HC Deb 09 March 1916 vol 80 cc1834-52

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

9.0 P.M.


I rise to call the attention of the House to a matter which I gave notice that I intended to refer to the day before yesterday. I deplore very much the fact that the Prime Minister, to whom I shall have to refer in the course of my observation, is still prevented by ill-health from being present. I also regret that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Alden) is not present, but I understand that he is not in the country at the moment. He is abroad on some Government work. I sent him notice of my intention to refer to the matter to-day. It is an unpleasant necessity for me to make these remarks in the absence of the two Gentlemen who are mainly concerned. The matter has already attracted so much attention outside this House that I think it is better on the whole I should bring to the attention of the Government and of the House the facts which in my opinion have an importance, and I might even say a gravity, which the Government seem up till now entirely to have missed, and then at some future date, if the hon. Member for Tottenham chooses to refer to the matter by way of personal explanation or otherwise, or if the Government propose to give a fuller reply than they are able at this moment, that is a matter, of course, for them to consider. I wish, however, to state the facts as they are known to me. On the 12th February a meeting was held of the Wood Green Liberal Association. That meeting, so far as I understand from the reports, was held in order to consider the conduct of the hon. Member for that Division with relation to the Government Bill, which is now the Military Service Act, and the proceedings were reported in a newspaper called the "Tottenham Weekly Herald," on 18th February. I should like to tell the House, first of all, the result of that meeting. The resolution which the meeting passed, after what I am told was a long and animated debate, was this: That this association expresses its confidence in the Government and is of opinion that the passage of the Compulsory Service Bill will help to bring the War to a successful conclusion— In the absence of the hon. Member for Tottenham, it is especially right that I should add that the resolution continued: While many members regret Mr. Alden's vote on compulsory service it does not withdraw confidence from him. The point I wish to emphasise at this stage is that the meeting was held for the specific purpose of discussing not the general opinions or the general conduct of the Member of Parliament, but the vote which he had given in opposition to a particular measure in this House, and it was in order to meet the objections which some of his constituents apparently held to the vote which he gave that this resolution was arrived at. It will become of some slight importance, as I shall show later on. The whole concern was with regard to the vote given upon that Bill. I should like to read the report of the speech given by the hon. Member after a lengthy and animated debate. This is the report given in the newspaper which I have quoted: Mr. Alden said his vote on the Bill Again I pause to say that what it was concerned with was his vote on the Bill— was to be regarded as a protest against the intrigue and plotting by which it was preceded. His action was prompted by a present member of the Cabinet, who had asked him to organise opposition to the Bill as the hands of the Premier were being forced by the compulsion party. The report in the newspaper then continues—perhaps it is not altogether surprising— There was interruption here, and various guesses were made at the identity of the Minister, but Mr. Alden declined to say who it was. Let me here dwell for a moment to say why I thought it necessary to bring this matter to the attention of the House. Here we have a definite statement by a Member of this House defending himself against the strictures of his constituents for having voted against a Bill which was a Government measure brought in by the Leader of the nation and, also, if we may refer to obsolete matters, the Leader of his own party. His conduct was open to the strictures of his constituents, and in order to defend himself he says that his vote was given because he had been asked by a member of the Cabinet to organise opposition to the Bill. That was a direct accusation against a Minister of the Crown, although he did not name the Minister, of treacherous intrigue against his own colleagues and against the policy that the Minister was bound in honour to support. The question is, was that a true statement on the part of the hon. Member? If it was true, if he had been asked by a Cabinet Minister to organise opposition to a Government measure for which that Cabinet Minister was himself responsible, or going to be responsible, then it is quite obvious it was a disgraceful transaction, it was a transaction which touched the Government as a whole, and which I should have thought every member of the Cabinet was bound to investigate or would have desired to see investigated, at all events, and, if possible, to repudiate as touching himself. I suggest, above all, that it was, as I should have thought, the duty of the Prime Minister, as soon as this was brought to his knowledge, to take steps without a single day's delay to discover who the traitor in his own camp was. He was bound to protect the rest of his colleagues from the very unjust suspicion which might attach to any one of them of having been the guilty member, and it was also his duty to do it in order to get rid of the want of confidence in the earnestness of the Government as a whole which could hardly fail to be created out of doors when this transaction became known. Of course, one cannot complain of the Prime Minister not knowing anything of a report occurring in the Tottenham local paper, but the report of this meeting and the speech of the hon. Member was reproduced in prominent organs in the London Press. If the Prime Minister, after this meeting had been reported in the London Press, still continued in ignorance of what had been said about some unnamed member of his own Cabinet, all that one can say is that the Prime Minister must be deplorably badly served by his own private secretaries. At all events, the hon. Member for Tottenham was a good deal scared by the result of this meeting and of his speech, and he began to back out, or attempted to back out to some extent, from the position he had taken up. He did this in a letter which he wrote to the "Morning Post." I want to tell the House exactly what the hon. Member said in that letter, and the extent to which he altered, if he did alter at all, the complexion of the matter as reported in the Tottenham paper. He began by saying that it was a mistake in the newspaper I have already quoted to say that he was asked to organise opposition to the Bill. Then he goes on in these words: What I did say was that my action was prompted by a present member of the Cabinet, who asked me to organise opposition to Conscription, but I added that this was some considerable time—three or four weeks at least—before the Bill was introduced. The hon. Member concluded this portion of his letter by saying. The correct account of the meeting appeared in the 'Wood Green Sentinel' on 18th February. Let us see what the "Wood Green Sentinel," of February 18th, to which the hon. Member himself refers us, said. This was their report: Then Mr. Alden made his statement. In justice to himself— Justice to himself for what? Justice to himself for having given his vote against the Government Bill. In justice to himself he revealed the fact that it was at the request of a member of the present Cabinet that he organised his opposition to conscription. At this someone cried Traitor,' and Mr. Alden was asked to give the name. Then the report goes on in these words, which I will give verbatim, not making myself responsible for the grammar: This, of course, he declined to do, his character sufficient that he was telling the truth. These are the exact words which the paper printed. I presume they mean that the hon. Member held out that his character was sufficient guarantee that he was speaking the truth: As that minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet including the Prime Minister, were then having a very difficult time, it was put to him that unless it was shown that people outside were not in favour of it, Conscription was certain. That was a short time before the Bill was introduced. In other words, the hon. Member, having written to the "Morning Post" that it had been some considerable time before the Bill was introduced, referred us for a correct account to a newspaper which to that extent contradicts him and says it was a short time before the Bill was introduced. If the Prime Minister knew nothing of all this, in spite of the reproduction of the local account in the London Press, and in spite of the letter prominently printed from the hon. Member himself in the local Press, he certainly could not have remained in ignorance beyond 23rd February, because on that date an hon. and gallant Friend of mine put a question on the subject. It set out the facts as given in the paper which I first quoted, alleging that the hon. Member had claimed that he had been asked by a Member of the Cabinet to organise opposition to the Bill, and he asked the Prime Minister whether it had been brought to his notice, or words to that effect. The Prime Minister's reply was that the statements were without foundation. What I want to lay stress upon is that it was that answer of the Prime Minister which first, I think, gave a really serious complexion to the whole affair, because there you had the Prime Minister apparently giving the lie direct, in as plain language as was possible, to a statement made by one of his own supporters and reported in the Press. My hon. and gallant Friend put a second question after seeing that there had been at all events a verbal alteration made by the hon. Member (Mr. Alden), saying that the opposition was not to the Bill but to Conscription, and these were the terms of the question: To ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that opposition to compulsory military service is being justified in the country on the ground that a Member of this House was asked to organise such opposition by a member of the Cabinet as at present constituted,' as both that Minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, were having a very difficult time and unless it was shown to people outside that we are not in favour of it compulsion was certain,' and whether he is able to give a direct negative to the above statement both on behalf of himself and his colleagues in the Cabinet? The terms of the question are taken directly from the report given in the "Wood Green Sentinel," which is accepted as correct by the hon. Member. The reply to that question was given by the Minister of Munitions: The Prime Minister has no knowledge of anything of the kind. That is a totally different answer from that given to the earlier question. I do not wish to lay any particular stress upon the discrepancy. I do not make any allegation with regard to it beyond saying that I do not myself quite understand how, if the right hon. Gentleman had, as he says, no knowledge whatever of the subject, he was able to state in answer to the earlier question that it had no foundation. The day before yesterday I put a question to the Prime Minister, in consequence of that reply, whether he would- make inquiry with a view to finding out the identity of the Cabinet Minister, and the Prime Minister declined to take any such step. It is for that reason that I am now bringing these facts to the attention of the House. There are perhaps some Members who do not appreciate, as I think, the importance of it, and of course there may be some who will differ from me in holding that it has any importance at all. An hon. Member below the Gangway opposite seems to lay a good deal of stress upon the decision which the hon. Member (Mr. Alden) draws between opposition to the Government Bill and opposition to Conscription.


Don't you?


I do not. For this reason: First of all, we have all known, in the course of the Debates which have taken place recently in this House, that the Military Service Bill, when it was before the House, was constantly spoken of by hon. Members, certainly by hon. Members in that quarter of the House, as Conscription. The two were practically convertible terms, and therefore, apart from any other consideration, when the hon. Member speaks about Conscription I take him to mean the Conscription which he was objecting to in the Government measure, and that is surely established when you bear in mind the fact, on which I laid stress at the outset for this very purpose, that the whole purpose of this meeting at which the hon. Member made the speech to his constituents was to justify himself, not for being an opponent of Conscription generally, not for being an opponent of Conscription in the same sense in which the Prime Minister says he is himself, but it was for his definite action in opposing the measure which had been introduced and passed by the Government. Therefore I maintain that there is no distinction whatever between the two things.

But it does not end there. Even supposing that the Cabinet Minister was not asking the hon. Member to organise opposition to a Bill which was already drafted—I do not allege that the Bill was drafted. I do not know. The paper says it was a. short time before the Bill was introduced. I do not know how short a time, and I cannot say whether it was drafted. But that does not matter. What matters is that it certainly was after the famous pledge given by the Prime Minister to the married men of the country that he was going to introduce a measure of compulsion if it should be necessary in order to get the unmarried men to come forward. Therefore, even it can be shown that this opposition was not to be directed against the actual Government measure, it certainly cannot be shown that it was not an opposition directed against the fulfilment of the Prime Minister's pledge. It was in either event, if the facts are correct an intrigue in the Cabinet against the personal honour of the Prime Minister. But that is not all. One would imagine that even those facts would be regarded as a matter of considerable importance, not only by the Government, but I should think by every member of the Cabinet and by this House as a whole. It has a further deplorable aspect at the present moment. I am sure the House must realise that at the present time there is a very considerable and widespread feeling of dissatisfaction in the minds of attested married men throughout the country, for whose benefit the Prime Minister's pledge was given, because they think—for my present purpose it does not matter whether they think rightly or wrongly—that owing to the action of various Government Departments in multiplying the indispensable men, and owing to the large number of conscientious objectors, who are getting exemption, that the Prime Minister's pledge, although carried out in the letter by the passing of the Military Service Bill, is being whittled away in spirit, and that they are not getting the benefit they were entitled to expect from the pledge of the Prime Minister.

I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) is present. I do not know whether he is going to make a reply, although I see that he is engaged in taking notes. If so, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that this feeling which I say is widespread, has been to some extent caused by a statement which he made. Hon. Members will recall that fact that when the right hon. Gentleman was giving to the House his reasons for leaving the Government he made one very significant statement. He told us that while he was parting from the Government, of which he had been such a distinguished ornament, on this question of compulsory service, he was leaving behind him in the Cabinet men whose opinions were identical with his own. The people of this country, who are concerned in the Prime Minister's pledge and in the whole of this recruiting problem, noted what the right hon. Gentleman said. They noted that he left behind in the Cabinet men who shared his views against compulsion. What is the inference they drew? They have drawn the inference, and they are drawing the inference to-day, that within the Cabinet itself there are men at the present time whose desire, and, very probably, whose energies are directed to whittling away the fulfilment of the Prime Minister's pledge and therefore committing what is, I do not say a fraud, but something which is unfair to the married recruits. On the top of that they read this account of what the hon. Member for Tottenham said, and they say, "Here is ample confirmation of what has already been hinted at by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon). Here we have evidence that these men who remained in the Cabinet when the Home Secretary left it are actually intriguing against the Prime Minister. They are going to supporters of the Government and asking them not merely to vote against the Bill for which they themselves are responsible, but asking them to organise opposition to the Bill." Is it possible that when that impression is being created on the word of an hon. Member of this House that the Prime Minister and his colleagues can take up the attitude that this does not matter at all, although it apparently affects their honour and although it apparently reveals the fact that one is intriguing against the other and that men who are responsible for Government policy are trying to defeat it? If they can pass over all that, how it is conceivable that they can allow the feeling of dissatisfaction and the feeling of uneasiness that exists, and which is undermining the confidence of the country in the Government's earnestness of purpose in regard to this policy, to go on as it has done for a month without any sort of attempt to explain the circumstances, is to me perfectly amazing! I should have thought that no apology was required from any Member of this House for having brought the facts before the attention of the House and the attention of the Government. Although I understand, and, of course, I absolutely accept the statement, that the Prime Minister knows nothing about it, I repeat that now that the facts are known it is the duty of the head of the Government to take steps to find out what he does not know already, and to put an end to the very unpleasant state of feeling which these facts have brought about.


The hon. Member for Tottenham is absent, and inasmuch as he is absent, and inevitably absent, I hope the House will excuse me if in two or three sentences I intervene to make some observations on this matter. I do not intervene because I have any authority from my hon Friend the Member for Tottenham to do so. I have had no communication with him, direct or indirect, on this subject. I do not know the circumstances any further than I have gathered them from what has been said to-night, and what I previously read in the papers, but when an hon. Friend of mine—and I call him an hon. Friend, not only in the sense that he shares my general political views, but because I am proud to regard him as one of my personal friends—is necessarily away, I hope the House will think it right that one who knows him well should make a few observations on this occasion. I do not desire to take part in the analysis, and, if I may venture to say so, the unduly minute analysis, of how this particular incident is recorded, whether correctly or incorrectly, whether grammatically or ungrammatically, in various local newspapers. I desire to intervene to say only two things. One is that, as many of the personal friends of the hon. Member for Tottenham know, he is at present in very poor health. He has for some considerable time past, to the knowledge of those who have the honour of his personal friendship and acquaintance, been suffering from serious illness, which at one time led to a breakdown and to his absence from the service of the House for a substantial period, and which I know even now has left serious traces both upon his constitution and upon his general health. It is to his credit and his honour that though he is still far from well, he is endeavouring to combine the search for health with the service of the cause of this country and its Allies. He is, in fact, at this moment on the Continent, endeavouring to render help to Belgium and her refugees in the adjoining country of Holland.

Those facts, I think, will be felt by the House to be an abundant justification for his absence. I know very well that the hon. Gentleman opposite would, on every ground, desire him to be present. I hope he will understand that I am not making any sort of reflection upon him, because in the nature of the case he had to bring up the matter, if he were to bring it up at all, without my hon. Friend being present. But another matter in this connection is this. Those of us who do enjoy and hope to continue to enjoy the personal friendship and acquaintanceship of the hon. Member for Tottenham, know very well that his reputation for high character and integrity is thoroughly deserved. A man who is in ill-health and is suffering under severe strain and threatened with a nervous breakdown may make mistakes on matters of fact and matters of conduct. I do not rise at all to justify what would appear to me to be in any event, whatever the exact circumstances may be found to be, a regrettable lapse undoubtedly. But it is right, I hope the House of Commons will think, that one, at any rate, of those who know him well and who have had no communication about this at all and know nothing about the circumstances, should, in his enforced absence, should get up and briefly express his firm and unshaken confidence in my hon Friend's good faith and integrity.

Long before he came here he was known to many who have taken an interest in social work among the poorest as a devoted and sincere servant of the public. I would resist the temptation, if indeed there be a temptation, to deal with the other and more general topics to which the hon. Gentleman opposite referred. Let me, however, say, as one who has had the privilege of enjoying Cabinet secrets—and I honestly believe that I never could be accused of having betrayed any one of them—that I share to the full the very proper doctrine that communication should not take place on matters of confidence between Members of the Cabinet, whoever they may be, and even the most faithful and devoted of their supporters on any confidential subject whatever. For this purpose it does not make any difference who the Cabinet Minister is, or who his henchman may be. It does not matter whether the opinion is an opinion in favour of or against a controversial view. Upon the secrecy of confidential Cabinet matters the basis of Parliamentary Government depends. I really cannot share in the notion, I might almost venture to say the pretence, that this is some unexampled solecism without any conceivable parallel in the history of the last ten years. I recollect, if I am not mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E Carson), whose attachment to Parliamentary tradition, and whose personal good faith nobody would ever think of questioning, committing, as seemed to some of us, a rather astonishing lapse not so long ago, when he referred actually, after he had resigned, to a confidential Cabinet document written by the Colonial Secretary. I do not remember that on that occasion the hon. Gentleman opposite stood up to point the narrow way and to chide this erring and identified Cabinet Minister.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the memorandum to which he refers was mentioned by my right hon. Friend in his letter to the Prime Minister, and that it was only after he had obtained the Prime Minister's consent that this reference was made public.


The worse thing that could happen in a matter of this sort is that we should start bandying illustrations between one another.


You started the illustration.


No, I am within the recollection of the House. What I ventured to say was I hope in no way an attempt to do so. I do not think that my inaccuracy was serious to those who regard what was the nature of the topic. What I am pointing out is that slips of this sort—I say no more—do happen from time to time. I am not concerned to put them in an ascending or descending order or series. I do not attempt to suggest other illustrations, because naturally enough it does provoke a cross fire. I would very much prefer, if I should be so happy to succeed in doing so, if I should induce the House of Commons in my concluding sentence, to feel that while I daresay it was quite proper to call attention to this matter, and that while certainly the friends of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham quite recognise that from any point of view a mistake was made, yet that not merely his personal friends, but that all Members of the House of Commons recognise that he was acting and speaking in circumstances when it was difficult for him to command the ordinary balance which comes with health and good nerves, that he has been through a severe time of illness, that he is fortunately recovering from his attack, and that whatever be our political or personal attachments we all look forward with confidence to welcoming him when he comes back as one of the hon. Members of this House.


As I have been privileged for many years to have a very close intimacy with the hon. Member for Tottenham, I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I look upon him as a most honourable man, a most courageous man, and a man in whom I will always have the greatest confidence until I find that he has been clearly and obviously convicted of some fault. The remarkable speech which we have heard to-night from the hon. Member for St. Augustine's does not for one moment make me inclined to think that anything more than the very merest and most venial indiscretion, even if that, has been committed by the hon. Member.


The hon. Member is. entirely misinterpreting my speech. I never made the slightest allegation against the hon. Member for Tottenham. I never complained that he had disclosed a Cabinet secret. The whole of the case which I made was that if his statement was true and accurate, and my hon. Friend is only trying to prove that it was true, then there was a case made, not against the hon. Member for Tottenham but against some member of the Cabinet.


I quite see the hon. Member's point. I was just going to proceed to it. I think that there is reason to complain that the hon. Member for Tottenham has been attacked in this way when he could not possibly reply. The hon. Member here is the "Morning Post" in another form. The "Morning Post" has been attacking the hon. Member for Tottenham day after day with an unkind-ness and a persistence which does no credit to it. But I go further. Of course, this is not only an attack, an insidious attack, upon the hon. Member, but it is an attack upon the Cabinet, and especially upon the Prime Minister. I must say that I look upon the speech of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's as a most extraordinary performance. He has given us several extraordinary performances before in his career in this House, and I hope that he will continue to do so. I have always admired his originality of character, and I am always looking for some new direction in which he will break out. But to-night he has come here, and after he has been well advertised in the "Morning Post" for about a fortnight, and after advertising himself by giving notice two or three days running in this House, he brings forward, in a long rigmarole of a speech, an accusation against the Prime Minister, practically, for not keeping his colleagues in order. That is a ridiculous charge to bring against the Prime Minister; first of all, because everybody knows that if there is a man who can handle a difficult Cabinet it is the Prime Minister we have got at the present time. I must say that considering we have got a Coalition Cabinet, and considering some of the men who are in it, I look upon the Prime Minister's achievement in having kept the Cabinet together as well as he has done, and having kept control of them, as a magnificent achievement.

We have had a rigmarole of half an hour from the hon. Member, who complained that on one occasion, which he cannot fix, that some Minister whom he cannot name, said to somebody that though he was in the Cabinet he still adhered to his Liberal principles. That is all the accusation that has been brought against the Prime Minister and his colleagues. It is quite vague, no date is fixed nor is even the month of this alleged conversation stated. It is therefore very material to know, which we do not know, whether it was before the Prime Minister's pledge that this conversation had taken place—in November or after it. We do not know whether it was even when the Derby scheme was supposed to have been a great success or to have been somewhat of a failure. All these facts are very material indeed, in judging of the case, and upon these facts we get no light whatever from the hon. Member. We can all see—I believe even his Friends can see, those who believe that he has actually done right to bring this mish-mash farago of allegations against the Prime Minister—that his object is to discredit the Government. I have myself never believed in a Coalition Government at all, and since it was formed I have sat on the opposite side of the House just to show that I was something more than a candid friend; but at any rate I am not going, if I do attack them, to attack them in any but a straightforward way on a basis of facts, and when the man of whom I am speaking is here. That is not the course which has been taken by the hon. Member to-day. He has attacked the Prime Minister when he knew the" Prime Minister could not be here. He has alleged a lot of facts which are not facts at all, but mere surmises, and as to the details of the charge he has made he has not the slightest idea himself. I might say a good deal more, but I hope I have interpreted the feeling of the House generally in saying that this is an unfortunate occasion. It will do nobody any harm except possibly the hon. Member for St. Augustine's, who is not always taken quite seriously. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you?"] I am asked if I am taken quite seriously, and I might ask if anybody takes this quite seriously.

I am going to make one more observation, because I think it is pertinent to the question that has been raised—it has already been touched upon by the right hon. Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon)—it is that we have not that strict sense of Cabinet secrecy, or of Cabinet unity, which we had some years ago. I do not make any accusation whatever against the hon. Member for Waltham stow; the observation I made is quite apart from anything connected with his recent action, but I say this most emphatically, that during the last six months we have had, day after day, the tendencies of the Cabinet repeated by one paper or another. If you wanted to see what the Liberal wing of the Cabinet was doing, you took the "Daily News." On the same day you had what a different wing in the Cabinet was doing repeated in the "Times."


No, no! The "Daily Express."


The "Daily Express" is supposed to be more of an authority than the "Times." We had day after day during the week preceding the introduction of the Military Service (No. 2) Bill, the position of this Minister or that in relation to the proposals of the Bill, in relation to his colleagues, in relation to other Ministers, definitely stated. Take the case of the right hon. Member for Walthamstow, who, we were told several days before he resigned, or his resignation was made public, that he would resign, or had resigned, and that his would be the only resignation.


I did not say so.


I must say you did not, but other members of the Cabinet might have done so, and I can guess pretty well who the members were; they were members possibly with a short experience of Cabinet responsibility, and they were therefore members of the Cabinet that we can the more readily pardon. The matter of Cabinet secrecy and Cabinet unity is not what it was in the past—in the days that Mr. Gladstone, and certainly in the days of Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, nor as it was in the early days of the present Prime Minister, when it was something very different from what it is now. I shall not pursue that matter further, but I am sure that it is at the root and is really the cause of the little episode which has been magnified to-night into a Parliamentary Debate.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Montagu)

I do not disagree with the statement that this debates involves no charge against my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, and I should like to share in the high tribute already expressed in different quarters of the House to the hon. Gentleman. I really failed, although I listened with great attention, to see what the hon. Member wants or hopes to gain by this Debate. The Military Service Bill is through. It was passed without any opposition of any kind raised by intrigue or cabal, though there were certain Members honestly opposed to the measure. But it is now the law of the land, and members of the Cabinet, in the administration of their offices, are animated by no other purpose, in the working of the Departments entrusted to them, than to abide loyally by the decisions of this House and the House of Lords. The suggestion that anybody in the Cabinet is trying to minimise the effect of this Act is an accusation which is absurd and without any foundation. The hon. and learned Member seems to have a strange idea of the functions of the Prime Minister, which certainly differs from mine and also from the Prime Minister's idea. His suggestion is that the Prime Minister should send for his colleagues and say: "My private secretary told me that Alden has made a speech of which there are two versions. I want to know, and it is better to confess before I find out, whether it is your report or is not," and then I suppose hold out your hand if it is. The Prime Minister is the leader of a Party and the leader of his colleagues. He is not the headmaster of a private school. For myself I have only to say that since I have been in the Cabinet, only now a few weeks, I am perfectly convinced from what I have seen there that there is nothing to choose in loyalty to the Prime Minister between any Members of the Cabinet, Liberal, Conservative or Labour, and that it is a united and loyal Cabinet. I believe that the whole treatment of this incident by the Prime Minister shows that he is confident, as he has a right to be, of the enthusiastic loyalty of all his colleagues.


I am sure the House will be relieved to hear one observation from the Chancellor of the Duchy in which he announced that the Government is going to stand by the Military Service Act. We have seen the War Office trying to wriggle out of its provisions, and we have seen a Noble Lord who holds a position in the War Office in another place from the Front Opposition Bench making an attack on the Government of which he is a servant. We are delighted in spite of all this to learn that the Government is going to stand by the Act. There is an unofficial Committee of Members of this House of which another official of the War Office is a member. That Committee has appointed a Sub-Committee to criticise the Army Estimate, and a member of that Committee is the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood), who is also an official at the War Office at the present time. These seem to me much more interesting examples of Government insubordination than the mare's-nest discovered by the hon. Member for St. Augustine's. We have not to go into the highways and by ways of suburban London to find these things which are proclaimed from the housetops. The hon. Member comes here, holds up his hands in holy horror, and says: "Here we have another example of treason to the Prime Minister." Why, a Noble Lord in another place hoped that the Prime Minister was going to carry out his pledge in the spirit—a clear insinuation that he was not doing so. I think that is a much more serious thing than this alleged indiscretion of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Alden). After all, are we not living in an atmosphere of cant about these things? It is all a mockery about Cabinet secrets, yes, and Cabinet loyalty and Cabinet responsibility. We know there is nothing of the kind; there never has been since this Government came into existence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which Government?"] The present, and I doubt if it existed in the past. There was a very significant incident that happened in this House three nights before the last Government fell, when several Members indicated before any public statement was made that the Government was going to fall. How did they know? On the adjournment for the Autumn Recess, when we dealt with the question of Compulsory Military Service, an hon. Member of this House stated categorically from the bench opposite that the needs of the Army then were seventy divisions. That was a Cabinet secret. How did he know? Of course he did not say that a right hon. Friend had told him, but it was obvious that he had some access to confidential information. I think my hon. Friend was rather premature in trying to exculpate his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University. It is true that the right hon. and learned Gentleman read a letter in j the Prime Minister's presence, but on a later occasion, in a speech in the Prime Minister's absence, he gave further confidential particulars of Cabinet information. He said: What is more than that, if that is controverted as a tact, I say that I discussed the question with the Secretary of State for the Colonies and also with the Minister of Munitions, as being two of the Ministers in whose judgment I most relied in the Cabinet, and they certainly never dissented from that view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1915, col. 1555, Vol. LXXV.] That occurred on the 15th November, 1915. In another one of his speeches the same right hon. and learned Gentleman asked the Prime Minister whether the Official Secrets Act ought not to be made to apply to the Cabinet. I think the hon. Member for St. Augustine's, who was a diligent student of every word that has ever fallen from the lips of his right hon. and learned Friend, will remember that. He regards everything that his right hon. and learned Friend says as verbally in spired, and he has transferred his belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible to the Member for Dublin University. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually challenged the Prme Minister to invoke the Official Secrets Act in regard to his over burdened Cabinet of twenty-two or twenty-three, and I do not know that it is not twenty-four, as it seems to be growing—

It being one hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February.

Adjourned at Seven minutes before Ten o'clock, until Tuesday next, 14th March, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.