HC Deb 31 December 1916 vol 88 cc1714-32

In the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill last Tuesday two great speeches were made which will remain part of the historic possessions of this House, and it will need a very special excuse to justify any private Member in reviving debate even on the enormously important questions which were then discussed. My excuse is this, that it may be desirable, in view of an independent controversy which arose a year ago, to make quite plain in a few sentences how widespread, and I believe how universal, is the acceptance in all sections of opinion, and in all parts of the country, of the Prime Minister's declaration in answer to the German message. It is obvious that any Member of the House who ventures to say a single word on this subject must speak under severe restraint, lest carelessness on his part should damage the very cause he wishes to serve; and it is equally obvious that anyone who ventures to say anything about it must throughout remember that he is acting, private Member though he be, under serious responsibility. I would desire in a few sentences, remembering these rules of conduct, to say one or two words upon this enormously important question. The Prime Minister on Tuesday told us quite plainly that in all proper senses of the word the communication which the Government has received from the enemy is not a peace proposal at all. Proposals involve propositions, and it is a misuse of language to talk about a message which contains no suggestion of terms, whether reasonable or unreasonable, as though it was in itself a proposal to negotiate terms. If, indeed, that message had contained terms, though they might be unacceptable and impossible terms, I trust it would be dealt with by giving those who sent it a clear and specific answer. For it seems to me—and I believe this is a view which is widely held—that in times like these if any belligerent makes professions of its desire for peace on reasonable terms and puts forward what it claims to be a formulation of those terms, everything is to be gained from every point of view by testing the sincerity of such a declaration. If such a declaration be genuine, well then, those who took no notice of it would put themselves and their country in a very invidious position before the world. On the other hand, I would urge—and this is equally important —that if such declarations are waved about when they are not genuine, it is essential that they should be exposed as a sham. But we are told that the only communication received from the German Government is a mere paraphrase of what we all know the German Chancellor said in the Reichstag. It is an invitation to discuss without indicating even in outline what are the terms to be discussed, save so far as these proposals may be anticipated by the bombastic language with which the suggestion was mentioned by the German Chancellor. To judge this matter fairly, we must allow for the fact that the German Chancellor was addressing the German people. But the fact remains that a communication of that sort is not a peace proposal at all, and I feel confident that those who on a past question of method—the difficult question of how best we could distribute and organise our national forces so that they might be used in the best way—I feel confident that those who felt a difficulty on that subject have on that account no reason at all to qualify their view that the Prime Minister gave the only answer to the German message which could be properly given. After all, what is it the Prime Minister has said? He has not replied to the German Chancellor by using vainglorious boasting. On the contrary, he has warned his countrymen that the burden which now rests on their shoulders will inevitably become heavier as time goes on, if they are going to discharge the great task which they have undertaken. The Prime Minister has not slammed the door to peace. What I understand him to have done is this: To have pointed out that no terms are even suggested in this communication, and that discussion without some previous suggestion of terms is necessarily a delusion and a sham. For my part, I believe there is nobody in this country whatever may be his opinion on other matters, if he realises at once the number of the Allies and the complexity of the questions which must arise when peace comes to be discussed on a basis of proposed terms—there is nobody who can seriously expect any other reply to be given than the one already indicated. At the same time, does not the House agree that this tremendous event of the last few days has introduced two new and most significant facts? I mean, first of all, this fact: that for the first time since this terrible world-wide conflict began an official communication issued by our enemy to the Allies has been sent forward which at any rate mentions the name of peace. Hitherto there have been unofficial hints and suggestions in countless number. Different people have attached different degrees of importance to them. It is obvious that they were not likely to be fruitful in result, but were designed simply to test how the wind might be blowing, and were put forward in a way which enabled the agent who flew the kite to be repudiated by the principals when it was convenient for the principals to repudiate him. But it is a new fact of gravity and importance that for the first time there has been an official communication from our enemy. I do not believe that the future history of this struggle can be unaffected by that new fact.

There is a second new fact involved in that, and consequent upon it It is the fact disclosed to us by the Prime Minister on Tuesday that, wholly unsatisfactory and vague as is this communication from the enemy, wholly undeserving as it is to be described as a peace proposal, it. necessarily involves an answer from the Allies. I apprehend that the answer, like everything else which has been done by the Allies, is a matter for their joint consultation and determination. We may well be content with the intimation given to us by the Prime Minister on Tuesday as to the general character which that answer may be expected to assume. Those two facts everybody who, on the one hand, is deeply anxious to see peace secured on proper terms, and firmly determined that it shall not be secured until proper terms are attained, can note. I have no intention of making an oration or unnecessarily prolonging the Debate. For the rest I hope the House of Commons will allow me to say this much, and I say it from a sincere desire to do whatsoever I can to contribute to national unity: there may be differences as to the methods by which we can secure our maximum strength and distribute our national forces most wisely. But that has nothing to do with the essential agreement which, I trust and believe, exists in every quarter as to the nature of the reply which the Government, speaking in the name of this country, announced that it will make to the Germans. The Prime Minister speaks in this country as the official head of the nation. I believe he has spoken both the voice and the mind of the whole nation. I care not what other points of difference may have arisen on any other aspect. These two things I affirm with just the same unqualified and certain confidence as any of my fellow-countrymen, for on these two points every patriotic citizen is agreed: first, that it would be an unpardonable crime for any Government to allow the War to go on for an unnecessary hour, and, secondly, that it would be the deepest treachery to falter in securing, by force of arms if need be, by more reasonable methods if and when the opportunity comes, those objects, essentially defensive and essentially unaggressive, for the sake of which, I am convinced, we were compelled to go to War.


The whole House will be prepared to endorse the proposition put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and especially will follow what he said about national unity. I am quite sure the House, the country, and those at the front will be heartened by the strong and stalwart speech made by the Prime Minister, backed as it was by the uncompromising utterances of the late Prime Minister. What has been especially pleasing in the last ten days has been the difference of tone in the House and Lobby. I have been away from the House very nearly a year. When I came back to it ten days ago I felt quite dazed with the atmosphere of personal recrimination which was prevelant in the Lobby. The air seemed thick with violent denunciations and accusations. To anyone who has not been here for some time that seemed quite deplorable at a moment when all will agree national unity is essential. It occurred to one at once that surely it was not too much to expect from those at homo that at such a moment it should be recognised that all personal considerations should be forgotten—as forgotten they are in the loyal co-operation by those who are fighting in the trenches. I am not very well aware of what is going on at home, and I am not able to speak as to the merits or the demerits of the late Government. But one thing I do know, that the present Government has been called into being, and it asks for our support in order that we may carry the War to a triumphant conclusion. As, I think, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said just now, in company with all patriotic men I intend to give it all the support in my power. What is more, I think that those at the front will scarcely forgive any who may covertly or overtly seek to undermine its strength. I am glad to recognise that there is a universal feeling of unanimity in the House at the present time, and that Members will most certainly recognise their obligations.

What about the Press? There are newspapers and newspapers! I sometimes wish, reading the newspapers abroad, that it were possible to restrict all newspapers to the publication of news. I should like to do away with headlines. I should like to put a stop to the recording of political gossip—most of it purely conjectural, and more often than otherwise quite false. Sometimes I think we might do without leading articles, though I am bound to say that many leading articles are weightily written and with a due sense of responsibility. Everybody knows that the halfpenny Press, at the present moment, are the principal offenders. Amongst the worst offenders I think we must number some of those papers which profess to support the new Government. Cannot these newspapers see that they are "queering the pitch" of the Prime Minister by the extravagant personal abuse of those lately in power? I must say that the reckless use of the terms "pro-Hun" and "traitor" positively sickens one. It is so clear that this unmeasured abuse must arouse such indignation in certain quarters of the House as seriously to en- danger that unanimity of support which will mean so much to the Government in the future. It is so un-English, this sort of thing! It is such a sign of unbalanced judgment! It gives such an impression abroad that people at home are getting "rattled." It is so little in accord with the mens sana in corpore sano, of which we have always been so proud and which has never failed your fighting troops in the field in this War even under the most disastrous and distressing circumstances. I would like to say, "Do let us give each other credit for being actuated by honesty and sincerity; do let us credit each other with the best and not the worst motives." I can assure hon. Members that things at the front are very different, because there prevails there a spirit of what I might call generous altruism. When the echo of these personal recriminations reaches the men in the field they ask themselves, "Are the politicians quite mad?"

They would appeal to you to get at the relative importance of things—to keep the necessities of the moment in the right perspective, and let patriotism expel prejudices, personalities, and party considerations. I have said that there are no such recriminations on the Somme. But hon. Members may picture to themselves what desperate hardships are being suffered by those who are occupying the fighting area at the present moment. Quite apart from the danger of battle, and what they call intensive shell-fire, the conditions our men are enduring every day are such as would seem scarcely endurable to many at home. They are up to their eyes in liquid and half frozen mud with never a chance of getting dry from morning to night. Yet they carry on cheerfully and confidently, inspired by the single-minded and unselfish determination that their cause shall prevail. What a splendid example do these set to those at home! Never for one moment does their confidence in the ultimate success of the cause fail them. There is some amount of gloom at home. There is no denying that. It may be that the fate which has overtaken our Roumanian friends in the Balkans has produced that gloom, has given rise to it in the minds of those who lose their sense of proportion and cannot estimate the whole position in the right perspective. There are no such doubts upon the Somme. We all know that for the moment that climatic conditions have compelled a halt. Nobody can advance in a sea of liquid mud. It is only for the moment. They will be at them again there before very long, and I will tell the House that there is in the air, and prevalent in the atmosphere, a sort of conviction that we have got the Germans; that we have got to the turning point. That impression is every day being confirmed by the demeanour of German prisoners falling into our hands. From the many documents which we find upon them which were never intended to reach our eyes, we learn with certainty that the German people are being strained beyond endurance. We have constant proofs of that. Is it not confirmed by the attitude of trembling anxiety with which the Germans have awaited our answer to the peace overture? from the Central Powers? I am quite certain the House will agree that with the turning point so near this is not the moment to falter in our determination to insist that our righteous cause shall prevail ! It has been well said—it was said the other day—that the Army in the field was a radiant centre of optimism. All that that Army in the field asks you is that you should be as true to it as it has proved itself in the past, and will prove itself in the future, to be true to you.

Major E. WOOD

I do not rise to add anything to that which the hon. and gallant Member has just said. I am only desirous to make a few observations, as an entirely unofficial Member, upon a matter which, I think, is of first importance, and I am not without hope that the views of unofficial Members may perhaps have some solid influence. I refer to the question of Ireland. Those of us who heard a few nights ago the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clare (Major W, Redmond) are under a considerable debt to him for that speech. I should like in passing to say that I think the House, and wellwishers of Ireland, will all feel that that kind of speech is of infinitely more use, and of infinitely greater advantage, to the cause of Ireland than some of the speeches which in the last few days have been made on Irish matters. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will acquit me of discourtesy if I regret, on behalf of those who wish well of Ireland— and I think we all wish well of Ireland, although our ways and methods may be different—the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), and even more if I regret the speech made last night by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon). If it were required, I could without difficulty, I think, give those hon. Gentlemen the reasons for the statement that I make. I know, privately and extensively, what harm those speeches have done, but, speaking with no special knowledge of Ireland, for I, like the hon. and gallant Member for Clare (Major W. Redmond), have been absent from this House, and shall be absent again, I am quite certain that what I am going to say is by no means an odd, personal view of my own, but is one shared by a great many with whom I work.

There is no need to emphasise the importance of Ireland as a war problem. We were reminded of it in that capacity a few nights ago by the Prime Minister. We were reminded of its international and Imperial bearing by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and for each one of us, when we survey the situation in this country, and when we try to appraise in our minds what are the advantages and disadvantages under which we labour at this moment, when we are inclined to be most optimistic, there is always the recollection of Ireland as a spectre at the feast, for which, so far, statesmanship has found no solution. I would ask the House to bear with me if, purely from the English point of view, I recall what I fancy to have been the process through which the English mind has passed. We all of us remember—I remember most vividly—the great gratification that ran through this House in the very early days of the War at the attitude taken up by the official representatives of. Nationalist Ireland in this House, and how we deplored the way in which, owing to various misunderstandings, into which it is unnecessary to enter, the tone of the picture gradually changed; how, after that, came the more serious events in Dublin, with all the subsequent history attaching to them, and, finally, the abortive efforts at a settlement a few months ago. As a result of influences, some ignorant, some mysterious, all tragic, we now see the spectacle in which a large section of Ireland is resolutely standing aloof and aside from the effort which the rest of the Empire is making, with the result that, as an hon. and gallant Friend of mine reminded the House a few nights ago, the question of recruiting for the Irish Division is one of the extremest gravity, and with the result, which is more immediately felt in this country, that Irishmen are filling positions in England that Englishmen have been compelled to forego and leave behind, and are drawing wages which those Englishmen, by their military service, have been compelled to give up.


Are there no Englishmen in Ireland?

Major WOOD

I think the hon. Member, if he goes to Liverpool, will know there is ample justification for what I have said. It is impossible to ignore that situation. It is impossible to fail to recognise the dangers that are inherent in it from the point of view of this country, and from the point of view of Ireland. It is impossible, as I know very well, and many other hon. Members of this House know, to exaggerate the bitterness that is being caused in many English homes by that situation to-day. The ordinary Englishman, when confronted with that situation, is inclined cither to say, quite naturally and simply, that the remedy is to do the obvious thing —on paper—namely, to apply the same measure of compulsion to Ireland in the matter of military service that you have already applied to England, Scotland, and Wales, or he inclines to wash his hands of Ireland, to set his teeth and say, "With them or without them, we will win the War." To my mind either of those answers is essentially unsatisfactory. Either of those answers, in the situation in which we find ourselves now, amounts to a confession of failure, and I do not suppose within the whole course of Irish history there has ever been a paradox and a tragedy more simple and more complete than this, namely, that this struggle which at home is breaking and has broken down the barriers of class and political prejudices should, at the very heart of the Empire, be sowing seeds and laying the foundations of a disunion which is likely to be more permanent and more irreconcilable than it has ever been. That, in my judgment, is the inevitable outcome of present events, unless statesmanship can guide them into happier channels.

A situation in which England loses the fighting strength of Irish manhood at this juncture on the one hand, and in which, on the other, Ireland pursues a policy which bids fair to be the undoing of all that friends of Ireland have been trying to do for generations past, seems to me a situation which no patriotic person can con- template with equanimity. If that is so, what path then is the House of Commons and the Government to take at this parting of the ways? They can either, of course, follow along the old paths which, I think, in the minds of many of us are likely to lead them into unfruitful and barren controversy, or the Government can take its courage in both hands and advise the Crown to make a generous departure upon new lines, for which it would enlist the services, perhaps, not only of the representatives of Irish parties in this House, but of all the representative Irishmen in whatever walk of life they be in Ireland, and would give Irish leaders an opportunity of proving the sincerity of all that they have often said they were willing to do by way of assurance and guarantees. When they have said that—and along with that let them couple an appeal to the honour and all that is best in ideals and hopes in Ireland—let them appeal frankly, and boldly and fearlessly to Ireland to take a stand along with them for all that we, as well as Ireland, are fighting for. As I began by saying, I do not think speeches like those that have been made from the Irish Benches always assist the Government in what is bound to be an extremely delicate matter. After all, this subject is not, and cannot be, one of a nicely-calculated weighing of pros and cons between this political party and that. Inasmuch as we have been reminded often enough that the question is one in which imagination, atmosphere, sentiment, all the intangible things of life play a predominant part—inasmuch as all that is true, I submit with certainty in my own mind that the only way in which British statesmen can hope to relieve it is by what I have described as a frank and fearless appeal to imagination and sentiment. It is perfectly true that the political risk involved in that course is great. It is perfectly true that there is no certainty, it might be said, that, even under so generous a scheme as I have outlined, you will get the men you want. I doubt very much whether, if the information that reaches me is correct, the risk we should run by adopting such a course is any greater than the risk we run by proceeding on our present course. With regard to the question whether or not we should in effect get the, men from Ireland, I should like to remind the House of what I think is a not inapplicable precedent, that the times to-day for some such action as this are not, to say the least of it, more unpropitious—I should be prepared to put it higher, but I will content myself with that—than were the times when the late Mr. George Wyndham first began to consider and outline his policy of a conference between landlords and tenants with regard to Irish land. It will be within the recollection of older political memories than mine that that somewhat prominent figure in Ireland. Captain Shaw Taylor, who was responsible for the first suggestion of that, was treated as a harmless lunatic in the minds of many. It was said, if that policy was adopted, there would be no security that Ireland would not repudiate what were merely honourable obligations. That did not happen, and for my part in the crisis in which we are I should unhesitatingly take that risk, and I should do it with this object, that I should consider that I had fair hope that under some such course of action as that I might well get half or three-quarters of the available men out of Ireland I was entitled to get; and, besides, I should get something of far greater value and that is a public opinion which would compel all the rest of Ireland to do its duty once I had been able to enlist it on my side. There may be many who would say that that is an excessive sacrifice to demand from the people, who would most violently disagree with such a policy. I know very well how great that sacrifice would be, but I also know, as we all know, that if we have learned one thing more than another in this hard school of war we have learned this, that to achieve anything you must have sacrifice and that the extent of the sacrifice is most often the measure of the worth of the attainment. I would say to my friends in Ulster at this juncture that well as they have deserved of the Empire in the past, they would earn a nobler title to fame if at this moment they could freely accept the invitation to make the great venture of faith without which no such experiment would be possible. Let them as a community make the sacrifice that so many have been willing to make on the battlefields of France.

One word more and I have done. I think that the people of this country will forgive the taking of great risks and pardon failures if the handling of this matter were to show a genuine inspiration. I cannot impress upon the House too strongly how urgent this matter is or how rapidly events appear to me to be moving, or how imperative is the need for some action. To the new Government is given as great an opportunity as has ever fallen to the lot of any Government. The Prime Minister has peculiarly valuable and quite exceptional qualities. The Chief Secretary is a person of broad sympathies who, in spite of an extremely difficult position, has won the respect of men of all parties in and out of this House, and on this new Government are concentrated all the hopes, the high hopes, of the people of the United Kingdom and of Ireland, who see in them, or hope they see in them, men who realise the magnitude of the task to which they have set their hands and who realise the importance of forging, if need be, new weapons with which to handle that task. I would implore them to grasp the opportunity that is before them boldly and fearlessly, and, if they would, I verily believe that all parties would rally to their standard; and if they could enlist, as I believe they could, the genuine enthusiasm, self-denial and self-sacrifice of all political parties in this question, they would be able to succeed, and if they succeeded they would, without question, have earned the undying gratitude of all their fellow countrymen.


I wish to make a few observations with regard to the Note which has recently arrived from the Central Powers, and to the speech in reply to it made by the Prime Minister. That Note contained a statement that the Central Powers would bring forward proposals which they considered to be an appropriate basis for a firm and a lasting peace. It is difficult to tell from the Note whether those proposals would be laid before the Conference was held or after, but I understand that what the Prime Minister's reply amounted to was that those proposals must be made now before, and not after, the various parties have met in some Council Chamber. The Prime Minister did not close the door. I understand that if these proposals are made now, and if they do not conflict with any of the obligations of honour in regard to the purposes for which we entered the War, that then there is some hope that they may form the basis of negotiations. I wish to say that I, and a number of other hon. Members, considered that that was a very wise answer, and the best possible answer which at this stage a British Minister could make. I wish, if I may, to emphasise one or two considerations. We really want that the German Chancellor should put forward his propositions, and for that reason I hope that any Note which may go in reply—because that is what he will officially have in front of him and not speeches—will not be couched in such language as to make it practically impossible in view of the public opinion of his own country for him to proceed further with the matter. I say this because it is of the highest importance that these proposals should see the light of day. This is important to us, to neutrals, and it is also important from the point of view of the German people.

If these proposals are sincere, well, then, I say frankly that I most intensely desire to see the end of this horror and suffering and slaughter; if they are sincere, well then, the possibility of the end of this War comes in sight. If they are not genuine, then it is equally necessary that they should be made public, and for this reason. If this War goes on for another year or two, the German people will be faced with the prospect of starvation and death and suffering, which I do not believe that they or any people will endure unless they are convinced that they are doing it for some noble and honourable purpose. Strangely as it may seem to us, at the present time I believe that the German people are so convinced. The German Chancellor has throughout told them that they are fighting for their existence and for their legitimate rights. If these proposals are not genuine, then let them be made public, and let it be seen that the Germans are fighting for purposes of aggression. When the German people realise it is for that they are suffering and dying, then I believe we shall have taken a step which will be far more effective than any military victories in undermining the forces which are consolidating the German nation.

7.0 P.M.

At this stage of the War and the possibilities of peace, I think it is necessary to deal with some of the deeper questions which seem to be affecting the public mind. I came back to this House two or three weeks ago, and I found in discussing this matter with a number of my friends that one argument kept recurring again and again. I have been told over and over again that even if we secure peace now, and secure it on satisfactory terms, than even then we should have failed to achieve the purpose for which we entered into this War. I have been told that the purpose for which we entered into this War was security for Europe, and that whatever the terms of peace may be, that security cannot be ensured unless the peace is preceded by a clear and definite military decision. I want to deal with that subject: First of all, I wish to say that I think that on a question of that sort the House should inform itself not only of the opinion of the public in this country, but of the opinion of the soldiers who are abroad. The hon. and gallant Member who has just addressed the House (Major Wood) has recently returned from France. I also have recently returned from the front. I have not been out there as long as he has. He has been there a year, and I have been out there for seven or eight months. I have held a very subordinate and very unheroic position, but on this particular point it has had an advantage. I have been able to form some judgment of what ordinary soldiers, the rank and file, are saying and thinking when they are among themselves, because throughout that period, I happen to have been serving in the ranks. I do not think I am a militarist, but I say frankly that I have come to the couclusion that those men out there on such an issue as this, will form a sounder, a less hysterical, a less prejudiced, and a more realistic judgment than any body of men in this country. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who spoke just now, and I should be very pleased indeed if the issues of peace and war depended not upon the Press of this country but upon the views of those who have to face war in its reality other Members have given their experience, and I think I am entitled to give my own experience. I wish to tell the House most emphatically that I am absolutely certain, if you put it to the men out there whether provided we can obtain guarantees that our honourable obligations will be fulfilled—


What sort of guarantees?


I will explain in a moment. If you put it to them whether we should then make a serious effort, all parties to get together, I say such a proposition would not only be carried by an overwhelming majority but with practical unanimity. I should like to deal with this idea of a military decision. The Prime Minister speaking the other day told us quite frankly that we must not expect any speedy military decision. I suppose it is generally agreed that a military decision can only be reached—1 will not say only, but is most likely to be reached—as the final result of something in the nature of a war of attrition. That is to say, the War is to settle down into a grim exchange of a life for a life in which there will be fewer fit and wholesome men left in each country and until the German lines are so thin that they will fall back to shorter lines in the rear, and then the process will continue again. I hope that I shall not be accused of what the Prime Minister described as poltroonery. I say frankly that is to me a most {rightful prospect and one which I confess I am not willing to face unless I am convinced that there is no other road out. The question which I have kept asking myself is this: When we have gone through with it, when it is all over, when we have got our military decision by these means, where then shall we find the security which it is all to obtain? When it is all over, as far as I can see, there will still be left in the heart of Europe a hundred million men organised, systematic, penned in, as it is also proposed by the rest of Europe, behind hostile tariff barriers, prepared to take advantage of any shifting of alliances to recover their position. To me the notion that these are the conditions under which we shall obtain security from the fear of another war seems to be the wildest delusion, and a delusion which is fraught with the most tragic and awful consequences, for it will prolong this War for months, and it may be for years, after the time when there is any good purpose that it can accomplish, and will send to mutilation and slaughter tens of thousands of my fellow countrymen.

If we want security we must alter our whole way of looking at this subject. I believe security can only be obtained by a scheme by which the nations of Europe and outside agree together that all will guarantee each and each will guarantee all. One of the most important events in the history of this War, and, indeed, in the history of the world, has been the fact that this scheme has been now officially adopted by the Government of the United Kingdom, by the Government of Germany, and by the Government of the United States in their acceptance of the proposals that they should band themselves together into a league of nations. To my mind, therefore, we shall achieve the purposes of this War not according to whether or not we obtain a military decision, but according to whether or not there is created out of it a league of nations, and a league of nations which begins without being burdened by a legacy of unremedied grievances which might stifle it at its birth. I therefore think that the purpose of this War is to secure terms of settlement which, on the one hand, will put an absolute and decisive veto upon any mere aggression, and, on the other hand, will give consideration to any legitimate claims which any of the countries engaged in the War may be able to make good. If we can secure a peace of that sort, then I think a military decision becomes unimportant, because without it we shall have removed as far as human foresight can the causes of war.

I have found, in speaking on this matter to my friends and others, that it has seemed to them the very notion that we are in this War in order to create a league of nations is fantastic and unpractical and Utopian. It might be so if we were living in ordinary times, but we are not. We are standing upon the threshold of a new order of the world. We are living in a moment in history when mankind never so clearly has held its own fate for good or for ill in its own hands. If Christian Europe does not now make up its mind to make an end of war, I do not see how civilisation as we have known it can go on. We all agree to that. We all want to rid ourselves of war, but there lies between us a profound cleavage of opinion as to the path along which that end is to be pursued. Some wish to pursue it by trying to hold the Central Empires down by a military decision, followed up by economic strangulation. If you do that, you will carry forward into peace the hostilities and the hatreds of war; you will divide Europe into two rival camps; you will make armies, navies and armaments more burdensome and oppressive than ever; you will make war more inevitable and deadly than ever; and you will clamp and fasten Conscription irrevocably upon this nation and all others. I myself prefer—it may sound Utopian—to follow the other path.

If I may speak more particularly to those with whom I have been politically associated, I would say to them the path to follow is to go back to the old Liberal tradition and trust yourselves boldly to those decent, kindly, humane forces which are to be found in every man and in every nation. Put behind you military decisions and Paris Conferences; seek only terms of peace which will enable you to substitute the possibility of friendship for the continuance of hatred, and on those terms of peace erect a league of nations. Of course, it will not give you absolute security, and nothing can. I admit that if these human forces fail us the league of nations will break in our hands. But if they fail us nothing can succeed. They will not fail us. I believe that those who put their trust in the great moral forces, which lie latent in the hearts of man, will find that, in the long run, they have never failed mankind. Trust them once again. I say that because I see no other way by which who can save the civilisation of Europe.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)

The House will readily understand that I am divided between two desires. It is the general desire of the House, I think, that we should rise to-morrow, and if that is to be done it is quite impossible that a subject so vast as that which we have just been discussing can be properly debated to-night. I am going to try and set an example by saying very little indeed on the burning questions which have been raised in the course of the Debate. In regard to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, I at least, who have run vicarious risks, have no right to throw taunts at a man who has had his place in the fighting line. At the same time I am compelled to say that if the spirit of the speech to which we have just listened were to permeate this country then, in my belief, all the blood and treasure which have been spent in this War will have been spent in vain. I do not think that he or anyone needs to impress upon us what are the horrors of this War. If there were ever any one who loved war for itself—I have always hated it—if there were any whose imaginations were moved by the pomp and panoply of war, they know better now what it is. It is not glorious victories or the hope of them that is moving the hearts of the people of this country. What we think of is the men—our own nearest relations—who are suffering the hardships which were pointed out to us by my hon. Friend behind me (Colonel Mildmay).

What we are thinking of are the desolate homes to which life will never return again in this world. What we are thinking of are the maimed and wounded whom we see going about our streets. We do not love war, and if I saw any prospect of securing the objects for which we have been fighting by a peace to-morrow there is no man in this House who would welcome it more gladly than I would. But what is the position? The hon. Gentleman says—I hope no one will think in quoting his words I have any party view in mind—"Let us trust to the old Liberal traditions. Let us trust to the good hearts of those we are dealing with. "Why are we in this war to-day? Why are we suffering the terrible agonies which this nation is enduring? It is because we did trust Germany, because we did believe that the crimes which have been committed by them would never be committed by any human being. It is all very well to say, "Let us get terms of peace." Yes, but can you get any terms of peace more binding than the treaty to protect the neutrality of Belgium? Can you come to any conclusion upon paper or by promise which will give us greater security than we had before this War broke out. Where are we to find them. I hope that not this country alone but all the neutral nations of the world will understand the position that has now arisen. Germany has made a proposal of peace. On what basis? On the basis of her victorious army ! That is the basis. The hon. Member who spoke last tells us that if we win the victory there will be Conscription for ever in this country. But what will be the condition if peace is settled on the basis of a victorious German army? Is there any man in this House who has honestly considered, not merely the conditions in which this War was forced on the world, but the way in which the War has been carried on— is there any man in this House who honestly believes that the dangers and miseries from which we have suffered can be cured in any other way than by making the Germans realise that frightfulness does not pay, and that their militarism is not going to rule the world?

I ask the House to realise what it is we are fighting for. We are not fighting for territory. We are not fighting for the greater strength of the nations who are fighting. I can say, honestly, so far as my own convictions are concerned, and I believe it is true of every one of us, we are fighting for two things—to put it in a nutshell. We are fighting for peace now. Yes, but we are fighting for security for peace in the time to come. That is what we are fighting for. When these German peace proposals come before us, not only based on German victories, but when they claim they are doing it on humanitarian grounds, and when they treat it, to put it at the best from their point of view, as if they and the Allies were at least equal —let the House remember this. Let them consider what has happened in this War. The outrages in Belgium and the outrages on sea and land. Let them remember what was referred to at Question Time to-day—the massacres in Armenia, which Germany could have stopped at a word, if she had wished to do so. Let them remember all that. and let them realise that this War will have been fought in vain, utterly in vain, unless we can make sure that it shall never again be in the power of a single man or of a group of men to plunge the world into miseries such as I have described.

And when the hon. Gentleman talks about peace on these terms, I ask anyone in this House, or in the country, this question—Is there to he no reparation for the wrong done? Is the peace to come on this basis, that the greatest crime in the world's history is to go absolutely un punished? It is not vindictiveness to say that. It is my firm belief that unless all the nations of the world can be made to realise that these moral forces of which the hon. Gentleman spoke have to be shown in action—unless they realise that —there never can be an enduring peace in this world. I am not afraid of my countrymen. Both hon. Gentlemen have told us that the troops at the Front will fight to the end to secure what they think is necessary as a result of this War. I am sure that they will. I am sure also of this: that our fellow-countrymen at home who up till now —I shall say what I think about this—have made few sacrifices, except the sacrifice of those dear to them—our people at home are determined in this matter, and if they can be made to believe, as I am sure they can, that the objects for which we are fighting can be secured, then there is no sacrifice which they will not be prepared to make. I am afraid I have said more than I intended when I rose, but I could not refrain from expressing what I felt on this subject. After all, there will be many opportunities for thinking over and discussing this question, and so I hope that in a few minutes this Debate may be brought to an end.