§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Before the House proceeds to the consideration of the Resolution which is at the head of the Orders of the Day in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), I should like, with their permission, to make a very short statement. Both in regard to the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia the Government promised, as the House is aware, but subject to important reservations and limitations, to circulate and lay Papers. In both cases, for reasons which I stated to the House two days ago, the publication of such Papers, except in an incomplete and therefore misleading-form, is, for the moment, I will not say vetoed, but strongly protested against by our naval, military, and diplomatic advisers. The Government, as I told the House, felt bound to act upon that advice: but at the same time we recognise, both in regard to the Dardanelles, which is a closed operation, and to Mesopotamia, which is by no means closed, there is widespread and legitimate anxiety, which cannot and ought not to be allayed by a general assurance that all these matters will be inquired into after the War. It is not, therefore, to us a matter of surprise, still less of complaint, that my right hon. Friend's Motion has been put down. On the other hand, in the critical phase which our military operations have now reached, and in view of what is in prospect in that sphere, I should very much deprecate, on behalf of the Government, a Debate which gave the impression to the world outside that we are in any way divided among ourselves. In regard to Mesopotamia in particular, the Government, while hoping and believing that adequate and ample provision is now being made for all the requirements of our troops and of the campaign, have no desire to conceal past shortcomings in these respects, still less to screen those who are, as they believe, directly responsible.
My right hon. Friend's Motion proposes the setting up of two Select Committees, 1237 one to inquire into the conduct of the Dardanelles operations and the other into the conduct of the operations in Mesopotamia. We are not without precedents in this matter. There are only two to which I may ask, for a moment, the attention of the House. The first was that of the Walcheren Expedition in 1809. The House of Commons determined to have an inquiry into that expedition immediately after its close. The inquiry was conducted in what must seem to us now rather a peculiar fashion, not by a Select Committee, but by the whole House. The House sat and the debates lasted without intermission from the end of January to the 17th March, 1810, "absorbing" as the historian Alison says, "nearly the whole time, both of the Government and of the country, at the very moment when the concentration of national thought and energies was required for the prosecution of the gigantic campaign in progress on the Continent." It was that precedent which was invoked, forty years later, at the time of the Crimean War, when Mr. Roebuck proposed his famous Committee to inquire into the condition of the Army in the Crimea. I will not go into the Parliamentary history of that inquiry which led to the downfall of the Government, the setting up of a new Government, the resignation of the new Government, and the return to that Government of the Minister who had originally resigned—complications which I hope we shall not follow. A Committee was appointed, and I see from the historian that it asked 21,421 questions, and, in obedience to its instructions, two special Commissioners were sent out to the Crimea. After the lapse of a year their Report was laid before Parliament, containing animadversions on the conduct of certain officers, who then applied for the opportunity of exposing errors detected in their reports. The demands of the officers were granted. A new tribunal of seven generals was appointed to inquire into the matter, and, after an inquiry lasting three months, each of the assailed officers was absolved from the blame imputed to him by the Commissioners and, finally, a Report was issued attributing the sufferings of the Army in the Crimea to the want of transport and the insufficient discharge of its duties by the Treasury. That, perhaps, is not a very encouraging precedent, but it is the latest occasion on which the House of 1238 Commons has appointed a Committee during the course of a war to inquire into the conduct of operations.
The kind of difficulties to which that Committee was exposed would accompany any similar instrument of inquiry to be set up now. In the first place, a very great burden would be laid upon the officials of the various Departments concerned, whose time ought to be given mainly to the daily conduct of the War in preparing, collating, compiling, and presenting the Papers and other materials which are necessary for the proper conduct of such an inquiry. In the next place—this, of course, bears very much on the question of Mesopotamia, and to some extent, to a very large extent, on the question of the Dardanelles—the gallant officers concerned—admirals, generals, and others, are to a large extent dispersed over the field of operations. Some are now in command in the Red Sea, in Mesopotamia itself, in Salonika, and in other distant spheres. It is quite out of the question that they should be called home from the discharge of those duties in order to give evidence before any tribunal which might be set up in this, country, and, indeed, the Roebuck Committee, when they had to deal with a similar problem, as I have pointed out, sent out Commissioners in order to interrogate the officers themselves in the places where their duties were then being carried on. In pointing out to the House those difficulties I am not deprecating inquiry, but I am only showing that an inquiry conducted in the middle of a war like this must be conducted with great discretion and subject to very severe limitations, and above all, with strict and scrupulous determination that it shall not interfere with the active conduct of operations in the field. Those are the difficulties which are impressed very much upon us, which I am sure the House will recognise to the full. But having put those considerations forward, and asking the House to give them due weight, I wish to say on behalf of the Government that, in the special circumstances in which we stand, both as regards the Dardanelles Expedition and as regards the operations in Mesopotamia, the Government think it right, feeling compelled under expert advice to postpone the circulation of Papers, to institute two separate inquiries with regard to these two sets of transactions.
1239 We do not think that Select Committees of this House would be the best instrument for the purpose. The House of Lords contains a number of eminent men who have occupied administrative and other posts all over the Empire, who could certainly contribute, and ought to contribute, a useful element to any body of investigation which might be set up. I go further, and I hope that I shall command the assent of the House when I say that outside this House and outside the House of Lords, there are others, competent people, whose assistance might very well be invited and invoked. To give but one illustration, our Australian fellow subjects took a very large and a glorious part in the operations in the Dardanelles, and I think that I should only be responding to the general sentiment when I say that any body of inquiry into that particular field of operations would be felt to be incomplete if it did not include some representative of Australia. Those seem to us to be objections to entrusting these inquiries simply to Select Committees of the House of Commons. I think that they will generally be felt in the country. We think further that the inquiring bodies, whatever we may call them, Committees or Commissions, should be small bodies. They should certainly have power—they must have power—to sit in secret. [An HON. MEMBER: "When necessary!"] When necessary. The reasons which make us chary and compel us to defer to the advice of our naval and military authorities in not circulating Papers, obviously apply to the proceedings of these Committees. There must be a number of considerations—in fact a very large number of considerations which will perpetually operate—which will make it necessary in order to have full information freely disclosed (which is all-important for the success of the Committee) that their deliberations should be carried on under the veil of confidence and secrecy.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Not necessarily the whole, but in very large part. They would be unduly hampered and, indeed, fettered in every direction if they cannot have the veil of secrecy. If the Government cannot disclose all that they ought to know they would be without the materials from which alone they could form a sound and complete judgment. We think that on both these bodies the two 1240 Houses should be represented—the House of Lords and the House of Commons. As I have said, for reasons at which I have hinted, we think that it will not be desirable to confine their composition entirely to membership of these two Houses. I believe that in assenting to inquiries upon that basis and under those conditions the Government will be meeting the general desire of the House of Commons and of the country, which is legitimately concerned about what has been done, and at the same time, which is equally important, that the conduct of these inquiries will not in any way hamper or fetter our military and naval operations. An inquiry which led to anything in the nature of paralysis, or even temporary suspension of necessary military or naval action, however important in itself, the House will agree is entirely contrary to the public interest. We must make that an elementary and fundamental condition of any inquiry that takes place. I hope and believe that the proposal which I put forward on behalf of the Government will be felt in all quarters of the House and the country to meet the necessities of the case, and I trust that what certainly would have been a partial, and I am afraid must have been a somewhat painful, discussion of naval and military details may be avoided. I ought to add this, before these bodies—by whatever particular name you call them, these instruments of inquiry—are brought into existence we should desire, and we are very anxious to submit to the House and to take the judgment of the House on the names of those who are to take part in the inquiry. I think that this is essential.
§ Colonel AUBREY HERBERT
Are the men who have been responsible for what 1241 has happened in Mesopotamia going to remain in their responsible positions, while the inquiry is sitting?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
You cannot condemn anyone unheard. If there is a prima facie case of incapacity the Government would not hesitate to act. We have done so in more than one instance. I should be prepared to accept the reference suggested by my right hon. Friend in his Motion, which, I think, is founded on the Roebuck precedent, but, if anybody desires to suggest any Amendment to those terms of reference, we shall be glad to consider it; at any rate, the matter will not be finally settled until the House has had an opportunity of considering both the names of the persons to whom this great duty is going to be entrusted and the scope of the reference.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Do I understand that these bodies will not have power to send for Papers and witnesses?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
They cannot have compulsory powers without an Act of Parliament unless you confine it to this House or the House of Lords, and I think for reasons which I have given, to which everybody will assent, that it is desirable to have latitude to introduce persons who are not Members of this House or of the other.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If any difficulty arises I would not hesitate to propose it, but I believe that all the evidence can be secured by voluntary procedure.
§ Colonel HERBERT
Have not the Government got sufficient evidence already before them to be able to move with regard to the men who are responsible?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friends around me think, and I dare say that they are right, that perhaps the best way to do it would be to bring in a Bill which would clear up everything—the names of the Commissioners, the scope of the reference, and the compulsory powers with which they ought to be endowed. I believe that that would meet the general wish. The Government are prepared to bring in a Bill for that purpose.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I think that it will be generally agreed that there was no other course left to those of us who are very much concerned about public feeling in relation both to the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia but to put down the Motion which stands in my name to-day. Having regard to the decision which the Government have come to on the recommendation of their military advisers that Papers could not be produced, it would be, I think, futile after the statement of the Prime Minister, to proceed to debate the question. So far as I am concerned, I was prepared merely to show reasons why the Government ought not, and I think could not, refuse an inquiry. I do not think that anybody demanding an inquiry ought in advance to try to condemn any particular individuals or Departments. I had studiously framed my observations, which now will never be heard beyond my own household for all future time, with that object. Nobody could, I think, after the statement of the Prime Minister, attempt to go beyond the limit which he has prescribed when it was put upon such broad statements, such broad grounds of State policy as he has put the matter before us. And may I say for myself that as regards the military advisers of the Government, and the views that they take upon this matter, there is nobody who has greater confidence in General Robertson, who is now the chief military adviser of the Government, than I have, who had many opportunities of seeing him when I was a member of the Cabinet, and nobody can come in contact with him without knowing that he was a man of great judgment, great determination, and, above all things, a man who could not be influenced by politicians?
I have only one or two observations that I should like to make. May I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he is satisfied, and that the Secretary of State for India is also satisfied, that everything that is possible is being done with a view to remedying what seems, from the correspondence that one has seen, to be a very disastrous state of affairs in Mesopotamia? I think we ought to have some statement about that. I can assure you I have seen individuals, in relation to this question, who called upon me to give me information at first-hand, and who have really been almost tortured by the accounts they have received of the way matters have gone on in Mesopotamia. Whether it was unavoidable is a question 1243 which will have to be decided by the Commission which is being set up, but I do feel, and I am sure the whole House feels, the very gravest anxiety lest matters there may be allowed to drift. We have heard nothing, almost, since the surrender at Kut—which was dismissed in a few words in the course of debate in this House—we have heard practically nothing of the expedition; we do not know what it is doing, and we do not know what is the policy in relation to it now. Some of us have hopes, I may say, that it has been so strengthened in co-ordination with the brave Russian attempts, which I should like to acknowledge, that have been made in the same quarter, that we may look forward to the real accomplishment of what was originally intended. Whether that is so or not I do not know.
But, above all things, we do want to avoid this, after months of suffering, even under the best conditions, in a climate like that of Mesopotamia, particularly at this time of the year, that there should not be again an evacuation, and that all the toil and suffering meanwhile should have been lost. We feel that it will be the duty, and that it is the duty, under the circumstances, of the Government to make up its mind, if it has not already done so, as to whether they are really and genuinely going on with the operation, or whether the matter has been left, as it was in the case of the Dardanelles, to drift on, nothing being done. That is the first matter that I should like to be assured about. There is another: So far as I am concerned, I have never been able to ascertain under which Office this expedition now is. I think we were told some months ago that it had been transferred to the War Office. I have asked supplementary questions from time to time, the answers to which seemed to me to show that it was not the War Office who were responsible, but the India Office. I do hope that there is not a divided responsibility in the matter, and that one Department, whether it be the War Office or the India Office, will have the whole responsibility thrown upon it to remedy the defects which have existed so long, and be answerable to this House if there are any further faults in the management of this expedition. I have nothing further to say. So far as I am conscerned I shall not pursue the matter which I have put upon the Paper, but I will only add this, that I hope that the Bill may be prepared and brought in at once, and put through 1244 all its stages at once, and that public confidence may be restored by a real and thorough investigation of these matters. ["Move, move!"]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
On the point of Order. May I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University should withdraw the Motion he has on the Paper, and then it may be convenient that the Prime Minister should move the Adjournment of the Debate to enable Members to express their opinions?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate were proposed, the discussion would not be confined to this one topic. I am quite prepared, however, to allow any hon. Member who wishes, to ask questions, for I think that is perfectly legitimate; but if hon. Members are going to get into a regular Debate on the matter, then we must have some Question before the House.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
On the point of Order. May I ask if the object will not be served on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, limiting the Debate entirely to the announcement of the Prime Minister, without raising general questions which are going to be inquired into? It does appear to me that Members ought to be allowed to offer their opinion on the Prime Minister's proposal.
§ Mr. DILLON
Would it not be far more convenient if the right hon. Member for Trinity College, Dublin, moved his Motion in order to give Members who desire to do so an opportunity to express their opinions, and then the Motion could be withdrawn?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Perhaps, on the whole, it would be best that I move the Adjournment, on the understanding that the Debate is confined to the statement I have made. I move "That the House do now adjourn."
§ Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
Sir H. DALZIEL
I have only a very few words to say on the proposal of the Prime Minister. After the statement which my right hon. Friend has made, it is, of course, obvious that we could not support the proposal of the right hon. 1245 Member opposite. But I desire to point out to the House two things: The proposal of the Prime Minister is not the same as the proposal of my right hon. Friend. The proposal of the Prime Minister moves the seat of authority in this House to the Government Bench. The proposal of the Prime Minister means that a Commission is to be appointed which is to be nominated by the Government itself in the first place, and which can subsequently be approved by Members of this House. That is a very different thing from the proposal of my right hon. Friend. In the first place, members of the Government themselves are charged in regard to these two expeditions. Their action will be under investigation as well as the action of generals, admirals and others. I put it to the House that it would have been better if this House itself had appointed the tribunal which is going to inquire into the action of Ministers, rather than Ministers themselves appointing tribunals outside this House, and nominated by them Let me point out that the advantage of a Committee of this House making inquiry is that this House has full control. After all, this House is responsible to the country, and need not go to outside gentlemen, who represent no constituents at all. There are to be men on this Committee who are to be nominated by the Government, and who are responsible to no one but the Government. I say that ought not to be, in a matter of this kind, when thousands of lives, as we contend, have been wasted by maladministration. I say that Members of this House ought to be the supreme authority. They have to answer to their constituents as to why they allowed these awful blunders to be perpetrated which my right hon. Friend described as "criminal negligence." I therefore regret that this House is parting with its authority in this matter.
There is no advantage in the tribunal proposed by the Prime Minister that does not belong to a Select Committee of this House. What guarantee have we as to the length of time this tribunal will take? We have no control. It may go on year after year, and you may find that the very men charged with losing thousands of lives, and with criminal negligence in the field, in charge of other men and other lives. I say that is wrong. The Government itself is to nominate this tribunal, and it may, if it chooses, take no action with regard to the Report presented. I regret that the 1246 Government, in this case, have the nominating of the jury that is going to try it. I think the House ought to have the empanelling of Members of this House, and that the Committee of Inquiry ought to be under the full control of this House. If a Select Committee were set up, why should it not be entrusted with that power? No Member of this House, belonging to any party, would ever allow to be published what was useful to the enemy. If you can trust an outside tribunal, why not trust a Select Committee of the House, whose members would be under the control of the House? While I welcome the announcement of the Prime Minister, I regret very much indeed that he has not adopted the suggestion of my right hon. Friend opposite, because it does seem to me that then this House would be in full control. I have been told that this House would have the opportunity to approve the reference and to approve the men to be nominated: but hon. Members know how difficult it is, especially in the case of gentlemen outside this House, to raise objection to any name, nor have we the authority and machinery in the case of men the Government can nominate from outside. Therefore, this House is parting, in my opinion, with an important power. What argument have you against a Select Committee of this House which would not apply to the tribunal proposed to be set up? In the one case, the Government nominates it and controls it; in the other case, the House of Commons would have supreme authority, and the members of the Committee would be under our control. I beg respectfully to register my protest against the proposed tribunal.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College, Dublin, that it would be quite impossible for him to persist in his Motion after the decision of policy which the Government has announced. For my own part, so far as I have any claim to speak in this matter, I am, in principle, quite content with the course the right hon. Gentleman has announced. At the same time, I must say that I regret that it has not been found possible to publish the documents, as was originally intended and promised by the Prime Minister, in the name of the Government. In consequence of that decision of the Government as to the publication of these documents, I wrote to the Prime Minister and submitted a series of Papers with which he was very familiar, and I suggested that 1247 other parties no doubt would wish to submit papers to Colonel Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, to collate and discuss in regard to points to the publication of which objection might be taken by the various parties concerned. The right hon. Gentleman fell in with the suggestion, and I believe a considerable amount of work was done on the Papers. But I noticed very early in those proceedings a dilatory and obstructive tendency, and that culminated after several weeks in a perfectly clear indication that the Government were not going to allow the publication of the Papers. On that, Sir, I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, which I must ask the indulgence of the House to permit me to read:
§ "13th July, 1915.
§ My dear Prime Minister,
§ I have your letter of the 12th for which I thank you. I had already learned that the Government had decided to depart from their undertaking to lay upon the Table the Papers relating to the genesis and conduct of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli operations. I cannot agree that this decision is justified in the public interest. The pledge of the Government was freely given by the Colonial Secretary, speaking with your full and direct authority. The circumstances of the case, the nature of the documents, and their bearing on the course of the War must have been present in your mind, although perhaps there were some which you had overlooked or forgotten. The pledge to publish was not given at my request, though as you know I have always wished that the whole truth should be made known to the Nation, and to the Dominions and that nothing essential should be concealed. It was given to the House, and we have been left for more than six weeks in the expectation that it would be fulfilled. I do not think that in these circumstances it ought to be departed from on any vague and general ground. Papers have been submitted to you by me, and I understand by other persons affected. There may be passages in these Papers which affect allied or neutral Powers. Certainly they are few and far between. There is no reason why they should not be omitted or expressed in a different way by mutual agreement. There may be technical matters which, if desired, could be suppressed without impairing in any way the proper presentation of the facts of the case. It is unfair to the House—I do not speak of individuals—that objections founded on a few passages, or documents which are not material, and would not be claimed as material to the case by the persons concerned, should be used as a bar to prevent any publication at all. It was foreseen by the Colonial Secretary when giving his undertaking that some reservation of this kind might be necessary, and he guarded himself accordingly. It is of course imperative that any publication of documents or records should not be one-sided. But I am sure that if the Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence were authorised to discuss the passages to the publication of which objection is now taken with' the principal persons concerned, there would be no difficulty in arriving at an agreement which would enable a publication to be made on which a true judgment could be formed. At any rate, this method ought to be tried before the Government repudiate a definite pledge given to Parliament in a matter in which they are themselves concerned.
§ Yours very sincerely,
§ WINSTON CHURCHILL."
§ I thank the House for permitting me to read that letter because it expresses very 1248 clearly the view which I have taken on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has, since the day that letter was written, made a new departure, and has proposed to the House the production of legislation to set up two inquiries into the respective operations of Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles. There are only two points in regard to those inquiries which I would venture at this stage to urge. The first is that as much should be taken in public as possible, and that a Secret Session should only be resorted to where special conditions arise. The second is that the references should, so far as possible, be detailed and precise, because otherwise the inquiries which are needed for the information of the country to enable the country and the Empire to form its opinion on grave matters may easily be sprawled out and ramble over the immense and almost limitless tangle of the conduct of this great War. I think that the questions at issue ought to be precisely formulated to those bodies. I believe it would be possible to formulate them in a very searching manner which would enable Parliament to judge of how far there is blame and where it rests, and I believe that this could be done with great advantage, and that searching inquiries could be completed in a reasonable space of time. Therefore, I press that very strongly upon the right hon. Gentleman, and I trust that he and his colleagues, with the Secretary of State for War, may consider it. After all, these are very serious and vital matters, and if an Act of Parliament is to call bodies into being which are going to investigate the conduct of the Government and of all its members in relation to the whole great interlaced field of the European War during 1915, I do not believe any result will issue or that any Report will issue from those bodies in time to give the country information during the course of the War; whereas, if the inquiry is localised on to certain points, however searching and however precise, it will be possible to get broad and definite conclusions within a reasonable time. I should welcome from the Government some expression of opinion in regard to these matters.
§ Sir FREDERICK CAWLEY
As I have given notice of a Motion on this subject, I only rise to say that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir E. Carson), and I think it would be absolutely futile to debate the question after 1249 the remarks of the Prime Minister. I should like to assure the Prime Minister that the Motion I put down, which was supported by Friends of mine on this side of the House, was not put down in any light or frivolous manner, but because we thought that in doing so we were only voicing the opinions of the country. There has been and there is great anxiety as to the Mesopotamia campaign, and that anxiety has been heightened by the result of the Dardanelles campaign. That campaign, as everybody will admit, was most disastrous and humiliating, and there is an idea in the country, rightly or wrongly, that some of the people that might be held responsible in regard to that disaster have still commands in which they may again repeat the disasters that occurred at the Dardanelles. I am sure that the country will welcome the fact that the campaign in the Dardanelles is to be inquired into. As regards what my right hon. Friend has said about a Select Committee, I do not altogether agree with him, because, although the House is generally supposed to select such a Committee, and the names are generally read out, yet those names are really the nominations of the Government Whips; whereas, in the case of this Committee which the Prime Minister proposes to form, I think we, as Members of this House, ought to exercise at least a very close scrutiny of the names that are brought forward of those who are not in this House or in the House of Lords. I think, perhaps, that scrutiny will not be so invidious as if we were commenting on one of our colleagues, and therefore I think that it is far more likely that the House would really criticise the names of those members of the Committee who are proposed and who are outside this House. I have nothing further to say except that I am very glad that the Prime Minister has taken the course he has announced.
§ Colonel HERBERT
I think most of us cordially welcome the statement of the Prime Minister. I can speak only for myself, but I know there are a considerable number of hon. Members who share my opinions, and I have deprecated, disliked, and feared discussion on the Mesopotamia question in this House, but it did not seem possible to me to remedy the disastrous condition of things under which we are suffering now without debate in this House, and it was only for that reason that I was in 1250 favour of discussion. We are governed by one single-minded purpose, and that is, first of all, to help our men in Mesopotamia, and secondly, to see that we do not in future suffer either from the continuation or repetition of the ferocious economy of one Department of the Indian Government. With regard to the first, we can rest content when we know that it is now in the hands of Sir William Robertson. With regard to the second, I myself cannot feel that the statement of the Prime Minister is completely satisfactory. What we want to do is to have that responsibility fixed, and fixed soon. This Motion falls into two parts, one dealing with the question of Mesopotamia, and the other with the question of the Dardanelles. The glory and the tragedy of the Dardanelles is past, and I am quite sure of this, if our dead, who are now at rest in the Dardanelles, could look down and see what is happening here, they would not wish for any discussion of their fate that might affect the fortunes of their comrades who are fighting in Mesopotamia. I hope that the Prime Minister will be in a position before long to give us the assurance that those responsible people are no longer going out in positions where they can do us the harm they have done us in the past.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I desire to ask a question, and I propose to lead up to it by a few remarks about the subject towards which the question is directed, and that is with regard to the Dardanelles. I have given some time to the study of those operations with such material as was available for that purpose. It is true that we have not had Papers or documents published, but we have some material to go upon. We have the very full statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, which he made on, I think, the 15th November last in this House, as to the general course and genesis of those operations, and as to the methods by which they were carried out, and the details of which were not contradicted, or even any doubt hinted at by any person in authority in this House But we have more than that. We have got the statement of the Prime Minister, delivered, I think, on the same occasion, or perhaps a little earlier in the same month, passing a certain judgment upon personal responsibility with regard to those operations. After the most careful study which I have been 1251 able to make of everything that has been divulged in this House or out of it with regard to these operations, I have come to the conclusion that in the matter of policy, in the matter of the major strategy of the War at this particular place, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty at that time was right and Lord Kitchener was wrong. I do not say that in any sense as attacking Lord Kitchener on general grounds. I am a supporter of the policy which Lord Kitchener pursued with regard to this War. I believe that he laid the foundations of the machine that is going to win the War, and laid them broad, deep and strong, but it would be far from my desire to endeavour to contend that in every respect and in all details Lord Kitchener was never wrong.
Is it in order in this Debate to proceed to criticise individuals? I thought it was ruled just now that the discussion was to be confined to the limits laid down by the Prime Minister. Is it not very inconvenient, if we are going to have a Commission, to proceed to discuss individuals whether alive or dead?
That is a matter upon which the Chair must rely on Members of the House. The actual Motion before us is for the Adjournment; but it was understood that the Debate should be strictly confined to discussion of the Prime Minister's statement.
It was far from my intention to enter into a broad discussion of the responsibilities and the reasons. I merely wished to indicate my general conclusion as to the right hon. Gentleman's freedom from blame, and to make that a reason for a certain demand upon the Government with which I propose to conclude. I think that if the policy recommended by the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning, of a joint naval and military assault upon the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, had been adopted, victory would have been secured within a very short time and the whole course of the War would have been altered. If that is a conclusion which it is possible to form on the material at our disposal—
You have seen the material which has been given in the House. At any rate, I do not intend to argue it in detail; I simply state that that is the con- 1252 clusion to which I have come. If it is possible to come to that conclusion on the material at our disposal, does not that have an important bearing upon the future of the War? The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Churchill) at the present time bears the odium of that defeat and of that disaster. The finger of scorn is pointed at him. He is blamed for it. If it possibly be true that he was right and that others were wrong, has it not any important meaning to the people of this country, to the Government, and to the conduct of the War in the future that that should be known, and that the person who was right should have his due share in the conduct of these operations in the future? This is a chapter which is closed. These operations were finished nearly a year ago by the last big assault at Suvla Bay. There is no military operation in continuance of them. There is no military operation depending upon them. Why, then, cannot the details be made public? I completely fail to understand the reason—which has not been given, but which is said to exist—for the refusal to publish the details of these operations in such a form that the House and the country may be able to judge as to the responsibility for them. I therefore desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the reasons for secrecy prevail in regard to the Dardanelles operations in the same way as they prevail in regard to the Mesopotamia operations which are not yet concluded? The Prime Minister knows, because he has said so in the House, that an intolerable wrong and injustice is being inflicted upon the right hon. Gentleman who had the conduct of these operations as the head of the Admiralty at that time. There is every reason, on the ground of honour, on the ground of chivalry, and on the ground of justice, for making these investigations public. It will require the most overwhelming reasons for holding them in secret or for refusing to publish the details. I did not gather that the reasons were overwhelming. The Prime Minister did not say that the military authorities put their veto on it. He said the contrary—that they have only expressed a desire that they should not be public.
Perhaps I have been mistaken. I am glad to have elicited that. I thought the words which I caught from 1253 the right hon. Gentleman were "the military authorities, I will not say veto, but have expressed a strong desire that these should not be published."
I do not want to quibble about terms. I think the military authorities responsible for the War, if they thought that this would hamper them, could veto it and could resign if the details were published in spite of them. They could give their veto; but I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that they have not given their veto.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, the hon. Gentleman may understand nothing of the sort. I said that they could not veto it. Of course, they cannot veto anything. The Government is responsible and the Government alone. But they expressed the strongest possible protest in the interests of the conduct of the War, and their protest was shared by the naval and diplomatic advisers.
In regard to an operation which is completely closed, on which no operation depends, and in regard to which no reason for secrecy is visible to the ordinary man, when one has merely the dark saying that they protest against it, one cannot resist the conclusion that there is someone desiring secrecy in order that he may shelter himself at the expense of other people.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, and, indeed, on matters of detail it would be quite impossible for me to speak, because I am an employé of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Secretary of State for War. But I thought there was one point to which I might direct attention, and that is the general tendency of this Debate and the effect that it may have upon the enemy. I cannot help calling to mind the situation as it was in Mesopotamia and the situation as it is to-day. That situation must be present in the enemy's mind. In July, August, and September, 1915, I suppose that there was no field of operations where everybody justifiably felt greater hope or greater satisfaction. Perhaps I may take the opportunity, as I happened to see it at the time, and many sad things have happened since, to state to the House what was the situation then. It was Force D, minute, almost lilliputian, but it felt itself, against anything except 1254 overwhelming odds, invincible. I should imagine that there was no other force in the field where there was more splendid cooperation than existed between the various commanders of that force. We have heard mention in the House of the trench and the non-trench population in France. There was no trench and non-trench population in Mesopotamia. The Staff and the regimental officers were absolutely as brothers. That one little force met the enemy on six occasions—on occasion the enemy was superior in one arm in the proportion of seven to fifteen, in another arm two against three, and in another arm one against thirty—and always emerged victorious. There was courage, decision, and immense hope. More than that, its action diverted very large forces down to Mesopotamia, which enabled our Allies in the War to make progress which they might perhaps not otherwise have been able to make. More than that, it conquered an enemy province and a half, and holds it today. These are things we should not forget with regard to that little force which is now dispersed, some of them at Kut, and so on. It did an immense work.
That was the picture which one saw there then. The picture we have now is not so happy. We have had a sad and terrible surrender. It is well that we should not minimise a thing which the enemy has not minimised. We must remember that in the surrender of Kut the Turkish Army had the greatest success that it has had since it surrounded Peter the Great at Pruth in 1711; and to find an English surrender of that magnitude I think we have to go back to somewhere about 1781. As we see the correspondence which comes from Mesopotamia we cannot help having the feeling that people regard that force possibly as disheartened, and from what one reads in the Press there is a certain amount of anger and dissension here in England. What I hope will emerge from this Debate and be the feeling in the mind of the enemy is that that force is not disheartened, and that in England Government, people, and Parliament are absolutely united to avenge the surrender of Kut and to go on. I believe that in Mesopotamia we have an enemy which used to regard us with fear, but who now regard us with something like contempt. I hope that from this Debate and the appointment of this Committee there will come the feeling that this is not a Committee appointed merely to reap vengeance on one particular official who happened to hold 1255 office and who inherited forty years of tradition and red tape which led him into evil ways; that it is not welcomed because it may mean some discredit to the Government, which, being a Coalition, has not so many friends as it might have: but that the Committee is appointed only to enable us to carry on the War, to get the victory; that the united purpose of this House and the Government is to co-ordinate our military brain and to pull together; that Mesopotamia is one part of a harmonious whole; that we are going on; that we have a purpose: that we have an intention; and that we mean to carry it out. If that emerges from this Debate, if that is the impression which this Debate leaves on the enemy's mind, the enemy will remember the crimes he has committed. He will remember the massacres of the Armenians; he will remember the starving Lebanese; he will remember that there is no peace between us and any of our enemies until wrongs have been avenged; he will know perfectly well that once this country is united and determined, though it may punish people who have gone astray, it is going on with its purpose; and he will pass from contempt to the feeling that he himself is going on not to victory, but to failure.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I would just like to say a word in explanation of the interruption which I made on the question I put towards the end of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which I think, produced one of the most remarkable and rapid changes ever made in a proposal by a responsible Minister, or that I ever heard in this House. I do not say this in any invidious spirit to the right hon. Gentleman, but I say it for the purpose of expressing my pleasure at having at last found some definite virtue in a Coalition Government. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman was surrounded by colleagues who immediately said some mysterious words to him which led to this dramatic change in his proposal.
§ Mr. BURDETT COUTTS
The dramatic change from an inquiry without compulsory powers to an inquiry with compulsory powers.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I will venture, if the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate the difference—with apologies, to any Members of the House who do completely understand the difference—to explain. In any inquiry dealing with a force which is restricted by decipline, and still more by esprit de corps, the compulsory powers take the whip off; they relieve him of the responsibility of coming forward of his own motion. They compel him to come forward. No doubt he will tell the whole truth when once he has come forward. Otherwise, the effect in the Army, in view of the discipline of the Services, is perfectly well known to be such as would tend to prevent any complete evidence being obtained. I only make this reference in order to make quite certain that these compulsory powers will be given to the body which is constituted by this proposal.
§ Sir NORVAL HELME
I rise to ask the Prime Minister if we are correct in understanding that information will be welcomed by the tribunal that is to be set up respecting the conduct of the campaign either in Mesopotamia or in the Dardanelles? My reason for asking the question is that yesterday, when Lady Horsley heard of the lamented death of her husband, who sacrificed his life in the public-service—having left Egypt to go to Mesopotamia to overlook the medical interests of the expedition there—she, desiring to contribute so far as she was able to that inquiry, entrusted me with letters and extracts from her husband's letters bearing upon such matters as transport, medical supplies, the lack of water, and so on, in respect to that important enterprise. Seeing we are to have this inquiry conducted, I rose to say how anxious I was that there should be a clear understanding given to Members of this House, or to the public generally having information bearing upon the conduct of that campaign, that that information Would be welcomed by His Majesty's Government; that we should have the opportunity of putting such facts as come within our knowledge before the Government. I do not presume, under present circumstances, to say more. I feel, however, it is right that I should acknowledge the indebtedness I feel to Lady Horsley in the sad circumstances. If in the Debate to-day any facts in the correspondence of her late husband could be of use to or at the service of the House, she was anxious that it should be, if the public interest: was thereby aided.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
There is one thing I have heard hon. Members in the course of their speeches say—that is, that they want to discuss the names and terms of reference on the floor of this House. I think, however, it absolutely essential, when men are dying by hundreds and when parents are mourning by thousands, that that Committee should be set up at once. If we are going to wait until we have gone through all the processes of a Bill, the discussion of terms of reference, and then the passing of the Bill, very likely indeed we may be leaving the thing too late, and we should have done better with a less ambitious project. I want to ask the Prime Minister—and I am afraid I shall have to ask him one or two questions—but shortly—when he thinks he will be able to set up his Committee, or Commission? It is so very, very important that we should have it a full-going concern, certainly before Christmas! I want to ask the Secretary of State for India, whom I see in his place, what is going to happen to the Report of the Vincent Commission? There you have had men working and slaving away in the tropics since last March, and there has been got together a great deal of valuable evidence, much of which will not, unfortunately, be able to be got from the same people again, because they are dead. What is going to happen to that evidence? Is it all going to be useless, or cannot it be worked upon? Cannot some of these crying injustices, these crying cases of negligence, be dealt with before the Royal Commission, or whatever it is, with all its paraphernalia, is set up, and goes over the whole ground again?.
The letters we get show that this matter brooks of no delay. It is no good waiting for Reports It is no good waiting for documents now. The Secretary of State for War, if he goes round any of the hospitals in this country, will find wounded and tattered documents in all of them who are suffering as few men have suffered. You do not need documents. The men will themselves tell you what they have gone through, and you can form your own judgment. The day before yesterday the Prime Minister told us that he, had satisfactory information from the Tigris that all was going well. The Secretary of State shakes his head. Well, I think it was the Prime Minister who said that the information was satisfactory at the present time We had satisfactory statements, in December last, from Sir 1258 John Nixon. We had satisfactory statements from General Aylmer, if I remember aright, in March. Neither were borne out by the facts. Those in possession know it now. We really do ask whichever it is—and for the life of me I do not know which it is, whether the Secretary of State for War or the Secretary of State for India—but I do beseech one of them, with the knowledge at his hand, to make a statement now, or in the very near future, as to the present condition of things on the Tigris. We want, for instance, to know about the light railway. On Tuesday the Prime Minister said this was the pivot of the alleged shortage. So it is. We want to know whether those at general headquarters in Mesopotamia asked for that light railway from Simla in 1914, and why it was refused. We want to know how it is getting on now, and whether it is being pushed forward. We want to know about transport, about hutting, and about tents. I receive letters now saying that the hot weather has begun, and that there is an immense shortage of tents. I saw a man who got back the other day. I asked him about the huts. He said he saw no huts, and he left at the end of April. Yet in the middle of April the Under-Secretary for War told us that the hutting was getting on as well as circumstances would permit. We do want to know about the arrangements.
I want also to ask whoever it is that is responsible, either the War Office or the India Office, to look into the question of drugs and dressings in India, and to consider the arrangements made by the Army Finance Department in India about the drugs and dressings. They have to provide three years' non-perishable stock in India, either in the field units or the depots, and one and a half years' supply of drugs. These things could only be got, as everybody will understand, from the India Office, or from the Indian provinces. The Director-General of the Indian Medical Service—and this is really the initial cause of the shortages—long ago pressed upon the Army Finance Department that it would be difficult in the case of a big war to get these drugs and dressings from England, and this owing to one or two specified reasons, owing possibly to the partial loss of the command of the sea, owing possibly also to the fact that in a big war England would need all the drugs and dressings that she could lay her hands upon. So the Director-General of 1259 the Indian Medical Service made an application to Simla, to the Army Finance Department, to help in an enterprise of taking a disused carriage factory in Madras for the manufacture of medicines, and so on. Five years before the War the Army Finance Department set its face against this project and tried to starve it out. It would have nothing to do with it. It would have starved it out had it not been for this concern being able to supply local Governments and civil Departments with drugs and medicines, and they were thus able to make the thing a success. What I want is this: that the Department should not be so parsimonious in this matter. They should really have helped this manufactory so that the Indian service might have been served, and not look for overseas supplies from here, which it is rather difficult to obtain at the present time. Many of us have seen Sir William Meyer's budgets for 1913–1916, and it is very ominous and disquieting, as facts are at the moment, to see—and the Indian papers are full of it—and it is difficult to understand, why his budget for Army services and for medical stores should be higher in times of peace than in the last few years. I do not profess to understand it. I confess it is difficult to understand why Sir William Meyer's budgets for 1913–1916, and his estimated budget from 1916–17, should be lower in time of war than in the time of peace. It needs explanation. Possibly one will be forthcoming. I should, however, like whoever speaks now or any other time on this question to give us an explanation of these two or three points which I have tried to lay before the House of Commons.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to support and express my pleasure at hearing the tribute which has been paid to-day to the gallant conduct of the troops at the commencement of the Mesopotamia campaign. Those troops, and especially the Indians, carried the earlier part of the campaign through with magnificent bravery. The Prime Minister has already called attention to it, and we shall all remember it. What we have to think of now is, what happened after the first phase of that campaign. I join heartily in what has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken, and I hope all those questions to which he has referred will be specially inquired into. I am glad to see the Secretary of State for India present. I will 1260 specially ask that instructions may be issued in this Bill for the Commission to inquire into the reality of the reports that were received by him from India on the actual state of affairs that existed at the time. I happen to have by me here a letter from an Officer in India who wrote to me in August last in perfect astonishment on receiving the papers of the 27th July, containing the reply which was given by the Secretary of State for India to a question put in this House by the late Sir George Scott Robertson, as to the adequacy of the hospital accommodation and hospital comforts for sick and wounded in Mesopotamia. In that reply the information given from India was what my friend writing to me describes as "a magnificently worded prevarication and a crying shame." I think there should be an inquiry into those things to see whether there is any truth in that, and who is responsible. The right hon. Gentleman ended his reply by saying there was ample hospital accommodation and a good supply of comforts for the sick. The whole campaign this officer describes as:One long tale of hopeless inadequacy in the equipment of the hospitals and the ration arrangements for the troops, and to say that all the things done were done for the whole force is criminal Bar possibly a few privileged persons at the base, no one has seen half he items quoted.Possibly those things arrived at the base, but those who bore the burden and heat of the day at the front never saw those things, and the reply read in this House gave a quite erroneous idea to the country as to how the campaign was going on. I trust sincerely this will be inquired into. I hope the Commission will be given full powers, and that it will be directed to sit in Mesopotamia itself. I think it most important it should see the places and get information from men on the spot. I trust the Prime Minister will put this in the instructions.
§ Mr. ANNAN BRYCE
The hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm) asked some pertinent questions of the Secretary of State for India, and I should like very much, when the Secretary of State for India replies, if he will reassure the House as to the present hospital accommodation provided. I understand that several organisations, one in particular, offered, so long ago as April last, a hospital for Mesopotamia to the War Office, to whom it was understood at that time that the conduct of affairs in Mesopotamia had been handed over. It was refused by the 1261 War Office. They said that ample hospital supplies could be furnished by them. The organisation was not satisfied, and pressed them again, and they then said that they would require a request from the Government of India before they could grant anything. The Viceroy was applied to, and he sent forward a request by telegram to the War Office to accept the offer which was made by this organisation. The War Office suppressed that request of the Viceroy, and again refused to accept this hospital unit. I want to know from the Secretary of State whether they were justified by the facts in refusing to accept that offer. Is the hospital accommodation provided in Mesopotamia sufficient now? The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last talked about the misleading information which was given earlier in the course of the War with regard to these supplies. Officers who have lately come home, and letters from India, describe in the most moving terms the misfortunes that arose from the want of that accommodation. After the actions of Ctesiphon and Wadi, and on the 21st January at Es Sinn, there was provision only enough for 150 or 200 wounded, whereas the number of wounded to be provided for was 11,000. The result was there was no hospital ship, or even hospital boat, but there were some berths fitted up without any beds and without any mattresses, so that the unfortunate wounded, to the number of thousands, had to lie on floors, exposed to drenching rain, and many of them died before reaching Basra before their wounds were dressed. A number of them died when they were touched, they were so absolutely exhausted. Many of them lost their nets and died from wounds, being poisoned in the absence of dressing. I know a case of an officer who had a very simple wound, which might have been easily cured by the slightest attention, but who lost his leg because he was unable to have his wound dressed before he reached Basra after five days. The accounts given of the misfortunes that occurred during this time are absolutely appalling, and if the facts were known to the public there would be such a cry of indignation that no white-washing Commission, such as I believe this is going to be, would assuage the anger of the people.
§ Colonel NORTON GRIFFITHS
I want particularly to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to one or two important points. The ground I meant to cover has already 1262 been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, but I wish to press upon the Secretary of State for War, as the Prime Minister is not here, the belief which I have that the country to-day is most anxious for immediate action. Can the Government state to-day when and in what manner it proposes to act, and whether it will bring in the Bill next-week? If so, could it be passed through all its stages in one day, which I think is possible. If that is done I am sure it would ease a lot of anxiety prevailing throughout the country. The next thing I would desire to press upon the Government is with reference to the remark made by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel). He stated that this House was responsible to the constituencies for past deeds. I venture to suggest it covers a much greater responsibility. We have had Australian troops partaking in this campaign, and I am very glad to hear that the Prime Minister proposes to include somebody representing Australia on the Committee. I would go further and ask the Prime Minister to consider the advisability of asking the Australian Government to nominate a member for that Committee, because, after all, we are responsible not only to the people of this country but to the Empire, and particularly Australia, who sacrificed many of its men there. One little point, and an all-important one, is this: I have heard in several quarters that a lot of tents in Mesopotamia are what are called bell tents. I think I know that part of the world as well as most people, and it is absolute murder to put a man into a bell tent at this time of the year. It is certainly next to murder. You want a recognised Indian tent, and I will press that point on the attention of my right hon. Friend. The question of light railways has been pressed, and I hope that will also receive most earnest attention. But the crux of the whole position is that the country to-day wants to know who is responsible. Have you divided responsibility? Is the India Office responsible to the War Office, because, if so, may I remind the House what really happens in such a case? Something is wanted urgently by the Indian Government, and the India Office send the requisition over to the War Office, and so you have divided control, which must always mean delay, if not disaster. I am perfectly sure I am voicing the opinion of the majority of people in this country and of Members of this 1263 House when I say we should all like to see direct responsibility put under that great leader Sir William Robertson. I know there is a very strong feeling on the point. I have gone round the House on both sides, and Members have said what a pity it is not so. Would the Secretary of State, therefore, tell the House and the country who is responsible? Is Sir William Robertson directly responsible, and, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman see that the Government so arrange it?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Lloyd George)
I rise rather to answer questions that have been addressed to the Prime Minister and myself in the course of the discussion. With regard to the introduction of the Bill, the Prime Minister wishes me to give an undertaking on his behalf that the Bill will be introduced on Monday next. Of course, it is obviously important that the Committee should be set up as soon as possible, and that it should get to work as soon as possible. The House will then have full opportunity of discussing, not merely the provisions of the Bill, but the constitution of the Committee or Commission, as the case may be.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The two Committees—their constitution, their terms of reference and their powers. The hon. Member for Somerset asked a question, and since then it has been pressed home by other Members who have taken part in the discussion, as to what is going to happen in the meantime. It is said, and said very properly, you cannot wait until the end of an inquiry before you redress evils which are acknowledged to exist in the conduct of affairs in Mesopotamia. That is perfectly right. However prompt and businesslike the Commission may be, it is bound to take some time. There is no intention unduly to protract the proceedings. I agree entirely with what has fallen from my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) that you cannot have a sort of roving inquiry into all that has happened in the course of this world-wide War. It must be a definite, a searching inquiry, within definite limits into the definite operations and within definite areas, but even with the best will in the world, and the best chairman in the world, it is bound to take time. Meanwhile you have got to see that the force is properly 1264 equipped, and the state of things complained of by my hon. Friends cannot possibly recur, assuming what they have stated are facts. Of course, those matters have got to be looked into. The difficulty has undoubtedly, to a very large extent, been attributable to the fact of the peculiar relations between the Governmen of India and the Government of this country. It is a very old and complex story, and very difficult to unravel. I should not like to lay down here exactly what those relations are. The Government of India is not under the War Office here; it has its own responsibility and its own Commander-in-Chief and its own organisation, and the bulk of the force in Mesopotamia was an Indian force.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think the bulk are now Indians, at any rate three of the five regiments are Indians, and it is obvious that even in the direction of operations by Sir William Robertson it was considered very much better that the base of supply should be in India, because there you have an organisation accustomed to fit out Indian troops. That is the position at the present moment. The Commander-in-Chief, Sir William Robertson, is responsible for the direction of the military operation. He is responsible for the policy of the expedition at the present moment, and I agree with what the hon. Member has said as to the great qualities of that distinguised soldier. But as far as supplies are concerned, the base was in India, and the Commander-in-Chief there was responsible for those supplies. Now I come to the present arrangement. When he was short of anything he asked the War Office here to supplement his deficiency, and, after going into the thing very carefully, I can say, without hesitation, that every requisition that he sent home has been honoured. [An HON. MEMBER: "Since when? "] Since the time when Sir William Robertson became responsible. Whatever requisition he sent out, and whatever requisition was made upon the War Office here, has been honoured. The same thing applies to the care of the sick and wounded. The responsibility remained with the Commander-in-Chief in India, but he was informed that any assistance the War Office could render him they would only be too glad and would regard it as an obligation.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not know what particular case my hon. Friend refers to, but I think I can state generally that whenever there has been a requisition from the Government of India to the War Office, whether in respect of ordinary supplies or for the sick and wounded, it has always been honoured. I could give a long list of those cases, and in every case, as far as I can see, those requisitions have been complied with, and I understand that at the present moment there is a surplus available.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Certainly; several were requisitions for medical officers which have been honoured.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Yes, from this country. Sometimes the assistance has been secured from the force in France, more especially, I think, with regard to assistant doctors—a class which, I believe, is peculiar to India, a class which has had its training in that country. Now, there is no doubt at all that that, in a way, is not a very satisfactory arrangement. The War Office has the responsibility for directing operations, the Commander-in-Chief has the responsibility for supplies, and the main responsibility for supplies must always remain with him, because the only possible base of supplies, so I am advised, must be India. We felt that if the War Office is to be responsible for the direction of the operations, it must also accept direct responsibility for the supplies as well, including the sick and wounded and the transports, and this arrangement has been come to with the Government of India, that whilst India remains the base for the force in Mesopotamia, and that force continues to be administered by the Commander-in-Chief in India, the Commander-in-Chief in India will receive his instructions from, and be responsible to, the Army Council in regard to all matters of personnel, administration, and supplies to the force in question; and further, that he be assisted by such officers as the Army Council may deem it desirable to appoint. The Government of India will use the resources of that country for meeting the needs of that force as far as 1266 possible without trenching on the supplies necessary for the maintenance of the force required there for defence. That is the decision arrived at within the last few days.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
Is it the Commander-in-Chief and not the Government in India who is alone responsible?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Commander-in-Chief in respect of supplies to the force in Mesopotamia will be under the direct control of the Army Council henceforth, and not the Government of India. As the result of that, arrangements have been made to send out to India men representing the War Office to assist in the organisation of supplies for the force in Mesopotamia. The War Office will take responsibility for the transport, that being the main difficulty. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the supplies at the base at Basra are abundant——
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
—but the transport has broken down. There is no doubt at ail about it that the river transport is very difficult owing to the peculiarities of the navigation of the Euphrates. I am assured, at any late, that every steamer available in India has been sent out. At any rate, those who have looked into this matter have concluded that you cannot get any further assistance from India in that respect, and you must look very largely to construction in this country for the purpose of assisting. Very considerable orders have been given in this country for the construction of river steamers and all kinds of river craft. They are constructed in India as well, but in the main they have got to rely on this country. Arrangements have also been made for the purpose of constructing a light railway part of the way. Henceforth the Army Council will be responsible for transport and for the supplies as well as for directing operations. They are sending out officers for the purpose of looking into the matter, and the Commander-in-Chief will be bound to honour their requisitions.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
As at present, the money comes from this country. The financial responsibility is ours. At the present moment India is only responsible for the ordinary establishment, and any extra expense in respect of the War falls 1267 upon the Treasury of this country at the present moment. The requisitions are made by India.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That I am not in a position to know, and that is a matter which will be investigated in the course of this inquiry. Whether requisitions have been sent from the Commander-in-Chief in Mesopotamia to the Commander-in-Chief in India and have not been honoured I cannot say, but in future requisitions from Mesopotamia will be made upon the War Office. If we can supply them from here they will be supplied, but if not from India. The responsibility will be entirely with those who organise supplies in other spheres of operations in this great War.
§ Mr. GWYNNE
Can those in command in Mesopotamia now send requisitions without awaiting for the arrival of the War Office staff?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Certainly; they do so as a matter of fact at the present moment. Whenever they want anything which they cannot get from India they send to the War Office here. It is the difficulty of transport. The only thing I should like to warn the House about is that you cannot effect the change immediately, the great difficulty being a difficulty, not of supply, but of transport, and that must necessarily take time. Not merely have you to order your boats, but you have to get them out there, and it will take some time to put them together after they arrive there. Undoubtedly there has been a very considerable improvement. That is the Report we get from the Commander-in-Chief on the spot, and not merely the Commander-in-Chief in India. What I want to assure the House of is this, that the mere fact of our setting up a Committee of Inquiry to inquire into the past is not going to interfere in the least with the action of the War Office in doing its best to put matters right at the present moment. It will have its own officers in India as soon as we can possibly send them out. We have officers in Mesopotamia now, and we shall have full power to organise the staff complete. If there is anybody there whom the Army Council do not think should be there, they can be removed, and other men can be put in their places. The same thing applies 1268 to the organisation of supplies in India itself for the Mesopotamian Force. That is the answer to the question put to me by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
What are you going to do about the results of the Vincent Report? What use will that be put to?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Vincent. Report has not arrived yet, and therefore we do not know what it is. We have, of course, our ideas as to what it is, but we have not seen it.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Commander-in-Chief has his own observations to make upon it, and he is very anxious that they should accompany the Report. It will be here in a very short time, and it will be one of the first documents placed before the Commission.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Will it be open to the military authorities on the spot in Mesopotamia to communicate direct with the Government?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
They communicate direct at the present moment if they want anything, but henceforth, not merely so far as the policy of the campaign is concerned, but so far as supplies are concerned, they will be directly responsible to the Army Council, and therefore there will be the same communication between them and this country as you. have between Salonika or France and this country. The responsibility will be the direct responsibility of the Army Council. The personnel will be under the Army Council and they can remove men and put others in their place; they can add to them, and the organisation will be completely under the control of the Army Council.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
Will legislation be required to give these powers to the Army Council, seeing that at present the Governor-General of India has control under Act of Parliament over all civil and military establishments, and that the Commander-in-Chief is but a member of his executive council? Will legislation be required to divest the Viceroy of the powers he at present holds as to the disposition of troops and promotions in the Indian Army?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Army Council will have no control over the forces in India, The control of the Army Council will be over the forces in Mesopotamia and the organisation for the purpose of supplying the forces in Mesopotamia. Therefore, it will be quite unnecessary, so I am assured, to have any legislation in order to make that control absolute. As a matter of fact, the officials whom we shall send out will be officials of the War Office, and they will represent the War Office there. The Commander-in-Chief in India, within the limits of his resources, will have to honour requisitions made upon him in Mesopotamia. I do not know that there is anything further for me to say.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask one question? It may seem a very small question, but I have had a good many communications on the subject. Can anything be done to improve the postal arrangements, about which there has been great complaint? I have seen letters begging for some food to be sent out by post. I have seen other letters saying that for months nobody has had a single letter, although many have been sent, and I have had additional complaints of the postage to Mesopotamia being very seriously raised. I hope that those points will be inquired into.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Although it appears to be a small point, it is not really as my right hon. Friend knows. Everything that can be done for these gallant fellows who have shown such fortitude and endurance under such trying conditions undoubtedly should be done by the Government of this country. Therefore, I shall certainly look into that matter to see if something can be done to improve the arrangement.
May I bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the fact, if there is any shortage—and I know there is—in light railway plant, light rails and sleepers, that there are many miles of light railways which could easily be taken up and thus save delay?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that will be a very valuable piece 1270 of information. There is no doubt at all that the military members of the Army Council were very strongly opposed to the publication of these Papers. The resistance to their publication, so far as the War Office is concerned, was initiated by them. I think it right to point out that Sir William Robertson was not responsible for either of these campaigns, and therefore, if he objected to the publication of the Papers, he was not doing it because he wanted to shield himself in the least.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
He was not there at the time, and, therefore, he came to a perfectly impartial decision on the subject entirely from the point of view of the public interest. That is why I am very glad myself that the inquiry is taking this course. After all, there ought not to be any difficulty in finding three or four gentlemen to whom you could entrust the most confidential information—men with sufficient discretion to know what you can publish and what you cannot publish. That is why I think it is very much better that the matter should be investigated by a Committee of this kind, and why I am very glad my right hon. Friend has pressed his case for an inquiry rather than for publication. There are circumstances which are not altogether to be found detailed in the Papers, but which can be investigated. The whole story is not in black-and-white, but those things which are not accounted for in any dispatch, letter, or telegram can be gone into by the Committee. Our first duty undoubtedly is to see that things are put right. Our second duty is to see, if anyone has been responsible for negligence, if anyone through his negligence has inflicted pain and torture upon the gallant men who have tendered their lives to their country, and who through their great deeds have made us proud of the race to which we belong, that those men should be held to account. That is important.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Negligence or incapacity. It is of the greatest importance that should be inquired into. It is important that an inquiry of this kind should not delay action. Subject to that, it is of the first importance that incapacity should be brought to account in the conduct of a war of this kind. Those two conditions I think have been 1271 completely met by the action which the Government have taken. The first action we have taken is to see that the responsibility is fixed here. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) was very anxious that the House of Commons should have control. In future the responsibility not merely for the conduct of the campaign, but also for the transport and supply arrangements for the sick and wounded, will be with the War Office, who will be directly responsible to Parliament. Therefore, that condition ought to be satisfied by the arrangement we have made. That is the first thing which has been done. I believe there are conditions in Gallipoli also that ought to be investigated. I venture to express no opinion upon the subject, and therefore I do not follow my hon. Friend who sits behind me in what he said, but I do agree with him that the responsibility there should be upon the right shoulders. These matters, I trust, will be fully and fairly investigated by this Commission, and the Commission, I trust, will proceed to its task without any loss of time. As far as the Government is concerned, we propose that this Commission should be appointed immediately. I trust the House of Commons will not take the several days which my hon. Friend opposite seemed to consider that they ought to devote to the passage of that Bill. I hope that we shall be able to carry it through, possibly, in the course of a single sitting, so that we may proceed without any loss of time with this inquiry.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have no doubt that the country will be very much relieved to hear from the Secretary of State for War that the appointment of this Committee will not interfere with immediate, energetic, and decisive action in the management of the affairs of the Mesopotamian campaign. It is amazing to the ordinary mind that such simple elementary matters of organisation should have required all these many months before being put into operation. The idea that a great Empire should conduct its war in watertight compartments in different parts of the Empire is one, of course, which would never have occurred to any ordinary human being. The idea that the health and life of British soldiers, 1272 their comfort and their medical treatment, should depend upon the views of economy of some Civil servant in India would never have occurred to anyone in this country, and I should very much doubt whether it would have been tolerated if it had. The financial arrangements of the Government of India, which have been undoubtedly to some extent the determining factor in the requisitions of the British Army in Mesopotamia, where British soldiers have been sent to fight and die, are intolerant in a time of war, and that it should have taken all this time to organise supplies and to transfer the responsibility from Government officials in India to the British War Office is, to say the least of it, astonishing. The right hon. Gentleman said that this matter was now in the hands of the House of Commons, because the War Office had taken it over. I do not understand this new doctrine with regard to the Government of India. I always understood that India was governed by the India Office in London, and that the Secretary of State for India, who was responsible for the government of India, was responsible to this House for what the Government of India did. If that is so, surely this House has had the same control in the past over what has been happening in Mesopotamia as it has to-day. It may not have exercised that control, but surely that is the case. Surely the Government of India is not some remote allied Power sitting in another country over which the Government here has no control. That is one of the points that I was going to ask in reference to this inquiry. Is the Committee going to inquire into the whole question of the policy and initiation of the campaign, and the responsibility of the Government and Cabinet here for deciding on the campaign, or is it to be limited to what are really minor details of transport of medical stores? Those are not fundamental questions at all. The fundamental questions are whether the campaign should ever have been undertaken, and who is responsible for it?
Then, of course, we have the further question of finance. Now at last, apparently, all the finance for the campaign is supplied and controlled by the Treasury here, and that very much simplifies the situation, because under the dual system one can easily understand that great complication must arise. Surely these matters might have been arranged long ago. We have had no explanation why they have not been arranged until 1273 within the last few days. We are entitled to know why an imperfect and bad system which has worked badly in practice has been continued all this time, and why it has gone on until my right hon. Friend has become Secretary of State for War. We understand that Sir William Robertson became Chief of the Staff in February four months ago. I take it that his approval of the alteration has been sought and has been accepted. Why have we had to wait from February until the end of July before an alteration of this character in a vital campaign comes into operation? His explanation will, I hope, come before the Commission. I hope the terms of reference will be wide enough to cover all these points, and that they will not be merely confined to relatively small matters of detail. We do not want to pre-judge the resut of the inquiry, and I sincerely hope when the inquiry takes place and the Report is published that a great deal of public feeling which has been aroused in this matter may be pacified. I am afraid it is common knowledge that there have been many features of a painful character in this campaign. How much of this ought to have been avoided the inquiry may show. I thoroughly believe, and I am sure the House will believe, that, at any rate, now that the matter is going to be handled as it ought to have been handled from the beginning, under one central control, we must be in a better position to deal with matters such as supply, than under the more restricted methods and supplies which they have in India. No doubt India can supply better than we can some kinds of medical stores and light railways, and the delay that would occur by means of the difficulty of sending them out to India, after they were manufactured here, must be a serious obstacle in the promptness and rapidity which is so important. As to the light steamers which the right hon. Gentleman referred to and the difficulty of sending them across the sea, and the other difficulties which would, of course, arise, some of the difficulties might have been avoided if a little more time had been available, and if some people had been consulted who were not. I happen to know something about the taking out of the Nile steamers, and other steamers. They would not have arrived had they not been in the hands of a capable naval and civil engineer, who managed them in such a manner as to enable them to stand 1274 the ocean journey. I am glad to hear the reference to the steamers that have been ordered in this country. I understood that we knew more about the business than any other country in the world, especially about the question of the navigation of shallow rivers, and that our engineers knew more about it than any engineers in the world. It is the right thing to do, and I should like to know when are these steamers going to be delivered and why were they not ordered long ago? The obvious necessity for them must have been aparent many months ago. The continual lagging behind the needs of the time in this campaign has been one of the most painful features of it. The Government and the War Office in this matter have underestimated what was required and have continued in a most hand to mouth fashion, and only now are we getting into the position that these men who have gone through a state of things which is almost inconceivable with regard to climate and hardship will find those necessary evils mitigated in as great a fashion as we can do it. I am sure no one who has spoken, or anyone who has been through that campaign, has failed to feel the greatest admiration for the heroism and endurance shown by them in the most terrible circumstances, and it would be a shame if the courage and self-sacrifice of these men should not receive that most generous form of help which they deserve from the Government and the people, and that all that was possible should not be done for them.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)
Some of the observations which my right hon. Friend has made oblige me to offer a few words in reply. I think that if he will look at the speeches of my right hon. Friend beside me in the reports to-morrow morning, he will not find any attempt on his part to disclaim the responsibility which properly belongs to the Secretary of State for India. I fully accept the responsibility which belongs to me in my Office for the doings of the Government of India. That does not mean that I want to do myself all the work of the Government of India. I venture to say that the work of the Government of India would be extremely ill done if any Secretary of State in London undertook the government of the country or the administration of its forces in that way. We each have our responsibilities. How far we have discharged them, how far I have discharged mine, and how far other people 1275 have discharged theirs, will naturally come under the review of the Committee which is to investigate the Mesopotamia affair, and I do not want to anticipate their decision or to attempt a defence now for myself or for the Government of India, or for anyone who has been attacked. The allegations are now to be brought under examination by a competent and impartial body, to whom all the documents necessary to the formation of an opinion, confidential as well as public, will be freely given.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Of course, all the evidence and Report. It is obvious that that Report and that evidence must be at the disposal of the Committee, and it must be one of the documents placed before them at once.
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I ask a question? The Report of this Commission is only now, I understand, in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief. Supposing that it shows incompetency on the part of somebody who was responsible for carrying out the operation, will the Government act on that report without waiting for the Report of this Committee?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. If we are satisfied that somebody is incompetent for his work, we shall, of course, have no excuse for saying that another Committee is going over the same ground, and until it has reported the incompetent man shall remain where he is. If incompetency is proved to our satisfaction—and I think my right hon Friend has made that clear—it will be our duty to act at once; that this inquiry is no excuse for delay where action is shown to be necessary and action can be taken. There is another observation, I think the opening observation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to which I must advert. The right hon. Gentleman is under the impression that in some way or other the financial niggardliness of the Government of India in these affairs has been the cause of the misfortunes which we deplore. That, I understand, is the right hon. Gentleman's impression. It has been suggested by Members I think in this House, and certainly outside this House, that it has been the view expressed that it is the financial member of the Council of India, Sir William Meyer, and his officials, who are responsible for the starvation of these people. I hope the House will 1276 remember in the first place, and also our other critics will remember, that whatever Sir William Meyer or others may have thought themselves, that the money which is spent on this expedition is not Sir William Meyer's money. It does not come out of the Indian Exchequer. Under a Resolution of this House it has to be paid by the British Treasury, and the Indian Government is only responsible for the forces sent over the sea—only for the ordinary peace cost of maintenance, and all the special expenditure of the War has been borne by the British Treasury, and therefore the Finance Minister of India had no interest of the kind that a Finance Minister has ordinarily in cutting down the expenditure. It was not his Budget which would be saved or upset. It was the Budget of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had to pay the cost for this expedition. But I am not going to confine myself to generalities of that kind. The Commander-in-Chief in India having these reports brought to his notice, authorised me to say if Sir William Meyer were criticised here, or wherever it has been done, that he had been fortunate in the assistance of Sir William Meyer had given him, and no financial difficulties had ever been thrown in his way. That at least I hope will dispose of these widely current rumours directed against a particular member of the Indian Government. If these forces have been starved it has not been done in the endeavour to save money by the refusal of supplies by the Government of India. That is one of the things which I wish to contradict. The House will be allowed to think of Mesopotamia without anything in the nature of palliation or excuse from me, but I would ask them to bear with me for a moment if I call their attention to what has been done by the Indian Government and what has been their responsibility during this War.
I should not like this Debate to close, in which there has been a great deal of criticism heard about the Mesopotamia Campaign, without saying that it is not well to allow to go to the public or to the House itself the impression that Mesopotamia was the sum and substance of the contribution of the Indian Government to this great War. I beg the House for a moment to permit me to recall what the Indian Government has had to do and what it has done, and I think hon. Members will see it is no inconsiderable achievement. As the result of a decision of Lord 1277 Nicholson's Committee, the Secretary of State in 1914 approved of the recommendation to the Government of India which contemplated the maintenance of seven and one-third divisions of Infantry and five Cavalry brigades and Army troops being kept in a state of readiness to be mobilised for war at the shortest possible notice. In August, 1914, two divisions of Infantry and one of Cavalry were sent to the War in France. Two brigades of Cavalry were sent later. A small force was sent to Mombassa. This was raised a month later to the strength of a division. In October, when War was declared by Turkey, one division was sent to Mesopotamia, and it was rapidly increased to two divisions. In October and November a brigade of Cavalry and a division of Infantry were sent to Egypt. I give these facts and figures more freely because they do not represent the distribution of the forces at present. All these forces were transferred to their various destinations complete with ambulances and general hospital, and hospitals were established also in England and France. Everything asked for that was possible was given from India. At the same time three divisions on the Indian front were mobilised, and so within a little more than three months of the outbreak of the War, and actually in the field in the first six months of the War, there were nine divisions of Infantry and eight brigades of Cavalry all actively engaged in the various theatres of war. The Government of India has managed to achieve more than it has been asked to do, and I think it is right to make that statement. Bear in mind also that the problem of the Indian Army organisation has been a problem, above all, of the Indian frontier, and a great oversea expedition and a struggle of the class in which we are now engaged had never been contemplated by His Majesty's Government at home, nor had the Government of India ever been directly prepared for an event of this kind.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am not quite certain what is the portent of the observation of my right hon. Friend. I am inviting the House to consider what the Indian Government did. If there were some failures, do not think it was all failures; do not think, if some things went wrong in Mesopotamia, that Mesopotamia was all that they contributed to the operations 1278 of this great campaign. They, like ourselves, with infinitely less resources, had to improvise and organise for an effort larger than and different from any upon which they had ever expected to enter. I have not yet come to an end of my recital, if the House will bear with me for a moment. Within a few days of the outbreak of war 600 officers of the Indian Army, of all grades, were placed at the disposal of the War Office, and I think I may say that they have contributed not. a little to the organisation of the great Armies which are now fighting in France and elsewhere. During the first few months of the War India, whose forces were engaged at that time in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, France, and in East Africa, had given not only all the organised units which she could at that time provide, fully equipped for the field, but she had also sent guns and set free British Infantry and British Artillery for use outside India, and she had supplied out of her own equipment to help to make good the deficiencies which existed here, as we all know, for a campaign on this scale.
I do not think it would be fair to the Government of India to allow all that has happened here to-day, or that has made itself heard in recent times, to pass without a brief reference to the effort she has made. Remember that the country was not absolutely quiet. Remember that there was serious unrest at one moment in the Punjab, arising from the return of emigrants, not unconnected, I think, with German intrigue and conspiracy. Remember that there were German plots to provoke risings there and to land arms there, which required constant vigilance and watching, and remember that whilst India was sending these great forces abroad, although during three previous years there had been no operations of any importance on the North-West Frontier, there were, between 27th November, 1914, and 5th September last year, no less than seven serious attacks made on the North-West Frontier, all of which were effectively dealt with and severe defeats inflicted on the tribes without the necessity for a single movement of tribal camps. I hope the House will give the Government of India credit for the extent of the effort they have made. I hope they will recognise that there is another side to the picture than the one which has been mostly painted to-day, and 1279 that, without attempting to pass judgment on the merits which will be submitted to this tribunal, they will not let it go forth from the House of Commons that in a discussion of this kind there was not a generous readiness on the part of the House of Commons to recognise alike the efforts which the military authorities of the Government of India have made to come to the assistance of the Empire in this time of peril, as well as the bravery, fortitude, and endurance of the Indian troops who have fought so well.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The right hon. Gentleman has made a deeply interesting statement as to the efforts put forth by the Government of India. That statement commends itself generally to the sense of the House, but I would point out to him that there are one or two criticisms that can be made which do not in any way stultify what he has said, which, although being points of detail, are of importance. He has mentioned that these expeditions were never contemplated by the Indian Government, but surely the driving power which comes from the British Government should have made the Intelligence Departments in India contemplate those expeditions and think them out beforehand. The whole of the success which has attended German efforts in the past has been due to the fact that those who were responsible in each case planned out their expeditions beforehand during the years of peace. I have no doubt that the Germans would have been successful in this War but for the intervention of England, which they failed to take into account. The Secretary of State for War mentioned to-day, for instance, that we now, for the first time, contemplated a light railway. I believe that the advance on Bagdad was decided upon nearly a year ago. What I would like to know from my right hon. Friend is this: Has the Government of India taken sufficient powers under their Defence of the Realm Act to do what every nation but England has done in this War—that is, to tear up a light railway if it happens to be wanted elsewhere in the interests of the public service? If, for instance, we could get a light railway quicker to the sources of supply by tearing up a light railway in India, for heaven's sake let us do it, even if we have not the necessary powers, and indemnify ourselves afterwards.
1280 There is a point I have raised several times at Question Time, and also in Debate, in connection with the non-publication of dispatches in reference to the Dardanelles. We have never had, although this bombardment occurred sixteen months ago, the naval dispatches in regard to the battle of the Dardanelles of 18th March, 1915, when we lost several battleships, when the "Inflexible" was mined and various other damages were inflicted on our ships, all to no purpose. I have stated, without contradiction on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, that there is not a single precedent for the withholding of dispatches in relation to naval or military battles. Perhaps the Navy considered it expedient to withhold them for a month or two, but I do not know of a single case except this case where the dispatches have been withheld for anything resembling sixteen months. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty absolutely avoided my question to-day as to what were the confidential reasons for withholding this particular dispatch. I submit that there are no confidential reasons, that the Service desires that this dispatch should be published, and that the reasons are simply those which are so often the true interpretation of such words as "the interests of the public service," namely, that they involve to a certain extent the reputations of some members of the present Board of Admiralty or members of a past Board of Admiralty. They say, "That is precisely what we are setting up an inquiry for—to inquire into the responsibility." As there are no confidential reasons, I do not see why we cannot have the publication of these dispatches, apart altogether from the Committee. As to these bombardments, nobody knew why they were carried out. They began in November, 1914, with the outer forts, and came to a conclusion with the disasters of 18th March, 1915.
If the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for War were present I would ask a question—I do not know whether the Secretary of State for India can answer it, and I do not know whether it has been asked before. I want to know whether these two Inquiries will be upon oath? Perhaps the Secretary of State for India will convey to the Prime Minister the fact that it has been suggested that they should be on oath. Another question is whether, if they are small, as the Secretary of State for War suggested they would be, will they be assisted by naval and military 1281 advisers of known independence of judgment who are apart altogether from the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Government of India, so as to advise on technical points? I assume they will comprise Members of the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and outside people, who are not versed in the technical details of the Army and Navy. Again, before the names are submitted to the House, will the Government undertake that, as this Motion is in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), they will consult him as to the constitution of the Committees, so that we may be sure their members are not solely the nominees of the Government? The Motion of my right hon. Friend asked only for Committees of Inquiry into the conduct of operations. I do not quite know what that covers. The Secretary of State for War spoke of "definite limits." There is the point of the supplying of information in regard to the Mesopotamia Expedition on which the advance was carried out. The responsibility for that supply of information rests far more on the Government here than on the people there, because they were many miles from the Turkish positions at Bagdad, and information could only be collected outside and supplied to those in command of the operations in Mesopotamia.
There is another question, raised by another speaker in this House, that is the inception of the operations, which is really the most important point of all. Will the inquiry cover the inception of the Dardanelles operations and the Mesopotamia operations? In those two expeditions we have the old question which lies at the base of the whole of military strategy—the question of predominant frontiers and subordinate frontiers. For instance, the Prime Minister recalled to the recollection of the House the old question of the Walcheren Expedition in July, 1809. At that time we had the main predominant frontier of Wellington's Army on the Tagus, but the operations of that Army were to a large extent paralysed by the very fact that the troops which should have gone to Wellington were withdrawn to carry out the disastrous Walcheren Expedition. There was the expedition into the Dardanelles, which is a point singularly unfavourable to military operations and to naval trans- 1282 port and landing; and, again, an expedition going 573 miles up a tortuous, shallow, and narrow river to Bagdad, both very unfavourable for keeping in touch with sea power. We have, again, the question of sending large bodies of troops to subordinate frontiers instead of to the main frontier. That is a question on which Committees of this kind would be well fitted to pronounce. There was the case when Napoleon was fighting against the Aulic Council, when he insisted upon this very point of the predominant frontier, while the Aulic Council supported their troops on the subordinate frontier. I suppose the Aulic Council was as near to a Coalition Government as we can get. The result in that case was disastrous to the Aulic Council. The Prime Minister has said in regard to the Mesopotamia Expedition—I think he said the same in regard to the Dardanelles, but of that I am not quite sure—that no other considerations had been allowed to override military considerations. That is a point on which such a Committee of Inquiry as this should undoubtedly have power to send for Papers and to examine persons. I am utterly against all inquiries of this kind taking great time in war. I think they divert men from their duties and they concentrate the minds of men on protecting their reputations when they ought to be thinking only of beating the enemy. But if we are to have an inquiry which is going to burke inquiry after the War, or the proper time for such a prolonged inquisition to take place, it must be a thorough inquiry, and it is for that reason that I have raised these points. I have here, as showing the time taken up, a quotation from what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday when he refused to lay Papers. He said:Much time and trouble, which could with difficulty be spared from the business of war, have been given to the task.That is the task of looking through these Papers and seeing whether they could be published, and it is obvious that much more time and trouble will be given to the task of explaining and laying these Papers before Committees and of the actual men being haled as witnesses before these Committees. I regret that they are to be formed in the midst of the War, but since they are to be formed, and they necessarily will be used to burke inquiry after the War, let us make them as efficient as possible, though it may be that they cannot help doing harm.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Of the dwellers in Mesopotamia there are two or three gathered together in this House two of whom have spoken. May a third be allowed to intervene at this stage, only for the purpose of expressing great satisfaction with the Secretary of State's defence of the Government of India It had been my intention earlier to deprecate attacks on the Government of India. I was sorry that one hon. Member made a veiled attack on my old fellow officer, Sir William Meyer, and another absolutely arraigned him. I think it will be found when the investigation is made that he will come out of it quite satisfactorily. But however that may be, when the Government give the Committee—a most satisfactory termination to the Debate—surely we can all wait and not condemn the Government of India collectively or individually until we know the result of this inquiry. In my Mesopotamian days there was a proverb among the Arabs, "Better an hour of justice than seventy years of prayer." That applies to the Government of India as well as to those who have suffered from faults and failures—and I admit they are severe—in this campaign. There must be justice for the Government of India and its officers, and I am extremely gratified at the statement made by the Secretary of State. It will give comfort to many worthy and admirable officers who are now suffering from the general feeling that they are at fault, which prevails on all sides, but which has not yet been substantiated. Another thing the right hon. Gentleman said which will give the greatest satisfaction in connection with that matter is that he entirely repudiated the contention of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A, Mond) that the Government of India was in London. There was a time when that seemed likely to be the case. It is gratifying indeed that he has stated his intention of not favouring that position and leaving the Government of India where it rests by statute, with the Governor-General in Council.
Upon the point of the conduct of the campaign I will say little or nothing, but when I heard the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) and others saying, "Why not have got steamers from the Irrawaddy," the Irrawaddy and the Tigris are not exactly alike. I do not think steamers from the Irrawaddy would be suitable for the Tigris. I remember being stranded on the Tigris and being sniped at by Arabs 1284 on the bank, even in time of peace, and the House may imagine what are the conditions for transport in Mesopotamia where you grill by day and freeze by night, and where the whole country is as ill-suited for military operations of this character as it is possible for anybody to imagine. It is not fair to conclude that the officers of the Government of India, their soldiers and their generals, are entirely at fault under circumstances such as these. With regard to drugs I rather understood the Secretary of State for War to say that the normal process was for the Commander-in-Chief in India or the Stores Department to indent upon the War Office. Surely they never indented upon anyone in ordinary times except through the India Office. That there is a change now is quite satisfactory. I welcome it, but I do not think the Secretary of State was correct there.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood the Secretary of State for War. In ordinary times the Government of India indents upon the India Office. It does not indent upon the India Office now. Stores may be required to fill up the gaps caused by its expenditure, whether upon Mesopotamia or upon the Indian Force in East Africa or elsewhere. In these days the market is much less an open market than usual, so that vast quantities—I use the word in the widest sense—the whole supply of the country is commandeered by the great military Departments here. Accordingly for supplies which, in ordinary circumstances, might sometimes have been bought direct by the India Office for the use of the Government of India, we have been undoubtedly dependent on the War Office here during this War, because the War Office controls practically the whole supplies. They have done all they could. I take this opportunity of saying that since the change was made in February, with the complete goodwill of the military authorities in India as well as of myself as Secretary of State, the War Office have done everything they could to make good the deficiencies which disclose themselves.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am greatly obliged to my right hon. Friend. I will only express one wish as regards this matter. I hope it is not the case that the sentimental policy of limiting the supply of opium has led to any lack of the supply of the many useful derivatives of that valuable 1285 drug in regard to the supply of the troops. I have no reason to suppose it is so, but I sincerely hope it is not. As the Government of India will be practically upon its trial before this Commission, because I think that is the case, I do not suppose anyone representing the Government of India will be upon it, and no one who was not very recently connected with the Government of India would be of any use upon such an inquiry. It is a new and a serious, perhaps an inevitable, situation, but I understand the Government of India will practically be upon its trial before this Commission, and I hope that fact will be taken into account in appointing some great pro-Consul or some suitable person who will be able to deal with so very serious a situation as that. I am extremely glad this matter has ended as it has. More has been said than I wanted said, and I am sorry so much has been said which amounted practically to an indirect attack upon the Government of India. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken up for that Government. He knows, as Lord St. Aldwyn said, that India is well administered, perhaps better administered than countries which look down upon bureaucratic administration, and I am sure the Government, the public service, and all those serving in that country will be grateful to him, as I am, for the generous and straightforward manner in which he has stood up to-day—it is somewhat difficult, because it is so easy to accept a scapegoat—for the public service and the Government which he represents so well.
§ Mr. DILLON
The hon. Gentleman appears to me to be considerably more interested in the officials of the Government of India than in the soldiers who have suffered such horrors which some of us have got details of in the course of this Mesopotamian expedition. The one feature in the Debate that pleased me was the statement made by the Minister for War, that he would not wait for this Commission to report before dealing with what I am afraid is undeniable, the gross incapacity of some of the medical officers who are in control in Mesopotamia. I have not the slightest notion of mentioning any names, but, if the information which has been laid before me by some of the medical men is correct, the expression "criminal negligence," which was used by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson), is not a bit too strong to describe what is going on in Mesopotamia. I think it was 1286 disappointing that the Government did not more frankly admit the horrible abuses which, if all the information that has reached private Members is true, were in existence in Mesopotamia for such an enormous period. That is a thing which apparently no attempt has been made on behalf of the Government to explain.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I came here today prepared to make so much of a statement as could be made under the circumstances. But an inquiry was decided on. The inquiry is to examine into these very questions. I purposely, therefore, refrained from attempting to argue beforehand the very questions which will be submitted to this inquiry.
§ Mr. DILLON
The point I rose to try and emphasise was that the inquiry will have no effect whatsoever in bringing relief to our soldiers in Mesopotamia. The inquiry is a matter which I regard, in the shape it has now taken, as one of remote futurity. I am an old enough Member of this House to remember many of these Commissions appointed to inquire into tangled problems such as this Committee will have to deal with and the subject is buried out of public sight for the next year at least, or probably a year and a half. If it is ever alluded to the Government will always say "a Statutory Commission has been set up and we have no authority over it at all, and they alone are the judges of the time they are to take and the method of their own procedure," and we hear no more about it until the War is over. That, therefore, has no bearing on the question of the abuses which have existed now in Mesopotamia for more than a year and which have not been remedied—I do not know whether they are remedied yet. I have had detailed statements laid before me which go to show that the medical provision made for the troops was absolutely scandalous. I do not think there is anything more atrocious in the records of the British Army, if these reports are not grossly exaggerated. It is not a question of one month or two months or six months. It has been going on for over a year. Hundreds of men, if I am rightly informed, have died whose lives could easily have been saved, and ought to have been saved, and hundreds of gallant British officers and soldiers have died in agony of the most horrible description owing to the fact that no adequate attempt was made to furnish them with drugs or with transport to take them 1287 down the river, and the supply of doctors and medical orderlies was deplorable and shockingly insufficient. There is this sinister feature which has not been alluded to before that that condition of things continued for months and months in spite of the fact that reports were sent in by some medical officers detailing all these horrors, and, if I am rightly informed, some of the men who took the most active part in making these reports and endeavouring vainly to draw the attention of the Government to the horrors which were going on have since been punished and snubbed for making these reports. I suppose that will come up before the Committee. If it is true it adds a fresh chapter to the horrors that have occurred in Mesopotamia.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If it is true it would be a scandalous thing. Such an allegation, if it is made, would certainly be considered by the Committee.
§ Mr. DILLON
That has been stated to me, but I cannot say whether it is true or not. I suppose, however, that it will be a proper subject for investigation by the Committee. I hesitate to believe that all the statements made as to negligence, etc., in regard to the higher officials of the medical service are entirely without foundation. The supply of quinine was absolutely hopeless. We have it on the authority of some of the medical officers that they asked for permission to give quinine in adequate doses to the men, because it is well known to be most effective in protecting troops against malaria; but they were absolutely refused permission and ordered not to give any quinine. Where quinine was administered the sickness rate fell enormously. Anybody who knows anything about medicine knows that this is one of the most effective preventives against malaria. The same sort of thing has run through the whole expedition. The fact which has struck me most is that that condition of things went on for over a year, and it was only quite recently, when a row was made in this House, and the news of the state of affairs leaked out in this country, that any serious effort was apparently made to bring about a remedy. Quite apart from the wider issues which have to be dealt with in regard to the Mesopotamia Expedition and the Dardanelles Expedition, I maintain that this question of medical breakdown in connection with the Mesopo- 1288 tamia Expedition should be taken up separately by the Government, and referred to some separate form of inquiry, either a departmental inquiry at the War Office, or some sufficiently rapid inquiry, which would bring home to those who are responsible their full share of blame for the horrible neglect of these unhappy men, and that proper measures should be taken without waiting for the Report of the larger Commission, which I am afraid will not be available for more than a year. That is a point which I am extremely anxious to press upon the Government. With regard to the point upon which the Secretary for India took me up a few moments ago, I should be very happy to lay before him the information I have got.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I should like to have said a word or two before the Secretary for India left in regard to a point which I raised a day or two ago. I entirely agree with all that has fallen from the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) in regard to the scandal of this medical service. I speak with all the more feeling, inasmuch as many men in the medical service are constituents of mine, and I know from what they have told me how bad the state of things has been. Of course, we are all glad that such an inquiry as has been promised to us is to be opened, but I wish to express my great disappointment that the opening of this new inquiry is apparently to take place before the Report of Sir William Vincent and Mr. Redesdale is made public. They had two months of inquiry in March and April, and that report has been presented. Mr. Redesdale has left India and yet we hear no more of that Report. I am certain that I am speaking the wishes of the whole medical service of India when I say that that is a Report which ought to be at once made public, and that it ought not to be submitted simply to the inquiry which is now to be reopened. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) informed me that he was obliged to submit it to those whose conduct was dealt with in the Report. I do not see the slightest reason that that should be done. Charges were made, and those officers were able to refute them if they could. The matter was referred to a judicial Committee for its verdict, and if we are not to have the finding of that Committee until those findings have been submitted to and commented upon by those incriminated, I do not see why we should have had any Commission at all. Six months have new elapsed, and now because a new 1289 inquiry is to be opened, we are told that the Report will not be published, and that the results of the inquiry will be subject to further consideration. I am certain, and I speak now as an old Civil servant, that the right hon. Gentleman is going through an unnecessary process in submitting the judicial report of this judicial Committee to the officers incriminated. The matter ought to be made public first of all, and it is only by its being made public that we shall have a full consideration of the steps that may be necessary in order to relieve the torture and misery from which our soldiers are suffering.
§ Mr. PETO
I want to draw attention to two points which have not been made sufficiently clear. The right hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) is rightly anxious that the reference to this Commission should be extremely definite, and should be definitely limited to certain points. I am entirely in agreement with that, because we do not want the Commission sitting, as the hon. Member for Mayo suggested, for, perhaps, eighteen months, or, perhaps, until well after the termination of the War, and with no results achieved. On the other hand, it must be absolutely essential—the right hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) was the only hon. Member who raised this point—that the reference should include inception and conduct of the whole of this campaign. I wish to quote what the Prime Minister said yesterday, with regard to the more detailed matter of the shortage of medical comfort and of food itself. He said:The urgency of relieving General Townshend was such that it was thought right—I am not sure it was at all an imprudent act—to push on the troops ahead, in advance of the transport, in the hope that his relief might be speedily, or, at any rate, timely effected.That shows quite clearly that in the mind of the Prime Minister the fact that we had a gallant garrison beleaguered in Kut, which held out during a siege of unprecedented length, caused such urgency for the relief of that garrison that that was in some measure responsible, and not those who in the government of India or in the War Office had the conduct of affairs in hand; but that somehow it was this misfortune of the beleaguerment of the garrison at Kut that was the cause of the trouble. We cannot have anything approaching the truth unless the whole inception of this expedition is considered, divided into various questions of the original expedition to Mesopotamia, the 1290 advance to Kut, and the advance from Kut to Bagdad with the utterly inadequate troops, under command of General Townshend. Unless all these things can be investigated, and a finding arrived at upon them, this Commission will serve no useful purpose. That brings me to the second point. The hon. Member for Lancaster told the House, and the Prime Minister in particular, that he had been entrusted by Lady Horsley with certain letters from Sir Victor Horsley, dealing with specific points which would be the subject of this inquiry. Sir Victor Horsley is one of that magnificent army of Englishmen who have given up their lives in the service of their country, and he cannot possibly be a witness before this Committee. It is of the utmost importance—and I am thankful that it is to be so—that the Commission should be invested with powers to send for Papers and persons. We must remember that there is another person—and in this case the principal factor in the whole of these operations, namely, General Townshend himself—who cannot possibly come before the Committee to say what part he had in the initiation, the inception, and strategical and tactical plan which resulted ultimately in the surrender of the garrison under his command at Kut. That fact, obviously, will leave the inquiry incomplete, and it can only be filled in one way, and that is by providing that this Committee or Commission to be set up shall have powers to compel persons who have Papers bearing upon these matters to produce them before the Commission. I think it is only in that way that we can have even a partial representation of what are the real facts of this very mysterious matter, on which we have already had a White Paper which arrived at no conclusion. I refer to the responsibility for the advance from Kut, which resulted, owing to the unsuccessful effort to relieve the garrison, in the surrender of the garrison at Kut, and the taking prisoner by the Turks of General Townshend himself. We know that there is documentary evidence as to who is responsible or who is not responsible. We have a White Paper repeating endless telegrams from one Department of State to another, which finally fails to discover this document, which it is common knowledge not only exists, but must have been before some of those who were largely, if not entirely, responsible for the strategy and tactics of the campaign.
1291 I regret that in the Prime Minister's speech the other day the only reference he made to General Townshend was the one which I have read to the House. It is true he said that the earlier part of the expedition was most skilfully and ably conducted, but there was no personal tribute to General Townshend such as I think the House and the country would have welcomed, and I feel bound, before this Debate closes, to point out that this Commission has been appointed to inquire into a matter where obviously in the nature of the case, what I regard as the principal witness can give no oral evidence at all. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the scope of the reference to the Commission should not only be such as to include inquiry into the responsibility for the initiation of the various stages of the campaign, but that it should be quite clear that every particle of evidence that is in black and white should be brought before the Committee so that we may have a finding which is in accordance with the facts of the case.
§ Motion for Adjournment negatived.