§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith): I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ In moving the Second Reading of this Bill there are two points on which the House is entitled, I think, to further information than that which is actually contained in the Bill itself. The first and most important one is in the first Clause with regard to the names of the Commissioners who are to undertake the two Inquiries. I acknowledge the Government found it a difficult matter to arrange a set of names with regard to either of these Inquiries, which, as is necessary, 1706 should command general confidence and assent. In our view, in the first place, the Commission should be small in numbers. I think a large body, everybody will agree, is not well fitted for an investigation of this kind. In the second place they should, if possible, be names of persons who are not only unconnected in the sense of direct or indirect responsibility with any of the matters inquired into, but also persons who had not committed themselves by public declaration to what I may call a biassed or partial point of view. Further, we have thought it desirable, since the original Motion was a Motion for a Select Committee of this House, that the composition of these bodies should, as far as possible, be Parliamentary. Finally, I may say the names which I am about to give to the House are names which we merely suggest. We are quite willing to accept any proposal which may be made for strengthening in any way the composition of these bodies. The names which we propose to the House to insert in the Bill are as follows:—
§ Chairman, Lord George Hamilton, an ex-Secretary of State for India, and for many years a Member of this House.
§ Lord Donoughmore, Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords, and former Under-Secretary of State for War.
§ Three Members of this House—
- Lord Hugh Cecil,
- Sir Archibald Williamson, and
- Mr. John Hodge.
§ With regard to the Dardanelles, the Chairmanship of the Commission has, I am glad to say, been accepted by Lord Cromer, whose wide administrative experience makes him eminently fitted for this position. We propose to associate with him—
- The Right Hon. Andrew Fisher, High Commissioner for Australia.
- Sir Thomas Mackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand.
- Three Members of this House—
- Sir Frederick Cawley,
- Mr. J. A. Clyde, K.C., Dean of Faculty, and
- Mr. Stephen Gwynne, a member of the Irish party.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman will not, I hope, suppose that I am offering any criticism of the statement he has just made, when I remind him of the undertaking which he gave us at Question Time yesterday that there should be an interval of twenty-four hours between the announcement of the names and the discussion of the Bill. There is no reason at all why the discussion of the Bill should take a long time or why it should not pass rapidly through the House. But certainly, as he himself has said, that he would accept suggestions from the House with regard to the membership and the terms of reference, I think it would be convenient if we were allowed an interval 1708 of twenty-four hours in which to consider his proposals which at first sight appear entirely to meet the wishes of the House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As I said yesterday, I am entirely in the hands of the House. It is a most reasonable request that there should be time to consider the names and the terms of reference. Therefore, if we take the Second Reading now the Committee stage and so on could be taken to-morrow.
Sir H. DALZIEL
So far as I am concerned, the statement of the Prime Minister will, I think, meet all the points we desire to raise in regard to the time when the Bill should be taken. It is most important that we should have time to consider the names before we finally embody them in the Bill. I am sure the Prime Minister will admit that the names are really almost the whole thing in this matter. With my knowledge of Select Committees, I am agreeably surprised at the proposals which the Government have made. As far as the Dardanelles Commission is concerned, it seems to me a very satisfactory body on the whole, though I have not had much time to consider it. Personally, I would have wished that the chairmanship had been in younger hands than those of Lord Cromer. We all recognise Lord Cromer's great administrative abilities and his long public career, but we know that he has recently got over a very serious illness, and I think that when we get to the Committee stage it will perhaps be considered necessary to suggest that Lord Loreburn, or somebody of that kind, should be Chairman of the Commission. We are at some disadvantage in taking the stage to-day at such short notice. In regard to the Mesopotamia Commission, I shall certainly oppose the chairmanship of Lord George Hamilton. Lord George Hamilton is receiving at the present moment, and has been receiving for about twenty years, a pension from the Government. Although we have from time to time raised the question whether these political pensions ought not to be stopped, 1709 through the action of the Government Lord George Hamilton has continued to draw his pension. Therefore, for the reason alone that he is under an obligation to the Government, I shall certainly oppose his appointment as Chairman. We do not want any Government hacks on either of these Commissions. As far as I know, there is none on the Dardanelles Commission. I think the chairmanship ought to be in the hands of someone who has no interest and who is under no obligation whatever to the Government.
Sir H. DALZIEL
May I remind my right hon. Friend that the question of stopping these pensions has been brought up from time to time. The Government have been urged by their own supporters to put an end to political pensions, and they could at any moment stop Lord George Hamilton's pension if they so desired. From that standpoint he is under an obligation to the Government. Apart from the personnel of these Commissions, the whole thing turns on the power which the Commissions are to have. I would like to ask the Government here and now whether it is their intention that the word "conduct" shall cover the initiation of these campaigns? I admit that the Prime Minister rightly said that he had taken the exact words that were placed on the Paper by the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), and to that extent he is entitled to say that he is meeting the wishes of those of us who supported that Motion. But it all depends on what the Government regard as the "conduct" of the operations. Does it cover the initiation of these campaigns? In Committee it will certainly be our duty to move the insertion of the word "initiation," so as to leave no doubt whatever about it. These Commissions are going to sit in judgment on the action of Ministers themselves. If they are not going to do that, I am afraid they will not serve the purpose which those who originally asked for them have in view. We want to know, for example, the whole circumstances attending the decision of the Cabinet in regard to the Dardanelles. We want to know whether the whole Cabinet was consulted, and the date on which it was consulted. We want to know whether the original intention was 1710 that a naval force and a military force should begin the operations at the same time. We want to know what advice the naval authorities gave with regard to it. We want to know whether there are any memoranda of the members of the Naval Board issued to the Cabinet, and what their effect was. Therefore, it must be made clear beyond all doubt that these Commissions have power to crossexamine Ministers and heads of different Departments, and to go into every question affecting the intitiation of the two campaigns. We want to know further who ordered the advance of Bagdad. The Commissions must have power to demand all Papers with regard to that, and to know what part the Cabinet played in that most important blunder.
With regard to the Clause in reference to the production of documents, I suppose it is clearly understood that the Commissions will be able to demand all documents of a relevant character, not only official but unofficial. We know perfectly well, in connection with correspondence and telegrams sent abroad, the official telegrams do not always really give the views of Ministers. There are a number of unofficial telegrams which are never reported at all. I hope it will be made perfectly clear that these unofficial telegrams also will be available to the Commissions if they so desire. With regard to the question of publicity, it is most important that these Commissions should sit in public as often as possible, and that the only condition under which they should sit in private is that they are of opinion that the giving of the evidence in public would be against the public interest. Therefore I think, instead of making the assertion that the inquiry is to be in public when possible, it ought to be said that it should be always in public except when it is clearly shown that it would be against the public interest. With regard to the Indemnity Clause, I shall suggest in Committee that it ought to be a little more clear so far as concerns officials giving evidence. I have good reason to know it is important that this Clause should be altered. There are many officials now in London who will be willing to give important evidence before the inquiries, but it is impossible for these men to risk their official positions unless they have the fullest and clearest indemnity that their public career will not be damaged if they give evidence which might be against the 1711 interest of the Government. Therefore, I hope we shall be able to strengthen the Indemnity Clause.
With regard to the Commissions sitting abroad, I hope the Prime Minister will be willing in Committee to give the Commissions power, if they have not it already, to send delegations abroad instead of the whole Commission themselves going. I notice that the Clause is the same as in the case of the Parnell Commission, but I think it ought to be made quite clear that they could send one or two of their number abroad to take certain evidence which might not be available at home. On the question of a time limit, I think we ought as often as possible to have Interim Reports from these Commissions. That is provided for in the Bill, but I am not sure that it would not be advisable to make it clear that we ought to have a Report, say, every three or six months, so that the House of Commons may know exactly what is going on. My right hon. Friend seems rather amused at that. I hope we are certainly not to have Commissions which are going to postpone their proceedings for the next two or three years. I see no reason why they should not report within the next six months. I hope there will be an expression of opinion that there should be as little delay as possible in the presentation of their Reports. When we reach the Committee stage on some of these points I shall be prepared to move Amendments.
§ Mr. DILLON
There is one point to which I wish to direct the attention of the Government at this stage, and that is the question of the medical arrangements in Mesopotamia. That question stands on a wholly different footing from all the other subjects of inquiry dealt with in the Bill. It is a continuing evil to some extent. The subject has not been at all cleared up. I was horrified to read last week a telegram from India to the effect that the Commander-in-Chief had recommended that full rations should now be issued to the troops on the Tigris. That is a most appalling statement, because it implies that the troops have been on less than full rations up to the present moment. Therefore I say that the whole question of the medical arrangements in Mesopotamia, and of the officers responsible for the awful breakdown in those arrangements, should be put on a differ- 1712 ent footing and not referred merely in a general way to this Commission. I am old enough to have had considerable experience of Royal Commissions. When a Statutory Commission or an ordinary Royal Commission is appointed it becomes absolute master of its own proceedings. If you press the Government in this House as to delay or secrecy, or any other matter, the answer always is that the Commission is master of its own proceedings, and the Government have no right whatever to advise, counsel, or harass them in any way. Therefore the moment this Bill is passed all control over the matter goes from this House.
Judging from my experience of Royal Commissions, we shall be extremely lucky if we get a Report from this Commission within a year. I think it is much more likely to arrive after the end of the War. Remember, once you refer these matters to Statutory Commissions your mouths are closed, and every criticism put forward on these matters will be met by the Government with the one stereotyped answer, based on universal custom, "This matter has been referred to a Statutory Commission, and we have no further responsibility until we get the Report of that Commission." I have seen many very urgent matters shelved in that way, with the result that they remained on the shelf two or three years, and the House was unable to interfere with them further. I think it would be nothing short of a scandal if the question of the medical administration of the Mesopotamia Expedition is dealt with in any such way as that. As I say, it is a continuing evil. We have never yet had any informing answer from the Government as to whether the men or any of them who were responsible for the breakdown of the medical organisation in connection with the Mesopotamia Expedition are still in control either here at home or in Mesopotamia. I have some reason to believe that some of them are. It is, or it ought to be, impossible for this House to rest content to refer such a Report to a Committee which may not give us any information for a year to come until these matters are somewhat cleared up. Therefore, I would desire to give notice to the Government that when we come to Clause 6, if they do not in the meantime think of some other arrangement directing the Commission to make a full Report within two months of all matters relating to medical organisation, the provision of 1713 medical supplies and comforts, and medical officers, and also the provision of food to the troops in Mesopotamia, I shall myself direct attention to the matter.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he cannot see his way to add a naval man to the Commission, either in respect of the Dardanelles or of Mesopotamia? The question is one that very largely affects the Navy. There are hundreds of people who are quite fit, on behalf of the Navy, to be on the Committee. Five years ago there were a hundred retired officers engaged in giving the most excellent advice in relation to the Declaration of London; if it had been followed it would have saved a great deal of money.
§ Mr. HOLT
There are several criticisms which might be offered on the Bill now before the House. The object with which we have introduced this inquiry—at least, I hope it is so—is to find out the cause of what are two very discreditable failures, and who are the persons responsible for these mistakes. I hope it may be possible to bring some of them seriously to account, and to make them suffer for all they have done wrong. I do not care who are the wrongdoers, whether politicians, or soldiers, or sailors. It is the people responsible for these failures whom we want to get at. In regard to the terms of the reference, I want to understand whether it includes an inquiry as to the reason why the military and naval operations at the Dardanelles were not begun simultaneously? I do not know whether under the actual words of the reference an inquiry into that will or will not be possible, but I do submit that any inquiry which does not cover the question as to why these two operations were not commenced simultaneously will only be a farce. I have been told—and I believe it to be quite true—that in the first instance British sailors were actually on the top of Achi Baba. I think it ought to be made quite clear that the inquiry will go as far as the initiation of the enterprise. I do not want to inquire as to the political reasons which caused these operations to be undertaken, but we ought to have a full inquiry into the matter from the very commencement and of the reasons why the naval and military operations took the form they did. We do not know what is the truth of the matter. 1714 The Prime Minister stated most candidly on 2nd November last that if anybody was more responsible than another for the initiation of the enterprise it was himself, and I am quite sure he will not object to having the fullest inquiry.
§ Mr. HOLT
I do not know that I very much like Clause 4 of the Bill. It seems to me we are dealing out indemnities too freely. It appears to me that under Clause 4 anybody who comes before this Commission and tells the whole truth has an absolute indemnity. I do not think that ought to be so. Look at some of the facts known to the public. We have had Sir Ian Hamilton's report published, and in it there were charges against General Stopford, and then we have had a charge against Sir Ian Hamilton himself. The charges in both cases are almost identical. They comprise the offence for which Admiral Byng was shot. Admiral Byng was convicted and shot for not having done his utmost to bring the hostile fleet to action. So far as I can make out, this is exactly the thing which these generals are guilty of having done.
§ Mr. HOLT
Yes, charged. I do not of course, say that they may not have a complete answer to the charge. What I do think is this: If we are to have a public trial of the persons who are believed to be guilty of incapacity and slothfulness; if we are to bring home to them the fact that professional incapacity and slothfulness are criminal offences when we are engaged in military operations, that will be to the good. It is all very well for people to look at good intentions, and to say that that is the only thing that matters. A man is supposed to have professional capacity for the work which he undertakes to do. If he has not got it he may properly be dealt with very severely for the absence of that which he holds himself out as possessed of. I will not go so far as to advocate the shooting of anybody in the way that Admiral Byng was shot. I have always thought that was a very harsh sentence, and that it was very cruel to carry it out.
§ Mr. HOLT
But there is a long distance between sending a man to be shot and 1715 giving the same man comparatively comfortable employment at home. I do think officers who can be proved guilty of incapacity and who have been incompetent ought to be given, not certificates of indemnity, but dismissed from their positions in the Army or Navy.
§ Mr. HOLT
Very well, then, let us have this thing made quite clear. I should like to be satisfied that this inquiry is going to bring the matter home to the people who have done what is wrong, and to make sure that proceedings will be taken against them, and that you will not have, as has happened in the past, endless delays, a Report mildly censuring everybody concerned, and finally complete oblivion. Do let us get to the bottom of the matter, and see that the people who are incapable are severely dealt with.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
The Bill as it is drafted is for the purpose of inquiring into the conduct of the operations. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept an Amendment purposely inquiring into the initiation, or the origin, of the operations in the Dardanelles 2 Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman in his reply will be able to tell us whether he would accept such an Amendment, and whether it would be considered as part of the conduct of the operations to include an inquiry into the initiation of the operations at the Dardanelles? That is the first point I want to put. The second point is rather more important. That is as regards the present position of affairs in Mesopotamia. The Prime Minister stated when he introduced this Bill that he hoped, and believed, that adequate and ample provision is now being made for all the requirements of our troops. Does that hold good? Is the Prime Minister quite satisfied that there are sufficient rations and a sufficiency of medical equipments for all the troops in the Mesopotamia campaign? I should strongly object to this Commission if not 1716 responsible for the provision of medical equipment in Mesopotamia at the present time. That seems to be a matter for the War Office.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)
made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Do I understand the Secretary for India accepts responsibility, or is it the responsibility of the War Office?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Then if the medical provision for the troops in Mesopotamia is not sufficient we shall still be able to question the War Office?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
And the War Office will not shelter itself behind this Commission? That is the only question I want to ask. I do suggest to the Government that the most important point at the present time is to give the troops in Mesopotamia that ample medical equipment which we are assured has been given. I have received letters from my Constituents in Devonshire as to the deplorable lack of things necessary. Having had the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India that the War Office will not shelter themselves behind this Commission and that we shall be able to hold the War Office responsible—
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I do not want to make a speech or offer any criticism except so far as is contained in a very simple question I desire to put. The hon. and gallant Gentleman below me (Sir H. Meux) has forestalled one part of the question. Is it by express intention that in these Commissions which are to inquire into the conduct of the operations of war there is not a single Member, so far as I can see, who has any knowledge or practical experience of naval or military affairs? And that in regard to the Mesopotamia Commission, there is no Member upon it, so far as I know, who has any knowledge of military medical affairs!
§ Colonel AUBREY HERBERT
There is one thing I should like to put to the Prime Minister in regard to this inquiry, and that is that the Commission, in order to be able to strengthen itself, should be allowed to co-opt other members. For instance, there are many names of individuals of special experience which will occur to one at once. I know I have no right to put forward these names, as I have not discussed the question with those concerned, but there is Sir William Garstin, Lord Lamington, and Lord Sydenham. The latter has really got triple qualifications for the task. He is a man who has had military experience. He has had experience of India. He has had administrative experience. I quite agree with what fell from the hon. Member for East Mayo. I think that the medical question and the strategical and political questions should be completely divided. If you try to go into the strategy and policy of the Dardanelles you will bring in practically every statesman in Europe, and I do not see where the thing is ever going to end. What we want is a categorical statement as to what happened at Anzac and Suvla Bay. That can do no harm. The same equally applies to Mesopotamia. My hope about the Commission is this: That its immediate effect is going to be greatly more than its ultimate effect. There are a great many men in high position now trembling in their shoes. Now that this Commission has been started these men will put in such work as they never before put in in their lives. That is going to be good for our people in Mesopotamia. I hope and believe that the bonds of red tape will be loosened, that the pigeon holes will be rather less glutinous than in the past, and that the appointment of this Commission will be very good influence on our men, not only in Mesopotamia, but in Aden and Bushire.
Of course, what the Commission will find itself up against is something very much bigger than individual incompetence, or individual negligence. What it will find itself up against is a very great system. This is not the place or the time to go into that system. All I will say is this: that between any one of us here who achieves a piece of work or fails in its accomplishment, there are perhaps ten clerks. When you go to India there are at least ninety clerks, and they are all native clerks. Therefore it is obviously a much more cumbrous machine. When we 1718 speak of this question of India I should like to make it clear that it is not India itself we attack. We know what we owe to the loyalty of the Indian troops. We know what we owe to the loyalty and generosity of the Indian princes. But when my right hon. Friend the Secretary "of State for India, in the fine defence, if I may say so, which he made the other day, and which was characterised by that loyalty to his colleagues and his subordinates that distinguishes him, said that nothing was refused by the Government of India that was asked for, of course I accept his bona fides; but I can only say that I believe he is misinformed, and that that was not the case. If he says that it is not to the interest of India to refuse, because the Imperial Government is paying, all I can say is that if a man is a miser he does not become the less a miser because you make him a trustee, and, with or without reason, with or without object, that campaign has been starved from its very initiation. It has been fought on lines of heroism by the soldiers, and it has been conducted on lines of pauperism by the Administration.
I will not go into the climate of Mesopotamia. I "think hon. Members know enough about it, but I will only say that in no other theatre of war have men had so much to put up with as they have had to put up with there. I do not claim any great knowledge, but I remember I once went there for a holiday, years ago, and determined I would never go there again. To me Mesopotamia is like ancient Egypt with all its plagues, only there is this difference, that they come on all the time and never cease, and are worse than the plagues of ancient Egypt. Of course, I know there is a case to be made—the case, for instance, of transport being extremely difficult, but if transport was difficult, why were not steps taken when we entered that desert to facilitate the whole question of transport? I think we went without any river boats at all, and I think it was simply luck that we were able to get four of our own boats which the Turks might have destroyed. There are many questions which I might ask, but which I will not ask to day. I only ask, was condensed milk asked for, and was it refused? Were military necessities, like the sausage balloons, asked for and refused? I will also ask, are not ice machines an essential to prevent heat stroke in the trenches and to cure heat stroke in the hospitals, and how many ice machines have 1719 we got at the front 2 From the most important thing to the most trivial detail, from balloons down to condensed milk, and from tents to oatmeal, or, I will say, from a railway to oatmeal—because, after all, the most essential thing in a country, like this was to have a railway—this expedition has been starved. The River Tigris has been a delusion and a disaster for us as a seafaring people, because we looked at that river as if it were a sea. But the Government of India must have known that a railway was required immediately.
I should like an answer to this question—and when this Commission comes to fixing the question of responsibility, it does not seem to be too complicated a question—what are the possible alternatives? First of all, I suppose you may say the men in Mesopotamia did not want anything, that they were happy with the mosquitoes and did not want mosquito nets, that they did not mind drinking water with dead bodies in it, and did not want filters, and that they did not want to be pampered with high explosives. We can dismiss that hypothesis, for they are human beings, and I know they wanted these things and did not get them. What is the next alternative? I am told India is the home of the pigeon-hole, but I cannot believe any pigeon-holes can be so dismal as to prevent requisitions from that Army in the field arriving to the Commander-in-Chief. What is the next alternative? If the Commander-in-Chief received those requests, did he or did he not believe they were necessary, and did he go to the finance member, Sir William Meyer, and ask him for these things? That is one of the questions we should like to have answered.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The questions which the hon. and gallant Member is putting are the very questions which will come before the Commission, and he can hardly expect to get a reply now. The House is being asked to appoint a Commission to investigate the very matters to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking a reply. That is not the point we are now discussing. The question is whether we should consider them ourselves, or delegate the inquiry to a Commission.
§ Colonel HERBERT
I will endeavour to observe your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was afraid I was obviously trespassing on the ground of the Commission, and I will 1720 avoid, in so far as I can, doing so again. The Committee stage will come on to-morrow, and then, perhaps, we shall be allowed to speak of some of the reasons of the deficit that has been so very apparent in the preparation of the whole of that campaign. I will end by saying that mention has been made of the fact that Admiral Byng was condemned and executed on the ground that he had not done as much as he could to damage the enemy. I think that fact created the tradition which led to actions of the kind of Admiral Cradock, and I think that judgment on Admiral Byng is an indictment I should like to see fall on responsible people in India for what happened in Mesopotamia.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I am sure we are all sorry that we are prevented from hearing the whole speech of the hon. and gallant Member, which was certainly most interesting and important, and I congratulate him on his reappearance. What I rose for was to reinforce the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Admiral (Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. Meux) with regard to the necessity of having a naval man on this Commission. I do so for this reason: in my opinion the whole of our misfortunes in the East, especially in Gallipoli, where the Irish regiments so bitterly suffered, are due to one or other of two men, who are not within the purview of this Bill, as I read it. It was the failure to arrest the "Goeben" and the "Breslau" in the Straits of Messina that led to the Turkish war, and to the whole of the business which followed. When those two ships were allowed to escape it was the use of those ships by the Germans which led to the war with Turkey. We are now inquiring into the failure of the generals in Gallipoli to do their duty. What happened with regard to the two admirals, whose names I shall not mention? One was courtmartialled on fifteen charges, tried and acquitted, and has now got an appointment in regard to Serbia. I was glad, so far as he was concerned, that amounted to a condonation. With regard to the other, I understand there was a private inquiry held at the Admiralty into his action, and, although it is commonly stated he was coaling at the time, he had coal enough to go half round the world, but did not come to the proper point to meet those two ships. Is it the case that, while we are inquiring into the subsequent misfortunes which arose out of the failure to grapple with the "Goeben" and the "Breslau" on that occasion, this Bill does not 1721 enable us to investigate in any way the responsibility for the failure to tackle the German ships in the Straits of Messina? I conclude that this Bill will not enable the Commission to deal with those two matters. When the historian comes to deal with responsibility in this War for matters in the East, he will put his finger on the failure to grapple with those two German ships, because it is to them that we owe the whole of the miserable business that followed. I therefore say, although it is never my intention, if I possibly can, to interfere in matters with which others are more competent to deal and well understand, I do not intend to take any action upon this Bill; at the same time, I do say it will be the play of "Hamlet" with Hamlet left out, if we do not disinter the records of the Admiralty with regard to what happened at the trial and inquiry into one or other of these two admirals. I therefore support the suggestion of the hon. and gallant admiral, and urge that some competent sailor who has no connection—it is very difficult in this case to trace connection—with the Messina business, should be put upon the Commission, and the Bill should be widened by including this "Goeben" and "Breslau" transaction.
The only other matter I desire to comment upon is this: I attribute to the failure of General Hamilton and the failure of Admiral de Robeck to give due notice to the deeds of the immortal 29th Division at Gallipoli, a great deal of the Sinn Fein business which arose in Ireland. Admiral de Robeck, who, so far as I can make out, is an Irishman, singled out every other regiment and every other body of troops for a favourable notice at the time of the landing, and when he came to the actual spot where there were the most terrible scenes and the greatest gallantry was exhibited, he said—I speak from memory—"Here our gallant soldiers immortalised themselves." But they were the only soldiers who were not named, and they were the Dublin and the Munster Fusiliers. When connected with the fact that their poor priests flung themselves in, and went to death along with them, I believe nothing has had a worse effect upon the Celtic mind than the boycott of those Irish troops on that occasion, and it is to your failure upon these occasions to give proper recognition, and to take proper notice of the gallantry of those regiments, that a great deal of the bitterness is largely due. As an Irish Member—I say nothing about the 1722 Mesopotamian campaign, because I have not followed it, but I have followed every detail connected with Gallipoli—I say that, so far from condemning the Government for having instituted the Gallipoli campaign, I think it was a proper act of war. It may not have been properly carried out—that is another matter; but, so far as my humble judgment goes, I think the Government took a proper stand in the matter, and they are not to be judged, so far as the initiation of the campaign is concerned, as a Cabinet by the fact that in detail it did not turn out as we expected. It was a proper move to have made, and if their servants have not properly and adequately discharged their duty, that is not a matter for which I am prepared to blame the Government, and I certainly neither blame them nor those at the Admiralty at home; but I do say it would be unfortunate in a matter of this kind, when we are now setting forth upon this inquiry, if we did not put our finger upon the spot, the cause of all this trouble, namely, the failure to tackle those two German ships in the Straits of Messina.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not propose to anticipate the inquiry of the Commissions. I rather desire to direct the attention of the House to some other matters which are quite relevant to the Government's proposal. It seems to me that the most important matter for the House to consider is the personnel, and most of all the personnel of the chairmen of the respective Commissions. The House of Commons undoubtedly desires these inquiries to be a real investigation which will result in putting the full facts relating to both expeditions before the country. In these circumstances it is a matter of the greatest importance that the chairmen of the Commissions should be men who by their past experience and prepossessions are not inclined to take the official view. I do not desire to make any criticism on either of the chairmen or their personal qualifications, but I think it is relevant for the House to remember that the chairman of the Mesopotamia Commission is a former Secretary of State for India who is inclined to take the official view in regard to Indian administration. I think that a man who has had no association whatever in the past with the Government of India is more likely to bring a fresh and unbiassed mind to bear upon this question, in which the administration of India is so largely involved.
1723 A similar consideration arises in regard to Lord Cromer. There is no more distinguished pro-Consul of the British Empire in the last generation than Lord Cromer, but he has been throughout his whole career an official. I do not think that for the purposes of an inquiry of this kind, in which Governmental action is so largely involved, a man whose training is exclusively bureaucratic is the best for the purpose of a judicial investigation. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) suggest the name of Lord Loreburn. I think he has established a reputation in both Houses for fearless independence and also for high judicial capacity, and it seems to me that these are the two characteristics which are most required in the chairman of an investigation such as that of the Dardanelles. I do not propose at this stage to refer to the other members of the Commissions, although I think that the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir H. Meux) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy were right in urging that there should be naval representation upon the Dardanelles Commission. The special character of the earlier attempt to force the Straits is one which calls for at least the opinion of one who is able to deal with naval questions from personal experience.
With regard to the terms of reference, I think it is of the utmost importance that in the Committee stage there should be inserted in the terms of reference a mandate to inquire into the initiation of both these expeditions. I think the Government probably intended that that should be done, but .they have become such slavish followers of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) that they have copied the ipsissima verba of the terms of his resolution, and that may account for this. I have no doubt the Prime Minister will be willing to amend the terms of reference which he has put forward. With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hex ham (Mr. Holt) in regard to the scope of the indemnity, I noticed that while my hon. Friend was speaking the Prime Minister indicated by his demeanour that he thought there was no substance in the point my hon. Friend was making, but it seems to me that in Subsection (3) of Clause 4 there is a complete indemnity in 1724 reference to courts-martial. That Subsection in the Clause as it stands provides(3) If any criminal proceeding (including a proceeding by court-martial) is at any time thereafter instituted against any such witness, in respect of any matter touching which he has been so examined, the Court having cognisance of the case shall, on his application, and on proof of the certificate, stay the proceeding.So that if at either of these investigations any one of the officers affected gives evidence and the Court certifies that he has given true evidence, that will be a complete bar to any proceedings against him, no matter how guilty the Commission may decide he has been. I think this is far too wide an indemnity to give, and I think the House in the Committee stage should refuse such an indemnity to any of the witnesses.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Every point which has been raised is a Committee point, and this is the Second Reading of this Bill. No one has attacked the Second Reading. Therefore I suggest that the Motion for the Second Reading should be passed, with the assurance that we shall be perfectly ready in Committee to consider the various suggestions which have been made. I will deal only with one or two points which seem to me to be of importance. First of all as regards the terms of reference. The Government accepted, in order to widen the scope of the inquiry, the terms of the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, but not, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) was good enough to suggest, in a condition of servile and docile accommodation, and I do not know what the hon. Member means by that.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Very well. We accepted the terms of that Resolution not in a jesting spirit, but because we thought it represented what the House desired and what the critics of the Government desired. We accepted the language of the Resolution as embodying the extent and scope of the inquiry they demand. I can tell my hon. Friend at once that as far as the Government is concerned they desire to make the scope 1725 of reference as wide as possible, and they have not the least objection to inserting the word "initiation," or anything you like, because we challenge inquiry over the whole field.
§ Sir J. D. REES
In that case, why is no visit to Mesopotamia contemplated? The Bill only contemplates visits to British Possessions.
I would like to ask if it would be competent to include the word "initiation," seeing that the title of the Bill simply uses the word "conduct"?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the alteration is made it might necessitate a change in the title. That is quite possible, but I do not give any decision upon that point at the present moment. I think, however, that it is clear that the House may, if it so desires, insert the word "initiation."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
In my view the word "initiation" is really included, and I do not think it is necessary to insert it as an Amendment at all. All I have to say, on the part of the Government, is that the statement that we desire to curtail the scope of the inquiry is entirely unfounded, and the wider and more comprehensive it is the more satisfied we shall be. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Meux) suggested that it is desirable to have a naval expert or a naval representative on the Dardanelles Commission. Of course, if you have a naval expert you must also have a military expert. [An HON. MEMRBE: "Why not?"] The hon. Member agrees. We consider that if you have a naval expert you must have a military expert. We have considered that question carefully in regard to both Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles, and we have come to the conclusion that it would be much more satisfactory to have a Commission on which there should be neither a naval nor a military representative, and that the naval and military experts should give their evidence as witnesses to a body which has neither a naval nor military element in its composition.
Will the Prime Minister consider the suggestion that the Commissions should be assisted by naval and military advisers, not members of the Commissions?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Commissions will have the advantage of the best naval and military evidence, and if they are, as I believe they are, a thoroughly competent body of men, I think they will be able to pronounce judgment without special assistance of an expert kind. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerset (Colonel Aubrey Herbert), who is no longer here, raised a number of questions of very great importance, but they are the very questions into which these Commissions are going to inquire, and I think it would be most undesirable here, on the floor of the House, in anticipation of the judgment of the Commissions, that we should pronounce an opinion one way or the other as to the nature of the allegations made. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy) suggested that the scope of the inquiry should be extended so as to include the operations in the Straits of Messina which led to the escape of the "Goeben" and "Breslau." These matters have already been inquired into, as the hon. and learned Member knows, by naval tribunals.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not think it is desirable to complicate either of these inquiries by going into that matter, which took place before Turkey declared war with us; in fact, it was the occasion for that declaration. Here we are dealing with the Dardanelles Expedition, which was initiated afterwards, and the Mesopotamia Expedition, which was much later. I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend in attaching such very great importance to that particular incident when you ultimately come to analyse and develop the progress of this War, and I do not think it would be desirable to complicate the inquiry we now propose by going into that matter. As regards the Commissioners, I am glad that the House generally accepts the names which the Government have proposed. We do not exclude further suggestions.
I was very sorry to hear the suggestion made in regard to the chairman of one of the Commissions, Lord George Hamilton, that he has some kind of bias because he is in receipt of a pension well earned after long years of public service. It is, I think, thirteen years since he was Secretary of State for India, and he has had no part or 1727 lot in any of the controversies which have since taken place with regard to military or other matters. He is a very great authority on the matter. I think he was forty years a Member of this House, and he has been completely detached for many years past from all parties. He was also a distinguished First Lord of the Admiralty. Therefore he is almost in a unique position with regard to the matters especially relevant to this particular inquiry, and I think the remarks of the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire that a statesman with a record like that should be regarded as disqualified from taking a position of this kind simply because he is in receipt of a well merited recognition for past services were most ungenerous and unjust. Many of us sat for many years in this House with him, and know that he is a man of a judicial and impartial mind, with a very large administrative experience in many Departments of the State. Of Lord Cromer I need say nothing. His record is before the world. I saw him to-day, and I think he is doing a very public spirited and patriotic thing in undertaking this investigation. His doctor, I am glad to say, says that it will not seriously interfere with or impair his health, and, that being the case, I do not believe we could get anybody whom the country and the Empire at large would regard as more qualified for a very delicate and difficult investigation like this. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree with me.
Then, as I have said, we shall be very glad to listen to any criticism with regard to the other members of the Commission or to any suggestion for additions to them, but I would strongly appeal to the House not to add to their number. I do not believe that this sort of inquiry can take place promptly, expeditiously, or efficiently unless you limit within very small numbers the personnel. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the size of the Cabinet?"] The Cabinet is not primarily a body of inquiry. Do not let us be diverted to what, after all, is a very controversial topic from a subject which is of very great importance. These bodies should be small, as they are. I think in each case we have got a very competent president, and I am glad to say that in the personnel we have got men who are largely Members of this House, who are not, so far as we know, or anybody knows, prejudiced or prepossessed by any 1728 public declarations of their own opinion, and who, I am quite sure, will bring an absolutely judicial mind to bear on the subjects to be investigated. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) made a blood-thirsty speech. He wants somebody's head on a charger. He wants another Admiral Byng.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We all know what Voltaire said, "You shoot one admiral to encourage the other." I do not think the precedent of Admiral Byng is at all a good one, or one that reflects on the annals of the Navy at all with satisfaction. When my hon. Friend insists on making examples of these naval and military men, I would remind him that there are civilians also who are responsible; yes, and all classes of civilians; not merely, I venture to say, members of the Government, but the critics of the Government—the House of Commons. Everybody has a share of responsibility in these matters, and, although I am not at all in favour myself of these drastic, blood-thirsty methods—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not talking about this particular thing, but about the whole conduct of the War, and when you come to write the history of the War the responsibility for what was done must be shared by all sorts of people, and amongst others by the House of Commons.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend has got his share of responsibility. When the day of account comes and the tribunal is opened and judgment is to be pronounced we shall all each in his own measure, some, I agree, with a greater measure and some with less, have to bear our share of responsibility. I am afraid I am diverting from the Bill. The Bill itself in the scope of the inquiry is confined to these two particular operations. With regard to Clause 4, I can assure my hon. Friend we do not desire that the operation of that Clause should be such as to exclude from subsequent investigation, and it may be punishment, anybody who is shown to be responsible for what has happened. It is a common 1729 form of Clause which is put into every Bill of this kind, and if any hon. Members think that it is too wide or they have some amendment to suggest, I shall be very pleased to consider it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, and I think nothing more. If there is any ambiguity, let it be cleared up. It is put into every Bill. It is simply to exonerate him from the consequences of giving evidence which might incriminate him in some other proceedings. It has no other scope or purpose. As regards the places where the Commission is to sit, I think Clause 5 is adequate, because it provides, if any sittings are held in India, that the compulsory and punitive powers of the Act shall apply as if the Commissioners had the power of the High Court or Chief Court in British India. I do not think in regard to Mesopotamia that any such question can arise, because Mesopotamia, of course, is not subject to civil jurisdiction.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not excluded, but it is not necessary to give special powers. It is not excluded in the least. As my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) said, the India Office and the War Office control every body in Mesopotamia. They may go there, and, if they do, they will not meet with any constitutional, legal, or technical difficulties, as they would in India. In regard to secrecy, the only other point with which I ought to deal, I think we must give to bodies of this kind very wide discretion as to what extent and in regard to what part of their inquiry secrecy is necessary.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am quite sure that every Commission of this kind, composed of responsible people like these and bound to present a public report to Parliament, will not shroud under the veil of secrecy any part of their inquiries which they think can legitimately and in the public interest be otherwise conducted. You must give very wide and large discretion to a Commission of this kind, particularly as the House knows that not only may information be given with regard to 1730 military and naval operations yet to take place, but also with regard to diplomatic matters of a secret and delicate kind. You must in the public interest give very large powers of shutting down the veil in regard to special parts of the inquiry. There is nothing new or unconstitutional in that, but as you are setting up by Act of Parliament a special tribunal, it is desirable and even necessary that those powers should be expressly reserved. I hope with that explanation that the House will now accept the Second Reading of this Bill. To-morrow in Committee, I quite agree, we may consider special points which my hon. Friends may desire to raise; and with regard to them I am sure they will find that the Government not only have an open mind, but are most ready to give them consideration, and are most desirous that in every respect the inquiry should be as impartial and as exhaustive as it can possibly be.
§ Colonel YATE
(indistinctly heard): I desire to say how very glad I was to hear from the Prime Minister what a wide scope this Bill will have. I was also glad to hear the Prime Minister's speech the other day when he first notified the House of the introduction of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then said that Mesopotamia was by no means a closed operation. It will be very gratifying, not only to those who are prisoners, to think that the bravery and endurance so magnificently displayed by them for so many months may not be in vain, but also to their comrades who tried to relieve them, to have the opportunity of wiping out the disaster and advancing on Ctesiphon and Bagdad. I must also associate myself with the hon. Member for Somerset when he said that possibly the information regarding the supplies at present available in Mesopotamia is not quite correct. I have seen letters stating that there is nothing on earth to eat but bully beef, and what bully beef with a temperature of 120 in the shade is like I cannot say. It must be most difficult for everybody. There is one other point on which I trust this Commission will be able to insist. The Under-Secretary of State for War the other day, when he was asked a question as to who was responsible in regard to the medical provision for the expedition to Mesopotamia, said:The arrangements for the Mesopotamia Expedition were made by the Government of India, and that Surgeon-General Hathaway was the Director of Medical Services of the Force and Surgeon-General Sir W. Babtei was Director of Medical Services in India at the time.1731 I subsequently asked a question of the Secretary of State for India on the subject, and we gathered from him that Surgeon-General Sir W. Babtie was absent from India for two periods of five or six weeks, in February and March and June and July of last year, and that no one was appointed to act for him during his absence, but that the routine duties of the office were carried on by the Deputy-Director of Medical Services, and that the Government of India reported that the latter dealt with no questions of policy. I think it ought to be brought to the notice of the Commission that the Government of India allowed the Director-General of Medical Services to leave India without the appointment of anyone to perform his duties.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I fail to see what all this has to do with the Bill. The object of the Bill is to set up a Commission to inquire into the very points on which the hon. Member is asking information. We cannot discuss those points now. The object of the Bill is to set up a Commission to inquire into them and to report to this House, and it is not open to the hon. Member to thrash matters out now.
§ Colonel YATE
I apologise. I was only asking the Prime Minister if he would have all these matters included in the Bill. I am not sure that the Bill covers them at the present time, or whether full power is given to the Commission to find out who was responsible for the absence of these officers from India. I will not pursue the matter now. If it is a Committee question I will raise it again to-morrow.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
There is one observation I should like to make about the personnel of the Commission. An opportunity has arisen of doing evenhanded justice to both Houses. Possibly the Chairman of one might have been found in this House and the Chairman of the other in the other House. Both chairmen, according to the proposals, will be in the other House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No. Lord George Hamilton has been for forty years a Member of this House, and has never been in the other House at all.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
He is not in the House at the present time. Then there is the question of the extension of the scope of the inquiry. I had an Amendment down to the Motion of the right hon. and learned 1732 Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) to extend the scope of the inquiry, because it seemed to me that in justice to all concerned it was very desirable that there should be no technical difficulty in doing justice to everybody and ascertaining the share of responsibility of everybody. The Prime Minister, in indicating that be would introduce this Bill, referred to (he previous inquiries to that in the Crimean War. The purpose of those Commissions was a very wide one, and those objects were very well summarised by Lord John Russell in speaking of the Crimean Expedition. He pointed out the importance of inquiry as a function of the House of Commons, and perhaps I may read very shortly what he said on the subject, as it has a direct bearing on the important information that was got by those Commissions for the purposes of the House of Commons. He said:Inquiry is the proper duty and function of the House of Commons. When the British arms have suffered a reverse this duty has always been performed. Thus when Minorca was lost in 1757, Mr. Fox consented to an inquiry. Thus when General Burgoyne capitulated in 1777, the House of Commons inquired into the causes of the disaster. Thus when the Walcheren Expedition failed in attaining the chief objects of the enterprise, the House of Commons inquired. Inquiry is, indeed, at the root of the powers of the House of Commons. Upon the result of the inquiry must depend the due exercise of these powers. If from vicious organisation the public affairs are ill administered, the remedy is better organisation. If from delay and confusion in the execution of orders inquiry has arisen, the subordinate officers should be removed. If from negligence, incompetency, or corruption, the Ministers are themselves to blame for the failure which has been incurred, those Ministers may, according to the nature and the degree of their fault, be censured, or removed, or punished.I quote that just to show that the previous inquiries have always been of a very comprehensive and wide character, and I therefore welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that he is perfectly prepared to add to the scope of the inquiry, and to make it as wide as possible.
§ Mr. LYNCH
Before the Bill passes I want to say one or two words which I think are of sufficient importance. One is with regard to Subsection (3) of Clause 4. I would like to make a remark in the entirely opposite sense to that in which it has been treated hitherto. That Clause contains a provision to protect a witness, but it is within the recollection of the House that two or three days ago two witnesses in an inquiry which has not yet terminated have been subjected to severe discipline on account of the public service which they rendered by giving evidence. Although this may be a Committee point, I would like to see that Clause so modified that the wit- 1733 nesses would not only have full protection, but that it would be a breach of contempt to take any action whatever, either at the time or later, to their detriment on account of their having given evidence. Then there is a question of a very peculiar character which should be touched on, and that is with regard to the presence of Mr. Andrew Fisher, the High Commissioner for Australia, as one of the Commissioners. That is a name which I myself welcome; but I would like to ask the Prime Minister if, before including that name, he consulted the Government of Australia. I would like to know whether Mr. Andrew Fisher appears in the Committee simply as a public citizen and representing this side of the water, or whether in any particular way he represents Australia in the inquiry? There is still another point with reference to the powers of the Commission, which might trench really upon constitutional questions, and that is as to whether this Commission would have compulsory powers over Australian citizens, because on no account whatever would I consent to any extension whatever of the interference of this Government with the affairs which are now within the hands of those people.
Those points having been touched on, I will proceed further, and say that I am in accord with the remarks of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) with regard to the composition of the Commissions. These are days when we have to speak with the utmost candour. The susceptibilities of Noble Lords, or of any persons, no matter how high their standing, are of small importance compared to the proper conduct of this War, and before these names were announced I said to myself mentally, "Who are to be the Noble Lords nominated?" I notice that in every Commission nowadays, in every public office, the first inquiry of the governing mind of the Cabinet seems to be, "Where shall we find a Noble Lord?" There is not enough democratic spirit either in these Commissions or in this House. I hope the Labour Members will take up this matter strenuously. I think the criticisms the hon. Member for Lanarkshire directed against Lord George Hamilton were not directed against him on account of his being in receipt of a pension, but rather on the ground of his having been long in office, and that he had acquired the bureaucratic spirit. So far from a man having been long in office, especially an administrative office, being better fitted 1734 to deal with these matters than ordinary citizens, he will not be so well fitted. His brain has become arthritic; he cannot think outside of Blue Books, and the whole conduct of the War has shown that these are bad. I am in agreement with, the hon. Gentleman who asked that the conduct of those admirals should be inquired into who allowed the "Goeben" and the "Breslau" to escape, because although there has been one court-martial I do not think that court-martial was quite inclined to give full confidence to the country. A particular and vital part of the inquiry was not touched upon, and that was the nexus between these events and the expedition in the Dardanelles.
There is still perhaps one other point with regard to which reference has been made to the case of Admiral Byng. Voltaire said that you shoot one admiral to encourage the others, and the moral is that it did encourage the others. There are times when the most drastic remedies . may be really the most compassionate. One is the case where a man is entrusted with the lives of others, and in that case you want a seaman and not an accountant to command a vessel; a man who has something of the Nelson spirit, and not one who counts the forces of the enemy too closely. I am not sure that I should have been quite in favour of the shooting of Admiral Byng, but I would like to see introduced into the method of dealing with all these things the spirit of Saint Just, the great French revolutionist, and I think one of the noblest spirits who ever trod this mortal sphere. He used the guillotine, but through that Saint Just saved his country in a time of danger; and if he used the guillotine, he never used it injudiciously. If the fault of an officer were not due to bad will, but to want of sufficient endowments, he simply set him down to make place for other men; but, if he came across a rascally contractor who, in order to make money, caused suffering to the soldier, he said, "Cut off his head"; and the country gained by that drastic surgery. We live in more attenuated times to day, and I do not know that the conduct of this War has gained by that change. I hope that the inquiry will be a full inquiry, so as to shed a flood of light upon all the dark places, remembering that we are still in the middle of: this War, that the issue is not in the least degree visible, and that we must bring to> the front men of the greatest energy, determination, and efficiency.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I do not propose to follow the last speaker into his theory as to whether any man who is called a lord is deprived of all virtue and ability on account of that accident, or whether a man is better for having his head cut off. Those questions can be dealt with better to-morrow in Committee than to-day. I want to refer to a remark of the hon. Baronet the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) with regard to Lord George Hamilton. With what the Prime Minister said I heartily agree, and the hon. Gentleman should remember the immense amount of unremunerated public duty that has been performed by Lord George Hamilton since he left office. The Poor Law Commission involved years of labour, and that is not the only thing. Lord George Hamilton needs no defence in this House, but reference was made to the fact that he has been Secretary of State for India. That is true; and had he been Secretary of State for India when the Home Government overruled Lord Curzon in regard to the apportionment of military duties between two officers in the Viceroy's Council, I should have said that Lord George Hamilton would have been completely disqualified from having any hand in this inquiry. But he was not. Up to the time that Lord Kitchener—whom I mention with profound respect and regret—became Commander-in-Chief in India there were two officers in the Indian Council or Cabinet, one of whom corresponded to the Secretary of State for War and one to the Commander-in-Chief. Against the wishes of Lord Curzon, who was right, as he usually is, being a man of equal courage and capacity, those duties were combined, and the Commander-in-Chief had not only the duties proper to the Commander-in-Chief, the discipline, conduct, and management of the Army, but also those of the military member who previously had charge of the duties of the War Office. Lord Curzon, backed by his civilian colleagues, protested, but was overruled, and I believe that these difficulties in regard to this expedition are in no small degree due to the overruling of Lord Curzon by the Home Government, with which Lord George Hamilton had nothing whatever to do, having long left the India Office before that time. I hope this question will be very closely investigated by this Committee. This is a matter going to the root of the policy which has caused the appointement of the Committee. We want to know whether the present situa- 1736 tion of the Governor-General's Council is such that such operations as the Mesopotamia Expedition can be properly carried on, when all the duties of the War Office and the Commander-in-Chief are concentrated in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, which has been the case ever since the change was made when Lord Kitchener took charge as Commander-in-Chief, and Lord Curzon was overruled by the Home Government—a very rare occurrence, and in this result one proving how undesirable it is that the Home Government should ever overrule the Government of India. I also have to remark that the Prime Minister told me that Clause 5 was not meant in any way to point to the fact that sittings outside the United Kingdom would only be contemplated in India. I am extremely glad to hear that. If that is not done, if some visit is not made to Mesopotamia by the Committee, or some member, or a delegation, it would be absolutely necessary for someone to be appointed who knows something of Mesopotamia, although I am not in favour of any enlargement of the number. I am content with it in that respect in every way.
If I may instance a case in point, my hon. and gallant Friend beside me (Colonel Aubrey Herbert) referred to the fact that the troops were not provided with proper water. That is a point upon which some local knowledge is necessary. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend grasps the fact that the Tigris is at once the main sewer and the sole water supply of the Mesopotamia valley. The whole population drinks that water. When once the sediment, which is very thick—it is water with a great deal of body in it—is precipitated in earthenware jars, it is exceedingly sweet, healthy and palatable water. That is a case which shows how necessary it is that some local knowledge should be available to this Committee. I do not think you will get very much of it, the dwellers in Mesopotamia being very few. I believe there is only one other besides my hon. and gallant Friend and myself in this House who knows the country. It will be very difficult to get evidence of that sort. The Commission must either visit Mesopotamia or send a delegate there or take some special means of informing themselves upon this subject. Apparently there is no provision in this Bill for an interim report upon the matters more immediately exercising Parliament. You, Mr. Speaker, when my hon. and gallant Friend was speaking, pointed out to him that he had better leave 1737 certain points he had raised until the Committee stage. I want to suggest, if I may with respect to your ruling, that as there is no provision in the Bill for relieving the anxiety of Parliament—it is not too much to call it so, especially with reference to the fact that, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, this is a continuing expedition and is not a thing done with and gone—and there is no provision for an immediate Report on the subjects more immediately requiring attention, it is desirable that there should be a provision for some intermediate Report upon matters in which the relatives and friends of our soldiers and officers and Members of this House are concerned. Will an immediate Report upon the more pressing matters be possible?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is for the Commission to carry it out. If my hon. Friend will look at Clause 6 he will see it saysThe Commissioners may, if they think fit, make Interim Reports.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Yes, they may, but Commissions do not always think fit; they generally do not. I suggest it should be made clear to the Commission that the anxiety of Parliament and the public is so great that some Interim Report should be made upon anything that has gone wrong and is continuing or anything which Parliament fears is continuing with regard to the very deplorable failures that have undoubtedly occurred, and that it should be made at the earliest possible date. On the other questions, as to how and why they went beyond Basra—which has always been a mystery to me—reports on that can wait, because they cannot affect matters of immediate importance. I hope the Prime Minister will impress upon the Commission that that is expected of them by Parliament, to make an early Interim Report.
All of us on these Benches welcome the decision of the Government to appoint a representative from Ireland on the Commission which is to deal with the question of the Dardanelles. I am glad that the Government has decided in this matter, as it has decided in connection with the Australian representative, to meet the wishes of our 1738 country. I do not think there is a single operation of the whole War up to the present that has aroused more interest in Ireland than the operations in the Dardanelles. In the first place, I expect they were easier to follow than the more confused, complicated, and slower operations in France and Flanders, and, in the second place, Ireland had not merely a full brigade but, in addition, a full division engaged in those operations. Ireland sent out the 10th Division to the Dardanelles, which was the first Volunteer division raised in Ireland since the outbreak of the War. I need not say that our people will follow with anxious interest the conduct of the proceedings of this Commission to see who is responsible for the disasters and for the incompetence that led to so much loss and suffering among our soldiers there. There are only one or two points to which I should like to draw the attention of the Prime Minister. The first is with reference to the evidence to be taken before this Commission. We all understand, of course, that a great deal of the evidence—I do not know whether it will be the larger part, but certainly a great part of the evidence must be taken in private because of the nature of the transactions to be inquired into. I should like to know from the Prime Minister whether, in the course of these Commissions, there will be a full record kept of the evidence that is taken in private before them, and whether it will be in the discretion of the Commissioners or not, at the end of their labours, to decide whether or not after the War that evidence will be published?
I hope there will be no concealment at all in connection with this matter, but that the House and the country will be given the fullest possible report upon these operations, not merely in the Report of the Commissioners themselves, but in the evidence upon which those Reports will be based. There is only one other matter upon which I should like some information. I dare say the labours of these Commissions will not have proceeded very far when the Commissioners will have some indication of who are the principal men charged with incompetence in connection with the operations, both in the Dardanelles and the Mesopotamia. We have some reason to believe that, at any rate, some of the men who may be 1739 implicated in these charges still occupy high responsible public positions. I take it that the work of these Commissions is to be not merely an inquiry into past mistakes, which for all practical purposes, I suppose, form a closed chapter so far as any practical effect is concerned, but that if they find mistakes such as those hinted at by my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) with regard to the medical supplies in Mesopotamia—if they find incompetence or mistakes going on at the time of their sittings—they will l have power to deal with them. I do not think that anyone will suggest that any men under suspicion should be unfairly treated upon mere suspicion, or that they should be unfairly treated until a charge has been tried and proved against them. But it is a serious thing if our information is true, that these men should occupy responsible positions in connection with the War who are under suspicion, and that they should be allowed to go on occupying those positions and, perhaps, committing equally serious blunders in the future as those they have committed in the past. I would suggest to the Prime Minister and the Government that if there is any foundation for that charge that the Commission ought to have power, when they begin their investigations and find that these men are there, to recommend the suspension of or directly themselves to suspend those gentlemen from their activities. We had an illustration from the Home Secretary the other day of how these matters are dealt with in another capacity. Charges were made against certain officials of the Government in Ireland in connection with the recent rebellion. Some of those officials were arrested and deported and subsequently released. Questions were asked about them in the House of Commons, and I think at the instance of the Home Secretary those officials were suspended and their cases are, of course, to be investigated. If that is the policy of the Government in one respect, I do not think they can pursue a different policy in the case of higher Government officials who are not Irishmen. I would urge the Government to give power either to the Commissioners to suspend those officials whom they may come across in this way or else advise them that they should make recommendations to the House upon the subject.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I want to make two brief comments on the speech of the Prime 1740 Minister when he replied to the discussion that took place on the Second Reading. The Prime Minister regretted very much that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) had seen fit to make comments upon the suggested Chairmen of these Commissions. I understood from the Prime Minister that the names which were to be suggested to the House of Commons were to be left to the House of Commons and were not to be prejudiced in any way, but the Prime Minister in replying to the discussion has gone out of his way to make it quite clear that the Government have in their minds both these Noble Lords as Chairmen of these Commissions. After the testimonials the Prime Minister has given both of these Gentlemen in this House, it will be very difficult for Members of this House to express an opinion contrary to that laid down by the Prime Minister. He will have no difficulty in carrying both of those Chairmen. So far as I am concerned, I think both of these Chairmen will be tame Chairmen and that they will be no use at all in investigating the charges which these Commissions are set up to investigate and for which they are to fix responsibility. I see that the Prime Minister, having made his own speech, does not care to listen to me. The Prime Minister said that I have certain responsibilities. I shall deal with that point presently, but I have no hesitation in saying that when the Prime Minister makes these charges against Members of this House he ought to remain and hear the reply. If he cares to, it does not matter to me whether he goes out or not. That is my view. I protest against the suggestion that either of these Gentlemen should be given either of these posts. Lord Cromer has spent the larger part of his life in Egypt in administration work, in governing a native race, and has acquired in that work an attitude of mind which is not the attitude of mind we want in the Chairman of either of these two Commissions. With regard to the several suggestions that have been made as to the members of these Commissions, I should like to know whether the Prime Minister can consult certain parties in this House as to the men who are to be put on and not consult others. For instance, the Prime Minister obviously consulted the Irish party as to the representative they wished to place upon the Dardanelles Commission.
§ Mr. HOGGE
You have an opportunity of consulting the Leader of your party on the subject. The Prime Minister also consulted the Labour party, who suggested as a member of that Commission a member of their party whose hands are absolutely full with Committee work. He is put upon every Committee set up by the Government, and I believe he is destined for further honours in a future Honours List. I am certain that if the Prime Minister had consulted other Members of the House the names now suggested for these Commissions would not be the names that would have been selected by those parties. With regard to the Scottish Members, I am perfectly certain the names suggested for these Commissions would never have occurred to Scottish Members as the names to be put upon these Commissions. The Prime Minister also tried to dispense with responsibility for the undertakings which are going to be inquired into by these Commissions. He said that we all shared that responsibility. I am glad that I do not. I have never supported this Coalition Government from the day that it was formed, and I have never accepted a Whip from any of its Whips. It is they who are responsible for the conduct of the War. It is the Cabinet as a whole which must accept responsibility for what happened in Mesopotamia, and in the Dardanelles, and I would remind such members of the Cabinet who are left to hear the closing stages of the discussion that there was on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, as far back as 15th October, a request, with the names of certain Members attached, for an inquiry into the inception and conduct of the Dardanelles Expedition. My name was attached to that with the names of my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) and my hon. Friends (Major Guest and Mr. Pringle), and a few of us who repudiated the responsibility which attaches to the Cabinet in carrying out this expedition.
The Prime Minister was asked if he would give any time for the dicussion of a Motion to set up a Committee at a moment when lives could have been saved. The hon. Member (Mr. Hazleton) spoke with regard to the conduct of affairs in the Dardanelles affecting Irish soldiers, 1742 which was scandalous. That could have been saved if a Committee had been set up at that time. A request was put upon the Order Paper by those of us whose views and opinions are despised by the Cabinet to this extent, that no notice is taken of them. To-day we are setting up a Committee to inquire into the Dardanelles. Who is getting all the honour and glory of having forced the Prime Minister to do that? The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson). Where was he in October of last year? He was then in the Government, and being in the Government he was not willing to help private Members of this House, who were getting private information from their friends and their constituents at the Dardanelles, who knew what was happening and who wanted to stop it, and wanted to induce this Coalition Cabinet to stop it. Because we are humble private Members of the House of Commons we are not consulted and our views are not taken, but when an ex-Member of the Cabinet, who was in the Cabinet when this request was made, asks the Prime, Minister, the Prime Minister bows down before him and says, "Now we must have an inquiry." That is what I complain about, and I think it is a perfectly fair complaint to make, and for the Prime Minister to get up and turn round to this corner and indicate myself as one of those who have responsibility for these proceedings is absurd, and I repudiate it at once, absolutely, not only for myself, but for all of us who protested at that time that the inquiry ought to be made when good could have been done, and the lives of the poor Irish and Scottish soldiers whose bones are bleaching, or were bleaching until they were buried in the Dardanelles, could have been saved. That was the time to put in operation the power that this Coalition Cabinet had. The fact that the Cabinet could not make up their minds then is monstrous, because three or four private Members could make up their mind as to what was necessary, but the Cabinet did nothing. I want to make it quite clear, and that is why I protest against the Prime Minister leaving at this time. I do not think it is fair of the Prime Minister, the man who leads the Cabinet, accusing this House of responsibility for these expeditions when he must know that we have all along been against him, and that we have all along been in favour of an inquiry 1743 being made into their conduct, and that is on record on the Notice Paper of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is rather distant, but the hon. Member may say he was replying to the statement of the Prime Minister that we were all of us responsible in connection with the War.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a matter which I can decide. That is a matter for the historian of the future.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My point of view with regard to that is that it is for the country to decide who is responsible for what has happened, both in the Dardanelles and in Mesopotamia, if and when we get the facts. However, having made my position quite clear, I hope the Committees will do their work expeditiously and meticulously, and will probe every one of these things to its heart, and give us a Report which the Cabinet can stand by. I hope I have made my position quite plain. I do not want it to be understood that all of us believe that because we have a Coalition Cabinet it commits the rest of the House. I do not believe in them, and never have believed in them, and do not support them.
§ Sir G. REID
I deeply regret that the history of affairs in the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia has been of a character which calls for the appointment of these Royal Commissions. In the midst of this tremendous struggle Royal Commissions upon our forces and those who manage them, and those who administer our Departments, are steps which can only be justified by the highest and most urgent necessity, and I deeply regret that, so far as one can judge, there is so strong 1744 a primâ-facie case of the most desperate mistakes, the most glaring proof of incapacity, in connection with the Dardanelles Expedition, and with the operations in Mesopotamia, that at last this House has been compelled, I am sure much against its will, to interfere and demand a full and searching investigation. I think one of the brightest passages in the history of this War is the attitude of Australia in connection with the loss of so many thousands of her gallant sons in the Dardanelles. While she bowed her head with profound grief at the loss of so many of her sons, she, suspecting all sorts of mistakes, offered up the sacrifice of her grief and resignation to leave to those at the centre of the Empire the duty of either ordering, or refraining from ordering, an inquiry into these matters. I am in this strange position, that the only -two names which have been canvassed in connection with the proposed Commissions are those names in which I repose the highest possible confidence. Lord Cromer is something more than a peer of the realm. I do not think he was born in the purple. His title to public confidence is in no sense derived from the accident of his position as a peer of the realm. It rests upon the confidence we have in the brilliant qualities which he has displayed in managing some of the most difficult problems of this Empire during a long course of years with conspicuous success. I do not say much about Lord George Hamilton, but I must say that I have been greatly impressed by his competency, by the quickness and independence of his mind, and I know of the great, arduous, prolonged services which he has rendered to the people of this country long after he disappeared from this House. As for the suggestion that an admiral should be added to this Committee, I deprecate any such step. The Commissions will have complete power in the direction of getting all the skilled and expert advice that they need from the naval or military point of view, and the effect of putting a distinguished admiral on the Commission might be perhaps unfortunate.
I profoundly hope that when these matters are thoroughly investigated, when all the circumstances connected with them have been first ascertained, and judicially weighed, the impressions which we feel at present with reference to these various operations will prove to be, I will 1745 not say, unfounded—I fear it is impossible to show that some of these dark spots do not exist—but I profoundly hope that when the officials and the generals and the admirals who may be implicated have an opportunity of having their cases and their conduct fully investigated, the facts will allow us to put a less horrible complexion upon the neglects which seem to have occurred. We must never forget that this mighty Empire rests very largely upon prestige, and that the farther our sway extends to the East the more it depends upon the reputation for capacity and efficiency of the high Imperial officials, and I hope that when the truth is known these Commissions will be able to inform this .House and the country that, while some have blundered, while some gross misfortunes and mistakes may have occurred, they occurred under conditions which will to some extent reassure the public mind.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I hope I may be permitted to associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the dignity and fortitude with which the peoples of Australia and New Zealand have borne the heavy losses which their troops suffered in the operations to which he referred. I wish to answer a few questions which have been put since the Prime Minister spoke. The hon. and gallant Member for Leicestershire inquired whether the Bill is drawn wide enough to cover an investigation into the medical administration in India. The answer is, I think, undoubtedly. The Bill is quite wide enough to cover all the matters raised by him, and it will obviously be part of the duty of the Commission to go into the question of medical administration in India as well as the responsibilities in Mesopotamia and here at home. Another question was put by the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch), who inquired whether Mr. Fisher is the nominee or representative of the Government of Australia. The answer is in the negative. His Majesty's Government desired to secure the services on this Commission—and I think the announcement was welcomed in all quarters of the House—of an Australian, and Mr. Fisher was invited to sit as a distinguished Australian. He is not the nominee or representative of his Government, though I believe he accepted the position with their knowledge and assent. The position of Sir Thomas MacKenzie, 1746 High Commissioner for New Zealand, is similar; he is not the representative or nominee of his Government. His name is submitted to the House and he will sit as one of the members of the Commission at the request and invitation of His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
I entirely support the Government in their attitude regarding this particular demand for a public inquiry. I think that the Prime Minister in his first speech was most conclusive and showed the high unwisdom of such an inquiry at the present time. We are in the midst of a great War, and I think his speech showed conclusively that we have no wish to screen any officer or any administrator who has, perhaps, not carried out his work as he might have done. To have a public inquiry and the scandal of these misdemeanours and mistakes being made public to the world seems to me, and must seem to a great many people outside this House—indeed, to any person of ordinary judgment—the height of unwisdom. As the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) referred to this particular corner of the House, I wish to say that we are not all unanimous in this quarter in support of the attitude which, I think, he has unfortunately taken up on this question. The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) referred to Clause 3 of the Bill, which states:The Commissioners shall, having regard to the interests of the public and to naval, military, and diplomatic considerations, allow or refuse to allow the public or any portion of the public to be present during any proceedings of the Commissioners.My right hon. Friend said he thought the Bill ought to be so founded as to enable the inquiry to be public. I entirely differ from him on that point. It seems to me that to have this inquiry, which, apparently, the Government are now committed to, made public, and to have the evidence public, in a time of great war, would be most unwise. My right hon. Friend surely forgets that to wash your dirty linen before the public, and before the enemy, is the height of unwisdom. It is not a question of any desire to screen any officers. Let us have an inquiry into the Dardanelles and the Mesopotamia operations, and into any mistakes made by generals or other officers there, but to have 'this publicly commented upon in the Press, and to have the errors of our 1747 generals or officers stated in public Court and published in the newspapers, would be very unwise, and I entirely support the Government in the insertion of this particular Clause. I hope that the inquiry, which I presume will now go forward, will be secret. If we have no confidence in the Government we should turn the Government out, but if we have a Government we must trust the Government to see that the executive officers carry out their duties. I do appeal to the House not to press for having the inquiry made public in the middle of this great War and of the very serious operations that are taking place. It may be necessary at some future time, if public opinion knows of the screening of any particular scandal or any particular general. If my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) has any officer in his mind, or any crying scandal that he believes the Government are screening, and which is against the public interest or against the proper conduct of this War, let him stand up and give us chapter and verse.
§ Mr. MASON
Until the right hon. Gentleman is able to do that his case rests upon a very insecure foundation. If he has a case, and any name of any particular general whom he thinks jeopardises the success of the War or any expedition, let him say so. He has many opportunities. He can move the Adjournment of the House. He can speak on the Adjournment in connection with General Jones or General Brown, or whatever the name may be. Let him get down to facts, and get away from this innuendo and suspicious atmosphere. It is not becoming of a great Government, or of a great Empire, 1748 that they should be asked in the middle of a great war to have public inquiries, and everything made public before the world. I am not holding any brief for any officer or desirous of screening any officer. I simply suggest to the House and to my right hon. Friend that the Government are perfectly justified in putting in this Clause. I hope, in the interests of the successful carrying on of the War to an honourable and satisfactory conclusion, that if there is any scandal, or any case that must necessarily be gone into minutely, the inquiry will be secret during the operations in which we are engaged. If there is a public disclosure required after the War, the public disclosure can come then.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The hon. Member (Mr. Mason) represents no one but himself in this House, and he certainly does not represent his constituency in the views that he has expressed.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
At any rate, when Members speak in this House they are supposed to speak on behalf of their constituents. The only attitude that the hon. Member has taken up during the War has been to demand that this country should arrive at a disgraceful peace before we have beaten the enemy. That has been the attitude of the hon. Member right through: He asks, "Why should we wash our dirty linen in public?" We, who have had our relatives murdered in the Dardanelles—there are many of us who have lost friends and relatives—want to know whether in the conduct of these operations the Government are responsible for the neglect and the disasters that have taken place: the greatest disasters that have ever overtaken the British arms. I refer not only to the disasters in the Dardanelles, but in Mesopotamia. To say that we are not to have an inquiry because we shall be washing our dirty linen in public is an extraordinary argument for a private Member to advance in this House. The hon. Member who says that has been so devoid of common sense during the time he has been in this House that when he gets back to his constituents they will soon show him what common sense is. Be that as it may, he stands alone on this question, I am glad to say. When he attacks my right hon. Friend for not putting down a Motion he does not know that my right hon. Friend put down a Motion months ago, but the 1749 Government refused facilities for the discussion of the operations in the Dardanelles, and for that reason my right hon. Friend has been unable to have the inquiry which he and others who sit by him have pressed for during many months past. The hon. Member referred to "this great Government." That may be his view now on this particular question, but that has not always been his view.
Turning from the hon. Member to the more serious part of the question, I do think that the Government ought to reconsider the appointment of Lord Cromer. Lord Cromer has rendered great and distinguished service to the Empire. No one denies that. We all regret, and no one regrets more than I do, the very serious illness which came over him last year. Notwithstanding the fact that he has rendered great service to the Empire and has had a very distinguished career, Lord Cromer's advanced age and his illhealth render him unfit to occupy the responsible position to which he is to be appointed. My right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) to-morrow, I understand, is going to suggest that Lord Milner should be added to this Commission. Although I have been an opponent of his, and I do not know anyone who opposed him more than I did during the South African War, I think that in an inquiry of this kind Lord Milner, as an active man and still in the prime of life, is well suited for the work. It is necessary that we should have a man who has the best of health and who can devote his time to the inquiry. Was Lord Milner offered the post of chairman? There is a general rumour in the House that he was offered that post and that he refused it. If that is so the Government ought to take every possible step to get Lord Milner to accept it. In regard to Lord George Hamilton, I have repeatedly during the War suggested to the Prime Minister that it is time, when we want economy in all branches of administration, that people with political pensions should be dealt with. At the time Lord George Hamilton took his pension from the Government, according to a letter he wrote to the "Times." he required assistance from the State, and that assistance was given. Lord George Hamilton holds a number of directorates of companies. I do not want to go into his financial position, but I may say that he is dependent not upon the House of Commons, but upon the will of the Prime Minister, whether his pension is to be continued or not. Having regard to this 1750 circumstance, although I do not say that he is not going to do his duty because he is in receipt of a pension from the Government which depends upon the Prime Minister—
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The Prime Minister has admitted that he has the power, and the Government cannot stop it.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I have raised this question at least half a dozen times, and I am quite right in what I say. If the Secretary of State for India will refer to the records he will see that the Government have power to discontinue this pension at any time they think fit.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Without any cause at all. There is no liability upon the Government to pay a pension to any ex-Minister of the Crown. That pension does not attach as a right. If the hon. and learned Member will look up the record he would be surprised to find that by the Act under which these pensions are granted it rests entirely in the discretion of the Government whether the pension will be paid or not. Lord George Hamilton, I am quite certain, is not going to be deterred because of the fact that he is in receipt of a pension which depends on the good will of the Government, but the fact that he is in receipt of a pension does not bring to the mind of the ordinary community at large in this country that confidence which it is essential that people should have. On the whole, I think that the Government have done well. I think that the names which they have suggested to the House will give general confidence throughout the country, with the exception of that of Lord Cromer—and that solely on account of his advanced age and illhealth. The work of the Commissions will be very arduous, and we ought not to throw it upon an old man of very brilliant services to the Empire, but should leave it to men who would be more vigorous and who have the advantage of greater youth to do justice to the great task which is being submitted to them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow—[Mr. Rea.]