HC Deb 01 June 1916 vol 82 cc3050-76

Message received to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went, and, having returned,

Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to:—

  1. 1. Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Act, 1916.
  2. 2. British North America Act, 1916.
  3. 3. Naval Discipline (Delegation of Powers) Act, 1916.
  4. 4. Courts (Emergency Powers) (No. 2) Act, 1916.
  5. 5. Imperial Continental Gas Association Act, 1916.

Question again proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday the 20th June."


(continuing): When I was interrupted I was referring to the powers of the Air Board. I notice that that Board is represented on the Treasury Bench, and I would repeat that if my criticisms in this House are of any use it will give me considerable pleasure to think that they have been so. Within the last two months for some reason or another—I have no need to say for what reason—we have been very fortunate in the reforms which have taken place in our Air Services. Aerodromes which were unsuitably lighted are now suitably lighted. Aeroplanes which were dangerous to fly with have been substituted by better machines. In fact generally during the last two months I think I can say without fear of contradiction, unless perhaps it were official contradiction, that there have been more reforms carried out both in our naval and military flying service than had been carried out in the previous two years. That at least is satisfactory, and I congratulate the Departments on the work which they have accomplished. I would like to point out that there is still room for careful administration in some of our aerodromes. I do not wish to suggest that the five or six officers who have been killed in the past two or three days directly reflect on that point. I must, however, call attention to a point to which it is exceedingly painful for me to refer. Despite any passage-of-arms we may have had across the floor of the House, there is no man in this House who at the moment sympathises more deeply than I do with the Under-Secretary of State for War in the recent accident to his son. I would be the last to fail to understand what that means to the right hon. Gentleman. I read in the "Times" the account of the accident which I believe is described thus: A fatal aeroplane accident occurred yesterday in Kent. A military biplane had descended and was rising for the return journey, when it was caught by the wind, and sideslipped at the height of 120 feet, falling nose downwards. The pilot, Captain George Alfred Grime Jones, was killed, and the observer, Second-Lieutenant Tennant, was seriously injured. Knowing the type of machine, that it was a B 2 C No. 4335, and, in view of my remarks more particularly applying to that type of machine, and the fact of the machine falling 120 ft. with a sideslip and a nose dive, I could hardly believe that the one who was killed was the pilot. I do not know a more regrettable accident which has taken place to this type of machine, which, as I have said in this House before, has a habit of being underpowered. It has never come to my knowledge that the pilot has been killed and the passenger only injured. I only, therefore, propose to ask whether that is so. Before I took any steps, I received two letters from people interested in Captain Grime Jones, asking me to call attention to the fact that these newspaper reports, which, as I understand have been released by the Press Bureau, are wrong. Captain Grime Jones was not the pilot of this airship. Although there are duties which we owe to the living, who can protect themselves, there are certain duties which we owe to the dead, who cannot protect themselves. An accident of this description, from the information I have received, is entirely due, I should perhaps say principally due, to inexperience and inefficiency. It is rather hard that the man who was not responsible for that accident and was killed should be accused of it. This man who was killed was not responsible for the accident. He was not the pilot on that machine at the time. I have reason to believe that it was Lieutenant Tennant, who was a probationer, without experience, and—it is stated here in this letter from a very responsible party—was the last officer who could be trusted at that time to fly with a passenger. Neither of them had any experience when this regrettable accident occurred. I do not propose to criticise now—it is too delicate a question, for me to decide—


Hear, hear!


As to the weight which should be carried at any station. But I must say that I consider it my duty, with the information in my hand, to make this statement in public that Captain Grime Jones was not the pilot, neither was he in any way responsible for the accident, nor for his own death. It is incidents like this which make us feel that there is all the more reason why the very greatest care and discipline should be exercised where these young fellows are concerned in their early days of piloting. I have not accurate figures, but I think you will find, according to the percentage of pilots killed in tuition, the civilian schools compare very favourably with the military schools, numbers for numbers. That is all I have to say on this occasion, but I do ask the representative of the Air Board, whom I see on the Front Bench, to represent to his Board the necessity—and I trust they have the power—of watching very carefully the types of machines which are being employed and the types of machines which it is contemplated are going to be ordered. Every day, and more especially just about now, very large orders will be given both for engines and aeroplanes, and on the type that is ordered there depends to a very great deal not only the lives of the men who will be called upon to fly them, but possibly the orders which will be given now will bring the machines due for delivery at a moment when we shall need them most.

I do therefore ask the representative of the Board to impress upon Lord Curzon the inadvisability of giving large orders for machines which are obsolete, and large orders for engines simply because of Government design, although admittedly the most inefficient which the world, even the American market, can produce, and it produces some very bad stuff in the aviation line. That particular R.A.F. engine is, as compared with any other engine, less efficient, less reliable than any other standard aeroplane engine in the world. There are engines of about six or severs pounds per horse-power for six hours' flying, and here is an engine of eleven pounds horse-power, and yet, because it is a Government design, orders approximating to 2,500 of this type are being and have been given. I take this last opportunity before the House adjourns of requesting the representative of the Board to ask Lord Curzon to inquire very carefully into this question of engines and of type, because perhaps before we meet again orders involving many millions of pounds may be placed. I know Lord Curzon is earnest and anxious to get on with his gigantic task. I know he is earnest and anxious to regain for us the supremacy of the air, but that supremacy can be regained, certainly to a large extent, by human endeavour such as the bravery and skill of our flying men. Of that there is no possible doubt, but there has been in the last six months, and there may still be, a very considerable doubt in the minds of some people as to the type of aeroplane we are going to give to our pilots to accomplish this desirable end, and I do ask the representative of the Board here to impress on Lord Curzon, no matter what advice he may have from officials either one way or the other, to exhaust every possible advice of the trade and the services of the interested and disinterested people, and then come to a decision, but not to be led astray, if I may say so, by those interested officials in various Government Departments who are anxious to see the child of their own imagination at all costs used more freely in the service than other, and possibly more capable, productions of private enterprise.


(representing the Air Board): The hon. Gentleman dealt in a very kindly manner with the Air Board, and I must thank him for the expression of his intention to assist us to the best of his ability. We are always anxious to hear any suggestions from people of experience which will help us to carry out the terms of our reference, and the matter of engines and types of machines is specifically included in the reference which has already been read to the House. I can assure the hon. Member that that is not a question which is being lost sight of, but, on the other hand, he surely must know that you cannot order types of machines without great examination and great inspection, and, from the very nature of the case, a machine may become obsolete, or obsolescent, before the order is completed, and the main difficulty of the whole problem is to keep, not only abreast of what the Germans are doing, but to go one better as far as we possibly can. The hon. Member will believe me when I tell him that that is a question which the Board realises to the full as clearly as anyone possible can, and the experienced aeronautical officers who serve on the Board as the technical advisers of the President are fully competent to give advice, from their experience and practical knowledge, on these matters. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member, if he had thought over the matter more, would not have brought up the case of that most regrettable accident which occurred a few days ago. I cannot believe it can be to the advantage of the Service, or that it is in accordance with the traditions of this House, that an accident of that painful nature, which is now forming, as all accidents always do form, the subject of official investigation, should be brought up and dealt with in this House while that investigation is going on. I cannot see what purpose can be served. I rather think the mention of such a subject at such a time while the inquiry is going on can only be a source of pain and suffering to those who have already suffered enough. I do not believe the hon. Member would have brought forward the subject if he had thought a little more about it.


I would like to suggest that if the Government had taken the opportunity of correcting the Press reports for the last three days throughout the country, I should never have dreamt of referring to it, but I do think, in justice to the memory of the man who was killed, somebody should call attention to it so that a correction may be made in the Press.


I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if a correction is found necessary that correction will be made, and the last thing that is conceivable is that injustice should be done to anyone. The machine was a dual-control machine, and the officer to whom he referred, and who was unfortunately killed, was not the pilot. I think the hon. Member did not raise any other point bearing directly on the functions of the Board, beyond asking me to impress upon my Noble Friend the great importance of carefully inquiring into the types of machines before orders are given. I can asure him that my Noble Friend is fully alive to the importance of that point, and he is ready to welcome any suggestion which the hon. Member, or any other competent adviser, is prepared to place before him.

Colonel YATE

I wish the representative of the Home Department to give consideration to two questions. The first is as to what measures are being taken to prevent naturalised Germans from changing their names until they have officially discarded German nationality? My second question is, what steps have been taken to deprive those men of military age who have deliberately left the country to escape military service of their civil rights?


That is a matter which obviously requires legislation.


The matter I have to bring before the House is one which was raised at Question time, and I do it with great regret in the absence of the Under-Secretary for War, whose reason the whole House understands and sympathises with. In raising this question I wish to say that in no way do I cast any reflection upon the action of my right hon. Friend, and I do not wish in any way to impugn the good faith of the high authorities of the War Office. Hon. Members who have been present at Question Time during the last two or three days will have realised that an incident has occurred which has caused a great deal of misunderstanding, and will cause a very great deal of concern which might have been prevented by more prompt and businesslike action. Some ten days ago the whole country heard with relief the announcement of the Secretary for War that a new method had been adopted of dealing with the difficulties of those conscientious objectors who refused, after having been drafted into the Army, to do any form of military service. It was understool that those men would be handed over to civilian prisons after court-martial.

It was with great surprise that after this announcement a number of us learned that men in this position who had been from the beginning protesting against the fact that they were deemed to be soldiers and who were suffering imprisonment or detention, were, in spite of this new Army Order, being drafted out to France. I was informed on Monday that a number of them were being drafted off to France from detention. I spent some hours seeing Ministers on this matter and laying these points before the authorities of the War Office, urging that prompt measures should be taken to stop what would only cause needless hardship to the men and a great deal of trouble to the Army, because sooner or later this Order was to be applied to all these cases. The matter was brought up again on Tuesday, and on that day I had given notice that I would ask a question by private notice. I was asked to withdraw it at the request of the War Office on the understanding which was conveyed to me by a Cabinet Minister that an order had been given by the War Office to stop these men being sent to France. A number of my hon. Friends were prepared to raise the matter in Debate, and upon that understanding the Debate took an entirely different turn, no mention being made of these cases at all at the request of the War Office. I pointed out when the understanding was entered into that it was very probable that the telegram which was sent by the War Office had been sent to the wrong place. My anticipation turned out to be correct. A number of men were sent on Monday night from Richmond and others in a similar position were sent from Abergele, and on Tuesday they reached Southampton. The War Office sent telegrams not to Southampton, but to the Commands from which the men came, and a reply was sent saying that the men had already gone to France and no attempt was made to stop the men going on the boat. The proper course was, surely, to telegraph to the boat or send a duplicate telegram, and that is a thing which any business concern would have done as a matter of common sense. That step was not taken, and in consequence the understanding which had been arrived at became a dead letter, and those men are now in France.

I know the reason of their being sent is one which the War Office can explain entirely satisfactorily from the point of view of military law. They will say that they have sent these men under an old Army Order which dates back into the nineteenth if not into the eighteenth century, under which men who are imprisoned rejoin their regiment when it is ordered on foreign service, the idea being that those men should have an opportunity of redeeming their faults by rejoining their comrades on active service, and this was intended as being an act of mercy to the men themselves. In this case, however, the whole intention of the Army Order has been frustrated, because, to send men who are from the first protesting that they will under no circumstances undertake military duty merely means inflicting further hardship and dangers which we know were never intended, but which are very real in the minds of those men and their parents, and will cause considerable anxiety in the country. The whole situation causes needless and unnecessary embarrassment to the Army abroad as well as anxiety to a large number of families at home. I am told that these men went as free men, and I believe my right hon. Friend pointed out at Question time to-day that they went as free men. I want to show how utterly removed from the facts of the case that statement is. A number of non-combatants were sent on Tuesday to France, and eight of them were sent in handcuffs from Seaford, where they had been attached to the 10th Border Regiment. I do not think it can be said that those were free men. A number of men from Richmond were taken under even worse conditions, and I want to read a letter which I have received, which was sent to the mother of one of these men. It will be remembered that in all these cases, in the barracks and in the guard room, men have had dinned into their ears the fact that if they go to France they will have a form of punishment which may end in death, and they have been told that in spite of an assurance made in good faith in this House, and which I have no doubt whatever the Army Authorities intend to keep, but this fear is used as a weapon to punish these men, and to punish their friends far more than the men. I will read this letter, and the House will see how some of these men have been treated—

Richmond Castle,

Monday (Mid-day),

May 28th, 1916.

My Dear Mother,—I, along with all the other prisoners, am being sent to France. This morning we were all brought out to be equipped, but five of the court-martial prisoners refused, and in consequence there was an unfortunate scene. I saw the quartermaster-sergeant kick one of the chaps in the ribs while on the ground. This should certainly be exposed, and I the witness; further, the captain asked if we were going quietly, for if we did not we should be prodded with bayonets from behind and he would order it. Brocklesby and myself have decided to be quite passive, the responsibility being theirs, and if the worst should happen I am thankful to say I am quite calm and peaceful and I hope that God in His great mercy will give you similar peace to mine. They may be testing us to the extreme, so let us live in hope that we shall be happily reunited in the near future. I was told I could wire for my sister, which I presume they did, but if they did not, then it cannot be helped, but we are not going without an armed escort to prove that we go under protest. I could not say all that I feel towards you, but I thank God for the sweet mother, brothers, and sisters I have been privileged to have and the years He has allowed me in their company."

The second letter is a letter sent on to me by one of the men who did not go under armed escort, but who went having accepted service, and it shows the effect of treatment like this on the soldier who ac- cepts service—the demoralising effect of allowing conduct like this upon discipline and upon the Army itself. Thanks for your kind letter. This again is dated from Richmond the same day— To-night we leave for somewhere in France. With us are going seventeen prisoners, amongst them being Routledge. This morning the prisoners were very badly handled and thrown out of a room down three steps—rather a bad drop. Eighty of us saw this and most of us are getting up a petition. Three or four prisoners were very badly handled, and it was hard to stand by and not protect them. We are putting our shoulders together and shall tolerate no further harsh treatment, come what may. That is from a man who has accepted service. He looks on indignant at the way in which these men are being treated. That shows the effect of conduct like this upon the discipline of the Army. I know that this is contrary to the wish of the high authorities at the War Office; I know that it is contrary to the wish of the vast majority of gallant officers and soldiers; but this sort of thing must be exposed if it is to cease, and I want to appeal to the Government to see that an end is put to it speedily. We ought to have no more sending of these men in this condition abroad under protest. Nothing but harm can come of it. I want to point out that although those telegrams were sent too late to stop those particular batches of men, if there had been the intelligence and goodwill locally that one would have expected they might at least have had effect in one case. The telegram was sent to Abergele on Tuesday. It was too late to stop the particular batch of men who were going, resisting passively and protesting, and it had no effect for them, but on Wednesday, from Abergele, another batch of men, also protesting, was sent. Surely if it was too late to stop the men who were sent on Tuesday, it was not too late to stop the men who, in spite of that telegram, were sent on Wednesday, and I think it is not too much to ask the Government that the assurances they themselves entered into should be carried out, not merely by the War Office, but by the subordinate officers who are responsible to the War Office, and that the intentions of the Secretary of State for War, which have been explained to Parliament, and which have been accepted by the country, should be carried out, not merely in the letter but in the spirit, not merely by the War Office but by all officers under its command.

I do not hesitate to press that claim, and to beg the Government to do their utmost to see that no more men are sent under such conditions abroad to France, men protesting from the very outset against this form of service, men who can only cause trouble and difficulty to the units to which they are sent, who can give nothing but inconvenience and annoyance to the officers who have to deal with them, and the sending of whom to France causes suffering, not so much to the men themselves, although sometimes that may be severe, but far more to innocent relatives and friends who are in no wise responsible, who are kept in anxiety having no information of their sons, not being allowed to correspond with them or to hear where they are, and who have their minds harassed by all the fears which have been spread abroad in the talk of the guard room and in the talk of the barracks. I think in making that appeal I shall have the sympathy of many who do not approve of the line of action taken by these men. It is an appeal for justice; it is an appeal that an honourable understanding entered into with Parliament shall be carried out by a great public Department, which, after all, is doing its work as the servant of the nation.


I have been loath throughout the whole of these Debates upon this and kindred subjects to lift my voice in this House, lest it might seem that I was unwilling to give my very fullest loyal support to the Government in the prosecution of this War, and lest I might seem a source of weakness, perhaps, by a little, seeming to be a divider of solid counsel; but I have had a past as I am having a present, and the two are in very serious conflict, and to me there comes the necessity of seeing how far the past and the present have a logical relation the one to the other. I have been for many years—and this is germane, though it may not for the moment appear so, to what I have to say—a member of the Interparliamentary Union for the Promotion of International Peace and Arbitration amongst the peoples of the world. Through those years, as I have gone to and fro on those missions throughout Europe, I have never yet discovered, nor do I see to-day, anything that makes impossible all men on earth dwelling together in mutual help and respect, but to-day I find myself support- ing my country in what seems to me a defensive warfare, a warfare for right, for human justice and liberty, and to me it seems that only one duty is clear—the duty of supporting the Government with whatever power the years may have left in me to the very fullest, and at any cost and at any sacrifice. While this is true, and while it would compel me were I a man young enough to do my little bit in shouldering the gun and donning the King's uniform, I have to regard this question upon which my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. E. Harvey) has spoken, from another standpoint. I cannot companion with him constantly on this matter. He knows that he has my full respect and esteem, and has had for many years, for what it is worth to him, but he knows full well that I cannot go with him all the way upon this matter. He might be disposed, in the largeness of his generosity, to include in his defensive scheme unconscientious objectors and persons whose objection to military service at this time is wholly confined to dodging any responsibility, to make any sacrifice whatever, whose conscience is the God of Selfishness, and whose idea of national service and responsibility is of a most miserable and contemptible kind.

With these persons I have not the ghost of a shadow of a tittle of sympathy. I hold them in the uttermost contempt. I would spare them no fair punishment that might be meted out to them in their meed, but as this question has been brought before the public eye from time to time we have had to recognise that in this country we have a number of young men for whose right to the opinions they hold I am bound to speak up. They are men of whom in normal times we should all be proud, men whose opinions we should feel were after all nothing less than the opinions which will be the fair flower of a civilisation to which we trust the travail of our long suffering world will ultimately bring its people. Surely the inculcation of brotherliness and peace must, however hard it may be for us in these stern, bitter, and suffering days, be the noblest of all the doctrines men can preach, and if the time for preaching those doctrines is not to-day, those who are prepared to stand by them, and to carry them to the uttermost conclusion must not be lightly sneered at, lest damage is done to the whole cause and creed which we may want in fairer conditions to cultivate and stimulate.

So I say to-day that I do sincerely hope I may be permitted to raise my voice on behalf of some of those who are classed broadly with others far less worthy, and probably, for all I know, with a majority who are far less worthy or, indeed, only worthy of contempt, in order to ask that for the residue of those who are genuine, pure-spirited haters of all strife and war, something may be done to mitigate the hardships of their lot, and to render easier their position and attitude to the State. I might here say that I could not, though holding these opinions, give a moment's patient consideration to the creature who would say to us, as one or two have said to me lately in the Lobby of this House in moments of this interview: "I have no duty in what I do to the State. I owe it no responsibility, but to seek in it shelter and protection for my own interest." These people are beneath contempt. They do not deserve either house, shelter, or even the ordinary amenities of life. But not of that class are all the people with whom we have to do. I plead for them. I know there is no representative here of the War Office, but I plead for them with all the passion of my heart. I cannot agree with them, for I think they are carrying their doctrines at this date and hour too far, but I know they are motived by high principles and a lofty sense of duty to God and man, and those are things I would not lightly violate. I ask the powers that be to do everything that will mitigate the hardships of military law for them, and to give these people the opportunity of making their fair contribution to the help of their country in some way or other, though that may not mean ministering to the passion, hatred, and lust of War. Again, and not wholly unrelated to this, we must beware at this time of a spirit that this thing brings about. We want that our splendid Army should not tolerate any brutality in any of its officers. I can understand the harshness of the rough-and-ready soldier who has to deal with these people, but there must be laid on him by his responsible chief the knowledge of the duty that, while he does not understand the views of those who are under his guidance and control, he must respect them. There must be this principle, that however great this crisis the soldier is a servant of the civilian; that he is not the master but the servant of the State. We must have done with this hectoring, whether in the tribunals, the barrack-room, or wherever it may be, and must look upon our duty from a higher standpoint altogether. We must fight this fight for human liberty and righteousness in a nobler and loftier way, and seek to cause all those whose stern business it is to carry it on to bear it without any of the grosser passions, and being motived—as I have hastily, hurriedly, and with not much preparation endeavoured to convey to the House—to be prepared to carry it out in such a way that when this trial of the peoples of the earth is over, and their controversy is ended, we may not say that the sacred struggle has disgraced any one of us; that we may proudly say that our splendid soldiery, every man of it, has done his duty loftily, nobly, and without any sullying of its character; that we have not fallen, but risen; and that we deserve the full victory which I trust in due time may come upon our flag.


I desire to add my appeal to those that have been made to the Government to deal at once with this question. We are discussing this subject to-night under great Parliamentary disadvantages. There is present no representative of the War Office. I know the cause, and the House knows the reason, why the Secretary of State for War is absent, and no one feels anything but the deepest sympathy with him. Certainly I do not wish to utter a word of criticism on that score, but I see before me the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Gulland), and he will forgive me for saying that I think some Cabinet Minister should have been here to-night, not that we wish him to listen to our speeches, but that we wish him to tell us what is going to be done in this most important matter. Believe me, that if this question is neglected much longer the time will come when its discussion in this House will bring a full attendance of Ministers to that Bench. I want him, if he will, to put before the Prime Minister this matter. A Parliamentary engagement was entered into with Members who are interested in this question in this House. A Cabinet Minister conveyed to us on behalf of the Government on Tuesday last an assurance that these men would not be sent to the front, that instructions had been given to stop them being sent to the front, and we were also given to understand that if the instructions failed to reach the officers responsible in time they would be brought back. We ask that that bargain should be kept. All the reasons which led the War Office to assent to the despatch of the instructions stopping the sending of these men are equally good reasons for issuing instructions to send them back from France now that they have got there through a misunderstanding or a mistake. I cannot understand why there should be any hesitancy in sending these orders to France to send back these men. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. T. E. Harvey), who introduced the question to-night, read two letters, and the first of those letters appeared to me, and, I think, appeared to the House, to be a document of a most moving character. I have received similar letters speaking of the agony in which the victims of this persecution find themselves, and especially of the peculiar anxiety that falls upon their relatives.

There is another and an even greater sorrow connected with this matter. One of the saddest cases which has been brought to my notice is that of a conscientious objector who was sent abroad under protest and resisted, and who has been subjected to bullying and ill-usage and the whole power of the military machine in order to break his spirit. Those methods have been successful. His spirit has been broken, and he has now given way. To his sorrow there is now added the greater sorrow of feeling, not only that he is physically broken, but that he is broken in spirit and in soul. Is that the kind of victory which the Government and the War Office wish to obtain. I am sure it is not. I am sure that this question has only to be thought of, the facts have only to be investigated, and public conscience has only to be aroused in order that an end may be put to these most improper methods which degrade us, I will not say as a Christian, but as a civilised nation.

8.0 P.M.

The question at issue now is concerned primarily with the men in France, but I want to remind the representative of the Government that we are asking them to take action not only with regard to the men who went by misadventure two days ago, but also with regard to the seventeen men, or whatever the number is, who have been in France for the past few weeks, of whom we can get no accurate details, who are understood to be resisters, and concerning many of whose cases the most distressing incidents are taking place. I put it that the good name of this country is at stake. We know that the provisions made by Parliament for the protection of the conscientious objectors have not been observed. It is difficult to say whose fault it is. There is a combination of causes which has led to the defeat of the intention of Parliament. The result is — there is no dispute as to these facts—that many sincere men to whom this House intended to give its protection have failed to receive that protection and now find themselves resisters in the ranks of the Army and under the control of the military machine. This has been the subject of many consultations and conferences between all sections of the House and the Government. There has been no dispute about it among Members of the House who hold the most divergent views on the question of Conscription. Members in all quarters and representing every phase of political opinion have joined together in trying to agree upon a scheme which will bring us to the end of this difficulty. A scheme has been agreed upon. If, even now, the War Office would carry out this scheme in the spirit, we should be at the end of the most distressing controversy and episode that has arisen in this country since the outbreak of the War. I earnestly appeal to the Government to stand no longer on the letter of the Regulations, and to realise that Members in every quarter of the House have expressed a desire for a settlement of this question on the basis of meeting the position of the genuine conscientious objector. The House is rising, and we shall no longer have, day by day, the power of putting questions and of following the fate of the men concerned. Therefore, for the moment, we can only take this last opportunity before the Recess of appealing to the Government to take immediate action to bring to an end an intolerable state of things, which is causing so much sorrow in the country and which is also arousing so much public concern.


I do not propose to follow the last speaker in the very important subject with which he dealt, but I am quite sure it will have the attention of the Government, and that before long they will find a solution which will meet with general approval. I desire to say a few words on the subject of munition workers and the work being done in the controlled establishments. It is not my desire to criticise in the least the decision of the Minister of Munitions to defer the general holiday until a later period in the year. I can quite understand that it is most important at the present moment that we should have the greatest possible production of armaments. But I do wish to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee on the health of Munition Workers. That Committee has reported most definitely against an undue amount of overtime. They have pointed out conclusively that excessive overtime undermines the health of the worker, and that in a very short time the result of it is that you have a decreased production instead of the increased production that is required. A few days ago a letter appeared in the "Times," in which it was said that large numbers of men at Sheffield had worked eighty-three hours a week without losing any time since the beginning of the War. It is very patriotic of those men. I admire them for doing it, but, at the same time, I do not think such excessive overtime ought to be allowed, because it means that in the long run such men will lose their health and production will decrease rather than increase. It has been proved, where the hours of work are regular and where the workmen do not work so many hours, that they are able to retain their health and the greatest amount of vigour, and more effective production is the result. Some years ago there was a letter in the "Times" from Mr. Carlile, who was for a great number of years the managing director of Harland and Wolff's great shipbuilding industry at Belfast. He carried out a large number of experiments with the express object of finding out the effect of overtime on production, and he wrote a long letter describing how he did it and the result of his efforts. The result was that he came to the conclusion that regular hours of work—I am speaking of not more than ten hours a day—have the effect of producing more in a comparatively limited time than is produced with unlimited overtime. Then, again, we are faced with the economic point that overtime means increased cost of production, because it is paid a larger amount per hour, and especially is that the case on Sundays. That is a great temptation for workpeople to desire these longer hours in order to get extra pay. They do not understand or do not realise that it means in the long run a decreased production and also the loss of their health. It is excessively costly. This is not a new subject. Sir William Mather introduced into his workshop an eight hours day, and her has found that they have done better and produced more. I hope, therefore, that, considering the question of health and the question of economy and the point that regular hours of work properly organised will result in an increased production of the munitions which we so much require, this phase of the question will receive the-most earnest attention of the Minister of Munitions.


I wish to say a few words in support of the speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Harvey). I was very much gratified to hear of the new Army Order under which men are to be transferred from the military to the civil prisons. That was a point on which I was very much concerned, because I have always realised that the Administration would necessarily say these men ought to be punished. But punishment under the law is a very different thing from retaining these men and subjecting them to all sorts of ill-treatment and bullying and endeavouring to break down in that way their objections to military service. I very much appreciate the fact that the War Office has been, able to take this step, and I hope that its transference to the civil authorities will go on as rapidly as possible, and that we shall not have the stoppage which seemed to take place owing to their not being able to transfer men to the civil authorities until they have been court-martialed, or rather they cannot tranfer them from detention to the civil authorities. That seems to me to be rather an extraordinary position, for it amounts to this, that if a man commits a minor offence and is held in detention he cannot be handed over to the civil authorities. He has, it seems tome, to commit a graver offence, one which will subject him to court-martial, and then he can be handed over. That seems to me rather instigating the creation of graver offences. But I think a considerable step has been made in the solution of this very difficult problem when we remove the element of personal persecution in regard to these men and leave them subject to the law itself.

There is one other point which was raised in connection with the Home Office. I do not think the statement made by the Home Secretary was altogether satisfactory. He did not, I think, in any way remove our fears that under the exigencies of a state of war unnecessary deprivations of liberty are taking place. We have seen that liberty of speech has largely been abrogated; we have seen that the right of public meeting has been very largely suppressed, and these instances which have been brought up to-day show that what seem to me to be quite legitimate expressions of opinion are now being subject to the attention of the police in a way that does not in any way conform to the ideas of liberty as so far held in this country. Then it seemed to me that a very extraordinary statement was made by the Home Secretary. Dealing with the very difficult problem of how far a man who is following, as he should follow, the religious precepts and doctrines of Christ, and whether it is legitimate for those doctrines to be inculcated in a way which would lead the recipient of them to oppose the law itself in their maintenance, he declared that a clergyman preaching from the pulpit the doctrine of Christ and suggesting that they should be carried out, whatever the law might say, would be contravening the Defence of the Realm Act. It seems to me that is a declaration which is well worthy the attention of the clergy and ministers of this country, because these men are very largely young men of impressionable age, of an age when a conscience is more likely to exist. Some cynic has said that any man over forty who is still worried by a conscience is a very foolish man. At that age a man ought to have his conscience well under subjection. But these for the most part were young impressionable lads, who had in many cases not left the family circle and were under the influence of clergy and ministers of religion and followed to the fullest extent the precepts which they have learnt either from their parents or from the minister of religion. Therefore the responsibility for what these men may do in their resistance to the law rests very largely with the clergy, and if, as we have heard to-day, the preaching of these religious doctrines and the demands that they shall be in all respects fulfilled, is a contravention of the law, I hold that the churches and the chapels should be closed as centres of potential sedition in this country. I can see that there would be some advantage to the State if you accept that decision and take full responsibility for the thesis laid down by the Home Secretary, there would be some advantage to the State if you abolished the State religion, closed the churches, disendowed the Church, and utilised its lands for, say, a settlement for wounded soldiers, if you used the churches and cathedrals perhaps also for the wounded; but the State maintenance of a sham religion can advantage the community in no way whatsoever.

It seems to me that the doctrine laid down by the Home Secretary, perhaps, is not the best capable of expounding the tenets of Christianity. It rather seems that we should reduce Christ to the position of a Chinese Joss. I once lived amongst a number of Chinese tobacco growers, and I know something of their methods. A Chinaman has a Joss House. He sets up an image Joss and prays to it. He prays for rain, and if rain does not come he dismounts the Joss, and there is a ceremony of kicking it all round the Joss House and then putting up another Joss. That seems the position we are asked to take up as regards Christ, that if it does not suit us to follow the tenets of Christ he should be dispossessed. The Home Secretary says that the promulgation of the tenets of Christ is to be regarded as illegal, and those who follow them are to be subject, as they have been, to persecution under the law. I hold that these men, who fully maintain these religious convictions, should not be subject to the persecution and the conditions imposed upon them under the Military Service Act. I take up this stand, not because I hold so strictly by those tenets myself, but because it is constantly being brought to my notice that these conscientious objectors are taking this stand under the impulse of religious convictions. I have letters sent to me from, all parts. I have not met many of these men, but I happened to meet a case the other day when I was in a North Country town. I was up there speaking, not on Conscription, and I was taken to a house where the occupants wanted my advice. There was an old man and an old lady there. The old man had been preaching in that small manufacturing town for many years past. They were associated with the Friends. They did not belong to the Society of Friends, but they had been associated with them in all their work in the town. Their two young boys had just reached military age. I am sure they never would make soldiers, either by physique or by disposition. The whole family were imbued with the religious spirit. These two boys were to be arrested next day. They were making no complaint about it. They said, "We are just doing our duty." They asked me nothing as to what they should do, but they were going to accept whatever came. It was very different with the parents, who regarded this, as a terrible persecution, and as a fearful wrong being done to these boys, for whose views they were responsible. These boys, I presume, were taken away next day, because I have received a letter from a friend of mine on the subject. I will not read the name, because if it gets about these boys might be subject to further persecution. Miss Annie E. and Margaret — went out to Kinmel Park, North Wales, on Thursday, 25th May, with the intention of visiting two brothers, Fred and Ealing —. They report that their brother Ealing complained of rough treatment generally. He expressed it as inhuman. Ealing reported that he was kicked because he declined to put on puttees. He further stated that his brother Fred had his arm twisted up his back by an officer at Chester, and the effort made to inflict injury was so violent that it threw him on his face. Fred — and John — have been kept together, and Fred reports that John was knocked down for refusing to put on puttees while at Kinmel Park. That shows the kind of treatment to which these men are subjected. Do the Government realise the effect these cases are having upon the country? The reply I made to my correspondent was this: I see that the representative of your constituency is the acting leader of the Labour party. I would advise these sisters to go before the Labour Representation Committee and the Trade Organisation of that constituency, and show the result of the vote given by their representative, and ask them to see that their representative brings up this case and takes action in regard to it. I am told that the hon. Member has got very few members of his executive who are supporting him in his action. This is a small town and these young lads are known, and the injustice of their not having been granted exemption is known throughout that town. Whatever may be the opinion of the House now as regards these cases, I know that the spirit which is spreading in every part of the country, and which is instigated and engendered by cases such as this, is not going to maintain the spirit of enthusiasm which you wish to maintain during this War. I tell the Government absolutely plainly—and the statement is confirmed by letters I am getting from my own Constituency—that a most extraordinary revulsion of feeling as regards the War is going through the country at the present time. It is for this reason, that with the War, which was regarded with almost complete unanimity as a war of righteousness and of justice, you are associating in the public mind, especi- ally in the provinces, these acts of brutality and persecution of men who, rightly, should not be within the power of the law at all, and who are there because of the illegal action of the tribunals. People are beginning to ask what this War is for. They are saying that it cannot be a war for liberty, when they see such conditions prevailing here, and they are saying that it cannot be a righteous War, because we are no more righteous than a militarist nation like Germany. All the foundations on which the country built its hopes are being undermined by the treatment of these men. I do not expect the Government to pay very much attention, at a time like this, to what may be minor injuries, or minor sufferings compared with those of the men at the front. I do not expect them to pay much attention to the sufferings of isolated individuals, but if they desire to uphold the enthusiasm of the community in support of the War, they would be well advised to take the steps necessary to remedy these injustices and persecutions as regards these men.


As we are leaving this country to-night for three or four weeks, I rise to ask the indulgence of the House while I make a special appeal on behalf of the Irish prisoners in England. There will be over 1,000 Irishmen left behind who have been complaining of their treatment since the first day they came here, a month ago. The men complain that they are not getting sufficient food, and they are complaining that the food they get for one day is not sufficient to make one meal. I also desire to make a special appeal for their urgent trial, or their release. They have been kept here now a month without any charge being made against them. We are not quite sure about the numbers that are being released. Yesterday we were told that it was 350, and today we are told that 800 of the 3,000 arrested in Ireland have been released. If it takes a month to release 300 boys against whom there is no charge, I would ask, when do the Government intend to deal with the last 100 of the 1,000 who are still here in Knutsford, Wandsworth, and other places? During Question Time I tried to make the suggestion that all the prisoners who have had no charges made against them should be allowed out on bail, pending their trial, on condition that they obtain substantial bail. This could easily be done.

I wish to make a special appeal on behalf of the lady prisoners in Richmond Barracks, Dublin. I believe that there are fifteen or twenty of those young girls who were Red Cross workers. It has been announced in the House to the credit of those girls that they made no distinction in dealing with the persons brought into the houses which they turned into hospitals, and that they attended three British soldiers for every one Volunteer whom they were attending. Is it justice that those girls should be detained for a month without trial and threatened with deportation? It is for the sake of the Government themselves that I ask them to consider these cases, because feelings of indignation and bitterness over the treatment of these prisoners are growing in Ireland It would take a lifetime to blot out the ill-feeling towards the Government which is being created.

Nobody has yet made any statement as to what he thought were the causes of the rebellion and what should be the remedy. The rebellion has been referred to as Irish lunacy, but strange to say, it took Irish lunacy to show what English stupidity was. The stupidity of the Government can be shown by the fact that they have caused to be arrested almost every Labour leader in the country. One of the Labour leaders at the present moment is in solitary confinement in Wandsworth Gaol, in an 8 ft. cell with insufficient food and no exercise, though he is an untried prisoner. And anyone who calls to see him is told that he has been sent to Ireland to take his trial. I have had a letter from the wife of one of these men, telling me that she is heartbroken because she could get no knowledge as to where her husband is. Owing to the shootings without trial that took place in Portobello Barracks, is it any wonder that this lady is heartbroken about her husband? There is another man, a well-known writer, a man of the highest gifts, who is also in solitary confinement. Is it British justice to have these men, untried prisoners, in solitary confinement without being allowed to speak to or see anybody?

The rebellion in Ireland has been called a Sinn Fein rebellion. A better description is to call it a rebellion of dissatisfied people against a hundred years of Dublin Castle mismanagement. Workmen in Ireland are not being paid a quarter of what is paid to your people in England. Labourers, married men with large families, are expected to live on £1 or 19s. a week. Is it any wonder that, with bad wages and bad housing, you should have trouble? Our houses in Dublin are falling down. We can get no money for houses from the Government. Our people are compelled to live in slums. Instead of giving us grants for houses the Government attempt to withdraw the miserable grants that we have for education. People in Ireland can be won over to this country by kindness. The Prime Minister has proved that. He went over to Dublin and through showing a little kindness to the people he has won universal tribute I for his visit. This country has tried coercion for 100 years, and has kept our people under the iron heel of the English giant. The treatment of the prisoners, the continuance of martial law, the hasty shootings—all these things have aroused indignation not only in Ireland but among the Irish in America, who are a powerful factor. Will the Government even now at the eleventh hour wake up and issue orders for the immediate release of those Red Cross ladies whose arrest nobody has attempted to explain? With regard to those unfortunate men who have not been tried and who are in solitary confinement, I should say that they are representative men, with a great many friends, and the result of their treatment will be that the friends of these men will become most hostile to the British Government.

I presume that it is the wish of the Government to win over Ireland, and I say that it can be done. I am in close touch with my own Constituency, and, as one representing a large working-class ward in one of the largest working-class Divisions in Ireland, I say that by kindness you can win these people over. If the Government would endeavour to obtain for these people decent wages and proper conditions of life, they would have them on their side; but the working class have no part in the inquiry which is taking place at Dublin Castle, whereas the Employers' Federation in Dublin have been called upon to give evidence. One witness asked for protection from the Government for the purpose of enabling him to carry on his business, and this while he was paying his workpeople a miserable wage. Why should not labour be represented as well as the Employers' Federation? The employers are well able to look after themselves, but it is not so with the workpeople, who need somebody to represent them. I have received a paper only to-day in which there is a letter from a Dublin employer, who remarks in his letter that the workers' union is smashed and broken, that their leaders are some of them accused and others in gaol. He is one of a class of employers in Dublin who are going to avail themselves of this opportunity to try and get the workmen beneath their heels, and in that they will have plenty of support, but it will not be on the Irish side. I repeat that if you want to win over the workers of Ireland, who are the mainstay of that country, then do not keep their leaders in Wandsworth Gaol untried, unfed, and in solitary confinement. I feel very keenly on this matter, and I do urge that these girls and men should no longer be detained without trial, and that young boys should not be kept in prison—boys who until the morning of their coming out had never handled a rifle. Why should you keep a boy under fifteen years of age in gaol without trial? One in Richmond Barracks is aged fourteen and a half years. Is that boy such a terrible danger to the Empire that you cannot afford to liberate him? I hope that special notice will be taken by those who represent the Government on that bench of my appeal on behalf of those in Wandsworth Gaol who at the present moment are undergoing solitary confinement.


I rise at this late hour to say a few words to reinforce the remarks which have fallen from the lips of my hon. Friend. I make a plea in the first place for clemency, if I may use that word, in respect of the Irish prisoners, but I am afraid clemency here really means justice to protest against any of these acts or Orders under the Defence of the Realm Act being made retrospective, and to ask that the Government should rise to the great conception of a general amnesty, and that in dealing with the whole Irish question at this critical moment they should endeavour to release themselves from all smaller and petty considerations, and, with something of a prophetic vision, to have regard to the greater issues, the greater era, the greater hope which will arise in these realms after the War. I will give point to my remarks by citing one small instance in my own Constituency in which a man is accused of having risen. That man is now confined in Lewes Prison and undergoing the treatment reserved for convicts, although hitherto no charge whatever has been preferred against him. Previously I have not known his name. He wrote to me, and, although he may possibly have been an opponent of mine in politics, yet when any Irishman is put in prison for a political offence there are certain movements of sympathy which outweigh every other consideration, and I said that man could count on me as his friend to plead his case in the House of Commons. I think even substantial justice would be done if he were simply sent back to his home without further inquisitional effort to define what was the participation of this one man, from a remote constituency, in this rising in Dublin.

Then, again, comes the case of Mr. Arthur Griffiths, who was one of the originators of the Sinn Fein movement. He is a man whom I have known for a number of years, but who of late years never mentioned me in any newspaper, without hostile criticism or even abuse of myself. But all that is forgotten the moment I find him in prison, cut off from the world; and I have written to say that, though we may be political opponents, we are fellow Irishmen, and that I sympathise with the aspirations, and what I venture even in this House to call, the noble aspirations of his mind. I have never been a Sinn Feiner myself, because I had to choose between the Constitutional movement and a movement which, although perfectly legal, I could foresee must lead to some rising which was destined to be an abortive rising. So whatever influence I have been able to use in Ireland has been directed against the idea of revolution. But I would wish to impress upon the House that the Sinn Fein movement was never illegal. It was known to the world; it sought to gain for itself the greatest publicity; its meeting were open to all, and the proof is that it existed for a number of years, even at one time with far greater strength than recently, and was never molested by the police. Was the Sinn Fein movement any more illegal than the Ulster Volunteer movement? Could anything be more unwise or more unfair now, after the rising in Dublin, than to seek to insinuate, as it were, by associating illegality into movements which were never legal, and to punish men for actions committed years before? The Government policy of raking up old sores, at a time when the adherents of the movement were few in number, has caused the number of Sinn Feiners to greatly multiply since the suppression of the rising.

There is one point which I wish to enforce about my proposal of a general amnesty. The Prime Minister spoke of justice, and he spoke as a lawyer, but the meaning of a general amnesty is this, that you refuse to look into all the minutiœ of special cases and that you rise to a higher conception and wipe it all off the slate. That is what, for instance, the American Government did after the repression of the revolt in the Philippine Islands. They were the gainers by that. I would put to the members of the Government this question: In all the course of history in dealing with Ireland, when you have dealt with Ireland in generous mood, have you ever regretted that policy? No. Have you ever had occasion to regret harsh measures towards Ireland, and attempted repressions? and to that question you would find the answer to be "Yes." I wish to touch upon a somewhat larger issue, and that is the question of feeling in America. The opinion of neutrals will count enormously in the settlement of the terms of peace. The Irish population there is powerful. Public sentiment in America is extraordinarily susceptible. I believe they are the most sensitive people in the world, but yet, in spite of a certain superficial materialism in America, I believe there is no country in the world more capable of being swayed by great and noble principles. If this Government, therefore, can rise above the scope of what they call justice into another atmosphere, and deal with the whole Irish question in a generous spirit, and proclaim even now a general amnesty and resolve to settle the Irish question once and for all on a basis, as I hope, grander and better for Ireland, more generous for Ireland, but more hopeful also for England than they have ever yet conceived, then I believe they would be acting far more wisely than by endeavouring to keep open these political sores by entering into the minutiœ of the participation of each individual man in distant parts of the country which had nothing whatever to do with the rising, and in that pursuit losing sight of larger issues and of their own prospects.

Mr. GULLAND (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)

I would like to assure my hon. Friends from Ireland and the hon. Member on this side who also made a speech, but who has now left the House, that what they have said will be brought before the Ministers in charge of the particular subjects with which they dealt.

Perhaps I may be allowed to say that upon Tuesday the 20th June, when we reassemble, we shall take upon that day Supply (Votes of the Insurance Commissions);

And on Wednesday and Thursday of that week, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

Question, "That this House, at its rising to-day, do adjourn till Tuesday, 20th. June," put, and agreed to.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.