HC Deb 15 February 1916 vol 80 cc9-58

Mr. IAN MACPHERSON (in Court dress): I beg to move

"That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

"Most Gracious Sovereign,

"We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

When I was asked to move this Address, in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I considered the invitation to be a compliment to my Constituency, which has shone forth resplendent in this national crisis by giving of its best blood in an unsurpassed degree to the service of this country. I accepted the invitation, relying, for my own part, upon the well-known, ungrudging generosity of this Assembly. At the beginning of what may well be one of the most momentous Sessions in British History, it is fitting that our first thought should be one of thankfulness that our Gracious King, the centre of our Imperial unity, should have now recovered from the mishap which he sustained when he was with his troops at the front, where are the hearts and hopes of so many of his loyal subjects. The duties incumbent upon a great throne are onerous at any time, but no one can adequately realise the onerous nature of the duties of a great throne like that of Great Britain at a crisis like this. Of their performance there can be but one opinion. No duty has been left unperformed by him or by his Royal household to bring, with a word of cheer, a smile of joy to the brave soldier who lies wearied with his wounds. No day too cold, no distance too long for him to go, and see, and encourage those whose day of departure for the struggle is at hand! When the nation has come through its trial—which, I hope, may be soon!—I think it will be said of him—I am sure it will be said of him—what, with slight revision, Bolingbroke said of his patriot king:— What nobler spectacle can be presented to the view than a king possessed of power, neither usurped by fraud nor maintained by fear, but continuing in the esteem, the confidence, and the affection of his people! I felt it my duty, Mr. Speaker, to consult the efforts of my distinguished predecessors during the last year or two in moving and seconding this Address. Some dealt with the phrase, "My relations with Foreign Powers continue to be friendly"; some with the Estimates, which were to be proposed "with due regard to economy"; and some with the measures which reposed in the eminently safe custody of the phrase "and other legislative proposals, if time and opportunity permit," all of them elaborated in proportion as the tendencies of the speakers were for democratic control, or economy, or for the building of a railway from Belfast to Cork. Things are changed! There is but one tendency now, and the best proof and assurance of that is the fact that a hero of my younger days, my hon. and gallant Friend the hon. Member for Howdenshire (Lieut.-Colonel Jackson), who belonged to what we regarded as the Central Powers on the other side of the House, has allied himself with me, and that we stand here representing, not only a united House of Commons, but a united country. I think we may say that we have long since reached that stage in unity where each of us is prepared to acknowledge "integrity and wisdom where before we long suspected ignorance and corruption." The Gracious Speech is simple, direct, and incisive. It is the embodiment of the expression of the settled determination of a determined people. With its few grave significant words it touches the only and the deepest issues. Its tribute to our brave men on sea and land is one which must awaken a response in every heart. Thucydides said: Men make a city, not walls or ships empty of men. Thank God, the men are there. No pen can ever describe, no tongue can ever tell what our sailors, in their lonely, ceaseless vigil, have done as our unshaken bulwark in the North Sea. They have asserted there, as they have asserted wherever waters roll, the right, the honour, the safety, and the dignity of Great Britain. It has not often been their lot, through no fault of theirs, to enjoy the golden glamour of victory over a visible and tangible foe; but theirs is the even greater credit of the prolonged, silent, deadly victory which may deprive them of momentary enthusiasm, but which has won them the eternal and reverent admiration of their indebted fellow-countrymen. Assuredly the sight of the enemy's fleet will be to them, in the words of the Greek poet, "As the sight of land to storm-tossed mariners." But perhaps the most wonderful spectacle the world has ever seen has been the sight of 6,000,000 men, of their own accord, rallying to the Colours to make the supreme sacrifice, and a million or more of older men chafing because the one crime of age has made them ineligible. It is not from glen or from town, from plough or from pit, from forge or from factory, from mansion—aye, and from manse—in this country alone that they have come. Nearly a century and a half ago Chatham pleaded for reconciliation with our Colonies. If you would treat them, he said, as I have treated the rebel Highlanders, they would fight your battles, they would cheerfully bleed for you, they would bear your arms triumphantly over every quarter of the globe.

It has been my privilege to be associated in a humble way with my right hon. and able Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War at the War Office. I have seen his unsparing labours there, but I think he will agree with me in this, that while there one's heart would indeed be of adamant if it did not melt before the marvellous spirit of loyalty and heroism which brought hundreds of men—thousands, perhaps—at their own expense, some from six to eight thousand miles away, men who had sold their all, and had sacrificed their all, to fight and to die for their country. Equally marvellous was the spirit which has made fathers and mothers in this country bear the visit of the Angel of Death in their hitherto united home with pride and courage. How abundantly justified was the prophecy of Chatham! How abundantly justified was our policy of justice, and liberty and conciliation! What a blow to the hopes and expectations of our foes, who, I think, never did and never can understand government on the foundations of the gentler spirit of liberty and justice And if the one conclusive justification of that gentler spirit were needed it was found once again in South Africa the other day when General Smuts took command in the field on his merits, as his distinguished friend and colleague did on the same continent in another theatre of war. It is for the very principle which engendered this love and pride of race and of loyalty in every part of the globe that we are fighting now against the reactionary principle, openly avowed, of "undoing Europe," of haughty, overwhelming insolence and rapine, of tyrannous might, outrage, massacre of innocents, and devastation, conceived and practised by the most powerful and malignant confederacy that has ever yet threatened the liberties of mankind.

With us, in complete harmony, are fighting the most steadfast, loyal and unflinching Allies, small and great, but all gallant, a nation ever had, determined, even as we are, that nothing will cause them to deviate from the road to the only imaginable objective. They stand by us as we stand by them, all of us assured, in the words of Pitt, "that we know great sacrifices are wanted, that we are prepared to make them, and are at all events and costs determined to stand or fall by the laws, liberties and the religion of our country." That is a great determination and a great responsibility, and their fulfilment makes a corresponding demand upon the resources of this country. "I wish to God I could see my way through this mountain of expense," said Chatham, viewing, such is the irony of fate, our German obligations in 1758. I can well imagine my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer uttering an equally fervent prayer now; but he can be assured that in this country there is a spirit of self-sacrifice and of cheerfulness in giving, once the people are assured that the expense means the safety of even one of our soldiers whose endurance, courage, and fine spirit will ever find a place in the world's history. He need not in that case rely upon the nimble fingers of the swell mobsman. He can break away from the gentle and indirect traditions of the Treasury and practice the rough touch of the highwayman. Our position in this respect is not a new one, though our responsibilities are unparalleled. I should like, if I may, to quote a short letter written by a distinguished soldier to his mother in 1757, which appears to me to contain an expression of patriotic spirit and advice which I would draw respectfully to the attention of any War Economy Committee:—

23rd February, 1757.

"Dear Mother,—I write you upon a very particular subject. There is reason to think that the Spaniards will make war upon us, and of course the public expenses will greatly increase as well as the danger. My desire, therefore, is that you will interest yourself in behalf of the public as becomes a virtuous, good, disinterested lady, and that you will endeavour to persuade the General to contribute all he can possibly afford towards the defence of the island—retrenching if need be his expenses, moderate as they are. I would have him engage in lotteries and all schemes for raising money, because I believe they are honestly intended; and though he should be considerably a loser, the motive of his actions will over-balance his losses. Let the General keep a little ready money by him for his own use and yours; and with the rest, if he has it, assist the State: nay, I should go so far as to advise him to lend three or four thousand pounds to the Government without any interest at all, or give it, since it is the saving of his salaries and the reward of his services. Excuse this freedom. I beg my duty to the General.

I am, dear Madam, etc.,


These were the words of James Wolfe, who joined the service when he was thirteen, was given his commission as lieutenant and adjutant at sixteen, on the field of Dettingen, and fell at thirty-two on the Heights of Abraham as commander-in-chief and the victor of Quebec. But if the responsibility and determination and cost are beyond what any man in this country contemplated, it must follow that the resultant duty is clear. There can be no inconclusive peace. Any inconclusive peace would leave the world in the position of this ancient House when the Lord Chamberlain made his famous report at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. He was sent to examine the vaults in Parliament House, and returning with his report said he had found twenty-five barrels of gunpowder, that he had removed ten of them and hoped the other fifteen would do no harm. This unsatisfactory sort of armistice would mean only that "this nation could remain safe no longer than its enemies thought proper to admit." This House is the Grand Inquest of the nation. In it there has not been, and should not be, any attempt to burke sane criticism; but so far as peace is concerned there should be no room for anything equivocal on the outside or for any creeping factions within. The security of the future is the unalterable answer to the immeasurable sacrifice in life and money we are prepared to make. All of us know of the heavy responsibility which there is already on the shoulders of the accredited heads of this national Government. That being so, it is for us to pray, in the famous words of Burke, that" they may never meet for the transaction of their affairs, without being reminded that the means by which Providence raises a nation to greatness are the virtues in fused into its great men," and that, guided by faith and unfaltering fortitude, they may be enabled to pursue their united efforts towards that victory to which we all look forward with confidence and which, in the highest interests of our Allies, ourselves and of civilisation may be attended by something more solid and lasting than mere glory.

Lieutenant-Colonel F. S. JACKSON

(in military uniform) said: In rising to second the humble Address which has been so ably moved, I am encouraged by the belief that this House is always ready to extend the full measure of indulgence to those who have the honour of undertaking this duty, and I would beg that this indulgence may be extended to me to that full measure, especially in view of the fact that this is the first occasion upon which I have had the honour of addressing this House. The fact that the Mover and Seconder of this Address to-day are drawn from different parties in this House which, in the ordinary course, are politically opposed to one another, is, I think, significant of the conditions under which this House meets to-day. All parties recognise that unity of purpose must give us more strength for action, and they are prepared to put on one side all their past controversies in order that they may combine their forces and go forward with a common effort in the prosecution of that common task. I believe that it may be admitted—I think it should be admitted—that the result of the combination of forces has been successful, and has worked in the best interest of the country. The Government have had their difficulties no doubt, and their unity may have been threatened, but the difficulties were overcome, and the dangers also by a complete determination to proceed upon that path which they believe is the right path in the best interests of all concerned. I believe Governments in ordinary times have very great anxieties, and I wonder what enormous anxieties the Government of to-day must have. I feel that they should be entitled, and must be entitled, to every assistance and every encouragement, and that, above all, they must feel that they have behind them the confidence of the country. I am certain that they can be assured of that so long as they are willing to take the line which they have pursued hitherto of prosecuting with determination and fearlessly, and with all vigour and courage, this War to a successful issue. I do not wish it to be thought that I personally would like to see that vigour extended in order to resort to the methods of reprisal and barbarism resorted to by our enemies. I do not believe that this country is capable of playing that dirty game successfully. I am certain that if we were to attempt it a great mistake would be made. I sincerely hope that while the tradition of playing the game will not be departed from, no legal advantage which we possess may be put on one side or lost sight of.

I trust that we may utilise to the full the powers we possess, and take very good care that we have ample security in this country from the enemy in our midst. Above all, I hope there will be no efforts spared to deny that assistance to our enemies which many of us believe is going to them far too freely, and which they will use for our destruction. I sincerely trust there may be established a complete and efficient blockade.

At the beginning of my remarks I spoke of party unity in this House, but I think that sinks into insignificance when we think about the unity of the Empire. I am sure we all realise what we owe to our great Dominions across the seas. They have given freely of their manhood and their resources, and a debt is being piled up against them. They do not ask for anything more than that they may be allowed to take their place alongside our best in the most dangerous and, if necessary, the most risky positions. They have given freely of all they have, and they are quite prepared to give more. I only hope that in the end they will feel as confident as we do that victory will be achieved. I believe the country is absolutely prepared to make any sacrifice, and go to any extent, in order to make sure that the armed Forces of the Crown may have the requisite number of men, and may be properly equipped and abundantly supplied with the necessary munitions of war. All this must necessarily involve great sacrifices in many directions. The way in which the manhood of the country has come forward and given their services has been perfectly wonderful. Who could possibly have anticipated a few years ago that we should have required not a few hundred thousands but millions of men to fight our fights along the great frontier of our Empire and in different portions of the world? If anyone in this country had anticipated that state of things, it seems to me that everyone would have recognised at once that it was absolutely necessary that every man should place his services unreservedly at the disposal of his country. An appeal has been eloquently made for the production of munitions of war in this country, and that appeal has been most nobly responded to. In this respect I do not think I shall be presuming too much when I say that I think we all recognise the patriotic and noble efforts which have been made by hon. Members sitting below the Gangway who represent labour in this House. In regard to recruiting I know, from experience, that their efforts have been a very great success, and have meant a very great deal to the country. I also know and believe that they are prepared to accept willingly a modification of those rules and principles which they look upon as vital to the existence of those great organisations which they have created for guarding the rights of the working classes of this country. I believe they fully realise that the nation to-day needs and demands that the services of every man and woman should be utilised to the very utmost, and, under those circumstances, I believe they are prepared to waive those restrictions which in normal times may appear to them to be perfectly justified.

There is one sacrifice which I believe the country finds it difficult to face, and that is practising common economy. I do not think we can really say that for a good many years past this country has been taught to practise economy. On the contrary, I believe it has been encouraged to spend. I do not think our municipal or public bodies have yet begun to set the example which is necessary, and I do not believe that individuals either realise or relish the idea of having to forego anything in this direction. Nevertheless I believe economy must come, and must come now. Waste must be stopped, and if this cannot be done voluntarily I believe it will have to be assisted by legislation. When I mention waste, I would like to make one remark which I think is worthy of the attention of the Government, and it is that it appears from my experience that in the attempts which have been made to get a large number of recruits the fact of many of them being physically unfit for military service has to a very large extent, and in many cases, been overlooked, and far too many recruits have crept through who have afterwards been found to be physically incapable of going through the hard training of a military life, and these men have been retained far too long in the Army before being discharged. It is obvious that in times like these, when the country is crying out in every direction for labour of almost every kind, it is undoubtedly a great waste to keep in the Army men who are unfit waiting for their discharge when they might be got rid of with advantage at once. It has been my great privilege to be associated with a second-line Territorial battalion for sixteen months, and I would like to take this opportunity of saying one or two words by way of drawing attention to what I believe the Territorial Force has done in this War. For nine months they have undoubtedly been taking a very large share in holding the line in France and Flanders. They consist of gallant men called up at a moment's notice, men who never hesitated, and who never considered for one moment the privileges they were entitled to under their enlistment in the Territorial Force. They have done their duty well, and I sincerely hope that this will be properly recognised. I wish to associate myself with the words used by the hon. Member who moved this Address, referring to the thankfulness we all feel at the recovery His Majesty has made from the serious accident which he met with in France. In humbly expressing my firm hope for a speedy and complete recovery, I know I am expressing the opinion of all loyal subjects throughout the length and breadth of this Empire when I say that we are all as determined as ever to-day, no matter what sacrifices we are called upon to make, to carry on the War until a victory is attained which will secure the liberties of the people.


One strange thing about the situation in which we all stand to-day is that I rise at this moment. If I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and if on my rising the House is pleased not to make any marked demonstrations of impatience, I must write it down entirely to our ingrained adherence to ancient customs. These customs to-day it is impossible for me to satisfy. We can follow a sort of cy près doctrine, and imagine for conventional purposes that the hon. Members who sit upon this side of your chair, Mr. Speaker, are properly styled an Opposition, and that the person who by reason of seniority or otherwise occupies a central place amongst us is entitled for a few brief moments to imagine that he possesses the attributes of leadership.

We all know who would have risen at this moment had he been present. We need not discuss why he would have been called upon to speak because his claim to speak would have been so patent and obvious that no one could possibly have disputed it, for we all feel the keenest regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) is not only absent from our Debate to-day, but we regret the more that he is absent for reasons of illness, happily, I hope, not accompanied with danger, but certainly by some element of personal suffering.

The situation is, indeed, without precedent. In its true sense we have no Opposition. We have only groups. There is a group on this side of the House which does not oppose but supports the Government. There is a group sitting cheek by jowl with the Government which appears to take a particular delight in making itself difficult to the Government. There are other groups of various sizes and habits in different parts of the House, and they might be called something else than groups. They might be called juntas, triumvirates, and even duumvirates. In an excellent provincial newspaper, noted for the pre-eminence of its political information, I read that the proper name to give to these groups is to call them "ginger groups," the nature of which I think the Government will do well to take to heart. Not only have we no Opposition, but we have not, in the true sense, in His Majesty's Gracious Speech an unfolding of the Ministerial policy in the form in which we are accustomed to receive it. It was customary in ordinary times for us to receive a copy the night before, but I have not received one at all till now. There is one thing in which I am too glad to follow the strict and invariable custom, and it is at this early stage of what I have to say, to tender my humble compliments to the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Address. It would be presumption on my part to offer them that compliment on any ground except the one that I have certainly heard a great many Addresses moved and seconded in this House. I have heard it said that it is impossible for anyone quite entirely to fail in moving or seconding the Address in this House; but, on the other hand, I have heard it made a failure of in one or two instances. On this occasion I think the whole House will agree with me that both the mover and seconder of the Address have firmly established their claim upon the attention and favour of this House by bringing their performance well up to the standard of the most assured successes of the past. The Mover has obtained a distinguished position in this House, almost a Ministerial position, which is abundantly justified by the abilities which he has shown. With regard to the Seconder, he has a sort of hereditary claim to our favours. I am old enough to remember that a previous incumbent, a long time ago, of that most difficult office to fill, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was his father, and it was filled by him in a way that made it a common-place to talk of his usual courtesy, and he left behind him an impression that that office was never better filled. I am not one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but I believe I am a native of the constituency which he represents, and I am bound to say it is with special pleasure that I have seen that he knows that those who second the Address in this House make the surest claim upon its favour by showing that they wish to gain it by making careful preparation of what they have to say and by treating the House with that respect which never fails to gain its favour.

The Speech itself, of course, unlike other speeches, does not announce a long and controversial programme. That in the nature of things could not be so. The matters with which it deals are matters of universal consent, concurrence, and in this case of enthusiastic approval. I rejoice and we all rejoice with the Mover and Seconder of the Address that although unable to be present amongst us to-day to deliver his Speech His Majesty has made good recovery from what might have been a most dangerous accident. The Speech speaks of the confidence which His Majesty feels and which we all feel in our Allies and which we hope is felt by our Allies in us. If I might invite the Prime Minister when he follows me to amplify in any degree the rather reticent words of the Speech, I hope that he will be able to tell us something in detail about the phrase "ever strengthening," which gives us even more reason to rejoice that we can have confidence in our Allies. The objects for which we are fighting are tersely summarised in language which moves us all. Then come the words: "Pride in our fighting men by land and sea." It has been well recalled to our minds that some of those come from the other side of the globe, and have come in circumstances which must always be the despair of the understanding of our enemies. There is a financial paragraph in the Address, and I note that in that paragraph there is no mention of any financial provision except the financial provision for the conduct of the War. Here, again, I respectfully invite the Prime Minister to give us a little benefit of some amplification if he sees his way to do so. What concerns me is to ask whether this paragraph means that there are to be real economies in civil expenditure, and whether it means that the financial provision we are to make for objects other than the conduct of the War will at this time at least be below the normal. On the subject of war finance, there may be some who console themselves by thinking that Germany is under greater financial stress than we are. The House should remember that it is not enough that German financial exhaustion should either proceed or approach at anything like even speed with our own. Unless German financial and material exhaustion comes definitely earlier in date than our own we shall get no conclusive end to this War A financially exhausted nation may continue and make good a defence on its own soil, but for a pressing home of a military invasion with a view to compelling your enemy to accept your terms you must yourselves be clearly within, and well within, your own financial resources.

I refrain from going further into any of the other topics that must necessarily be occupying the public mind. It is not difficult to see that upon certain subjects there will probably be Amendments moved to the Address, and upon those Amendments debate will be concentrated and questions asked in greater detail than is possible in a general Debate. Such, for instance, will be the subject of defence against aircraft, the provision of shipping and tonnage, the sufficient and efficient enforcement of our blockade, and possibly labour questions connected with the administration of the Munitions Act, and otherwise. On the subject of aircraft defence I do feel inclined to ask one question. Rumour tells us that in the late attack upon the Midlands some places received their information of impending danger much later in the evening than they ought to have done, and that was due to the fact that the telephone lines were so monopolised by private users that it was impossible to get the warning through in time. I think the House is entitled to ask whether upon such occasions service signal could not be given to "clear the line" in the interests of the Government and the nation. Among many subjects which one would like to discuss, the only one I wish to select is the subject of the censorship. I do not know whether I may remind the House that although I have never yet made a speech about the War, it is by no means because I belong to those who do not realise the gravity of the position in which we stand, or the efforts we have got to make before we can bring this War to a successful conclusion. Those who talk most loudly and most often in this House are not the only Members who understand the gravity of the situation and who desire improvements in the management of our share in the War. It seems to me the true policy of the censorship should be that, so far as you can, you should keep the enemy commanders in the dark, but you had better realise from the first that you will not be able to do that to any great extent, whatever you do. Then, as to the civilian mind at home, you should keep it enlightened and fortified by knowing that it is told the worst as well as the best. Then there is the neutral mind abroad. You should do all you can to get neutrals abroad to understand your aims and ideals. As to facts, do not act in such a way as to lead neutrals to think that they are better informed than your own people. We all remember the case of His Majesty's ship "Audacious," in which the whole world was told more than the British people were told. Then last I come to the question of the enemy civilian mind. I should, if I might humbly presume to advise, leave the enemy civilian mind to take care of itself, because all the greater will be the disillusionment and collapse, which, if they are to be achieved at all, will be achieved not by your manipulation of news, but by your success in arms.

I should like the Prime Minister, if he kindly would before he finishes the speech with which I have no doubt he will interest us shortly, to tell us what proposals he has to make in the present Session with regard to procedure and business. There is the question whether, and, if so, to what extent, private Members' time is going to be taken, either as regards Motions or as regards Bills. There is the question, in other words, whether we shall have to engage in a ballot now or to-morrow, as has been usual in Sessions of other times. I should also like him to give us some information as to the probable frequency of our sittings week by week in that part of the Session which is now approaching. I ventured to speak about the practice in the King's Speech of giving a long list of legislative measures, possibly of a controversial kind. Any one of us can see that at the end of this War there must be heavy accumulated arrears of legislation. For the time being we have only to speak and to act and to think, outside and inside this House, to save and to pour out our money, or so much of it as the Chancellor of the Exchequer leaves to us, in such a way that we may best second the heroic efforts of our gallant men fighting upon the various fronts and upon the stormy seas. But at the end of this War this long arrears of legislation will, I hope, be made up by the strenuous energy of this House—and in no quarter will that energy be better supported than by those who agree with me and amongst whom I habitually sit—in building up a system of legislation which will give expression to the way in which this War has united the interests and the sympathies of all classes and has made all alike equally desire that this country may be made, even for the humblest, not only a country worth living in and fighting for, but even a country worth dying for.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

It has now been my duty for a good number of years—and a very agreeable duty it is—to commence the Session in the character of Leader of the House by paying a tribute to the unvarying ability with which those comparatively young and inexperienced Members who are chosen for the very delicate task of moving and seconding the Address have performed their duty. Sometimes, I admit, I have found it not altogether an easy task, but to-day I am glad to say that I can discharge it with a full heart and without any reserve or qualification. I have been now something like thirty years in this House, and I can honestly say that during all that time I have never heard the Address moved in a speech more characterised by the true Parliamentary qualities of eloquence, taste, and appropriateness of feeling than that of my hon. Friend. If he will allow me to say so, and I say it as an old Parliamentary hand, it was a great Parliamentary achievement. May I also offer my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend who seconded the Address, and whose name is well known outside this House wherever our national game is played? My hon. Friend told us that he was making his maiden speech. I doubt very much whether he has ever encountered a maiden over, unless perhaps when he was bowling, and then somebody else had to encounter it. I can assure him—we have no distinction of party in these days—that it is an unmixed pleasure to those who sit on this bench, and to all of us in every quarter of the House, to have our ranks reinforced by one who represents in so eminent a degree the manly qualities of the English race.

5.0 P.M.

My right hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) who has just sat down has performed, with the skill and adroitness which might be expected from an old Member of this House, the difficult task of following the Mover and Seconder of the Address. May I join with him and the whole House in expressing our regret at the illness—the temporary illness that we hope will soon be over—which has prevented the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) from taking his accustomed place as the first speaker to address us?

I am not going to occupy the attention of the House for more than a very few moments. A very short interval has elapsed since the close of the last Session, and I do not think there is anything that has since taken place in the theatre of the War which calls for any special or particular mention on my part, with two or three exceptions, to which I will allude in a moment. In France, on the Western Frontier, what is to us, I will not say the main, but the most interesting theatre of war, there has been, during the last two weeks, a recrudescence of activity on both sides, and, without going into any detailed narrative of what has taken place, I think I may fairly say that the Allies have well held their own. I should like, in that connection, to acknowledge with great gratitude, on the part of the Government and the people of this country, the generous offer which has been made by the French Government—our trusted Ally—to provide land for cemeteries for our officers and men who have fallen during the War. The French Parliament has passed a special law for that purpose, and His Majesty the King and his Government have decided to form a Committee, under the presidency of the Prince of Wales, to assist the French in the organisation of this scheme after the War. In the meantime a Commission, under the Commander-in-Chief, is working at the front in conjunction with our French Allies in the registration and care of the graves until such time as it is possible for the work of the larger Committee to begin. I am sure a vast number of people in this country will receive that information with sincere gratitude

Looking to the other spheres in which the War is being carried on, I think we may recall with satisfaction the fact that, largely owing to the zealous and well-organised assistance of our Italian Allies, the Serbian Army, which a month or two ago was in a very precarious position, has been safely evacuated from Albania to the number of something like 100,000—a number which, in the course of a week or two, will be a good deal more—and is now being reconstituted and refitted, and we hope and believe will form an effective constituent and factor in the future conduct of the War. As far as the operations which specially affect this country are concerned we may notice that, in the course of last week, the very successful and well-organised campaign in the Cameroons has been brought to a triumphant conclusion, the Germans being practically swept out of that Colony. I am sure the House will be glad to acknowledge with gratitude and admiration the extremely able measures which have been taken by our own general, General Dobell, and by the French general, General Aymerich, and the magnificent courage and resource which have been shown by the troops both of our own and of the French Army. It is one of the most satisfactory and complete episodes, so far, in the history of the War. In East Africa, as the House has already been reminded by my hon. Friend who moved the Address, owing to the very regrettable illness of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, the chief command has been assumed by General Smuts. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies has already pointed out that the idea of the appointment of General Smuts proceeded from here. It was, I am glad to say, welcomed in South Africa, it has received the assent of General Smuts himself, and we hope and believe that he will in East Africa accomplish the task set before him with the same complete success which General Botha has shown against the Germans in South West Africa.

Lastly, in Mesopotamia—where the course of the campaign has given rise from time to time to not a little anxiety—I am glad to say that I think the situation has distinctly improved. General Townsend is holding his own, and has supplies which ought to last still a considerable time. General Aylmer's reinforcements ought to have completely reached him by this time. Notwithstanding the abnormal and most unfavourable climatic conditions which have prevailed during the last few weeks, I think there is every ground for hope that the two forces may unite, and that anything in the nature of a serious British check may be averted.

I pass from these, which are, although important, comparatively minor incidents in the great campaign, to one or two considerations of a more general character. During the last three months the most outstanding feature of the general European situation has been the growingly intimate relation, co-ordination, concentration, and unity of direction and control amongst the Allied Powers, and that change, or development, as I should prefer to call it, applies to diplomacy just as much as it applies to strategy. The distinguished Prime Minister of France, M. Briand, did us the honour to pay us a visit here early in the year, and has since been to Rome, where he had, as might have been expected, a most cordial reception. These two visits are to be followed, and followed, I hope, at an early date, by a general Conference in Paris, at which both the political and strategic aspects of the War will be reviewed generally by all the Allied Powers. We hope that, by this growing intimacy, conference, and co-operation with regard to the conduct of the campaign in all its aspects, we shall counteract, and effectually counteract, the advantage which our enemies in the past, in the earlier stages of the War, undoubtedly possessed, fighting in the fields both of strategy and diplomacy on what are called interior lines and with centralised control. It is of the highest importance that the Allies should be placed in as advantageous a position in that respect as those against whom they are fighting.

I should like to say that here at home the Government have felt the commencement of a new year a fit occasion for taking what I may call complete stock of our own resources in men, in munitions, in our industrial reserves, and in our financial capacity, both actual and prospective. That survey has been undertaken by us with the object of our being able in the coming months to contribute our maximum effort to the common cause. In some ways—I am going over familiar ground, but it is ground it is well we should retraverse from time to time—our responsibilities are more varied and more complex than those of any of our Allies. Let me just illustrate what I mean by that statement. In the first place, look at the position and functions of our Navy. Over an area, vast and almost immeasurable in extent, we have to keep in being against all possible sources of wastage the most powerful and, at the same time, most diverse Fleet, or combination of Fleets, which has ever sailed the ocean. The work of the Navy during this War has been to a very large extent silent, inconspicuous, and unobtrusive. There have been few of the daring and spectacular adventures which light up the naval annals of the past. Our Navy during that time has performed, is performing, and, I believe, will continue to perform, with unexampled efficiency and success, four supreme and capital duties which the war cast upon it.

What are those duties? In the first place, the defence of our own shores against the possibility of invasion. Next, the complete—for it really has amounted to complete—neutralisation of the aggressive power of the hostile fleets. They never try conclusions with us. Thirdly, the clearance of the high seas from a menace which, in the early days of the War, was of the most serious and formidable kind—the free influx of necessary goods both for ourselves and for our Allies. Lastly, the vigilant and continuous stoppage of enemy supplies and enemy trade is one of the most important factors in the final successful prosecution of the War. I think we may say, without undue complacency or boasting, that the Navy, in performing these functions under vastly altered and, in many ways, more trying conditions than have ever prevailed at any time in the past, has shown itself worthy of the best traditions of a great service. That is a function which is almost peculiarly our own.

I come back to the Army. In the actual theatres of war—this is the only figure with which I will trouble the House—where fighting is going on, without counting those who are for the time being in these islands for Home Defence, for Reserves, for training and for necessary expansion in the future—in the fighting areas we have at this moment ten times our original Expeditionary Force. I am not including India, or the garrisoning of Gibraltar or Malta, or anything of that sort; I am speaking of the actual theatres of war. I am speaking now of troops sent from this country.


Not from the Colonies?


Of course, if you include the whole of those it would make the figure rather larger. I think I am well within the truth; at any rate I am using numbers which are approximately near the truth when I say that we are maintaining in the theatres of war ten times our original Expeditionary Force. That, Sir, has been done in the course of eighteen months. We started in this War as a naval and not a military Power. We were content, with the common consent of our statesmen and of our experts, to provide, as we did provide, for a military force of moderate size. The resources and patriotism of the country during those eighteen months have enabled us to multiply our force by the unexampled figure I have named. I do not think there is a more remarkable achievement in the history of the world. Further, Sir—I am not using the language of boasting, but I want the House to realise what are our own special responsibilities in this matter—in the face of this tremendous and unexampled drain on the manhood of the nation, we have not only to pay our own way—a serious matter in itself—but we have to take a leading part, from which we do not in the least shrink, and which we perform with the utmost alacrity and enthusiasm, in providing a certain part of the sinews of war for our Dominions and our Allies. We cannot afford, in the interests of the common cause, to impoverish or to unduly curtail our own productive power. It is as much to their interest as it is to ours that we should not do so.

Let me remind the House, when I speak of financing the Dominions and the Allies, that it is not a question of supplying gold; it is a question of supplying the necessaries of war—food, munitions, coal and other commodities and materials, and, what is equally important and equally essential in all our interests, the services of our shipping to convey all these things in the quantities, at the time and to the places where they are most needed for our common purpose. That is a gigantic, and, as I have said, an unprecedented task. I do not say it has always been perfectly performed. I have never pretended for a moment in the earlier or even the later stages of the War that there has been an absence of mistakes or miscalculations. There have been mistakes and miscalculations on our side. There have been mistakes and miscalculations on the side of the enemy. Both of us have had to deal with a situation that no one could have foreseen. Mistakes and miscalculations have happened. The best means of accomplishing this entirely new and, as I have said, unexampled task could only be arrived at by time and by experience. I do not say that the problem has yet been completely solved, but, at any rate, we have, during the last few months, taken long steps and even strides in the direction of its solution.

Lastly, speaking of these special responsibilities of ours, there is the question of finance. It will be my duty next week to ask the House to accord to the Government a new, and I am afraid, a very large Vote of Credit. That will be a more appropriate opportunity than this for giving, at any rate, a provisional forecast of the financial situation. But our outstanding liabilities on the 1st January of this year, supposing the War had stopped at that date, had reached a figure quite without precedent in the financial history of this, or I believe of any other country—a figure so gigantic that when in the course of time those obligations come to be liquidated it will be found that they will impose a sensible and, indeed, a serious strain upon the resources of this country for a generation to come. But the War goes on! I think that when I last asked the House in November to grant the Government a Vote of Credit, I said that our daily liability for the cost of the War would probably amount to, although I hoped it would not exceed, £5,000,000. That forecast has been very nearly if not quite realised. I need not say that it shows no prospect whatever of being reduced. It is a figure which, if you multiply it by seven days per week, or thirty days per month, and still more if you multiply by 365 days a year, staggers the imagination. When we are trying to get a perspective, as we ought to do in their true relative proportions, of the various interdependent and related duties which the War casts upon us, this is one which ought to bulk at least as large as any other.

How is that burden, if it is to go on—and it must go on, because we are not going to pause or flag in the prosecution of what we regard to be a supreme duty and responsibility—if it is to go on day by day, week by week, month by month, how is that burden to be met? As the House knows, I am no pessimist, I never have been since the beginning of the War, and if I ever had been I should not be to-day. I have no more doubt in the triumph than I have in the justice and righteousness of our cause. But we must face these things seriously, and we must get our people to face them. How is this burden going to be met? There are two ways, and two ways only, in which it can be met. The first is by large additions to taxation, and those I believe the House will find before they are many weeks older that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have the courage to propose. But no additions you could possibly make to the taxation of the country, unless it were of a suicidal and Utopian kind, could possibly fill this huge and ever widening chasm. The only other way in which the gap can be bridged is by the maintenance of our credit, which is the most valuable asset not only of this country, but of our Allies. How is that credit to be maintained? We must keep up, as far as our military and other requirements allow—for the two things must be balanced one against the other—we must keep up our productive activities and our export trade. Even more important—I am only repeating what has been said before, but I repeat it with the added emphasis of growing experience—we must cut down our unnecessary imports and our consumption of luxuries. We must try to reduce not only in our Government Departments—although there, I agree, the necessity is all-important—but in every department, public, local, and of private life we must reduce expenditure to its lowest possible limit. It is easy to preach these doctrines. It is not so easy to practise them. But I am sure I shall have the sympathy of the whole House with me when I say that the first duty at this moment laid on the conscience of every patriotic citizen of this country, for himself, for those whom he can influence, and for the whole community, is to practise the most rigid economy and to cut down every form of superfluous expenditure within the narrowest possible limits. It is only in those ways, by submitting to the burden—and a very heavy burden it will be—of unprecedented taxation, by the curtailment of imports and expenditure on non-necessary things, and by the maintenance at its highest possible level of our productive activity and our export trade, that we can possibly sustain the unexampled burden which has been cast upon our shoulders. The strain will be great, but in my opinion it is not a greater strain than we can bear. We can render no better service to the cause of our Allies, which is also our own cause, than by co-ordinating and proportioning our contributions of men, financial assistance, and of actual endurance of taxation, and, if need be, even of privation, both as a community and as individuals. By the combination of all we shall, I believe, if we can only persist in it, earn for ourselves from history the judgment in perhaps the greatest crisis to which both as a nation and as individuals we have ever been exposed—that we have done what in us lay to maintain the liberties of Europe and to provide for the future of civilisation.


We have listened to a speech from the Prime Minister the gravity of which cannot be over emphasised by anyone, and I rise on behalf of my Friends to say that we recognise with the Government the necessity there is for all classes of the community to face the situation which he has put before us with courage and with determination to the end. We have undoubtedly at this moment, as a nation, and I believe I am right in saying as a united nation, to face a situation unexampled in our history, and we shall take our part in all the decisions and efforts, both financial and otherwise, in order that this War may be prosecuted to a successful conclusion. Since the House last met the party to which I belong has held an annual conference, at which it was shown that, so far as the working classes of the country are concerned—the organised workers of the country—they are absolutely determined to throw the whole weight of any force and power they possess into the winning of this War. They sanctioned the inclusion and the retention of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Henderson) and his colleagues in the Ministry. They have declared that the party has done right in the past in associating with the Government in trying to secure the men to fight by voluntary means, and they have also said that, so far as labour is concerned at any rate, they believe that the country did right when it took its share in this great and unprecedented conflict.

But we feel that we have a right to ask that the Government should take note of one or two matters in regard to this War and the method of carrying it on which, from our point of view, demand their attention. There is one matter in which our party—and when I speak of our party I speak, I believe, generally for the workers of the country—did not see eye to eye with the Government during the last Session. And if we did not see eye to eye with them on that subject it was not on any ground that we had any difference with them in the prosecution of the War. It was not that we did not desire that all the available men should be found to fight for their country, but it was simply a matter of method in regard to the way in which those men should be raised. Underneath that agitation there is this significant feature which the Government will do well to remember, that the working classes of the country have come forward with the most magnificent and splendid loyalty. They have formed the largest part, as indeed they always must, of your Army. They have in the workshops to bear the burden and the tax of creating munitions. It is upon their shoulders that these great sacrifices rest, and undoubtedly when the War is won, as it will and must be won, it will be won by the working classes of the country having thrown their whole heart and soul into the production of munitions and into fighting for their country.

If that be so, we feel that we have a right to complain in regard to just one or two matters. My friends feel that they must put down one or two Amendments to this Address, and one of them will deal with the question of the men who have joined His Majesty's Forces and have been discharged, for whom no provision is being made at all, but who are being left in the most unenviable position because of some breakdown in health which has come upon them while trying to be soldiers, either here or abroad. The Government cannot be surprised, and must not be surprised, if there are still many married men who will not voluntarily enlist in the Army when they see that men who have already enlisted and are discharged have neither pension nor anything else on which they can rely, and I am informed that some of them have even had to make application already to the Poor Law authorities. Then the Prime Minister has rightly, I think, described the gravity of the financial situation. I think there are not many Members of the House who can remember a King's Speech addressed to the Members of the House of Commons in a single line. That single line undoubtedly does seem to put, so far as this House is concerned, largely what we have to consider and do in the present Session in order that this War may be carried on successfully. Finance is the key to the situation. But upon whom is the burden of that finance to fall? It undoubtedly falls upon all, and ought to fall upon all; but at the present moment can anyone doubt that the working classes feel keenly the flaunting of luxury and wealth which still goes on in this country?


Guildhall banquets.


I do not allude to Guild-hall banquets. They do not see much of them. But the evidence of wealth which are open to them to see in the street, the evidences which they can read in the newspapers in advertisements for furs, motor-cars, and all kinds of expensive articles, make them feel that if these things can go on at the present moment there cannot be any possible need for economy on their part. Therefore it is a most difficult task to persuade them that there is any necessity whatever either that prices should rise as they have been rising, or that they should specially put aside any part of their income in order to assist the State. As the Government has gone a long way to take the liberty of the subject it must go as far with regard to the wealth of the country as it has gone with regard to the liberty of the subject, and if these people will not save voluntarily, if they will not make the economies which are necessary, we hope that the drastic taxation which has been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister will come into operation at the earliest possible moment. So far as we are concerned we shall welcome any proposals which seek to raise as large a proportion of the expenses of this War from taxation as it is possible to take consistent with the necessities of the country and the real needs of individuals. We know that all cannot be raised in that way, and, therefore, we think that something ought also to be done to control still more any excessive profits which are made as the result of the War. At the present moment the excessive prices, the rise in the cost of living, and specially the excessive freights for shipping, are of such a nature that they demand the serious attention of the Government, and we think in these ways the Government will find a source of income which they may tax still further in order that the needs of the country may be met. I do not know that I can usefully add much more. I am not in love with long speeches on any occasion. I simply want to emphasise the fact that as far as we are concerned labour is behind the Government in the prosecution of the War. Labour wants equal sacrifices as far as equal sacrifices can be got, and labour demands that all the energy which the Government can put into winning the War shall be put into it. Finally, we want to see the War won for the Allies, believing that they are fighting for truth, for righteousness, and for justice.

Colonel Sir MARK SYKES

I should like to call the attention of the House to the general aspect of the situation, rather than to details. The rest of the Session, or at any rate the greater part of the beginning of the Session, will probably be occupied in discussing either the details of the War or in considering the great financial provisions which have to be made. In regard to the Gracious Speech of His Majesty I think one is not wrong in saying that the nobility of the words have something more in them on this occasion than one usually finds in the formula out of which speeches from the Throne are taken. I think everyone in this House feels that the old formula should have something more real and a greater meaning for us than they have had before.

In regard to the observations of the Prime Minister I should like to say that I welcome very much his statement that there will be more co-ordination among the Allies, and that successful steps are being taken to bring that about. I hope that while that is successfully going forward, and I am sure it is, it will not in any way take our attention from the great necessity of co-ordinating ourselves at home—of co-ordinating the various Departments at home. That is the matter which I particularly desire to bring to the attention of the House. I do not think that it is wrong for anyone to put before the House the lessons which their personal experience may have given. Of course, it is very difficult in these days, when Members are employed in the House and outside the House, to know where one duty begins and where the other ends. My experience has been this. I have been closely connected with four Departments for about three months in the earlier stages of the War. Later on my work carried me to various headquarters in the War, and later on again I was connected with four Departments here in London. What I saw is not the matter that I am going to speak about, but one general impression, the result of twelve months of seeing the working of the central machine and of the outlying centres, has been made upon my mind and I cannot get it out of my mind, and it is this, that there is no such thing as muddling through this War. If anyone deceives himself into thinking that we can muddle through a war of this magnitude, he is very much mistaken. We can only win this War by organising and co-ordinating ourselves. If we muddle, if we go on muddling, and if we are content to allow muddling, it will not be a question of a draw, but the War will be lost. Of that I am sure. There is no such thing as a draw in a war of this kind. This War is going to end in a win or a loss, and we can only hope to win it by organising and co-ordinating ourselves. In saying that I am not for one moment offering any criticism, of any man or any body of men who have been engaged and who are engaged in the administration of this War. Personally, I have seen criticisms of people, and I can say this, that when you happen to know the circumstances you realise very often how entirely unjustified are the personal criticisms, and the rather odious criticisms, that are cast about outside this House, and how very unjust they are.

No one can accuse any Minister of not doing his best with the machinery to his hand. No one can criticise our General Staff, who have dealt with an Army thirty times the size of the Army they thought of. I think the Prime Minister will allow that that is the case. When it is ten times its original size in the firing lines, I think that means that the Army to-day is about thirty times the original size, when you take all into consideration. Under very difficult circumstances, too, our diplomatists have done their best. Our permanent officials in the great Departments cannot be criticised. For eighteen months now they have been working overtime regularly, with hardly a holiday. Many men have been at work fourteen months without one day's respite, working very often on Sundays, and they have done this without any great breakdown. Then we come to the country itself. Take the case of Ireland. Some people imagined that Ireland would be a cause of anxiety, but, instead, we have had a good deal of accretion of strength from Ireland, which no one, much less our enemies, who knew of the state of affairs before the War had any justification in expecting. Take the case of labour in this country. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wardle) who has just sat down has grievances, but, as we all know, labour has given men and munitions as required and when required. Labour has given us no social anxiety on this account. The commercial classes equally have risen to the occasion. Then we have to remember that an Army of the enormous size I have mentioned has not only been led, but—what one can hardly have believed, although it has actually been done—it has been fed and equipped. These are tremendous facts, which reflect great credit on all concerned. They are of primary importance. The enemy expected to get a revolution in Ireland; he was wrong. He expected to get labour troubles in this country; he was wrong. He relied on our military incapacity; he was wrong again. He expected political dissensions; he was wrong. Therefore, when we consider all the circumstances of the situation, it shows that we have advantages which neither George Washington, nor Pitt, nor Abraham Lincoln, who were facing a situation nearly as serious as we are facing, had. They had all the difficulties, and they came out triumphant.

We must not, however, be optimistic. We must face the situation as it is; and if we take the general results of the campaign up to date, we must realise that they are not what we would wish them to be. Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro for the moment are in this position, that their kings are in exile and many of their cities do not exist: they have to be replaced. Take the case of Armenia. The Armenians cannot be replaced, because they have been exterminated. The Gallipoli Peninsula has been left by us. The Suez Canal has been and may be now potentially menaced. In Mesopotamia the situation is not what one might wish. Even in this Island, as we shall hear in the course of the Debates in the next few days, we are menaced by Zeppelin raids. We have to remember that large tracts of France and Russia are occupied by the enemy. Bad as the situation may be, it is not so bad as the situation was when Pitt said, "Boll up the map." We have certainly not got to that yet, but unless we co-ordinate ourselves and organise ourselves thoroughly and act in unison, from the highest to the lowest, we may be on the road towards it. We have the men, the materials, and the commerce, but these things will not suffice until our brains and our material are so co-ordinated as to put us at least on an equal footing with the enemy. We have, I might say, all the refined elements of success, but we have not got one selective force to compound these elements into a stable compound in this country—I am not speaking of the Alliance, but of this country—and the sole reason is that our system is still the system of peace. It is not a system of War. It is one of compromise, evolution, and concession. These are excellent things in peace; they have served us very well through one hundred years of peace, but I am certain of this, that if they are pursued, they must end inevitably badly in war. Such a system ends in councils, committees and debates, which lead eventually to inertia, and through inertia to alarm, and through alarm thus to Austerlitz.

I have seen the reputations of great men and armies frittered away, and victories rendered barren, with no man and no body of men really to blame, but because of one intangible, universal factor, which if it is not removed will end in disaster. I cannot define that factor. It is impossible to define it, but one can cite cases. The cases of how this factor works will not be fully cited for a hundred years after this War, because history only comes out every hundred years. I may venture, however, to give the House a hypothetical case, an imaginary case, so that we might see how this factor works. I will suppose that a great Imperial decision has to be given, and I will go as far afield as Aden, as a place where no great Imperial decision has to be made. Suppose it to be that at Aden a great Imperial decision has to be made, affecting our position in regard to the Allies. Aden has to consult Bombay, Bombay has to consult Delhi, Delhi has to consult the India Office, and the India Office has to jointly consult the War Office and the Foreign Office. The War Office and the Foreign Office have to lay the matter before the War Committee, and as this is a great decision it must be referred to the High Commissioner in Egypt, through there to the Foreign Office, and through there to the War Committee. As it is a great decision it will have to come before the Cabinet, then it will go to the India Office, who will forward it to Delhi, Delhi will forward it to Bombay, and Bombay to Aden. If no one is ill and everyone is unanimous, the result will be £250 worth of telegrams and sixteen days of time, if you are extremely lucky.


I have known it done in two days.

Colonel Sir M. SYKES

If the Allies have to be consulted, one may add, perhaps, another two months to the time occupied. The Prime Minister says he has known it done in two days. I have put this particular case before many people, who are quite competent and who know the ramifications, and they all say exactly what the right hon. Gentleman says, that there are short cuts. I know there are short cuts, but they only end in missing someone out. They end in not consulting someone who ought to be consulted, and eventually there is friction, and possibly when you get friction there is greater delay. You may get your actual decision, if you have this system, but it is much quicker to go right along the line and know what you are doing. So long as you have these long channels of communication, it means that if someone is left out who ought to be consulted when something is done a very essential link is quite unaware of what is going forward, and there is unintentional want of co-ordination.

6.0 P.M.

I am certain that the result of that system is that people either take short cuts which end in trouble or become the slaves of routine, and one has observed that this system is not only slow in its working but keeps people busy. One finds people working away at merely trying to get along, and making very little progress at all. When one is fighting I think that a little leisure is required on the part of those who are in control of affairs. When Ministers here in London have dealt with their ordinary office routine, and dealt with the local problems, and read the answers prepared for them before they come to this House, and then had their modicum of food and sleep, I do not think that sufficient time is left to them for the consideration of questions of broad policy. My own feeling is that we are constantly making emergency decisions. If we look back at the long series of events which have led us to the point at which we are to-day we shall see emergency decisions. Antwerp, Cyprus, Suvla Bay, Salonika—were any of those things planned out beforehand? When we left Kurna did we know that we were about to try to get to Bagdad or not? Each one of our great actions seems to me to be the result of a decision which is made on an emergency, and not as the result of a plan, after weighing all the circumstances. It is not the fault of any man. It is the result of our system which causes us to proceed in this manner, while our enemy is doing his best under another system.

I will cite two cases of people engaged in this War on our side who were not affected by this sort of system. One was General Botha. He had a revolution, a constitutional opposition, and an enemy in the field, and he dealt with them all. Evidently, when one sees the work which he did, there was a method and a plan which he followed. He knew what he was going to do, and he simply did it. Then we may take the case of the Navy, which is practically free of the ordinary official routine of this country. It is constituted differently from our other Services. The Navy has time to mature its plans. What is more effective still, when it makes mistakes, as every human thing must make mistakes, then it has time to think out a plan to retrieve them. If we look at what our enemy has done, and see his great strokes—the dash on Russia, the agreement with Bulgaria, the coercion of Turkey, the organisation of Austria, and the Zeppelin raids, which I think of small importance myself—we see that what has happened is not the result of any extraordinary Machiavellian pre-war cogitation, but that what they do is that a very average man, I should imagine, makes a decision, and it is then worked out by the machine in details, in the various departments of foreign policy, finance, and the army, and in this way then the thing is pushed through, either to success in some cases, or to something near success in others.

I feel that we have as good a political, diplomatic, and military team as the enemy, and we have a long way better people to work with, as well as an alliance which is absolutely solid, and has never shown a tremor from anything that I could see, and which would be ready to make all sacrifices. The peoples of England, France, Russia, and Italy have shown themselves time and again ready to make all sacrifices to outstrip the enemy in ships, money, and men. But unless we as a nation amend our disorderly ways of dealing with this great problem, I am certain that we shall not begin really to succeed. There is no use in mincing matters in this business. We discuss. The enemy decides. We in- vestigate. The enemy plans. We wonder at what happens. Then comes the emergency. First we act, then we plan, and then we decide afterwards. One has only to look back to see what has been the course of events. We have had to deal with situations which we have not shaped, but which have been shaped for us. Personally, I believe that that must be the inevitable result if the final Court of Appeal is twenty-two people, or a body of that sort, because wherever one has a large thing like the Cabinet deciding a great question like this one will always find that a strong man will be just strong enough to get part of his scheme, but not all of it, because there are too many critics. The consequence is that we drift, and the enemy moves, and his movements are apparently very sudden, but they are only sudden because of previous deliberation and preparation which the enemy had made during the preceding four or five months. The enemy's movements seem sudden, as the torrent seems sudden to the person below in the valley who sees it descend, but if one is up on the mountain, where the snow has been slowly melting, one sees that the torrent is the result of a gradual operation.

I do not critise individuals but a system. It seems to me that our directing forces have been all devised for peace and not for war. The result is that we are distracted, busy and confused. What of the remedy. It would be impertinent for a person like myself, who is not an experienced Member, to offer a suggestion at an ordinary time. But I feel that at a time like this, if anyone has anything to say, here is the place where he ought to say it. I am not going to suggest anything revolutionary. I am not going to suggest that any person's liberty should be threatened. We have seen the War Committee established. Why should there be a War Committee in a Cabinet? Is it not possible to reduce the Cabinet during the period of war to the number of four? I cannot see why this should not be done. I think four a good number rather than five. I think five an evil number, because it enables one person to take a neutral position between two contending factors, and then you get compromise and mistakes. I think that four is a good number, and I am going rather far back in history to find a committee of four. The Caliph Omar, when he wished to appoint a committee to select a successor, appointed four men. He said that if there was a minority, he was to have his head cut off; and if there was an equal division, they were all to have their heads cut off. That committee never met. I would suggest that four is quite a sufficient number to make decisions, and to be responsible for the policy and the conduct of the campaign, and I submit to the Prime Minister that those four should have no administrative office. I do not believe that it is possible for any person to run a thing like the Foreign Office, the War Office, the India Office, the Board of Trade, or any of those offices which involve enormous colossal business, to which the Minister must pay his individual attention, and then to consider practically the world as a whole, because this War is the world as a whole. That is asking too much of anyone.

Once the work of the Cabinet is reduced in size, and the Cabinet is something apart from the administrative action of Secretaries of State, who are responsible for administration, I think that the thing is then simple. You have a King then who can decide and rule. You have a master which says "Yes" or "No," and which stands at the head of affairs and is responsible to this House. I would suggest then that the War may be broken into as many or as few fields as you like, and the combination of Departments may then break it into as many branches as they are interested in. And if there is plenty of Interdepartmental correspondence between equivalent branches which are interested in the same field, and the Cabinet is the medium between the Departments and the War Cabinet, I believe that many of our difficulties would be practically over. I believe that in that we have got one of the real short cuts which do not lead people out, and do not give rise to friction. That is one way. I have no doubt that there are twenty ways. That is the only one that happens to have struck me, but there are no doubt many other ways, which one has not thought of, equally good. But some way we must adopt, if we are going to win this War, by which one compact, responsible, determined body will be in charge of the whole conduct of the War, and, if one may indulge in a quotation, Teach the doubtful battle where to rage, and not be taught by it. That is, apparently, what happens to us at the present time. I have detained the House much longer than I intended. I do not wish to criticise individuals, but people who I think are the victims of circumstance. We have had so long a peace that it takes us a long time to realise what this War actually is. To my mind it is no good saying that this War is going to be an interlude in our ordinary business and pastime. It is the grand climacteric of our Empire. When it passes, we shall either pass into new life or into dissolution.

Captain AMERY

I would like to associate myself with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull in urging that one of the chief reasons of the difficulties which we have had to face is the want of a proper instrument of policy and of government. He has spoken of an instrument of government which will "teach the doubtful battle where to rage." I am afraid that we have had too much of a Government which has been taught by the raging battle where to doubt. It took us over a year before we realised that the most efficient instrument of Government is not a debating society of twenty-two busy heads of Departments, eighteen of whom, I believe, have no connection, directly or indirectly, with the War, all of them busy men, who only met once a week. Since last November there has been some change. A certain amount of power has been delegated to the War Committee; how much has never really been made clear to this House or to the country, but some power has been delegated. The Committee, though smaller in number, is still composed of busy administrators. Let me take the single instance of the Minister of Munitions. That right hon. Gentleman has—and I imagine it is the opinion of all persons in this House—very high qualifications for the task of being a member of the innermost Committee, to guide the affairs of this Empire. But what is his present position? He is the head of the largest improvised undertaking in the whole world. He has to deal with many thousands of controlled industries, he has to answer questions in this House, he has to deal with most intricate technical matters, he has to deal with difficult labour problems, he has to deal with problems of invention, he has to deal with problems arising out of the military aspect of munitions, and he has to do this all and every day.

I do not think that we yet realise in this country the essential fact that the conduct of an administrative Department very rarely leaves time for thinking out problems. As all of us know, the current business of any office crowds in upon one hour after hour; papers have to be signed, decisions on important questions have to be made, and they all want settling today; consequently, the considerations of questions of policy are left over until tomorrow. Then, to-morrow, the same thing happens over again. The fact is that in busy offices life is carried on from day to day, and things must be settled as they crowd right in upon one. Let me take another instance. As regards military matters every nation realised this long ago. Even we realised, after the South African War, that we should have at the, War Office a Chief of the Imperial General Staff who was to have no administrative function, but who was to be responsible, solely responsible, for military policy. What happened? When this War began we forgot all about that. The Government asked or acquiesced in Lord Kitchener's becoming responsible for policy as well as administration. Lord Kitchener was asked to raise from nothing an Army on a Continental scale; he was asked to find guns, he was asked to find munitions when there was no munitions plant to make them; he was asked to find rifles, he was asked to find clothes, boots, and other equipments; he was asked to find officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, although he had not even the power to call upon them when wanted, but was obliged to rely on the medium of advertising and canvassing. How many spare moments was Lord Kitchener likely to have in carrying out that immense task? Yet he was expected, in those spare moments, to look ahead, to puzzle out the whole tangled problem of strategy all the world over, and to think out the whole bearings of the adventure upon which we embarked so rashly at the Dardanelles; to think out the whole consequences of a possible attack by the enemy upon Serbia, following upon a success in Russia. In fact, to think out the things which required the whole of one man's thought day in day out. Can we wonder that having tumbled into the Dardanelles adventure we had finally to tumble out of it again with disaster; and can we wonder that when disaster happened in the Balkans we had no plans? It is not a question of criticising individuals. I wish to associate myself with my hon. and gallant Friend, that no man in the position of Lord Kitchener could have been able to do what was imposed upon him. The task was beyond any man's capacity. How could all these things have been foreseen if there was not somebody to think of them and work them out? I am glad to say that in the last two or three months we have had an immense improvement in that respect. There is now somebody in the War Office who is responsible for nothing else but the policy of the War, and who has nothing to do with raising and equipping men or organising them. We have now a Chief of the Staff who is responsible for military policy and responsible for military policy alone. What my hon. and gallant Friend was asking for, and what I certainly am asking for, is that the principle which is carried out at the War Office should be applied to the conduct of the War as a whole, and that the War should be carried through and policy decided upon by a Committee of men whose sole concern should be policy in its different aspects and who should not have anything to do with administration. My hon. Friend suggested one form of organisation of such a Committee. It seems to me that certain persons obviously and certainly must be members of that Committee. Naturally the Prime Minister must be.



Captain AMERY

I should have thought that the whole policy of the country, and directing and guiding it, is most emphatically the function of the Prime Minister, and any administrative duties which he has might be delegated to others to undertake, and the right hon. Gentleman would be enabled to work out the question of policy and press it upon the Departments to be carried through.


I am simply asking for information. The hon. Member suggested a Committee, but he is mistaken if he thinks the Prime Minister has no administrative duties.

Captain AMERY

I consider that the Prime Minister's principal function is not administrative but to direct the policy of the nation, and if there are duties pertaining to the Prime Minister's office which involve many hours of work they should be delegated to subordinate members of the Cabinet. At any rate, for whatever it is worth, I simply venture to suggest that the Prime Minister must direct the policy of the Empire, and that the Committee should include the Prime Minister. The next person, certainly in my opinion, who should be on that Committee is the Chief of the General Imperial Staff, who is responsible for military policy—not the Secretary of State for War, who is concerned with the raising, equipping, and organising of the Armies considered to be necessary. The First Sea Lord, whose functions correspond closely with those of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in military matters, should be a member of that Council, but the First Lord of the Admiralty should not be a member. The Foreign Secretary ought to be able to delegate purely administrative routine functions to such an extent that he can be an effective member of this Council of War. It may also be a desirable thing to include some person especially in- terested in the social, economic and industrial questions of this country—not necessarily the Chancellor of the Exchequer, certainly not the head of the Home Office, or of the Local Government Board, or of the Board of Trade, and not necessarily a Cabinet Minister at all. It seems to me that a body of this sort, free from heavy routine work, and able to sit every day, and able to consult continuously as to the solution of problems before they are actually forced upon the Government, would afford us the means of securing fore-thought and continuity of policy. It would give us something in the nature of a General Staff of Empire. But sound policy is not enough, unless that policy, when decided upon, is carried out vigorously and resolutely. We must be forearmed as well as forewarned. Our failure hitherto has been not merely want of plan, but also want of driving power. The machine of Government wants better guidance, but it also needs speeding up and co-ordination. We need not only a clear policy, but a stronger executive impulse. That can only be done by a single man, and that man must necessarily be the Prime Minister himself. A Committee such as I suggest would greatly strengthen his hand, and enable him to arrive at a clear view of what the policy of the country ought to be; but no constitutional device can supersede the necessity for the Prime Minister's own action. It is to him the country must look to supervise, co-ordinate, to impel, and to guide the work of all the Departments of the State to set his own standard of effort, of efficiency, of economy to fill them with his own enthusiasm and his own determination. There must be one man at the head conducting the War, and he must not be afraid to lead; he must not be for ever like one skating warily on thin ice. He must tread forward boldly and with confidence, relying on the ground on which he stands, and on the fact that the resolution of the people will bear him out in whatever he is prepared to do. I do not think the nation wants at a time like this to have complacent summaries of good things that have hap- pened; it wants to be plainly told the unpalatable and necessary truths; it does not want to be half-heartedly asked to consume less sugar or to spend less on luxuries—it wants to be forced and compelled to spend less. What we want is not exhortation but taxation. We may yet be confronted with difficulties far more serious than any with which we have yet been confronted, but if only those whose place is to lead us will lead us, if we put our house in order, the end of this War cannot be in doubt.


I had no intention of taking part in this Debate, and I should not have done so had it not been for the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield who went out of his way to give a sort of lecture to Members of this House; but he was not at all fair in his lecture, for he referred to the formation of groups, and as to the group formed on this side, he said it was only desirous of putting every difficulty in the way of the Government. All I can say is that what the right hon. Gentleman said about the group of which I have the honour to be chairman is absolutely untrue; we wish to do nothing to make the work of the Government more difficult, and nothing that would hurt the Government in any way. We should be very poor patriots, and very poor representatives, if we did anything in any way to harm the Government, or make it more difficult for them to carry on this War in the best way they possibly can. We have a duty here to perform as Members of Parliament as well as a duty to the Government. I think every Member of this House has the duty cast upon him to say in this House what he thinks is best for carrying on the Government in as vigorous a way as possible. We have the authority of a Cabinet Minister for the statement that there have been too many occasions when what the Government has done has been too late. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions made that the burden of one of his speeches, and pointed out that all we have done and all our efforts on every occasion can only be said to have come too late.

The group on this side of the House is only formed with one intention, and that is to, if possible, prevent that cry of "too late" being continued much longer. We want, if possible, I do not say to "ginger up" the Government, the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, and as he may know more about horses than I do I will not explain the process of gingering, but what we want is to have a more permanent effect on the Government. We do not want to "ginger up" the Government so much as we want them to pursue the War, if possible, in a more vigorous way. The Prime Minister said a good deal about economy, and he implored this House and the country to practise economy more vigorously than they have done before. I think the country is prepared to practise economy, but they look for example from those above them, and particularly from the Government. Some things happened a little while ago, and I will only mention one to show that the Government is not so obsessed with the desire for economy as some of us should wish. I refer to the acceptance of the offer of the hon. and gallant Member for Widnes (Colonel Hall Walker) of his racing stud. I am not going into the question whether it would be a right or wrong thing in time of peace to take over such a racing stud, but I am informed that it will probably cost some sixty or seventy thousand pounds, and in this time of war it is not the time to do so, because by no stretch of imagination can it be said to be of any use during the War, and whether after the War is a very debatable question. When people see that sort of thing they begin to think that the Government is not quite as much obsessed with the idea of economy as they would like and as the Government ask the people to exercise. The Prime Minister also said about the War that he was not a pessimist, and I was extremely glad to hear him say that if he had been a pessimist at the beginning of the War he would not be a pessimist now. I think that was about the most comforting thing in the whole of the Prime Minister's speech, as it gave us to understand that in his opinion the War was going on in a satisfactory way. I do not want to discuss pessimism, but I think optimism in this War has been carried a little too far and that optimism may be said to be underrating your enemy. In that sense I think there has been a great deal too much optimism. I do not think the Government in the first instance, or at any rate for a long time, quite realised what they were up against. I hope and believe that they are now coming to have some little idea of what they have undertaken. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very nice long address about the functions of the Army and the Navy, and especially of the Navy, and of how splendidly they have been carried out. Nobody will disagree with him on that point. I think the country is very satisfied with the Army and the Navy, but I am very doubtful whether the country is quite as satisfied with the direction of the War from the centre. I have had a good many letters expressing opinions and feelings not very complimentary to the Government.


So have I.


I have no doubt that the Prime Minister has had even more than any of us. The Government have had an extremely loyal support, and practically an easy time; they have been very free from criticism. Before the Coalition the Opposition behaved in an extremely loyal manner. Since the Coalition there may have been criticism, but on the whole the Government has had the loyal support of the House, and has got off with a minimum of criticism. I am not quite as sure that the Government is going to get off with as little criticism in the future, and I am not speaking so much of this House as of the country. I believe that since the beginning of the War in almost everything the country has been ahead of this House, and I am not sure that the country is not ahead of the House in its opinion about the Government. An hon. Friend behind me, who is, I suppose, a good democrat, says, "What does the country know about it?" But I would suggest he had better tell that to his constituents. The country has heard about munitions and we know very well that if we had had a Minister of War in this House we should have known a great deal more about the shortage of munitions and of machine guns, yet this House was never told, and nobody has been blamed or dragged over the coals for it. The country stood it, and this House stood it. We have had the humiliation, the great humiliation, of the Dardanelles, and we have had the humiliation of Serbia, and it was a humiliation no matter what anyone may say about it, and perhaps greater in some directions than was generally thought. We have had the question of Mesopotamia, and I hope as to that that the Prime Minister's opinion will be verified, and that we shall get out of it with glory, but it remains to be seen, and the people are anxious about it. I hope and believe myself that we shall get out of it all right. There are matters as to which the country is getting very anxious, and I do hope that in the future we shall have less emergency decisions.

There is one thing I should like to congratulate the Government upon and which has been a greater relief to me, perhaps more than anything else that has happened in this War, and that is that we have now got a Headquarters Staff, or, as it is called, an Imperial General Staff. I understand that the decisions of that Staff are not to be supervised by the Secretary of State for War. The head of that Staff is to have the power in certain cases by his own signature to have things done without interference from anybody else. That is one of the most comforting things I have heard for a long time. May I refer also to the great anxiety in the country in regard to our aircraft. That anxiety is not so much fear of what is going to happen here, because the people realise, and if they do not some of their friends tell them, that those who are at the front are going through a great deal more danger than anything they may suffer or that may happen to them through Zeppelins. What the people are wondering at is whether the Germans in this matter are on the top of us in regard to the air, or whether we have anything at all that can combat those aerial ships that come over here. I hope if the Prime Minister speaks again that he will give us a complete assurance that this question of aircraft is going to be taken in hand and that we will not be too late. I agree with the hon. Member for Hull (Sir M. Sykes) that there ought to be some great change made, and I congratulate him on proposing a remedy—to have four Ministers who should have no administrative duties to perform. That I think is a solution very well worthy of consideration. Certainly something ought to be done. The hon. Member does not think any change is needed in the personnel of the Government. I do not say whether that is so or not, but I think that some change is wanted in the system. If by doing away with the large Cabinet which we now have and having four men as autocrats or dictators will do what he thinks is necessary, I shall be very much in agreement with him and shall be glad to support him if the question comes before the House. I agree also with the hon. and gallant Member that unless we co-ordinate and unless we proceed differently, on a different system, or make some huge change in some way we shall not win the War.


I should like to offer my congratulations to the Mover and Seconder of the Address for their very graceful and temperate utterances. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), in his very able speech, made one remark which I think is deserving of further comment. He said he was not in favour of what he termed an "inconclusive peace." One hears a great deal just now, both in the Press and throughout the country of what is called an "inconclusive peace." I should have liked the hon. Member to have explained to the House what exactly he means by an inconclusive peace. I notice in the King's Speech a very definite statement of policy, where His Majesty says:— "The spirit of My Allies and of My people, who are united in this conflict by ever strengthening ties of sympathy and understanding, remains steadfast in the resolve to secure reparation for the victims of unprovoked and unjustifiable outrage." That is a sentiment with which we shall all agree, as I presume it refers to Belgium and the actions of the enemy more particularly in that country. I have given notice to the Prime Minister of a question having reference to the peace rumours which have appeared in the Press recently. It has been stated with considerable authority that Germany has made some advances to the Belgian Government for the purpose of the restoration of Belgium. I saw the other day that this had been denied by the Belgian Legation in London. My question was to the effect whether the statement had any foundation in fact, and whether the Prime Minister could state the nature of these proposals. I should like to know also whether there is any foundation, in fact, for the other rumour that great Church dignitaries have approached the Allied Powers. As the Prime Minister is not present, I will defer any further questions until the proper time arises. One would have been glad to have had from the Prime Minister some more definite statement in connection with the reference to an inconclusive peace. After eighteen months of war we are entitled to take stock of the situation. The Prime Minister has very ably and properly shown us the gravity of the position in which we find ourselves. I think we ought to be told a little more definitely whether we are to go on on this aimless fashion, sending to the ends of the earth expeditions, which have generally resulted in failure, and have added to the enormous expenditure of five millions a day, in which this policy has involved us. What is to be the ultimate policy? Are we to continue sending expeditions to various quarters, or are we to concentrate more or less definitely on the Western front and on the primary object with which we entered the War? What was that primary object? Surely it was to carry out our solemn obligations in regard to Belgium and to come to an honourable understanding with France. Even with the richest Empire in the world I submit that engaging in such expeditions only accentuates the other difficulties, such as those which arise on the question of freights. If we pursue the policy of spread- ing out instead of concentrating, the probability is that in another twelve months we shall find ourselves more or less in the same position as that in which we are today. The Prime Minister has stated that he is going to ask us next week for a very large Vote of Credit. Perhaps on that occasion he will go more in detail into the question of finance. But I submit that on an occasion like the present we are entitled to a more definite statement with regard to policy. Is this War interminable? What is the object that we have before us? Have we any definite idea with regard to settlement? It seems to me that it is an appalling state of affairs for the great civilised Powers of Europe if our statesmanship appears to be bankrupt, if we are to go on month after month voting money and giving up the best of our youth and blood—the valour of our soldiers has been unequalled in the history of this country—and if the heroism of our men is to be frittered away in such expeditions as those to the Dardanelles and elsewhere without any absolute objective and with no definite policy before the country.

The Prime Minister made some very pertinent observations with regard to economy. Here, again, policy governs economy. The Prime Minister spoke of the necessity for economy and for heavy taxation, and he referred to the extravagant expenditure upon luxuries. The necessity for economy has been pointed out before, but we do not find the principle of economy being pursued by the Government. On the contrary, while latterly there has been an attempt to meet the situation by heavy taxation, the proportion of borrowed money on very extravagant terms has been far too great, and there has been too little sign of more economical methods. Take the last scheme for the mobilisation of our American securities. That was a very extravagant form of borrowing. The firms holding these securities were influenced by appeals to their patriotism for the purpose of correcting the American exchanges. As I said on a former occasion, that scheme cannot correct the American exchanges. Gold still continues to leave this country. What is the result of that much advertised plan? The hon. Baronet knows that when these securities are sold to the Government the proceeds which the bank or insurance company derives from the sale are again invested, say, in Exchequer Bonds, thus putting the Government in possession of more easy money, which they in turn distribute, and so accentuate the extravagance of which we are all complaining. It is impossible to expect economy from the working classes if they find themselves in possession of wages such as they have never before received and see money flowing freely in every direction. Contractors making large profits are not likely to practise economy. There is only one method of getting economy, and that is by heavy taxation. If we had husbanded our resources, and imposed heavy taxation, we should probably have rectified the situation by this time. Instead of that we still find ourselves faced with the problem of an unfavourable exchange, and increasing extravagance in every section of the community. I hope the Government will seriously consider this problem from a practical point of view, and that the considerations I have put forward will be borne in mind when this question is tackled in more detail next week. I believe it is a very grave position at which we have arrived. While none of us doubts the justice of our cause, at the same time we are not fools. We are alive to the gravity of the continuance of this most exhausting and disastrous struggle, and while we abate not one jot or tittle of our just rights we are open to reason and to negotiation on a fair and honourable basis.


I beg to move," That the Debate be now adjourned."

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).

ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to."—[Mr. Walter Rea.]

Adjourned accordingly at Three minutes before Seven o'clock.