§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I beg to move, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday the 20th June."
I may point out to the House that the sittings in which we are now engaged have practically continued since 14tn September. Although it is true there was a short interval for the Prorogation, the period from the 14th September to the end of this week embraces thirty-eight weeks, and the House has sat for thirty-four of those thirty-eight weeks. In other words, there are only four weeks from 14th September when the House has not sat. Even in these days it is, I think, clearly a record. I do not recall to the attention of hon. Members, because they are so fresh in their memory, the circumstances which led us to cut down our Easter recess to the very smallest dimensions. The recess which I am now asking the House to take is not, as I have seen it described, three weeks. We are taking the whole of two Parliamentary weeks, and three week-ends, and that recess is urgently needed, and is certainly not unduly long. I am told that there are people who say that the House is setting a bad example to the country, when it is asking other people not to take their customary holidays, if they adjourn even for such a short time as this. I confess I see no force whatever in that. In I the first place—and it disposes of the whole matter—to most of us it will not be a holiday at all. As far as Ministers are concerned, it simply means that they will be relieved for the time being of attendance at this House, and the somewhat exacting duties connected with preparing the answers to questions and supplying the necessary information, which they do not grudge, and which it is their duty to give hon. Members; but that time so saved, as far as my experience and that of my colleagues goes, is used for the performance of other matters more urgent. The same is true of the Civil Service. Civil servants, 2954 if the House does not sit, it is true, get a certain amount of respite from the work imposed upon them during sittings of the House, but I doubt whether they find their duties as a whole, owing to the redistribution of labour, less onerous on that account. As far as our own officers are saved from attendance at this House, I am sure everybody will hope they will take a little much-needed rest from their arduous duties.
I think the House will see this is not an unreasonable demand. It is absolutely essential that there should be some relaxation from Parliamentary duties, not only in the interest of Ministers, but in the interest of Members, for it is a great mistake to suppose that a Member of Parliament is necessarily performing the best service he can in the interests of the country and for the prosecution of the War by attendance at this House. Very often an hon. Member has duties—I may say he has always duties—to his Constituents, to his own locality and his immediate surroundings— duties which are urgently needed, and which should be performed by Members of Parliament, because they can perform them with more authority and more effect, and a short recess such as this will enable Members, without any neglect of their Parliamentary obligations, to discharge those hardly less important local duties which ought to fall upon them. This is not an appeal to the House to go holiday-making—nothing of the kind. It is simply an appeal to the House in the public interest, and, I must add, speaking from practical experience, in the interest of individual Members. Take the case of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, than whom we have no more valuable colleague, and none who has more general respect in this House. The perpetual strain of Departmental work, coupled with the duty of answering questions and attending Debates in this House, has compelled my right hon. Friend, to the infinite regret of his colleagues—and, I may say, of the House of Commons, for a short time, and I hope a very short time—to retire, to the great detriment of the State, from the discharge of his duties. We must take all these things into account, and not from any desire to shrink from any discharge of our duties, but in order that those duties may be more effectually discharged, I ask the House to assent to this Motion.
§ Mr. DILLON
There are several subjects of primary importance which under ordinary circumstances would have been 2955 discussed in this House before now. I am taking this opportunity to give expression to my views upon certain aspects of the recent insurrection in Ireland and the arrests that have been made. I recognise that it would be impossible for anyone, much less myself, to enter upon these topics without engendering an amount of heat which might under present circumstances be extremely injurious to the interests of Ireland. Although personally I do not take so sanguine a view as some people do about the inquiries now being carried on by the Minister of Munitions, I say that no Irishman with the slightest sense of responsibility, or with any regard either to the future of his own country or the future interests of this Empire, because they are both involved almost to an equal degree in a peaceful settlement of the Irish question, would say or do anything at this moment calculated to increase the difficulties, great as we know them to be, which lie in the path of the Minister of Munitions, or deny him the fullest fair-play in the tremendously difficult task which he has so patriotically undertaken. Therefore, in asking the attention of the Committee for a few moments, I shall confine myself entirely to two subjects which I think can be debated without any heat whatever. First of all there is the case of the Irish prisoners who are now detained in Great Britain; and, secondly, there is the question of holding any more court-martials in Ireland.
§ Captain SHEEHAN
Was it not clearly understood when the Prime Minister made his statement on the Irish situation that it would be highly injudicious and undesirable that there should be any Debate on the Irish situation at the present moment? I gather from the remarks of the hon. Member for East Mayo that he now proposes to deal with certain branches of the Irish question, and that, I conceive, would be a breach of the understanding come to by all Members of the Irish party on Thursday last. The hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. William O'Brien) is not present, but last Thursday he consented to abide by the earnest appeal of the Prime Minister not to debate the Irish question just at present. Although we are all as anxious to discuss the Irish question as the hon. Member for East Mayo, I submit that any discussion of it to-day is a breach of the understanding come to by all parties last Thursday.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know how that may be, and I cannot pronounce anything authoritatively upon it. All I can say is-that no point of Order has arisen.
§ Mr. DILLON
There are at the present moment a very large number of Irish prisoners in the detention barracks of this country, and I think the Government, now that we are going to adjourn for three weeks, ought to tell us frankly whether these prisoners are really legally detained at all. I am advised by legal friends that they are all illegally in custody, and I shall show in a moment there are some cases in which the hardship is extremely great, even if they were legally detained. Let me ask the attention of the Prime Minister to the circumstances under which these prisoners are being detained. First of all there are the men who have been taken in arms, and they form a considerable section of those in England. Secondly, there are those who took no part whatever in the insurrection, but who are supposed to have been members of the organisation known as the Irish Volunteers, which was responsible for the insurrection or to have sympathised with that movement. Thirdly, there are those who are supporters of our policy and supporters of the Government, and they form not an inconsiderable number of the prisoners who are absolutely innocent, and who were seized during those expeditions which ought not to have been undertaken in peaceful parts of Ireland. They form a considerable number, and I ask hon. Members to endeavour to realise the feeling of a man who had been a loyal supporter of the policy of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and this Government who is pounced upon and swept away to an English gaol and brought there under circumstances of very great hardship.
There is a fourth class, consisting of boys under twenty years of age. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast was at Wandsworth yesterday, and he found there two boys, one of them fifteen years of age and the other sixteen, and I think that is really a tragedy. These two boys have a brother serving in the British Army. I have come across cases where two or three members of the family are serving in the Army and where the other brother is a prisoner. I ask the Prime Minister to give immediate orders to release all the boys under twenty years of age. What object can they achieve in detaining these people in prison when you 2957 have arrested about four times as many as can be justified? What object can they achieve by keeping in gaol boys of sixteen, seventeen and eighteen years of age? There is one other class upon which I would like to say a word. There are cases where men of advanced years have been arrested who took no part in the insurrection, but who were supposed to have political views in sympathy with it. Take the famous Kilkenny case. In the City of Kilkenny there was no insurrection, and there was no disturbance in the whole county. There were a small number of Sinn Feiners, but those who read the evidence given before the Commission would be immensely struck by the police reports of the number of Sinn Feiners in Kilkenny. There was supposed to be a small body of Sinn Feiners there, and the police descended upon these people and arrested a number of them. One respectable man who was arrested fell dead on the way to the railway station. Just imagine the feelings of the relatives of that man. I give that as one instance of the inconsiderateness of taking men who, even if they had wished to do so, could have afforded no assistance in the insurrection. I take the case of another man, who lives in the same street as I do in Dublin, Mr. O'Leary Curtis. He is an old man of seventy years of age, in a delicate state of health. I do not know what his political opinions are because I am not personally acquainted with him, but I know that he has left a family living almost next door to myself, he being a widower, and there is nobody to look after his children and his means of living are destroyed. He took no part whatever in the insurrection. He is seventy years of age and in a very delicate state of health, and you have him still in the hospital at Wandsworth. What is the object of keeping a man like that? He is incapable of insurrection. I think it is wanton, I will not say cruelty, but folly.
§ Mr. DILLON
I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to deal promptly with those classes I have mentioned; that is to say, to order the immediate release of all young boys and of all whose health has seriously suffered, particularly such 2958 cases as I have described of elderly men who have taken no part whatever in the insurrection. What about the cases of those, and they number many hundreds, who come from peaceable districts and whose only crime, if it can be called a crime, and it was not really a crime at all, was that they belonged to the Irish Volunteers and sympathised with that movement? I do not want to enter upon controversial questions, but it is a fact that up to recently the Irish Volunteers, whatever their numbers, were not illegal. The Government never attempted to issue any Proclamation or in any way to declare that their organisation was illegal. They were a body with which I had no sympathy, because their leaders held us and our Volunteers, the National Volunteers, up as traitors to the country. We had no kind of sympathy with their objects and did everything in our power to keep people from joining. Indeed, I may say, that but for certain blunders on the part of the Government and the War Office their numbers would have been infinitely smaller. We did our best to prevent people from joining, and accordingly were renounced by their leaders. They were not, however, an illegal body, and here in these detention camps you have got many hundreds—roughly speaking, I should imagine about half of all the prisoners— who took no part whatever in the insurrection. They lived quite peaceably and in undisturbed districts. What is going to be done with those men?
I would ask the Prime Minister, before we break up for the holidays, to state frankly to-day for the benefit of the Irish people, who are intensely interested in this matter, what is going to be done with them. Remember this: It is quite a common thing for one brother to be in this Sinn Fein movement and for all the other members of the family to be strong supporters of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond). That is quite common. Families are divided, and I have come across several cases myself where one young man in a family has gone over to the Sinn Fein Volunteers much against the will of all the rest of the family. Ireland is being inundated now with complaints of the treatment of these men, and you are, in my opinion, I am sorry to say, by holding these men in prison, and by other methods to which I will not allude, manufacturing Sinn Feiners, or, at all events, enemies of the Government, by the thousand. The statement of the Prime 2959 Minister threw no light whatever on the principle on which the prisoners were going to be dealt with. We know from answers given to-day that when these forms are filled up they are sent over to Ireland to be dealt with by the military command, but not one single word has been said. as to the principle on which they are going to be dealt with. The Prime Minister gave an answer the other day to the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Devlin) which did indicate a principle, but that principle has not been acted upon. He said that the mere fact of having belonged to the Irish Volunteers would not be held to be sufficient ground to continue the detention of men in English prisons if they had taken no part in the insurrection. I wish to ask him whether he will lay down that principle again to-day, because the immediate result would be that many hundreds would be released from prison and allowed to go home. It would have a very useful effect upon the whole of the Irish situation. That is the first thing I press him to do—to inform us to-day on what principle these cases are to be dealt with, and I do hope that he will see his way to lay down a principle which will result in getting rid of the great majority, more than half, of the prisoners who are now detained, to the great inconvenience of all those who have got to deal with them and also the extension of the irritation and trouble in Ireland.
I now come to the question of the residue. I gathered the other day that there was a considerable number of prisoners whom the Government did not see their way to let out at the present moment. They are to be interned under a certain Section of the Defence of the Realm Act by Order made out, I assume, by the English Home Secretary. I think he is the only person who has the power to make out that Order. I would point out to the Prime Minister that raises a very serious question. Indeed, the Home Secretary, when he is making an Order for detention in England under that Section of the Defence of the Realm Act, as I know from personal experience, makes the most elaborate inquiries and tries to prove, and holds himself bound to prove, alien communication. Here, in this country, he has great machinery for making this discovery, and in one or two cases in which I was interested myself in connection with detained people in this country I found out that the Home Secretary conceived himself to be bound to 2960 prove to his satisfaction that there was actually alien communication. That is the ground, as I understand the only ground, on which these Irish prisoners can be detained in England; otherwise the whole thing is illegal. Who is going to determine, and on what principle, that these men have had alien communication? I cannot see for the life of me how you are going to establish that principle. No doubt you could prove it in the case of their leaders quite easily, but what about the hundreds of men who went into this movement without the faintest intention of going in for insurrection?
I daresay that the Prime Minister knows, because he was in Dublin and talked to a good many people, that hundreds of boys left their homes in the morning and had no more idea of insurrection than hon. Members on these benches. I have seen many of them and their relatives. They were called out for one of those promenades on the mountains, which were allowed by the Government, and to which no taint of illegality fixed itself. How are you going to prove alien communication against these young men, many of whom had nothing to do with it? It will be proved, if it is proved at all, by a very roundabout, and I think a very dangerous, process, namely, by asserting that because certain leaders who had secret councils, into which they admitted none of their followers, had alien communication, which was proved by the landing of Sir Roger Casement, that therefore all their followers must be held to be guilty of alien communication. I think that is a very, very dangerous thing, and I know this— and I would ask the Prime Minister really in the present circumstances of Ireland to keep it in mind when he is administering this whole business—that I am absolutely confident, from conversations which I have had myself with the Home Secretary, that no such idea ever entered into the mind of the Home Secretary in dealing with any English case under this Sub-section, which abolishes absolutely habeas corpus, and places everyone in this country in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Committee. It is a very terrible power, and the idea that here in England you would establish alien communication and extend it to a whole association of men because some one of their leaders had alien communication I venture to say never occurred to the mind of the English Home Secretary. And is he now, without the machinery in Ireland which he possesses in 2961 England, to treat whole hundreds of these prisoners under this most stringent Subsection of the Defence of the Realm Act, simply by this indirect process of saying, "Because you are connected with a leader who had alien communication therefore you had alien communication yourself"? That brings me to an answer the Prime Minister gave to a question I put in the House yesterday. He said that every one of these men, as soon as an order was made for their detention, would be at liberty to appeal to the Committee; that is, the Committee which sat upon the English cases, and very few cases they were. That Committee is composed almost entirely of Englishmen, and sits in London. I do not know what its composition is, but there is, I think, one Irishman upon it, and it. is composed nearly entirely of Englishmen, and, as I say, sits in London. Surely it is not proposed that that Committee, composed as it is, should be charged with the duty of hearing the appeals of 2,000 Irish prisoners. And if not, are we not really entitled to know immediately what is the policy of the Government as to the constitution of the new Irish Committee? Where is it to sit? Who is to sit upon it? Are these unhappy men, these prisoners, to be handed over to the mercy of their enemies who are bitterly against them? What steps have the Government taken to secure that that Committee will be an impartial and a fair-minded Committee? These are questions to which the Irish people are entitled to have some answer before we break up, and have three weeks' vacation.
Then there is the question of releases— of the rate at which the releases are going on. The Under-Secretary of State for War yesterday said in reply to a question, I think, that 380 had been released. But I saw a statement from Ireland to-day that 800 had been released, and how are we to reconcile these conflicting statements in the papers given from Ireland with the answer of the Under-Secretary of State for War? At all events, one thing is certain, that the Irish people are absolutely in the dark as to the principle on which these releases are being allowed, and on what principle they are being refused. They are absolutely in the dark, and I know of cases myself—I have hesitated to put questions about private individuals, because they are so extremely numerous— where men ought undoubtedly to be released. There appears to be, so far as we can understand, no principle guiding 2962 it at all, and unfortunately, of course, Irish life has been such that the suspicion is abroad in Ireland that local police who may have a prejudice against you have only to say in the dark and behind your back, "This man is better out of the way," and you are kept out of the way. But let me tell the Prime Minister that there is even a darker feeling. In Dublin, I regret to say, the Government has been using the services of a number of spies of a very objectionable character, known in Dublin as "spotters," and there has been more than one case, in my opinion, where malice has been let loose and men have been arrested, not because they were insurgents or sympathisers with insurgents, but because their bitter enemies had seen that their time had come, and had pointed them out to the authorities. I say, is it not time that some measures were taken to convince the Irish people that there was a principle guiding the Government in their treatment of these men? After all, you have to deal with people who we were told so long ago as the time of Elizabeth and James I., that if you gave them justice, even if that justice is hard, they will be less discontented than if you treat them in an arbitrary way, and they feel that they have no justice. What I complain of in regard to this question of release is that the Irish people are left without a hint as to the principle on which the Government are acting. It is perfectly arbitrary, and arbitrary in the dark; two things which, I think, every Englishman will agree are extremely irritating and hard to bear.
I come to the last point, the question of treatment. There is no doubt that in the early days when the prisoners were brought to England they were extremely badly treated; most unjustly. After all, you must remember that even the men who feel very keenly on this question of the insurrection are all untried men, and against whom no charge has been made. That being so, they ought not to be treated as if they were penal convicts. I must say, after my own personal experience, having talked to many of these men, that at the first, on their journey across, and in the first few weeks they inhabited these detention barracks, they were most barbarously treated. In the first place, they were kept in solitary confinement without any occupation for twenty-two or twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four. I have gone through that myself for a considerable period, and I know what it means. To many men it 2963 means something very nearly approaching madness if kept up for a long time. It is worse than the treatment of convicts, because they have occupation. But to lock a man into a cell by himself without reading or occupation for twenty-three out of the twenty-four hours is a barbarous thing to do. Here are men amongst these who are as innocent of participation in this insurrection as any man in this House, who have supported this Government, who have been with you all through, and were with you full of enthusiasm through this war. Now they find themselves in these convict cells. The food was extremely bad and insufficient. There were other complaints—I need not go over the whole list—of a very serious craracter. No doubt these have been greatly modified, and I want to say this, because although I have rather a bad reputation I like to be just, that we have received, those of us who have gone to the War Office, nothing but courtesy and kind ness from the official in charge of these prisoners at the War Office, General—
§ Mr. DILLON
Yes, General Childs. Nothing could possibly exceed his courtesy and desire to see justice done, but I am sorry to say his orders have been slowly carried out. In some cases there is no complaint, but in others there must have been some reluctance to carry out his orders. The improvement has been very great, but in some prisons at this moment, as I know from communications I received again yesterday, they are far short of the treatment accorded to German prisoners in this country. That ought not to be so long as they are untried men with no charge made against them. They ought to be treated at least as well as, and I should say better than, the German prisoners of War. That is a point upon which I would ask the Prime Minister to exercise his own personal supervision. Look at what happened in Dublin! I am not going back now—I have to exercise very severe self-restraint not to speak of it—to the condition of things that prevailed in Dublin before he Prime Minister went over there. He went all round the barracks. His visit to Dublin was a most courageous thing, and one which showed his power of appreciation of the situation in Ireland. He went round the Richmond Barracks and spoke to the prisoners. What was the result? All the men I saw in Lewes Gaol 2964 and Wandsworth Gaol the other day now say that what they want is the same treatment that was accorded to them in Richmond Barracks after the Prime Minister's, visit. They were taken away from Richmond and brought over to these English, prisons, and plunged into convict prisons. That is the reason why I ask the Prime Minister to exercise his personal supervision over this matter. I am speaking of it now from the point of view of a politician and a man who has some hope, however slender, as to the results of the operations of the Minister of Munitions. If any man in England can settle this question, he undoubtedly is the man. We all hope, every rational man in the House hopes and prays that he may be successful. I have a slender hope.
Think of the situation! Here you have this great mass of men, largely young men, embittered by all that has occurred, some of them no doubt Sinn Feiners, some of them neutral, driven more or less to sympathise with the Sinn Fein movement by all the events which have been detailed in the evidence given before the Commission, but others strong supporters of the Government and of the policy of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. What are you going to do with these men? You are not going to execute them, therefore you must let them go back to Ireland, and if you ill-treat them and subject them to humiliation and suffering, you will then be sending back to Ireland a swarm of apostles who will be centres of disaffection and hatred to this country when they go back to their own districts. The common sense of the matter is this: that if it must be that some of these men who have taken up arms must be detained in this country for some time, you are not going to try them. I understand that is the decision of the Government. That means that they cannot be detained here long, and must be sent back. Do not send them back embittered and full of hatred, to be fresh founts of hatred and passion against England. Treat them, at any rate, decently, I would say generously, as you are treating the German prisoners in this country, in spite of the clamour that has been raised to make you imitate the meanness of the Germans in the treatment of their prisoners. Treat these prisoners with some decency—from your point of view it may be magnanimity—and you will reap a harvest if this settlement is brought about which will be impossible if you send 2965 these men back in the temper which possessed them after they left Richmond Barracks. It is impossible to exaggerate the immense service rendered to this country by the Prime Minister when he went over to Ireland and saw these men and talked to them as one man to another in order to find out what really was in their minds. As I said the other day, the great problem before the people of this country—mind, the situation is a very serious situation from the point of view of this Empire, as well as from the point of view of Ireland—the great thing is that if you can reach the hearts of the Irish people you can do anything. But they will not be driven, and you cannot crush them. No amount of severity will crush the Irish people; it will rather make the situation worse. If you can reach the hearts of the Irish people, and it is not so very hard to reach them, you will have done the greatest service to this nation and the Empire that ever was done in the whole course of Irish history.
In conclusion, I beg the Prime Minister to stop these courts-martial. They are irritating the country. God knows! we have had punishment enough, and too much, in connection with this insurrection. Secret courts-martial are an atrocious weapon. It may be necessary sometimes to use them, but I doubt it. If you are to have courts-martial at all, let the public know the evidence, and do not allow the whole thing to be done in the dark. At all events, let the courts-martial stop altogether now. I thought that all the men brought to England were not to be tried, but I saw the other day that two men were taken back to Ireland to be tried. One of them I used to know slightly. He is a literary man, who was a bitter political enemy of my own. His name is Arthur Griffiths. He is a literary man, a man of high gifts, and he had nothing to do with the insurrection. On the contrary, so far as I know him, he was opposed to the insurrection. He was the father and founder of the old Sinn Féin movement, but the extremists, working on the stupid policy of the Government, took the Sinn Fein movement out of his hands and turned it into an insurrectionary movement. I knew him slightly many years ago, but we parted company because we were bitter political enemies. Political enmity ought not, however, to prevent a man from doing justice. Arthur Griffiths is an accomplished scholar, a fine writer, 2966 a man of high enthusiasm, and, according; to my information—I may be wrong and I know nothing of the man except his public career for the twenty years since we parted company—he had nothing to do with the insurrection and did not approve of it. Why should you try that man by court-martial? What excuse is there for that? If he has been guilty of any offence, of which I know nothing but of which the Government may know, let them produce the evidence and give him a fair trial. He was certainly not in the insurrection. I conclude by making this urgent appeal to the Prime Minister, and honestly assure him, in spite of the bitterness I displayed in my last address to the House, that I speak as sincerely in the interest of this Empire as I do in the interest of Ireland when I appeal to him to drop the whole system of courts-martial in Ireland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I need not say that I find nothing to complain of in the tone of my hon. Friend's speech. When these unhappy events were first brought to the notice of Parliament, now some weeks, ago, there was an appeal made by Irishmen representing all Irish parties that the persons who had been so ill-advised as to take part in them should, as far as is consistent with the vindication of the law and the prevention of the recurrence of outrage and crime, be treated with leniency and clemency. That was the general opinion of this House, and it was certainly the opinion of the Government. I see no reason to depart in any degree from that. It has been the guiding principle of our policy when dealing with a* very large number, at any rate, of those persons who are now under detention. My hon. Friend has asked me to lay down some principle, if I can, which might be treated by way of guidance rather than authority, by which those who have to determine the question whether particular persons, or, if you like, particular classes of persons, should be at once set free. I have no objection whatever to respond to my hon. Friend's, appeal. The rule which I should follow, if I were directly responsible in the matter, would be this: I should treat with the utmost leniency, and release as speedily as possible, all persons except those who were concerned directly or indirectly— because it is not merely a question of having taken arms—but concerned personally in the rising and the preparations for it, or persons whose return to Ireland at this moment might be a source of danger to the peace. These are the only 2967 two classes of persons with regard to whom I should not feel disposed to exercise the utmost—I will not call it generosity, but latitude. I cannot say with accuracy, because I have not the latest returns, how many have already been released, but I believe the figure of 800 which my hon. Friend has cited is approximately correct. He points out that that figure represents a substantial increase on another figure which was given some days ago of 300. Of course a good many days have passed since then, and the work of release has keen going on at a considerable rate, I am glad to say.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Quite innocent people are being discharged every day, or people arrested under a mistake or on trivial grounds. Of course it takes some time to investigate these cases. Investigation, unfortunately, has to take place in Ireland with regard to people in detention here. The notion that anyone wishes that innocent persons should remain twenty-four hours in prison is one which my right hon. Friend will not attribute to the Government or to any military authority.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As we all know, perfectly innocent people may, under conditions such as those which prevailed at the time of this insurrection, have been arrested on suspicion, which appeared at the time well-founded, and which turns out to be ill-founded, and may be imprisoned for a length of time till proof is obtained of their innocence. That is one of the unhappy incidents of an insurrection, and it has happened whenever such a rising has taken place. Heaven knows, and the House knows, that we have every desire that no innocent person should remain in prison, and we are taking every step we possibly can to accelerate the discharge of persons whose innocence is presumptive. My hon. Friend spoke about a boy, and I promise him that his appeal will not be disregarded. I will do what I can. He has also spoken of the treatment accorded to these men in prison. He was kind enough to refer to my visit to Dublin. I should not like it to be supposed that before I visited Richmond Barracks these men were being ill-treated, and that in consequence of my visit some drastic change took place. I asked room after room of 2968 these men when I talked to them individually, and I asked them collectively, "Have you now any complaint to make of your prison treatment?" The answer I got in every case was a chorus of "No." That was the state of things in Richmond Barracks, and I do not think anyone complained of the treatment of these men in Richmond Barracks. I daresay it was improved afterwards, because the Commanding Officer informed me that, being suddenly flooded as he was with a large mass of men for whom at first it was impossible to find all the accommodation and conveniences which were necessary, his arrangements, of course, were of a crude kind. They improved hour by hour and day by day. I looked into all these things, and I was satisfied, from a sanitary and a dietary and a hygienic point of view, that these prisoners in Richmond Barracks were being as well treated as under such circumstances they could be. I understand my hon. Friend to say they do not make any allegation to the contrary. General Child himself has carefully looked into the conditions, and the prison has a special inspector of its own who sends round day by day to see that there is no cause of complaint. Avoidable imperfections are set right, but if the procedure which I indicated yesterday is adopted these men will be let out of prison altogether. They will be interned, and they will, of course, be no worse off in their condition than persons who are already interned in other internment camps.
Coming to the last point, what is the right course to take in this matter? It is a subject which we have very anxiously considered. We might put them on their trial, but I do not think it would be to their interest to do so. I do not think my hon. Friends would say so.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
You would only have a crop of trials, a crop of verdicts, and a crop of sentences which would do more to embitter that state of feeling to which my hon. Friend has referred than any amount of internment of these men. I am satisfied that that would not be the right course. I should be very sorry to impose on our English judges and Courts the duty of hearing these trials. That, again, would be regarded in Ireland as a new source of grievance. Then what can be done?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend has had one shot. But what is the right course? I believe the wise and humane course is the one we are taking— that is to say, to take advantage of the no doubt very drastic and arbitrary powers which are vested in the Home Secretary under the Defence of the Realm Act and keep these people for the time being in detention, but at the same time to give them the power of appeal to the Judicial Committee specially appointed for the purpose, the effect of which will be that if that right is resorted to in each case, not merely of innocence but of trivial offence which has been sufficiently expiated by the length of time the man has already been detained, release will follow as a matter of course. My hon. Friend has expressed anxiety as to the composition of the tribunal. We propose to add to the existing Advisory Committee, which is presided over by a distinguished Englishman, Mr. Justice Sankey, one or two persons of Irish experience and knowledge and of judicial mind—not Members of Parliament—one might be an Irish judge—to have the Committee constituted for the purpose of dealing with these prisoners in a way that would enable prisoners and their friends to realise that they were presenting their case to men who are familiar with the conditions of Irish life; and further, the Committee will sit here, of course, and I have no doubt it will have power to go to Ireland and take evidence there where it is needed in order that the expense and trouble of sending Irish witnesses over to this country may be avoided. I think that is a humane and a workable proposal. I hope my hon. Friend will suspend his judgment, or, at any rate, his adverse judgment, upon it until he sees how it works in practice. I hope it will have an effect which is just and equitable in all these cases.
One final point in regard to courts-martial. I am as anxious as the hon. Member that trial by court-martial should cease, and that in Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, the ordinary Courts should reopen their doors and reclaim the exercise of their normal jurisdiction. The courts-martial will not be continued one day longer than is absolutely necessary, or applied in any case except where that is the only appropriate and effective way of 2970 getting justice done. I cannot give art undertaking that the courts-martial will cease upon any specific day, but I know that the very greatest care is being taken to revise the sentences and to sift the evidence as carefully as possible. Myself and the Home Secretary from time to time-will give personal attention to special cases which are brought to our notice. I do not think, so far as my personal knowledge and information goes, that it can be suggested, that in any case that has hitherto been tried substantial justice has not been done.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I desire to say a few words to enforce the representations made by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). I desire to point out as solemnly as I can, and with as much force as I can, that the course which has been pursued in Ireland has been a very mischievous one, and that it has converted a very healthy opinion as to the state of things that was not unfavourable to this country into a state of irritation and annoyance of the Irish people. I have from my own Constituency, which was certainly a very peaceable one, received ample evidence of what I state. Only a few days ago I received a letter from a Constituent of mine, a man of considerable influence in the whole county in which he lives. He is-a county councillor and a justice of the peace, besides fulfilling other occupations, and he also acted as secretary of the recruiting committee of the district in which he lived. Under his auspices, and the auspices of other men like him, I have been able to hold recruiting meetings throughout my Constituency, but in the letter which I have received from this gentleman I find this statement:The country is in a state of the greatest irritation. It is like a powder magazine that may be exploded by the lighting of a match. The lives of anyone would not be worth half-an-hour's purchase who would attempt to hold a recruiting meeting in the present state of feeling in this country.That is the state of things in a district where I addressed many meetings, impressing upon my Constituents the necessity of joining the Army, and where my efforts in that respect were so productive of good results as to elicit from newspapers which support hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway from Ireland praise of the efforts that I have made. That state of opinion has entirely altered. It would be impossible for me to address a recruiting meeting in the county of Kildare, and even if it were, and there was anyone there to listen to me my efforts would be without any result. I had another letter the other 2971 day from a man who declared that he was a drill instructor of two or three companies in the district to which I refer. He said he had 125 well-drilled men of the National Volunteers, and eighty-five of the 125 joined the Army, and are now fighting your battles at the front. Over 68 per cent. of the National Volunteers joining your Army! Do you think that I would have any chance of getting any of the men who have remained behind to join the Army now? No, I would not. And why? Because you have sent your military and your police down into this loyal county that I have represented, this great county of Kildare, where the people have always fought their battles well, whether they were in the great insurrection of 1798 or fighting your enemies in the open to-day. I dare not go amongst these men now, and even if I did I should get no response. What have you done? You have sent your military and police amongst these people; you have arrested men in every town and village in the county of Kildare; you have dragged them away from their homes; you have broken the hearts of many of their old people and of their parents. These men are now in prison over here in England, and their relatives are under the impression that they are being tortured and otherwise unfairly dealt with. I have done my best, by visiting these men in prison, by statements in this House, and by statements in the public Press, to relieve the minds of their relatives and to assure them that they will not be badly treated, but all to no purpose. The feeling is absolutely fixed in their minds that these men who have been dragged away are being ill-treated by you, and their confidence in this country has been changed into suspicion and distrust, and some of the old hatred that was fast being eradicated from the minds and hearts of the Irish people has returned to them because of your treatment of this unfortunate disturbance.
Not only that, but when it was hoped by our representations in this House that some healing measure would be applied, what have you done? You have redeclared and re-enacted martial law. That is not the way to treat the situation. Nobody could have blamed your military men if at the very outset of the insurrection they did what was usually done in such circumstances, namely, have a few military executions and send some of the leaders away to penal servitude. But in addition 2972 to that there has been long-continued persecution, constant daily arrests, and the combing out of men who are suspected by local police authorities because of some action of theirs in the past. These men, I submit, ought to be treated upon their present conduct. They ought to be judged not by a standard of malevolence, not by a standard that casts the mind back to former expressions of opinion, but by their present conduct. To take up men in our counties who did not engage in the recent disturbances and treat them as if they had acted in a rebellious manner is the wrong way to treat a situation like this. It destroys the growing feeling of confidence in this country. To change a growing feeling of trust into a feeling of irritation is not a wise or safe course to pursue. Therefore, I submit that the Government should take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo and drop these courts-martial altogether and at once, to cease to apply martial law, to restore the men who are innocent of any complicity in the late rising to their homes, and to depend upon time and upon our well-intentioned efforts, our sincere and honest efforts, to create a good feeling between our people and the people of this country.
You are making our position difficult. I cannot hold a meeting in my Constituency at the present moment to extend the operation of the constitutional agitation to which I have been attached for the last thirty-four or thirty-five years. That is not a state of things that ought to be allowed. We ought to be helped: we ought not to be hindered in our efforts to help the Government in their Irish affairs. Therefore, I join my voice to that of the hon. Member for Mayo in appealing to the Government to abandon their present irritating process of government by military and by martial law, and to resume as soon as they possibly can— and that, I submit, is instantly—all civil procedure and all peaceful behaviour towards the men whom you have at present in charge.
Sir H. DALZIEL
There are one or two points to which I desire to refer before the House adjourns. The first is Mesopotamia. I am glad that the Government have published voluntarily the Papers with regard to that expedition. I understand that there are more important Papers to be forthcoming, and I refer to the matter now simply to ask the Government if they will give us an opportunity 2973 of discussing those Papers and the whole situation with regard to Mesopotamia as early as possible after the House reassembles. I think that that is a very reasonable and wise demand. We have an inquiry in regard to medical arrangements, but I do not assume that we shall have the report in time for that Debate. I am sure that the Colonial Secretary, who is now leading the House, will recognise that we are not putting forward an unreasonable demand in asking that we should have an opportunity of discussing a matter of so much military and public interest at the present time. I would ask further that the Government should reconsider their decision with regard to the publication of the Dardanelles Papers, for if it is right—and I am sure that it is—to publish Papers with regard to Mesopotamia, surely also it is right that the Papers with regard to the Dardanelles ought also to be published. Indeed, I think that so far as the Dardanelles is concerned that case is much stronger than that of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is, after all, still in what you might call the active military zone, and conceivably it might be pleaded that in that case the enemy should not have any information at all. But the Dardanelles is a closed book. Nothing can be published now which can give the enemy any information whatever of military value. Therefore, the Government should reconsider their decision and give us all the Papers of value in order that we might come to a right decision with regard to the whole mystery of the Dardanelles.
I am not going to reopen the Dardanelles controversy to-day, but there are two schools of thought. One thinks that the Navy was principally to blame, and the other thinks that the military did not act sufficiently and promptly in supplying the forces necessary to back up the Navy. My right hon. Friend the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Colonel Churchill) has referred in this House to some of these documents. Conceivably the reputation of statesmen may be damaged by the publication of these documents. I am not sure what view my right hon. Friend takes with regard to it. I can assure him that the public are anxious to know the truth, irrespective of what the result might be. There is also the further question of the Suvla Bay operations. We all know the tragedy in connection with that 2974 —in a few hours men dying for want of water because there were no guns to assist them. That ought to be the subject of information to the House and the subject of inquiry. A further point is the long delay of the Government in coming to a decision in order to evacuate that place, when, as we know, they were losing about 1,000 men a day. The Government have promised a full inquiry with regard to it, but say that that can only come after the War. We know how much importance to attach to inquiries after wars, and how long Royal Commissions drag out their proceedings. The importance of the matter is that men who were to blame in the Dardanelles may be to-day in charge of the lives of men when they ought not to be, and that they ought to face an inquiry with regard to that matter. There are two demands: that Papers should be published, and that an inquiry should, if possible, take place while the men are available. There are many of them available in London at the present time, elderly men some of them, who might not be available after the War. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary will be good enough to tell us whether we may hope that the Government will reconsider their former decision with regard to that matter.
One word on another point, that of British prisoners. We know beyond all doubt that our men have died in Germany for want of medical attention, and have been allowed to starve in many cases, while in many others they would have starved but for the parcels received from home. I know that it is not necessary in this matter to press the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord Robert Cecil), who is not here to-day, because he is as keen as any Member of the House. But I would suggest to the Colonial Secretary that diplomatic methods are totally insufficient in this matter and that we ought to take action ourselves, that we should organise a parcel post under the Government if possible, and plead with the humanitarian instinct of neutral countries. It is terrible to contemplate our fellow countrymen in prison being allowed to starve in Germany, and no real national protest being made. I would suggest that we should organise a protest by neutral countries, led by America. If they knew these facts they would not allow them to exist 2975 for a single day without the strongest protest. I hope that on these points I may have some satisfactory statement.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy gave me to understand some time ago that he intended to press for the publication of the documents in relation to the naval and military operations at the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, and I therefore had time to consider the matter myself. In these matters the decision is clearly one which must rest with the executive Government. They are responsible for carrying on the War, and the publication of documents relating to past affairs, however important to individuals, must be subordinated in importance to anything which affects prospective military or naval operations, But it does seem to me that the publication of the Mesopotamian Papers has made a breach of the rule which the Government has hitherto followed in regard to the publication of documents, and I have noticed that in regard to the military operations at Gallipoli attention has been very largely concentrated upon the question of Suvla Bay and the tactics of the various generals concerned. And we have had speeches and requests for an inquiry or for a publication of all documents with regard to that. The battle of Suvla Bay and the action of the generals on the spot were all preceded at the stage in this affair when the main factors were governed by the decisions which had been previously taken in London, and no mere investigation of what befell the soldiers and generals on the spot would be just or fair to them or give a true appreciation of the facts to the public. Great decisions both in regard to the naval and military operations which governed the Dardanelles and Gallipoli enterprises were taken here in Whitehall and examined by the War Committee, and it does seem to me that it would be very injurious to the reputation of Ministers, and those who have been Ministers, if it could be thought, or represented, that they were in some way trying, by delaying the publication of the Papers, to shield themselves, and to allow the whole burden of blame to fall upon the military or naval commanders at the scene of action. I say that the responsibility rests with the head of the Government, but, so far as I am concerned, I say to the right hon. Gentleman who is representing the Prime 2976 Minister, publish everything; I make absolutely no stipulation of any kind, whether in regard to the military or naval operations. Publish everything that the public interests allows you to publish, and I am quite sure that that course is one which, if it is taken, will enable Ministers to free themselves altogether from the charge of being anxious to leave an undue burden upon General Sir Ian Hamilton and other generals who were concerned in the field. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this matter very carefully. I know that the Prime Minister was given notice of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel) to raise it, and I trust that in his reply the Colonial Secretary will do his best to give effect to the appeal which has been made to him.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
The Prime Minister has asked me to give the reply of the Government to the request, which we were informed was going to be made by my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel). As he has pointed out, that in publishing the Papers already laid before the House in regard to the expedition in Mesopotamia the Government have taken a step which, in his view, makes it difficult to refuse to publish Papers in regard to the Dardanelles. We quite realise that in publishing those Papers in regard to Mesopotamia we were taking a step which is open to criticism, but we came to that conclusion, and I think rightly, for I have not changed the view I have always held since the War began that the public and the House of Commons should be given all the information which can by any possibility be issued without detriment to the military service. We therefore carefully considered the question of these Papers, and decided that, though operations are still going on in this case, yet in regard to this particular phase of them, which is finished, Papers could be laid without detriment to the interests of the public service. My right hon. Friend asks that some opportunity should be given for discussion in this House, and on that all I need say is that in publishing these Papers the Government recognised that the House of Commons were entitled to have this subject discussed, and if there is on the part of the House a desire for discussion on the Mesopotamia Expedition opportunity will be given after the Recess.
2977 In regard to the Dardanelles and the publication of the Papers, what is the principle which should guide the Government in a matter of this kind? In the first place, what is the object of going into this, and what is to be gained by going into it? My right hon. Friend puts one consideration to me, the importance of which I need not say I do not underestimate. He says that the publication of these Papers may probably show that there are people still exercising authority who may perhaps be proved to have made such mistakes that they should no longer be allowed to hold positions of authority. If that is true, the sooner the Papers are published the better. In regard to the Dardanelles, as in regard to Mesopotamia, the Government have come to the conclusion that it is better, on the whole, that the Papers should be published, and that the House of Commons should be given information. That being so, I need not say that it is the desire and intention of the Government to lay the Papers on the Table as soon as possible. It is quite obvious that, if a story is to be told, then the whole of it should be told. There are only two limitations which I shall make in regard to the publication of these Papers. There may be documents of so confidential a character that they ought not to be published, and the other is, as I am sure the House will realise, that there is at least the possibility that some of the Papers might give information which might be useful to the enemy in regard to operations which are still going on. All I can say, therefore, is that these two considerations will be kept in view by the Government, but their intention is that nothing shall be withheld which is not against public interests.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am not at all sure that there is any relevant diplomatic correspondence, but if there is that will certainly be considered as well.
§ Mr. HOLT
I do not wish to pursue the subject on which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken, but desire to call attention to the way in which the Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act have been interpreted, and the action of the Government thereon. The first Regula- 2978 tion under the Defence of the Realm Act, under which prosecutions take place, says:—No person shall by word of mouth, or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication, spread false reports and make false statements, or reports, or statements likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, or to interfere with the success of His Majesty's forces by land or sea, or to prejudice His Majesty's relations with foreign Powers, or spread reports or make statements, or commit any act intended to, or likely to, prejudice recruiting, training, discipline, or administration of any of His Majesty's forces; and if any person contravenes these provisions he shall be guilty of an offence against the Regulations.This is a Regulation made by instalments. The last instalment was made in October, 1915, and long before the Compulsory Military Service Act became the law of the land. On the 24th May that Regulation was re-enacted and amplified by the following addition: —If any person without lawful authority or excuse has in his possession, or on premises in his occupation, or under his control, any such document, he shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect the character of the document, or that he had no intention of circulating it.I think it is very likely that many people would say that if the ordinary interpretation had been put upon those words there is no great objection to the Regulation. I intend to show what an extraordinary and improper interpretation has been put upon that Regulation by the Government. Prosecutions for offences against that Regulation have taken place all over the country, in London, in a place in Wales, Liverpool, Leeds, Northampton, and a great many other places. In London, under that Regulation, certain persons were prosecuted and fined £100 and costs, or sixty-one days' imprisonment, for circulating a pamphlet entitled "Repeal the Act." I propose to read the pamphlet to the House in order to show on what preposterous grounds those persons have been sentenced.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I do not know whether this in in order. As I understand, an appeal is pending on those very cases.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
With regard to the point that these cases are sub judice, that is a matter for the discretion of the hon. Member, and for the Minister as to the extent to which he is prepared to make any reply. The hon. Member is, of course, entitled to raise the administrative question.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I do not in the least demur to the hon. Member bringing up the case. I was only anxious to know how far I should be in order in replying.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think it is a matter of Order; it is a matter of general custom and understanding in this House that hon. Members are not to say anything which may affect a matter which is sub judice.
§ Mr. HOLT
What I want to do is to prevent these prosecutions being brought, and that is purely an administrative act. They are being brought all over the country, and convictions are being obtained. I wish to read the pamphlet, and it seems to me that, after hearing it, no Member of Parliament could decide that the person should be prosecuted. It is headed "Repeal the Act," and it is obvious that it refers to the first and not to the second Military Service Act. It reads:—Fellow citizens, Conscription is now law in this country and our free traditions and our hard-won liberties have been violated. Conscription means the desecration of principles that we have long held dear. It involves the subordination of civil liberties. Military dictation imperils the freedom of individual conscience and establishes in our midst that militarism which menaces all social progress and divides the peoples of all nations. We reaffirm our determined resistance to all that is established by the Act. We cannot assist in warfare. War, which to us is wrong, war which the peoples do not seek, can only be made impossible when men who so believe, remain steadfast to their convictions. Conscience, it is true, has been recognised in the Act, but it has been placed at the mercy of tribunals. We are prepared to answer for our faith before any tribunal, but we cannot accept any exemption that would compel those who hate war to kill by proxy, or to set them to tasks which would help to further the War. We strongly condemn the monstrous assumption by Parliament that a man is deemed to be bound by an oath that he has never taken and forced under an authority he will never acknowledge to perform acts which outrage his deepest convictions. It is true that the passing of the Act applies only to a small section of the community, but a great tradition has been sacrificed. Already there is a clamour for the extension of the Act. Admit the principle and who can stay the march of militarism? Repeal the Act—that is your only safeguard. If this be not done militarism will fasten its iron grip on our national life and institutions, and there will be imposed upon us the very system which our statesmen affirm they set out to dethrone. What shall 2980 it profit a nation if it shall win the War, but lose its own soul?—Signed on behalf of the No-conscription Fellowship.I want it to be understood I am not adopting the whole of the arguments in that pamphlet by any means. I say it is a perfectly proper political pamphlet by which to support and advocate certain political and religious opinions. I say that Parliament never contemplated that any person should be prosecuted for publishing and circulating a pamphlet of that character. I want to fortify myself further by two quotations from what has-taken place in this House. The first quotation is from a Debate which took place on the 2nd March, 1915, on an Amendment to the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) Bill, proposed by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), who was then Attorney-General, made the following speech in reply:—It is one thing to make regulations in order to punish statements of facts which are false and which are prejudicial to the success of our cause. It is a different thing to make regulations which deal with statements likely to cause disaffection. He is quite right in pointing to that distinction. I sympathise with him very sincerely and warmly when he says he hopes a great deal of care and caution will be exercised before we pass from one of those things to the other. That we should prevent misstatements of facts which are prejudicial and injurious to our cause is a thing about which nobody will dispute. Statements of opinion, however foolish they may be and however far from wise in judgment, are a very different thing from statements of facts, and I hope in any regulations we make and in any administration of them we shall always draw that distinction most sharply. I can assure the hon. Member that, so far as I have had anything to do with it, or those with whom I am working, we have always had that distinction in mind. It is a very tempting thing to try and suppress statements of opinion, with the genuine belief that that is the way to assist the national cause, but I think the national cause is far more likely to be successful if we see that statements of opinion, however wide of the mark they may be, are recognised as being, within proper limits, the privilege and right of everybody who takes it upon himself to make them.My right hon. Friend went on to say:I consider that we are wise when we treat expressions of opinion in a different way from that in which we should all agree to treat wilful and dangerous misstatements of fact. Having given this assurance to my hon. Friend, I hope he will not ask us now to alter the whole framework of the main Bill; but if the occasion arises, as it may do, for revising the Regulations from that point of view, this matter will certainly be borne in mind."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1915, col. 759, Vol. LXX.]Then the hon. Member for Bradford withdrew his proposed new Clause. That was a Parliamentary pledge given by my right hon. Friend when Attorney-General in a Government of which the present 2981 Home Secretary was a Cabinet Minister. They were both Cabinet Ministers. I think we are entitled to ask him to state explicitly, yes or no, does he adopt the language used by the Member for Walthamstow when Attorney-General on 2nd March, 1915, because that was the policy of the Government in consideration for which they got this House to pass an Act of Parliament. I want to give another short quotation, this time from the Home Secretary himself. On 17th January, 1916, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan), the Home Secretary said:The Prime Minister has asked me to reply to this question. Meetings which are limited to opposition to the passage of the Military Service (No. 2) Bill, or to advocating its repeal if passed into an Act, or to opposition to any extension of compulsory service, and writings of the same character, would not be liable to suppression; but if there were violence, or incitement to violence, or to illegal action, or if the law were transgressed in any other way, the object for which the meetings were held or the writings published would not, of course, entitle them to any exceptional treatment."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1916, col. 15, Vol. LXXVIII.]I am certain that neither my right hon. Friend nor anybody else can contend that in the pamphlet which I have read there is any violence or incitement to violence. That was the main part of the specific thing that my right hon. Friend read out to the House in his answer as the reason why pamphlets would not be permitted to be distributed. In what other way can it be said that the law has been transgressed? It appears to me that there is nothing in that leaflet at which any fair-minded person can possibly take offence. Let this be observed: if you are going to have an agitation to repeal an Act—which my right hon. Friend expressly and in terms said was a proper thing to do—it is necessary to cause that Act to be unpopular; otherwise, how can you obtain the repeal of any Act whatever unless you are going to secure that a majority of people in this country or of Members of Parliament shall look upon that particular Act with dislike, or even with hatred and contempt? All that is involved in an agitation to repeal an Act. No fair-minded man can say, as regards this particular leaflet, that there was any single word which goes beyond what is necessary in order to obtain a consensus of opinion amongst your fellow citizens that an Act ought to be repealed. It is idle to say that you may agitate for the repeal of an Act, and then say that you are not entitled to arouse in the 2982 breasts of your fellow-countrymen precisely those emotions which are necessary before you can obtain a majority to vote in favour of the repeal of that Act.
I want to say a word or two about the Northampton case, in regard to which I have considerable information, where two ladies were fined £50 or three months' imprisonment for distributing certain leaflets. I will read to the House a portion of the speech of the prosecuting solicitor. One of the ladies said:No false statements were made. I plead guilty to trying to create a public feeling to stop the War.That is a perfectly legitimate political agitation. You may or may not agree with it. The solicitor said:He was obliged to Mrs. Cole for her explanation that they had been endeavouring to create an atmosphere. The charge against them was just that, and the suggestion of the prosecution was that that atmosphere, if they had succeeded, was such as would gravely prejudice recruiting and interfere with the training and discipline of persons who had offered themselves for the service of the country or were already in the ranks of the Army. Touching on the pamphlets distributed, Mr. Ley (the prosecuting solicitor) observed that a few of them were harmless, and expressed just such aspirations as from time to time had fallen from the lips of the Pope; but others, and by far the greater majority, contained bitter invectives against the War.I gather from a fuller report that the particular invectives against war on which counsel relied were reprinted from a speech made by Mr. Cobden in this House on the 22nd December, 1854, and there is an extract from an article by the Reverend Canon Sydney Smith which I will read. It is entitled "Note to Article reprinted from 'Edinburgh Review,' 1813":If three men were to have their legs and arms broken, and were to remain all night exposed to the inclemency of weather, the whole country would be in a state of the most dreadful agitation. Look at the wholesale death on a field of battle, ten acres covered with dead, and half dead, and dying; the shrieks and agonies of many thousand human beings. There is more misery inflicted upon mankind by one year of war than by all the civil peculations and oppressions of a century. Yet it is a state into which the mass of mankind rush with the greatest avidity.That is the sort of literature for which people are being sent to three months' imprisonment.
§ Mr. HOLT
I do not know. He was a canon of the Church of England. I have read all these pamphlets through, but I cannot read them to the House; it would take too long. Many of them, I believe, 2983 are almost punishable on the ground of their literary inadequacies. I shall be glad to lend them to any Member in order that he may see for himself how absolutely trumpery are the grounds of these prosecutions. I have, however, excavated from the leaflets one paragraph which seems to me to be the worst of the lot, and which, although it was not relied upon by counsel, I propose to read to the House:If warfare continues it is largely because, even in an age of enlightenment, wars are popular. The fighting is welcomed for its own sake. There is still surviving much of the old barbaric delight 'in the merry days of battle.' Any war, unless it be flagrantly unjust or the campaign unsuccessful, is sure to evoke intense enthusiasm, and any Government which engages in military operations is more likely to be admired than condemned. The cheering crowds in a time of war, lining the streets while the troops, bands playing, colours flying, march through on their way to embark; the hot excitement of the packed audiences in the music halls, shouting the choruses of patriotic songs; … all this is not merely the zeal of a nation sternly determined to uphold its rights abroad; it is not merely the expression of a people's gratitude to those who are ready to risk everything in their country's service. If we are candid, we are bound to confess that this spirit is not so different from that which led all Rome on a feast-day to flock to the Coliseum and sit crowding to see the gladiatorial shows; it is the thrilling joy of watching a game in which men's lives are at stake. And while war evokes these elemental passions among the masses of the people, the leaders of public opinion in the Press, on the platform, and even in the pulpit, are often found justifying war by elaborate and plausible sophisms.
§ Mr. HOLT
It was written about war in general. I do not know who wrote the article, but it seems to me to be one of the worst of the lot, for it suggests that during war-time soldiers are to be killed in order to gratify the depraved state of the spectators in both countries. Let me see. I find it was written by a gentleman called Herbert Samuel.
§ Mr. HOLT
I have not read the preface, but I dare say that if we looked at the preface of the book we should find it 2984 even more illuminating than the article I have quoted from. For making extracts from the very juvenile writings of the Home Secretary people absolutely are being imprisoned at present.
§ Mr. HOLT
They are. Do not make any mistake about it. I want to read another extract from these Northampton proceedings. The prosecuting solicitor continued:The law of the country was very tender towards persons who were genuinely conscientious objectors, but were they going to permit a propaganda or crusade of conscientious objectors? Were they going to allow persons to go about the country to encourage, incite, and canvass persons to acquire a conscience?That is the doctrine of the Government! Their representative was allowed to say in Court that it is a wrongful thing to incite a person to acquire a conscience ! The military representative in this town says:—Oh, no! One has to recognise one's religious conviction. But because you may be of a particular sect, and are against warfare, that is no reason why you should go about the country trying to persuade other people.If that is the Government's doctrine which has been put forward by their authorised representatives, all I can say is that it is one of the most monstrous and impossible doctrines that has ever been advanced by any body. If a person, as a matter of conscience, holds certain opinions, and he takes action in accordance with these opinions as the necessary fulfilment of his duty to his conscience, that man has absolutely no way whatever except to try and persuade other people that these are the opinions that they also should hold. If you are entitled to hold an opinion yourself, if you believe these opinions to be essential, say, to the salvation of the human soul—as do these conscientious objectors—they would not be doing their duty if they failed to try and impress their opinions on other people. It is a monstrous suggestion that a man may conscientiously hold certain opinions in this country, or in any other country, and be denied the liberty of trying to induce other people to believe them. The military representative in this case went on to say: —It was most important for the morale of soldiers when they were going into warfare that they should go with the conviction that their cause was right, and that they should not be forced into the Army, or brought in the Army, with doubts in their minds.2985 I entirely agree with that, but let me point out to the House what has happened. Before the Military Service Act was passed the onus of proof was laid upon those who wanted the man to fight. Thousands of people in this country, including most of the Members in this House, went up and down the country urging men to join the Army, and pointing out to them, by the best speeches of which they were capable, that it was the duty of the patriotic citizen to join the Army and to fight for his country's cause. I, myself, made such speeches. I can say that I, in addressing my audiences, invariably told them that I hoped no man would join the Army unless he was satisfied in his heart and conscience that he was fighting for a just cause. I endeavoured to the best of my ability to persuade men that our cause was a just one. What was the effect of these speeches? You had up and down the country a propaganda of opinion that the nation was fighting a just cause, and the essential righteousness of the national cause was fairly well impressed upon the country. The Military Service Act altered all that. You have put the onus probandi on the other side. Now people are going about assuring their friends and people interested that they ought not to be called upon to fight. Of course you have changed, and necessarily changed, the atmosphere of the War—the inevitable result? It is not these pamphlets which have done it. It has been brought about by your Act. We are told that it is prejudicial to discipline to put these ideas into the minds of the soldiers. I want to ask the House this question. Many of the soldiers are voters. Many people are saying that we are going to have a General Eelection, and among the arrangements to be made are that soldiers should be able to vote. That proposition is wholly inconsistent with the idea that you are not entitled to submit to the soldier, even at the front, every political consideration which is germane to the question as to in what sense he is going to cast his vote. You cannot have a military force, which is also a voting force, without introducing into that military force every sort of political consideration. What is the effect of this treatment of conscientious objectors? The effect is that you are getting a mass of opinion siding with the conscientious objectors. I saw a very striking article in the "Manchester 2986 Guardian" of 30th May. It is headed: "Congregational Ministers: The Eights of Conscience. A Protest." It proceeds: —The following resolution regarding conscientious objection to military service has been signed, we are informed, within the last four days, by 118 Congregational ministers in Lancashire and Cheshire:We, the undersigned Congregational ministers in Lancashire and Cheshire, desire to issue a public protest against the unrighteous treatment now being endured by many genuine conscientious objectors to military service. Although our views as to the righteousness and necessity of the present War are widely divergent, we feel that the historic position of Free Churchmen as guardians and exponents of liberty of conscience impels us to ask that honour should be equally accorded to those who accept the sacrifices of military service for conscience sake and to those who, equally guided by conscientious convictions, feel constrained to refuse arms.The "Guardian" gives a list of the 118 ministers who have signed this protest. Some of them, I am informed, are distinguished men. A hundred and eighteen ministers out of Lancashire and Cheshire is a considerable number. This protest must now be well known throughout Lancashire and Cheshire. What does that mean? It means that, whereas before the persecution—for it is nothing else— of the conscientious objectors, many of these ministers were advocating enlistment in the Army—it is pretty plain I think—now you have that great mass of important and influential opinion gradually organising its protest against the way the conscientious objector has been treated. From that by degrees the same people will be forced on step by step into an express approval of the position the conscientious objector has taken up. It is always the way. If the Government go on with this campaign of persecution, they will very soon drive those people into a downright stop-the-war agitation. I warn the Government of that, because I want to see this War brought to a successful and triumphant conclusion. I am quite certain that nothing in the world is more likely to be prejudicial to our chances of doing that than to cause sincere and influential people to believe that, in order to accomplish that end, you are inflicting grave injustice on persons because of their conscientious convictions.
This attack upon the conscientious objector is, I think, in many respects a challenge to a great deal of Christian teaching. Whatever may be thought as to what the true Christian teaching is with regard to the right and the duty of a citizen to 2987 bear arms and to kill, there can be no doubt that it may be very plausibly argued that the Christian teaching is wholly opposed to war of any sort under any circumstances. By this persecution you are challenging all those of that opinion to advocate their views. You challenge them to interpret that aspect of Christian teaching. I think it is very undesirable for those who want to see the War brought to a successful conclusion to challenge the anti-war side of Christian feeling. It is very much better, to use a homely phrase, to let sleeping dogs lie. The House itself, in this very Act of Parliament, has assented to the view that the Christian teaching is, or may be, an anti-war teaching, because it has expressly exempted from the Act ministers of religion. That exemption can only be justified on the ground that the Christian teaching on this particular point is, to to put it mildly, so far doubtful, that it would be a monstrous injustice to compel any professional exponent of that teaching to serve against his wishes in the War.
I have brought this subject before the House, because if there is one matter on which I feel more strongly than another it is that in a democratic community the foundation of good government lies in freedom of information, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech. You cannot have a country, which is governed by its people, wisely and well governed, unless those people are permitted access to accurate information, and are permitted the free exchange of their views and their opinions. That is essential to good government. It is quite true that if you grant that freedom there will be abuses. It is quite true that foolish people advocate foolish views. That is one of the many unfortunate corollaries of a democratic Government if you like, but you must take the rough with the smooth, and I say, without hesitation, that the smooth democratic Government is infinitely superior to the rough. You cannot pick out one without the other. I would remind the House that, almost without exception, every advance that the community has made in the realm of mind and in the realm of moral principle has begun with isolated and unpopular propaganda. Every one of those movements has been begun by just such people as these conscientious objectors. Some are good and some are bad. All sorts of 2988 expedients have been tried to silence these persons. In days gone by it was the cross, the stake, and the gallows which were the instruments used to put down an unpopular minority. Those have always failed. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the milder instrument of modern fines and imprisonment, which is inspired in exactly the same way, is really going to be more successful? There has never been any method whatever successfully practised for putting down erroneous opinions except argument and the clear statement of correct opinion. That is the only possible way of putting down erroneous opinion, and for my part, as long as I have the privilege of doing so, I shall, to the best of my ability, protest against any other method being used. In conclusion, I would like to remind my right hon. Friend of what, I think, has been the best statement I know for treating by argument, and argument only, persons with whose opinions you entirely disagree. It is the statement of Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a doctor of the law, "had in honour of all the people":And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God ye will not be able to overthrow them, lest happily ye be found even to be fighting against God.
§ Mr. R. MACDONALD
It is almost unnecessary to reinforce by a single sentence the very admirable speech to which the House has just listened, and I would not have ventured to take up the time of the House were it not necessary to bring before its attention another set of facts to which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman must give some consideration in his reply. I refer to a series of visitations that is going on at the present moment in various parts of the country, attended by seizure of pamphlets and leaflets other than those referred to by my hon. Friend. Perhaps a bare recital of the facts will be as effective as anything else. On the 18th August last the Manchester Labour Press was raided by the Manchester police, and a certain number of pamphlets and leaflets were taken for the purpose of being examined by some authority or other. The seizure was a very wholesale one, including copies of the weekly paper, the "Labour Leader." After a day or two had passed a certain number of these pamphlets and leaflets were returned as being, apparently, quite innocuous, and the remainder were 2989 brought before a stipendiary at Salford, who practically released everything that had been brought before him. Every scrap of paper for which the Independent Labour Party was officially responsible was released without exception. It is perfectly true that the Labour Press as a printer and as a publishing agent had taken upon itself the publication of certain pamphlets which bore the names of private individuals, which were not official pamphlets, and which were, in the strictest and most honest sense of the term, private property, not belonging to the Labour Press at all. Those pamphlets, all undefended by the persons who owned or wrote them, and who had not the means, or did not take the trouble, to go to Salford, in the absence of any defence, were condemned and were destroyed. When the decision was given the legal representative of the Government asked for expenses. So convinced was the magistrate that the Government was wrong in its prosecution that he declined to allow expenses, and they were not given. As a matter of fact, the magistrate, in a rather amusing way, asked the Government counsel why he had asked for expenses, seeing that he had failed in his application. That is the Manchester case. On the same day, on the 18th August last, a similar raid took place in London at the head offices of the Independent Labour Party. The same things were seized and examined, and some pamphlets which at Manchester were regarded as quite innocuous were not so regarded in London, and they became the subject of a case which came before Sir John Knill at the Mansion House. On the application of the Government the trial was held in camera. The trial in London showed some peculiar features. Will the House believe that the Government actually tried to get Sir John Knill to compel the Independent Labour Party to show cause why those pamphlets should not be destroyed. It was not a case of asking Sir John Knill to decide whether the pamphlets ought to be destroyed or not, but they actually asked the Independent Labour Party to prove that the pamphlets were innocuous, but they did not succeed in that, although they made the attempt.
I do not know if that is consistent with the doctrines of Liberalism. There are certain common grounds of ordinary common sense and justice which we occupy in common. Sir John Knill may be a most admirable person to sit on a 2990 Bench and give judgment on what I would call common-sense matters and ordinary civil affairs. With his business experience and ordinary common sense probably Sir John Knill is a good judge of such cases, and perhaps we might not be able to get a better from one end of the country to the other; but, with all due deference to him and his Court, he is not the judge to settle a political question. The stipendiary magistrate in Salford has those qualities of legal attachment which are absolutely essential if justice is to be done to political opinions that are brought before a Court. I turned up "Who's Who" to see if I could discover any particular qualifications for Sir John Knill as a judge in this case, and I find that he is a wharfinger and a member of the West Kent and Greenwich Carlton Club. I do not know whether that was why the Government took his decision and made it the ruling decision, while they gave the go-by to the decision of the trained lawyer who sits as stipendiary magistrate in Salford.
If hon. Members will turn to the newspapers they will find that when the stipendiary magistrate in Salford gave his decision it was in open Court, and he gave all the reasons why he had come to that decision, and it was a reasoned statement of his position. When Sir John Knill gave his decision it was not a reasoned opinion at all, but simply a dogmatic statement that he had read the pamphlets and had decided that they ought to be destroyed, and that within seven days they should be destroyed. He said that he had not merely relied upon a particular case, but that he had read the pamphlets from beginning to end, and, as he found the atmosphere was so objectionable, he decided that they should be destroyed after the expiration of seven clear days. I would like to ask the Home Secretary, as the honours are easy, the Independent Labour Party having won in Salford and lost at the Mansion House, why he takes the Mansion House decision as the ruling decision. Surely a thing that must be admitted by every hon. Member in this House is that if you have two conflicting decisions by these two Courts, the Salford Court is surely and apparently the Court best fitted to give an adequate decision. If that is admitted, why is it that the Home Office gives that decision the go-by and accepts Sir John Knill's decision? After the Government had got Sir John Knill's 2991 decision, a few months later there was another raid in Manchester, and they took from a printing office, which is technically in Salford, some pamphlets and the very pamphlets which at the first trial they did not prosecute upon and which were released by the stipendiary magistrate of Manchester, and they do that on the strength of the Mansion House decision.
The right hon. Gentleman, in reply to a hurried supplementary question the other day, made the observation that after the Mansion House decision the Independent Labour Party did not appeal. The answer is perfectly obvious and it is twofold. First of all, we are not going to spend money appealing on a case like that. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that in all these organisations finance plays a very prominent part. I was consulted, although I have no responsibility as to whether there ought to be an appeal, and they did not appeal for financial reasons. They took legal advice, and they were informed by a very competent lawyer that Sir John Knill's decision only applied to the area in London over which his Court had jurisdiction. If hon. Members will apply their minds in a business way to that area in regard to those pamphlets issued by the Independent Labour Party, they will see that that area is not worth a penny per annum to the Independent Labour Party, and it did not care a brass farthing whether it was allowed to sell its pamphlets there or not. After the legal advice given by one of our leading barristers, together with financial considerations, it was decided that there should be no appeal. We did assume that we were going to get fair play, and that the pledge given on behalf of the Government by his predecessor was honestly and really meant. We assumed that it was a pledge of substance and not a mere pledge of words, and upon that assumption we did not think it necessary to make an appeal. Apparently, we were mistaken.
The right hon. Gentleman and the Government must not assume for a single moment that these prosecutions are going to stop the expressions of views which are honestly held. Will they be good enough to tell us this afternoon what we can do and what we can say? We will see. I know it is a very difficult thing to do, but we can get a little bit near it by a process of exhaustion. I dare say that we would 2992 be allowed to say that the Government is the most remarkable collection of men that were ever brought together, that they are a delight to ourselves and our Allies, that they are far-seeing, that their foresight is remarkable, that they have made no mistakes, and that they are very economical of public money and of the lives of the people; but how much further can we go? Can we go as far as has been gone by certain newspapers that have not been prosecuted? I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman which of those pamphlets that have been seized and which of those pamphlets that policemen are now callecting from the houses of individuals in this country can be condemned by him for having such adjectives as those I am about to quote applied to the Government? Perhaps he will be good enough to tell me. On 30th November last his predecessor made an attack on what he called the "Harmsworth Press" in this House. In the course of that attack he accused that Press of "publishing fabricated and groundless charges against Ministers." He accused it of "encouraging the enemy, disconcerting our Allies, and hardening neutral opinion against us." He said "it belittled our country"; "it justified a neutral country," he meant Spain, "stating in some of its newspapers that we," that is, ourselves, "are a defeated race"; "it was dangerous and poisonous"; "one of the greatest of Germany's assets at this moment is the encouragement which is given to her people and the concern which is created in the minds of our friends by these newspapers"; that he was accusing, "they are a disappointment to our Allies and a disgust to neutrals"; and, finally, he described them as "having become a public danger." That was a statement made by his predecessor, and that statement was made by him as a member of the Cabinet of which the right hon. Gentleman is now a member. It was, therefore, the Government view. Yet, after making those statements and launching those accusations against papers of large circulation, compared with which the circulation of these pamphlets must be infinitesimal, the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, told this House that he had no intention of carrying his complaints into the Police Courts or instituting a prosecution based upon those charges.
Why this differentiation? I am bound to say that had the right hon. Gentleman 2993 and his Government proceeded against the "Times," I should have said that they were making a profound mistake. We want nothing of that sort. The "Times" and the "Daily Mail," in the criticisms that they have made upon the War, have shown themselves to be of the greatest help to the Government. At any rate, anyone who has read the leading articles and the charges and the criticisms and the suggestions made by the "Times" during the last twelve months, and has also read of the various twistings and windings and gyrations and evolutions of the Cabinet during the same period, cannot have failed to see that either by coincidence or a miracle, or by the influence of the "Times," the Government have oddly followed precisely the course which was marked out for them by the "Times." That at the beginning of the twentieth century a British Government should imagine it is going to suppress opinion, and that it is going to keep together the semblance of a united nation by the force of the policeman and the judge, is such an absurd thing that if it were not so serious one would meet it with a loud guffaw. Perhaps I might tell the House, less the House is not quite so well aware of what is going on as I am myself, the result of all this. While assuming that everybody knows the facts, though the newspapers do not always publish them, I might just show how important the thing is by saying that within recent weeks this general visitation has taken place. I have a letter, for instance, stating that in Rotherham a Mr. Hinch-cliffe was addressed by a policeman, who took his name and address. Mr. Hinchcliffe was distributing some leaflets. The policeman took his name and address, took possession of the leaflets, and requested him to call at the police station. When he went to the police station he was informed that the leaflet itself was not forbidden, but that Leaflet No. 1 in the same series—a leaflet that is called "A Patched-up Peace "—was forbidden, and as No. 3 was on the same lines the police had decided to retain the copies. What business had the police to retain those copies? No. 1 of these leaflets is exactly the sort of thing that everybody is saying: "We do not want a patched-up peace." Everybody is opposed to it.
As I said to the House the other day, for this War to end in a patched-up peace would be one of the greatest crimes, and one of the greatest errors of which any 2994 Government has ever been guilty. But this leaflet points out that if the Government pursues its present policy, and its present policy only, then a patched-up peace will come whether it likes it or not. There is the crime. That is the crime of that leaflet. That is No. 1, and because No. 3 of this little series was being distributed abroad the policeman actually came and took away the leaflet, and told the man he must not distribute No. 3 because No. 1 has been prohibited. As a matter of fact, I do not believe it has, but I know this, that the policemen of Rotherham would not act unless they had received some kind of instructions, which they must have misunderstood, to guide them in the matter.
Let us take Cudworth, near Barnsley. I have a letter which says:I am the newly-appointed literature secretary, and I had yesterday, 28th May, as visitors, Police-Sergeant Lamb and Police-Constable Livingston to inspect the pamphlets. I happened to have in hand some of the suppressed ones—What suppressed ones? What pamphlets are suppressed? Could the right hon. Gentleman produce to this House the instructions he has sent down to the police, or the instructions upon which the police are acting when they behave in this way? The letter says:… I happened to have in hand some of the suppressed ones, but had not been offering them for sale. They were kind enough to take away seven copies of one, five copies of another, and four copies of a third. Should further proceedings be taken I will let you know.Finally there is Tantobie, in the county of Durham. I am giving these places which are scattered pretty widely over the country. The Secretary here tells of certain things being done. Pamphlets and leaflets have been distributed.The result has been that we have had a visit from the inspector and sergeant of the police. We were advised by them not to distribute any more leaflets—The leaflets are No. 1, to which I have referred, or No. 2 or No. 3—or we would be liable to prosecution under the Defence of the Realm Act. They went to our literature secretary's house and took away what leaflets he had left, along with some pamphlets which have not been suppressed.There are three of the pamphlets. One is a pamphlet reproduction of a speech my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) delivered in this House on the Finance Bill of last year. That speech has been issued as a pamphlet under the title, "Who is to Pay for the War?" That pamphlet has been seized by the police. Another one is a small sheet of hymns, 2995 some of them from "Hymns Ancient and Modern," sung at Socialist meetings on Sunday afternoons and evenings. I dare say there is a great deal of seditious matter, because the great source of all sedition now is the Sermon on the Mount. The third pamphlet is "The Peril of Conscription," which was published months before the first Military Service Bill came before this House. In another place there was the sort of official Speaker's Handbook for the Labour party—not the section with which I am specially identified, but the section with which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) is identified. He will be very pleased to know that the Handbook published for the guidance of speakers to help them to enter the House of Commons has been seized by the police as a document which may be regarded as the subject of a prosecution. I do think that these things are going a little bit too far. If the right hon. Gentleman or the Government think that this is the way to help the nation, they are very much mistaken. If there is a body of people in this country that quite honestly—and I may even use another adverb altogether and say very painfully—think it their duty to put forward certain views before the people of the country they are not doing so for the purpose of weakening the country; they are not doing so from any motive with which any member of the Government has a right to quarrel, or from any motive that is not quite as good as any that animates members of the Cabinet itself. Those views will be put before the country—must be put before the country. By putting those views before the country the Government itself will be helped, and, what is still more important, the nation will be helped so that when the time comes to devise peace, that peace will show more sagacity than the conduct of the War has done. That will be done. The right hon. Gentleman may put his policemen upon us. He would be wise if he did not. He ought to put us—I talk with the greatest friendliness to the Government—upon our honour. That is far more effective to appeal to us to defend the best interests of the country than any force he can use. He can use his force. His force will fail. He can forfeit our help. He can bring us before his Sir John Knills, but I can assure him he will not attain the object which I am perfectly certain he hopes to attain.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The hon. Members who have spoken have done me the honour to quote certain answers to questions that I have given in this House, and also an extract from a book of mine written some years ago, which they conceive support the arguments which they have addressed to the House. To all these statements made in the House and out of it I adhere without any qualification whatsoever, and although I have not examined with care the quotation that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) made from the speech in this House of my right hon. predecessor, the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), I see nothing in that quotation with which I will desire to disagree. But my hon. Friend, when he quoted my answer, my very carefully considered answer, in this House to the effect that opposition to the policy of Conscription was not in itself an illegality, or opposition to the extension of the Military Service Act, and that meetings held, or that writings circulated, with those purposes would not be suppressed at the hands of the Government—or to advocate repeal—he ought to have quoted, naturally, the remainder of that answer, in which I stated that such meetings and such writings could not be held exempt on that ground if they also incited either to violence or to illegal action. "Or to illegal action"—that is the point; and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow was speaking from this Bench as Home Secretary he said that the Government recognised that it was right to allow free expression of opinion. That is one thing; but he never declared that the Government would allow, under the guise of expressions of opinion, advocacy of violence or advocacy of illegality. When, therefore, my hon. Friends were quoting my answers, they might perhaps have quoted another which I gave in this House purposely in order to give, so far as I am able to do so, that guidance for which the hon. Member for Leicester this afternoon asked, in which I said, in terms, "It is one thing to advocate repeal of the Compulsory Military Service Act; it is another thing to advocate resistance to its provisions." That is the essential difference. This leaflet, which being now sub judice, I do not wish to deal with, prints in black type across the page, as its most prominent sentence:We reaffirm our determined resistance to all that is established by the Act.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I can understand hon. Members taking that view. I can understand the individual conscientious objector saying, as an individual, "Whatever happens to me, I do not care. I hold certain doctrines and no human power can ever compel me to form part of a military organisation." Such a man can be respected and Parliament has established machinery by which he can obtain exemption from the Act. My hon. Friend says that we are taking proceedings against men who, being conscientious objectors themselves, have committed the offence of telling other people that they have consciences. A man who has a conscientious objection does not need telling. You do not need any propaganda to enlist a recruit and increase the numbers of conscientious objectors. Conscience is essentially a spontaneous thing.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I do not want to enter the realm of either metaphysics or theology, but I should say that a man who felt in his inmost being that it was impossible for him to help the nation in its hour of need by taking up arms does not need public meetings held to persuade him of that fact.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I say that Parliament having enacted that it is the duty of all able-bodied men of military age in the nation, with certain exceptions, to serve in the Army, any person who, either in church or elsewhere, advocates that individuals should refuse to obey the law, obviously commits an illegal act.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Certainly the Act allows exemptions. I have said in this House, on more than one occasion, that it is not an offence against the law for any person to apply for exemption under the Act or to announce his intention to apply for exemption, nor is it an offence against the law for any person to assist others in applying for exemption under the Act; indeed, the Government have been much 2998 criticised for taking no action with regard to schools for conscientious objectors, which were set up in order to train them in the best methods of stating their cases when they came before the tribunals. It was made known that they were actually organisations for educating applicants who intended to appear before the tribunals as to what they should say in order to make their cases. That was open to grave objection, but I was not prepared to say that that was an illegality. Parliament having specifically declared that the conscientious objector had the right to apply for an exemption, and had the right, having established his case, to receive exemption, I was not disposed to interfere or allow interference in that case. But that is a totally different thing from carrying on propaganda amongst people in order to induce them to say, "Whether we get exemption or whether we do not we shall refuse to obey the law." That is the essential difference. The authors and circulators of this leaflet have been prosceuted. The Director of Public Prosecutions, under the instructions of the Attorney-General—I do not wish at all to dissociate myself from the action of the legal authorities—has prosecuted this leaflet, specially because it contains these words:We reaffirm our determined resistance to all that is established by the Act.Similarly the other leaflets of the same kind have been prosecuted for analogous reasons. The hon. Member for Hexham, who introduced this Debate, said that when he went about to recruiting meetings, in the early stages of the War, he endeavoured to persuade people that the War was right, that they ought to take up arms for the sake of a just cause, and that he, for his part, would never care that any man should be required to take up arms for any cause unless he were individually intellectually convinced of the rightness of that particular war. That is a very arguable proposition which has immense force behind it. After long Debates, in which the hon. Member himself on many occasions and with great force and his usual ability expressed that view, Parliament has passed an Act, indeed, has passed two Acts, which declare that it is the business of very individual in the country to take up arms in this War unless he can show a conscientious objection to taking part in warfare altogether.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Certain exceptions are specified in the Act. Parliament no longer leaves it open to each individual in the nation to decide whether he will take up arms or whether he will not. The business of the Executive and my business as a member of the Government is to see that the Enactments passed by Parliament are enforced. The task in many particulars is an exceedingly distasteful or unpleasant one, but the House will readily believe that it will not be left unenforced for that reason. However unpleasant, however disagreeable the task may be, Parliament having decided that military service is to be obligatory, where compulsion is necessary to enforce its provisions, then compulsion must and will be applied, and the Government cannot tolerate an open and widespread propaganda to induce people to disobey the clear requirements of a Statute. So much with regard to the general case in respect to the conscientious objector and to this leaflet. That is the broad line of policy that the Government pursue. Advocate, if you wish to do so—I think, myself, it is against the interests of the State—the repeal of the Compulsory Military Service Act, express what opinions you choose—we do not penalise opinions—but you must not incite or induce people to break the law, because by so doing you are breaking the law yourselves.
With regard to the propaganda in the interests of an early or immediate peace, here, again, I have stated clearly in the House of Commons, in answer to questions, what the course of the Government is, and I think no possible misunderstanding can have arisen. I stated it in connection with a meeting that was announced to be held on Easter Sunday, I think, in Trafalgar Square, in favour of a propaganda against the continuance of the War. I stated then, that—In my view and in the view of the Government this propaganda is highly mischievous and most unpatriotic, that it can do nothing but harm to the national cause, and if it has any effect at all upon our Allies, upon our Dominions, or upon our Army, it can only have a discouraging effect.Throughout the world the insignificance of this propaganda, so far as concerns the number or opinions of the persons engaged in it, is well understood, and therefore it does not in fact do very great harm. In any case, I myself hold the view that it would not be proper for the Executive, even when engaged in a vital struggle such as this, to prevent the expression of opinions on the part of members of the public that were hostile to the policy of 3000 the Government in power. There may be occasions as I stated to the House, upon which the most patriotic service that any individual citizen could render his country would be to agitate against a war in which his Government had wrongly engaged. I do not think the Executive of the day ought to arrogate to itself the right and duty of determining whether it is a moment in which opposition to its policy should be suppressed or not. I can imagine in the future the nation engaged in some war in which, as I say, the Government was wrong, did not represent the feelings of the country, and did not represent the real desires of the nation, and when it would be a crime to suppress the expression of public opinion, and they ought not in those circumstances to be able to point to any principle laid down by Ministers in the year 1916 to the effect that whenever the Government was engaged in war it should throw into prison or otherwise penalise any persons who objected to its policy. Therefore that meeting in Trafalgar Square was suppressed, not because of the object for which it was called, but for the reason that it was certain that it would give rise to serious rioting and grave disturbance of the peace.
An hon. Member did me the honour to quote from a book that I published about fourteen years ago, and from the point of view of literary value; if I may be allowed the vanity of saying so, I heard the passage which he quoted without very much pessimism. The chapter from which he quoted was one in which I was combating what seemed to me then and seems to me now the most hateful thing in the whole world, and that is the desire for war for war's own sake. The desire for war for the sake of its excitement, for the sake even of the heroic deeds that it evokes, the desire for war for the purpose of dynastic or territorial aggression, all these things are hateful in the highest degree. Those were the views which I was combating in the chapter from which he quotes. But he will not find in the book any peace-at-any-price spirit, and if he had read a few pages on and quoted from them he would have found that on the basis of Liberal principles and policy I then laid down, as I should again if the occasion arose, the doctrine that undoubtedly it is a Liberal principle and a Liberal policy to take up arms when your country is attacked, or to take up arms in the cause of liberty. The hon. 3001 Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) belongs to an organisation which holds a very different view, for not long ago the Independent Labour Party, of which he is one of the leaders, at its annual conference passed a resolution in set terms to the effect that no war of any kind ought ever to command the support of its members, even if the war was of a defensive character.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Perhaps not. I do not know if the hon. Member has until this moment ever dissociated himself from that resolution.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I apologise for saying the hon. Member had not previously dissociated himself from it. My attention had not been drawn to the fact to which he has called attention. But the fact remains that the Independent Labour Party, which is now engaged in this propaganda, does so avowedly because it objects to any war under any circumstances. The sufferings of Belgium are nothing to it, and the danger to our country if we are defeated in this War is apparently a matter of indifference. But if propaganda against the continuance of the War crosses this line and becomes a propaganda against recruiting, or if leaflets are issued under the guise of stop-the-war leaflets which are intended to prevent people enlisting in the Army when they are called upon to do so, obviously the line of illegality is overstepped, and in all such cases action must and will be taken. My hon. Friend in a Debate not long ago criticised the action of the Government, and particularly of the Home Office, for taking measures in certain instances to intern people without trial. They said, "You have taken excessive powers under the Defence of the Realm Act. You do things without recourse to the Courts, and such powers ought not to be exercised." But now when in these cases we bring these matters before the Courts of Law and we act only upon the judgments of Courts of Law, my hon. Friends attack the Government for even going so far as to bring the case before the Courts at all. My hon. Friend (Mr. Holt) protested against the 3002 interpretation placed upon this Regulation by the Government, but what he is really complaining of is the decision of the magistrates.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
No. I do not think that was my hon. Friend's gravamen. I understood him to say that these leaflets were wrongly condemned, that the Regulation itself was not open to objection, but that the interpretation put upon the Regulation by the Government was a wrong and an oppressive one. My answer to that is that all these things have been brought before the Courts of Law, and the Government has taken no action at all except upon decisions of the magistrates. My hon. Friend says why did we not take the decision of the magistrate in Salford, instead of the decision of the magistrate in London. The case in London was a test case. The case in Salford was dealt with by the local police. The case in London was a prosecution brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions himself. Counsel were employed, and the matter was very fully heard. I think the trial lasted for three days. The procedure was a most elaborate one, and the judgment given must be accepted as a binding judgment unless upset on appeal.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It was taken by the local police and not by the Government. The Government then desired to have a definite decision on this very matter, and it was for that reason that the Director of Public Prosecutions brought this case before the London Court. There might have been an appeal. There was an appeal as a matter of fact with regard to one of the leaflets. My hon. Friend has forgotten.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I will tell the hon. Member what the instructions have been with regard to suppressing the continued circulation of the leaflet.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Appeals could have been taken with regard to all, and I think the House will consider that the hon. Member's reasons for not taking an appeal in the case of this action were hardly adequate. If the matter was of such gravity, and if the magistrate of the London Court was not entitled to be regarded as a final authority, obviously it was the duty of those concerned to take an appeal in all the cases, as was taken in only one. Then the question arises, the Court having held that these leaflets are to the detriment of the State and are illegal as inciting to an illegal act, and no appeal having been taken, or the appeal having been dismissed when taken, what is the duty of the Executive with regard to the continued circulation of these leaflets all over the country? Is it suggested that, the case having been taken before the Court and a decision obtained in the sense I have mentioned, the Government is to allow freely these same leaflets to be circulated from the centre all over the country, or does my hon. Friend suggest that we should take legal proceedings in every police district throughout the country with regard to the same leaflet?
§ Mr. MACDONALD
That is certainly an absurd suggestion which I should never make. What I suggest is that as the right hon. Gentleman has got his case in Salford and has got his case in London, although he gave us the most astounding information, in view of the documents I have seen, that the Salford case was purely on local initiative, so far as we knew the two cases were precisely on the same standard of equality and we treated them as of equal importance, and we regarded the Salford case as being of more importance under these circumstances, and therefore assumed that that would rule the conduct of the War Office.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I should have thought the later judgment would be the one on which the Government was bound to act. I would ask the House to realise what would be said of the administration of the Home Office if, when a case has been brought into Court, and a decision reached as to the illegality of certain leaflets, the Home Office should sit still and give no 3004 instructions to the police in regard to the continued circulation of those leaflets. Obviously we should be condemned on all hands as wanting in the performance of the responsible duties of government. Consequently, instructions have been given to the police with respect to leaflets which have been condemned by the Courts, and only such leaflets, the continued circulation of which can be stopped under the Defence of the Realm Act. If the police have taken action in regard to leaflets which have not been condemned by the Courts there must have been some misunderstanding locally. They are not acting under instructions by the Government. If they have acted illegally in any case, those who are damnified have their remedy at law against those who have committed the illegality. I do not know that there is anything further that it is necessary for me to say.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on one point which has not been raised, and that is the question of the new Regulation under which it is illegal to hold any document which, if published, would be an offence under the Defence of the Realm Act. This has created a great deal of discussion and doubt, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might explain the matter.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It all depends upon the actual circumstances. I do not think that proceedings have been taken, and I should be very chary in taking any proceedings which were in the nature of domiciliary visits or prosecutions in respect of leaflets or papers which there has been no intention to publish. The reason why that Regulation was made was in view, I believe, of certain difficulties that might arise where a press was stopped at the moment it was about to publish such leaflets and it was not possible to prove that publication had already taken place. There is no intention of making domiciliary visits with a view to finding scraps of paper which no one had any intention whatever of publishing, but which, if published, might be regarded as illegal. I have done my best to give the House, as far as possible, information as to the views of the Government with respect to the boundary line between legality and illegality in these difficult matters. The line obviously cannot be a very definite one. Many cases must be judged upon their individual merits, but it is possible to lay down certain principles. Those 3005 principles have been already declared to the House, and I have endeavoured to repeat them. So far as criticism of Ministers or their administration is concerned, to which my hon. Friend referred at the end of his remarks, for my own part I should be exceedingly unwilling to take proceedings against any newspaper or in respect of any leaflet which merely attacked the administration of any Member of the Government, whether myself or others. If such attacks are justified it is all to the public interest that they should be made, and if they are unjustified they can be treated with silent disdain.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think that during all the time I have been a Member of this House I have never listened to two speeches which established a case so strong as that which was made by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). It may be because of the strength of their case that the reply of the Home Secretary appears so lame and halting and inadequate by contrast. Many of the points which were raised by my two hon. Friends have been altogether ignored by the Home Secretary in his attempt at a reply. The main point of the right hon. Gentleman's speech has been that while it is not the practice nor the desire of the Government to take action against any agitation for the repeal of the Military Service Act, the Government cannot but take a strong action against anything which they consider to be calculated to cause resistance to the Act. I would point out that during the right hon. Gentleman's own tenure of office, before the Compulsory Service Bill passed this House, the police, in different parts of the country, by concerted action, and therefore presumably action under instructions from the Home Office, visited branches of the Independent Labour Party concerned in organisation against Conscription, confiscated the literature against Conscription, forbade them to expose placards denouncing Conscription, and threatened them with divers pains and penalties if they continued to carry on any agitation against the Act.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
No instructions were issued to the police except in the terms of my answer given in the House of Commons, which have already been quoted.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The attention of the Home Secretary was, I believe, by question in this House and in other ways, 3006 called to the action of the police. I am not prepared with all the details. I am speaking entirely from memory, but I remember particularly the action of the police of Birmingham. The police there, according to the interjection of the Home Secretary, were not acting under Home Office authority. Therefore I presume the right hon. Gentleman admits that they were acting illegally, but he took no action to stop the police in this illegality. I want to deal with the main point of the Home Secretary's speech. Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester nor my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made any complaint at all against the Government prosecuting where there was a clear, definite, and unmistakable appeal to resist the operation of the Military Service Act. What we are complaining about is that the Government are, by police action and by police court prosecutions, trying to put down a perfectly legal and justifiable criticism of the administration of the Act, and an agitation against the principle of Conscription. The Home Secretary referred to two or three leaflets. He referred to one of the leaflets quoted, namely, the one which is headed "Repeal the Act." He stated that that leaflet is now the subject of an action in the courts, and that, therefore, it would not be desirable to discuss the matter at any length. I want to leave that leaflet out of consideration altogether, because it is not that leaflet alone, but other leaflets which have been, and continue to be, the subject of police prosecution. Only two days ago at Penrhyn two well-known Quakers were before the police court and one was fined £20 and the other £10 for distributing two of the leaflets. I have in my hands, and I shall carry away with me when I leave this House, these leaflets—and therefore I shall be liable, I suppose, to arrest and conviction under the latest Regulation which is being promulgated under the Defence of the Realm Act, for having in my possession material which, if published, might cause sedition and disaffection—copies of the two leaflets for which these Quakers were prosecuted. One is headed, "An early conscientious objector," and is the story of Maximilian who, in the year 295, refused to be conscripted into the Roman Army. He was brought by his recruiting sergeant before the tribunal at that time and stated his case. He was condemned and executed. He was a Christian. This leaflet is taken, I think, verbatim from the early Church 3007 history by Backhouse, second edition, published in 1885, pages 559 and following. A number of prisoners other than the two to whom I have referred have been prosecuted for the distribution of this leaflet. The other leaflet is one upon which quite a number of prosecutions have taken place. It is headed, "Two years' hard labour for refusing to disobey the dictates of conscience," and is the plain unvarnished story of the trial of a conscientious objector, named Everett, who has been sentenced by court-martial to two years' imprisonment. The only portion in the leaflet to which the police had taken exception was this. After, as I have said, a plain statement of the facts of the case, it says:The sentence of two years with hard labour from which Everett is now suffering is solely for refusing to go against his conscience. He is fighting the old fight for liberty against religious persecution in the same spirit in which martyrs suffered in the past. Will you join the persecutors or will you stand for those who are defending conscience?A considerable number of persons, some in the neighbourhood from which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary (Mr. Brace) comes, in South Wales, are at this moment in prison, not for having published this leaflet but for having circulated it. I called the attention to the Home Secretary the other evening to a prosecution for the distribution of this leaflet, which took place at a place called Cefn in Glamorganshire. There were certain features at the trial which I think in a measure apply to one part of the speech of the Home Secretary, who asked somewhat triumphantly why, when objectors were interned without trial, we protest, and when they were brought before the Court we also protest? We protest because of the constitution of the Court, very often, and the unfairness of the trial which is given to these men. I have sent to the Home Secretary a full report of this particular case, and I am quite sure that there is no one in this House who, on reading the case, would say that there was produced in the Court one scrap of evidence to prove that the leaflet either had caused disaffection or was likely to cause disaffection. And these two school teachers were fined £10 and, not as an alternative, given a month's imprisonment. The Chairman of the Court said:I do not know if the sentence will carry hard labour, but if it does it must be hard labour.Who was the Chairman of the Police Court? He was a member of the tribunal 3008 before which these two young men had been applying for exemption as conscientious objectors. Was that a fair trial? Was that justice? Prosecutions under this leaflet are taking place in all parts of the country.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes. Just before I came to this House the Home Office had mustered up courage to start a prosecution against a man who occupies a position somewhat more prominent than those to whom the Home Office have hitherto confined their attention. I have another matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the Home Secretary. It is of importance because of the latest Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act, to which I have already called attention. Application was made to the Press Bureau two or three weeks ago to permit the publication of a summary of cases which had been before the tribunal, in which the decision of the tribunals had not been in accordance either with the law or with the instructions and Regulations. It was a perfectly bald statement from beginning to end. There was not one word of comment. It simply gave a list of the tribunals which had not acted in accordance with the law or the Regulations. The printer, without the knowledge of those who published the leaflet, sent it to the Press Bureau. The Press Bureau sent back word that it could not be published. A further application was made. The Press Bureau was asked if they would permit the circulation of the records among Members of Parliament, and it wrote back that that would not be permitted because it would not be a private circulation of the pamphlet under Regulation 27 of the Defence of the Realm Act. It would be the record of these cases and therefore would be illegal. I must say that I was so astounded when these letters were put into my hands that I at once came to the conclusion that it was some office boy in the Press Bureau who had had this matter in hand, and I could not for a single moment believe that the Home Secretary would approve of it when his attention was called to the matter. On the 18th May I asked the Home Secretary:If the Press Bureau has prohibited the publication of a record of decisions of the tribunals under the Military Service Act, 1916, which are not in accord with the law and the instructions, and if they have further prohibited any record being published for the information of Members 3009 of Parliament, stating that such a record would be a criticism of tribunals likely to cause disaffection?The Home Secretary said:The Press Bureau, in the exercise of their discretion, considered that the effect of the pamphlet would be not merely to draw attention to alleged defects in the administration of the Military Service Act, but to stimulate resistance to its operations, since it fell within Regulation 27 and its circulation in any form could not be sanctioned.According to the Home Secretary we can be put in prison if we offer any criticism at all of the decision of the tribunal however scandalous or outrageous it may be. May I find further scope for the activity of the Home Office? I have in my hand a pamphlet, and copies of it are in the possession of a great many others. I defy the Home Secretary to prosecute me for having that pamphlet in my possession. May I inform the Home Secretary that we have published, I believe, hundreds of thousands of copies of the report of two speeches I made in this House, criticising the action of the tribunals, and no attempt has been made by the Home Secretary to get a prosecution of that, because, I suppose, my name is associated with it. It has been a feature of the Home Office action that they have hesitated to attack cerain persons, and the prosecutions in the main have been against humble and poor people. I wish to say a word about the suppression of pamphlets, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, and also about the suppression by the police of the report of a speech delivered in this House by me on the Finance Bill. The pamphlet contained not only a report of my speech, but the report of the speech of the present Minister of Munitions, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Lloyd George), and I presume he made the speech that was suppressed by the right hon. Gentleman. I am going now to call attention to the Home Secretary's reply in regard to the prosecutions at Salford and in London. The Home Secretary said, I think quite inaccurately, and he cannot be aware of the facts, that the prosecution at Salford was started by the police, and was purely a local prosecution.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
That is why I said the right hon. Gentleman could not be aware of the facts. For his information, I may state that the raid took place at Manchester at the same time that the raid took place on the premises of the Independent 3010 Labour Party in London, and that is primâ facie evidence that both were acting under instructions. The prosecution in Manchester took place almost at once. Some two months or more elapsed before proceedings were instituted in London. The reply of the Home Secretary leaves completely untouched our point, as to a purely local decision here in London operating throughout the country. The Home Secretary was wrong in his facts, too, in regard to the appeal on suppressing the Independent Labour Party's pamphlet. No appeal was made at all in regard to any Independent Labour Party matter; the only appeal was one made by the author of a pamphlet which was seized, and which was the author's own private pamphlet.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
My hon. Friend pointed out that the author of the private pamphlet was not defended. With regard to the pamphlets which have been seized throughout all parts of the country, not one of these has been brought before the Court at all. The police have acted by threats, and by the seizure of phamplets, without any legal authority whatever
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
There are innumerable cases. I have repeatedly advised the authors of these pamphlets to prosecute the police for theft—for the stealing of these things. I wish the Home Secretary would really make himself a little more familiar with what is being done in different parts of the country.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The instructions given to the police is to keep to those pamphlets which have been condemned by the Court, and we have sent them a list of the pamphlets so condemned. The police authorities, as the hon. Member is quite aware, are not under the control of the Home Office; they are under the control of the local authorities, and they take their orders from the watch committees, and not from the Home Office. We can only suggest to them and give instructions as to pamphlets condemned by the Court, but if the hon. Member will tell me of cases where pamphlets not condemned by the Court have been seized, I should be very glad to take up the matter with the local police, but, so far, I have not had a single case brought before me.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
In regard to the prohibition of meetings I want to say a word bearing out what was observed just now in regard to the selection of cases for prosecution. A woman was prosecuted here in London and given six months' imprisonment under the Defence of the Realm Act for having called attention to what she described as the scandalous treatment of disabled soldiers. In a certain Sunday paper, which I think is called "The Weekly Despatch," there appeared on Sunday a report of her trial on Saturday, and, curiously enough,—I do not know whether it was by design, coincidence, or accident—in a parallel column opposite the report of her trial, and occupying just the same amount of space, was an article headed:The Cruel Scandal of the Soldier Pauper. Twelve Thousand Broken Men Refused Pension Now by an Out-of-Date Royal Warrant. By Will Thorne, M.P.I do not know whether the hon. Member for West Ham is to be prosecuted, but I want to know why a comparatively poor and unknown woman was sent to six months' imprisonment for saying what a Member of Parliament was permitted to say with impunity in the same public print. In regard to the prohibited meetings, we have by questions and by private representations to the Home Office complained of the inactivity of the Department in cases where it was quite plain that there was a deliberate intention to break up the meetings. The attention of the Home Office has been repeatedly called to these things, but I do not know of a single case where they have ever protested to those who were trying to create these disturbances. I have never heard of one case. I went down to Cardiff on one occasion to address a public meeting. It was on a Sunday, and the day before the meeting a handbill, similar to this which I hold in my hand, was distributed by the thousand throughout Cardiff. The handbill reads like this:Men and women of Cardiff, your husbands, sons, brothers, and sweethearts are fighting for you and your country. Will you allow a pro-German, whose own townsmen refused him a hearing—By the way, that is a first-class lie. I have had in my Constituency the largest, the most unanimous, and the most enthusiastic meeting I have ever had. This handbill says:Will you allow a pro-German, whose own townsmen refused him a hearing, to speak at the Cory Town Hall on Sunday night?And then follow words which I am told are Welsh for "Deutscheland Uber Alles."
3012 I want to say a word in reply to the observations of the Home Secretary about the resolution of the Independent Labour Party in their conference. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, I do not agree with that. I was not present at the conference when it was passed, and if I had been there most likely I should have opposed it. But I want the Home Secretary and those who agree with him about that resolution to remember that it is not to be considered as standing alone. It is only part of the general policy of the Independent Labour Party in regard to peace. At the same conference, as part of that resolution it was declared that the Independent Labour Party ought to aim at encouraging workers in all the countries to adopt a policy against war, and that indeed was the best means by which war could be averted in future. I conclude by saying that the reply of the Home Secretary cannot be regarded as satisfactory at all. I, like my hon. Friend, view with dismay this continuous encroachment upon the civil liberties and popular rights of the people. I agree with him, too—and I can speak from my own experience in the matter and from facts which have come to my knowledge every day—that a great many people who in the early days of this War gave unbounded enthusiasm and unquestioned devotion to the prosecution of the War are now beginning to have very serious doubts about it. I want to read to him from a letter I have received these words:I have been a supporter of this War. I do not agree with your attitude on the War, but I am pained and distressed to see how this national crisis is being used for reactionary purposes.Only this morning I had a letter from a soldier who is not a conscript. He enlisted in the early days of the War because he believed in the War. He described to me what happened at Abergele a few days ago, when nine conscientious objectors were taken under armed escort to France, and by instructions of the officers, he said, the band played the Dead March in "Saul" as they passed by, and, as he said, to the disgust of the thousands of soldiers who were there. To use his own words, "I believe in this War experiences like this are making me and other people begin furiously to think." He is not the only man who is beginning furiously to think when he sees these continued encroachments upon the liberties of the people while the country is engaged in a War professedly for the 3013 purpose of bringing what we have been proud to regard as British liberty to the oppressed nationalities of Europe.
§ Sir CHARLES HENRY
I desire to refer to the Return which was issued last week as regards Government Departments and military service. In doing so, let me thank the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for his courtesy in preparing that Return, of which I fully recognise the difficulty. I assure him I do not raise this matter in any captious spirit. I believe he is aware, as other Members are, that there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction, I might almost say resentment, at the large number that were thought to be engaged in different Government Departments who were of military age and available for military service. I think that dissatisfaction will not at all be allayed by the figures of the Return. The belief is that a certain number of men of military age, in order to avoid military service, found occupation in different Government Departments. I would be the last to say that they are not doing their work efficiently and giving good service, but it must be recognised at this time of crisis that every available man should be ready to accept military service, and it does seem incongruous that a certain number of men of military age should have occupation in Government Departments, where they work under favourable conditions, are well paid, and also have overtime, while a large number of people of the same rank have to undergo the hardships of military service. According to the Return on the 1st April, not reckoning the Post Office, the men employed in the different Departments were over 57,000 altogether. Of those of military age there were 11,500 not married, and 15,500 not single. On the outbreak of War there were 27,000 of military age in Government Departments. On the 1st April there were over 20,000, and from those you have to deduct 3,300 who were medically rejected, so that the net result is that, at the time this Return was made, you had of military age 17,300, or 30 per cent. of the total employed. I think that is far too large a percentage.
I know my right hon. Friend may say that of those 17,000 some 2,000 have been notified that they would be released for service, but even allowing for that you have 25 per cent. of the men of military age at present or on the 1st of April in the different Government Departments. Some of the Government Departments have undoubtedly done extraordinarily 3014 well. I think the Post Office is especially to be congratulated that the 80,000 men of military age at the outbreak of war have been reduced to about 31,000. The Post Office is a branch of the service which requires experience, and I venture the opinion that other Departments do not require a greater amount of experience and knowledge of the work than the Post Office. On the other hand some of the Departments must have shown an absolute disregard of the conditions expected from them. I am pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty present, because his is one Department of which I have to complain very strongly. The Admiralty on the 1st of April had a staff of 3,918, and of those 1,873 were of military age, or nearly one half. Let me tell my right hon. Friend how the position stands as regards the War Office. The War Office had 7,600, and on the 1st April there were only 1,200 of military age. Surely I am not going to be told, when the War Office were able to weed out those of military age, that the Admiralty could not have done likewise, if they had taken the trouble. The Munitions Department, out of 4,313, had, on the 1st April, 1,128 of military age. The Home Office, out of 3,199, had, on the 1st April, 1,108 of military age. The Board of Trade, out of 6,406 had, on the 1st April, 2,421 of military age. I would call special attention to the Customs. On the 1st April the Customs had 8,940 men employed, and of these 4,406 were of military age. Another Department with which my right hon. Friend is closely connected is the Inland Revenue. On the 1st April that Department had 5,856, of whom 3,180 were of military age. I am certain that both in the Customs and in the Inland Revenue men, or in many cases women, could have been found to take over the work done by these men of military age.
In reply to a question of mine on Tuesday last the Prime Minister said that a large number of these men were indispensable. I am ready to admit that; but when you have a net figure of over 15,000 men of military age in the different Government Departments, exclusive of the Post Office, I maintain that there should be a combing-out process by which some of them could be made available. My hon. Friend the Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. Markham), at Question Time on Tuesday, suggested that a tribunal should be set up to investigate these cases. I would urge my right hon. Friend to consider that 3015 suggestion. I do not see why Government Departments should be treated differently from other employers. Everybody recognises—I have experienced it in my own business—that it is a great inconvenience to dispense with a lot of these men. But I think it will be admitted that on the whole the nation have responded very well, and, although it has been inconvenient, they have submitted to it. I fully recognise that the heads of the different Departments will suffer inconvenience by having to substitute new hands and perhaps women, but the difficulty is not insurmountable, and every effort should be made to deal with the matter as far as possible. With regard to the tribunal, the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division suggested that it should consist of Members of this House. I would support that suggestion. Half a dozen Members of this House would be able to investigate the conditions and give a fair opinion on whether or not certain men could be dispensed with and replaced. I would make also another suggestion. If these men are released for military service they will have to be replaced. I know—and this must be the experience of many Members—that there are still available a certain number of men beyond military age and women who have not occupation at the present time. I would suggest that a central bureau of all the Government Departments should be set up—a kind of registry office—to which each Department should send a representative. The applicants requiring occupation should apply there, have their qualifications investigated, and be allotted to the Department where they could be utilised to the best effect.
I would not bring forward this matter if I thought I was asking the Government to do something which was undesirable at this juncture, but I am certain that a large number of these men could be released and replaced. There are other services under the Crown in which the same weeding-out process could be performed. In the Anti-aircraft Service, for instance, there are a large number of young men who would be better employed in active military service, and their places taken by men of more advanced age. In the canteen department also a large number of young men are engaged. I know of a case myself, that of a footman of mine, a strong young man of twenty-eight, who applied to the canteen 3016 department not long ago and was taken on, but who ought to have been made available for real active service. I hope my right hon. Friend, now that he has this Return will recognise the state of affairs which exists. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will see to it that the Admiralty make a better show than they do in this Return. He must admit that they come out exceedingly badly—in fact, the worst of all the Government Departments. They have 50 per cent. of young men of military age. The Government rightly ask for equality of sacrifice. I hope the accusation may not be levelled that the Government are not acting in a practical manner, so that equality of sacrifice may appertain to all classes of the community.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I explained to the House on the 15th May the steps which we have taken to secure that, as far as possible, our certificate of exemption should cover only men who are absolutely indispensable. I explained that last December we divided all our employés of military age and physically fit into three classes. I am sorry my hon. Friend was not here; if he had been I do not think he would have made the remarks he has to-day. First of all, we took those who could be spared and replaced by women or by men over military age; secondly, those who could be spared, but with great difficulty, which difficulty might be removed as time went on when others had been taken in to learn their work—a proposal which I think my hon. Friend supports; and, finally, those who are absolutely indispensable. The whole of those in Class (a) who had not attested were replaced early this year by women or by men ineligible for military service. Those who attested remained until they were called up. Those included in Class (b) are, as far as possible, moved up into Class (a) and we review the list from time to time with great care. I gave an illustration, which I will repeat—that of the Accountant-General's Department, which is concerned with the handling of very large sums of public money. That Department before the War numbered about 430 persons. One-fourth of those have gone. We have since the War entered 2,124 new persons, of whom nearly 500 are women, so that to-day, with the responsibility for these millions, the Accountant-General has got a staff of 3017 whom 20 per cent. only are the old prewar hands. I do think, having regard to the great responsibility, that we have knocked that down—I do not entirely say as far as we might have done—but very considerably. I should like to make a comment on my right hon. Friend's comparison between the Admiralty procedure and that of the War Office. I am not criticising the War Office—not at all; but I do not think—with great respect—that my hon. Friend quite understands the situation. I think if he will look into the matter he will see—at any rate he can take it from me—that the Return in his hand has clearly not been prepared on the same basis. We exclude all our messengers, all men of over military age, mostly naval pensioners. My hon. Friend, if he will look into the Return, will see that the War Office has included in the grand total persons employed as messengers, whom we have excluded.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That is not the most important thing. But we have, naturally, in the Admiralty large numbers of civilian naval constructors and draftsmen employed on work which has no counterpart in the case of the Army. Again, take the Quartermaster-General's Department at the War Office. It includes all sections of directors of supplies and transports, equipment, ordnance stores—work generally performed by soldiers, and not in that return. The corresponding work is done for us by the director of stores, the director of victualling, and the director of transport—all mainly done by civilians. Therefore the things are not altogether comparable. There is the Department to which I have referred—the great Department of the Accountant-General. All that work, generally speaking, at the War Office is done by the Army Pay Department, by soldiers. It is done in our case by civilians.
On the whole proposition I would like to say this: I am strongly of opinion—I think my hon. Friend knows this—there is every reason that he should!—that a badge of departmental exemption must not be used except to cover absolutely indispensability. I cannot put the matter stronger than that. It is assumed—this, I gather, is the mistake my hon. Friend makes—that a young fellow of military age and physically fit is necessarily best serving his country with the Fleet or with the Colours. It does not always follow. There 3018 may be some young men of military age and physically fit who can serve their country better in the particular work they do at this time in the Admiralty or the War Office than by being with the Fleet or with the Colours. Subject to that proviso, I most cordially repeat—certainly these young men themselves do not want it, and I know them very intimately—they do not want the badge to be a shelter behind which they may be screened from their proper duty at this time. I can say one thing further. I have never lectured this House, goodness knows! and I shall not begin now—I am too old—but it is a little inconsiderate on the part of Members to clamour for the release of every fit man from a Department, no matter how invaluable he may be, and then, at the same time, to complain, as is sometimes complained—I do not see any particular objection to it myself; it is useful, and keeps us up to the mark!—that the departmental machinery is not running with that automatic smoothness and precision which is comprised in the word "perfect." You cannot have it both ways. I do hope my hon. Friend will forgive me when I put this point on this clamour for the release of these highly experienced persons who, if they go, will be a loss to us. If they are combed out, hon. Members must not complain if the machine does not run with that expedition, celerity, and perfection which is desirable at this time.
§ Mr. CURRIE
There is another matter to which I should like to call the attention of the Government. At a time like this, when the Government is engaged in raising large sums of money, it is, of course, desirable there should be every feeling of mutual confidence between those who wish to receive the money and those who are to lend. In some respects, minor, but still important, I am afraid that in Scotland we are still convinced that a good deal remains to be done by the Treasury. I do not know that the Government or the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary is in the least likely to be lacking in sympathy, because I remember only a little while ago he gave us in the Finance Bill a reform which we have been asking for in Scotland for some time. At the same time the authorities of the Army and Navy did what was in their power to relieve the estates of officers and men of the fighting forces who died on service in connection with certain Government duties. The Solicitor-General 3019 only the other day brushed aside in the Patent Office the treatment we had been receiving in Scotland, and in the current Finance Act the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken a further step forward. These concessions only encourage me to think that the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to give some attention to the points which still remain to be dealt with. What I complain about is rather the general attitude of the Government bankers—that is, the Bank of England— towards those parties in Scotland who from time to time are obliged to resort to it for the transaction of financial business, and in particular in connection with their management of Government loans.
I propose to give the right hon. Gentleman some evidence upon three or four points which, I think, will satisfy him that the case is fairly built up in a credible way. I impress upon him that the matter is of some consequence because he must shortly be engaged in more borrowing operations of the same kind. I am anxious that these obstacles should be taken out of the way of Scottish investors, so that their very best and fullest efforts may be made available for his purpose. I can assure him that down to to-day that has scarcely been the case. If my right hon. Friend will refer to the Lord Advocate he would find that his advice was that it is well-established Scottish law that a father is entitled to deal with the estate of his children, that he is what is called the curator of his children's estate. My right hon. Friend remembers that I sent him, a few weeks ago, a copy of correspondence which took place between Mr. McClure in Scotland and the Bank of England, and as I am anxious not to submit any evidence the quality of which can for a moment be called in question, I would remind my hon. Friend that Mr. McClure is a sheriff of one of the counties of Scotland, the director of one of our leading banks and of one of our oldest insurance companies. His evidence, therefore, is en titled to credence. The correspondence amounts to this—I will put it as briefly as I possibly can—
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Montagu)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to ask you if you will be good enough to give Us your guidance in this matter: My hon. Friend has been associated for some time with the cause of getting reforms of the banking laws in Scotland. He is going to 3020 refer to correspondence in which he has been urging presure to pass legislation to alter the provisions of the National Debt. I have always understood that on the Motion for the Adjournment this was not in order. Before my hon. Friend goes on with his illustrations, I shall be glad to know if we may discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the legislation he proposes?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. This is not the opportunity for discussing amendments of legislation. This is the opportunity for discussing administration. If the hon. Member has any criticisms to make of the Treasury and the Bank of England in this matter, he is, of course, entitled to make them, but suggested amendments of legislation cannot be made now.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I think all I am going to say now bears upon administration. I certainly myself do not conceive, and I certainly am not so advised, that legislation is necessary to bring about what I do wish to bring about. On that footing, perhaps, I may proceed. I was on the point of giving the right hon. Gentleman and the House, briefly, the gist of the correspondence that passed between Sheriff McClure and the bank. Mr. McClure, as curator of one of his children, and being anxious to support Government loans, invested a small amount of money of his daughter's in War Loan, and the next thing he heard from the bank was that neither this stock nor the dividend could be dealt with by anyone until twelve or thirteen years hence. Mr. McClure rejoined that neither the Act nor the prospectus gave any notice of this, and the bank replied that, in the circumstances, they were willing to oblige Mr. McClure as a favour. He replied inquiring whether this was under English law or as an act of grace by the bank. The bank's reply was that Mr. McClure, if not satisfied to avail himself of their offer, might raise Chancery proceedings—a thing certainly he would not dream of doing for the sake of a quarterly dividend amounting to about twenty-two shillings. He closed the correspondence by acknowledging the bank's courtesy and trouble, and added that its correspondence had only made more manifest the absurd disabilities of a Scottish subscriber to a national loan. When the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was drawn to the correspondence, he replied that he thought the action of 3021 the bank was entirely satisfactory. He reminded me—his letter was addressed to me—that the bank's practice as registrars of stock is regulated by the National Debt Acts, and not by laws which may prevail with regard to property in Scotland. As an explanation of the actual attitude, in face of the existing regulations of the bank, the position may be, as the Chancellor said, satisfactory, but, as a matter of business, it is entirely unsatisfactory to investors in Scotland to have these obstacles placed in their way, and I suggest that the Bank of England is not under any obligation to press these disadvantages against us, but that they have ample power to refrain from doing so.
What I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is, not that he passes more Acts of Parliament, but that he uses influence with his own bankers to act more reason ably with investors in Scotland who wish to put their money into his loans. Another point which, we think, is a hardship to us in Scotland is the attitude of the Bank of England in declining to accept as evidence of facts therein set forth extracts from the books of Council>and Session in Scotland. These extracts from official records, kept under the supervision of the Supreme Court in Scotland, are regarded by us as the best evidence we can obtain. My attention was called some time ago by a firm of Glasgow solicitors, Messrs. Robb and Crosbie, one of the busiest legal firms in Scotland, that they were put to great inconvenience through the refusal of the Bank of England to accept such an extract. I do not think there is another bank in England which refuses such an extract as evidence. The extract had been accepted by the Great Central Railway Company, the Imperial Tobacco Company, the British-American Tobacco Company, the English Sewing Cotton Company, Limited, and so on, but yet the Bank of England declines to accept such an extract. I understand the reason underlying the bank's action is that, being an extract, the document does not always contain the original signature. I do not suggest for a moment that the Bank of England, or any other bank, is acting unreasonably in asking for duplicates of original signatures, but I do not see what necessary connection there is between the point of requiring an original signature and that of declining an extract. There, again, the bank takes up a line it is not bound to take up, and which we regard as a considerable obstacle.
3022 Another point on which, I think, the Bank of England places really unnecessary difficulties in the way of Scottish investors is this, and here my evidence is furnished by the well-known firm of Messrs. Davidson and Syme, a firm associated for many years in Scotland with large interests and familiar with these matters. They complained that the Bank of England can at once pass a transfer by power of attorney, and yet took ten days to pass an ordinary transfer. That appears to me unnecessary. It is regarded by responsible people, such as the writers of this letter, as an obstacle, and there again I think it is in the power of the Bank of England, if so disposed, to remove this difficulty. I drew the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer some months ago to the action of the Bank of England in another rather similar matter. The case was one where a Scotsman, the owner of Consols, was unfortunately paralysed and unable to make a mark, much less to sign his name. According to the law of Scotland, I understand it is perfectly competent, and it is the prescribed thing to do, to have a signature notarially executed—that is, the notary signs for the man who cannot even make a mark. In this case an application in notarial form was made to the Bank of England on a printed form, which exists for the purpose, that the owner's dividend should be paid by the Bank. The Bank rejoined that they would not do so, but insisted upon execution of the signature by mark—a process not known to the law of Scotland. If the Bank of England could make the blind to see or the lame to walk I could understand their asking a paralysed man to make a mark, but where a man is paralysed he cannot make a mark. That is an illustration of the spirit in which every professional man in Scotland has learnt by bitter experience he is treated by the Bank of England, and there again the action of the Bank of England is not one which it is forced to take under any law.
There is a further point. From time to time it is necessary to prove to the Bank of England the death of a particular party. One would think, in all conscience, that if you produced to the Bank of England, or anyone else, an official certificate of death, signed by one of the registrars appointed for the purpose of granting such documents, that was enough. And so it is enough for everybody except the Bank of England, but the Bank of England have a habit of demanding production of other 3023 documents, which do not make it more certain that So-and-so is dead and simply cause further expense and irritation. One of their habits is to demand the exhibition, not merely of a certificate of death, but the certificate that So-and-so has been safely buried. What can it matter to the Bank of England whether a man who is registered in their books as dead is buried or not? What more can they want? Why should they trouble us with requisitions of this kind? One more point. In Scotland, if anyone dies leaving English estate, it is necessary to reseal the confirmation of his estate. Here, perhaps, I am scarcely in order, but this is what Sir George Paul, the head of the legal profession in Scotland, has publicly described as a vain formality. I do not regard the right hon. Gentleman as being bound to defend the Bank of England in this matter, nor is he unwilling to listen to representations, but these are obstacles which, I think, it is in his power to remove. I think by submitting this evidence I shall have succeeded in satisfying the right hon. Gentleman that there is some foundation for the feeling that unnecessary obstacles are put in the way of Scotsmen who are not only willing but anxious to support all the Government Loans he floats. I suggest he should take some means or other of having those disadvantage and disabilities, as we regard them, removed, and I would be glad to hear if he will do anything towards that end.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I am anxious to support the hon. Member for Shropshire (Sir O. Henry) on the questions he raised relating to the Civil Service and military age. The Secretary to the Admiralty, in his cheery way, said that criticism keeps Government Departments up to the mark. The improvement which has taken place since the beginning of the War in combing out Civil servants of military age in our different Government offices is largely owing to criticisms made in this House, and the hon. Member for Shropshire is deserving of our thanks for bringing these matters forward, and for having managed to get this return of the exact number of those who are employed in Government offices. A very limited number of men of military age can serve their country better here than in the Army or Navy, and for that reason I never attack the Admiralty because they stand on a different basis than any other Government office. They have a very large amount of work done by 3024 civilians on their behalf which is really of a naval or military character. For instance, a really good designer of battleships is doing more useful work in that capacity than if he was serving as a common soldier in the trenches. As regards Government offices of an entirely peaceful nature, such as the Local Government Board and the Board of Education, they stand on a different basis, and the combing out there has been very slow. There is a great deal of difference in this respect to-day as compared with the state of things when we brought this matter before the House some six months ago. At that time the President for the Local Government Board rather resented the suggestion that the work in that office could be done by men over military age. But since then a great number have been taken from the Local Government Board. The slowness in dealing with these cases in Government offices has had a bad effect in the country, and many people have addressed to me various questions on this matter. The hon. Member for Shropshire has done a good deal to bring about this change, but I felt that I ought to say something in support of what he has said. I acknowledge that matters are far better than they were six months ago, but the figures we have before us still show that there is a large margin for carrying the process of combing out a good deal further than it has gone at the present time. With regard to the Expeditionary Force canteens, they are worked on behalf of the Government through contractors, and I understand that the profits go to assist the soldiers. Many of the men serving in the canteens are of military age, and they are paid better wages than the soldiers, and are allowed to go about in khaki. They really are civilians in uniforms, and not soldiers at all. There is a good deal of feeling amongst people who know these men, because they are getting better wages than the soldiers, and are allowed to go about in uniform, although they are doing ordinary civilian duties.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
In regard to the point which has been raised by the last speaker, it refers to a military matter, and I will convey it to the representative of the War Office. I will confine myself to the questions raised in regard to the Bank of England and the Civil Service. As regards the Bank of England, I think it is indisputable that it is the services rendered to the Government through the Bank of England which alone have made the carrying on of 3025 this War possible, assisted by a lot of the most influential people in the City who have been working through sheer patriotism, for which I am sure we are all ready to express our gratitude. My hon. Friend has a knowledge of Scottish law which he will forgive me saying that I never, in my moments of greatest audacity, ventured to think I could cope with, and from the large amount of correspondence which he has had, and from his knowledge of the dark practices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, he comes down here from time to time and suggests to benighted Englishmen that we should do something in England because it is done out in Scotland, and he points to the venerable Bank in Thread-needle Street and says, "You ought to act there according to the practice of the Scottish law." The Bank of England refuses to break the Statutes under which it acts because of advice which it receives from Scotland. I do not dispute what has been said about the Scottish law, but what I say is that the Bank of England does its best under the English law.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
A National Loan is a British matter governed by the British law, and if the hon. Member wants an alteration of the laws relating to minors and their holding of stocks he must get the Government to alter the Act of 1892. The hon. Member went on to talk about extracts taken from judicial factors.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The two Clauses in the Finance Bill show how anxious the right hon. Gentleman is to help me. At present I am dealing with quite another matter altogether, and I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman did not quite follow what I said. I stated that when you wished to prove certain facts and circumstances the best evidence in Scotland is the extract registered deed from the records kept for the Supreme Court in Scotland. I think the Bank of England has power to accept them, but they will not do so, and they want original signatures.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I do not mean it offensively when I say that in so far as my 3026 hon. Friend is in order he is unintelligible, and in so far as he is intelligible I submit that he is out of order.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I had the pleasure of consulting my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate just now whilst the hon. Member was speaking, and I said to him, "Is he not referring to the very matters dealt with in the Finance Bill of this year?"
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I will, however, consider this matter again with such local and legal advice as I can get from the Lord Advocate and other persons versed in these matters, and see if I can get any further improvement in administration, such as the hon. Gentleman desires. I now turn to the other subject which has been raised. Both my hon. Friends who spoke acknowledged that what they called an improvement had taken place. I hope that the House will not lose sight of one fact. It ought to be remembered that the Civil servant who becomes a soldier is the most expensive soldier we can recruit. I do not say that is a conclusive or final reason for not recruiting him, but he is very expensive. You have to guarantee under a decision come to at the commencement of the War, and under which all Civil servants have joined the Army, that he loses nothing by going. The Government desired to set an example to private employers and suggested that the difference between the military pay and civil pay should be made up. Therefore, when a Civil servant getting £600, £800, or £1,000 a year goes to the front as a private, you have to pay the difference between a private's pay and his pay as a Civil servant and also in many cases to find a substitute of non-military age to do his work whilst he is away. You may get an extra man for the Army, but you certainly get as expensive a man as you can possibly find, and I think that fact ought not to be lost sight of.
I would also remind the House further that you cannot wage this War by soldiers and sailors alone—a delusion into which I am sure no hon. Member will fall. I 3027 heard my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Rawlinson), by a slip of the tongue, refer to the Board of Trade as a peace Department. The whole energies of the Board of Trade to-day are directed towards the conduct of the War. The question of trading licences, the increasing of our exports, and the controlling of our imports are all questions almost as vital to the conduct of the War as the actions going on in the trenches. I would remind my hon. Friends, however, of the fact that the military men in the Board of Trade have been reduced, I think, to something nearly half since the commencement of the War. When I come to the Departments for which I am more directly responsible, the Customs and Inland Revenue, I would remind hon. Members, and particularly my hon. and learned Friend opposite, that when a mistake is made in the administration of the Income Tax, when there are delays in collection, when collections are made at different times in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or London, when something is not explained to the taxpayer, or when something is not printed on the back of the demand notes, the overburdened taxpayer and his representative in this House are, quite rightly, the first to complain. If the House will only consider the alterations that have been made in our taxes since the beginning of the War, the new taxes, and the vast revenue which we are now getting out of the Excess Profits Tax, I think they will agree that the adaptation which the Customs and Inland Revenue have shown to the new circumstances is little short of remarkable.
I will only give the House one figure. We have increased the yield of taxation by something over £300,000,000 a year, and at the same time we have reduced the staff of collectors by no less than 3,500. You cannot take men who have been trained as tax collectors and surveyors of taxes and who have done the work and who know it from beginning to end and suddenly substitute women, or people who have never seen it before. Wherever women can be substituted, women have been substituted and are being substituted. There was only a case the other day in which my hon. Friend the member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) asked me a question about the Customs. He pointed out that in certain branches of the national service people have been allowed to go and in others they have not been allowed to go. He complained of three men who had not been exempted by the Customs, although ex- 3028 empted by the tribunals, whilst other men had been exempted by the Customs and had never gone before the tribunals at all. That is exactly what must happen in a complicated Department. Some men can be spared, but others are required to carry on continuously the complicated mechanism of the collection of taxes and the watching of the imports of this country. All our watching of enemy trade on these shores is done by means of Customs officers, and the pension and separation allowance work has been largely done by Customs officers, in addition to all their regular peace work.
When you come to the higher grade Civil servant, it is a wise rule to make that the permanent head of the Department shall be the man who shall decide how many of the staff he can spare. I do not mean to say that the political head shirks or refuses the responsibility, but the political head is a transient person, while the permanent head has grown up in the office, knows what the office work is, and knows the individual. I can think now of a man of military age in my own Department who is anxious to go to the War, and who has asked several times to be spared, but I would take anybody through the Treasury and show him the work which that man has done and is doing, work based upon a knowledge of all the intricate provisions of war finance since the War started, and I do not believe that there is a single Member of this House who would no say that it was bad economy and sheer folly to let that man go. There are hundreds of such men. What we have done is to rely in the first instance on the head of the Department himself, and in the second place on his political chief or representative.
In November, 1915, the Treasury, as responsible for the Civil Service, sent to the heads of every Department in the State a circular in which they urged them to set free for military duties as many civil employés as possible; we asked them to postpone all unessential work; we asked them to rearrange the duties; we asked them to employ temporary substitutes not of military age, and we asked them, where possible, to replace male by female labour. We have done that, and we have been constantly in communication and in consultation with the heads of the different Departments. We have done our best, because everyone wants to do it, to spare men for the Navy and for the Army. What I do not think the House ought to ask us 3029 to do, however, is to impair the efficiency of work which must be done by sending more men than we can afford to send. It very often happens that there have been cases in which a Department has sent too many, and they have then found that they have actually to replace them by men of military age, because there were no women and no older men available. I can assure the House that they are urging this matter upon men who are only too anxious to work in the same direction, and if my hon. Friend is not satisfied with what I have said about my Department—I have no control over the others—I have merely acted for them in comparing the figures, and the House will always find that where there is a piece of work which nobody is particularly anxious to do it falls on the Secretary for the Treasury, and that is my only locus standiin this—if he will come to the Customs or to the Board of Inland Revenue, I am perfectly certain the Chairman will be most willing to go through the lists of employés with him, or any other Member, and will be willing to try and take his advice as to any alteration in the numbers which he may think fit to recommend. I do not think the proposal of a tribunal consisting of Members of this House is a good one. I do submit that this House should confine itself to the work which it does so adequately, and that it should not attempt administration if it has not the knowledge. It is not really a true analogy to say, "I am a man of business in the City. I have to carry on my work with an inadequate staff, and there is a Government Office that is allowed to keep men at its own discretion without having to have its cases tried before the tribunal." These men are working for the State, not for private profit. They are working for the State, for the King, for the Government, for the Public, in order to do work that is essential for the profit of the country, and for carrying on the War. It is not, therefore, an alternative of work for private profit or work for the State. It is a question of one kind of work for the State or another kind of work for the State, and not to realise that is to enter upon an argument that cannot be substantiated.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I want to draw the attention of the House to the dissatisfaction, or it may be, and I hope it is, the misunderstanding that is growing up between industry and labour on the one hand in this country to-day, and the 3030 Board of Trade, and the administration of the Board of Trade, on the other. I recognise that one can only gain any satisfaction at the present time in a matter like this by confining oneself to those aspects of the matter which do reasonably appear to be urgent and to require attention at the present moment. We all, especially myself, this afternoon deeply regret the enforced absence of the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Runciman). If one does not always agree with some of the principles of his administration, one always recognises his sincerity of purpose and the energy and attention which he has always given to his very much overworked Department. He made two very important and impressive speeches on the subject of industry and labour after the War. The first was on the Motion for Adjournment last December, and the second one was on the 10th of January of this year. I refer to the subject because the right hon. Gentleman dealt at some great length with this problem and in a manner which created in the minds, I think, of all people, and especially the commercial people of this country, very great hopes as to the progressive foresight that he was going to exhibit and act upon from that moment onwards for the advantage of industry, production and labour, in this country, the moment that peace comes to be signed. I am not going to trouble the House with a number of very interesting quotations of his, but he laid down three important points about which commercial men right through this country are feeling a good deal anxious at the present time. He admitted frankly the necessity for a change. We never could in this country allow Germany, German commerce, that is, to get its head up and carry on the same activity when the War is over; and he did admit the urgency of many aspects of this problem calling for attention now, and possible decision at a very early date, and before peace was declared. Lastly, he did assure the House that for his part, 'and for the Board of Trade, they were. most actively doing everything that they possibly could in that direction. I am raising this matter this afternoon because I feel—and I find so many other people in the country today are beginning adversely to criticise the Board of Trade, and the President, after the hopes he has held out to criticise the present administration, and to feel a little anxious as to the progress they are making, and whether after all there is 3031 going to be too much of the policy of laissez faire, or of leaving things to take care of themselves.
Since the second of these two speeches we have had the Report of the Sub-Committee to inquire into trade after the War, to which a good deal of reference has been made in this House during the last two or three months. It is quite true, the Board of Trade have told us, that whatever might be the recommendations of that Sub-Committee it related only to a very few trades. That is quite correct, and it must, therefore, be too incomplete to enable the Government at present to give particular attention to them. I admit this: that even if it had been more complete this problem has to wait, undoubtedly, until after the Paris Conference, until after the Government and the Board of Trade have had sufficient opportunity of giving the very fullest consideration to the problem as a whole, both with relation to the Paris Conference and in relation to the representations and the recommendations made by the Committees which the Board of Trade themselves appoint. I do, however, fear from the rate of progress which is going on in this matter that, as this Sub-Committee is incomplete—because it only touches, I think, twelve branches of industry, while we talk about their being something like a 1,000 branches of industry—if so far we have only Committees dealing with twelve of those branches, how long is it going to take the Board of Trade to make such inquiry as they desire into the enormous number of branches which so far have not been touched? I quite admit, and it is well-known to this House, that other Committees have recently been appointed which are going to look into some of the most important and the largest of those industries, but I do desire to impress on my hon. Friend my own opinion, and the opinion which I hear so many people express outside in the industrial world, that the Board of Trade appear to be too slow at the present time, and that they are not tackling the subject as fully and as widely as it is necessary to do if we are to be prepared to gather the fruits of victory when that happy time comes.
Then there is a good deal of ill-feeling with regard to the formation of these Committees. I can quite understand leading industrial men who are not invited to the Board of Trade feeling that they are the only people in the country fitted to 3032 advise the Government, and being very sore that others are elected in their place. Whether it is sure or not, however, that these Committees are well formed, that they are really representative, that you have the best men available appointed on them, and that they represent the various phases, such as, for the sake of argument, the fiscal phase, of a particular trade—whether that be so or not, there must be something wrong, I think, when we have responsible journals like—I take the "Morning Post" as an illustration, which frankly stated a couple of days ago that these Committees are packed Committees. In this country during war-time if a London paper of the standing of the "Morning Post" can make a criticism like that, and it is not correct, it is of sufficient importance for the Government to give attention to the matter, because if they do not the public, whether they are justified or not, will conclude that the accusation is true, and that these Committees are packed with juries appointed to deal with the subject from the point of view the Government desire. If there is any truth in it, my hon. Friend will agree with me that the sooner attention is given to the manner in which these Committees are formed the better. We find in the case of the Iron Committee and the Textile Committee that many associations of those trades in the country have discussed the formation of these Committees and have expressed very great dissatisfaction with them. It is most unfortunate that there should be this feeling, because when the Committees report, what does the Government want more than that those engaged in the iron or textile industry should have confidence in the report and shall subsequently feel confidence in whatever decision to which the Government may come with regard to that trade when the War is over and in any steps that the Government may think it necessary to take in order to properly protect the interests of that particular trade?
I pass from that to another very important matter about which I personally feel very anxious indeed. My fears may be ill-founded. I hope they are. The matter is intimately bound up with any good action the Government may take when peace is declared. The question is that of the power of the Germans, and especially German financiers, over our industries themselves, and even over Government Departments. I feel more confidence in raising this matter, because 3033 most people recognise that the Germans did organise industry in this and other countries with the express idea of using it for political purposes—a practice which has operated enormously to the detriment of this and other countries.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. COOPER
There is not a Member of this House who would suggest for a moment that the Government should not at some suitable date—I do not put it as so pressing now—eradicate that power for the future so that it may never weaken our self-defence in the manner it has done in the past. I find a journal like the "Daily News," which I have always regarded as being the leading journal of the laissez faire policy, the policy of letting trade look after itself, writing very strongly on this subject. In a leading article on 29th February, 1916, they said:Nor can there be any doubt that measures will have to be taken to prevent German trade methods permeating the Allied countries. We have made the discovery that German trade is largely a political instrument, used to undermine the foundations of friendly Powers.When we move from that general aspect of what I call the German octopus to that of national finance as well as national trade I cannot forget one of the most important admissions ever made since the War broke out by any Minister or responsible representative of the Government, namely, the explanation given by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who at that time was Home Secretary, on the 26th November, 1914, with regard to Baron Schroëder, whose son at the outbreak of war went to fight in the German Army. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that the Government had had to naturalise Baron Schroëder on the 7th August because if they had not done so grave financial consequences would have happened in the City of London. What an awful indignity it is for the heart of this great Empire that within the first week of the War we had to take to our bosom one of the most powerful friends of the German Emperor and one who to-day owes him allegiance according to German law. That had to be done for our protection to safeguard the finances in the heart of the British Empire. There is a large number of cases, not so important as that, but all of a similar nature in connection with one or other of these numerous powerful German financiers.
3034 Dealing specially with the Board of Trade, I must make reference to the fact that our Government, at the beginning of the War—it might have been right, but I am bound to point it out—had to appoint a man of German blood to buy our sugar. It is a coincidence which must not be lost sight of, that although we have purchased enormous quantities of sugar from Java, it has cost us in this country, the Government and people, 1½d. a pound more than a much smaller quantity of sugar bought from Java by the Queensland Government of Australia. We are paying, right through, 1½d. a pound more than the people of Queensland are paying, and the annual consumption in this country amounts to a total loss, if you compare the price Queensland is paying with what we are paying, of about £25,000,000. I mention that because it is a curious fact that the Government had to employ a man of German blood to purchase sugar. We do not forget the timber contract, and many similar cases, where people of German sympathies or birth, or of enemy birth, have been selected for very responsible posts.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I referred to sugar bought from Java by both the British and the Queensland Governments. The price we are paying is 5½d., and the price they are paying in Queensland is 3½d.
§ Sir R. COOPER
Yes. The difference between 5½d. and 3½d. is 2d., and I observed that we were paying 1½d. more. The odd halfpenny represents the difference in the taxation of the two countries.
I want to bring in here a matter which has rather bothered me the last few days over another person connected with the Board of Trade who, I alleged on very good authority given to me, is also of foreign birth. I asked a question on Tuesday with regard to a Mr. Robbins, and I wanted to know from the President of the Board of Trade what position this gentleman occupied, what nationality he was, and so on. The reply I got from my hon. Friend was that this matter was one for the Foreign Office. I do not see the 3035 analogy at all. The Board of Trade does or does not employ in some form or another, as adviser I think, or it may be in connection with some committee, a gentleman of the name of Robbins, and I am told this is a matter for the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I have had no notice of this matter, and it is absolutely impossible for me to answer a domestic question of that kind in regard to a particular individual. My hon. Friend has sent me notice of certain matters that he wished to raise and I will endeavour to reply to them, but I cannot answer without notice.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am sorry. I will do anything to oblige my hon. Friend. All I want is to try and get the right side of some of these matters. This was Question 76 on the Paper on Tuesday. It has been before the Department and I have got no answer to it, and the question and answer are not in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I was talking about the German element. This Mr. Robbins, I allege, was born in the name of Rubinstein, and is a partner of Feuer, of Berlin, in the Welsbach Gas Mantle Company, and he has a very responsible and powerful position at the Board of Trade in advising them on the importation of gas mantles. There is one case which has been brought to my notice, and in which I have seen the papers, where gas mantles which were made in Holland, and have been for a number of years, arrived in the Thames on the 5th November last and were held up, so it is alleged, by this Mr. Robbins until 7th April this year, when all the winter season had gone and the mantles were of comparatively little value to what they would have been. They were held up all that time while the adviser to the Board of Trade advised the Board of Trade presumably not to give the necessary permit for the goods to be brought in. At any rate there they were waiting in the Thames all those months for a permit to come in. With regard to these allegations that I make, and these questions in the House from time to time of naturalised Germans and the power that many of them appear to have, both in trade and in the administration of the State, now is the only time that the Government can hope safely to get rid of the German octopus, if ever they are going to do it. I think we all feel that we want, as far as we can, to make Britain first and foremost a country for 3036 the British people. We realise to-day to what an extent the Germans got a grip of the country, and it is no use waiting until peace is declared and then thinking what steps we shall take in order to rid ourselves of them. In his speech of 10th January the President of the Board of Trade, practically and perfectly rightly, demands that this power of the Germans ought to be eradicated as far as it possibly can be.
Turning from that to the next matter, there are the opportunities we are losing to-day whilst the War is on, of doing something practical and something valuable for British industry as well as for British labour when the War is over. I will not make any further reference to the Report which we have had from that Sub-Committee, but it tends to show unmistakably things which can be done at the present moment. I want especially to draw attention to the great gulf that appears to exist to-day between the Board of Trade on the one hand and the chambers of commerce of the country on the other. I have practically no connection with the chambers of commerce, so that I have not been prompted in any way to take this matter up, but we have the Associated Chambers of Commerce passing resolutions, especially at that conference in February last, there is great activity on the part of the London Chamber, and there are Birmingham and Manchester especially, which have been brought to my notice, all beginning to feel a little bit anxious about the attitude of the Board of Trade in taking up and adequately dealing with these important trade matters which they dealt with at their conference in February, some of which want dealing with at a very early date and cannot wisely be left until peace has been declared. The reason why I urge that many of these things are urgent and that the question of German influence and financial power and so on is urgent to-day, is because I find that so many people say, with some reason, they really could be left until a little later on, and that we must not burden any Government Department with anything that we can avoid whilst they have the terrible burden of this War. That is quite a logical statement to make, but it is made on the assumption in every case that we are going ultimately to win that crushing victory that we have all determined to win if possible, and which everyone of us believes and most of us are certain we are ultimately going to win. But in commercial matters you have always to look at the 3037 other possibility, and I suggest that in these matters of trade the Board of Trade itself, as well as the commercial community of this country, must not build their ideas on the determination that a complete and crushing victory, that is that we are going to enter Berlin and defeat Prussian militarism, is an absolute certainty. Much as we all hope that is going to be the case, we must recognise the possibility of a more or less inconclusive peace when the whole attitude of the Government and of the Board of Trade in regard to so many of these matters that they are properly taking up at present will be a totally different one. We may have chances to-day which, if we are not careful, may disappear to-morrow, or in a very short time.
Again, it is not satisfactory to anyone to find a person in such a responsible position as the Prime Minister of Australia making the speeches he is doing in the country, which are nothing else but the most direct criticism of the sluggishness of the British Government. Surely, if the Prime Minister of Australia is wrong someone ought to have got up and said so long ago. If he is right my fears are well grounded that we are not doing what we ought at present in preparing for the future. It is not a question of guests at all, it is a question of the future of our country and our prosperity, which is being on the whole extremely well dealt with in most cases by the Board of Trade to my own knowledge. Then there is the dependency of this country on Germany for so many of our necessary supplies, especially chemicals, many metals, electrical apparatus and matters of that kind. Now is the opportunity, if only the Government can come to a determination as to what their future policy is going to be. If they can come to it very soon there are opportunities to-day for founding businesses which may not occur later on. There are many chemicals, which have been entirely imported from Germany before the War, which are wanted urgently by the War Office and the Admiralty to-day, which are wanted by the Minister of Munitions, which we are largely importing, but also making on a small scale in this country, and it would be a tremendous impetus if we could only start them in this country. Acetine cellulose is one of them. The material is wanted for the Munitions Department. We are now buying it from abroad, but we could make it without any great detriment to labour questions in this country, but who 3038 is going to find the capital, and who will start the industry? They can do one of two things, either get very high prices from the Munitions Department to cover during the War the total losses on their capital, or, on the other hand, charge a reasonable price, with the assurance that when the War is over Germany will not be allowed to send that material into this country free, as she has done before, so that they will be enabled within reasonable margin—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has been suggesting that the Board of Trade should do a number of things. How does he propose it should be done?
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, you have asked me a question which is rather more difficult than I can answer.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will tell the hon. Member how he ought to anwer it, and that is by imposing a heavy tariff upon German goods. If that is so, of course, that would require legislation, and that being so the hon. Member is not entitled to raise the question upon the Motion for the Adjournment.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker, and I am not going to touch that subject. I have not a word upon my notes about it, because I am wise enough at the present time to realise that nothing more harmful could be done to any determination the Government may come to than either for me or any other hon. Member to advocate his own fiscal views. I have never mentioned the fiscal question since the War began, and I was not going to do so on this occasion. I had some more illustrations to give, but I will refrain from giving them. I would, however, point out that along these lines there are opportunities of which I hope the Board of Trade will not lose sight. I want to deal with another matter which is strictly an administrative matter, and touches very closely upon the administration of the War, and that is the question of the twenty-six snips which have been built for neutrals in this country. The First Lord of the Admiralty on going into Committee last March on the Naval Estimates made a speech in which there appeared the following statement:—There are still deficiencies in certain kinds of ships which the Board of Admiralty are most anxious to fill up, and are filling up, as rapidly as they possibly can, but there are limits, not to our will, but to our power. The limit is the limit of labour.3039 The right hon. Gentleman emphasised this question of labour. There is a great deal of truth in what the First Lord of the Admiralty said on that occasion, and what I want to point out to the Board of Trade, who sanctioned the building of these ships, is that the British mercantile marine, and still more the British Navy, have requirements. We know of those requirements, and we know that the Lords of the Admiralty are anxious to fulfil them at the earliest possible moment. The labour that can be put upon twenty-six neutral ships, which may or may not, later on, be passed over to Germany, ought to be put upon British ships, either for the Navy or the mercantile marine. I suggest to my hon. Friend that this is a matter of administration which does offer a very just ground of criticism, and which I hope he will consider. The labour of this country, notably on the Clyde and the Tyne, is blamed because the Admiralty cannot get out all the ships they want. Yet, at the same time, men can be found to build twenty-six ships for neutrals. That, in my opinion, is a very great mistake, which ought to be remedied without delay. Any labour of that kind which is available, any shipbuilding power that is possible at the present time, ought not, by permission of the Board of Trade, to be devoted to any neutral work. It ought to be devoted to building up the British mercantile marine, and replacing the large number of ships that we have lost by submarines, or ought to be devoted to Naval construction. I hope that in this matter the Board of Trade will modify at some early date their policy.
My last point is the position of labour. I am not going to say anything that would be controversial, but I do want to point out certain matters to my hon. Friend, because I do not think enough attention has been given to them. The President of the Board of Trade has said that we can never know when peace may come upon us. It may be a long time, or it may be much sooner than we expect. I want the Board of Trade to bear in mind the enormous transition stage that has got to take place in industry when peace comes. We have 3,000 factories which have been taken over by the Ministry of Munitions, and we have a large number of factories which have not been taken over but which are making goods that they never made previous to the War. After the War they have got to stop making 3040 these goods, and presumably, they have got to get back to their old trade, and not only get back to their old trade but, before they can manufacture on any considerable scale, they have got to send out their agents and travellers, and have got to get some sort of a security that if they manufacture they have a market in which they can dispose of the goods they are going to make. That transition stage as regards industry in this country must be one of a good many weeks and possibly of a good many months. Equally in the case of labour, we shall have a large amount of labour that has been moved away from its original place of residence for the purposes of the War. That labour has got to be transferred back again. We must add to that this reasonable and probable fact that wages will tend to go down very soon after the War. The moment the supply becomes much greater than the demand that almost assuredly will happen. I have in mind the case of a cycle factory which employed 1,200 people before the War began, which now employs 3,500 people, very largely women, who are solely engaged making munitions of war. There will come a day when these people will have to be stopped. They will have to be given a fortnight's notice in which to look for other work. There will be thousands of people of that kind who are going to be in the same position, and these people in the few weeks or so of transition may find themselves with every tendency of wages to go down, and with no tendency for the cost of living to go down, certainly not in proportion to the lowering of wages. After the sacrifices they have made, which are at least equal to those of any section of the community, they will have to look for their reward for the part they have played in this great struggle, when everything may be against them. They will be in that position after we, who have been engaged in recruiting, have told them, privately and on the platform, that Britain is worth fighting for, and have urged them to do their duty. These matters must be looked at by the Board of Trade long before peace is declared. The Board of Trade should take care on behalf of the Government, and on behalf of the House, to see that everything is done that possibly can be done, and that preparation shall be made to that end, so that the country that is worth fighting for may be a country that is worth living in.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The House, I am sure, will share the regret which I feel that the President of the Board of Trade is not able to be here to reply to the criticisms that have been levelled at his Department. I must, therefore, ask the House to grant me indulgence while I do my best to answer the questions which my hon. Friend has addressed to me. I think his speech was a little uneven. He raised some very big questions, and also some questions which, I think, were rather small. The House will not expect me to go into detail over the vast area over which my hon. Friend has travelled. If I did so I do not know how long it might be before we should get the Adjournment for which the House is anxious. Therefore, I hope he will forgive me if I deal as briefly as I can with large questions which he has raised. I will take first the question of labour. I am quite sure that not only my hon. Friend, but the House generally, realises the importance of the problems which he has raised. I am sure my hon. Friend did not suggest, and did not mean to suggest, that at this period of the War the Board of Trade requires to be awakened to the existence of these problems. Perhaps I may tell him, and I am sure the House will be interested to know it, that before the end of 1914 a very valuable Memorandum, dealing not only with the nature of the problems, but with the specific means that should be kept in operation for dealing with the problems when they come, was prepared by a very high official of the Board of Trade. It has been the basis of perpetual consideration since, and preparations have been made for an organisation which will, I believe, thoroughly satisfy my hon. Friend when the occasion does come.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Clearly I do not think that it is possible to publish at this stage all the details. There will be some further information given to the House, but I am sure that the House will be satisfied at this stage that the problem is being dealt with, and that it has been considered from the outbreak of the War. It was obvious to the Board of Trade and to everyone that this most vital problem must arise at the end of the War. I do not think it necessary now to go into the heads under which this was considered. Ever since 1914 we have had a most careful consideration in detail. I have per- 3042 sonally seen and approve of the proposal which appeared to me to be such as will thoroughly satisfy us, and I hope it will go a long way to solve this problem when it arises.
My hon. Friend began his speech by raising the very important question of the arrangements that we should make here, for which, of course, the Board of Trade would largely be responsible, for meeting the consequences of what is known as German peaceful penetration before the War. My hon. Friend quoted from a speech of the President of the Board of Trade in which he had admitted the existence of that danger. I do not think that there is any individual in the country who does not realise what a great danger it was to us. I think that it arose mainly from this cause, that the whole tendency of trade throughout the world, prior to the outbreak of this War, was moving in the direction of international and cosmopolitan combination. You cannot look at the course of trade without seeing that it was a matter hardly of much importance in the trading world whether you took a partner of your own nationality or another. There were great concerns engaged in competition, not only in this but in other countries, in the production or sale of articles. That competition became difficult for both parties when you had German firms and British firms exchanging blocks of capital and appointing directors to each other's business, so that firms nominally British became cosmopolitan firms, and firms nominally German became equally cosmopolitan, and the whole trade became international. That process was proceeding with rapidity, or certainly very steadily. That was the situation in which the War found us.
But there was this great difference, in my opinion, between the German view and the British view. Our view was that it was a purely trade matter. We took this up purely from the trade standpoint. From the national standpoint we were entirely unselfish, and just as we threw open our Colonies to the trade of the world, so we threw open our industries to combinations of that character, and we assumed business honesty and trade honesty in those to whom they were opened. The German attitude was totally different. There is no doubt whatever, from the information and facts which have become apparent since the outbreak of this War, which has laid bare the very bones of industry, that 3043 there was behind this action on the part of Germany a political object, and not only a political object but a dishonest trade object. The kind of thing which we have now is the formation of agencies in British manufacturing centres in the North, agencies run by Germans who obtained those agencies apparently for the purposes of selling British goods, which they sold in South America, and, having obtained those agencies, have gradually ordered the goods from Germany instead of Great Britain, and so the agent, who has the means whereby the goods are sold, replaces British products by German products.
There is the very well-known case of the metals in our colony of Australia which is known to the whole House. The invaluable products of a British colony were not accessible to the trades or inhabitants of this country except by permission of the German syndicate. There are other cases, such, for instance, as the most valuable product of which we have almost a monopoly to the extent of 70 or 80 per cent.—the oil-seeds particularly found on the West Coast of Africa, which are vital, as experience in this War have proved them to be. By provisional bounties arrangements were made whereby the Port of Hull was put at a great disadvantage in that trade as compared with the Port of Hamburg, and the products and manufactures of our Colonies were obtainable more cheaply in Hamburg than in Hull, thereby giving the Germans enormous advantages over British trade in this country. Everybody understands that that was the process that was going on, and that that is what we have to meet.
My hon. Friend suggests that the Board of Trade has not acted as it should do in making preparations for that state of things before the end of the War. I think that we have done a great deal. We are responsible for getting rid of, or closing down, all German elements in our trade. But one factor which is most difficult to deal with is where the German commercial agencies have practically the entire control of the output of some particular product, which is what is called of a pivotal character. There are certain chemicals, particularly in the matter of dye-stuffs, to which this applies. My hon. Friend suggests that our duty was to at once institute new industries, but he appears to underrate the difficulties. The Board of Trade agree absolutely that 3044 it is our duty to do what we can, and we are exerting our utmost efforts in that very direction. I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon discussing that very problem in regard to one particular trade. The difficulty is that it is not only capital or knowledge that is required. If we are to be prepared at the one opportunity we shall have, namely, at the end of the War, to be independent—for that is the vital point—we have got to have the plant and the works ready capable of supplying our requirements. There is at present an enormous demand for labour, which means that after the vital necessities of our Army in the field and of the Navy have been supplied there will be the difficulty of getting the labour, not only to erect the plant, but to manufacture the plant, let alone to operate it. That is an immense difficulty which can only be overcome so far as it is absolutely vital by constant conferences between the parties.
The second most important point, almost equal to the first, is that of munitions work. We have vital demands for the armies in the field, and vital demands for munitions works, which must precede even this most vital problem. I feel that the Board of Trade has immense responsibility, but the responsibility is not alone on the Board of Trade, because it can only be by conference with other Departments, and by correlating the relative importance of labour for munitions, labour in other vital directions, and labour for the preparation of plant of this character, that this problem can be solved. I feel, from that point of view, that it is vital that we should be ready to be self-supporting when the War has ceased. If we are not self-supporting at that time, we shall not get our opportunity. If once the gates have to be opened after the War, there would be an uncontrolled supply of vital products, because we cannot produce them in this country, and I for one cannot see how those gates could be closed again. Therefore, it is of the highest importance before that vital moment comes that all these commercial changes should be met, and that all necessary preparations should be made. I can only say that our promptest efforts are being exerted in that direction.
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that there is a misunderstanding growing up between Capital and Labour and the Board of Trade. On the contrary, so far as I know, our relations with commercial firms and with labour are as good as can 3045 be. It would be beyond expectation, however, if we were not criticised. The hon. Member raised the point of the Chambers of Commerce in regard to our relations with Capital and Labour. I think if he inquires he will find that the relations between the Chambers of Commerce and the Board of Trade are very close. The Commercial Department of the Board of Trade is in the closest possible touch with the Chambers of Commerce, and we have had very great help from the Chambers of Commerce, and particularly the chairman of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, who is constantly giving us his help and advice. The Board of Trade is also in constant touch with the London Chamber of Commerce, and with other Chambers of Commerce throughout the country. My hon. Friend raised the question of the composition of the Committees which are appointed to apprise the Board of Trade on the necessities of trade on the conclusion of the War. The reference to the Committee is:—To consider the position of particular groups of trade after the War with special reference to international competition, find to report what measures, if any, are necessary or desirable in order to safeguard that position.In addition to the Committee already appointed, four Committees have been set up with that reference—one for the iron and steel industry, one for shipping and shipbuilding, one for the textile industry, one for the electrical industry, and a fifth is being set up for the coal trade. My hon. Friend criticised the composition of two of those Committees, and questions have been asked in this House which indicated a similar doubt. I deprecate that very much. I think a very great mistake is being made in that line of criticism. When I look at the composition of these Committees, and remember what the history is of the appointment of the gentlemen who are sitting on those Committees, those questions convey the impression of an attack upon them. But I take it that Members are not conscious of this, and do not wish to attack these Committees, nor do I say that there is any intention of doing so, for I do not think for a moment that there is any such intention— I honestly do not think that there is any such intention. But when those questions are asked, that is the impression made upon me, though I am sure they do not wish to make any such impression in the country. Surely it is invaluable to get these Committees on which all shades of opinion are represented. My hon. Friend 3046 holds the same opinion as I do in these matters, and I wish to say that it is absolutely certain that the whole mass of opinion in this country is in favour of a national trade policy, absolutely apart from pre-war views—entirely apart from them. I do not think anyone can do a greater disservice to the future of a national trade policy than to assume that, because certain people took different views from those we took before the War, they will necessarily differ from us in regarding as essential a national trade policy. I am only speaking my own opinion when I say that everybody is in favour of a national trade policy, and I am further prepared to say that, just as in the case of the War, the whole mass opinion of this country, in view of the commercial facts which the War has disclosed, will be equally in favour of a national trade policy.
As far as I know, the composition of these Committees is a national composition, and, so far as the representation of labour is concerned, I would remind the House that the Committees have been appointed to carry out the reference which I have read, and which has no direct concern with questions between capital and labour. Therefore it was not thought necessary, in an investigation of rather a technical character like this, to appoint any representative of the Labour party upon the Committees. I am only expressing my own personal view when I say that I believe one of the. ways in which capital and labour can be brought together is that both should take an equal interest in the prosperity of the trade in which both are working, that both should study the problem which affects that trade, and that nothing is more likely to bring back labour into the common field where both can work together for the prosperity of their trade, and both study the problem which face it. I can only say that at some stage of this investigation we may be able to bring the representatives of labour to assist in the consideration of these problems, and later, they may have to take their part in the solution of those problems on which the prosperity of their interests depends. I think I have dealt with all the main points which my hon. Friend raised on the larger question. He asked me about neutral ships. Most of these neutral ships are being built in our yards.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I have not got it. The larger proportion of these ships were, like many of our own, ordered before the War, and work upon them was necessarily stopped because of the Admiralty demands. It is very important for our shipping industry that we should retain the custom of other countries for shipbuilding, but at the same time our necessities are so great at the present moment that we cannot afford to allow any of our available labour to be employed in building ships for neutrals. What we have done is to take those ships that have been completed. There are twenty-six building, and in eleven cases facilities have been given for their completion. In those cases it was found that the work in the yards on those vessels which were being built was being blocked. You have to get one ship off the slip before you can put another on. Three vessels were taken over by the Admiralty, and eight of the eleven were also completed. The neutral owners offered to defray the extra cost involved in building the ships at the present time, and to let on time charter their vessels to a British firm nominated by the British Government at about half the present market rates. That is not a very bad arrangement for us. There are six of the remaining fifteen vessels which are going later on to be completed, and we have made arrangements for chartering those vessels. The question whether any more neutral ships can be allowed to be built at all in our yards is under careful consideration, and I do not know that there is any actual decision on it. As to the point about Mr. Robbins, there is nobody of that name employed at the Board of Trade, and therefore I cannot be responsible for him. I understand that a gentleman of that name is employed in the War Trade Branch of the Foreign Office, and my hon. Friend put down a question. I do not know whether he has yet had an answer, and I am afraid that is all the information I can give on the point. The Sugar Commission is under the control of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that I am afraid I cannot answer in detail the question my hon. Friend asks. I do not, however, think, on the face of it, that his statement is very convincing, unless he can give us a statement of the price at which the sugar was bought in Java. I know there is a large quantity of sugar produced in Australia, but the freight must obviously 3048 be very much higher from Java to this country than From Java to Australia, and freights now bear a very much larger relation to prices than ever they did before. The suggestion was that these purchases were made by a gentleman of a German name. I really do not think it is quite right to throw those sort of accusations about. There a good many people who a generation or two back might find German blood in them or who might have had German names. I really think there should be some very solid foundation for an accusation of that kind, which gives great pain. It is a very serious charge in itself, indeed, against a responsible Government Department that they should employ a man of German sympathies.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I imagine he has no German sympathies, otherwise lie would, not be employed. If the hon. Gentleman, has any proofs—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
My instincts are against accepting a statement of that kind unless there is some definite proof of it. It is rather unpleasant dealing with charges of this kind unless they are really definite, because they may give a good deal of pain unfairly. I think I have answered all the points that have been raised. The Board of Trade is giving constant attention to the problems which have been referred to and which are of enormous magnitude. They are most vital problems. If any hon. Members have any suggestions to make we shall be only too happy to receive them. We are not at all above advice and assistance. I do not think anybody would say we are idle. Everybody knows that our President, by his too close attention and interest in these questions, has unfortunately broken down in health, and just at the moment when his services are most required.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
On this, the first Motion for Adjournment for a Recess since I have been a Member here, I should like to make one or two references to the Air question so far as it has occupied the time of the House during my presence here. One or 3049 two hon. Gentlemen this afternoon suggested that the Government are eager and anxious to be criticised. I have found occasion one or twice during my presence here to criticise the Government on the question of the Air. I regret that in that criticism in the House generally there was a considerable amount of, shall I say, heat generated, which perhaps was not altogether necessary. But I thought it my duty in this House and elsewhere, in view of the fact that I had left a combatant force to come here. Certain things have happened since my arrival here, and certain reforms have taken place. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Government on the steps, though not, in my opinion, very vigorous steps, but at least they have wandered in the right direction. We have had a Committee formed by the Government, and we have had a Committee of Inquiry. I have made remarks as to that Committee of Inquiry to which I do not propose to add now. I still very strongly take exception to both its composition and terms of reference, but I think my duty is plain. If it is my intention, as I would like the House to understand it is, to serve the Air Service rather than any advancement of myself in this House or outside, it is obviously my duty to appear before that Committee no matter how I may take exception to it, to try and give them all the benefit of the knowledge I have of the inefficiency of the Air Service and allow them to be the judge of what reforms are necessary. I think a very useful purpose would be served if a member of the Air Board as distinct from the Air Committee were in attendance upon the meetings of that Air Committee, so that the Air Board might have first hand information as to such evidence and information as was tendered to enable it to bring about reforms which we are all very anxious, some of us more than others, to see brought about in the Air Service generally, both in the naval and military branches. I propose, as far as that Board is concerned, to refrain from criticising it in any way whatsoever. I quite appreciate that Lord Curzon has undertaken a task of very great magnitude, and he will have around him, I am sure, a multitude of counsellors, all most willing and anxious for many reasons, and not in every case for the same reasons, to advise and assist him in every way they can. I can only say that any assistance or advice that I can give I shall 3050 be very pleased to render. My criticism I have always tried, except in some moments, to make constructive, and that which I offer freely and fully to that Committee now—