would thereby create, when this War is over a national nest-egg, a national asset, a national dividend, bearing security which would be in the hands of the State and which would be a solid foundation in connection with the Government of Ireland. I would hope to see following from the new rails laid down in Ireland, engines made in Ireland, the clothing of the men made locally and provided for, and so, flowing out of this centralisation of amalgamation or management of the Irish railways, I would hope to see the growth of a great many industries in the country. Moreover, it is my view that that condition of affairs would lead to some measure at least of popular control. I should say the Government would have a right to nominate a certain number of the members of the Railway Board, and at the same time the popular element should have a right to similar representation.
One interest which England would have in a national system of railways would be to see that its traffic was not unduly diverted to any of the specialised English lines, the North-Western, the Midland (England), and perhaps the Lancashire and Yorkshire should have representation on the Committee, to see there was no undue diversion of traffic by sea route with the view of unduly benefiting any particular system. Having got that, I believe there would be no such good investment of public money. And what is more, it could be done by a stroke of the pen. The shareholders would be delighted with the interest you would give to them. The extent of it is immaterial, because if you give them a 5 per cent. stock they would get less of it, and a 6 per cent. stock still less, while if they had a 3 per cent. stock they would get more of it, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who dealt with the London Docks question, buying up the docks at a cost of something like £12,000,000, would find a precedent for the action I am suggesting, and the result would be a feeling of satisfaction all over the country that the step had been taken. I rose at the outset with the object of congratulating the Prime Minister on having 1383 had the boldness, at the beginning of his career, to insist on the Irish railways being nationalised, and I trust that the Chief Secretary will see that never again shall they be allowed to go back into private hands, but that eventually there shall be nationalisation.
Le me say how entirely I endorse everything the Prime Minister has said with regard to the conduct of the War. We have the assurance, I think, in every quarter of this House, that there is only one feeling in relation to these Peace proposals. I have no animosity against the Germans. I wish to proclaim, on the contrary, that in a great many respects I have a feeling of admiration for them in literature, arts, and science. Therefore, I do not speak with any feeling of bitterness against the German people. When this War began, I looked at it from what I may call the school-boy test. I asked, who began it? We did not begin this War. Remember what Government we had in office. I saw very member of that Government enter this House as a young man. I knew the pacifist feelings of every member of the Government. I knew that they were not a war Government, and that they hated war. I knew that they were all fond of Europæan peace, and as anxious to promote it as I was myself. I knew the horror which every member of the Government had at the idea of imbrueing his hands in the blood of fellow creatures. Accordingly, I have throughout this War said of England and of the English Ministry that, in my judgment, they were carrying on a righteous and a necessary campaign, and I took upon myself, in my humble way, as much responsibility in connection with the campaign as if I were one of those really responsible in fact for it. I therefore say as an old member of the House of Commons—I suppose I may call myself that—the Government is correct in the attitude it has assumed in its reply to Germany. We study from day to day with the greatest anxiety the hopes of peace. We read carefully what falls from the German Chancellor in regard to the matter. All that has been said, indeed, has been carefully studied by us; but they make the greatest mistake if they suppose that, in a contest like this, the British Government will not continue to have the same measure of support, the same measure of confidence, and the same measure of momentum granted to it by 1384 the Members of this House, no matter what changes may take place in the form of the Ministry.
Lastly, I would like to say one word for gallant France. Nothing has given me more joy and more pleasure than the recent victory of France at Verdun. It was a great achievement. It produced a great uplifting of the national heart. This House does not run to extremes in passing resolution or taking sentimental courses. I myself have no great love for passing resolutions or taking sentimental think it unfitting if this House were to pass a resolution congratulating the French Army upon its achievement at Verdun. I would gladly, at any rate, enter into such a message being sent to France. I believe it represents the unanimous feeling of this country, and I believe, too, I am voicing that feeling when I say that no peace which does not give France back every acre that she enjoyed before the War of 70 should ever be signed by us.
§ Major WHELER
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate had it not been for the references made to the camp at Frongoch and the treatment accorded to the Irish prisoners there. I wish to say a few words based on my own actual observations as to the conditions which do exist there, and as to the way in which the prisoners are treated. They are receiving one and a half pounds of bread, half a pound of meat, and eight ounces-of vegetables and other component parts, making up a ration equal to anything that the German prisoners of war get and almost equal to that of the ordinary Infantry soldier in full training, who in fact receives but one-quarter of a pound more-meat. I think the hon. and learned Gentelman who has spoken on this subject should be rather more careful in using the word "hunger" in this connection. These men are not doing any work, and yet they are fed quite as well as the ordinary Infantry soldier who is in full training, with the exception of the small difference in the meat ration. I hope, therefore, we shall not have the word "hunger" used again in reference to this camp.
I know what I am talking about. I know something of the conditions of these camps. One camp is hutted, and I venture to say the huts are distinctly superior to the average hut of the ordinary English soldier They are, in fact, very good huts. The sanitary conditions are clearly 1385 superior, and I should say they are superior to those under which these prisoners ordinarily live. Then something has been said with regard to the rats. There may be a few rats running about, but then there are always rats in camps. The huts have been boarded down to the ground in order to stop draughts, and it is very difficult indeed to dislodge the rats which take refuge underneath. But every step is taken to get rid of them, and in many cases with very great success. These exaggerated statements, therefore, might very well be stopped in the interests of accuracy. The whole of the conditions under which these prisoners are living are far better than those which exist in our camps for prisoners of war; and as regards food, they are getting as good a ration as many soldiers who are undergoing regular training. I wish to emphasise the fact, which is within my own personal knowledge, that these men are well fed. They have a canteen from which they get a certain rebate, and on the occasion of my last periodical visit I found they had been able to augment their food rations by a grant of £30 drawn from that rebate. In addition to that they get many parcels sent them by their friends, and their condition consequently is very satisfactory indeed. I thought perhaps these facts would be useful to the House; they are based upon personal experience, and I hope the word "hunger" will not again be used in reference to the condition of the prisoners at this camp.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I am sure the House has been very glad to hear what has fallen from the last speaker, but perhaps, as a comparatively new Member of this House, he was not fully aware of what others know, namely, that the hon. and learned Member for North-East Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy) never, or rarely, strays from the realm of fancy into the realm of fact. I do not think it was particularly necessary, therefore, for anyone to intervene merely to contradict the statement made by the hon. and learned Member.
I entirely agree with the statement just made by the late Home Secretary. If the hon. and gallant Member for Faversham (Major Wheler) knew the hon. and learned Member for North-East Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy) as well as many Members of this House do, he would be aware that one might as well expect to get blood out of a turnip as accuracy 1386 from the hon. and learned Member. The hon. and learned Member has come down and pleaded for the nationalisation of Irish railways, but only after that question has been settled with the Government by the Irish party and its Leader, and the sole object of the hon. and learned Member has been to try and make capital out of it. I would only like to say this, that while we hope that the Government and the Prime Minister will permanently nationalise the Irish railways, we have no hope whatever that they or anybody else will be able to do anything towards nationalising the hon. and learned Member, because he never gets up in this House without attempting to sling mud at his own country and his own countrymen.
In the course of the short speech he delivered in the House of Commons this evening he made several charges against the Irish party and its Leader as well as against some of its Members. He said it was the first time that the Leader of the Irish party had appealed for the release of the Irish prisoners at Frongoch. Everybody in Ireland and in this House knows that there is not a shadow of foundation for that statement, because for months and months past the Irish party, by resolution, through its Chairman, has been doing all in its power to get the Government to release these prisoners and to give political treatment to those prisoners who were sentenced by court-martial. If I might be allowed to say so, I do not consider there is anything more mean or contemptible than the attacks that have been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman upon the Member for Newry (Mr. Mooney). Here is a man who, at the risk of great misunderstanding, was serving on the Advisory Committee. The cases of these Irish prisoners was referred to that Committee, and there were close upon 2,000 of them. The hon. Member for Newry had to make up his mind whether he would remain on that Committee, to help in dealing with those cases, or withdraw, and leave no Irishman on the Committee at all, and so leave these prisoners to be dealt with purely by people from other parts of the United Kingdom. I say that the hon. Member showed a high courage, a high patriotism, and great self-sacrifice in taking the action he did on this Committee, and it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. and learned Gentleman in this House to sneer at and to misrepresent him 1387 now. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes sneering charges against the hon. Member for Newry as being the first Irish Nationalist who has ever come forward to help the Government. The hon. Member did not come forward to help the Government, but to ease a very difficult position, and not only the Irish party, and the Nationalists, but Irishmen generally are grateful to him for the part he has played from start to finish in this transaction. When the hon. and learned Gentleman made these sneering allusions, he was, perhaps, thinking of more ancient history, when certain so-called Nationalists in the town of Bantry had dealings with O'Donovan Rossa, which were not very much to their credit. I can only say, in conclusion, that we regard now as little as we have always done the sneering and false attacks of the hon. and learned Member for East Cork.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
I will only detain the House for a moment, but I would just like to refer to something which we all agree is most important, and which was referred to by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—I mean, what is termed the man-power of the country. This has been a problem for the late Government, and will be, and no doubt is, an important problem for the new Government, and for everybody in the country, especially those who may be interested in industry. It is in the interests of the country that every man should be employed in a particular way so that his services may be used to the best advantage. I think it should be clearly borne in mind that the liability of every man to serve his country in the field is only temporarily got rid of by the fact of his being, as it is said, "conditionally exempted" from the Army. I do not think we really understand what we mean by the words "conditional exemption." They must mean that a man is only exempted from service with the Colours on the understanding that his services to the country would be of more value in industrial employment than in the Army. The great point to be understood is that every man who is allowed to take part in an industrial occupation should only be exempted so long as he works the full hours and is employed to the best advantage of the country. No one should ever be exempted at all for industrial work unless it is understood that in all respects 1388 he follows out that industrial work according to the fixed hours and arrangements-of the trade to which he belongs. When I saw in the paper the other day that an additional 15 per cent. had been given to the colliers in Wales I thought I should like to have known—although we have had no information on the subject so far—if these colliers were exempted from service with the Colours and were employed in coal pits on the clear understanding that they worked the whole of the usual time. I cannot say how true they were; I believe it is the case in a large number of districts that the colliers and miners work practically the full hours; but there have been accounts in the papers of districts in which they anly work for part of the time. I think it should be clearly understood that if a man is conditionally exempted, in order that he may follow his own industrial calling, it can only be on the understanding that he works the whole time and that the country gets the advantages of his services. This is a problem which closely concerns the country, and if it is going to be actively followed up by the Government, I think it would be highly desirable that, at some time—I cannot ask the Government to do so this evening, if they do not wish to do so, but as soon as possible—a clear statement should be made by them to the effect that, in dealing with the services of men exempted from the Colours for industry, they should be exempted on the clear understanding that full hours should be worked.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
One felt in listening to the weighty speech of the Prime Minister to-day that we have come to a time of great gravity and serious perils and risks. I was rather disappointed not to find in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks some larger measure of reassurance than that which his words-gave. In such observations as are open, to a layman of simple life and movements, like myself, one gathers impressions, which may be accurate or otherwise, in such opportunities as are offered to him, and they have led me to form—I cannot say a rosy view of things—but they have led me to feel that more might have been said for the encouragement of the people-of this country, and for the encouragement and the heartening of those outside-this country, whose sympathies are towards us in this great struggle, than has been laid before the House to-day in the 1389 speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that the reading he gave of the German Peace proposals was quite such as a close observation and reading of them might, in other eyes, and in other judgment, seem' fittest. I am inclined to the opinion that the German people as a whole, and a great number of those who form their thoughts, believe, to the bottom of their hearts, that the words used in the speech of the German Chancellor, and any such communications as, under his authority and by his instructions, have appeared in the Press of the world, are the baldest and barest statement of what are considered and believed by them to be the favourable facts of the German position. There can be little doubt that any sort of peace now concluded would leave the Germans in virtual possession of nearly all that for which they have striven. But at least there is this consolation coming to us. The Government has evidently made up its mind, and the country behind it has made up its mind, that these are no days for discussing peace proposals; but that they are days for emphasising still more, for all whom it may concern, the tremendous importance of the task upon which we are engaged—an importance, not limited merely to the interest of the people of these Islands, but which is bound up with the whole of the well-being of the civilised world. It has long been the failing of the English people; the failure to dress our national shop window successfully; and I cannot help feeling that we have not done sufficient to make it clear to the people of the world how they are as vitally concerned in this struggle as we are, though on them is not laid the burden of the immediate cost. I hope we may pay larger attention to this. The policy of many nations and the policy of the Germans was to endeavour to place themselves in the hearts of neutrals in the most favourable position. We have always gone on, as a people, with our national reserve and pride, in comparative indifference be the opinions of neutrals, trusting that our good motives and good intentions may be justified by subsequent reading of our acts in the light of history. I think we shall have to depart from that custom more and more, and come to appreciate, in times like these, the weight in the scale and the importance of the good opinions of all the peoples of the earth who may not be immediately engaged in the business in hand.
1390 More than that on that I need not say, but I particularly want to say a few words on the proposed enrolment of labour of unemployed persons in the country. I do not know, from the references made by the right hon. Gentleman—they have not been amplified so far by any of his colleagues, though they may be later on, before the House rises—whether this is the foreshadowing of a proposal for the enrolment of healthy persons not employed in military matters being between the ages of forty-one and sixty. I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman to have said a little more clearly what was in the mind of the Government, for evidently they have gone a long way towards building their plans in the matter. It will be very necessary, for the peace of the country, that we should have no more bungling, as we had in the previous enrolment for Army purposes. I suppose there will be some sort of authority instituted for discussing the suitability or unsuitability of persons coming under the operation of this levy. What we shall have to learn and settle, and it is a profoundly important problem, is what are the essential industries in the country to which we have to pay attention. There is no man going about in the commerce of the world during the currency of this War but must have felt again and again that large numbers of people were being employed in all directions in industries which not only were non-essential to the War, but were positively, at a time like this, extravagant. They were faced with the difficulty that nobody had attempted to formulate a plan whereby the burdens laid upon them which their businesses carried, namely, burdens of rent and other standing charges, could be assumed in the event of their surrendering the whole of their staffs to some national purpose. There are firms to-day who are facing ruin—some have already faced it—in businesses largely staffed by young men, because the military demands have taken from them the whole of the essential men in those industries. Firms have collapsed and ruin has faced the proprietors as a consequence of the War. We have heard no great uproar about this. People have been too patriotic. When you come along and say here that drapery interests and other interests are nonessential and are not vital and these you intend to close down, or from those you intend to take so many persons that the 1391 continuance of those industries shall be rendered impossible, then you ought and must do something to meet the inevitable loss, approaching at times even to ruin, which persons may suffer under this rearrangement of your labour problems and schemes.
I feel that the absorption of labour in useful occupations needs to be made more and more complete, but I want to point out that the greatest care will have to be exercised in making the selection of those industries and in seeing that the persons so taken are persons who will not in the labour they can contribute to the national interest leave behind them undischarged responsibilities which will greatly outweigh those they can redeem. We want, also, in the matter of labour, to look— and we can then do it with a lighter heart and easier conscience—at the present contents of many of the military camps up and down the country. There are camps to-day to which I can refer where there is hardly a man who is fit to shoulder a gun or take part in a long route march, men who never ought to have been enrolled in the Army, and who, but for the desire to increase the numbers of the Army to a fictitious extent, would never have been there. These men in many cases in their occupation in the industry of the country would have been able to do useful work. They have been turned out by military insistence from those duties. In come cases, to my own knowledge, they have been refused on prior occasions when they have volunteered or been called up and have been turned down because of physical defects. They have been finally taken, although no better in health, and when the testing time has come and drafts have been made up, the whole of the expenditure on keep, training, maintenance, and equipment have gone for nothing. These men have wasted their time it may be in idleness, bringing with it its consequent degenerate-ness, whereas more intelligent oversight might have preserved them for other useful purposes in the War. These are thoughts that occurred to me in connection with this general draft on labour. I hope it will be done thoroughly, but it will have to be done intelligently and wisely. I do not see why you want to have the military concerned at all. I caught an indication that there was going to be a joint body comprising military and civil persons. Keep the military out! You 1392 are dealing now with purposes non-military. Even in the matter of munitions you do not need a military judgment as to who shall or shall not be employed upon them. Let this be a civil body. Let it start with the full sympathy of the whole of the occupants of the industries of the country. If it starts upon that basis and in that method, it will command the sympathy of the people and labour will feel that it will be dealt with equitably, honestly, candidly, and without arrogance. The commercial interests involved, the factories, warehouses, and workshops, will feel that they are not being plundered in one particular district, parish or township, whereas in a neighbouring district, parish, or township, owing to a different organisation, there is evidence of efficient care. If these difficulties are avoided, if we learn the lesson that has been taught us by the haphazard methods of the tribunals in the past, if the matter goes along without any injury or permanent loss to the well-being of the nation, the Government may be able to draw to itself an enormous accretion of power in having this organisation for the maintenance of industry and the production of munitions for the Forces of the Crown, and the result can only be a hastening of the approach of the end of the War with the success of the Allies by such a contribution that our strong and powerful country can offer.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
During the great and historic speech of the Prime Minister he was interrupted by someone asking him to say a few words about the Navy. I was not one of those who resented the omission, because it afforded evidence that he regarded the Navy as being in a thoroughly healthy state, and a healthy body is unconscious of its own health. There is also a sense in which perfection is the sign of disappearance. If he regarded the Navy as being in a perfect state it would quite account for the fact that he intended to omit reference to it from his speech. The point upon which I am most disposed to congratulate the Government is the dwindling in the number of the Cabinet. I was the first to raise the question on the 6th May, 1915, when I asked a question and you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, prevented me from asking supplementary questions on that occasion. I raised it on several other occasions and also by Resolution. In the Resolution I drew attention to the opinion of 1393 Sir Robert Peel that the Government of this country would be infinitely better conducted by a Cabinet of nine than by a Cabinet of thirteen or fourteen, and also to Mr. Disraeli's action in reducing the size of the Cabinet in 1874. The Prime Minister quoted the famous saying about there being wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. I imagine that wisdom resides in there being few. I prefer myself the saying of a French philosopher, that the greater number of wise men assembled in a room the less the wisdom that obtained. In 1909 there was a discussion on the Committee of Imperial Defence. I then ventured to say that inevitably the members of the Cabinet who were members of that Committee would become an inner Cabinet, and that ultimately for war purposes they would become the Cabinet itself. Both the Prime Minister of the day— the present Leader of the Opposition—and the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, indicated their strong dissent from me by nodding their heads. It is one of the standing grievances of this House that a nod of the head is not reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT. SO far as the OFFICIAL REPORT is concerned, when a Minister nods his head there is nothing in it. We have now reduced the Cabinet to five, and things will go with a great deal more smoothness and a great deal more celerity than they ever have done in the past, and not only that, but I believe that our example will have its effect upon our Allies, and that the French and Italians will follow it, and possibly the Russians. The result will be that the bringing together of the different countries for the purposes of consultation will be facilitated to an enormous degree. This is not a recent difficulty. The late Prime Minister was fully conscious of it, and well over a year ago he said, in contrast with the German position:With the Allies, on the other hand, every important step has naturally and necessarily been taken in consultation and in concert between three, and latterly four, different Powers. With the best good will in the world, and the most genuine common purpose, there must be differences of angle and in points of view in an operation of that kind.They were fully conscious of the difficulties then, and the great pity is that when the suggestion was first mooted by me nineteen months ago, before the Coalition Government was formed, we did not adopt it and form a small Cabinet then of young and physically fit men who could go across to Paris and meet the Ministers 1394 from Italy there as well, and come to quick decisions. In that way I think the conduct of the War would have been enormously facilitated.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Wednesday).