§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I beg leave to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make provision with respect to Military Service in connection with the present War."
When, a fortnight ago, I asked the House to give authority for raising an additional 1,000,000 men for the Army the Report of Lord Derby had only just been presented to the Government. We had not had time to consider it, and the measure which I am now about to ask the House for leave to introduce is the result of our deliberations upon it. This Report has now been in the hands of Members since yesterday morning. I suppose I may take it that everyone is familiar with its main figures. I shall not go into them in any detail, but I wish, by way of preface to what I have to say, to call attention to two or three figures contained in that Report. The first is the fact that during the campaign conducted by Lord Derby—with the aid of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, the Labour Committee, and other bodies —it appears, from what he tells us, that Very nearly 3,000,000 men came forward, and expressed, in one way or another, their willingness to serve their country. After deducting from that figure of 3,000,000 the 400,000 odd who were definitely and at once rejected 950 on medical grounds, the total was still in excess of 2,500,000. Next, if we add to the men who enlisted at once—who, I think, number 275,000—those who are estimated to be available from among the large numbers who attested, namely, as appears from these figures, 343,000 single men, and 487,000 married men, we reach a total of over 1,000,000 available as recruits. The third figure, to which I think it right at this stage to call attention, gives the total of unstarred single men, who are estimated at 1,500,000. Lord Derby tells us that 650,000, or 651,000 to be perfectly accurate, are not accounted for. These figures, specially the first and third, are subject to very large deductions. The first figure of 2,500,000 must obviously be very considerably abated and reduced, to an extent which it is not easy at the moment at all accurately or even approximately to state, before you can get at the actual result. The third figure of 650,000 single men not accounted for must also, I am sure, before we act upon it, be liable to very considerable deduction.
It is not my present purpose to enter into any detailed criticism of these figures, but, looked at as a whole, these are, I think, wonderful and encouraging results, and they are of a kind which ought to convince both our Allies and our enemies that the people of this country have their heart in the War, and are prepared for any call that can be made upon them for sustained effort and continuous self-sacrifice. There was considerable controversy in the early autumn of last year as to whether we could best do our duty in the War by persevering with our Voluntary System, with such improvements as experience had shown to be necessary, or by the introduction, in some form, of general Compulsion. There were great divergences of opinion on that subject, even among those who are ordinarily accustomed to think alike, and they penetrated, as I think I have disclosed before, into the Cabinet. I believe that these divergences of view on the general question still exist. My own view is well known, and has been publicly expressed. Speaking for myself for the moment, for myself alone—as I have said I do not pro- 951 pose on this larger issue to speak for all my colleagues—I am of opinion that, in view of the results of Lord Derby's campaign, no case has been made out for general Compulsion. I, at any rate, would be no party to a measure which had that for its object. The Bill that I am about to ask leave to introduce is one, I think, which can be sincerely supported by those who, either on principle or, as in my own case, on grounds of expediency, are opposed to what is commonly described as Conscription. This Bill is confined to a specific purpose—the redemption of a promise publicly given by me in this House in the early days of Lord Derby's campaign, as far back, I think, as the 2nd November. I think I had better, for greater accuracy, read the precise terms which I used on that occasion. I quote it from the OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, column 520. I said this:—I am told by Lord Derby and others that there is some doubt among married men who are now being asked to enlist, whether, having enlisted, or promised to enlist, they may not be called upon to serve while younger and unmarried men are holding back, and not doing their duty. Let them at once disabuse themselves of that notion. So far as I am concerned I should certainly say the obligation of the married man to enlist ought not to be enforced or held to be binding upon him unless and until—I hope by voluntary effort if it be needed in the last resort, as I have explained, by other means—the unmarried men are dealt with."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1915, col. 520, Vol. LXXV.]That was the language which I used. It was subsequently repeated in correspondence between myself and Lord Derby in a form which I do not think materially modified it either in the way of extension or of curtailment.
I propose to ask at once, and to endeavour to answer in regard to that that pledge, for pledge it was, given; that pledge, for pledge it was. given; next, what was its effect; and, thirdly, has the occasion arisen which it contemplated, and, if so, and the answer to that is in the affirmative, how is it to be carried out? Why was the pledge given? It was given because at the time—and remember it was in the earliest stages, or at least one of the very early stages of Lord Derby's Recruiting Campaign—overwhelming evidence was submitted to me 952 not only from Lord Derby but from employers of labour and voluntary canvassers who were going about the country carrying on the campaign, that married men, willing and anxious to serve, were holding back in large numbers. Before they would commit themselves they needed to be assured—they were anxious, as I say, and eager to join the Forces of the country in case of need—to be assured, having regard to their circumstances, the businesses they were carrying on, and the persons who were dependent upon them, that they could count on their term of service being postponed to that of the young and unmarried men who were not similarly circumstanced. It is no exaggeration to say— and I can assure the House in this matter I am not speaking lightly or inadvisedly —it is the literal and simple truth to say that, if an assurance of that kind had not been given, there was serious danger of the whole campaign breaking down. And where should we have been then? I never thought, perhaps I was too sanguine, as I told the House at the time, that the contingency would be realised. I hoped and believed that it would not, but I had to face the facts. Anxious as I was, and as every one of us was—those who were in favour of compulsion just as much as those who were against it—that Lord Derby's campaign should be a success. I thought— and if I had to do the same thing again and confront the same situation again, I should take precisely the same course—I thought it my bounden duty to give that assurance. May I add that I certainly conceived myself to be speaking, when I used that language, within the limits and upon the lines of the general policy which had been agreed upon by the Cabinet. After I had spoken, I am bound to add, I received neither then nor subsequently any sign of protest or remonstrance. That is the first question.
I come now to the second question. What was the effect of the pledge so given? I think it is admitted on all hands, by all who have taken part—and hundreds and thousands of patriotic men have taken part, drawn from all classes of society, from all 953 schools of political opinion in this great recruiting campaign—it is agreed upon all hands that the effect of that pledge was very considerable. It is an undoubted fact that married men, in large numbers on the faith of it, attested who would not, and in many cases could not—it is not a question merely of good will; it is a question of circumstances— would not and could not come in if they were liable thereby, in consequence of coming in, to be called up in the earlier groups.
Then arises the third question: Has the occasion arisen, has the contingency occurred, which makes the fulfilment of the pledge a matter of obligation? As I reminded the House a few moments ago, Lord Derby calculates the number of unmarried men who are not accounted for at 650,000. As I said, and I repeat, I am very sure large deductions must be made from that figure to make it correspond at all with the actual fact—I mean of people who are not only not accounted for, but who are available. I am prepared hypothetically, because this is a matter with a large extent of conjectural speculation, to make very large deductions from that figure. Bring it down to half, bring it down to less than half, I am totally unable, making the largest possible deductions that I can conceive, to treat the hypothetical figure which would remain as anything but a substantial and even considerable amount.
My right hon. and learned Friend the late Home Secretary—whose resignation, as he knows well, on every ground, personal and otherwise, after many years of close association, complete political sympathy, and intimate comradeship, I deplore far more than I can express in words—thinks that the figure might be reduced to something approaching, I will not say a negligible, but, at any rate, an inconsiderable quantity. If I could share his view, I should, of course, come to the conclusion that the contingency had not arisen. But I cannot share it. In a matter of this kind, when you are dealing with people who on the faith of a public promise have offered their services to the country, it is not a matter of nicely 954 calculated less or more. In a matter of this kind it seems to me that a minute conjectural analysis of the figures is a little out of place. Our primary obligation-mine, at any rate, most of all—must be to keep faith with those to whom I have given that promise.
If that be so, if, as far as we can judge from the figures—which I agree must be to a large extent conjectural—there is evidence, not only primâfacie, but substantial and to my mind convincing evidence, that a substantial number of these men have not enlisted or attested, it must be clear to the House that there are only two ways in which the promise given can be fulfilled. The first will be to release the married men—over 400,000 in number— from their obligation, and thereby create a huge gap—a gap which I certainly do not see my way to fill—in Lord Derby's provision for the million men whom the House voted the other day. The second course—the course we are going to ask Parliament to adopt—is to provide that, if, after due opportunity of inquiry, it is found that there are single men of military age who have no ground whatever for exemption or excuse, they shall be deemed to have done what everyone agrees it is their duty to the State in times like these to do, and be treated as though they had attested or enlisted. That is the course we propose to adopt in this Bill.
The Bill is confined, as I have said, and as follows from the considerations I have just been putting forward, to the redemption of the promise given—and given, be it observed, exclusively to those who were concerned in or affected by Lord Derby's scheme. It is, therefore, limited in area to Great Britain— [Several HON. MEMBERS:"Why?"]—to which alone Lord Derby's scheme applied. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The Bill applies to all male British subjects who, on the 15th August, 1915—Lord Derby's date—had attained eighteen years and not attained forty-one years of age, and who at that date were unmarried or widowers without children dependent upon them. 955 Such persons, and such persons only, subject to the exceptions and exemptions which I will enumerate, will be deemed to have been duly enlisted for the period of the War as from the Appointed Day. As from the Appointed Day: I ask the House to take note of those words. The Act will come into operation on such day as may be fixed by Proclamation, not being more than fourteen days after it has received the Royal Assent. The appointed day is the twenty-first day after the date on which the Act by force of that Proclamation comes into operation.
I now come to deal with two separate categories: First, the category of exceptions, and then the category of exemptions. These are the classes of persons to whom the Act does not and cannot apply at all. They are set out in the first Schedule— First, men who are not ordinarily resident in Great Britain, or who are resident for the purposes of education or some other special purpose; secondly, men who are members of His Majesty's Regular or Reserve Forces, or who are members of His Majesty's Territorial Force, and liable to foreign service; thirdly, men who are serving in the Navy or Royal Marines, or who, though not serving in the Navy or Royal Marines, are recommended for exception by the Admiralty; fourthly, men who, at the date of the passing of the Act, are in Holy Orders or regular ministers of any religious denomination; fifthly—what is quite obvious—men who hold a certificate of exemption under the Act for the time being in force, or who have offered themselves for enlistment and have been rejected since 14th August, 1915.
Persons falling within any one of these categories do not need to claim exemption; they are exempted from the operations of the Act. They may therefore be cleared out of the way altogether. Now I come to what is really a much more important point—the grounds of exemption for persons to whom, apart from exemption, the provisions of the Act would apply. At any time before the Appointed Day—to which I have already referred—an application may be made to the local tri- 956 bunal by or in respect of any man or any class or body of men—that is very important, for it means a whole body of employés or persons engaged in a particular employment may be treated as the subject-matter of a single application—an application may be made either by an individual or on behalf or in respect of any class or body of men for a certificate of exemption upon a number of grounds which I will enumerate. Before doing so, let me point out that a man who has applied within the prescribed time, or a body of men on whose behalf such application has been made, cannot be called up for service until their application has been disposed of by the tribunal—if necessary by the Appeal Tribunal, about which I will say a few words presently. But I want it to be clearly understood, before I go into the exemptions, that a claim made for exemption on any of these grounds will prevent the person or body of persons on behalf of whom the claim has been made being called up until it has been disposed of. I will enumerate the exemptions.
The first is that it is expedient in the national interest that he or they should, instead of being employed on military service, be engaged—this covers the whole ambit—in work which in the broadest sense it is in the national interest he should continue to perform.
Secondly—and this is a case that has been put to me many times. I see the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) present. He has put to me this case more than once with great force. There is the case of the man, though a single man, who is really the support and stay of, it may be, father, mother, sisters, who are dependent upon him. I have had brought to my notice most moving cases of mothers who have sent three or even four sons to the War. They have been either wounded, killed, or, at any rate, disabled on active service. Where there is a single unmarried son left behind, it would, of course, be a monstrous thing if the State were to call for military service from a man in that position. He is as much entitled to exemption as any man in the Empire. [HON. MEMBERS: "More!"] So the second ground is that of a man by or in respect of 957 whom application is made by or in respect of any person dependent upon him, and who, if he were called up for Army service, would be deprived of the means of maintenance. That is intended to deal—I hope it does deal—with any changes in phraseology which may, on consideration, be found to be necessary—with all that class of cases which I have just mentioned.
The third ground of exemption is the very obvious one of ill-health or infirmity.
The fourth ground of exemption is a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh, oh!" and Interruption.] I am rather sorry to hear those expressions of dissent, and even of derision from some quarters. Some hon. Members are, perhaps, unacquainted with the history of legislation in regard to these matters. In the days of the great French war, when Mr. Pitt and his successors were in power, and when they enforced the Compulsory Militia Bill, they expressly exempted the only people who in those days had conscientious objections to Government service—the people called Quakers. In these modern times our South African and our Australian fellow subjects, who have both, in various forms, adopted compulsory military training and military service, have both included in their Acts these very exceptions — and with the best results. I think the words we have chosen here are taken from the Colonial Acts which deal with this very matter. I should hope—and I do hope—that there would be general agreement in all quarters to this exception. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh!"] I do not know whether the words I read were fully apprehended by all who heard me. Let me read them again: "Conscientious objection to undertaking combatant service."
Those of us who know the real facts of British life know quite well that there are a great many people belonging to various religious denominations, or to various schools of thought, who are quite prepared to serve their country in the War, but who object, on conscientious grounds, to the taking of life. They are, however, quite willing to per- 958 form many other military duties. I myself know of the case of many men who hold these ideas, and who hold them not only conscientiously but tenaciously, who have gone out on mine sweepers Men also have taken over, with the very best results, a number of ancillary duties which are very important to the prosecution of the War; and as my right hon. Friend reminds me, they have performed those duties with the greatest bravery and courage, exposing themselves to the very same risks as those who go into the trenches to man the guns and use the rifles. It is suggested in the case of such men that the exemption which they should get—and which I am certain is all that they would claim—should take the form of exemption from military combatant duties only. It is no discredit whatever to a man, if he has obtained a certificate of that kind, just as effectively to discharge the duties of a citizen for military purposes within the limits of his own conscientious scruples. He could take—as most of us can—military duties in the fullest sense of the term.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
Can we be allowed to hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying? Not a single word can be heard here.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will address myself particularly to the hon. Gentleman. I think the House realises what are the grounds of exemption. I will enumerate them again. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think it is perhaps better.
The first is, roughly speaking, that a man is engaged in work which, in the national interest, it is important he should continue to perform.
The second is, he has persons dependent upon him, who, if he were called for active military service, would not be able to maintain themselves in comfort or in decency at home.
The third is, ill-health or infirmity, physical or mental.
959 The fourth is, conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.
Those are the four grounds, and they have been carefully devised to meet, as far as we could foresee them, all possible cases of hardship that in practice can arise, and to secure that no one shall come under the obligations created by this Bill, unless it is manifest that he has no ground —no reasonable ground—for not responding to his country's call. There is a second class of exemptions, not granted by the tribunal, but granted by Government Departments, for which the Bill also provides. It enacts that certificates of exemption may be granted by any Government Department, after consultation with the Army Council, to men or classes of men in the service or employment of that Department, or the men or classes of men employed in any work which is certified by the Department to be work of national importance which comes within the sphere of the Department. That, as the House will see, will include practically all the classes of workmen which it is in the interest of the Government and of the State to maintain in their present employment.
Then as to the tribunal. We propose that there shall be in each local registration district a service tribunal, of not less than five and not more than twenty-five in number, which will continue to do the work that is being done under Lord Derby's scheme by the local committees in the various parts of the country; in fact, it will be a continuation of those local committees for the purposes of this Act.
We then propose that there shall be an Appeal Tribunal acting within a somewhat larger area—a considerably larger area—than the Appeal Tribunal, nominated by the Government, which will be, we hope, of an authoritative, representative character, and it will have the enormous advantage of being able to introduce, if there be any need for it, uniformity of decision in regard to the decisions of the Primary Body; and, finally, to prevent the possibility of mis- 960 carriage, it will provide that there shall be, if the Intermediate Appellant Tribunal assents, a further and final appeal to the Central Body here in London, which has been already set up under the authority of Lord Lansdowne's Committee, and which is dealing with appeals under the Derby scheme.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We hope that they will be. It is not part of the Bill, but they are performing very useful functions. Those provisions with regard to the machinery are made as simple as they can be made, having in view the objects we wish to attain.
I will now say a word as to the general effect of the Bill. I should have been very glad myself if it could have been done without; no one would have been more glad than I should have been. When I spoke on the 2nd November, and gave the promise to which I have been referring, which has now been redeemed, as I said to the House a few moments ago, I expressed a confident expectation that no such provisions as these would be found to be necessary. That hope has been disappointed. Although I am, I believe, as keen a supporter of the Voluntary System as any man to be found in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!" and "No!"]—indeed, I am—I consider this Bill to be necessary. I dwelt, when I last spoke on the subject, on the extreme importance of securing for any form of compulsion which might at any time be resorted to—to use my own words —"something in the nature, not of universal, but of general consent." Yes, and I am sanguine enough to anticipate that, when the provisions of this Bill are clearly understood and realised, that will be its fortune. Let me once again make clear what it is that the Bill does, and what it does not do.
It applies only to unmarried and comparatively young men.
It provides for the exclusion from its operation of every man who is engaged in other work which, in the broadest sense; 961 of the word, it is in the national interests he should continue to conduct.
It exempts those who, though unmarried, are the sole support of the persons dependent upon them.
It allows for every form of disability arising from health or infirmity.
It respects the scruples of those who on conscientious grounds, object to undertaking combatant service.
It prevents a man who, upon any of these grounds, claims to be exempt from being called up until his case has been finally disposed of.
It sets up in every locality, as close as may be to a man's doors, a local tribunal, and it gives him in all cases one right, and in some cases two rights, of appeal.
I venture, upon the point of general consent, to ask the House of Commons and the country this question—it goes to the root of the matter—Will any general sympathy be felt for men, for the most part still young—all of them under forty-one—who, unable to bring themselves within any one of these categories after full opportunity of presenting their case, are deemed in law to have done what everyone recognises to be their duty as a matter of moral and national obligation in the time of greatest stress in all our history? I still hope that as far even as the very limited and guarded compulsion which this Bill contemplates is concerned, the Bill may in that respect prove to be a dead letter. Let these men come in now of their own free will. Why don't they? Let them come in now of their own free will, and there is plenty of time for it. The military authorities will continue to allow them to attest under the Group System. The Group System is reopened, and they can come in now under that System. I quite agree with some of my hon. Friends who raised a protest just now that that will be the best and simplest solution. By all means let us have it if we can; but in the meantime we must make provision for the men whom Parliament has voted, and, above all, we must keep our promise and not allow it to be said—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, my promise. I mean to keep my promise. Let us keep cur promise, and do not let it be said that we dallied or delayed in the performance of an obligation of honour.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
In time of war, and most of all in the crisis of the greatest War of all time, the choice that faces a Minister who finds himself divided on a matter of fundamental principle from his chief is a difficult and a painful one. Whatever be the course which he ought to take, he, at any rate, should remember that, however difficult and painful his part may be, personal differences, like indeed close personal attachments, are of small importance and of no public importance as compared with the supreme necessity of vindicating in the way he thinks best the need of the country in the hour of its crisis. I do not rise in order to make a personal explanation or delay the House on any personal grounds. I have made my choice, and all I would ask leave to say is this, that difficult and painful as separation would in any case be, it is for me made far more difficult and far more painful because I owe to the Prime Minister all that help and encouragement could ever give to a younger man, and every opportunity I have enjoyed in Parliamentary life.
This Bill, as it seems to me, should be resisted. It is recommended on two grounds: It is recommended in part on the ground that it affords the shortest and plainest way in which to increase the strength of the nation in its hour of need. It is further and specially recommended to us by my right hon. Friend because it is a fulfilment of a pledge. Let me say a word about the pledge. I have read during the last few days, and I have received reproaches and suggestions which hint that I, in the course I am taking, contemplated as possible that the Prime Minister would not be as good as his word. I do not need any lecture as to the honour of the Prime Minister of England. It is repellant to me, and I cannot help thinking that it must be somewhat distasteful to him, that among those who so effusively assure him now of their perfect confidence that he will keep his word are the very men and the very newspapers which for years past have made it a trade to accuse him, without reason, of breaking faith. Whatever may be the reasons for 963 my attitude it does not proceed because I have any doubt as to the honour and good faith of my right hon. Friend. But, Sir, a sensitive and scrupulous and honourable man who is exposed to such gratuitous assurances from such quarters may well be ready, and may well be too ready, to perform what he thinks is the letter of his bond before the conditions which he attached to it have been fulfilled. However that may be, the House of Commons must examine what those undertakings were. The real issue is not one of a great state man's good faith—no honest Englishman doubts it—the real issue is whether we are to begin an immense change in the fundamental structure of our society.
The Prime Minister has referred to his speech of 2nd November. There must be many hon. Members of the House who have read it carefully in view of recent quotations from it. I wish to suggest to the House of Commons how it plainly should be regarded. I want to split no hairs about it, but to ask for its plain consideration on common-sense grounds. I approached the Prime Minister's speech, as I believed any speech by such a man should be approached, with the belief that I shall find it is a consistent whole. I do not expect to find in one part of it assurances which contradict assurances in other parts of it. Now, what was the Prime Minister's speech of 2nd November? He was most careful to point out then, as he has again pointed out to-day, that some of the statements he was making expressed his personal views, whereas other statements that he was making were the settled and authorised policy of the Government as a whole. Let me give one example of what he expressed as his personal view. Hon. Members may remember that the Prime Minister said on that occasion that for his part he regarded the question of compulsion for military service as a mere question of expediency. I have no reason to complain, for he said quite clearly that that was his personal view. I heard him say just now that he believed he was as keen a supporter of the voluntary principle as any Member of this House. I know him to be a convinced and sincere believer in the voluntary principle, for I have never heard from any man such a warm justification of the voluntary principle as I have heard from him. There is, however, a great difference between considering this ques 964 tion of voluntary service as a question of mere expediency, which is to be judged simply by weighing one argument against the other and judging for what seems best and regarding it, as I confess I have regarded it, as a vital principle of national life. The central feature of the Prime Minister's speech of 2nd November, as I understood it then and as I understand it now, was this: He stated, and stated with the full and express authority of the Cabinet, that compulsion could only be resorted to as a practical matter with something in the nature of general consent. Sir, that was in effect an undertaking, and my difficulty is that as matters stand I see little sign of this general consent and little prospect of it being attained. If I am asked why, with my views of compulsion, I did not resign then and there—it is a personal issue and of small importance compared with the great public matters, but I should like to deal with it in a sentence—I reply by saying that I understood the Prime Minister, in terms, to deprecate coming to a decision until it was possible to arrive at the accurate results of the Derby Appeal. My recollection I see is completely confirmed, because on column 523 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of his speech he says:—I think it would be much better to leave it like that and come to a decision when we had arrived at that point of actual experiment, than to lay down hard and fast lines in terms of numbers as to this or that principle.Let me be perfectly candid. When I read that again now, I see that the Prime Minister's reference was, perhaps, rather to defining the number of men that ought to be in the Army than to this question of principle. I can say with the greatest sincerity that as I heard it at the time, and read it since, I certainly understood it referred to this matter too. But be that as it may, there is nothing of which I am more confident than this: If I had thought it necessary a month ago to take the step which I took last week, my right hon. Friend would surely have invited me, at any rate, to see what the facts might be before I took this, as he thinks, unfortunate course.
§ Sir J. SIMON
My right hon. Friend is good enough to say that certainly would have been the position. If the right hon. Gentleman tells me that he did not realise that he had in his Cabinet colleagues whose objection to compulsion was an 965 objection on the matter of principle, all I can say is that I have signally failed both in the Cabinet and out of it to convey the state of my mind; and I believe there are sitting on that Front Bench now Gentlemen who hold opinions about compulsion which are indistinguishable from my own. There is one other thing in the Prime Minister's speech of 2nd November to which I must refer. He went on to say, as he reminds us to-day, that he was confident that the result of the Derby appeal would be wholly satisfactory, and that he had not the least fear of there being any necessity to resort to anything beyond organised effort. He then went on to say that if, after every just exemption had been allowed for, there should still be found a substantial number of men of military age not required for other purposes who without excuse held back from the service of their country, he believed that the general consent for which he stipulated would be forthcoming. My difficulty is this: I cannot believe that the Prime Minister's declaration was otherwise than self-consistent. I read the whole of it as governed by his requisition for general consent. He may be right in saying that once you have established how many men there are in this country who without excuse are holding back that general consent may be obtained, but the condition which he attached—most clearly attached—to the fulfilment of his pledge was that those facts should be found out first, and that legislation, if it was to be proposed, should be proceeded with afterwards; and that that is so is made doubly clear by the letter of Lord Derby of 19th November. My right hon. Friend has said that there is no substantial difference between the two. I quite agree; but here is the language which was employed in the letter of 19th November:—If after all these claims have been investigated, and all the exemptions made mentioned above—Here is the Prime Minister proposing to make the exemptions hereafter under the terms of his Bill—there remains a considerable number of young men not engaged in those pursuits who could perfectly be spared for military service, they should be compelled to serve. On the other hand, if the number should prove to be, as I hope it will, a really negligible minority, there would be no question of legislation.I would ask the House of Commons to observe that reference to "a negligible minority," and I would ask them to turn to Lord Derby's Report, because, of the many strange features in that document, the one which strikes me as the most extraordinary is that this very expression, 966 "a negligible minority," is attached to the wrong figure. The negligible minority, as is plain from the letter which I have just read, was the number of those who could perfectly be spared for military service. When I turn to the print of Lord Derby's Report, I find, on page 7 of it, this figure of 651,000 men, which, as the Prime Minister told us just now, would of course have to be most substantially reduced. In the very next sentence after which the 651,000 men are mentioned, Lord Derby's Report goes on:This (that is the figure of 651,000) is far from being a negligible quantity.Who denies it? But the test as to whether the quantity was negligible or not was a test that was to be applied not to a gross number but to a net number. It was a test that was to be applied after you had ascertained what was the size of this final residue. You cannot find that in Lord Derby's Report. The Prime Minister was not able to mention it in recommending his Bill to the House. Some people are so far afield as to what that number may be that the Harmsworth Press last night and this morning thinks the significant figure is something over 1,000,000. The figure that was to be regarded to see whether it was negligible was to be a figure arrived at after claims had been investigated, and they have never been investigated. It was to be arrived at after exemptions had been made, and they have never been made. At this moment nobody can say how many young men remain who could perfectly be spared and who are hanging back without excuse. Let me say at once that if the Prime Minister or anybody else could come here and show that the contention I am making is some mere fine-split, or fine-spun point, I quite agree that the situation might be regarded in substance as different.
I am going to ask hon. Members, who themselves do not know what is this figure which is alleged to be negligible, to look with me for a moment at the materials which at present exist for finding out what it is likely to be. The "negligible minority," whatever it may be, is not this figure of 650,000. What is this figure of 650,000? It represents, so it is said, the number of unmarried men who are unaccounted for. How is it arrived at? It is arrived at by subtracting one figure from another. It is arrived at by subtracting a figure which Lord Derby has from a figure which the National Register provides. It is consequently arrived at 967 by subtracting two figures, the one from the other, which are themselves arrived at by different methods, by different persons, for different purposes, and at different times. The larger figure, the figure which is got from the National Register, is a figure which is supposed to be accurate as at 15th August last. The smaller figure subtracted from it, is a figure which Lord Derby and his workers have furnished, and is based on an enumeration in the month of November, three months later. I want the House of Commons to consider, for it is worth while spending a few minutes on it, what is the nature of the National Register figure, the larger figure of the two, and by subtraction from which this 650,000 is obtained. If the National Register contained, so far as military ages were concerned, none but persons who might fairly be regarded as corning in Lord Derby's scheme, the situation would be quite different, but that is not so. The National Register contained in the first instance—I do not take the largest class first, but it is a clear and important case—all the clergymen, all the curates, all the priests of the Roman Catholic Church, who by their very vows are bound to be unmarried, together with great numbers of Nonconformist ministers and clergy. Before you can treat this figure of 650,000 as the figure upon which you are even to begin to work, you must take out all those. Has anybody done it? Can anybody tell me what the result of that would be? Nobody has done it, and, until it is done, this 650,000 is not the figure upon which you can act.
I will take another example. The National Register included every member of the mercantile marine who was within Great Britain at the time the figures were taken. Of course, great numbers of them are afloat and away, but on any given day there are in this country immense numbers of men, practically all of them of military age and many of them unmarried, who are in the service of the mercantile marine, and every one of whom was included in the National Register. They are not starred men The mercantile marine was not starred. They are all in this 650,000, and before you can even form any conclusion as to what is the gross figure with which you have to deal you must take out the mercantile marine, just as you must take out the curates, the clergymen, the Roman Catholic priests, and the Nonconformist ministers. I take a third 968 class. Included in the National Register were all sorts of people who were in different public institutions. A criminal, a man who had been again and again convicted, and who when he was discharged from prison would never be received into a volunteer army, by direction of the Home Office in co-operation with the Local Government Board, was included in this National Register. Every weak-minded person, every inebriate, every blind man, all the halt and the maimed, everybody who had got an obvious physical incapacity for military service, they were included in the National Register, because at the time it was taken we were given a pledge that the National Register had nothing to do with compulsion.
Let me take another very large class. I think the House of Commons will see that these matters really ought to be considered. It is only by considering them that they can be answered, if they can be answered. Included in this same figure of 650,000 are other blocks of persons who have no conceivable relation to Lord Derby's scheme at all. They are the men who have been recruited, and who from day to day are now being recruited for the Army and the Navy. They are the men who have left the country since 15th August last past. There is a very large class to which the Prime Minister himself referred. There is the class of the last remaining son at home. Does not every Member of the House know of many-cases in which there were several brothers living at home and in which in the early days of the War all the brothers but one gave themselves to their country's service under an arrangement by which they left that one remaining brother at home. It is no answer to say that that one remaining man might have come forward, and that Lord Derby in due course would have exempted him. Great numbers of them have not come forward. Many of them have not even been canvassed. You are actually including all those remaining sons in this figure of 650,000, and exhibiting that as a reason for saying the voluntary system has failed. When you have excluded these large blocks of several classes from the National Register, who is there that dares to say that the figure which is left is going to be more than a negligible minority?
But I go a step further. When you have excluded all these people, including the conscientious objector, the figure you have 969 then got is not the figure which has to be judged for the purpose of determining whether the minority is negligible. The Prime Minister told us just now it would have to be severely discounted. How much do you suppose you will have to take off? If hon. Members will look at Lord Derby's Report they will see some pretty good reasons for supposing that the figure which you will have, whatever it may be, must be reduced by an enormous percentage. You can have some notion of what is likely to be the reduction by observing what is, in fact, the reduction when you are dealing with single men who have attested. The Report is rather a confusing document, but you will find that the total number of single men who have attested is 840,000. I should have thought that, if this was a very accurate compilation it was a little odd that the precise number should end in four noughts. ["Oh, oh!"] Accidents of this sort sometimes happen. How many of these 840,000 who have actually come forward as single men under this scheme are available in point of fact as single men who are attested for military service? Three hundred and forty-three thousand. If out of eighty-four people who have in fact come forward, you are only able to get thirty-four, how many are you going to get out of this residuum, whatever it may be? The Prime Minister said, perfectly fairly, that, of course, there must be deductions. Yes, but on what scale or basis? The deductions which have been made by Lord Derby in respect of the men who have come forward are themselves estimates and not actual figures, because the thing has not been done yet. But the deductions which he has made are deductions of 40 per cent. on the ground that people are medically unfit, 10 per cent. on the ground that people are indispensable, and another 10 per cent. on the ground that they are badged or reserved. Does the House of Commons suppose that these are percentages that will apply when you get to the bottom of the basket and are dealing with the last few hundred thousands that you can possibly secure? Take for instance the exemptions on the ground that people are indispensable. Ten per cent. is the exemption which Lord Derby thinks sufficient in respect of the men actually attested. Just in proportion as you sweep into your net a large part of the people who might at first sight be supposed to be available as soldiers, those who remain in an increasing percentage 970 and proportion will be found to be indispensable. That I think must be plain.
But let me put a simple illustration. Imagine that the complement of a ship is called upon for some special voluntary service. You must leave a certain number of people on board the ship to work it. If, after you have made the first appeal and a great number have come forward, you have had to put 10 per cent. back because they must remain to work the ship, do you suppose if you bring the rest by force before your tribunal that only 10 per cent. of the rest will be needed to work the ship? The truth is, the nearer you work to the bottom of these figures, the larger these percentages of exemptions are bound to be. That is obviously true of indispensable persons. It is obviously true of badged and reserved persons, and it is still more true of people who are medically unfit. Does anybody really suppose that after you have called into the Army by voluntary means, before Lord Derby's scheme, some 3,000,000 men, and then, thanks to Lord Derby's great effort, you have got nearly 3,000,000 more men offering themselves, that when you come to deal with the miserable remnant you will find that the percentage of people medically unfit will remain as before? It is a perfectly fair point to make, that some people have come forward already under the scheme because they knew they would get medical exemption. I do not want the House of Commons to suppose for a moment that I have not that fact in mind. It is a perfectly fair point to make. But how many? Who knows? The pledge we were given was that before compulsion was proposed in this House of Commons these facts should be ascertained, and the conclusion I have come to is this: I make no assertion and no prophecy, but I say that no man who will examine this figure of 600,000, as I have suggested it should be examined, can possibly be so bold and hardy as to assert that, after it has been thus dealt with, you will find yourself left with more than a negligible number.
To show that I have really taken a little trouble, will the House allow me to call attention to the returns from a single constituency? The Constituency happens to be my own. I did not know of these figures at the time it was my sad fate to ask the Prime Minister to release me. They have come into my hands since, but if the House will give me two or three minutes I will show on this single return how large is the opportunity for error. 971 Walthamstow is the second biggest constituency in the United Kingdom. It has in it a population of practically 250,000 people. No less than 27,000 people are of military age. When I look at these figures I find that one of the details which Lord Derby in his printed Return secured is a statement showing how many men enlisted for immediate service in the constituencies during the time the canvass was going on. It is a very remarkable thing, it is a very gratifying thing that, at the very time when temptations were being offered to people to go into classes you none the less have in the seventeenth month of the War 270,000 people who say, "No; we will enlist at once."
I look at the figures in this Return and I find that in the case of Walthamstow no fewer than 1,137 single men enlisted for immediate service during the six weeks of the Derby campaign, and 458 married also so enlisted. It will be obvious to the House that the married men are not likely to be so numerous, because this was the moment when the married men were offered the inducement of doing all that their patriotic duty required by putting themselves in the deferred classes, whereas, of course, the single men knew perfectly well that, class or no class, they would be called up immediately. Here you had 1,137 men, single men, and 468 married men in the Walthamstow Division enlisting directly. I look at Lord Derby's Return and ask the attention of the House to the total number of men enlisted. I read, to my great astonishment, that the distribution of the men who had actually enlisted during the period of the Derby scheme is not a matter of record, as I have shown by the Walthamstow figures it might be, but a matter of estimate. I find, what is still more astonishing, that when you are distributing these 250,000 men between those who are supposed on the estimate to be single and those who are supposed on the estimate to be married, the smaller half are supposed to be single, whereas in such a constituency as Walthamstow, where there are half as many married men again as single, you get the single men enlisting in the proportion of three to one.
Lord Derby, when he presents his figures to the House, is not able to give their ascertained total, and these things are distributed on what he calls an estimate. I made inquiries of Lord Derby's assistants as to how it had been done. They 972 told me Lord Derby had not done it, and that nobody in his Department had done it, but it had been done somewhere in the War Office, and they did not know how. But anybody who will have the patience to look at the table will see how it was done. It was done in the most absurd way possible. They assumed that the proportion between single and married men in the middle of the Derby campaign would correspond more or less with the proportion of single and married men of military age in the country. They wholly disregarded the perfectly obvious fact that Lord Derby's whole campaign would have the necessary effect of deterring married men from enlisting straight away and encouraging single men to enlist, so that the effect is, if that estimate—and there is no reason why it should be an estimate only, unless it is because the thing was done in such a hurry—if that estimate of distribution is wrong by as much as 50,000, the result is that you have 50,000 more single men accounted for, as people who have actually enlisted in the Army, without a single deduction on any of the numerous grounds of exemption, and the total of single men which Lord Derby produces for the purpose of his calculation is so far falsified. The subtraction sum is wrong. In this, as in other things, figures count two on a division, and, therefore, 100,000 are gone by that single error. That is the first thing which strikes me.
I now come to the second. The Prime Minister spoke just now under the obvious impression that these 600,000 represent a number of people who had been canvassed and had refused or failed to come forward. If I may say so, I know something in the Walthamstow Division about removals. The National Register figures are figures for the 15th of August. The figures of Lord Derby's campaign are three months later. He was, therefore, subtracting a total of people we had got at from a total you have provided in the National Register three months before. In an area like Walthamstow hundreds or thousands of people have moved out of the area in the interval, and hundreds or thousands more have moved into it. I know the plan which Lord Derby intended to follow. His intention was that these removals should be followed exactly in the way in which, in the course of a General Election, a well-managed constituency follows its own removals. In Walthamstow, where the thing was most admirably done, they were prepared to follow up and canvass 973 every man of military age who had come into that great area during those three months. But I find, when I look into the Return, the number of blue cards for removals into the constituency received was: Single men, 1; married men, 2; and this in an area which contained some 27,000 men of military age, single and married.
This thing has been worked so badly that there is not at this moment the possibility of canvassing a single man of military age, whether single or married, who moved into that constituency in the course of the last three months. If anybody wants to deny that, let me point this out: that lower down in the same Return there is a provision for the number of removals out of the constituency. I see that the number of single men who were found to have moved out of the constituency between August and November were 662, and that the number of married men who had moved out of the constituency in the three months' interval was between 1,200 and 1,300. I am told that all these cards were sent up to Lord Derby's organisation and that nobody knows what has happened to them since. Now, really, is it fair, in these circumstances, to act as though a number had been ascertained to be rightly denounced as the number of shirkers who refuse to do their duty? I have no conceivable sympathy with shirkers, but I confess to the gravest doubt whether shirkers in any substantial number exist in the country. There is a third thing which I notice when I look at this Return. It is this: It is a Very remarkable fact that, although Lord Derby's canvass provides for all sorts of details, although it provides for the number of men who have refused to come forward because their employers will not let them, although it provides for the number of men who have declined to enlist but who would be willing to enlist on conditions, and although it provides for the number of men who have given no adequate reason why they should not enlist, there is no column and no place in these Returns for men who have refused to come forward and who have given a good reason for refusing to do so.
The conclusion to which I am bound to come is that when you take these matters into consideration together, it cannot fairly be said that we have reached a set of figures in this matter which in fact prove the case which the Prime Minister admits must be proved before action can be taken. Lord Derby's letter to the 974 Prime Minister in terms stated that the investigation of the claims and the granting of exemption must precede legislation for compulsion. This Bill turns that programme upside down—it legislates first and proposes to investigate afterwards. To my mind the best proof that it does not comply with the Prime Minister's pledge is this: If it turns out in the event that the number that you compel under this provision is negligible, will you compel them or will you not? This Bill, even if the investigations and exceptions provided for leave only a negligible minority, is still a Bill by which men will be compelled none the less. In other words, the condition that compulsion should only be adopted by general consent has been abandoned in favour of the condition that compulsion shall be adopted without any regard to the numbers to be compelled or to the strength of the opposition. What I would ask is this—there are some of us who regard this principle of voluntary enlistment as a real heritage of the English people—if you are going to sell your birthright, at any rate make sure first that the mess of potage you are likely to get will provide you with a square meal.
The Prime Minister said this afternoon, in recommending his Bill, that, of course, these matters were matters of speculation. I think his words were "matters of conjecture and speculation." Yes, Sir, but they ought not to be. The pledge that was made, as I most clearly understood, was a pledge that we would not act on speculation and would not act on conjecture, but would act after we had found out and not before we had found out whether in fact there was more than a negligible minority who were wrongly holding back. This proposal is not a proposal to sift and examine the residue in order to see whether compulsion is justified. It is not even a proposal to compel the residue to present themselves for examination in order that after the result is known the question of compulsion might be considered. This is a proposal to legislate for compulsion in the dark. It is a proposal, as I fear, which will arouse all the bitter division that compulsion threatens, without any assurance as to the benefit we shall get by doing so. The country has never been told by the Prime Minister how many men the nation can afford.
§ Sir J. SIMON
When we have arranged to keep the Navy all-powerful, to feed our 975 people, to maintain our overseas commerce, to make our munitions, to pay our debts, to supply our Allies, has the Cabinet made up its mind what are the lengths to which we can safely go? Let me point out this: As long as you maintain the principle of voluntary enlistment you have, at any rate, some check, because, as you draw more and more people into your Army, the economic pressure to keep those who remain becomes greater and greater. I agree that the check is a rough one and that it does not work with scientific precision, but it is a check. The moment you introduce legislation to force people to come in and foresake the play of these natural forces, you have no excuse unless you first make up your mind as to what is the figure to which you can safely go. How can the House of Commons and how can the country judge whether compulsion is necessary to add to the Army, unless it knows what is the size of the Army at which it is to aim? If this Bill passes, what are the real chances of general consent? Are the omens favourable? I ask myself, with the full sense of the responsibility which it involves, what is the position going to be if and when this Bill reaches the Statute Book?
One thing I wish to say here and now with all the force I can command. If this Bill reaches the Statute Book—I hope it never will, but if it does, and from the day it does, I will have no part or lot with any man, whatever be his excuse, who offers violent resistance to the law of the land. I do not care what the law is or in what circumstances it is made—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or what happens to the country!"]—it is in my view inexcusable, whatever be the temptation, to endeavour to set a law at nought once it has become the law of the land. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to see that is generally approved. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Ulster?"] What we are entitled to do, and what in my judgment we are bound to do, is to consider, in advance, what is the situation we are likely to create. I have for seven months had the duty of supervising the administration of the Defence of the Realm Acts, and as things have hitherto stood, there has been no provision under those Acts more important and more difficult than the provision which makes it a criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment and a fine, if any man speaks or combines or acts against the principle of voluntary 976 recruiting. It has been my duty for months to administer that law as best I could, and I have not shirked my duty whenever I have come across a case which was deliberate and unprovoked. When I have come across cases which I thought were trumpery and casual, mere excited expressions of opinion which were much better left alone, I have done what I could to discourage prosecution. I have done my best to see that the law was administered, as it ordinarily is administered in this country, in open Court. But I ask myself, What is going to be the position on the day that this Bill reaches the Statute Book? Then under the Defence of the Realm Acts it will be a crime, punishable by imprisonment and fine, to speak, to combine, and to act against compulsion for military service. I hope with all my heart that if this Bill passes on to the Statute Book we may find that the Government is powerful enough to do it, for I will never stand up here and be thought to be taking sides with people who wish to set the law at defiance. But I do beg the Government and the House of Commons to consider whether the position they are then likely to face will be an easy one for the Home Secretary, whoever he may be, and whether the difficulties, some of them existing already in relation to the administration of other Acts of Parliament, are not likely to be multiplied?
Finally, does anybody really suppose that once the principle of compulsion is conceded you are going to stop here? Is this principle of taking the unmarried man, even though he be forty years old, and refusing to compel the married man, even though he be twenty-one—is that a principle which has ever been known in this country or in any other? Was it the principle of the Press-Gang? Was it the principle of the law of the Militia Ballot? Is it the principle of any Conscriptionist country in the world? Is it not, as everybody knows, at this moment jeered at as an absurdity by Conscriptionists in the Press and out of it, so that they have made it perfectly plain that the only value they attach to the Prime Minister's Bill is that it will commit him and the country to the principle of Conscription? My right hon. Friend referred to the Act of 1802. If he will allow me to say so, although he nearly always quotes accurately, I do not think his reference was accurate in this case. So far as I know, it is not the case that in the Act of 1802 the Quaker exemption was in respect of people who had 977 objections to combatant service. The provision was that Quakers, or whoever they might be, did not come within the Militia Ballot Act for any purpose whatever. I recommend anybody who wants to see the difficulties of these exemptions to read the Section of the Act of 1802 and see what a ludicrous lot of exemptions you are likely to get before you finally carry this Bill. The circumstances in which this agitation has been conducted make it more than ever important that the House should take scrupulous care to avoid the suspicion of acting under newspaper pressure—[An HON. MEMBER: "Good old Harmsworth! "]—or for ulterior ends. I yield to no one in my admiration for Lord Derby's energy and enthusiasm, but there is one incident connected with this campaign which is very unfortunate. He entered upon this great crusade to justify the voluntary system by saying, on 5th October, thathe felt somewhat in the position of a receiver who was put in to wind-up a bankrupt concern.5.0 P.M.
Lord Derby, I am glad to think, knows very little about bankruptcy, but if he did he would know that, in the first place, the final report which an Official Receiver is expected to make after investigating a concern is expected to be a very much more clear and definite document than Lord Derby's Report; and, in the second place, it is not in my experience usual for a trustee in bankruptcy to announce to the creditors that there will be no dividend before he has so much as begun to examine the books. A very much truer view, as it seems to me, of the situation was that which the Prime Minister gave us on 2nd November. In the passage immediately following that which he quoted just now he said this:—I have far too much confidence in the patriotism and public spirit of my fellow countrymen to doubt for one moment that they are going to respond to that appeal, that the young unmarried men, with whom the promise of the future lies, are not going in this great emergency to shirk and to leave the fortunes of their country and the assertion of the greatest cause for which we have ever fought to those who have given greater hostages to fortune and are least able to bear the brunt.I deny that the facts now before us justify the assertion that the young men of England refuse to pay their debt. I have shown how great blocks of the population are included in your figures which have no relevance to the matter in hand. I have shown how great numbers of these young men have never even been canvassed, and it is admitted in the Prime Minister's Bill that there will be extensive exceptions the magnitude of 978 which he does not attempt to estimate. Do not condemn your fellow countrymen unheard. Do not tell the enemy without warrant that there are hundreds of thousands of free men in this country who refuse to fight for freedom. Do not pay Prussian militarism the compliment of imitating the most hateful of its institutions. Do not refuse to investigate because the "Times" newspaper wants the principle of compulsion given legislative sanction before the House of Lords has to deal with the Parliament Amending Bill. At least investigate what the facts are before you profess to act upon them. If you will do so I still believe, and there are many of my fellow countrymen who believe, that the result will not be to show the bankruptcy of the voluntary system but to justify afresh our attachment to a national institution by which alone the nation can be kept united.
§ Mr. HODGE
I cannot describe myself as an old Parliamentary hand, although I have been now a Member of this House for ten years, but during these years I cannot call to mind any more destructive criticism of a Bill proposed to be introduced than that which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made. With much of that criticism I am sure the great majority of the House agrees, although I have never tried to hide my opinion that in the event of the voluntary system failing I should be prepared to accept compulsion, but I do not think the voluntary system has failed, and to my mind the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman must have convinced those who desire that the voluntary system should prevail over Prussian militarism. The Prime Minister said he desired that this Bill should go through by consent. When the proposal to set up Lord Derby's scheme was initiated the Labour party contributed their quota to that Committee, and I think all sections of the community will acknowledge that they put their whole heart and soul into that movement, so far as making it a success was concerned. We declared that, so far as the Prime Minister's pledge is concerned, it does not bind us. Our opinion is that he ought to have observed his own dictum of "wait and see." Last September, at the Annual Trade Congress meeting, the question of Conscription was discussed. For more years than I care to remember that annual parliament of labour has consistently opposed anything in the shape of com- 979 pulsory military service, and on the occasion I refer to they reaffirmed their objection to the compulsory system. Of course, there was a great outcry in a certain section of the newspapers which desired Conscription because they wanted cheap soldiers. A certain section of the Press which engaged in that crusade did not for the moment hide what their opinions were. The delegates at that congress were rather alarmed as to whether the Government might not be forced into adopting their particular methods, and before the resolution was put a pledge was extracted from the leaders of the movement on the platform that in the event of the Government proposing anything in the shape of compulsion a special Trade Congress would be held for the purpose of considering it. Tomorrow that great conference is meeting. We expect that from all over the country there will be something like a thousand delegates. It will Be the greatest conference that has ever been held in the annals of the labour movement, and I need hardly say that, so far as we on these benches are concerned, our attitude towards the Bill will be largely guided by the decision that this conference comes to. If the decision is adverse to the Bill that the Prime Minister asks leave to introduce he cannot, by any manner of means say, in face of the decision, if such decision be against him, that it can be pushed through this House with the common consent of the people of this country.
Why is it that the labour movement as a whole, not only now but in past years, has been so much alarmed at Conscription? It is because they have seen its effect on the nations of Europe. They have seen how labour has been suppressed and held in check, and movements designed for the social amelioration and improvement of the economic conditions of the workers have been retarded as a result. No later than a day or two ago we saw in a certain section of the Press of this country that they hailed with acclamation the introduction of this Bill as the thin end of the wedge. When we find the newspapers of a certain section of political thought in this country screaming in that way before the introduction of the Bill, it is only natural that we who are connected with the labour movement should look upon it with very grave suspicion, to quote the words of the right 980 hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon), that there is an ulterior motive behind the agitation for this movement. The Prime Minister no doubt, if he perseveres, can carry this Bill by a majority of the House. As to what the effects afterwards will be no one can say, but if he adheres to the decision that he has already announced, that it can only be passed by common consent, it looks to me as if the Government would require to withdraw it.
Another thing I should like to direct attention to is the fear that is entertained with respect to the use of soldiers. At the present moment the War Office are permitting soldiers to go into certain armament works, and the result is to depress the wages of the men already in the employment of those firms, and should the Bill be persevered with, we would ask at any rate that some guarantee should be given by the Government against the utilisation of soldiers in that way. We must not have industrial conscription or compulsion. I dare say that is what some of the advocates of Conscription are desirous of having. If you are going to have conscription of the whole of the wealth of this country, you will have some reason and some justification for asking for the conscription of men, but we, of course, are of opinion that if you are going to compel men you ought to compel wealth in exactly the same way.
In addition to the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the numbers which should be taken from the 650,000 men, a good many men, some of whom I know, presented themselves for enlistment under the Derby Scheme, and one question submitted to them was: "Were they willing to be vaccinated?" Some of them were anti-vaccinationists, and they declared they were not willing. The recruiting officer told them, "Our instructions are that you must answer 'Yes.'" Men who had minds of their own absolutely refused to do so. They were consequently rejected, and are amongst that 650,000. So that there are a variety of ways in which those numbers can be still further reduced. I am rather pleased that the Prime Minister has decided that the Debate shall go on over to-night and be resumed to-morrow, because that will give my colleagues on these benches an opportunity of giving an authoritative opinion as represented by the delegates to whom I have referred at the conference to-morow. We reserve our opinions and the only observations that I desire 981 to make, so far as my colleagues are concerned, are those which I have endeavoured to bring before the House.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I think no one ever came down to attempt to address this House in a greater state of indecision than I did to-day. I have never attempted to conceal from anyone who has listened to me in this House, or from my own Constituents, the extreme abhorrence and detestation that I have for the principles involved in what is commonly called Conscription. I can trace to them almost every evil which has happened on the Continent of Europe in the past fifty years. There is not a single person at this moment involved in this War who has suffered loss of life, property or relations, who cannot trace back that loss to the principles, the traditions, and the spirit which has animated the German people and the German Government ever since, in 1800, they adopted the principle of Conscription. There are some people in this House, and there are perhaps many people in this country, who have been advocates of German methods, who see in that practice and spirit of the German people, which more particularly characterises their Government, a thing which has given to that nation vigour, energy, and ability which is not conspicuous in this country. They have ascribed to that kind of legislation and regulation virtues and powers to Germany in which we ourselves are lacking. I do not believe for one moment that laws make for the character of a people. The character of any nation depends much more upon tradition and, to a certain extent, upon climate than upon any legislation. There is no country which has so good traditions as ours and no country which has so bad a climate. For that reason I find exhibited in the people of this country, and in this country itself, virtues as great, fortitude and endurance as marked, and courage as conspicuous as are to be found in any other nation or in any other race. Owing to the different traditions of the German people and the British people, we find a very different history attaching to the great Empires which they possess. I dare say we have, in the course of our history, done many stupid things and some good things, but taken on the whole the British people have built their Empire up by colonising the waste places of the earth, while the German people on the whole have created 982 their Empire by snatching territories from their weaker neighbours, and in those territories which they have occupied, attempting to destroy the language, the religion and the nationality of the people whom they have displaced. I find in that history and in that traditional spirit everything that is repulsive and everything that is to be repudiated.
There are, at the present moment, something like 30,000,000 people on the Continent of Europe who are actually armed, striving, by every energy that science can devise, to destroy the life and property of people with whom they ought to be in friendship and in commercial relations. Therefore, it is impossible for anybody who holds the views which I do, and which I know many Members of this House hold, to approach this question in anything like a dispassionate mood. But there are, on the other hand, certain considerations which I cannot forget, and which I cannot overlook, and which, after balancing one consideration with another as well as I can, have influenced my conduct and will influence my vote in this Debate if it comes to the matter of a Division. In the first place, this War is no ordinary war. Most of the wars of which history tells us have originated in the ambitions of some dynasty or another, or over some trivial dispute, or over the acquisition or the loss of some province, or over some commercial or industrial difficulty and competition. No one can allege that that is the case in the present War. We find ourselves in a struggle, the termination of which must be fatal to this country and to all that this country has stood for in the history of the world, unless we emerge triumphant in the struggle. You have only got to consult as far as one can see, the opinions enunciated by German newspapers, and by such German statesmen whose speeches we have had the opportunity of reading, to know that the Germans regard England and all that England stands for in this contest as their chief and most formidable opponent. It has been indicated to us that if we go down in this struggle our commerce, our trade, our Empire, our wealth, and all that we hold most dear and value most highly will disappear with the power which we have hitherto exercised. A financial indemnity is to be imposed upon us which will crush our resources for the future. We shall be required to make territorial concessions 983 which will leave us very much in the position of Holland or Denmark, and a position will be taken up on the Continent by Germany which will threaten our trade and our naval supremacy. There is no condition of national life and of Imperial life which will not be threatened or destroyed if we are worsted in this conflict. These reasons weigh very powerfully with me in the decision I have come to to-day.
There is another reason. When Germany entered upon this War she did so largely in the belief that the forces of this country were so divided, and that political parties were so hopelessly separated, that it would be impossible for any Government in this country successfully to take part in the struggle. They took particular care to ascertain what the opinion of England was likely to be beforehand. They thought that Ireland would revolt. They were pretty certain that the Colonies would withhold their support, and they were quite certain that Nationalists, Liberals, and Conservatives would be unable to coalesce for the purpose of this War. I do not suppose that of all the people who have taken political risks or faced political dangers in the course of the last seventeen months that there is anyone to whom this country owes a greater debt than it does to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond). I think that any person who, previous to this War, studied the relation between England and Ireland would have been quite certain that in a struggle of this sort England would have drawn no support from Ireland, and I think it is undoubtedly due to the conduct of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and his colleagues that we have had from Ireland the remarkably consistent support and unity which have characterised them during this War, and has made this War different from any other struggles in which this country has been engaged in the past. If that is the attitude of Ireland, and if that is the attitude of all our Dependencies; when there has been coalescence and unity where strife was expected, I conceive it to be my bounden duty as a Member of this House, whatever my predelictions are, whatever my convictions are, when the Government comes forward with a Bill of this kind, when the Prime Minister makes the kind of statement that he has made to-day, when he is supported notoriously by the 984 Minister of Munitions and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when we are told that this measure is vital to the continuance of the War—and unless it is vital it ought never to have been presented to the House—then I cannot take upon myself the responsibility of refusing to assent to the measures which the Government have introduced for the protection and safety of this country.
There is another consideration so far as the House of Commons is concerned, and one which is bound to weigh particularly with myself. I was responsible, as a member of the Cabinet, for this country taking part in the War. Before I joined my colleagues in that decision I had weighed, as well as I could, the sacrifices which would have to be made if this War was to be conducted to a successful conclusion. Many people have made material sacrifices. Some of us have put at the disposal of this House and this country convictions which are as dear to us as any of our material possessions. Therefore, when the Government come to the House and say that unless they obtain the reinforcements in men which this measure is supposed to give them the War cannot be brought to a successful termination, I think we are bound to accept that assurance, and, so long as the duration of the Bill is confined to the duration of the War, to accept the proposal which they put before us. But we are most certainly entitled to get an assurance from the Government upon this point. I was one of those who opposed the Registration Bill, and I believe this Bill would not have been necessary if other Members of the House had agreed with me and had followed my example. We got an assurance in the course of the Debates on the Registration Bill that it was not a preliminary or an accessory to a Conscription Bill. I differed at that time. I thought it was a preliminary to a Conscription Bill, and it has turned out to be a preliminary. Now I want something much more definite from the Government, and a plain assurance, beyond question and beyond retraction, that this temporary measure is not to be a preliminary to a permanent measure. If that assurance can be given it ought to be given, and I hope it will be given. It will not be difficult to put in this Bill words which will prevent any amending Bill for the purposes of making it permanent, or the introduction, under cover of a war necessity Bill, of an alteration in the Constitution which I believe will be disastrous for this country. 985 There is one more point which I would like to make. It is quite clear that it is no good increasing the number of men in your Armies unless your trade can finance your exchequer and unless your exchequer can finance the War. The authors of this Bill, although it is brought forward by the Prime Minister, are unquestionably the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Munitions. We are entitled to know that behind these two members of the Government there are the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, because the mere acceleration and the collection of men into the Army, unless you can pay for the expenses which are caused by their recruitment, may bring you down much more quickly than the number of men you can get to enable you to establish your superiority. If the Government can give me these two simple assurances, neither of which infringes the principles upon which this Bill was presented to the House of Commons, I for one, whatever my belief as to the evils of a permanent enforcement of Conscription, shall support this measure as one necessary to the successful carrying on of the War provided that it is withdrawn at its termination.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
I listened with all the attention I could command to the speech which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. I have faithfully supported him in this House. I have admired him and trusted him and loved him, and if I part with him after many years on this matter of policy I hope the House will believe that it is with me a solemn matter of conscience. The Prime Minister promised us that he would not introduce this measure except by general consent, and I have risen in order to show that, at any rate, one of his oldest supporters does not give that consent. But, while it is painful for me to find myself in opposition to my right hon. Friend, it would be still more repugnant to my feelings to give a vote in favour of compulsion of military service. I have an invincible objection to any compulsion of this kind, and I will give the House as briefly as I can my reasons. First of all, the one need to the nation at this moment is unity. A thousand pens and a thousand tongues have been urging upon us for twelve months past that we must present a united front to the enemy, and up to now the British nation has stood four square to the enemy. It is for that that we have a Coalition Government. It is for that that 986 we have a party truce. It is for that that our party squabbles have been laid to rest. But I ask anyone here present, whether anything can be more certain to split the nation from end to end than a proposal such as has been made from the Government Bench to-day? It has already, as we know, split the Cabinet. It is perfectly evident, and will be in the Division Lobby, that it has split the House of Commons; and I have abundant testimony in my mail to-day that it will split the constituencies from end to end. That, therefore, is my first reason—that this proposal is one which violates that very rule that has been enjoined upon us that we should stand united against our enemies.
My second reason is that I do not believe we can spare any more men. I was impressed by a remark made by an hon. Member near me in a recent Debate when we were asked to vote another million of men; he stated that he believed that we would be more likely to win the war by sending out three million instead of four. By that he meant that by keeping the other million at home to do munition work and to maintain the trade of the country, we should be doing a greater service than by sending them into the trenches. I believe that to be a fact. That, it is suggested, is the reason why the right hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Board of Trade and the Exchequer are hesitating about approving of this measure. We had an earnest appeal from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions the other night for more men. Very large numbers of more men are wanted in the Government armament factories to make shells and to produce all the paraphernalia of war. Then, as we have been reminded this afternoon, there are many of these unrecruited men who are indispensable; others who have conscientious objections, and others who are physically unfit, until altogether the numbers will be very largely reduced. I represent a Constituency in the Manchester area, and I read in the "Manchester Guardian" a few days ago that great apprehension exists in the cotton trade, and that it is clear that its productive capacity is declining. The scarcity of operatives is coming to be regarded as a formidable menace to the efficient existence of the industry. When I find that the trade of the very district that I represent is suffering from the enormous number of men we are sending out to fight, I am impressed by the idea that our industries at home may suffer 987 fatally if we do not draw the line somewhere.
But I have another reason, and that is that I do not believe there is any need of any compulsory measure to get all the men that are required. I have the most perfect faith in the voluntary system. You will get them if you want them; you will get them in proportion as they realise the danger to which their country is exposed. Supposing, for instance, the Germans actually came to our shores and landed here, do you think there is anyone, married or single, who would not hurl them back again with all the strength he could command? We are rightly proud of our voluntary Army. I read a remark of a distinguished man who said that the way in which our young manhood had left these shores at the call of duty was the most wonderful and solemn thing the world had ever seen. I agree with that. I like this magnificent manifestation of love of country and of voluntary service even to-day, but do not let us vitiate that by introducing and mixing up with that magnificent voluntary Army a conscript element. Do not spoil the boast that we have produced this Army by voluntary means. I do not believe that even the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself knows what he is up against. I hope the Labour Conference to-morrow will open the eyes of this country; I hope the labour men will show that they are not disposed to surrender their liberties in this matter. The executive of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, which has a very large representation of working people, passed a resolution two or three days ago in which they said that "the delegates be hereby instructed to vote against any form of compulsory military service, whether for the period of the War or otherwise." But my strongest reason against Conscription is that it is a violation of England's traditions of liberty. England's pride has always been that every subject had freedom of the person, freedom of the mind and conscience, and it is my desire to safeguard the sanctity of this precious possession. It has led me ever since I have been in the House to care more for defending personal liberties than for any other subject whatever.
I am always told when I meet those who do not agree with these views: "But we must win the War. The reason we want compulsory service is to win the War." 988 I am as anxious as anyone here that we should win the War, but I put it to the House that if we surrender our liberties, if we Germanise our institutions, will it be worth winning? We are fighting, as I understand, just to prevent the horrors of Conscription from being fastened on our country, just to destroy German militarism, not to set it up. And it seems to me that by this Bill we shall be doing both. We shall be invoking the horrors of Conscription upon ourselves and setting up German militarism in this country, and we shall be like the boy who spent all his money to buy a purse to put it in. The Bill before us, I am afraid, is surrendering the fort which we are trying to defend; it is selling the pass, and that is why I shall feel bound to oppose it. I do not believe for a moment that this will be for the duration of the War only. I agree with the remarks which have already been made that the real object is to fasten a compulsory military service on this country, and there are many men both in the House and out of it who will know well how to make use of a concession like this once it is on the Statute Book. I am coming nearly, I suppose, to the end of my life; at all events, nearly to the end of my Parliamentary life, and what I see in this Bill denotes not the failure only of all my ideals, but the negation of all the ideals I have lived for—freedom for the individual and concord among the nations. I do not believe even yet that those principles are dead. They will live again. There are those in the country who still cherish them. I thought we might have more manifestations of them from the Government Benches. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and the Minister of Munitions have bowed the knee to Baal. There must be other members of the Government who will come out, as the Home Secretary has done, and champion our cause of freedom. I know that in the other House there are four or five, or probably more, aged peers who take the view that we should have no compulsion in military matters, and I, an old man, call on young men and young women, who have imbibed the pure milk of freedom at their mother's breast, who have inherited from generations of ancestors, as I have done, the spirit of freedom which has made England what it is—I call upon them to enlist in this Army of defenders which some of us are trying to rally, and to make any sacrifice which they may be called upon to make to defend the 989 citadel Of freedom. Conscription is the facile weapon of tyranny. I can forecast a future in English history when we may have a tyrant King on the throne or an unscrupulous Minister standing at that box. If he is fortified with a conscript Army at his back who look to him for payment, what price liberty then?
§ Sir ARTHUR GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
In all the speeches we have heard against this Bill, in the speech of the ex-Home Secretary, as in that of the hon. Member who has just sat down, one consideration is entirely absent—a consideration which appears to me to be the crux of the whole situation, namely, that if you do not pass this Bill, how are you going to get the men necessary for the War? To listen to the ex-Home Secretary's speech one would really wonder if there was a war at all. I do not think he ever alluded to it. He referred to the Derby scheme, and also to what he said were mistakes in the figures and the estimates. He spoke, as did the hon. Member for Salford, about the feeling we have always had against Conscription, and he made allusions to various newspapers; but when it came to the fact that we want men for the War, and must have men for the War, and we have got somehow to find those men for the War, there was absolutely nothing in the ex-Home Secretary's speech, nothing in the speeches of the hon. Members who represent the Labour party, nor in the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite, about what is the crux of the situation—how are we to get the men? I do not suggest that the Prime Minister is in theory and on principle in favour of what is called Conscription. A great many Members on both sides of the House, who have never been Conscriptionists, have asked themselves this question, "Are we going to get the men to keep up the divisions at their proper strength, and, if we cannot get the men by voluntary means, ought we to get them by compulsory measures?" I must say that, so far as I am personally concerned, I never was a Conscriptionist before the War, and I am not one now, in the sense that I want to see it as a permanent institution in this country. But from my experience, as commanding a reserve battalion which has charge of the duty of finding drafts to keep up the strength of battalions at the front, I have come to the conclusion that we cannot keep up the strength of our Army as we ought to do 990 without resort to some measure of compulsion. The Government have asked for a million of men; the matter has gone further, because this House has voted a million men. A million men are required in order that we may do our duty, and live up to our promises and undertakings to the Allies. Unless you have this Bill, how are you going to get the million men? Looking at the figures under the Derby scheme, how are you going to get them without this Bill? You have got the figure of 343,000 attested unmarried men. There is also the figure of 487,000 attested married men. But you cannot get those men without this Bill, and otherwise the Prime Minister's pledge would be broken.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
Direct enlistments have been included. The 275,000 men who directly enlisted during the period of the Derby scheme had already been taken into account before the 343,000 or the 487,000. If the hon. Gentleman means are we not to take into account direct enlistments now and in the future, I can tell him this from my own experience, which, although limited to a certain area, is at the same time typical of most areas, that since the Derby scheme there have been very few direct enlistments. The number of men enlisting at present would in no way make up the number we require, and if the hon. Member thinks that it would he is wholly mistaken. I do not want to quote exact figures any more than I can help because I am always. afraid to say anything that may be misconstrued and of advantage to the enemy; but let me tell the hon. Member that I know a reserve battalion who have the duty of sending out drafts to the front to the number of 250 men a week, and at the present moment they are only getting fourteen men a week. How are you going to keep the Army up to its proper strength with such figures as these? The thing is absurd. I have said that I am not a Conscriptionist; I have never advocated Conscription in this House or anywhere else, but I have been driven, by the force of circumstances and by my own experience, to see that unless we have compulsion now, and unless we can send" out adequate drafts to every division, we cannot maintain them with the numbers we are getting at the present time.
What is the position? I understand that we have given to our Allies certain 991 undertakings. We have said that we will maintain at the front a certain number of divisions. That standard has been laid down. But what nonsense it is to say that you are maintaining a certain number of divisions if you let those divisions tumble down to 20,000 actual strength, or 10,000, or even below that. When we say we are going to maintain an Army of a certain size it is our duty to see that it is kept up to that size. In my judgment, and I think in the judgment of the House and the country, without this Bill it cannot be done. The Government say, "Give us a million men." The Derby scheme, without this Bill, gives them 343,000. We cannot possibly get the number we require without the Bill. It seems to me that if this War is to be carried on this Bill is necessary, and it is up to its opponents to show how the men can be got without it. I am not going into any calculations as to how many men we ought to maintain in the field; that is for the military authorities. But I do emphatically say that we must keep up our strength in the field. Let me give a little experience: In the battalion with which I am acquainted, during the first year of the War, we sent out to the front fifty men a week on the average. It was then drafting one battalion, but now we" have got to draft five battalions, and we have to get the same percentage for each battalion, which means sending 250 men a week to the front. Do you suppose that we are going to get anything like 250 men a week from our reserve battalions unless we have a very much bigger flow of recruits than at present? The thing is perfectly impossible. It comes to this, that unless this Bill is carried, or other means are devised for getting the men, you cannot keep your Army at the front up to strength.
Hon. Members who object to this measure have not merely to bring forth theoretical objections, they have got to show us how they are going to keep up the strength of the Army. Instead of that, they talk about Prussian militarism; they talk of their objection to Conscription; they talk as if great violence were being done to our traditions and our constitution. What is the fact? Let hon. Members consider the Bill as described by the Prime Minister this afternoon. I must say it does not err in violence or excess. It is about as modest a war measure as you could possibly have. In the first place, it is not Conscription; it is not compulsory 992 service either; it is simply compulsory attestation, and it gives to every single man who is brought within its fold precisely the same opportunities of being exempted as the men who came forward voluntarily while the Derby scheme was going on. In the next place, by its very terms it exempts certain classes of persons in certain positions, and I think those terms are very liberally drawn, so that there can be no real cause of grievance. It actually goes so far as to refer to the question of conscientious objection. I should like very much to know how a conscientious objection is going to be interpreted, but, at all events, it is a very wide objection indeed. The Bill is limited, I understand, to the period of the War, and there is no intention whatever to rivet any sort of compulsory system on the nation after the War is concluded.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I am referring to what the Prime Minister said. I have not seen the terms of the Bill any more than the hon. Member, but I heard a description of the measure given by the Prime Minister, and I give credence to what he said. This Bill is really in the nature of a very modest measure, and I cannot understand how any patriotic Englishman, who really wishes that the War shall be brought to a successful conclusion, can refuse to vote for its First Reading. That is the sole test. Do you want to win the War, or do you not? It is no good whatever talking about our liberties, our freedom, our voluntary system, if you are going to be defeated by Germany, which will rivet on you every sort of compulsion, and compulsion far greater than anything contemplated by any Minister in this House. If we are to win the War and to find the men necessary, compulsion of some sort or kind is necessary. The only criticism I can make of the Bill is this, that it ought to have been brought in a long time ago, in which case we should not find ourselves in the difficulty of recruiting as we do at present.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I readily agree that the issue we are faced with to-day is not an issue that ought to be faced in any light or frivolous spirit. I realise that there are men on both sides of the House who take opposite views on this question, but who are actuated by the highest and best of motives. I resent to the full the suggestion that has already been made, that 993 those who are likely to oppose this Bill are not in favour of winning the War. Not only are they in favour of winning the War, but they genuinely and sincerely believe that the course they adopt is the best course in the interests of winning the War. Therefore, I do not think it will help matters to hurl charges of that kind, unless any Member has proof that those who are opposing any change in the present method of recruiting have not done all they possibly could to make the voluntary system a success. In other words, I do not take my stand with those who hare done nothing for recruiting. I take my stand on the ground that I have done the best I could to make the voluntary system a success. Therefore we start, or at least I hope so, on the assumption that we all realise the grave issue involved, and that we are all anxious to bring it to a successful conclusion. The last speaker clearly indicated the difficulty that many Members feel. He said we want a million men, and that we are going by this means to obtain a million men, and he wound up his speech by saying that his one objection to the Bill was that it did not go far enough.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let us examine the position. Did the Prime Minister in his speech to-day indicate that there was any military value in this Bill? The exemptions were in my opinion necessary exemptions, and when those exemptions, are taken advantage of, and when the tribunals are called upon to consider what is left, there is no military value gained, but you have Conscription on the Statute Book of this country. I do beg the House to realise, whatever Ministers may say, that there is a deep-rooted suspicion in the minds of the workers of this country, that this position has been forced on the Government to-day, not with a view of winning the War, and not because of any military value, but because a certain section of the Press—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I make it a point not to interrupt others, and anyone will have the right to reply to me, and I am going to state my case in my own way. What was the first announcement? Last Tuesday morning, in the midst of the festive season we were informed that the Minister of Munitions had threatened his resignation unless Conscription was forced. 994 That was the announcement in the "Times." The next day the placard had these words: "Conscription Nearer," and the next day: "Conscription Now Sure." There was no message of a military victory, no declaration of the gallant work of our men at the front, but merely a victory for the people that have been advocating Conscription. I put it to the House, can you conceive of large numbers of working men who, whatever may be the intention in this country, are satisfied that wherever Conscription has been introduced it has always been a means of retarding progress.
The workers of this country believe that militarism is the real cause of this War, and they believe that the same people who are responsible for the German mind, with its military forms, would not hesitate to use the same means to crush liberty in this country. You may say that that is not intended, and you may point out that this is for the duration of the War. You may answer me by saying that the fact that it applies to single men only is the best guarantee of that. My answer to that is this: that the people responsible for this proposal started out first with single men, and what guarantee is there that immediately they have got the single men, it is not to be followed with a cry of married men? What is the logic of it? They have already indicated that from the point of view of military value the single man of forty is not nearly as efficient as the married man of twenty-three. We all agree to that, but it only proves that once they have got the thin end of the wedge in they will develop it, and then the next cry will be Conscription in the workshops. Therefore we have got to realise that we are face to face to-day with this problem: First, we have got a measure introduced that places on the Statute Book of this country something which is repugnant to the working classes of this country, and which, wherever it has been in operation, has always been used against them. Accompanying this scheme was a threat of a General Election. It is just as well to speak plainly and frankly about this matter. I am going to agree straight away, whatever the other House may do, or whatever the threat of a General Election may do—I am going to frankly say that it has been so manœuvred that I believe you would win it. I believe it could be won on this cry of the single men. I do not want to be unfair, and I 995 frankly admit you could do it. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] But at what cost? I ask whether it would be advantageous to the War or not? In the first place, is a General Election to be forced with a view to persuade the workers that in spending a few million pounds economy is necessary for them? Is a General Election to be forced to allow the brewers and others to ask whether the Control Board is doing its work well? Is a General Election to be forced to enable the workers to raise the question as to whether wealth ought to be conscripted as well as labour? Do not get out of your minds the fact that those are issues that will be raised, and when they are raised there is no knowing the consequences.
Supposing the issue is won, so far as the election is concerned, there is then a strong, fixed, and determined minority. That minority having been broken, will not do as they are doing to-day. Do you think men with the feelings and passions that have been aroused will work thirty-six hours on the engine, and that their trade officials will refuse to complain to the Board of Trade? Do you think we will have men working from ninety to ninety-six hours per week, week after week, and month after month, because we say to them we are at war and we want everybody to give of their best? Do you think when you are going to enter on trade negotiations with employers of labour that you will be able on both sides to approach the question at issue, not with sectional interests, and not with the desire to drive a hard bargain, but with the supreme desire to keep the national interests supreme? That is what is happening to day in all trade negotiations, with the result that with our own union, with 600,000 railwaymen employed, there has not been a stoppage for an hour since this War broke out. A Noble Lord says, "What about the bonus?" I am sorry for the interruption. The bonus is 5s. per week, but the men have hung up their national programme for an eight hours' day and the 5s. per week. If they had adopted the policy of those people who always fight for their own hand they would have said, "Now is our chance to get an eight hours' day, and we will not move troops until we do." [An HON. MEMBER: "They would not say it!"] Exactly; it is because they would not say it that I am appealing to the House to realise the matter, and because they would not be 996 encouraged to say it by me or those associated with me. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question!"]
What I am putting to the House is this, that that is the spirit which animates all sections of the people to-day, and that is the only spirit in which we can win this War, and I do not want to see that spirit broken. I do not want you to let loose the feelings and tempers that would be engendered, because, do not misunderstand, there are people who would go to the stake and lay down their lives and feel that their lives were given for liberty equally as much as men give their lives in; the trenches of France or Flanders.
On the other hand, the Minister of Munitions, I think it was, said last week that courage was the great test at this time is it? Can Members of this House put themselves in the position that we are in to-day? Any form of compulsory service could be killed in an hour by the trade unions of this country. To-day twenty-four executive members, drawn from all parts of the country, eight of them newly-elected men, working railwaymen from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales straight from the feeling of their constituents, men working on their engines, in the signal boxes and goods yards yesterday, came together in council this morning. They were told what a mild Bill this was—that is to say, the Press reports indicated that it would apply only to single men. They unanimously, without a dissentient voice, in the name of 300,000 railwaymen, said, "We will use all our power, all our influence, and go to any length, to see that Conscription is not placed on the Statute Book." Talk about courage, what is our difficulty? My difficulty is that, so keenly do I feel, so bitterly do I resent the. Bill, so satisfied am I that it; is wrong, that you might say to me, "Stop it by calling a strike." I am to answer, am I, that I am a coward? Why? Because the calling of a strike would not end in stopping Conscription; it would affect the poor fellows who are fighting our battles. That is the kind of feeling that tears men like me at this moment On the one hand I know that it is wrong; I believe it is a huge conspiracy. I am the more convinced of that when we find, as we have found to-day, that no military man can defend the proposal for two minutes. If it cannot be defended on military grounds, if it cannot be defended on the ground that it gives you men to win 997 the "War, does not that justify the suspicion of these people? Therefore I repeat, it is not that I want to be a coward; because when you order men out it is not simply a question of ordering them out; all kinds of issues will be involved in getting them back. The one supreme thing of which I am thinking all the time is the effect on the men who are fighting our battles.
I put it to the House, is the actual value of this Bill such that could justify its passing? I come back again to the talk of going to the country. That would be ten thousand times worse. No one in this House has yet dared to assert that our failure, if you can call it such, has been due to shortage of men. No one on either side has declared that at any period during the last fifteen months shortage of men has been responsible for the mistakes. If that is so, the question will be asked, and it will have to be answered: who, then, is responsible? Is that the kind of thing that is going to maintain national unity? Is that the kind of thing that is going to help us win the War? It is because I want to avoid that I am pointing out to the House the dangers ahead. I believe with other Members that the mere sacrifice of our individual lives would be a detail. Probably they would not be so valuable as those of the many gallant fellows who have already made the sacrifice. But do not make the fatal mistake of assuming that there is unity in the country. Do not mistake the deep-rooted resentment that is in the mind of the workers. Do not mistake: In this great issue voluntaryism has not failed. Where are you going to get your 80.000 skilled men and your 200,000 unskilled workers whom it is clearly indicated you want to deal with the Army that you have? Therefore, I face these problems trying to arrive at a decision in the best interests of the nation, and I say that I would be false to myself, and any member of our party would be false to himself, if we expressed opinions and could not carry the men with us. If my union and my men said they would take a certain course, it might be palatable to get up in this House and say, "I think so and so will be all right," but it would mislead the House, and it would be valueless so far as an honest contribution is concerned. It is much better for us to express the difficulties, it is much better to let the House and the country know exactly what is taking place. Therefore, I have felt it my duty to say what I have said this afternoon.
998 In conclusion I will make a suggestion. I know the difficulties of Lord Derby's scheme. It will not be challenged, in the first place, that there has been no systematic canvass, and, in the second place, that there has been difficulty in creating the tribunal and in connection with the starring to which Lord Derby refers. I was on the Lansdowne Committee responsible for the starring. The remarkable fact is that the starring was done not by any civil member of that Committee, not by a Member of this House, but wholly and solely by the highest experts of every Government Department—precisely the same people who would do it under Conscription—and it was done because of the influence and pressure that was being brought to bear by every Department, more especially the Board of Agriculture, with a view to dealing with that difficulty. These difficulties were well known. No one assumed that Lord Derby could have done in six weeks more than had been done in any previous six months of the War. The figures clearly show that you have got by direct enlistment and attestation as many men in six weeks as you did in the previous six months. Are we not justified in saying, "Throw open the Derby scheme at once, as it is by the Bill, but do not bother with your Bill." In other words, prove your case before you call men "slackers" have some confidence in your fellow countrymen; pay some tribute to the manner in which they have already responded by continuing to appeal to the free men of this country, by pointing out to them, as it has been pointed out to us, that militarism is the cause of the War. Above all, if these men are such slackers as is alleged, what will be their military value? If they are such slackers are they the kind of men that you are going to take with a view to creating a healthy environment for the other men? If they are that type of men. you are going to have the whole trouble about blacklegs in the trade unions over again. Therefore, because I believe there are difficulties ahead, because I believe we can get all the men you want, because I believe we have got to look at this question from a broad standpoint, and, above all, because our one important object should be the unity of the nation, I beg the House and the Government to realise the dangers ahead, and to let us go on as we have been, doing our best with free men to achieve, I hope, a lasting victory.
§ Brigadier-General SEELY
I hope the House will pardon me if I intervene in this Debate for a few moments. It is now more than a year and a half since I troubled the House, and as soon as this Debate and Division are over I must return to Flanders, where I have been since the 14th August the year before last. I thought it was my duty, especially as my men were not for the moment in the trenches, to come and state to the House the view which I, as one of the 670 Members, have felt compelled to adopt, having studied the question as well as I can from a distance, and having been put in possession of the various arguments put forward in the newspapers and in this House. Last August, I think it was, I was asked, as I think many other Members were, whether I would support a scheme of compulsory service in order better to co-ordinate the work of this country, both for actual fighting and for making munitions. I refused emphatically, and wrote to the Prime Minister to say so. My reasons were these. First of all, it seemed to me that we out there could not possibly know all the facts, while the Prime Minister and Lord Kitchener did, and that unless they said it was necessary for winning the War it would be unwise for anyone without that knowledge of the facts to intervene.
My second reason was my profound belief that a voluntary Army—that is to say, an Army of which all the men had their heart in the job—fight much better than an Army of which any considerable proportion are unwilling, and that, if that was true of the wars of the past, it was infinitely more true of this War, in which, to speak quite frankly, I suppose the horrors and the prolongation of the horrors are greater than in any other war ever waged. Nor did it seem to me then that the voluntary system had in any sense failed, nor indeed, as it seems to me, has it in any true sense failed now. We have raised, as I understand, an enormous number of men—I am told between five and six millions. I mean attested; these are men who have come forward. I am leading up to the point of the proportion of the population willing to serve. What is more to the point is what these men have done. A very great number have been out to the seat of War. How well they have fought we all know. But it may be said, "So, indeed, have your Allies; so especially have the French." That is absolutely true. They, too, are a nation of volunteers, for there is not, I 1000 verily believe, one Frenchman—and I have been much with the French Army in their first line of trenches—who is not wholeheartedly determined by every means in his power to prosecute this War to a successful conclusion. I think, also, we may claim that our volunteer Army did do a very wonderful work. I remember being told at the time by a French soldier, after the first battle of Ypres, "that that was not only a fight; it was a miracle!" And, indeed, as I saw it at the close of that great battle—I suppose one of the great battles of the world—one winter's evening when our men, dazed, dizzy, some of them half-conscious, but still unconquered and unconquerable, having withstood and rolled back, as we know now, more than ten times their number of the most formidable troops in the world—I say if you can keep your Army an Army of willing men, how dangerous to dilute it with unwilling men!
Let us see how we stand. Let me say that I wrote to the Prime Minister. He did not write and ask me, but others wrote and suggested to me that it would be a proper course to pursue to adopt some change in our system, and I thought it right to put my views on record in a letter which I sent to the Prime Minister. I was for the moment speaking as a Member of this House to the Leader of the Government. But the whole situation has changed, and in one particular in which I think I shall carry with me the hon. Friend who last spoke. First of all the Prime Minister, Lord Kitchener, and the others who are associated with him, but especially those two, now know the facts. They tell us that they think that the scheme of this Bill is necessary. If I thought for one moment that the statement or suggestion of the hon. Member was true that this was a deep laid plot on the part of capitalists to force Conscription upon an unwilling people for ulterior motives, I should be the first, if I had the power—and I would stop at nothing—to defeat this Bill. I assure my hon. Friends that I speak straight from my heart in what I say. If I thought there were ulterior motives I would stick at nothing to defeat this Bill. I am, however, persuaded that that cannot be so. I am persuaded that it is inconceivable that in the midst of this great struggle, this struggle for freedom, for the freedom of the human race, that any man, least of all the Prime Minister or 1001 Lord Kitchener, should be so base as to lend themselves to so vile a thing. As it seems to me quite inconceivable, I propose to act upon that assumption, and I know I am right. Now comes the second point, which seems to me to be the stronger point. The ex-Home Secretary, in his speech to-day, pointed out how great had been the response under the voluntary system. As I understand it, he proved, or thought he proved, from all I can hear—and very likely his statement is quite accurate—that the numbers you will bring in by this Bill are very, very small. I could not get here sooner than towards the end of his speech, as I only left Flanders this morning, but I think he said that the numbers brought in would be negligible, perhaps 80,000 or 100,000 out of our vast population, and out of these 5,500,000 of men to whom I have just referred. If that be true, and I have no reason to doubt it, the whole military objection, and, as I think, the whole social objection, to this Bill vanishes at once. It proves conclusively that if only 100,000 men out of our population are unwilling to serve in the cause of freedom that the whole mass of the people are of one mind, determined to prosecute the War to a successful conclusion; that those who have the power to do it are willing to sacrifice themselves in the cause.
It may be said, if that be so—and I pin my faith to the ex-Home Secretary in this matter—and I am sure he is right—that there will be no dilution, nor can there be any dilution, of our willing soldiers by bringing in unwilling men. There cannot be. If those who refuse to serve are so negligible in number I am sure there will be no dilution of troops who are willing to fight. If, then, the whole mass of the people are ready and willing the military objection falls to the ground. There is the other objection: Have we the right to impose a system of Conscription, without an appeal, on our constituents? Of that I think there can be no doubt whatever. If the majority of one's constituents have gone so far as actually to subject themselves to life in the trenches and to gas attacks in what they believe to be a sacred cause, there can be no doubt which way one's constituency lies in this matter. In most of our constituencies, as I understand it, and certainly in mine, the overwhelming majority of men of military age have already taken the extreme step of being 1002 prepared to be killed for this cause. There is, therefore, no doubt whatever, as I am their representative—and if I were speaking only as their representative and not for myself—as to which way I should vote. I should support the responsible Government who tell us that this is the way to win the War. It may be said if the number is negligible—and I believe it is very small, because all the people are of one mind—we are all of one mind for the moment!—why is it necessary to bring in a Bill, and run the risk, as my hon. Friend so eloquently put it, of those who are opposed to it taking some step which will seriously divide us?
I hope the House will pardon me if I will recall to them an experience of my own when I visited a very small country —Switzerland; but a country with a very efficient army. Ten years ago I had the privilege, by permission of the Swiss Government, of attending their manœuvres. After a most interesting time with their wonderful little army I saw their War Minister, and I asked him if all the people were of one mind in regard to their universal service. He replied, "Yes, absolutely, so much so that there is nothing a man dreads so much as being rejected for the army, which sometimes happens, for various reasons: some pathetic, some not a little quaint, but all honourable— but it is a fact that every man in Switzerland dreads being rejected." Then I said to the Minister, "If you have this voluntary service of the whole people, so that you take those who are physically fit, why do you need a compulsory law?" I remember so well his reply to me, "Sir, it is the foundation of it all." I asked why? He answered, "Because when you bring the greater part of your population into the machinery of war, you must have the power to organise." I believe that to be profoundly true. If all our people, except this negligible minority referred to by the ex-Home Secretary are anxious to win the War, I firmly believe we want more organisation of our resources, and I think that without injustice to anyone this measure will facilitate that. Somebody in my hearing appealed to the sacred principle involved. I asked what is the sacred principle of voluntary service? I like voluntary service because it wins battles. I am glad to think that in all essentials we shall retain the voluntary service of the willing. What is the sacred principle?
§ Brigadier-General SEELY
My hon. Friend says "Liberty!" Liberty to do what? When the "Lusitania" was sunk, when for the first time poisonous gases were turned out, when not hundreds, but thousands of innocent lives, in defiance of every law of war and humanity, were destroyed, when the overwhelming mass of our countrymen rise in horror and say: "We will not be bound down by Prussian despotism and tyranny," then you are going to appeal to liberty—liberty that you may send another man to fight! The very fact that this War is a terrible War —and it is—should make every man chary of claiming the liberty to avoid the suffering which it involves. The measure of its intensity is the measure of the obligation laid upon every, one of us, if we do appeal to liberty, to freedom, and to all those things for which we know we are fighting, then we must be prepared to sacrifice ourselves. Let no man in Great Britain therefore say he will pick and choose whether or not he shall serve in this just cause. One last word. I do not think we ought to take our policy from other people. I think England and the British Army can well look after themselves. In this one cause, however, I think perhaps it is not wrong to think for a moment of that great friendly nation, France. The sufferings of France in this War have been intense. I suppose the amount of them will never be known. We know how many homes are desolate in this country. I do not know exactly, and I hope I shall not be quoted as naming a precise figure—for I do not in the least know—but, taking the numbers engaged, the attacks made and repulsed, I suppose it would not be altogether beyond the mark to say that for every household in mourning here there must be at least ten in France.
That country is devastated by the War in many of its fairest provinces. She has fought a desperate fight with a courage it is impossible to describe. I wrote in my diary at the time of the great German attacks at the end of the year before last: "I did not know that men could be so brave." Nor did I. Nor did I think anybody could know-that it was possible for men to be so brave as the French soldiers have been. They have Universal Service by consent. They find it necessary to have a law in order to organise their people, like the Swiss. It is not unfair nor untrue to say that there is not one Frenchman to-day who is not looking to this House, watching and wondering what we will do. We ought not 1004 to do the wrong thing in order to please the French nation. But we ought carefully to consider whether any action of ours can help them in this desperate struggle, more desperate to them by far than even to us; sustained with fortitude and valour to which we pay our tribute. We ought perhaps to consider whether anything we can do cannot lighten their burden and help to shorten the War. We are told by the Secretary of State and by the Prime Minister that this will help. This is a temporary expedient. I do not for the moment say that we shall have Conscription after the War. I doubt it very much whether in that case I should find myself in the same Lobby as my hon. Friend behind me. We use the whole power of the State to crush Prussian militarism, and we are told that can best be done by these means. May I be permitted—and I shall not address the House again for many a long-day—to express the fervent and the earnest hope that this House may rise to the height of its opportunity, and that, forgetting all predilections of every kind, we may be imbued with one spirit, and one only, in coming to a decision on this matter—that we shall each of us, all of us, send a message to our brave Allies that we are determined with them to suffer all in order to win the War with them, and that we surrender ourselves body and soul for our country, and for her righteous cause?
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
I feel that I shall be voicing the universal feeling in this House when I say that I listened, not only with profound interest, but, indeed, with something akin to emotion, to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. We all of us, whatever our party may be, welcome him back from his strenuous and gallant work at the front, and we congratulate him on the fact that he has come back to us full of vigour and full of fight. I am sure he will understand me when I say that no man in this House can quarrel with the general sentiment of his speech. He says that he hopes the House of Commons will send a message to our Allies that we are determined to make sacrifices, and determined to win this War. There is not a man in this House who is not of that way of thinking. Certainly it is true of my colleagues on these benches. I do not believe there are any men in any quarter of this House who are prepared to make greater sacrifices—some of them have made great sacrifices—or who are prepared to do more, so far as 1005 it lies in their power, to promote the rapid ending of this War. But when my right hon. and gallant Friend says that the passage of this Bill is necessary in order to end the War we part company. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman told us that he arrived late in the Debate, and that he did not hear the whole of the speech of the ex-Home Secretary. I gather, therefore, he did not hear the speech of the Prime Minister at all. The Prime Minister did not say the passage of this Bill was necessary to win the War. No, the whole argument of his speech was that the passage of this Bill was necessary in his view—the ex-Home Secretary differs from him—in order to fulfil a certain pledge that he gave. Neither he nor anyone else in this Debate has said that the passage of the Bill is necessary to win the War, and it would be impossible to do so, because the Prime Minister himself, taking the figures, showed that the gross figures of unattested unmarried men only amount to some 600,000, and that, when the necessary deductions are made, that figure must necessarily be reduced to half or less than half—probably 200,000 men. For anyone to suggest that the obtaining of these 200,000 men, or such proportion as you would get, was a military necessity to end the War would be a practical absurdity, and therefore I part company with my right hon. and gallant Friend on that issue.
I have only a very few words to say, and the House will not be surprised when they hear their purport. The House, after the public declarations made by the party for which I have the honour to speak in this House, upon two occasions recently, and after the short speech which I made just before the Adjournment at Christmas, will not be surprised to hear that we cannot support this Bill. I know that all members of all parties in the House will be inclined to believe what I say when I assure the House that it is with the deepest possible regret that I find myself in that position. Ever since the commencement of this War my colleagues and I have supported every move, every suggestion, every proposal made by the Government. We continued that support even after the Coalition Government was created, although, as the House knows, we entirely disapproved the creation of that Coalition Government, and although, of course, for a thousand reasons, it had not the same claim upon our confidence and support as the Government which it sup- 1006 planted. More than that, I say for myself, personally, I have viewed with some impatience a good deal of the criticism to which the Government in the past has been subjected. That was our attitude, because Ireland has thoroughly identified herself with the Empire in this War. We in Ireland regard this as our War in a way that was never true of any war in which the Empire was engaged in the past, and we in Ireland have been determined, so far as our poor resources allowed it, to prove that we were willing to make any sacrifice necessary in order to bring this War to a speedy and successful issue. And if we were convinced—if I personally were convinced that the passage of this Bill was in the remotest degree necessary to end this War, or I go even further—if it were in my sober judgment really calculated to promote the speedy and successful ending of this War, the position which I would take up would be entirely different from my attitude to-day.
The Irish Members on these benches are all opposed to Conscription, but, after all, speaking for myself, I do not take as rigid a view of Conscription as the ex-Home Secretary. With me it is a question of necessity, and not of principle. It is a question of degree. No man can say that, if the Germans landed on the coast of Kent, or on the coast of Ireland, his objection to the principle of Conscription should be allowed to prevent him from making a fight to defend the shores of his country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late!"] I think hon. Members do not understand my point. I say if that were so it is only a question of degree, and not of principle, as to whether men should be called, and should be forced to meet the foe, say, at Calais, instead of on the coast of Kent. And therefore, from my point of view, it is not a question of principle, but a question of necessity, and if the right hon. Gentleman, instead of striving to show-that this Bill was necessary to enable him to keep his pledge—I think myself he has been far too scrupulous on that matter, and I think the ex-Home Secretary has shown that the conditions in his speeches which he attached to that pledge are such that this Bill is not necessary—had been able to show that voluntaryism had broken down, that would be a different matter. He has not done that. On the contrary, he has borne in his speech a glowing tribute to the success of voluntaryism. But if he had shown that voluntaryism had broken 1007 down, and that compulsion was the only means possible of raising the men to end this War, for my part I know of no man who would allow his personal predilections against Conscription to stand in the way of a course which had become necessary to the very life of the country.
My position is simply this: I say that in asking the House of Commons to make this great departure from the traditions and principles observed in the past in this country, the onus of proof lies on those who propose it, and that it is not fair to the House of Commons to propose this great departure simply on the grounds of fulfilling a certain personal pledge; but it is necessary, in order to justify the proposal, to show that it is absolutely necessary for the life of the nation. Until that is proved—until we have some real proof that this is necessary from a military point of view—for my part I remain anchored in my hostility to a system of compulsion which, I believe, and agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke for labour just now so effectively, is full of menace for the future of this country. If this is not a military necessity, if it only means bringing in at the outside 100,000 or 200,000 additional men, is it not inconceivable that all the risks of the future, to which the hon. Gentleman opposite alluded, may be faced with a light heart by this House, when no real necessity compels it? The Government have not told us how many men they want. The Government have not told us how many they have got. The Government have not told us how many men, under present circumstances or in the near future, they are competent to deal with. I was talking the other day to a very important person, whose name, of course, I cannot mention, who told me—and he had means of information that I have not—that at the present moment 300,000 additional men were quite as many as the Government were in a position to drill and equip under present circumstances. If that is not true, and if the Government want a large number of men immediately, they ought to state it, and if they are ready to drill and equip them at once they ought to state that too. If my informant were correct, that the Government are not in a position to deal with more than about 300,000 at present, and in the immediate future, then I say that you have got that number of absolute direct enlistments under Lord Derby's scheme, 1008 and it seems to me it will be impossible under those circumstances to justify this Bill from that point of view. I believe that you have at your disposal to-day more men available than you can equip and train and deal with, and certainly, when you take these new enlistments going on every day, you have more men available than under present circumstances you can provide officers for.
These are some of the reasons why it is impossible to expect that my colleagues and myself should support this Bill. In Ireland we have been in a very fortunate position on this question. In Ireland we have been told how many men have been raised, and how many men are wanted. We were originally asked for three things in Ireland. We were asked to provide the necessary drafts for the old regiments, and we have done that. The General commanding the troops in Ireland made a speech some months ago in which he gave the figures, and he showed that very many thousands of men had been sent as drafts to the old Irish regiments, and that we had so far as that demand was concerned met it fairly. The second thing we were asked was that we should raise in Ireland three entirely new divisions for Lord Kitchener's Army, and that has been done. The whole three divisions are at the present moment at one or other of the fronts. No doubt there are some of them who are not Irish, just as there are in the Gordon Highlanders and the English regiments a good many men who are Irish. Speaking broadly, it is absolutely true to say that these three divisions which have been raised in Ireland are almost overwhelmingly Irish, just as the Scottish regiments are overwhelmingly Scottish. The third thing we were asked was to keep the reserve battalions in Ireland at their full strength so as to provide in the future the necessary drafts, not only for the old battalions but also for the new battalions. My authority for all this is the published speech made by the officer commanding the troops who spoke the other day at the Viceregal Conference, presided over by the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, in Dublin, where General Friend spoke on behalf of the War Office with the War Office authority, and he gave the figures as coming from them officially.
He told us in that speech that we had now in Ireland fifty-three battalions, sixteen of the old regiments, and thirty-seven of the three new Divisions. He 1009 said the War Office asked for the creation of no new units in Ireland. He told us that there were twenty-six reserve battalions at present in Ireland, and he asked us to raise them to their full strength. For that purpose it was necessary for him to obtain immediately several thousands of recruits, and he gave us the figures which were needed and he has got them. What he asked for as a matter of fact was the immediate supply of 10,000 men to fill up these reserve battalions, and he has got more than 10,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, he has not!"] I assure the hon. Member that he has, because I have got the official figures here, and the figures at the time General Friend spoke were given as 81,000, and now the numbers up to the middle of December are 91,000, so that he has got the 10,000 that he has asked for. What he further asked was that, when we had filled up these reserves, we should provide a steady flow of recruits to the number of 1,000 or 1,100 a week, and that we are endeavouring to do, and I believe we shall be able to do, and I am doing my best to do it—and pretty successfully, I must say, in the past—and I hope and pray nothing that may take place in reference to this Bill may impose still greater difficulties upon those great difficulties which the House must realise have been in my path during the months which have elapsed since the commencement of the War. Certainly, in regard to this matter, we are in a more favourable position than in this country. We know what we have done, and we know what we have been asked to do, and we can shape our course accordingly, and I have no doubt that we shall be able to the full to meet the demand which has been made upon us by the War Office. I have nothing further to say, except to conclude by repeating that my colleagues and I, taking the view that we do about Conscription, in the absence of any proof that this little Bill—because the more you minimise your Bill the more you destroy your case—that this little Bill, which, little though it is, contains the principle of Conscription, in the absence of any proof that this little Bill is a military necessity needed for the ending of the War, we shall certainly feel it our duty to support those who may follow the ex-Home Secretary in opposition to this Bill.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
I certainly do not disagree with the principle on which the opposition of the hon. 1010 and learned Member for Waterford to this Bill was based. He puts his ground of opposition, as I put my ground of support, on the same basis. He objects to it because he thinks it will not assist in bringing this War to a successful conclusion, and I support it because, in spite of what he has said, I believe it has become absolutely necessary if we are to win this War. As it happens, I have only once before had to speak in this House on this subject, and I should like again, if the House would allow me, to state the principles on which I have acted from the beginning in this matter. When this War broke out I felt as strongly as those who had taken the most active part in what is called the National Service movement, that our method of raising recruits by the voluntary system was not a good method for such a war as this. I thought it was not a good method, first of all, because it seemed to me utterly unfair that in the same town, or perhaps in the same street, three or four sons of one family should go, and another family on whom the State had precisely the same claim should not send a single man to the Army. I thought it a bad system for another reason, the very reason on which many of those who are-opposed to this Bill oppose it now—that it was a wasteful system, and that if we were to make any attempt to have a proper correlation between the men employed in the necessary Civil Services and those who go to fight our battles, that could not be arrived at by a system of haphazard enlistment and recruiting which depended on the voluntary will of individual people. I felt that very strongly, but I felt something else.
There are only two possible methods by which a War such as this can be carried to a successful conclusion. One is for those who are in a position of responsibility—and this applies to every Member of the House—to lay down what they think is the best system from a military point of view, and ruthlessly to press that system and fight everyone opposed to it, and try to get a majority to enable them to carry it out. But there is another way, and it is to realise that the best system in a free country like ours may not in the long run be the strongest system, and that it is really a military asset to have a united country, and therefore I did feel that everyone should go to a great length to compromise—compromise is a hateful 1011 word to apply to the carrying on of the War—we had to recognise things as they were, and that we were bound to go gently to preserve that national unity and at the same time preserve efficiency in carrying on the War. That is the principle on which I, and while I led the party on the other side, the whole party acted. The hon. and learned Gentleman said he disliked a Coalition. We were quite ready to carry on the principle of keeping a united nation by keeping in Opposition and not factiously opposing the Government. We should have been perfectly ready to go on indefinitely on that system, and it was because not only we who at that time sat on the Opposition Benches, but my right hon. Friend and his colleagues thought a time had come for a change, and that we believed the national unity would be best secured by a Coalition, that we agreed to it. That is the principle on which we have acted. If it be true, as was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford, and in other words by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) that by this Bill you get no military advantage, but only throw the millstone of Conscription round your necks for nothing, then I would be utterly opposed to introducing this Bill at this time. But that is not the case, and I am going, if the House will allow me, to try to show what I believe to be the fact, that this step is necessary now if we are to keep an Army in the field which we can in the view of everybody afford, and which is necessary if we are to have any chance to bring this War to a successful termination. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the pledge of the Prime Minister. He said that from one point of view it was perfectly true that this can only be justified to the House of Commons, not on the ground of an individual pledge by an individual Minister, but on the ground of national advantage or national necessity. That is quite true, but it is not true as regards my right hon. Friend. So far as he is concerned, having given the pledge, he at least is bound to carry it out, and if the House decides that there is no national need for it and that the pledge ought not to have been given, then the House has to make up its mind that the War is to be conducted without the assistance of the Prime Minister. That goes much further—
§ Sir J. SIMON
There are more ways of fulfilling this pledge than one. One way 1012 is to apply to the married men, and ask them if they really refuse to serve. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
That is not the point with which I was dealing. The point was that this was the pledge of the Prime Minister, and if it was not a national necessity there was no reason why compulsion should be introduced. So far as the Prime Minister is concerned the pledge alone, and what he considered the honourable fulfilment of it, is what must bind him, but it goes a great deal further than that. I should say without any hesitation that if the Prime Minister gave a gratuitous pledge of that kind when it was not necessary he was going far beyond his duty, and he had no right to do anything of the kind, but that was not the fact. I do not think the House-realises how closely the pledge is bound up with an attempt to make the voluntary system work under the Derby scheme That is the whole case. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks as if it was only a question of the single men who would be brought in under this Bill, but it is nothing of the kind. If you give away the pledge, then, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, you release all the married men who have attested, and you reduce yourselves simply to those men. single and married, who had enlisted under the ordinary terms of enlistment. and single men who have attested.
Let me point out to the House—I can do it, I hope, without raising any heat in this matter—what the real history of this movement is. There must be in the Cabinet, as there is in the House and in the country, differences of opinion on a question like this. So long as, I think, probably three months ago an examination of the figures of the men in the Army, and of those wanted for the Army, had convinced a large number, at all events, of my colleagues that at that time it was no longer possible under the system then existing to get the men necessary to keep our Army going. That was their view. What were we to do? The Prime Minister said to-day, and I was rather surprised to find that his words were received with a certain amount of scepticism below the Gangway, that he was one of the most convinced of those who are in favour of the voluntary system. I can assure the House, so far as I have had any opportunity of judging, that is not an exaggerated claim on his part, but he has a responsibility greater than any man in 1013 this terrible War to see that we win it, or at least that no effort which this nation can make to win it is left undone as long as he is responsible for the conduct of it. At that time he did not accept the view that the voluntary system had broken down. He decided that it must be given another chance.
I wish hon. Gentlemen, and especially those below the Gangway, to realise this, because it is true: If recruiting were to go on only on the scale on which it was going before the Derby scheme began it was utterly impossible. It became, therefore, absolutely necessary to make some big attempt to improve the recruiting. The Derby scheme was formed. What happened? It went very well at first. Then, as my right hon. Friend has informed the House to-day, he was told that recruiting was stopped, because married men were raying, "It is not fair; we will not go; we will not attest until we get some assurance that those who have an obligation before us are made to fulfil that obligation." That was represented to the Prime Minster, and he stated the case, I think, much below the actual facts when he said that a large part of the success of the Derby scheme was due to that pledge. I think it went much further than that. I think that without that pledge the Derby scheme would have been an absolute failure, and you would' have been face to face then with some system of general compulsion. I have some means of judging. One day when the Prime Minister was away I had to deal in his name with that question, and what I said about the single men was not considered satisfactory. I got shoals of telegrams, from Members of this House amongst others, saying that recruiting had absolutely stopped and that they were not joining because they thought that there was some shuffling with this pledge which the Prime Minister had given. Therefore the necessity and the pledge go together. But for the pledge we would not have had the men who are now available. Therefore, it is not simply a question, although that is big enough, of fulfilling a definite pledge made by the Prime Minister of this country.
I should like to deal for a moment with that pledge itself. I listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary this afternoon, and I am sorry, if I may say so, that he is the late Home Secretary. I listened to it with great interest, but I 1014 did not understand it. He pointed out the distinction between my right hon. Friend and himself. He said that the Prime Minister was against compulsion, but that with him it was a question of expediency, whereas with my right hon. Friend it was a question of a vital principle. If so, if that is his real attitude, what was the use of all that meticulous argument about the occasion for the redemption of the pledge not having arisen? Is it not quite evident, if it were a matter of vital principle, that no amount of evidence would satisfy him, and, whatever the evidence, that he would still oppose the introduction of compulsion? Let us look at his argument a little more closely. He told us that in dealing with these figures he was not going to indulge in hair splitting. I am sure he realises, as we all do, that it is too serious a situation for our dealing with it in that way, but I must say that any plain man who looks at the figures which were presented to the Prime Minister by Lord Derby, and who looks at them in a way that any man would look at an ordinary problem presented to him, would say that without a shadow of doubt the conditions referred to in the pledge had arisen, and that the Prime Minister was bound to carry it out.
I am not going to content myself with merely making that statement. What was the whole basis of my right hon. Friend's argument? He referred, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has done, to a statement made by the Prime Minister that this figure of 651,000 was not an absolute figure, but was largely conjectural. The Prime Minister went on to say that even if you reduced it to half or less than half it still left far more than a negligible quantity. I was surprised to find the hon. and learned Gentleman taking these words as if the Prime Minister had said that they would be reduced to half or less than half. He said nothing of the kind. He was putting it in the worst possible way for himself. Let us judge the late Home Secretary's figures by one of his arguments. He told us that there were 840,000 single men who had attested, and, taking the same proportion, 340,000, for the 650,000 you would get a very small number. My right hon. Friend forgot that in the 840,000 there were 312,000 starred men, but in the 650,000 there were no starred men, and that therefore the proportion was not between 840,000 and 650,000, but between 527,000, plus those who have directly enlisted—I give him that—and the 650,000. Take the 1015 other methods by which he chose to make out that these figures meant nothing. He told us that in his own constituency of Walthamstow the proportion of single men to married men was far larger than the estimate that was made by Lord Derby. I agree with him the presumption is that as the single men, especially the young single men, would know that they would have to come forward at any rate, it was not worth their while attesting and going into the Group System they might as well come forward at once. But, as it happens, I have seen Lord Derby this afternoon. He tells me the figures are largely guesswork, but they are not guesswork arrived at by the method suggested by my right hon. Friend, by taking the proportion of single men to married men amongst those who are of military age. They were arrived at by making inquiries of different people who had canvassed them. That was the method by which he came to that proportion. Supposing it is true, at the worst the difference, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, is something like 50,000, and the total figure is 650,000. Now look at his other argument. He says that if you have got a ship and ask for so many volunteers and leave so many more, it is obvious that if you apply compulsion the ship will be less able to be carried on. He forgot that there is no analogy, for this reason—the 650,000 are precisely the same class. They were entered in the National Register in precisely the same way as the 527,000.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend refers again to merchant ship men. He knows as well as I do that at the time the National Register was taken they only took the men actually at home. All those ship men away at sea would not be there then or now. Therefore, the proportion must be the same. But I am not going to go further into his methods of whittling down the numbers. He assumes, without any reason as far as I can see, that all the maimed, the halt, and the blind are in the 650,000. Why does he assume that? The whole country was stirred by this recruiting scheme. People were only too anxious 1016 to get something which would give them assurance before their fellows that they were not shirking their work. I happen to know from my own limited experience that among those first to attest under the Derby scheme were men who had already been rejected. [HON. MEMBERS: "They got 2s. 9d.!"] I do not follow that interruption. Look at the facts of these figures, for that is the essential thing. The total number of single men in the National Register who were not starred was about 1,500,000. Of these 527,000 attested, 103,000 enlisted, and 200,000 were rejected as medically unfit—that is to say, of the total number of 1,480,000, something like 840,000 presented themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "Attested!"] No. not attested; those who enlisted and who were rejected. I have got the figures here. The total number who presented themselves in that way, who offered themselves for service, was, as I say, about 840,000. The number who did not offer themselves was I 650,000. That is to say, of the total number available, 56 per cent. came forward, and 44 per cent. did not come forward. After making every conceivable allowance, I ask any fair-minded man in this House if the Prime Minister would not have been playing with his pledge had he not said that a case had been made out for its fulfilment?
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
May I remind my right hon. Friend that the figure he gives only refers to England and Wales?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am taking the figures in this Report. I have only one other aspect of the case to put before the House. By the way, since my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow referred to his constituency, I have got the figures here and perhaps it will interest the House to give another figure. In the canvass return I find that the total number of men with blue cards—that is those available—was 10,000, and I find this point put to the canvassers: "Have not given adequate reasons for declining to enlist." The number of single men in his constituency is 1,570 out of 10,000. Is that a negligible quantity?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite followed my point. It is well we should understand one another What I should like to know is, whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell me whether any provision is made for the men who did give an adequate excuse? I can find none.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What has that to do with it? There are any number of questions put. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the House, or the Prime Minister, would accept the view of a canvasser as to what is or is not an adequate reason?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The canvasser gave his. opinion and, according to that opinion, in that particular constituency 1,570 out of 10,000 did not come forward or give an adequate reason. I wish to put to the House one other aspect. My right hon. Friend dwelt a good deal on another part of the Prime Minister's speech, in which he spoke of "general consent." I for one consider that that is a condition which it was only right to put forward, but one without which it is quite impossible for a system like this to be carried out. What is meant by "general consent"? How are you to test "general consent"? I am sure the House would not test it by the vehemence of the opposition to any particular measure. I notice that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who has, I think, a weakness—of the possession of which I have often been accused— of saying what he thinks, told us that, in his opinion, if there were an election on this question the country would be in favour of those who were in favour of the Bill. Just see what that means. We all— I, certainly, as strongly as anyone—are anxious to preserve national unity. I have never believed in the views of those—some of my own Friends among them—who hold that what is wanted in this country is some strong man to take everybody by the throat and tell them what they have to do. I never believe that that is possible. But I do believe in national unity. Just look at what my hon. Friend's idea is. It is that we are to preserve national unity by making the majority give up something which the nation wants in order to please the minority.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We have troubles enough in front of us. I certainly would not willingly have raised this one if I had thought that the purpose which we all had in view could have been secured without it. I am sure it could not. I am sure we had to choose between making a 1018 change in our system and giving up absolutely the effort to maintain the Army which all of us, even those who differ as to details, think and are told is absolutely necessary if this War is to be brought to a successful conclusion. I quite understand the objection of labour, and that is one of the reasons why it was wise, I think, even if we could have secured a majority long ago, not to press this. The reasons are natural. But I do not see in what way this Bill is going in any way to make the position of labour worse than it is to-day. The Bill, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, takes these men for the duration of the War and no further; therefore, if what they consider Conscription after the War is to come, it can only come by a new Vote in a new House of Commons. It is not affected by this Bill, and if my hon. Friends fear that even now, during the War—which Heaven forbid!—there should be any question of bringing the military in to interfere with trade disputes—if there should be any such idea of that, then these men are really in precisely the same position and under precisely the same obligations as those who have enlisted voluntarily and attested. The position is neither better nor worse from that point of view, and, however strong the feeling of hon. Members in this House may be on this subject, I ask them to do what in my small way I have tried to do in giving assent to it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not make any reference to the fact that Ireland was excluded from this Bill. If we were to look at this as a question of principle there would be absolutely no justification for such a proposal. None whatever. But if we start with the idea that for the basis of this Bill, so far as the Government is concerned, what we are thinking about is not principle but getting the men which will enable us to win this War, then you have to consider what you gain and what you lose, and from that point of view you had to regard it. Some people take one view, some another. That is the view we take. I say to those who are opposed to the Bill let them realise that the Government as a whole have come not hastily, Heaven knows, but deliberately to the conclusion that this is necessary to win the War, and that a responsibility as great as that which rests upon the Government rests upon every Member of this House who attempts to thwart us in the efforts we are making.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
In the few remarks I will venture to address to the House I hope I shall display the same spirit of earnestness and sincerity which has characterised all the speeches delivered this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken made one point which was loudly applauded by those who endorse his views in this House. When alluding to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow bases his disagreement with this Bill on the point of principle he asked this straight and direct question, which was loudly cheered by his supporters: "Why, if the right hon. Gentleman bases his objection on the ground of principle, did he take such particular pains to demonstrate by evidence and statistics the point which he sought to make?" The right hon. Gentleman in asking that question really evaded the point made by my right hon. Friend. He was not using the statistics in order to demonstrate and justify the principle on which his objection is based. In all the arguments which my right hon. Friend used, and which I venture to say he used with overwhelming force, he was dealing with the case for the Bill as presented by the Government here to-day. What was the case the Prime Minister presented in justification of his proposal, which I still venture to assert, in a spirit of earnestness, does threaten to imperil the unity which at present binds all classes of society? The Prime Minister bases his justification of this Bill on the ground that it was a plain and straightforward redemption of his pledge.
The Colonial Secretary put to the House one argument which I confess I listened to with great misgivings and great regret, and that was the position in which he put hon. Members of this House who are pledged to a certain attitude towards this proposal, not merely by lifelong convictions, but also by deliberate pledges given to their constituents under the sanction and encouragement and with the authority of the leaders they have followed for the last ten years. Was it fair for the right hon. Gentleman to put hon. Members of this House, whose attitude towards this Bill is determined by considerations of that kind, in such a position, and to advance the argument that, if they press their opposition to this Bill to the point of going into the Division Lobby, and if by some miracle they succeed in doing that which it is perfectly clear we cannot hope to do in the Division Lobby, namely, 1020 defeat this Bill, you will have to dispense with the services of the present Prime Minister? I must say, speaking with great seriousness and with great respect and sincerity, I greatly deplore the use of an argument like that by the Colonial Secretary, and I do not believe from my knowledge of the present Prime Minister that he is a man who would be constrained to act by considerations of that kind.
The arguments of the Colonial Secretary did not present the whole ease of the opponents of this Bill, neither did they deal justly or fairly with the arguments based on the fulfilment of the Prime Minister's pledge. The Colonial Secretary treated that pledge as if it were an absolute and unconditioned pledge. But the whole case of my right hon. and learned Friend, and of those who, like myself, rest our opposition on this point, is that the Prime Minister consented to introduce these legislative proposals into this House without the fulfilment of those conditions on which the introduction was to be based. The Colonial Secretary, a little while ago in dealing with the arguments of my right hon. and learned Friend, told us he was going to do something that he did not do. He told us he was going to deal with the conditions on which that pledge was given. If he had taken pains to consider the conditions attached to the Prime Minister's pledge he would have been hard put to it to suggest to this House that those conditions had been in any way fulfilled.
But there is another aspect. If we ignore for the moment that which in my own judgment is crucial in the consideration of this question, if we ignore altogether the conditional character of the pledge given and the very momentous fact that those conditions have not been fulfilled as was promised by the Prime Minister, even if he were dealing with it as a pledge unconditioned, it was incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman to attempt to demonstrate to the House that the case for voluntaryism and for Lord Derby's scheme had had a fair trial and a fair chance. I want to ask one or two plain questions: Is the Colonial Secretary prepared to say to-day in this House that the Derby scheme has had a fair chance throughout the country? Is he prepared to say there are no Parliamentary areas known to hon. Members sitting opposite where the scheme was crabbed week after week by the recruiting officers? Is he prepared to deny that in one important Parliamentary area the cards were not 1021 released until the Wednesday preceding the final Saturday? Is it not a fact that only then were they released after urgent telegrams had been sent to Lord Derby, and after the dispatch of a telegram to that area in Lord Derby's name? These are questions I would like to address to certain of his colleagues on that bench.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I do not propose to press for an answer from the right hon. Gentleman at this moment. Obviously it would not be fair to do so, because he is preoccupied with other matters, and it would be most unfair to hold him responsible for knowledge of the full details of the Derby scheme. I only put it to him that if he attempts to argue that the results of the Derby scheme are a condemnation of the voluntary principle it is incumbent upon the Government to be satisfied that the Derby scheme has had a fair chance. I would like to ask another question in connection with the question I have just put. Why was it, if the Derby scheme was to have a fair chance and there was to be a thorough, comprehensive, and efficient canvass of the whole country, that the cards themselves were entrusted for distribution to military recruiting officers? Why were they not entrusted for distribution to the civilian recruiting committees? I make full acknowledgment of my admiration of the efficiency and capacity of the military officer in the military sphere, but nobody with any wide knowledge of the business capacity, training and education of the average military officer would pretend for a single moment that he was the most efficient person to whom to refer a strictly business organisation. If the President of the Local Government Board had entrusted the distribution of the cards to the civilian recruiting committees and had not entrusted it to the local recruiting officers there would not have been this holding up and these difficulties in the carrying out of the scheme which, unfortunately, have taken place.
I should like to ask another question. We are unfortunately to-night in the position of discussing and considering a proposal for what is actually a revolution in the procedure of this country. We are actually asked to give a decision on a proposed revolution in the absence of any authoritative information as to the necessity for that revolution. One of the most conspicuous and significant facts in a dis- 1022 cussion we have had to-day is that neither the Prime Minister nor the Colonial Secretary nor any representative on the Government Bench has given us one jot of information which we did not possess before we entered this House. The Colonial Secretary regrets, as we all regret, the atmosphere of suspicion, misgiving, and distrust which prevails in so many areas throughout the country to-day. What is the explanation of it? That distrust, misgiving, and suspicion concerning certain proposals of the Government are largely based upon a, complete neglect by the Government to give us the most rudimentary facts and data for our information. I have been wonderfully impressed to-day by the fact that even in the Prime Minister's speech itself we have not had the least authority or ground for believing that if this Bill-be passed into law, with all the conditions and with all the exemptions emphasised by the Prime Minister, that it will give us other than a purely negligible result. I would ask the Colonial Secretary, as this is the result which is likely and probable by the common admission of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is such a result as is at all events most probable under the provisions of this Bill a result which would justify the perils which are involved in the passing of such a measure into law?
My right hon. and learned Friend (Sir J. Simon) gave particulars of one Parliamentary area in this country illustrating the results of the Derby scheme. May I call the attention of the House to certain figures for another constituency—a totally dissimilar constituency, one in the North of England? There were distributed in that Parliamentary area 13,352 blue cards. The attested among married and single were 3,300 odd, refusals 5,500 odd; the rest, amounting to nearly 5,000, being entirely unaccounted for, some uncanvassed, some known to be engaged on munitions,and—I would especially direct the attention of the Colonial Secretary to this —some of those unaccounted for were known to be starred and badged men. The unmarried in these 5,000 are included in Lord Derby's 651,000 unattested men. But these men are not at all satisfactorily accounted for by the officials in charge of this particular canvass. Some of them are known not to have been canvassed. Is it fair to base a final return on figures which you have not first analysed, dissected, and of which you do not know the significance? Here I would say that I want 1023 to avoid, as other speakers have tried to avoid, anything in the nature of a threat and anything in the nature of directly associating myself with consequences that may accrue. But have the Government satisfied themselves that if they get this power and if they place the Bill upon the Statute Book they will be able to enforce it? It is no use dismissing ugly facts from your attention because they are ugly. I say with great regret, but with great solemnity and earnestness, that there is a spirit prevalent in many parts of this country which gives small encouragement to the hope that, if the Government insists, by the mere force of a Parliamentary majority, in placing this Bill upon the Statute Book, they will be able to enforce it. I ask myself and the Government this question: Supposing you cannot enforce it, supposing you find yourselves confronted in various industrial districts in this country, where much of the spirit of suspicion and mistrust has been incited by speeches of Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench—if you find yourselves confronted in different areas of the country, especially in the North of England, it may be in South Wales, and it may be also on the Clyde, with large numbers of men, even in several thousands in different areas, who refuse to come forward under the provisions of this Bill, and who refuse to do what you by Statute would compel them to do, how are you going to enforce the provisions of your own Bill?
The Colonial Secretary to-night made his position clear from the beginning. He seemed to commit himself to the position that in no circumstances similar to these would the Government resort to martial law or military force. But does the Colonial Secretary realise what the position of the Government would be after they have placed upon the Statute Book legislation which they were powerless to make operative? Did it strengthen the authority of the Munitions Act when a few days or a week after it was placed upon the Statute Book the Government were confronted by a strike in South Wales and failed to enforce the legislation and authority which they had taken power to enforce in this House? There is nothing more calculated to destroy respect for the law and authority in this country, and nothing more calculated to enforce the spirit of disquiet, distrust and suspicion among large numbers 1024 of the population of this country, than for the Government to place laws upon the Statute Book which they cannot possibly carry out. My right hon. and gallant Friend (Brigadier-General Seely), who spoke from the Front Bench opposite, to the great satisfaction and delight of all Members of the House, made one impressive point in the course of his speech, by saying, "Are you going to preserve your liberty by allowing another man to volunteer?" It was unquestionably impressive as he put it, but my right hon. and gallant Friend, as he had not been present earlier in the Debate, did not see how that was entirely vitiated by the fallacy underlying several of his arguments. To what was the impressiveness of that argument due? The question was only impressive on the assumption that we alone were engaged in this War, and that we were not one of several belligerent nations and Allies. He entirely omitted to meet the one crucial fact in the whole discussion, the question whether, because we are allied with other nations for the defence of the great principles of liberty, we have unlimited liabilities, even although they may go far beyond our strength. The Prime Minister promised us in the conditional pledge he gave us that no legislation should be introduced until adequate safeguards had been taken for the maintenance of our industry, for the maintenance of our financial stability, and for the maintenance of the manufacture of munitions, and it was after all these things that he described the reservoir which would be available for the purposes of a Bill of this kind. My hon. and gallant Friend forgot altogether that no nation, whatever may be its spirit of patriotism, heroism and self-sacrifice, can lightly, without the most hurtful and damaging results to its own Allies, undertake unlimited liabilities in a War of this kind.
It is because I feel most sincerely that the Government are committing the country to liabilities which are unmeasured and unweighed, but which are infinitely greater than this country or any other country can bear, that I distrust the proposals contained in this Bill. I shall find myself with great regret forced to go into the Division Lobby when the Division is taken to-morrow, against this Government Bill. My right hon. and gallant Friend put a point of view and a consideration which, I confess, does not influence me. He said that he believed that the majority of his constituents were behind the Bill, and that 1025 if he were truly to represent the wishes of his constituents he must vote for the Bill. That is a consideration which never has impressed me upon critical occasions having reference to my own convictions. I have always said frankly to my Constituents that I declined to be regarded as a delegate, and that I would rather go out of public life altogether than consent to delegate ray convictions to my Constituents. Even though any vote I might give to-morrow or on any subsequent occasion enforces my departure from Parliament and political life, I would accept that consequence gladly and willingly, rather than give my vote for a proposal which is contrary to my lifelong convictions and contrary to the terms of the pledges and conditions laid down by the Prime Minister.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Major ROTHSCHILD
I have noticed that some levity has always been shown when the Prime Minister's pledge is brought into account in discussing the question of introducing this Bill. As an officer who has had a good deal to do with recruiting lately, it may interest the House to hear some of the remarks which are made in a recruiting office, and some of the questions which are asked, and to know that the recruiting officer has had to repeat that pledge over and over again in order to get married men to enlist and come into the Derby scheme. When married men come to the recruiting officer they ask him, "Will the Prime Minister fulfil his pledge?" Time after time I have had to say "Yes," and I have promised them that if the measure is brought into the House of Commons I would get up and support it. Everyone who has entered my recruiting office has asked for Conscription. They have said over and over again, "Why do you not bring it in? It would be the only fair measure for all." It is stated that the country is against Conscription. From my experience I do not believe that. Certainly all the men who have attested under Lord Derby's scheme desire Conscription, because they know that it is only fair if one and all are forced to do the same, and do their work for the country, and share in the perils of war. Very often it occurs that certain individuals cannot come forward to enlist because they would lose their practice, they would lose their business, and they would lose their profession unless the others went also. Conscription is the solution of that difficulty, because one and all have to go and 1026 there are none left behind to reap the benefits of those who shirk. This Bill, small as it may be, will certainly fulfil the pledge to married men. It will enable the single groups to be called up in due course to keep the Army going. It will enable 450,000 married men to eventually find their way into the Army. They are doing it now, but you would have to release them if this Bill were not passed. No honest individual who has been concerned with recruiting could ever undertake work of that kind again if the pledge which was given in the House of Commons, and which he has preached to the people in getting them to enlist, was suddenly thrown over. I have enlisted in one week over 3,000 married men, 'and they have asked me over and over again, "Is that pledge going to be observed" I have answered, "Yes," because I believed the Prime Minister would keep his pledge. If the Prime Minister had refused his pledge, where would every recruiting officer, myself included, have been? They would come and say, "You have misled us, and taken us under false pretences." Of all those who have come into my office there has not been a single one who has objected to Conscription, and every man whom I have had dealings with has said, "Give us Conscription; we want it."
I have been put on the Jewish Recruiting Committee in the East End of London, and I have had a good deal to do with the question of Jewish recruiting. I have investigated the case of some of the single men who have not joined the Army. I have been told by Rabbis in the East End of London that these men have conscientious objections against volunteering to serve in the Army where they could no longer keep all the different principles of their religion which they have been brought up to keep ever since they were children. These people said to me, "Give us Conscription, and we will serve willingly." I know that is the fact in the East End of London. If that is so there, there are many other men, I am perfectly convinced, who feel that they cannot volunteer, but if the law of the land tells them to do it they will be willing to do it, and will do it freely and of their own accord. I have heard to-night that we must make allowances for large numbers of men in taking into consideration the figures which have been issued in the Derby Report. I think the late Home Secretary could not have realised that 1027 many men of the mercantile marine have enlisted under the Derby scheme. They were enlisted under instructions issued from the War Office, and passed to Army Reserve B. A proportion of the mercantile marine have enlisted, and a proportion of public officials have enlisted, and I hear there is delay in the tribunals. They have not sat yet, because the scheme has only just begun to work; but give us a month, and the tribunals will be sitting fair and square all over England, and every man who wishes to appeal can do so, and will I am sure have a fair hearing. I can imagine no fairer law in any other country than the system which has been evolved by the skill of Lord Derby, and which now, in order to ensure success, demands this little measure of Conscription for single men only, which I should willingly support, although, if Conscription were asked for at the end of the War, I should think twice before supporting it, for I have always maintained that the voluntary system was the best. I have always thought that our voluntary Army was a better Army on the whole, but my recruiting experience has taught me otherwise for the present War, and has changed my opinion. I felt that I had to speak because I had pledged myself to all the men I had enlisted myself, and felt that I was bound to say so in the House of Commons.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
I do not think anyone can take part in the discussion, either to-night or to-morrow, without a deep feeling of responsibility, of sorrow, and even of dismay, because it is perfectly evident now that, whatever may have been the case up to to-day, national unity is either in danger or has altogether vanished. It is no surprise to those of us who take a strong view on this matter, and who have endeavoured to put our case before the House even six months ago. I remember very well the discussion which took place in this House early in July last, and I have a very vivid recollection of the Debate that took place here on 28th July. Then it was a fair and square issue between compulsionists or Conscriptionists and voluntaryists, and the whole question which was thrashed out in those days was, How are we to get enough men to fill up our Army at the front? We who believe in the voluntary system always said, if you can prove to us that the voluntary system has failed, if there is any danger of an inconclusive peace, if there is any danger of failure in this War owing to lack of 1028 men—I remember saying it myself, and I heard many of my hon. Friends say it too—we will even allow compulsory measures to be passed through this House, repugnant as compulsion is to us, rather than see failure in this War. The Conscriptionists in this country all through August and September, up to 14th September, tried during the Recess to force Conscription on this country. I remember well reading the "Sunday Observer," one of the greatest Conscriptionist organs, on 1st August, singling out the Minister of Munitions and one or two other Gentlemen who occupy that bench for commendation—not the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister was expressly excluded—and saying that unless the Government were prepared to bring in a Conscriptionist Bill by 14th September when the House met again, it was time for the Government to go, and a new Conscriptionist Government to be formed. There were funds started in the newspapers in order to carry on this propaganda. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Ellis Griffith) and my hon. Friend (Sir Leo Chiozza Money) were requisitioned into the service in order to hold great meetings in London. That propaganda failed. The people of this country, when they were asked fairly whether they believed in compulsion or not, said they were not going to be influenced either by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) or the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ellis Griffith) or the Minister of Munitions. When the House met on 14th September Conscription was a dead issue.
Then a deliberate trick was tried in order to manœuvre us anti-Conscriptionists into a false position. We were told, "Very well, let us all put our heads together in order to make a success of the voluntary system. Let us all join like one man, and if we can make a success of the voluntary system well and good. Everyone will be glad, because everyone prefers a voluntary system, if it can be worked, to a compulsory system; but, on the other hand, if the voluntary system fails, recourse must be had to compulsion. That was a challenge, as I understood it, which was thrown down to every one of us, in this House and outside, who believed in the voluntary system. We accepted the challenge. Some of the Labour Members were met by Lord Kitchener and the Prime Minister, and as the result of that meeting placards were issued and posted in every constituency in the Kingdom saying that if 30,000 volunteers per week were forthcoming down to the end of November—for 1029 six weeks—the voluntary system could be saved. It began on 1st October. That was the first great recruiting rally. I suppose my experience is not different from that of other hon. Members here. I went to my Constituency. I went as far as I could. I went to other constituencies in order to hold recruiting meetings, so as to make the voluntary system a success. I have always felt that we must prosecute this War to a triumphant issue, speaking as a voluntaryist, because if we cannot win this War and win a smashing victory we shall be face to face with two evils at the end which I cannot contemplate with equanimity. The first will be a recurrence of the old evil of senseless competition in armanents; and, secondly, there would be permanent Conscription. Therefore, ever since the War started I have done my humble best to help the Government to prosecute it to a successful conclusion. On 1st October, when we were asked to go down to our constituents and help in recruiting, everyone of us did so, because we accepted the pledges that we thought were given to us, that if the voluntary system was fairly tried and was found to be successful we should hear no more of compulsion or Conscription That was the position at the beginning of October. What happened after that? Suddenly, I think it was on 5th October, Lord Derby was appointed Director of Recruiting by the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "By Lord Kitchener!"]—or by Lord Kitchener. At any rate by the Government. The ex-Home Secretary (Sir J. Simon) has reminded us of the words used by Lord Derby. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, because I should like to say how much that great and magnificent speech which he delivered this afternoon has raised him in the estimation of every Liberal in this House, and tomorrow, when his speech comes to be read, he will be looked upon as the great 'democratic leader in this country. He has reminded us of the words which were used by Lord Derby when he started as the saviour of the voluntary system. Lord Derby said he felt like the receiver of a bankrupt concern. A very hopeful frame of mind in which to start a great movement to save the voluntary system! That was the frame of mind of Lord Derby when he began this recruiting scheme. Is it to be wondered at, therefore, that today we are confronted with a mass of conjecture and a mass of figures which have no basis in fact. They honestly represent 1030 the opinion of Lord Derby, but he looks at the whole matter from the point of view of a conscriptionist, who never has believed in the voluntary system. He is perfectly honest when he says that these figures show that the voluntary system has failed, but he has a prejudiced mind, and he never brought an unprejudiced mind to bear upon the question.
On 11th October, I believe, the great Derby scheme, as it is called, was launched. What was the meaning of the Derby scheme? I would ask this House, composed of fair-minded men, to try to remember what was the position of hon. Members who, like myself, have always been against Conscription, and who were invited to take part in the campaign in order to see whether voluntaryism could be saved in this country. What was the Derby scheme designed to prove or not to prove? The point of the Derby scheme was that it was necessary in the national interests to find out how many men of recruitable age, married or unmarried, in this country were prepared to offer their services to fight with the Colours. That was the meaning of the Derby scheme when it was launched. For three weeks it was worked on that basis. I made certain inquiries in the part of the country that I am best acquainted with and I was assured on all hands that the Derby scheme was a success. It was impossible to get figures, but that was what I was told. On 1st November the "Times" newspaper brought out a special recruiting number in order to show that it was in favour of giving every chance to the Derby scheme. In that edition of 1st November, after the Derby scheme had been in operation for three weeks, it was stated, and not in one paper, but in all the newspapers, that the Derby scheme of voluntary recruiting was up to that moment a success. What happened then? On 1st November, after nearly a month's trial, voluntaryism, at all events, had not been proved to be a failure. They had only to wait until the end of November and then bring their figures before the House of Commons, and we who were pledged up to that time to voluntaryism would not have been in a position, if the figures were unsatisfactory, to object to compulsion. But they were afraid. They were afraid of the results. They were afraid of the patriotism and the public spirit of the people of this country. We have always said that the people of this country have never been asked by the Government from the beginning of the 1031 War for anything that they have not given freely and voluntarily, and we said that if you tell the people how many men you want, and by what date you want them, we pledge ourselves that the men will be forthcoming.
What happened on 2nd November? Something happened then which made this Derby scheme impossible from the point of view of voluntary recruiting. The Prime Minister came down to this House, as far as I know without consultation with his Cabinet, because he said he was speaking for himself, and certainly without any discussion in the House of Commons, and with hardly a mention of the matter in the Press, and he said, in an aside, that he had seen that Lord Derby had been asked certain questions about the position of married men and unmarried men, and then he gave his pledge. I have always said so; I said it from the first in this House before the Recess, that that pledge having once been given, fatuous though the distinction was between married and unmarried men, unnecessary as I thought, and as I still think, that pledge was, yet having once been given by the Prime Minister it must be carried out in the letter and in the spirit. What was the pledge? The pledge was—I am paraphrasing—that no married man who attested would be called up until and unless practically every available unmarried man, with negligible exceptions, had either enlisted or attested, or accounted for himself under the Derby scheme. I disagree entirely with that pledge. I disagreed with it at the time, but I feel that having given it the Prime Minister was bound by it. I am very anxious, as I have always been, to do everything in my power to support the Government of the day, whether it is a Coalition or a Liberal Government, prosecuting the War, and therefore speaking for myself I feel that that pledge, having once been given, must be carried out. Then what happened? The Derby scheme was not given a fair chance. I say that deliberately, knowing the facts. It was not given a fair chance There were whole districts in my country, in Wales, that were never canvassed at all, the agricultural districts especially. I asked a question of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War about one county in Wales where there are only two attestation offices. Only two; and they were manned by Englishmen who knew 1032 never a word of Welsh, and the Derby scheme has never been explained to the Welsh people in their own language, either on platform, in the Press, or by any other means. It has never had a fair chance. I heard only this morning, from Denbighshire, that in one attestation office the man who was taking in the attested people was a German, with a German name—I suppose with a German accent. There are other districts where there is no attestation office within twenty miles. Some of the people had to go forty miles to attest, and if they were rejected they had to pay their own expenses. I say that on the authority of one of the recruiting secretaries of that county. I asked a question of the Under-Secretary for War, and I got the usual official answer. I give that on the authority of the gentleman who has put me in possession of the facts, who is one of the recruiting officials. I begged and implored the War Office to allow that county another week in order to bring the figures up to a proper level, and I was told that could not be done.
I say that all over the country similar things are happening which make it impossible to say that the Derby scheme has had a fair chance to show what the voluntary system can do in this country. What has happened since? We had a discussion here only a fortnight ago, and the interval, the Recess, has been very small. We had to meet again long before the usual time, on 4th January. Why? Exactly what happened during the August Recess has happened during the December Recess. Immediately Parliament rises for a few days our Conscriptionists are on the war path; and what do you see? Yesterday week the "Times" came out with a long article in which it stated that the Minister of Munitions had sent in his resignation. I do not know whether that be true or not. One of the hon. Members for Lanarkshire last night here challenged my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions with the statement, and in his reply he said he was not going to be drawn from the path of the Munitions Act into a discussion on the "Daily Mail" or the "Times," At all events, that statement was made by the "Times," which is intimately associated with the Conscriptionist agitation, and whose proprietor, Lord Northcliffe, has been one of the chief subscribers to the propagandist funds. The "Daily Mail" was the other. The statement was made last Tuesday 1033 that the Minister of Munitions threatened his resignation unless this Bill was introduced at once, and that statement has never been contradicted. Does anyone feel surprised that those of us who have a strong feeling in this matter are afraid that we are being treated unfairly? This question is not being worked out in the Cabinet on its merits, but threats of resignation are being used in order to get this Bill introduced the first thing this year. And why this hurry? Why should this Bill be introduced to-day? There is no immediate hurry. I see gallant officers from the front trooping back to the House. I have seen a general; I have seen colonels who only went out three or four weeks ago; and they are coming back here to vote down those of us who stick to our old principles. Does that show that there is any great pressure at the front? Why this terrible anxiety to bring this Bill in in the first week of the year, and rush it through in this way? Would not it have been better to wait a little in order to give the Derby scheme a little better chance? Why not have used the next two or three weeks in order to prove what the net figure of the unaccounted single men is?
I said three weeks, and if what the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) said is true, there are already more men with the Colours than can be equipped during the next three or four weeks. I do not know whether it is so, but I know it is generally believed that there are more men with the Colours now than can be equipped or officered for the next month. Why not use this month to get, instead of Lord Derby's estimates and problematical figures, proved figures, so that we may know exactly where we stand? No, we are being hurried from one position to another, and I confess the whole thing has been most cleverly engineered. I agree that the pledge that was given by the Prime Minister has revolutionised the position. Before that pledge was given the vast majority of the people of this country, I believe, were against Conscription. Now every attested married man is a Conscriptionist so far as the unmarried men are concerned. I recognise the cleverness, but I deplore the unfairness of it. I do not think that is the proper way to treat people who trusted the word that was passed to us at the end of September, 1034 that if we were willing to accept two months in which to try the voluntary system they were willing to help us all the way. It is not quite a fair way, I submit, of treating the people who trusted in that. Now this is a small Bill. It has been whittled down to the narrowest limits. The married men are the dangerous people. Let them be ruled out. The Irish have to be put out of it. What do I remember last summer when the Registration Bill was being discussed in this House I It was said to be the fact that hundreds of young Irishmen who were working in this country were trooping back to Ireland in order to avoid registration, and that was used as an argument in favour of compulsion. Later, in the autumn, another way was found to push on compulsion. I think it was discovered that 600 young men of Irish birth were flying across the Atlantic on a liner from Liverpool, and the patriotic stokers refused to work the ship. That was used as an argument in favour of Conscription. I remember the hon. and learned Member for Waterford repudiating, with indignation, the use that was made of this alleged fact last August. But all through the piece, whenever they have been able to get up an argument in favour of compulsion in Ireland, they have used it; and now they have used it Ireland, which three months ago was the very place that ought to be conscripted, is left out of the Bill! Why? Because there are too many Irish votes here, and too strong a feeling in Ireland against Conscription. This Bill has been whittled down, whittled down, and whittled down to the narrowest point. All they want is to get it through and get compulsion on the Statute Book. They do not care in what form, so long as the principle is admitted; and once the principle of Conscription is allowed we shall soon find that the application will grow and grow. The Minister of Munitions has never disguised his feeling on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) does not disguise his opinion. They all of them believe in National Service; they do not believe in merely military Conscription. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Sir. A. Mond) said last July, "What I believe is that every man should be at the service of the State. When the State says 'Go,' he must go, and when it says 'Come,' he must come." My right hon. Friend said it not in those words, but very nearly in those words, in July last.
1035 This is the beginning, and if you once give way on the principle of compulsion we shall not end until we get it as my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey wants it—in the form of compulsory National Service. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Ilkeston Division (Brigadier-General Seely) said that after his experience in France he thought we ought to have a compulsory system. I could not help remembering that in 1911, in France, there was a great strike, and the leader of the Socialists, the present Prime Minister, M. Briand, then Minister of the Interior, dealt with that strike by calling up the Reserves to the Colours. Two years later, during a strike in democratic Italy, where there is also Conscription, that strike was smashed exactly in the same way. They say that Conscription is democratic—it is anti-democratic, and it has been so in every country where it exists, and would be so in Germany, in the same way, if the workmen there dared to declare a national strike. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) has taken the stand he has in this matter. He has spoken in this House and out of this House with a clear voice, and I wish all my hon. Friends connected with the Labour party had done the same. I hope that to-morrow they will redeem themselves, and that all the friends of progress will stand side by side in this the most critical hour which the country has had to face for generations.
I do not know what is going to happen. I do not know whether this Government of shreds and patches will continue to hang together. I do not believe that they can last long. I do not believe it is possible. I say this deliberately, Radical as I am, I would sooner see a Tory Government in power than the Government we have here—I would sooner accept, if accept one must, a Bill of this sort from a Tory Government that believes in compulsory service than I would accept it at the hands of Gentlemen who profess their unbounded devotion to the voluntary principle while cutting its throat. I do not know what is going to be the result. I am perfectly certain of one thing—national unity is a thing of the past. You cannot, when these domestic controversies are unnecessarily and wantonly aroused, have national unity. I do hope for the sake of this country, and for the sake of all those things we hold dear, that in one respect, at ail events, national unity will be main- 1036 tained, and that is in the prosecution of the War, but that will be very much harder after this than before. I do not know, I say, how long this Government is going to cling to office, how long it can hold together, or hang together. I question very much that it can hang together very long. I do not know what may happen after. There may be a General Election after the other House has dealt with the Bill on which the fate of this House will rest; and it may be that one of the reasons why this Bill has been rushed is because the sword of Damocles in the other House is hanging over our heads. I do not know and I do not care. I would sooner go out of public life than give a vote against what I think to be the true interests of this country. I believe that this Bill is going to damage this country. I believe that this Bill is going to impair the unity of this country. I cannot say what may happen in my own Constituency, for which I was re-elected only last year. I do not know what may happen. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions is a powerful and persuasive advocate. I know that he is rightly looked upon as the greatest of my race. I know his unrivalled influence over the people of my land. It may be that this is about the last time I may have to address this House. I am perfectly certain of this, that whatever be the fate of myself or of my Friends in the coming struggle, our action will be justified, and that very soon.
§ Sir JOHN LONSDALE
I do not intend on this occasion to enter into a discussion of the details of the scheme which the Government has outlined to the House. My purpose in rising is simply to make the strongest protest I can against any proposal to exclude Ireland from this scheme. I maintain that the Government have no right to exclude any part of the United Kingdom from the duties of a great Imperial obligation such as this. When I asked the Prime Minister some weeks ago if his pledge with regard to calling out single men before the married men applied equally to all parts of the United Kingdom, the right hon. Gentleman replied:—My statement did not discriminate between local areas.It is true the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—There is every reason to hope that it will not be necessary to propose legislation for any part of the United Kingdom.1037 Apparently the Prime Minister's hope has not been realised. As he has found it necessary to propose legislation, I claim that, as his pledge did not discriminate between local areas, so there should be no such discrimination in the fulfilment of the pledge. The Government will be making a very grave mistake if they pay too much attention to the opinions which have been expressed by the leaders of Nationalist Members in this House. On this occasion the Nationalist Members do not represent the opinions of other sections of people in their own constituencies. I do not believe that the Irish soldiers, who have done such valiant service in this War, and who have covered themselves with everlasting glory, will hesitate to apply compulsion to the young men at home who refuse to do their duty. I do not believe that the relatives and friends of the soldiers at the front have any great feeling of tenderness for the young men who decline to come to the help of those already in the field. Those two classes, soldiers and their friends, represent a very large section of the Irish people. I say that the Nationalist Members are not entitled to speak for them on this occasion. They certainly do not speak for the people of Ulster, who bitterly resent being excluded from a duty which is placed upon the shoulders of all patriotic citizens of Great Britain. Ulster has a right to be heard in this question.
I think it is time that the House should know the part which Ulster has taken in raising men for the New Army since the War began. At the end of October General Friend, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland, stated that since the beginning of the War Ireland had contributed 81,000 recruits to the New Army. During the month of November we were informed by the Lord Lieutenant that 7,000 additional recruits were obtained. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford adds 81,000 and 7,000 together, and gets 100,000. I make it 88,000. That was the total number of recruits obtained in Ireland up to the end of November. What we have never been told officially is how many of those recruits came from Ulster and how many from the rest of Ireland. Why has this information been suppressed? I think we are entitled to have it published. At all events, I believe it is the fact that from the beginning of the War down to the end of October last Ulster has contributed nearly two-thirds of the recruits that have been obtained in Ireland. The City of Belfast, which contains less than 1038 400,000 inhabitants, has given as many men to the Army as the three provinces, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, put together. That is not all. In November last the Lord Lieutenant conducted a recruiting campaign throughout Ireland. Every effort was made to bring local influence to bear in order to induce the men to come forward. The Lord Lieutenant, as the hon. and learned Member for Waterford said this afternoon, asked for 10,000 men as an instalment of 50,000 men which Lord Kitchener said would be needed to keep the Irish regiments up to full strength during the coming year. Instead of 10,000 recruits the Lord Lieutenant got 7,000, or 3,000 less than the number required.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
I am speaking now to the end of November. The Lord Lieutenant made the statement in December. Every effort, as I have said, was made to bring forward local influence to bear on the local men. Notwithstanding all those efforts only 7,000 men were obtained up to the end of November. I do not think it will be denied that Ulster contributed a very large proportion—more than her proportion, having regard to her population than the rest of Ireland. There are one or two facts which in justice to Ulster should be mentioned. The House knows that Ulster has sent a complete division to the front. I should like to emphasise the fact that the division was complete, complete in all its parts, and the reserves for this division, I may say, are now being raised by the enlistment of Ulster men only. So there is no need to bring the Ulster Division up to strength by the importation of battalions from Great Britain. I may also say that there are enough Lister men scattered throughout the other divisions in other regiments to make another complete division if they were only brought together. Let me give another fact to show the part which Ulster is taking in this War. There are three Irish regiments which have their homes in. Ulster, and which have Ulster as a recruiting ground, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Those three regiments have between them thirty-nine battalions, and others are now in process of formation. There are five Irish regiments raised outside of Ulster, and those have between them thirty-seven battalions, or two less than the three regiments raised 1039 in Ulster. I make no apology for mentioning these facts to the House, because they show that Ulster has a right to be heard upon this question which we are now discussing. I say, without any hesitation, that the demand of the overwhelming majority of the people of Ulster is that there shall be no separation between Ireland and Great Britain on this or any other question. We want to stand in with the United Kingdom, we want to stand in with the rest of the United Kingdom, to share all the obligations as well as all the rights of citizenship.
Why should Ireland be excluded? There are, so far as I can see, only two possible grounds upon which exclusion could be justified. The first is that there are no men of military age left in Ireland. That cannot be maintained for a moment. Two or three months ago, in October, I think, the Lord Lieutenant stated that there were in Ireland, after a year of war, 36,510 males of military age, who were described as rendering domestic and ill-defined service or persons without occupation. Of those, 23,481 were unmarried. In the trading and commercial classes, the males of military age numbered 36,510. Apart from farmers, working their own farms, there were 120,726 farmers' sons, of whom 119,281 were unmarried, and there were 97,651 labourers, of whom 77,242 were unmarried. There you have a quarter of a million of men of military age and unmarried, and a very large proportion of whom might very well be spared from the work which they are now doing in Ireland. But only an inconsiderable minority have enlisted voluntarily. The Irish "reservoir of" recruitable men, as the Prime Minister has put it was full, but we cannot get that constant stream of recruits which is needed without some measure of compulsion.
That brings me to the second possible ground for exempting Ireland, and that is that the voluntary enlistments were so large and so constant that compulsion was unnecessary. I have already pointed out that the Lord Lieutenant's special effort in November produced 3,000 recruits less than the minimum required. There is no prospect whatever of obtaining by voluntary means the 1,100 recruits a week which the military authorities have stated to be the minimum required to keep the Irish regiments up to strength, and unless measures are taken to bring home to the young men of Ireland a realisation of their 1040 duty, we shall see the Irish regiments, except those which have their home in Ulster, Irish only in name. I regard the proposal to exempt Ireland from the obligation to military service as most humiliating to the people of Ireland. It is a most unexampled slur upon their patriotism. In the days of compulsory service, under the Militia Ballot Acts, Ireland took her place alongside Great Britain and took an equal share in her military service. The differentiation now to be made for the first time in military matters really means—and this view is largely expressed in scores of letters that I have received—the degradation of Ireland. If it is done with the object of preserving the appearance of unity, all I can say is that it is the greatest blow that could be struck against the real unity of this Kingdom and Empire. If it is contended that compulsion cannot be applied to Ireland because there is no National Register there, my reply is that the Irish Unionists were not to blame for the absence of a register. We strongly opposed the exclusion of Ireland from the obligation to register. But our opposition of course, was overruled. The Chief Secretary told us then that registration in Ireland was quite unnecessary, because he was well supplied with all the information that a National Register could provide. As a matter of fact, the figures supplied by the Lord Lieutenant, which I have just quoted. as to the number of unmarried men in Ireland, prove that the authorities have all the particulars to their hand, and that compulsion might be applied without any difficulty.
What will be the position of Ireland if this proposal is adhered to? She will become the refuge of the shirker. It has already been noted that the number of young men returning to Ireland from Great Britain has largely increased during the last few weeks, and unless drastic measures are taken to prevent this migration the Government will lose many recruits whom they might otherwise obtain under their scheme. It seems to me that if they persist in their intention to exclude Ireland they will have to set up a passport system treating Ireland as a foreign country. That is carrying the policy of separation to a far greater extent than was contemplated even in the Home Rule Bill.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
We shall see later on. The Government have no right to ask us to as-sent to any proposal of this kind. The reasons for the comparative failure of voluntary recruiting in the Nationalist parts of Ireland are not far to seek, but I do not think any useful purpose would be served by discussing them now. I must, however, protest against a statement made on more than one occasion in this House and in Ireland by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon)—that Ireland has done her duty and more than her duty.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
The statement cannot be justified as long as a single Irish regiment is wanting in its reserves.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
You ought to find that out, as you are of a very inquisitive turn of mind. I hope the Government will disregard both the threats and the appeals of hon. Members below the Gangway and insist on bringing Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. If they do that I can promise them the hearty approval of the people of Ulster, and I believe they will also receive the not unwilling support of a large majority in the rest of the country.
§ Mr. DILLON
I think the hon. Member who has just addressed the House was very ill-advised in using this Debate to bring up these old domestic controversies which I think nearly every Member of this House had hoped would be allowed to sleep until the War was over.
§ Mr. DILLON
This question of whether or not Ireland has done her duty is rather an ungenerous question to be raised, particularly by an Irishman. I do not know whether the hon. Member calls himself an Irishman; I have heard that he is only an Irishman in name.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
You have heard nothing of the kind. The hon. Member has no right to make a statement of that kind; it is wholly untrue.
§ Mr. DILLON
The question would have been much better untouched during this War. I have figures here which, if I cared 1042 to go through them—I shall refer to one or two—would convince every hon. Member that Ireland has done her duty. If I were disposed, as I am not, to follow the hon. Member over the old familiar grounds of controversy, I think I could convince even hon. Gentlemen sitting above the Gangway that Ireland, if you pay fair consideration to her pa t history, has done more than her duty by you during this War. We all remember what was one of the main causes of the War. The time will come when we will be in a position to prove to what extent it was the cause— that the Governments of Germany were led to believe, and had solid grounds for believing, that Civil War was imminent in Ireland, that England was out of action, and that if they struck at a particular hour—that terrible and fatal hour in July, 1914—the Irish people would rise behind them and cripple your sword-arm. The Irish people, in spite of a long and bitter history—and make no mistake about it we have had a very serious responsibility to discharge in this matter, we have had a great many difficulties in our path, and those difficulties have been aggravated by many things to which I do not care to refer to-night—have arisen, but it was not to strike down your sword-arm; it was to stand by your side as loyal allies. I am amazed that there should be found any Irishman, even from Ulster, here to-night after Suvla, and after you and the French Armies depended upon the right arm of the Connaught Rangers. I do not think we have failed the English Army in her hour of trial. Who were the troops that saved the situation at Lake Doiran the other day? [An HON. MEMBER: "The Inniskillings!"] Yes, the Inniskillings, the Connaught Rangers, and the Dublins; they fought side by side in a very different spirit from that displayed by the hon. Member. I hope and trust and believe that when those Irishmen go to the trenches to face the enemy it is not that spirit they carry with them.
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. Member said nothing of the kind. He said that Ireland had not done her duty. However, we will see by the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning; now he is trying to wriggle out of it. I say that in this matter Ireland has done her duty. The hon. Member said in the course of his speech—a very ungenerous and untimely speech—that in some of the Irish regiments there were Englishmen. What about the English regiments? What about the Scottish regiments? What about the Gordon Highlanders? What about the Lancashire regiments? What about the Tyneside regiments, where, it is said, two or three battalions are purely Irish? You cannot take up—and I stand by this, the ultimate and supreme test—you cannot take up from the beginning of this War down to this hour a single casualty list where the Irish do not come out in far greater proportion than their numbers would justify.
§ Mr. DILLON
Well, you said so in a very ungracious spirit. No, Sir, the Irish have had to go into this War under circumstances of very peculiar difficulty, and with a long and bitter record behind them. Yet I venture to say that they have done their duty, and that they have added one more chapter to the glorious history of their race. The hon. Member went into figures. Really I do not care to follow him, but they were incorrect. They really were not calculated to give a true impression of the numbers who have joined the Colours since the War broke out. Up to 15th December last 91,555 recruits had joined Lord Kitchener's Army. That is in addition to those in the Regular Army before war broke out, the Reservists and the Special Reserve. Of those new recruits 50,196 are Irish Roman Catholics and 41,353 are Protestants. That does not show that Ulster has supplied the great majority, as the hon. Member says. As a matter of fact it has not supplied the majority of recruits.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
In the first place, I must ask hon. Members to address me, and not one another; and, in the second place, I must 1044 ask the hon. Baronet to listen to the other side of the case when he has stated his own.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Am I not justified in rising to correct the misrepresentation which the hon. Member made?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member may think it is a misrepresentation, and the hon. Member speaking may consider it the other side of the case.
§ Mr. DILLON
It is with great reluctance that I have gone into this matter at all, because I dislike it very much. But when charges are made that the Nationalist part of Ireland has not done its duty, I feel I am bound in justice to my countrymen, in justice to this House, in justice to myself, and in view of the maintenance of the good understanding between the two peoples—which is of infinite value—to show that the statement is not correct. I am just going to give these figures which, I may add, are the figures for the whole number of men serving on 15th December. In the Regular Army, before the War broke out, the number of Irish Roman Catholics was 14,000, and of Protestants 6,000. The number of Special Reservists was 6,000 Roman Catholics and 3,000 Protestants. The number of Reservists who joined the Colours in Ireland was 12,000 Catholics against 5,000 Protestants. Of the number who have joined the New Armies since, 50,000 were Catholics and 41,000 Protestants. The total number going from Ireland and serving in the Army at the present moment— I am not taking into account, but allowing for casualties—is 142,000. Therefore, I say that it is quite untrue to say that Nationalist Ireland in this matter, in spite of all she has passed through, has not done her duty. I have only alluded to the religion of the soldiers because in a rough and ready way I do not accept that division myself—it has been taken as a test of their politics, and it shows that the Nationalist part of the population have done their duty.
Before I pass away from this subject let me point to one other matter on which great misunderstanding exists. It is really very terrible that these questions are raised at all, but hon. Members will readily understand how the case lies. It is notorious that not only in Ireland, but equally in this country, the cities and 1045 towns have contributed a much larger proportion of the population to the Army than have the rural districts. There are many reasons for that. In certain parts of Great Britain —take, for instance, Devon and Cornwall and other parts—the proportion of recruits is very much less to the total population than in the cities and manufacturing districts. I confidentially assert from what I have heard from recruiting officers who have been in both countries, that if you compare the rural districts in Ireland with the rural districts in Great Britain the comparison is very favourable. England and Scotland are countries with manufacturing districts and cities. So Belfast, Larne, and Portadown have contributed enormously as compared with the rural district in Ulster. But so it is with Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Clonmell, down to the smallest village in Ireland. They will stand comparison with this country or any Lancashire town in regard to the proportion of the population they have sent. This question, therefore, is to be analysed and examined with regard to the conditions of the population before you can decide it. We have done our best to answer the appeals made by the Lord Lieutenant and we have answered them, and the right hon. Gentleman was not just to what Ireland has done, because the Lord Lieutenant made an appeal for 10,000 men for immediate necessities, and he has got the 10,000 men and more. He then appealed for a steady flow of 1,000 or 1,100 a week, which he said, and General Friend said, would be sufficient to meet the necessities of drafts, and I think probably he will get them. We are certainly doing our best to get them, but I feel bound to say, although I do not intend at this moment to enlarge on the subject, that this Conscription controversy has thrown enormous difficulties in the path of the Lord Lieutenant and all of us who are endeavouring to carry on recruiting in Ireland. When the hon. Member talks about Ireland being insulted by being left out of this Bill, I can assure him that Ireland, neither North nor South, will be in the least degree insulted. I think it was rather calculated to insult the Irish people to tell them that they require a Conscription Bill in order to go into a fight. When in the history of Ireland was it found necessary to bring compulsion to bear on the Irish people to bring them up to the fight? When we look back to the past history of Nationalist Ireland in the old days when the wild geese left Ireland, 1046 when, rather than submit to the Prussianism you exercised in Ireland in those days and be your slaves, 400,000 of the best and bravest of our race crossed the seas and turned the tide against you on the battlefields of Europe, when 400,000 of the best men in Ireland died for France. In those days it did not take a Conscription Bill to bring them across to fight at Fontenoy and all the other battlefields, when your Kings cursed the laws which deprived them of such subjects. The Irish have never wanted a Conscription Bill to bring. them on to battle, and if you had treated Ireland justly, if you had not decimated our fields and dwindled our population, it is not 120,000 or more men you would have fighting your battles, but you could have had half a million for the asking, and half a million of the best soldiers that ever held a rifle in their hands. No, you want no Conscription Acts to bring the Irish to battle. What you do want is management and kindly treatment and sympathy, and I promise you that if Conscription had been tried on in Ireland you would not have got many recruits. It would have been a. very unprofitable game, and the Government have been very wise to let the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Government handle it according to their own judgment.
We are now engaged in discussing an all-important political proposal to this. country. Like the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, I view this thing from the point of view of necessity and expediency and the peculiar circumstances. I would not hesitate to support Conscription to-morrow if I thought it were necessary to maintain liberty, and if there were not Conscription we ran the risk of losing the War. But here are we asked to undo and depart from the unbroken tradition of 200 years of English history on which the whole basis and structure of our social system has been erected, which has made us the envy of the world, and made this country, particularly in recent years, the main hope and, as it were, the meter of liberty-lovers all over the world. We are asked—and the Americans are watching us; closely—to depart from our voluntary system, and to declare to the world that it is bad and unable to carry us through this War. We are asked, practically, by the Prime Minister to do this thing blindfold, simply because he was trapped into making a pledge, and we are asked without a single shred of reason given to the House of Commons. I listened to the speech of the Prime Minister with the most intent attention. There is no greater 1047 master in stating a case in this country or in any other country; but the only reason that he could adduce was that he had given a pledge and must redeem it. He ought never to have given that pledge. I believe he was trapped into it. But, even accepting the position created by the pledge, I say the statement made by the ex-Home Secretary is unanswerable—that the circumstances contemplated in the speech of 2nd November had never arisen, and that that pledge was a double pledge—one given to the men who are in favour of Conscription, and the other contained in the passage read out by the late Home Secretary to those who hate Conscription and are voluntaryists, in which he said that only when all the exemptions had been made and the list reduced down to the residuum of men who, without a bare excuse, had refused to come in, that then, and then only, would the pledge come into operation. That has not been done, and we are asked to accept this revolution without getting, as I say, any real reason in the course of this Debate. The Prime Minister did not even say he considered it necessary for the winning of the War. The Secretary of State for the Colonies supplemented that by saying that he considered it necessary, but I listened to his speech, and I heard no information calculated to justify the extraordinary and revolutionary step which we are called upon to take.
I think we are entitled to ask a question. I read a statement the other day in the "Times," and we must look upon this statement in the "Times," as semi-official. It was announced in the "Times," I think on the 28th of last month, that on his arrival from Glasgow the Minister of Munitions called at 10, Downing Street and delivered an ultimatum. Is that a fact? Is it a fact that before the Cabinet decided on this question they were threatened with the resignation of the Minister of Munitions? This newspaper, which is unquestionably the master of the Government—it is all very fine for hon. Members above the Gangway to laugh at that statement, but it boasts as the master of the Government, and there was set out last week, both in the columns of the "Daily Mail" and the 'Times," a long statement of the policies they recommended and the way in which the Prime Minister obeyed their instructions.
§ Mr. DILLON
No, it was a statement in the "Times." They did not spare the Prime Minister or the Government any humiliation, because here is a statement taken from their Parliamentary correspondent of the 28th and 29th December as a result of the Cabinet's discussion. They were describing Cabinet meetings of which they had published what, I believe, to be an accurate account. Subsequent results go far to show that. The report reads:—As a result of their discussion, and more perhaps as a result of reflection, and the firm attitude of some of the members on the previous day.In other words, the "Times" boasts of this, and it boasts that this was arrived at, not under free discussion, but under the shadow of a threat of the firm attitude of some of the members of the Cabinet. That is what we are faced with. This House and this country, in considering this extraordinary situation, cannot and ought not to dismiss from its mind the circumstances under which this House has been manœuvred into the position which it occupies to-day. We are asked to consent to the principle of Conscription. One of the newspapers supporting this Bill said the other day:—Of course at present it would be inconvenient to proceed to a general measure of Conscription, but the principle will be affirmed in this Bill.There you have the whole secret and key of the situation, and I ask any hon. Member above the Gangway, Will anyone of them stand up here and say frankly that they are satisfied with this Bill? They will do nothing of the kind. Do you imagine that what the Prime Minister said to-day has any foundation when he stated that this is the end of the matter and the close of the chapter? It is nothing of the kind, and no sooner will this Bill begin to operate than the absurdity of it will become manifest, and you will have a clamour in the Northcliffe press for a genuine measure of compulsion to apply equally, honestly and impartially between different individuals and different classes. I warn hon. Members that that clamour will be irresistible, because this Bill is based upon the grossest and most unworkable system that was ever devised. Never in the history of the world was there a Conscription Bill proposed on such lines as these. This measure proposes to take all unmarried men, without reference to circumstances, up to forty years of age. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Yes, it takes them under the group system before any married man is touched, even if he be 1049 twenty years of age and has no children, although in justice a young married man without children is very often far better able to join the Army, even if he has dependants. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is exempted if he has dependants!"] That is all very fine, but if you exempt all those who have dependants you will exempt three-fourths of the whole number. In the North of England, the other day, my information was that the working classes have come forward exhaustively in this matter.
Let me take the position which applies to tens of thousands. Take a young man who has just made a home for himself, who has postponed marriage from motives of prudence, and, perhaps, he has a mother or sister dependant upon him. He has got a home, he is subject to rent, taxation, and obligations that he cannot shake off, and to him it is torture and horror to join the Army, not because he is a coward, but because while he is in the trenches his mother and sister may be thrown upon the streets in order to obtain the rent. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is the moratorium!"] When the Bill comes on you will have a chance of deciding whether the moratorium shall apply to all these cases. That covers a good many of what some men are pleased to call the "slackers." There is another consideration that ought to weigh with the House a great deal in this matter. I do not dwell upon the unity of the nation, although it is a great factor in this question. The whole world is now fixing its attention upon this question, and no one can read foreign newspapers without being convinced that the impression conveyed to the world is the reverse of what the "Daily Mail" and the "Times" allege. The impression conveyed is that we are having recourse to this step because England is not able to put a sufficient Army into the field. The impression conveyed is that a large section of the English race are cowards, and you have told the world what I believe to be a gross falsehood and libel on your own race. I believe that the number of cowards and "slackers" in this country is extremely trifling, and, if that is so, why should you placard this business to the world, and risk division amongst people who have been so happily united up to the present moment? Why should you do this for the sake of a few cowards? This is a most unfortunate departure, and the more it is discussed and considered the more that fact will be realised.
1050 Supposing you were to accept the principle of compulsion. As I have already said, you cannot dream of stopping at this ridiculous, lop-sided, unequal, and. unjust Bill, and you must go on and imitate Germany and France, and have a. complete, coherent, and defensible system of compulsion. Let me say that, in my opinion, all our misfortunes, such as they have been in the present War, have never been due up to the present either to want of men or to the quality of the men who have been sent out. We have had as many men and more men than the Government were able to arm. We listened in the House the other day to the blood-curdling-speech delivered by the Minister of Munitions. I have sat in this House many years, and I never heard in my experience a leader denounce a Government in power with such vehemence and bitterness as the Minister of Munitions denounced his own colleagues on that occasion. But what is the moral of that speech? You sent our men to France in tens of thousands and in superabundant numbers, but you left them to be slaughtered for want of guns. You did not give them enough artillery or machine guns, and according to the Minister of Munitions, the War Office never found out that machine guns were required until the Prime Minister went out and inspected the trenches.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
That is not the case.
§ Mr. DILLON
Then why did the Minister of Munitions state it in my own hearing? That is a nice Government to conduct the War! That was exactly what I was coming to. The fault lies not with the want of men, and surely to God not with the bravery of the men who have volunteered, but it lies with the higher-direction of the War. It lies with the officers who led our regiments at Suvla without artillery or a single gun, and who hurled them to death on the slopes of those hills which they would have carried, and which would have enabled them to get to Constantinople had they been decently led. I tell you that before this Bill is passed into law we will demand their blood at the hands of the Government. Before you send conscripts to the War in Flanders or in the Balkans we must democratise the British Army, and have some-assurance that we shall have men to lead us who will not lead us to death in this War. The time has come 1051 when it must be said frankly that the Government and the War Office are seeking to unload on the people of this country their own faults and failures. No, it is not the men who have been wanting, but the leadership, the brains of the officers, the artillery and the guns. How are you going to remedy that? What about the leadership at Suvla? What about Lake Doiran, where the Irish regiments for three weeks were detained in spite of repeated telegrams that they would be surrounded? What about Doiran, where at least 10,000 Irishmen, with some English regiments, had to stand up against 80,000 Bulgarians because they were not allowed to retire in time, and who defended their position successfully, although they were surrounded on three sides, and it was only the mercy of Providence and the dauntless bravery of these men that prevented one of the greatest catastrophes of the War? What is the use of throwing a veil over all these proceedings and turning round now and saying it is the slackers at home? It is not the slackers at home; it is the incompetent officers in the field. If you intended to have Conscription in this country, the first step you should have taken was to have cleared out the British War Office. The worst of it all is that, according to the rumours which we hear, there is no confidence in this country that the officers guilty or responsible for these disasters will be withdrawn. We have, "unfortunately, only too good reason to suspect and to fear that the British Army is to-day, as it has been in the past, to everyone's knowledge, permeated with society interest. Any man who has got a good strong pull in London society here may blunder and blunder again quite safely, and spill the blood of gallant men owing to his incompetence. He is all right, because his friends here will see 'him through. Therefore, I say, it is a monstrous thing that we should be called upon to discuss this question, and that we should be diverted from these really important matters of the War by the Government raising and seeking to shield themselves behind the obligations of the alleged slackers, with whose existence I largely disagree.
There is another objection, and a very serious objection, to this proposal of Conscription. We all know perfectly well, even those who are not entirely behind the scenes, what took place last winter. In the first rush of recruits some of us 1052 urgently represented to the War Office that the men who came in should be put on half-pay and should be sent back to their homes until there were blankets to put over them, knives and forks with which to feed them, or anything but the very ground for them to lie upon. At the very outbreak of the War enthusiasm was damped down by the very fact of the War Office blundering. To my knowledge some poor fellows lost their lives by the cold and wet and hardship to which they were uselessly exposed in the camps of this country. Not only was it useless, but it was mischievous. Every one of us knows that in many of these camps they were huddled together in the most abject discomfort, with the result that the whole spirit was taken out of them, and we know that the great thing with troops is to keep them in good spirits and to give them confidence in the officers who are to lead them and in the Government over them. That is the reason why recruiting fell off, that and the action of the "Daily Mail." In the early days you had not arms for them. Why, my God, the Irish Division was six months in training without a rifle; within a fortnight of the time they went to France and were sent to the trenches they had not their rifles. I knew nothing about these things at all until I went down to visit the Irish troops and I was shown them, but the modern rifle is a most complicated weapon, and in order to use it effectively you require weeks and months of training. The War Office did not put them into their hands, except for a few rifles for each company. You sent them to France without Artillery, and you landed the 10th Division at Suvla without a single gun. The Artillery was so bad that I was told they left it at Alexandria, and they had to fight that awful battle without a gun, without water, and under circumstances in which no troops in the world had ever been sent into action.
I want to know this: The Government have never told us whether they are in a position to-day to officer and train and equip these men they are now adding to the Army. Why, therefore, I ask myself, this extraordinary hustling and hurrying about the introduction of this Bill? The difficulty pointed to by the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Bonar Law) cannot arise for six months, even assuming that the married men have to be released from their pledge. Supposing on investigation the number of those unmarried men who had not volunteered turned 1053 out to be serious, the crisis would not arise for six months. You have plenty in the other groups, including those who have volunteered and have gone right into the Army; you have more than the War Office can deal with for the next six months. Why, therefore, this extraordinary hurry to rush this contentious Bill through the House? The crisis will not arise for six months, and the only point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies cannot arise for the next six months. Why, therefore, cannot you take time to really scientifically investigate this question? If, then, the Prime Minister comes down with unchallengeable facts and figures and says the crisis is upon us, he will certainly receive a different reception than this Bill is likely to meet.
There must therefore be some sinister purpose behind this hurry, apart altogether from any military necessity. I cannot exclude from my mind the conviction that in addition to the desire that exists among some Members in this House to get in the thin end of the wedge and to commit the House—openly stated in the Conscriptionist Press—the Government, and especially the Prime Minister, to the principle of compulsion, there is another purpose. We have been witnesses in this House to very remarkable scenes in connection with the great subject of munitions. Some of us who were silent spectators were greatly interested. Has it ever occurred to hon. Members on the Labour Benches how this thing will work out? This, if skilfully used, and it will be skilfully used, gives to a large extent the power which was sought in the original Munitions Bill and in the speeches which preceded it to turn the labour in munition factories, and now under the new amended Act in all the factories of this country wherever the Minister of Munitions chooses to extend the Bill, into conscript labour. Most of the men in the munition factories and in all the factories to which the Munitions Act is extended are starred men. If they are put out of the factory they go into the trenches. I would be very much surprised if that power is not used extensively in the factories of this country as a means of maintaining discipline. "You must obey your master and do everything he orders, or you go to the trenches." That, in the eyes of some people, may be a very good principle, but I am bound to say that it is an underhand and crooked way of arriving at the desired result.
1054 Let me turn for a moment to the last, although not the least important consequence of this proposal. The late Home Secretary (Sir J. Simon), in the course of his speech, drew attention to a matter which I think has not been sufficiently appreciated in this Debate. Under the Defence of the Realm Act it is a very serious offence, to be dealt with by court-martial or by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and one which involves severe terms of imprisonment with hard labour, to speak or agitate against recruiting. Does the Government propose now to make it an offence to speak or agitate against Conscription? That, I anticipate, will be the law, and I have here a first taste of it in a poster which has been sent to me from Birmingham. It is a poster against Conscription. It pointed out that Lord Kitchener recently appealed for help to secure 30,000 men per week for the Army, and Parliamentary Recruiting Committees appealed to men to come forward so that compulsion might be avoided. Then the poster goes on to say there is yet time for all those who value freedom of conscience and who believe in liberty, who are fighting this War as a war against militarism, to speak out and by concentrated action to save the country from the yoke of militarism. The poster boasts of the splendid response to Lord Kitchener's appeal, but the Birmingham censorship ordered that it should not be posted. Coming events cast their shadows before them, and I suppose after this Bill becomes law every meeting against Conscription will become an offence against the law. If so, I think there will be a good many men imprisoned, and I beg respectfully to suggest to the Government that that is not the way to promote the unity of this nation.
We are living in strange times, in very strange times, and I think that, in coming to final judgment on the merits of this Bill we cannot and we ought not to exclude from our minds the symptoms which we have observed in this House during the last few days, when a Minister of the Crown has used the censorship for one of the most outrageous, uncalled-for, and undreamt-of purposes which could possibly enter into man's mind, and when he has issued a circular to every newspaper in the United Kingdom to the effect that no news from Glasgow must be published while he is in that City, unless he himself allows the news to go out. Was that the purpose for which we gave the right of censorship? 1055 Did any Member who voted for giving that right ever dream that it would be used for such a purpose? One newspaper is seized for no other offence than publishing an account of a meeting which a member of this Government had ordered was only to be published in a censored form. Surely it is a strange condition of things and one rendered much more strange when we are faced by the fact that the Press are to take notice that, although they may pour every form of insult on the head of the Prime Minister, they are, as is the case with the Harmsworth Press day after day, perfectly safe as long as they confine their attacks to the Prime Minister. But if they say one word against the Minister of Munitions, if they even dare report a speech of his which he does not choose to have reported, then it is an offence.
I say, with these facts before us, we ought to be doubly cautious before we put into the hands of our Government the beginnings of a system which is at the root of all the misery and ruin which have been wrought in Europe by this War, because disguise it as we may, talk as we may about France and Conscription—a Conscription which has been introduced as a defence against the menace over her border —the root and source of all the misery of this War has been the fact that Prussian militarism, the sacrifice of the individual to the State, and the erection into a kind of god of military efficiency over the freedom of the people, has been spread by Prussia throughout Germany. That empire has been turned into a military machine, and because that machine has proved so effective this liberty-loving people, who have succeeded for centuries in maintaining their liberties without Conscription, is now prepared, in a thoughtless moment, and without any adequate attempt to prevent it, to part with all those glorious traditions, and to enter into that fatal path.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
I should like to deal with some of the remarks which have fallen from the last speaker, who has made an attack on the young officers of the British Army which I think was unjust, unchivalrous, and even cowardly. No officer is allowed to answer him. Most of those to whom he referred have already given up their lives in the attempt which he has condemned at Suvla Bay. Every officer who may have been accused of incompetence in that or in any 1056 other military operation since the War has commenced has been ordered out of the Army or relegated to a place more suitable to his capacity. There never was a time in the history of war when officers were more severely dealt with. There never was a time when a larger proportion of officers lost their lives while leading their men. There never was a time when officers were more democratic, because this is a war in which an officer lives with his men, and there is none of the feeling suggested by the hon. Member as between the rank and file and the officers.
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. and gallant Member has entirely misconceived my point. Does he deny that the division was landed at Suvla Bay without artillery? I am speaking of the men responsible for the blunders, and not of the officers.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member was speaking of the failure at Suvla Bay, and he said it was due to the incompetence of the officers. That, I say, was an attack on the officers. It was an attack by the hon. Member for East Mayo which was not fair to the gallant men who have gone down and made a last sacrifice for their country.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
If the hon. Member could give the name of any officer and could adduce any facts proving incompetency, he can depend upon it the case will be dealt with not generously but severely against the officer. I repeat there never was a time when the officers, from the latest joined second-lieutenant up to the Commander-in-Chief of the largest Army we have ever had, were more severely judged from day to day for their daily and almost hourly conduct, and for the hon. Member to make such a sweeping suggestion —
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. and gallant Member is really most grossly misrepresenting me. I complained of the men who were responsible for the blunders at Suvla Bay and Loos. Does the hon. and gallant Member say there were no blunders?
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
There never was a war, there never was a battle, without blunders. There never was any military operation without blunders, and I say the hon. Member for East Mayo has no right to charge men or officers with incompetence unless he is prepared to prove his case up to the hilt. There is nothing that endangers the morale of our Army more than to suggest that its senior officers, above all people, do not know their duties. If there have been cases those men must be removed. If the hon. Member knows of cases, he owes it to the Army to see that they are brought before the proper tribunal and that the officers are properly dealt with. The hon. Member for East Mayo, like many other Members of this House, who never raised a finger to help the Army in the days of peace and who condemned every shilling of expenditure ever spent on the Army, said that the War Office ought to be cleaned out. I know the War Office pretty well. I do not know one single mistake that has been attributed to the War Office that has not been due to neglect, the indifference and the antagonism of the House of Commons and of successive Governments who have sat on the Treasury Bench. The hon. Member spoke about the lack of rifles. There are documents piled up in the archives of the War Office which will be produced after this War by officers whose mouths are now closed to show that it was not owing to stupidity or incompetence on the part of any War Office official that we were short of rifles when the War broke out. Memoranda are there urging successive Governments, Liberal as well as Tory, to lay up large stores of rifles, artillery, shells, and maxims, but the House of Commons would not vote a shilling more than the fixed amount which each successive Minister of War was compelled to submit to the House under pressure from his own colleagues in the Cabinet.
Do not blame the War Office. I know it is so easy to throw blame on to the soldiers who cannot say a word, but I would remind the House, and especially those who never raised a finger to help the soldier and who never made a speech in favour of the Army until the compul- 1058 sion of public opinion dragged them on to the platform weeks after the War broke out, and I would remind those of my own party who are wrecking whatever is left of Liberalism in this country in their attitude towards the Munitions Act and towards this necessary measure that they are more responsible for the want of ammunition and for the want of artillery than is any soldier. The Army was never as large as the military authorities said it was necessary it should be. We never had the rifles, ammunition, or artillery or anything else connected with the Army which the military advisers of the Government thought it was necessary to have. The answer has always been, "Here are your many millions of money to spend on your Army. You have got to make your Army suit the Estimate, for this is as much as the House of Commons will give you." That was always the consideration. I can remember, and those who honoured the House with attendance during Army Debates before the War can remember, that when an Army Estimate was on this House was a desert, and nobody except those personally or otherwise interested in the Army cared a brass farthing so long as the Estimate did not exceed the necessary number of millions laid down by the Cabinet.
The Cabinets of both parties are to be condemned for gross negligence in the years preceding this frightful War, so that if you are going to blame anybody, do not blame the War Office. It is not composed of politicians; it is composed of administrative soldiers who can only carry out what they are permitted to carry out by this the House of Commons of the Realm. They can only spend the money given them to spend. They cannot buy one rifle, they cannot buy one machine gun more than this House permits them to buy. If, when war breaks out and there is a shortage of rifles and the War Office is condemned, I say that the condemnation falls on the heads of those in this House who opposed every increase in the grant for these necessary things. Wait until the archives of the War Office are opened after this War! It will not be the soldiers who will come off second best; it will be the politicians. Make no mistake about that. I myself found in the War Office, on the first occasion I had the honour to be there, men who had spent most of their military lives in endeavouring to bring our Army up to a state of efficiency, 1059 and, such as it was, it was the most efficient Army that ever took the field. Most of those men who were at the War Office whom you condemn have paid the last price and made the last sacrifice. They are dead in Gallipoli or in France. The War Office, as it existed at the outbreak of the War, no longer exists. Not 10 per cent. of the officers who were there then are there now. They are dead. I say this with all seriousness and knowing the facts. Most of them are dead through want of ammunition, cannon and machine guns denied them by the House of Commons. Make no mistake about that! The frightful battle of Ypres occurred over a year ago now, yet you can still see the bodies sticking out of the mud. You can see the grizzled hands of English soldiers anywhere along the Ypres salient sticking up out of the mud at point after point, indicating the death of men who went down before German artillery and machine guns, with one cannon to their twenty and one machine gun to their one hundred. Whose fault was that? Not that of the soldiers at the War Office. They foresaw this campaign; they warned successive Governments of the campaign; they advocated the supply of machine guns, cannons and rifles, but the House of Commons laughed at them. On the question of this War I hope that nobody will condemn the War Office. It is so easy to say, "Clean out the War Office," as the hon. Member for East Mayo said. But who is he going to put in their places?
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
The War Office is the instrument of the House of Commons, not its master. If there is any fault attributable to the War Office it is really attributable to this House, which has neglected the Army persistently and regularly from year to year ever since I have been in public life in this country and in this House. It is notorious that the treatment of the Army is one of the shabbiest pages in British history prior to the outbreak of this War. The treatment 1060 of soldiers and officers alike was one of the meanest chapters in the history of this House before the War.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Can the hon. and. gallant Gentleman tell me one occasion on which the House of Commons refused any Vote put forward by any Government?
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
Yes; the last Army Estimates that came before the House dealt with the question of reducing the Artillery of the British Army by 150 guns.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
Yes; it was introduced by the Minister for War. The majority of the House of Commons supported that reduction. [An HON. MEMBER: "The War Office!"] The War Office represented by a Minister in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "How did you vote?"] I did not vote for that reduction.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was replying to some remarks of the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon). Of course it is not strictly relevant to the Bill, but I understood it was in reply to something which had been already said.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman at that end of the House is saying, and I do not care. My remarks have been addressed to certain reflections which I understood the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) to make—first, upon certain officers of the British Army, and, secondly, upon the War Office; and as I have had the honour of being engaged at different times at the War Office, and know the working of that institution, I should indeed be a poor officer and a poor War Office official if I allowed the opportunity to pass without giving my views of the working of that institution, and of the sacrifices of the officers in the War Office from the date of the War till now. Now let me come to the actual Bill before the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I can quite understand that the remarks I have made are not palatable to certain hon. Members. They can depend upon it they 1061 will hear them with greater insistence as the months go on. The hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) suggested first, that the Prime Minister should not have made the pledge at all, and, secondly, that he was trapped into making it. The hon. Member knows that the Prime Minister is not a likely person to be trapped into doing anything he does not think is in the best interests of his country at the time. I treat the pledge of the Prime Minister as more important than the opinion of all the rest of the Cabinet. The pledge of the Prime Minister in reference to the Welsh Church, for instance, is a domestic matter. The pledge of the Prime Minister in reference to troops is an international obligation with our Allies. It is an obligation that he could not go back on without running grave risk of serious cleavage between us and our Allies with us in the field. They take it for granted that when he speaks of a matter involving troops or expenditure he speaks for his Cabinet, and I for one very much regret that he does not speak for a united Cabinet. I wish he would realise that his support would be the stronger in this House if he spoke for a united Cabinet. Those who do not agree with him would not lessen his strength if they separated from him. His word in reference to troops must be kept.
Let me say one other thing. To suggest that the Prime Minister should whittle down his pledge, made in public, repeated in public and in this House, is, to my mind, to suggest that the Prime Minister of the realm, the first man in the Empire at the moment in reference to policy, a man representing the Kingdom, could never again be trusted in international affairs. Some would treat his word as if it were a scrap of paper. I must confess myself, when he says it is his business to fulfil his pledge, that is enough for me to support him in any way he sees fit to fulfil his pledge, but I hear hon. Members saying, "Set a limit to your troops, tell us how many men you want, and how 'many you have got." How is it possible for the Prime Minister to set a limit to the troops we need? How does anyone in this House know whether or not Greece is with us or against us to-morrow or whether Rumania will be at our back the month after; whether some of these neutral Powers who are getting rich at our expense will be with us or against us? Who can fix limits to this War? Who can fix limits to the number of troops demanded? The one thing essential, and I submit this is the 1062 view of every soldier I ever met at home or abroad, is to make it clear to every enemy, or any would-be enemy who may be tempted by our hesitancy to come in against us, that this Government, this House and this country, will spend every sovereign, will arm and put into the field every man, before it will give in and before it will consider any question of peace whatever. No one but the Prime Minister and those enjoying his confidence, and his military and naval advisers, could tell the number of men required at this minute, or the number of men who may be required to-morrow, a month from now, six months from now, or a year from now. The point is to have the largest number possible earmarked, ready to be called up as required by the military needs, not to continue as we have done, sometimes for months at a time, when recruiting fell to zero, never knowing whether we should have sufficient men to carry on this operation or that operation. The hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) said there never was an operation in this War thwarted for want of men I will tell him one. We could not assist Serbia in time for want of men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Equipment!"] No, it was not equipment.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
We had sufficient equipment to assist Serbia if we had had the men. I give that as one case in point, a glaring case in which the want of men thwarted, I think, one of the most compelling necessities of this War—to assist our gallant Ally who has sacrificed more than any other Ally we have in this disastrous War. Remember that those of you who are most vehemently opposed to this Bill at the moment have been the most vigorous persons in persuading others to go to the front to fight. Do not forget that. Those men are there now, in the nerve-racking, weary business of trench fighting. They went there with the eloquent words of the Prime Minister, uttered in the early part of the War, ringing in their ears to the effect that we would never sheathe the sword until Belgium was free of the enemy, until the integrity of small nationalities was assured, and until we marched to triumphant victory. Every man who went to the front went with the idea that he would be supported to the last gasp in making 1063 for triumphant victory. If you refuse to bring in this Bill, to that extent you art deserting those men you encouraged to go.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
On that question of married men let me just say this. The point about the married men as against the single men is a vital point at the front. To send a married man whose wife and family are left here in England, instead of a single man is to add to the strain of a struggle which he is so heroically bearing from day to day the agony that comes from consideration for his wife and family, agony that never can come to a single man. I cannot understand people putting the two together in the same classes. I cannot understand any man advocating that the married man should go equally with the single men. The fact that millions of them have gone is a tribute to the splendid patriotism of these men, the vast majority of whom, so far as I can see, represent the pick of the working classes of this country. Any hesitancy in passing this Bill and doing something, as this Bill does, to equalise the burden of the agony of war, is not only, in so far as the Bill affects the question of recruiting, deserting the men who have already gone under the most glowing promises and persuasions of all of us, in this House and outside of it, but it is going to make them feel that the vigorous prosecution of the War is a secondary consideration, and that the fear of compulsion or the fear of the violation of a principle or a theory operates more in this House than the consideration of the men on our various fronts. Here in this House those who have not been in the trenches with soldiers do not realise the grim realities of war, and what a statement in this House from the Prime Minister or a statement from someone opposing the Prime Minister means to them. Hesitancy on our part means disheartenment to every soldier throughout our battle lines. It takes from him the splendid support that he always received in the earlier part of the War, and has continued to receive with greater pressure lately. Those Members who are going into the Lobby against the introduction of this Bill, because they think that it is the violation of a principle not justified by the possible results of compulsion, are setting themselves up to be better judges of the circumstances and the pressure of the need 1064 for recruits than those who, like the Prime Minister, know every detail of the circumstances. More than that, to vote against the measure is to vote against the Prime Minister's position as the First Minister of the Crown, and to tell him that he must not fulfil his pledge. [HON. MEMBERS dissented.] Certainly it is! He said, "I introduce this Bill because I am pledged to do it." To vote against it, is to say to the Prime Minister, "We withdraw from you our support and confidence."
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member for Coventry is entitled to vote as he likes, but I say that to withdraw from the Prime Minister, on a measure of this kind, the support he is entitled to in this crisis of the Empire is not only to wreck his influence at home, but to wreck his influence in our own Empire and among our own Allies, to hearten every enemy, and to dishearten every soldier who is doing his duty at the front.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I trust I shall say nothing to add to the bitterness of this Debate. I recognise the candour and the sincerity of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. He said many things that were extremely provocative, and I am not quite sure what title he has to speak on behalf of the War Office.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
I did not speak on behalf of the War Office. I never pretended to speak on behalf of the War Office, but I said I would be a poor soldier and a disloyal official of that Office if I allowed that institution to be besmirched without uttering my protest.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
My hon. and gallant Friend went much further than that. I do not know how long he has been in this intimate relation to the War Office, but he gave us to understand that he was familiar with all the details of the archives of the War Office.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am in the recollection of the House. He told us exactly what was going to happen when the archives of the. War Office were published. I am not going to pursue what I think is a side issue, but I want, in passing, to point this out. It is not for me, it would be gross presumption on my part if I attempted it, to explain or defend the words that have fallen from the hon. Member for East Mayo. The hon. Member is 1065 not only one of the greatest orators of the House, but one of the greatest Parliamentarians, and he is quite able to defend himself. I am sure that there is no Member of this House who has the least intention of casting any reflection upon the honour and bravery either of the officers or of the men of the British Army, and that would be the last thing that the hon. Member for East Mayo would do. He was speaking of the wisdom which has been displayed in the high commands with regard to certain operations that have cost the lives of thousands of officers and men, and he was asking whether it would be desirable that unlimited resources of men should be given to the same high commands without some assurance that the weaknesses which had been disclosed should be remedied and dealt with. But I pass from that because I want to go to the question of the Conscription Bill, the Motion for the introduction of which we are discussing. No Member of this party can rise to oppose this Bill without a deep feeling not only of responsibility but of the deepest possible regret. How can any Member of this party rise to oppose a Motion which is made by the Prime Minister without such feelings? But in rising to oppose this Bill, I do so with a feeling that there is no more loyal disciple of the, Prime Minister than I am in taking this course.
We resent the intrigues which have taken place against the Prime Minister. We resent the trap which has been laid for the Prime Minister. We resent the constant attacks, the slanderous statements, the mendacious statements which have been made in the Northcliffe Press from day to day about the Prime Minister. We resent these threats, and we say quite clearly that, although for the moment a most insidious policy appears to have been successful, the success of this, the first instalment of that policy, will not save the Prime Minister from the continuance of these intrigues and plots. Therefore we can say, those who are opposing this Bill, and belonging to the Prime Minister's party, that we are opposing it with entire loyalty to the Prime Minister; that we resent, we bitterly resent these attacks, these intrigues, directed, in this time of war, against the head of the Government.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
It is no good my hon. Friend asking that question. He has 1066 listened to this Debate and to other Debates; he has heard the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon); he has heard the statement that was made by the ex-Home Secretary a few days ago on the campaign of the Northcliffe Press; therefore, if he has attended to these Debates, and if he heard that indictment of the Northcliffe Press, he is fully aware of the answer to the question which he now asks me.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
This Bill is the result of the agitation of the Northcliffe Press. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] We are considering to-night, not the policy of the Government, but the policy of the Northcliffe Press, and I fully agree, if I may say so, with the hon. Member for East Mayo, that this is only the first instalment of the policy of the Northcliffe Press. A little later we shall be discussing the second instalment. I should like to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Bonar Law), which was made earlier, because I think there was one passage in that speech which ought to be examined. He was replying to the speech which was made by the hon. Member for Derby this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman taunted the hon. Member with the admission he had made that he thought with a General Election a majority in favour of Conscription might be returned. [An HON MEMBER: "Would be!"] And he taunted the hon. Member, therefore, with desiring to preserve the unity of the nation by the triumph of the policy of the minority. But what were the conditions, what was the General Election that the hon. Member for Derby referred to? He was referring, not only to a General Election, but to the special, peculiar and unique conditions under which a General Election would be held at the present time. Under what conditions would that election be held? Three or four millions of men would be unable to vote. The interests of all but the unmarried men have been cultivated in favour of this Bill, and the decision, therefore, of a General Election in which millions of voters were unable to record their votes would not be a test of the real feeling of the nation. The hon. Gentleman's remarks were intended to enforce the utter valuelessness of any such test as a guide to the real feeling of the country, so that 1067 I do not think it was quite fair of the right hon. Gentleman to use that special argument. We resist this Bill because we believe it to be unnecessary. We believe that the War has been the most splendid vindication of the voluntary system. We believe that the results attained so far could not have been attained under any other system. We believe that the country has met every demand upon it and is willing to meet every just demand upon it. We deplore that the unity of the nation, which is of such great value, should be sacrificed for a measure which is in no way necessary or desirable. My hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last made his appeal for more soldiers, for a greatly increased Army, but throughout the whole of his remarks he made no reference whatever to any of the other duties which fall upon this nation, but which do not fall upon the Allied Nations. We should have thought from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks that the only problem before us was to consider how to raise the largest possible number of men, without reference to any other consideration whatever. I refer the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the speech of the Prime Minister on 2nd November. The Prime Minister then made no such claim. The Prime Minister put before the House on that occasion, in the gravest possible language, the vital duties, apart altogether from the number of men in the field, which fell upon this nation. He said only when those vital needs are satisfied can we consider the part we can play with regard to the actual number of troops in the field. That was the substance of what he said. He went on to say that he did not believe any departure from the voluntary system would be necessary. He paid a glowing and eloquent tribute to the success of the voluntary system hitherto, and he spoke of the importance that he attached to the unity of the nation. I am quite sure the whole House, when it heard his remarks with regard to the question of the position of married men, realised that his reference to the question of the married men was governed, entirely governed, by all the considerations that he had set forth previously in that same speech.
I should like to consider the question of the Prime Minister's pledge a little further. When Lord Derby a few days after the speech of 2nd November issued his statement to the public, the matter was immediately raised in this House. 1068 The first Parliamentary opportunity was taken of showing that there was a grave discrepancy between Lord Derby's words and the words used by the Prime Minister on 2nd November, and in reply to many questions which were addressed to him on the day I am speaking of the Prime Minister reaffirmed the statement that he had made on 2nd November. I think, therefore, we are entitled to say that the speech of the Prime Minister stood together as a whole and that it is not possible to take one paragraph and isolate it from the whole of the considerations given in that speech. If it is urged to-day, as a result of the Report presented by Lord Derby that circumstances have arisen which require the Prime Minister's pledge to be redeemed, what is the objection to an inquiry? In this Report is presented a certain total of unattested single men. That total has been subjected by the ex-Home Secretary, in his brilliant speech, to a most critical analysis, which, in my humble judgment, has gone far to sweep away the claim for this Bill. As I understand it, the figure now given—300,000—is wholly in excess of the actual number of unattested single men available. We can find out the number only by an inquiry into the reasons which have prevented the unattested men from coming forward. I desire to ask the Government what reason is there, whether of haste or of policy, which prevents them, before proceeding with this Bill, from holding a judicial, and, if you like, a compulsory, inquiry into the reasons which have prevented the unattested single men from corning forward. For my part, I think the result of such an inquiry would be to destroy the case for the Bill. The ex-Home Secretary gave a number of reasons which prevented unattested men from coming forward. Those reasons were very weighty, but they were not exhaustive. May I put the case of the single man who. although he has not the responsibilities of a wife and family, yet has other responsibilities accompanied by financial obligations of which he cannot get rid? How is the claim of that man to be met? I do Members in favour of Conscription justice of remembering that when they have urged Conscription many of them have accompanied the demand with a request that there should be for the conscripted men a complete indemnity from financial claims of all sorts. This Bill does not give any indemnity. It will still be possible for these men with these obligations to be conscripted, and, whilst 1069 they are fighting in the trenches, for their possessions to be sold up by their creditors here and there dependants to be left in poverty and suffering. This is only one of the reasons, but I believe a very important one, which account for the pool that remains of unattested men. I think the claim has been established that the only just and right way of proceeding is, first of all, to ascertain the facts, to know not only how many men remain unattested for good reasons—at present it is an utterly unknown quantity—but what those reasons are. I hope there may yet be time for the Government to consider this policy. It involves no departure from either the letter or the spirit of the Prime Minister's pledge. There is no question of time which could operate, for the whole inquiry would be a very short one. I earnestly trust that this course may yet be followed.
I want to address to the right hon. Gentleman at present in charge of the House this further inquiry. I think we are entitled to know whether the Cabinet has come to any decision as to its policy in relation to the size of the Army—a matter of vital importance in this connection. Frequent reference has been made to the influence of the "Times" in connection with the policy of the Government and in connection with this Bill. I want to carry that matter a little further in the inquiry I am addressing to the Government on this specific point. For the first time, I suppose, in British history meetings of the Cabinet have been conducted under unusual circumstances. They have been followed by practically a verbatim report in the "Times." At least, the "Times" claims to print in its columns a correct description of what has occurred at the previous day's Cabinet. Therefore, for the past week at least, we have read in the "Times" of the matters which were under consideration, and of the decisions which were or which were not reached at the previous day's Cabinet meeting. There are other indications that these reports have been accurate—that, in fact, there has been a telephone from the Cabinet Council to the editorial chair of the "Times." We are right in assuming, therefore, from the information given to us by the "Times," that in connection with this Conscription Bill which we are discussing, that the Cabinet has been discussing the size of the Army, and the limits, if any, which are to be placed upon the number of divisions 1070 to be maintained at the front. Seeing that this publicity has been given in the "Times," and that it has been stated in the "Times" to be a correct record of the Cabinet meetings, we are, I think, entitled to ask the Government whether it is so—whether this issue has been raised in this form at the Cabinet, and whether, as the "Times" says, there is still an acute controversy, an acute crisis, in the Cabinet in connection with this issue. We are entitled, at this stage of the Bill, to know whether the Cabinet, or a majority of the Cabinet, have come to any decision as to the number of divisions to be maintained at the front. I think we want further to know whether the "Times" is correct when it says that two great Departments of State, the Treasury and the Board of Trade, have put forward their views in definite form in regard to the size of the Army, beyond which it is impossible to go without, in their opinion, disaster to this country. These are the statements made on the responsibility of the "Times."
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
My reply to the hon. Member for Coventry is that I am delivering my own speech. Conscious as I am of my own defects, I am not conscious of requiring the assistance of the hon. Member for Coventry. I venture to think, with all respect, that the inquiries that I have addressed to the Government are pertinent inquiries, that they have a direct bearing upon the issues raised by this Fill, and that we are entitled to have an answer either in contradiction or in affirmation of the reports of the Cabinet meetings which have appeared in the public Press. [HON. MEMBERS: "The 'Times' and the 'Daily Mail!"] I leave the "Daily Mail" to be defended by my hon. Friend. I oppose this Bill, and I will vote at every stage against it, and I will resist at every stage its passage, because I believe it will be a great calamity to this country. I believe the fact that we have been a free nation, waging this War with all the spirit which comes from being a free people, has been one of the greatest factors in the national unity and the national spirit. I believe that this Bill sacrifices the national unity, and I believe it gives us no adequate compensation. I think there is much more 1071 now at stake than a mare question of getting a few thousand more men, much more at stake than a mere question of strategy, much more at stake than the question of temporary difficulties. I believe what is at stake is the great tradition of the British nation. We are being asked to exchange the system under which we have attained to our present greatness. We are being asked to exchange that system for the military system which we have set ourselves to crush. I believe that is a great calamity. I believe that the Bill is unnecessary, that no case has been made out for it, that it was conceived originally in intrigue, that it will not make for the public good, and I would yet venture to appeal to the Government to proceed no further with it, and to realise already not only what the feeling amongst many sections of this House is, but what the gathering feeling in the country is. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I do not know how my hon. Friend can question that remark. I ask the Government to realise the signs of the hardened feeling in the country against this Bill.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
It is no good for the hon. Member to say there are no such signs. He has only to consider the position now in certain industrial districts, the position in certain parts of Scotland, the position in many other parts of the country, the position that was hinted at by the ex-Home Secretary, with his unrivalled opportunities of knowledge. The signs are extremely ominous, and that is no good when these signs are pointed out and these actual facts are spoken about, for hon. Members to deny their existence. We believe that the policy of this Bill is one which is fraught with the utmost danger to the welfare of this country, and it is because We believe that with the utmost sincerity and because we believe it inflicts an intolerable injustice upon great masses of people in this country —an injustice which no State has a right to inflict—that we intend to oppose and resist this Bill.
§ Mr. DUKE
In the observations which I shall offer to the House on the Motion for the First Reading of this Bill, I will promise to endeavour to avoid the tone of gloomy vaticination which has been adopted by the opponents of this Bill. I 1072 do not know how many threats, objurgations and destructive epithets one has listened to in the course of this eight-hours' Debate, but the hon. Members who have distinguished themselves most in this class of oratory seem to me to have got the furthest away from the terms of this Bill. It is not a very big Bill and some of my hon. Friends say they wish it had been bigger; but I do not think that there is in consequence of this Bill any prospect of the unity of the country being affected or of the driving of the Prime Minister from office, which God forbid, because no one who has suggested that he is unfit to hold his office has suggested anyone to take his place who comes within a street or two of him. I do not think that this Bill will have the effect of driving the Prime Minister from power or of interfering with the proper conduct of the War. I do not know how many times this threat has been made by hon. Members who declare their conviction that they are in a minority, and that unless they have their way the effect on the country will be disastrous. It is quite a novel principle that in a time of crisis the man who declares he would not face the electorate in any conditions whatever should dictate to the majority in this House; yet as they are satisfied a majority of the people of this country are with us, they say unless they have their way they will cease to co-operate with their fellow countrymen in waging this War to a successful issue. Hon. Members do not really mean it. That is the truth of the matter. The hon. Member for East Mayo made a most eloquent speech, but may I say that I think he was carried away by the warmth of his advocacy, and in those denunciations to which the hon. Member for Sunderland so warmly replied, as well as in the other passages of his speech, it was not so much the Member of Parliament who was proud of the Englishmen, Scotsmen and Irishmen who have been slain in this War, but it was the Member of this House who has what I call an inveterate political prejudice, and he was defending it with all the force with which in times past we are accustomed to have prejudices, and political prejudices, defended in this House. If one could have listened, forgetting that there was a War, to the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo and one or two other of the speeches we have heard this evening, I venture to say they were worthy of the palmiest days of political rhetoric and some of them of political vituperation. But there happens 1073 to be a war in which, with the utmost efforts the country has put forward, it has not been able, with the assistance of its gallant Allies, to master its antagonists: What is the good of talking as if we were living in space of the fourth dimension when the question how you are to effectively prosecute a war is before us? The hon. Member referred to the feeling in Ireland, and an hon. Member representing Ulster referred to the respective merits displayed in the long series of conflicts by the men of Ulster and by the men in the South of Ireland. Before the War our enemies across the Channel were misled into supposing that these secular differences of the citizens of Ulster and the citizens in the South of Ireland, but mere particularly of the Members from Ulster and the Members from the South of Ireland, represented antagonisms which, if this country were in peril, would would make its position fatal. Happily— I confess I regarded it with great satisfaction when I listened to the discussion upon the Irish question to-night—not even our German antagonists will be misled tonight into supposing that the quarrel, the old quarrel between Members from Ulster and Members from the South of Ireland, is anything more than one of those warm domestic differences which will endear my hon. Friends one to the other when they come face to face with the common enemy. There is a lack of humour at Berlin which leads them to fail to appreciate the spirit in which our domestic differences are discussed here on the floor of the House of Commons. It is said to have led them into what we believe to be an error fatal to the continuance of Prussian militarism. The erroneous belief, that because we differ here about politics we hate one another upon national questions, may be the key to the ultimate downfall of Prussian militarism; but even the Prussians will not be misled into the belief that because there is this interchange of old-fashioned compliments between the north and the south of the Gangway that therefore there will be any lack of determination in any part of Ireland to prosecute this War in the manner in which it has been prosecuted. The hon. Member 1074 will forgive me for alluding to the speech which he made in that spirit. We are able to qualify speeches which are made here by reference to what we know hon. Members are doing in their constituencies and in the country to assist in the efficient prosecution of the War, and what they do here to insist upon the efficient prosecution of the War.
That was preamble to matter which I desire to present to the House, and which is more relevant than these quarrels to the question before us. The question before the House seems to me to be an exceedingly simple one. It is whether the Parliament of Great Britain, being called to redeem a pledge made with its knowledge and maintained for two months with its assent—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] —made with its knowledge, because it was made in its presence and maintained for two months with the assent of Parliament, no Member venturing to propose a Motion to the contrary or to try the House upon its confidence in the Government— whether in that state of the case Parliament is going to put upon the man who represents as no other man can the united determination of the people of Great Britain and of the Empire an affront which no man could stand and survive in such a position as that which the right hon. Gentleman holds.
It being Eleven of the clock the Debate stood adjourned; to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and; postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at, One minute after-Eleven o'clock.