§ "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 4,000,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1917."
§ Mr. THOMAS
I want to draw attention to various matters coming within the category of this Vote I want, first, to deal with the much-debated question of the married man, because I venture to assert that a large number of those who are now giving active support and encouragement to the development of this agitation are not fully alive to the very grave dangers that may arise from it. It is clearly evident, if we are to judge by the speeches delivered this afternoon, that the married men themselves will have just cause to feel that they have been had, not because any pledge has not been kept, but because of certain speeches delivered by Members in this House. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Captain Amery), for instance, said that within his knowledge tens of thousands of men had drifted into the starred trades with a view of escaping their military obligations. If that statement goes abroad, not only will the married men be justified in continuing to protest, but there will be created in the minds of married men a suspicion that not only have they been had, but that the Government themselves are responsible for them having been deceived. The hon. Member for Birmingham evidently thinks in militarism pure and simple, and has no consideration for the relative position of things which we must bear in mind when we regard the War as a whole.
I propose to deal, first, with the history of these starred and reserved occupations. There is an impression abroad that they date from the 15th August, whereas long before the Derby scheme was heard of, or before Lord Derby had anything to do with recruiting, the Government were brought face to face with a serious and critical position. They found, owing to the methods of recruiting then employed, that large numbers 2183 of men were being taken from certain industries that were not only of national importance, but that were vital to the success of the War. They found that 270,000 colliers had left the collieries of this country and had enlisted at a time when the Admiralty were taking from the collieries seven times the normal output for the British Navy alone, in addition to which we were called upon to supply both Italy and France. Therefore, the problem which the Government had to face then was not only that of these men going as soldiers, but that by allowing them to be taken even' the military side of the nation was being imperilled. When I hear the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) say, as a colliery proprietor, that so far as the collieries are concerned, large numbers of men can be spared, I can only conclude that he has not even read the history of his own collieries. A committee was set up, composed of an equal number of colliery proprietors and miners' leaders, under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Redmayne, and they inquired carefully, first, into the number of men that had enlisted; secondly, whether it would be possible to bring into the industry other men not of military age to replace them; and thirdly, whether there could be any modification of the Eight Hours Act. As a result of their inquiries, they unanimously came to the conclusion not only that not another collier could be spared, but that actually at that moment the national interests were so vital from the standpoint of the coal industry that the War Office should prevent recruiting in mining areas.
The next problem the Government faced was that of agriculture. They not only found that there was a shortage there, but the War Office had actually to loan soldiers to deal with agriculture. Then we came to munitions. At that time we had the famous statement about a shortage of munitions. It was discovered that recruiting meetings were being held outside munition works for the purpose of persuading munition workers to join the Army. The result was that some action had to be taken, and the Government decided that it was necessary to prevent munition workers going into the Army. The same position existed on the railways, and, therefore, at this given moment it was not a question of obtaining soldiers, but it was a question of maintaining our 2184 trade in order to find the wherewithal to maintain our soldiers. Nothing is so calculated to injure our case as to assume that everybody is to be turned into a soldier, while trade and industry may go to rack and ruin. That actually is what is underlying the suggestion of these married men's claim. Just mark the cool assumption with which some sections of the Press and some hon. Members of this House get up and say the only way to carry out the pledge to the married men is to take single men from starred trades and replace them by married men. That is the idea they are encouraging married men in the country to believe. That is the kind of speech we are getting in this House. Will it stand the test of a moment's examination? Is it to be assumed you can take a married man and put him in the place of a railway signalman who happens to be a single man? Can you put into the signal-box a married man who may not perhaps be able to tell the difference between a railway and a steam tram? Is our railway system going to be run on that line? Can all the grades of occupation on a railway, the duty of which can only be learnt by long years of experience, be undertaken at a moment's notice by married men drawn from other industries? Is it to be assumed that from your munition factories you are going to take the men you have trained, and whom you have been able to train solely in consequence of what is known as the dilution of labour?
Is it to be assumed you can get over the problem in that way? I am going to suggest there is only one way of testing the accuracy of these charges. It is clearly evident that the original figure of 650,000 supposed single slackers was an absolute fallacy. It has turned out to be a myth, but everything is now being done to bolster it up. Those who talk about men drifting to munition factories will, I am perfectly satisfied, not be able to support their views on examination. There is only one way of testing this thing, and that is to ascertain the number of men who, since the 15th August, have gone into starred industries. It is not such an easy matter even then to test it. You cannot assume that every man has gone into such industries to escape his duty. It must not be assumed, for instance, that every man has gone in since the 15th August. It is since that date that the Minister of Munitions came to this House and asked for 80,000 skilled 2185 men and 200,000 unskilled men and women. It is since the 15th August that the Minister of Munitions came to the trade unions and asked them to agree to the dilution of labour. You cannot have dilution of labour unless you employ people, and therefore I want the House to clearly keep in mind that the suggestion you can solve the problem by examining the figures since the 15th August is not sufficient. You must also keep in mind strictly how far the additional men have been brought in as a result of agreement with the Minister of Munitions.
I submit that the time has arrived when the Government themselves should clearly indicate how many men they want. It is no use going on the assumption that you have 1,000,000 men here or 1,000,000 men there. It is no use going on the assumption that the military authorities must absorb everybody. I say with the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman there will be no final solution of this question until the Government themselves have made up their mind how many men they can spare, having regard to all our obligations; and until we know that, we certainly shall not know where we are going. I want also to draw the attention of the House to the manner in which the Military Service Act is being violated to-day. I agree with the general conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot for one moment assume that in an Act of this kind everything can be expected to work smoothly. Judging by the manner in which some of the tribunals, not in one part of the country alone but in all parts, are deliberately ignoring and defying the Act of Parliament, one can only come to the conclusion that it is done with deliberate intent. The first case I wish to draw attention to is reported in the "Northern Daily Telegraph" of Tuesday, 29th February. Here is a case where a weaver at Burnley applied for exemption. He applied for it on the sound logical ground that provision was made in the Act to deal with his case, because he was the sole support of a widowed mother. That fact was not disputed, but the chairman, who happened to be the mayor, in refusing to grant the exemption, although incidentally the man had offered to do munition work, as his only object was to enable him to maintain his mother, said there could be no sentiment about this job. Many a home would have to be broken up. If that is the spirit 2186 in which chairmen of the tribunals are going to consider applications that come before them, it is apparent there will be no attempt to give honest effect to the intentions of the House of Commons.
The next case is somewhat further removed. It comes from the Bath district. It was a case where a man, by name Carter, engaged as a butcher's shop manager—not an indispensable trade—applied. First his employer applied, and then he applied, on the ground that he is the only son of his mother, a widow, and she is at present lying at the point of death. A doctor's certificate to that effect was laid before the members of the tribunal. This man, in addition to supporting his widowed mother, also supports two younger children. The chairman of the tribunal, in refusing the application, which was heard in camera, remarked that the man's mother would be better off with him at the front. I submit that here, again, there is a clear and deliberate attempt to violate the law. If it were wrong for the sole support of a mother to be exempted I could understand this attitude, and if the Act of Parliament never intended it one could appreciate it, but when it was clearly and definitely laid down by the Prime Minister and by every Minister in charge of that Bill that it was intended to deal in that way with cases of this kind we are justified in saying at least that here is a deliberate attempt to flout the will of Parliament. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say this afternoon that an attempt is to be made to deal with the people who were previously rejected but are now being accepted by the military authorities. I do not protest on the sole ground that the attempt is made to bring them into the Army, but I protest also on the grounds of national efficiency and economy. Nothing is more wasteful. Indeed nothing is more painful than to hear day by day, as Members of this House hear, of the cases of men who have been passed into the Army whose complaints are so obvious that it is perfectly well known that they cannot stand the test of any training. I am glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman himself, this evening, attached considerable importance to that matter, and I hope we shall hear no more about it.
I wish, however, to emphasise the fact that complaints are coming to myself from all parts of the country on this head. On three different occasions the attention of 2187 the War Office has been called to the deliberate manner in which the military authorities are ignoring the definite pledges of the Under-Secretary. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) and other Members, including myself, drew attention to the scandal of the military authorities trying to bring men who had already attested within the Act the right hon. Gentleman assured us that every effort would be made to deal with that question. A few days afterwards his attention was drawn to the fact that not only were they trying to include these men, but that they were deliberately tearing up their certificates, which form the only proof they have. Again, an assurance was given that orders and instructions had been issued, and that the authorities had every reason to believe there would be no recurrence of this kind of thing. Now I find that so recently as last week a man at Crewe who had offered himself for enlistment on the 3rd December but was rejected as medically unfit received on the 9th inst. Army Form 3236 ordering him to report for service with the Colours before seven a.m. on the 11th. The man was ill at the time, but in order to show that his was a genuine case and to assure the authorities that he had already offered his services he got a friend to take his rejection paper to the military authorities with a view to assuring them that there was no justification whatever for the demand that was being made. The friend took the paper and went to the recruiting office, when one of the men there, named Taylor, turned to him and said, "I will show you what to do with this," and deliberately tore it up in the presence of the man. It is useless for the right hon. Gentleman to get up from the Treasury Bench and express regret for that kind of conduct. It is useless for Ministers to get up and assure us they are very sorry, and that it will not happen again. The only way to cure this is to show these people that we are the masters of the situation. The only way to deal with them is to punish them. In view of the number of cases that have been brought to the attention of the War Office as to the deliberate way in which these people have been ignoring the instructions we ought to have at least an assurance that in these cases drastic action will be taken to punish anybody who is guilty of conduct of this kind.
2188 I come to what I believe is the most serious of all aspects of this question. The President of the Local Government Board indicated to-night that in his opinion the experience of the working of this Act revealed only one flaw, and that was in regard to what is called "industrial compulsion." It is significant to note that if there is a flaw in this aspect of the matter it is due not alone to the Military Service Act, but that it is also due to the Munitions Act, because, let it be observed, under the Munitions Act previously to the Military Service Act coming into operation a workman could be penalised for six weeks—that is to say, if he was guilty of any offence he was penalised by being refused employment for six weeks. When the Military Service Bill was first introduced it contained a six weeks' Clause, and, coupling that Bill with the Munitions Act, it meant not only that the employer had the right to keep a man unemployed for six weeks, but that at the expiration of that six weeks he automatically went into the Army. That was industrial compulsion of the very worst kind. The result was that eight weeks was put in as an Amendment in order to get over that difficulty. Apart from the Amendment of the Bill, it will be generally agreed that most definite and conclusive attempts were made to assure everybody that no industrial conscription was intended, that it would not be countenanced, and that, so far as the Government were concerned, it was entirely foreign to anything in their minds. What has actually happened? Here are two cases from Accrington that are worth reading. The first is a letter from a locomotive fireman employed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, who says:"I wish to draw your attention to my case before the local tribunal. I was not asked one question. They took the word of the military representative that the railway company did not want me. The reason the railway company were not applying for my exemption was because I did not attest. In fact, they are applying at the same Court for men who have had but a few months' service at the outside. I entered the service of the railway company in 1910. The day I appeared before the tribunal my district superintendent asked me how soon I could get back to Manchester, as they had wired to him for firemen. I have been working in the Manchester district about a month as they have nineteen main-line drivers without firemen. One fireman this week made twenty hours. I myself made fourteen, and during the past thirty-nine days I made over twelve hours on an average, and on two days I worked nineteen hours and over.It is admitted that foodstuffs, business and everything else, is being interfered with today because of the absolute shortage of railwaymen, and although this man was 2189 working nineteen hours a day the railway company says, "No, we will not appeal for you, not because we do not want you, not because we have any complaint against you, not because you have not done your duty, but simply because we have now got the power to punish you for something that we think will give us the chance of getting rid of you."
Let me develop it for a moment. There was another man who applied, a shunter at Accrington again, and he happens to be one of the secretaries of our society—the chairman of one branch and the secretary of another. There had never been any complaint against him. It is admitted on both sides that he is a man of unblemished character. I will read his letter:"I appealed at the local tribunal on Friday last. I appealed on conscientious grounds, and of domestic difficulty, which they absolutely ignored, without giving me a chance to speak or asking me any questions. As regards my work, I am a passenger shunter at Accrington. I have been in the service of the company for sixteen years and the military representative, Lieutenant R. Hudson, stated that the railway company did not claim me, although they had never had any trouble with me, except that the reason they did not claim me was because I had not attested. They are claiming for all others who are junior. I am the chairman of our trade union branch and also the secretary of the approved section. As the railway company are claiming for men ten years younger than myself, who have only been in their service twelve months, I consider they are taking a mean advantage and trying to get rid of me.A remarkable point in connection with these cases is that a railway company is the only employer in the country which has the absolute right to veto anyone. The ordinary employer can appeal to a tribunal and the tribunal can reject his claim, but power has been given to a railway company by the War Office that before even a man need appeal, unless they get the authority for him, they can ignore the military authority and everyone else, so the railway companies have had placed in their hands the power to pick and choose. My union and myself strongly urged all the men to attest, because we felt that surely no employer would take advantage of a man at a time like this. This kind of thing is going to lead to trouble. It is no use for men in this House to say they are not going to create any agitation outside. No one could say that those of us who opposed this Bill have by word or action done anything outside which would lead to trouble of any kind. We have positively refused to use the industrial machine. But surely, if we took up that attitude, if we did it in loyalty to our country, if we did it because we know the national difficulty, we are at least entitled to demand that the Government 2190 also have got to play cricket. I can foresee trouble. I believe that the military authorities are deliberately ignoring the instructions of this House, and I believe they take no notice of any of the answers given from the Front Bench. I hope that, as the result of this discussion, we shall be able at last to see that, whether we like the Act of Parliament or not, it is at least administered fairly and in an impartial spirit.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Most of the Members who have preceded me have addressed themselves to the topic of the men coming into the Army. I propose to direct the attetnion of the Committee to the question of the preservation of the life and health of the men who are already in the Army. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tennant) yesterday said the Government fully realised that this was a war of attrition. It is, of course, very good news that the Government really realise this. He did not enlarge upon the subject. He did not touch on the subject of the Gallipoli Expedition, the Solonika Expedition, or the Mesopotamia Expedition. I suppose we have all made up our minds now about the Gallipoli Expedition; that it was a reckless gamble, conceived in a spirit of levity, and resulting in the most disastrous and lamentable waste of men. But it would have been interesting to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what part the Mesopotamia Expedition is playing in this war of attrition. It would be interesting to know whether we are suffering more attrition than the Turks. There is, I am sorry to say, an unfortunate similarity between the Gallipoli and the Mesopotamia Expedition. We see our forces launched against the enemy, inadequately provided with artillery and inadequately equipped. We see battalions of the finest men, officered by the keenest of officers, launched against difficult positions inadequately prepared by artillery, and we see those battalions given those orders without being told what their front is, or what their objective is, with the result that 90 per cent. of the officers and 60 per cent. of the men are mowed down at 200 or 300 yards range. That is bad enough, but what I wish specially to register a protest against tonight is the treatment of the wounded. When on the top of this terrible waste of human life we are faced with the fact that the wounded are disgracefully neglected, I confess it is impossible to conceal one's anger and disgust. The treat- 2191 ment of the wounded in the Dardanelles Expedition was absolutely disgraceful. I am not speaking of the later days of that Expedition, when the hospital arrangements were about as good as they possibly could be. I was in a hospital myself, and I speak from experience. During the early days the hospital arrangements were absolutely disgraceful. The wretched men did not have their wounds attended to from the time they left the front to the time they reached the hospitals in Egypt, some four or five days later. I think it is really lamentable to see the experience of Gallipoli being repeated in the Mesopotamia Expedition. We hear of a shortage of hospitals, and we hear of a shortage of nurses, doctors, medical dressings, anaesthetics and antiseptics. We hear of men being shipped down the Tigris with only one blanket for three men in these bitter cold nights. It is not in the least bit surprising that these wretched men suffer from sepsis in their wounds, and even from gangrene. Nothing surprises me more than the way in which the people of this country have treated these lapses from efficiency and these lapses from humanity on the part of the Government. I cannot understand it. I remember that during the Boer War the Government was shaken to its foundations by the revelations made by the hon. Member for Westminster as to the inadequate hospital arrangements. As much greater horrors have been experienced during this War it is a remarkable thing that public opinion in this country has taken it so lightly. I hope public opinion will take this question up and force the Government to do ten times more for the wounded than they have done in this Far Eastern expedition.
There is another subject to which I wish to draw attention, and that is the waste of money. It seems a very platitudinous remark that if we are to carry on successfully this war of attrition we ought to save as much money as possible. I say this because I am not at all satisfied that we are acting on these lines in regard to our contractors. There is an uneasy suspicion in the country that the canteen contractors, for instance, are making much too large profits out of the business of contracting for the soldiers. We have the authority of the Duke of Bedford, who generally knows what he is speaking about and is generally sure of his facts, for the statement that the canteen contractors
2192 are charging for vegetables, milk and other perishable articles at least 25 per cent. more than the current rates of the district. We know that in the canteens the contractors return 10 per cent., but of that 10 per cent. 2½ per cent. is kept by the Board of Control to pay for their own salaries, and the result is that the soldier only gets a rebate of 7½ per cent. In other words, the soldier is paying 17½ per cent. more than he ought to pay for the vegetables and perishable articles which he buys in the canteen. Much better arrangements must have been made before the Board of Control was set up, because there were units which, under the old system, made such good bargains with the contractors that they got 4s. 6d. per head per soldier returned as a rebate. If we take a unit of 2,500 men, that rebate amounted per month to £570 and they are now getting only £290. The difference between £290 and £570 is £280. In other words, the canteen contractors per unit of 2,500 men are putting into their pockets no less a sum than £280 per month, compared' with the instance I have given under the old system. Perhaps this matter is under consideration. I hope it is. All I can say is that if some more satisfactory arrangement is not arrived at, the War Office may look out for very severe criticism on that point. There is another subject which is perhaps not of much interest to the Committee, but is of great interest to a certain number of my Constituents, and that is the pay of soldiers. A certain number of my Constituents at the beginning of the War enlisted in the Army Supply detachment of the Army Service Corps, and were promised pay of 3s. per day. Not only were they promised that, but it was marked on their Attestation Forms. But when they had served for some eight or ten months they were told that they were only entitled to is. 8d. per day. They appealed and got that decision reversed, and were given once more their pay of 3s. per day, but when they went to Aldershot not very long ago they were told it was all a mistake and that they were only entitled to 1s. 8d. a day. That is considered to be, and I think very rightly considered to be, a very genuine grievance. If a man is enlisted at a certain rate of pay, and if that rate of pay is marked on his Attestation Form, I really do think he ought to be paid that rate of pay so long as he serves in the Army. It is not within the competence of 2193 the War Office to come down and tell these men they were enlisted under a mistake and were not entitled to that rate of pay. Other Constituents of mine have joined the Army Ordnance Corps. They are highly skilled engineers. In the Army Ordnance Corps there are five rates of pay. These men, although they have been in the Army Ordnance Corps for a long time, although they were very skilled mechanics when they enlisted, and although they have done really first-class skilled work since they have enlisted, have never succeeded in getting beyond the fourth grade. It is their contention, and I have gone into the subject and it seems to me that their contention is just, that they ought to have been moved up to the second grade. There is a feeling among these men and the other men to whom I have referred that the Government are economising very unjustly in small ways in regard to the pay of the men. I hope that is not a fact, but I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would kindly give these matters his consideration.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
I would ask the War Office most respectfully if they cannot make some arrangement to retain in their present position the members of the Anti-Aircraft Corps of the Royal Naval Air Service who are now engaged in the defence of London. I venture to point out that while the military authorities are making such demands for more men to join the Army at the present time, their method of manning the various anti-aircraft stations up and down London are certainly very inconsistent with this demand for more and more men. In the past these stations have been manned by two officers and about ten men in each case, but now that they are under military control there are no fewer than four officers and something like thirty men at each station. The result of all this is that when the transfer from the Navy to the Military authorities is complete, about 400 Naval Reserve men will have been drafted to other places, or have been placed in the unpaid Naval Reserve, and their places will have been taken by something like 1,000 military men. In the past, with practically no exception, these men who are now being displaced have been engaged chiefly in working the searchlights, and in the handling of ammunition. They were not highly skilled trained men who were actually engaged in the training and the firing of the guns. The men who are being displaced are men who are over age or who were rejected for the Army, or they are 2194 married men. But in spite of this, we have had over and over again absolute testimony as to their efficiency in carrying out the services which were demanded from them.
I am sorry to say that I think there is little doubt that at the present moment the efficiency of the air defences of London has depreciated by at least 50 per cent. It is not nearly so strong or so good to-day as it was a month or two ago. This is due to the fact that, of course, the air guns at the various stations are naval guns, and the ammunition is naval ammunition. You have put military men to work at these guns, and in many cases, these men have frankly stated that they did not understand the working of these guns. In a recent case, the facts of which I can give privately to the right hon. Gentleman, where there was an alarm—a genuine alarm and not a mere practice alarm—one of these ordinary Naval Reserve men was some distance from his. proper station, and he immediately went to a station which happened to be close to where he was, and then when he got up to it he found the military authorities in full possession. But they absolutely did not know what to do next, and they turned to this ordinary man to instruct them at this critical moment in what they should do to carry through their own firing. We have been told in another place to-day that more and more men are required, and it appears to me, at any rate, that here you could keep about 400 men employed, men who are anxious to be employed, men who want to keep on the work which they have been doing for the last eighteen months. They are willing to be put in khaki if you like, but they say, "Do not displace us; let us go on with this work," and you could at once secure the release of something like 800 or 1,000 men for service abroad, men who want to go abroad, men who say, "Why have we been sent here when we want to go to France? We do not want to stop in this country." It is a very simple matter, and I think that it is well worth the consideration of the War Office
§ Mr. CAREW
As a new Member, following two new Members, one of whom, delivered an excellent speech yesterday and the other to-day, I feel rather handicapped in my first attempt at addressing this House. I listened to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) a short time ago, and I am bound to say that his sentiments are 2195 mine from top to bottom. I do believe that some of the criticisms which we have heard lately in this House have been rather more of an embarrassment than a support to the Government, and I think that we sometimes forget that it is difficult for the Government to show us their hand fully. They are rather like a person fighting with one hand behind his back. If they explained fully to us what they have done and what they are going to do, I cannot help thinking that it would be of more use to the enemy than it would be to us in this House or to the country. I heard the speech of the new Member for East Hertfordshire (Mr. Pemberton-Billing) yesterday, and I agree with all that he said. I feel sure that if he were in charge of the aircraft guns, as far as lay in his power we should find no enemy aerodrome left in Belgium or Germany. But until that time comes I cannot help thinking that England, being so near the seat of War, can never be quite immune from these Zeppelin raids.
All of us know that an aeroplane has very little chance of dealing with a Zeppelin here in this country. The one object of the Zeppelin raids here I believe is not so much to destroy life. Certainly they do not aim at women and children. The object is to create a panic. In fact, the whole object of Germany in this War seems to be to exercise intimidation and to create a panic if possible. I was rather astonished yesterday when listening to the speech of the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. G. Lambert), a fellow countryman of mine, who said that this country was better prepared than any of the Allies at the outbreak of the War. I do not think that there is any one, except, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman, either in this House or in the country who has any other opinion except that this country was totally unprepared for the War, and that most of the lives and money that we have lost have been owing to the state of unpreparedness. I have no doubt that the country does not agree with him, but believes that our military forces were criminally small at the outbreak of the War. So far as the Navy, in which the right hon. Gentleman is most interested, is concerned, I admit that this country was fully prepared and has done splendidly. In the Army, no doubt, in proportion to its numerical strength we had as fine a force as any country could wish to put into the field 2196 and most nobly it carried out its part at the beginning of the War, better I believe than any other country could have done.
With regard to the distribution of forces, there again it is easy to be wise after the event, but, apart from the operations at Gallipoli, I believe that our Government have done all that they possibly could to maintain the greatest force that it was in their power to create in preparing a new one. This country was not ready for this great War, which had distressed us for years before it broke out, and a good deal of the enormous waste can be traced to the utterly unprepared state of this country. Some ten years previous to the beginning of the War we had experience of the Boer War, and I think the country at the time, or a great many of us, hoped that we should begin to prepare a military force worthy of the great Empire we have to protect. While not wishing to reflect on the Government in any way, in the next point to which I wish to refer, I do believe that the Military Service Act and recruiting in this country have got into rather a hopeless muddle. I think it is only fair criticism to say that a great deal of the worry and waste of time of the Government could have been avoided had they adopted a bolder and more straightforward policy at the beginning. This House and the country would have welcomed a more comprehensive measure, and a great deal of this trouble that we are now experiencing would have been saved. I think that we started badly with the starring under the Registration Act. Speaking for my own Constituency, I know, as a fact, that a great many people were mostly starred improperly, as in many other places.
I will take a simple case of starring in Devonshire, which was done from Bristol, though it might just as well have been done from Timbuctoo. Farmers were un-starred and their ploughmen were starred, and that sort of thing went on in a great many cases-in fact, most cases. I think that was the origin of the trouble, and the tribunals have not yet got over the effects of that bad starring. Another question which is now exercising the mind of this House is the shortage of unmarried men. I listened with great interest to the Debate on the Military Service Bill, and I am bound to say, like the Member for East Birmingham, that I did understand the President of the Local Government Board to say that Lord Kitchener had told him 2197 that morning that it would not be necessary for men who had arrived at the age of eighteen, after the 15th August, to be made to serve, because he considered there would be enough men without it. I admit—I have never forgotten it—that it struck me as rather a bold thing to say, because no one knew where the War might take us, or how many more men would be required eventually; nor did I see that to make a man serve if he were eighteen after the 15th August would be any greater hardship than it was to the men who had preceded him. But that is only a mild form of criticism.
I have a letter which I received to-day from a constituent of mine who was medically exempted. He has experienced this great hardship: He is a young farmer who is the only support of his mother. He thinks it a great hardship that he should have been called up to be attested again after he had been medically exempted. He appealed to the Tiverton Tribunal, on Tuesday, the 7th, for total exemption, but was only granted six months. That six months' exemption has unsettled him; he does not know where he is, or whether to continue his farm or not. It is just possible that he will have to go up again to be medically examined. The man was medically exempted, and it was a very clear case. There were two reasons for his exemption, that he had ruptured both sides—and surely that ought to exempt a man—and also that he was farming 200 acres of land with his mother, who is between sixty and seventy years of age. I think it is rather a hardship on a farmer to feel for the next six months that he has got this hanging over him, and to be doubtful whether he should continue farming his land or not. I understood from the Under-Secretary for War that medically rejected men need not come up again, and I think I shall be within my rights if I say that that was what the right hon. Gentleman said in this House. I do not desire to take up more time of the House, except to say I believe that while the fate of this great Empire is trembling in the balance English pluck will still continue what it has been in the past, and that we shall get all the men we require to end this War. My one wish, and I think it is the wish of everyone I know, is to support the Government in every possible way I can until the risk of Prussian domination is destroyed for ever.
§ Mr. WING
I rise not for the purpose of taking any part in the angry outbursts 2198 made in the last two days, but rather to approach the right hon. Gentleman in a very much more amiable mood. I should like to say to the House openly that I have found him on all occasions, as I have found the Financial Secretary to the War Office also, wishful to meet any case of hardship brought before him, and therefore I want to pay my tribute to the War Office for the way in which they have examined the various complaints that I have presented to them from time to time. I think we ought to do something besides finding fault with the Department, and that we should really express our thanks to them, all the more that I anticipate that I shall have other cases to bring forward. In regard to the married men, would it not be possible to take away an element which they regard as an injustice, in this sense: You have the attested men under the Derby scheme, and you have the men who have been brought into the military service who are unattested. The attested men want to choose their regiments, and those who are not attested can select their own regiments—that is, if a man enlists without being attested he has a free choice. The choice of the attested man is exceedingly limited, whilst the choice of the man who enlists and is not attested is entirely unlimited. I can hardly understand why this limit is applied to the attested men under the Derby scheme, because, from the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, it would appear that there are regiments which are in need of men, more men, and many men. Yet when the Derby men seek to find regiments the matter seems to be in the hands of the recruiting officer, who is able to put them where he likes. If a tribunal sets a man back, say, for two months, under the Military Service Act that really means two months later than the date then fixed. But under the Derby scheme if he is put back for a month there is only seven days extra. These are things which may seem small, but men feel that they are disadvantages belonging to one section of the community which do not attach to another section. I am speaking from what I have heard from chairman of tribunals, who felt that they were not in the position to be as generous as they ought to have been owing to the rules under which they were working.
Questions have been raised in relation to the laxity of doctors' examinations. The matter goes much further than has 2199 been stated. Take the case of a man working at a pit who has met with an accident. Under the employers' liability insurance by an arrangement with the insurance company he is given light employment, and is not allowed to do certain heavy work. Immediately a man of that kind is passed by a doctor as physically fit the responsibility of the insurance company comes to an end, and the man, on discharge from the Army, when he goes back to his old employment with a view to enjoying the old conditions, finds to his amazement that the insurance company is clear of all responsibility, owing to the certificate, and that he is not wanted. Thus, owing to the laxity of the doctor in the examination for enlistment, the man may be deprived of certain rights and privileges, which is an exceedingly serious thing, and for which to some extent I think the doctor ought to be brought to book. There was nothing said in the statement of the Under-Secretary about assistance for the married men who come under the Derby scheme. I should have liked a foreshadowing of some assistance to those men so as to dispel all fear of financial results, which is a very grave factor in causing married men to stand back in regard to attestation. I think if the right hon. Gentleman had been able to make some general statement it would have had a very gratifying effect. I am exceedingly gratified that the War Office has fallen into line with the Navy in recognising the claims of those men who have had to fall out on account of the intensification of? complaints which were not recognised when they were passed, but which were developed and aggravated by service, and that they are to be given pensions up to the extent of four-fifths of the full rate. I do not think that the War Office and the Government are making mistake after mistake and nothing else. The Government have had in hand a great enterprise, the greatest in the history of this country, and I do not know any other body of men who would be likely to perform the great services which they have performed any better than they have done.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
We have had a very interesting discussion yesterday and to-day upon very many topics concerned with this Vote, and with the affairs of the Army. We have discussed the expedition in Mesopotamia and the 2200 question of the care of the wounded, and various other questions, all extremely important and interesting, but we have always come back to the one question which seems to me to be the most vital at the present moment, and that is the question of recruiting. Yesterday when my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was making his speech I ventured to interrupt him with a question as to whether or not he considered that recruiting was satisfactory at the present moment. My right hon. Friend said that he would prefer to answer that question later on in Debate, if the question arose. That is my recollection of what he said. To-day I have had the privilege of hearing the Secretary of State for War in another place, and his statement, which was, if I may venture to say so, extremely clear and explicit, was to the effect that if the country was to obtain all the single men under the Derby scheme, and under the Military Service Act, that it could reasonably expect to obtain, that notwithstanding that, and in the course of a few weeks, it would be necessary to call up a considerable, number of the married men. I think the Noble Lord went on to say that the result was disappointing. That is a very important statement, but I do not think that we gain anything by minimising the serious position in which we are now with regard to recruiting. It may be said, and I think it has been said, that there is no use discussing these things least of all in this House, because it will do injury to ourselves by revealing to the Germans certain things. As a matter of fact, all these questions have been discussed in the papers for at least a week or a fortnight, and we do not, I think, gain anything by not discussing in this House questions which have been over and over again discussed in all the newspapers of the country. I only speak as an amateur, but I believe that the Germans know a great deal, and that there is not very much that we can tell them.
Under those circumstances I venture to say that the situation revealed by the Secretary of State for War in another place this afternoon is an extremely serious one. First of all, we have got to make up our minds that the married men have got to come whether single men come or not, and that they have got to come within a very short time. If that is so, what will the effect of that be upon the industries of the country? It has been said, and I think I have heard one or two hon.
2201 Gentlemen this afternoon say, and I think the hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) said with regard to agriculture that the proper course to pursue was to employ women. I should not like to speak for all parts of the country, because the country differs very much in this matter. I was informed yesterday by an hon. Member who is a Scotsman that in Scotland women do a great deal of work upon the farms. No doubt that is true; but in the part of England in which I reside women do not do a great deal of work upon farms. I myself farm about 700 acres, and I have endeavoured to get women, but cannot get them. If I did get them I am certain that they could not learn within a few weeks or months how to plough. We are told that we ought to keep as much land under cultivation as we can. Everybody knows that to keep land under cultivation it is necessary to plough. [An HON. MEMBER: "Women can plough!"] I do not know whether the hon. Member has tried to plough. He is an extremely capable man, but I think he would find it very hard. If a woman who has never been accustomed to plough is taken from anywhere and is put on the land, how long would she take before she could plough? There are some things, no doubt, which women can do. I myself last Saturday tried to carry a certain amount of straw on a fork. It is a difficult thing to do, and it took me a long time because I carried very little each time. All these things want skill, and however able and willing women might be you could not teach them in less than some months even if they had sufficient strength to do the work. No doubt in the summer they could do weeding and a variety of light work if you were able to get them to do it. But there is considerable difficulty. They have their children to look after and their house to keep clean. It is very easy to talk about women being able to do this, that, and the other, but it is not so easy to get them, especially in those parts of the country where it is not the custom for women to do this kind of work.
I do not think anybody will deny that the two most important industries which should be kept going are munitions and agriculture. The effect upon these two industries of calling up all the unmarried men you can and a large proportion of the married men, I feel sure is going to be very serious. What steps can we take to meet that difficulty? The hon. Baronet the 2202 Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. Markham) said that he would be in favour of importing labour. In my opinion, if we are going to win this War, we have to get all the labour we can to carry on the essential industries, and if it is necessary to import labour from abroad the Government ought to face that necessity and import the necessary labour. [An HON. MEMBER: "From where?"] From wherever it can be got. I was told yesterday, I believe on good authority, that the Germans are employing something like 1,000,000 Poles in the various industries in Germany. Whatever prejudices may have existed in the past—I am not saying that those prejudices may not have been right in times gone by—what we have really to consider now is that we must do everything in our power to win the War. We have got to forget all our past prejudices and to ask ourselves what is the best way to win the War and what is the best way to get the necessary men and labour in order to achieve that result. We have the command of the sea, and we can get men from anywhere we like. We ought to utilise that power and import all the labour we can in order to free our own people to fight for their own country. I came down this evening because I felt that this ought to be said. I do not know whether the Committee will agree with me or not, but I feel certain that this question has got to be faced. I know that we are up against the trade unions. I am told that the trade unions have said that they will not allow any labour to be imported. I hope that that statement is not correct. I do not think there are any Labour Members present. If there are I hope they will get up and contradict the statement. But if it is correct, all I can say is that if we are convinced that it is necessary we must do it. I am sorry there are only three or four members of the Government present, but I trust my right hon. Friend opposite will convey what I have said in all sincerity and earnestness to the Prime Minister and his colleagues.
Major C. H. GUEST
From listening to the speeches which have been made in this Debate I cannot help thinking that the Government follow a false course in not taking the House much more fully into their confidence. In all questions the House is vitally interested, and if we private Members knew more of the difficulties which the Government have to face, I am confident that there would be far less of the criticism of which the Government 2203 complain, and possibly far more useful suggestions than have been made in this Debate. With regard to the provision of men for the Army, which I think is the most important question we have to face, I believe the Government would be wise to take the Committee much more into their confidence. When one looks at the information they might give from a purely military point of view you cannot say that any statement that they made in this House would be of advantage to the enemy. It would be of far greater advantage that this country should know the real facts and the real difficulties, and that we should run any slight risk that there might be of the Germans obtaining information—which, I think, the House realises the Germans already have. On this ground alone I hope the Under-Secretary of State, when next he makes a statement, will take us fully into his confidence, let us know exactly where he stands, and what difficulties he has got, and ask the House of Commons to help him out of them. From the information we have received so far it is difficult to know whether one's anxiety with regard to the question of men has been increased or decreased by this Debate.
The Under-Secretary made no statement which elucidated the facts to any great extent. The statement made in another place by Lord Derby and by the Secretary of State for War undoubtedly shows that there is a grave anxiety on the part of those who are responsible for collecting the men for the Army-an anxiety which, on the other hand, the Government seem to be taking measures to try to meet. It depends on whether the remedies are sufficiently strong as to whether a sufficient supply of men can be obtained. There is no doubt to my mind that the situation is an anxious situation, and unless it is faced with courage, and assistance from every branch throughout the country, we may again be landed in the same trouble in which we were about a year ago, of not having the men to maintain the necessary divisions in the field. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question about a fortnight ago, put, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea, said that he did not propose to make any statement in regard to the results achieved by the Derby enlistment. I very much regret that, because we have already published the figures that we hope to get, and the country is uncertain, and 2204 we Members of the House of Commons are uncertain, as to what results are likely to be obtained. I do not know, and possibly many hon. Members do not know, whether the figures quoted are going to realise 75, 50 or 25 per cent. of the numbers stated. I think we ought to know. On the result of those must largely depend what action is taken in the future.
I think there is another thing which cannot help confirming the opinion of the ordinary man who has not access to official information—that is, the attitude of the attested married men throughout the country at the present time. The attitude of the attested married men shows to me, or leads me to believe, that there are still available a considerable number of single men of military age who have not yet come forward. I believe that the proposals put forward by Lord Derby, and supported by the Government, will largely bring in these single men. But I do not know whether they are going to do so or not, because, when I read the publication of the War Office yesterday, it seemed to me that List D applied only to a very limited number of trades. There are a large number of trades which are still excluded from any regulation which the Government has yet proposed to take. Men working in munition factories are omitted. Agriculture is entirely omitted from List D. Coal miners are omitted, as well as men engaged on the railway work, the men of the mercantile marine, and those employed in public utility services. I should like to think that a very close examination was going to be made into all the men employed in the manufacture of munitions. I believe it would pay us well. The more closely that examination is the better it will be. Personally, I am afraid of the time when the supply of munitions may become greater than the supply of the men. We may not have) reached that time yet; but you can produce in factories faster than you can produce men to use the munitions. We must never get to that stage, because, after all, in war it is the human factor, the human element, and the trained soldier that is eventually going to decide the contest.
The subject of coal mines has already been dealt with by an hon. Member who is far more closely associated with that industry than I am. But take the police forces throughout the country. Is there the same necessity to maintain the police forces of trained and physically fit men that there was before the War began? 2205 Cannot all those services be cut down to the absolute minimum in order to give us men? After all, a policeman is not making munitions, and he is certainly not assisting in export! Surely, if we can get these men, we ought to cut these services down to the lowest possible figure! I know that it would be much too drastic a suggestion to make that the single men of the country should be taken regardless of who they are or where they are. That might involve the taking of men from factories who are absolutely indispensable to the making of a particular thing. But I believe we can go further than we are proposing to go. If we were to take much more stringently from the factories we should find that the traders of the country would hunt high and low throughout the length and breadth of the country and labour to carry on their work. The whole thing is based on the fact that the military consideration is the first consideration, leaving to the factories what you do not actually need for your Army—provided you do not interfere with the output of munitions. While the War is going on the military case must come first. I press the Government to make the question of taking of the single men much more sweeping than they are proposing to do at the present time. The House well knows what is the wastage of an Army in war. It has been stated, and I do not think it has been overstated, that the wastage of an Army amounts to practically 100 per cent. per annum. If we are going to maintain the forces in the field that we have got now, and the Forces which we need to carry on the War, we shall have to keep up a supply of men in this country far greater than at the present time we are hoping to see obtained either under the Derby scheme or the Military Service Act with regard to the single men.
I think there are one or two things possibly that the military authorities might do to assist in this matter. It is essential that any soldier who becomes unfitted for service should be immediately returned to civil life. I do not mean to say returned to civil life without thanks or gratitude, or the pecuniary reward which is due for his services. It is not that we want to get quit of the men. We want to get that man back into the factory to help to turn out supplies. I think, too, much might be done by a drastic review of the existing forces of the Army by saying that no man who is capable of more active service than he is performing shall do service of any less active nature. Undoubtedly there are, 2206 even in France—for I have seen it myself—men who might be in the ranks of an Infantry battalion, who are doing most strenuous work of a semi-combatant nature. These should be drafted, quite regardless of wherever they enlisted, into the corps for which they are most suitable. The officers, if necessary, should be dealt in this way too, because this is not the time when any difference should be made between officers and men in this respect. I do not think there would be any harm in pointing out to the House, what the House must realise, that is that as this War goes on the fighting will and must become far more desperate from the British point of view. The great losses of the War, so far as we are concerned, are yet to come. The experience of the fighting at Verdun shows you may lose thousands of men in the space of a few days and yet achieve no decision. That decision can only be achieved by the expenditure of life such as this War so far has never seen. Then, when you come to the question of producing men for the Army, it is like the old days of the treatment of your naval programme. You have to get back your men, and train them, and if there is some time before you want them I would allow the men to come back and assist in civil life until they are required. If we can by some means of that sort prepare the men for the future, men we shall undoubtedly need, at the same time allowing them to serve some purpose in civil life until they are wanted, we may do something to help on this question.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
For a few moments I would ask the Committee to leave the subject of the married men and the single men who are wanted to defend their country, and to consider the question of our Air Service, which was referred to by the Under-Secretary of State for War and also by the hon. Member for East Herts. In this matter I think the present Government is most terribly to blame. The mistakes of the Government go back to the very beginning of aviation. They go back to the time when Lord Haldane was Secretary of State for War. In an easygoing way he stated then that aviation was progressing very favourably in this country, and that we could afford to wait until the mistakes of others had enabled us to profit by their experience. I will only trouble the House with one quotation from Lord Haldane's speech in introducing the Army Estimates in March, 2207 1910, exactly six years ago. He had been talking of dirigibles, and he said:The whole subject is, I think, so much in its infancy that I am never alarmed when reading of the progress of other nations. No doubt we are behind, but so we were at first in motor cars, and we afterwards went ahead very quickly. So much of the material that has been produced by foreign nations has already turned out to be so unsatisfactory that I have really not much fear, if we address ourselves in earnest to the task, that we shall be left behind.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Dirigibles. He had been talking of dirigibles, and that was his summary of the situation at the end. We know now to our bitter cost. The Government may say they were advised by their responsible expert advisers; that is no affair of ours. We know the Government chose the course of giving up all idea of having airships of the Zeppelin type, and of concentrating entirely upon aeroplanes. I would be the last man to deny that, at the beginning of this War, in the field the provision of aeroplanes was not unsatisfactory. It was very fairly satisfactory. Our airmen showed great pluck and great enterprise, and undoubtedly the Government can take this to their credit that, till about May or June of last year, we held our own very well in the theatre of war in Flanders, and were able to do reconnaissance, and by means of aeroplanes to direct our artillery fire very much better than the Germans. But it must be remembered that this is not command of the air. That was purely a local command of the air, which came about as an adjunct to our Army, and it did not give us that general command of the air which this nation desires, and which this Government ought to have given us at the beginning of the War, and much more so at the present moment. Consequently, though we had this command of the air up to the middle of last year, I do not think anyone in this House will get up now and say that the command of the air at the front at the present moment is ours. The position is precarious. If anybody has command of the air I am afraid it is the Germans and not ourselves. I am not going to apportion the blame. Whether that is owing to the Government having given a poorer sort of machine to our airmen to use or because they received orders, as the hon. Member for East Herts said yesterday, that hazardous and enterprising expeditions should not take place, the fact re- 2208 mains that anyone who comes back from the front will tell you that the local command of the air is not to-day what it was six or nine months or even a year ago. What has been the result of this local command of the air which we had for six months, and of which we have now still got a precarious hold? The result is that we have these air raids in England because the Germans find that, owing to our excellent air guns and aeroplanes, it is dangerous—almost impossible—to use their aeroplanes to scout over our lines. They are not able, as we all know, to use their Zeppelins with their Fleet, because their Fleet does not come out, and therefore they use them exclusively and entirely to raid our shores, and do as much damage as they can to our towns and to our munitions, and the result is they have got what we have not got, practically an air service, and not an air arm of the Army and Navy. They have an air service of Zeppelins which comes over here and does incalculable damage to our people and to our towns, and may do great damage in no short time to our munitions industry. I would press upon the Government not to delay any longer this subject, but to start what Lord Montague and other people have pressed upon the Government, namely, a proper Air Service with a Cabinet Minister responsible for it, because it is intolerable that this Island, which for centuries has been protected by our Fleet from foreign invasion, should now be open to these raids, which do so much damage to our towns, and which, though we are told no military damage is done, have undoubtedly caused great alarm and great damage to life and property.
What I want to ask the Government more particularly is what they are going to do meanwhile to protect this country. The right hon. Gentleman told" us yesterday that since his Department had taken over the Air Service of this country the organisation of the defence of London was complete, and the organisation of defence in the country was approaching completion. That does not carry us very much further. Organisation will not protect us against these raids. What we want is the guns, and we want the men ready to protect us from these raids. If he will tell us that the men and the guns are shortly going to materialise, then, of course, I have not so much to say, but he 2209 has not informed us of that. May I give the Committee an instance of the organisation of the War Office in this matter? The War Office as soon as they took over the Air Service very properly and very wisely sent a circular letter to the Press, and asked the various great newspapers if they could enlist the services of their correspondents in different parts of the country in order to give the War Office early and detailed information of where Zeppelins were seen, and exactly what hour they appeared in certain places—information no doubt which would be of great use to the right hon. Gentleman's Department. The newspapers, with that patriotism which always characterises them—they have nothing to get out of it—instructed their correspondents in every part of the country at once to wire the newspaper offices, who would then at once communicate with the War Office by special messenger. During last Sunday week's air raid a considerable number of messages were sent to the various newspapers by their local correspondents on the East Coast, giving very valuable details of the air raids. What happened to the telegrams? Most of the telegrams arrived next morning. Some did not arrive until the Monday afternoon, and in every case the name of the place in which the Zeppelin appeared was deleted by the military censor. I ask the Committee, is that an example of organisation? When the right hon. Gentleman's Department asked newspapers to co-operate with him, as they willingly did, surely his Department might have taken the trouble to inform the military censors that these telegram should have been sent through, and then a ridiculous situation would not have arisen. What I chiefly rose to press in a very humble way upon the Government is this: Do not rely so much and chiefly upon local and fixed defences in warding off Zeppelin attacks, but have mobile defences on the East Coast to keep off the Zeppelins before they arrive in London. Whoever heard of forts being placed in the middle of and on the outskirts of towns in order to ward off artillery attacks? You have to place your forts well out in order that when the enemy arrives the bombardment should not reach the town. In the case of air raids, you should not place guns in the middle of London, because the best way to defend this country is to continue your defensive line in France by means of mobile aircraft corps along the East Coast, where you can 2210 in nine times out of ten ward off a Zeppelin attack. I believe there have been four Zeppelin attacks upon London. The Eastern Anti-Aircraft section have been in action twenty-two times against Zeppelins with the miserable equipment of guns which the hon. Member for Brentford shocked the House by describing on the 16th of February. With that miserable equipment of guns dating from the Boer War they were able on the East Coast to ward off a number of Zeppelin attacks, and surely if you give them decent guns like those you have in London, which I am told are very good ones, you will serve London well and secure it.
Remember, however, that London is not the only place in England, and other towns have just as much right to be defended as London. You cannot have guns round every munitions factory in England. The way to defend this country is not so much by local defences round every town, but by having mobile corps upon the East Coast to ward off the Zeppelin attacks. You have an excellent corps on the Eastern Coast which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman opposite does not know much about, because it was under the Admiralty, and some of the War Office officials are not well disposed towards these people because they happen to belong to the Admiralty, and naturally there are jealousies such as those which often exist between high officials in Government Departments I am afraid, in consequence of that, since the right hon. Gentleman took over the thing no encouragement has been given to these men. If you have this anti-aircraft gun section between the Thames and the Wash, why not have other sections between the Wash and the Humber, and the Humber and the Tyne, which would guard the North of England from attacks. On this matter I am speaking from information which I have received. I believe there are only two experts in this House on this subject, the hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) and the new Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing). If one tries to get information and talks to people who carry on these things, one may obtain a certain amount of facts, and I have been told that these Zeppelins when they come to this country nearly always descend quite low. If you have the defences I have suggested you would either be able to drive them back or compel them to fly so high that when they got over England they would not know where 2211 they were. I apologise to the Committee for speaking upon a technical subject which I do not pretend to have much knowledge of myself, but having met a good many officers during the past fifteen months, not only on the Eastern Coast but in London, who have done a lot of hard work in the Air Service without any praise from the Government, and a good deal of abuse from the general public, I thought it was necessary for someone to recognise that they have done their duty, and I wish to express public appreciation of their services.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I wish to call attention to the present method of recruiting for the Army, and more especially to the administration of the Military Service Act. My right hon. Friend, in his speech yesterday, said he was afraid that cases had occurred in which men had been tricked and cajoled into the Army. He might have added that a good many cases have occurred and are now occurring in which men are being bullied and intimidated into the Army, and he might also have said that the Military Service Act is being administered by local tribunals in many places in a way which has given the impression of illegality, straining the law, and disregarding the rights given to the subjects by this House, and this is producing a very unfortunate state of things in this country. In making that statement I do not want to bring charges in any wholesale way against the local tribunals all over the country, because I have no right to do so, and I am certain that in a great many places the local tribunals are doing their duty in the very difficult task which has been put upon them to the best of their ability and in a fair spirit. I am quite sure that is so, but I am also certain that there are a great many cases in which the local tribunals are giving a very poor hearing to the men who come before them, and more especially cases in which the military representative is arrogating to himself rights, powers, and authority which he was never intended to have, and which he ought not to have if the Act is fairly administered. My right hon. Friend says that the military representative has no authority, no status, and that he is not recognised.
§ Mr. MORRELL
If my right hon. Friend makes inquiries he will find that in local tribunals in some cases the military representative actually sits with the judges on the bench; he sits with the tribunal and he dominates and dictates to the tribunals, and I am informed that that is so on the best authority. I am told that in some cases the military representative actually supersedes the chairman, and imposes his will upon the tribunal almost without reference to the court. In many cases the applicant who comes before the tribunal is not allowed to ask questions of the military representative, although he may ask leave to do so. I will give a case which was reported in the "Oxford Times" last week. This is the case of a man called Runacres, a theological student. It is a peculiar name, but he is an Englishman. He claimed exemption as a conscientious objector as he was entitled to do under the Act, and he was supported by two witnesses who said that he was a man who could be trusted in every way and who ought to be exempted. In the middle of the proceedings the military representative came in, and he proceeded to read a letter which he said he had received about the man, and in which it was said that the man was a conscientious objector of the worst type, being engaged in giving Socialistic lectures, but he refused to give the name of the writer of the letter. The result was that the court, which had been previously inclined to grant exemption, absolutely refused it. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it fair of a military representative to read a letter without giving the name of the person who wrote it or the applicant an opportunity of asking questions about it?
§ Mr. TENNANT
All that the military representative, according to my hon. Friend, did was to read a letter. I do not think that there is any point in the keeping back of the name of the writer. I do not think that mattered a bit. A military representative can submit evidence just as counsel in any case properly does.
§ Mr. MORRELL
My right hon. Friend would find that if counsel did that in any Court he would be stopped by the judge. It is contrary to all the rules of evidence to read any document without giving the person who is being tried any idea who has written the document or any opportunity of asking questions about it. The 2213 man who wrote that letter might have had a personal spite against the applicant. It was a most unfair proceeding, and I am sorry that my right hon. Friend should endeavour to defend a military representative when he takes such action. I will give another instance brought to my notice from a little village near Accrington. It is a case in which two conscientious objectors—one a weaver and the other a schoolmaster—claimed exemption. The military representative came in as one of the cases was being heard, and he proceeded, as I should say, to insult the conscientious objector. He said, "If you can walk down the street and meet a wounded soldier, who has been fighting for you, and look him in the face you have no conscience at all." The man said that was not relevant, and obviously it was not. Then the military representative, Lieutenant Hudson, remarked that he did not think the Court ought to waste any time whatever on conscientious objectors. The other man's case was then heard. He said that he was unwilling to go and fight the Germans, because he believed that killing in war was as much murder as it was in peace. I do not hold with that view myself, but the man, under the Act, was at any rate entitled to raise his objection. This is what the military representative said, "There is no murder in killing Germans." The man replied, "The German is a man." Lieutenant Hudson said, "The German is proved to be a beast." That may be so from Lieutenant Hudson's point of view, but that is not the way to treat the conscientious objector. After this had been said the applicant remarked that, "Mr. Bonar Law has told us that if a man has a conscientious objection he is entitled to exemption. I wish the law to be carried out." After much insolence, as I should term it, and brow-beating on the part of Lieutenant Hudson, both of these claims for exemption were refused. I say that this attitude on the part of the military representative is intolerable. He arrogates to himself authority to dictate to the Court, and to continually cross-examine witnesses, in the Judge Jeffrey's style, and this ought not to be tolerated. I am not saying it occurs in all cases. But it does occur in some, and I assert it ought to be put a stop to by the War Office, in the interest of English justice and fair play. Let the conscientious objector have a chance of putting his case before the tribunals; let him have a fair hearing; let him feel that justice is being done.
2214 I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman shortly to the fact that the assurances he gave us with regard to the cases which come within the exceptions in the First Schedule are still not being carried out. Men who come within those exceptions are still being summoned by the recruiting officers, and their certificates of rejection are still being destroyed. That is a very serious matter in view of the assurances that were given. I will give the right hon. Gentleman some cases.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I have a letter written on 4th March, a considerable time after my right hon. Friend gave his assurances.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Not after I gave instructions that no further certificates of exemption should be destroyed. It was, I think, about the same time.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I cannot give the exact date, but my impression is that that letter was written after the assurances were given. But I will not press that point. A week after my right hon. Friend had spoken in this House I went myself to a recruiting office and placed before the recruiting officer the certificate of a man in my employ who had offered himself for enlistment and had been rejected, and the recruiting officer said, "It is no use bringing that to me; I cannot look at it; the man must come again."
§ Mr. MORRELL
The recruiting officer at Oxford—a personal friend of my own. I am not complaining of him, but the incident shows that the right hon. Gentleman's instructions had not reached him a week after the assurances were given in this House. What I complain of is that the authority of this House is disregarded in a great many cases by the recruiting officers and the military authorities, and it is making a very bad impression in the country. There is only one other point I wish to touch upon, and that is an answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me yesterday on the subject of the death penalty. It was an answer which filled many of us with surprise. I propose to read the answer as well as the assurance given by the Attorney-General. The question asked was:"If the undertaking given by the Attorney-General in the House of Commons on 18th January last, that no man who was deemed to have enlisted and was transferred to the Reserve under the Military Service Act, 1916, should be liable to suffer the death penalty in respect of failure to obey an order calling him up 2215 from the Reserve for service with the Colours, extends to a person taken by force under the Military Service Act, HUG, who refuses to submit to military orders and discipline; and, if so, if he will state what is the maximum penalty of imprisonment which could be imposed in such a case?My right hon. Friend replied:"I think my right hon. Friend's assurance was limited to the conscientious objector. It would obviously be improper for the death sentence to be applicable to those who enlisted voluntarily and inapplicable to those who join the Army under compulsion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1916, cols. 1860–61.]As far as I understand my right hon. Friend's answer, the meaning of it was that the assurance was only applicable to those who are found by a local tribunal to be conscientious objectors and whose conscientious objection has been admitted, but not to the man who claims to have a conscientious objection. If that is so, it means that the assurance that was given in this House is worthless, because the man who satisfies the tribunal that he has a conscientious objection will not, in all probability, be called upon to do service which is against his conscience. The difficulty will arise in the case of a man who has not been before a tribunal through not having made an application in time, or in that of a man who, going before a tribunal, has failed to satisfy the tribunal, but still feels it against his conscience to take part in military service. I want to know whether that man, who objects on the ground of conscience, is to suffer the death penalty? That is the really crucial case. I should like to read the Attorney-General's answer. On the 18th January he said this:"I can give my hon. Friend the assurance, on behalf of the War Office, that, under no circumstances will the death sentence be pronounced or carried out on persons who come in any way within the class of 'conscientious objector,' as defined by this Bill. That in my judgment meets the only case that is exceptional."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1916, col. 204.]A little afterwards he said:"It is intended that no man who is deemed to have enlisted and is transferred to the Reserve under this Clause shall be liable to suffer the death sentence in respect of failure to obey an order calling him up from the Reserve for service with the Colours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1916, col. 278.]
§ Mr. MORRELL
If my right hon. Friend agrees with that I do not know what is the meaning of his answer.
§ Mr. TENNANT
May I explain? I hope I can give an explanation quite briefly and satisfactorily to my hon. Friend. The point is the difference between the period at which the man has been called up to the Colours and after he has joined the 2216 regiment. If my hon. Friend will look at the Attorney-General's words he will see that the latter statement which he read referred entirely to being called up to the Colours, and was that a man who refused to be called up to the Colours as a conscientious objector should in no case suffer the death penalty.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, certainly. That is in accordance with the answer I gave yesterday, absolutely and entirely. What I said was that after a man had joined the Colours it would be intolerable, and in my judgment it would still be intolerable, that you should have two sets of laws, one for the voluntaryists and another for the compulsory service men. That is absolutely borne out, not only by my answer, but by logic and by the Attorney-General's assurance.
§ Mr. MORRELL
It seems to me that the meaning of the assurance that was given and as it was understood was that there should be at any rate a law to protect the man who was compelled from suffering the death penalty afterwards if he was compelled to serve against his conscience; and that he should be liable to imprisonment but not to be shot for not doing acts which in his conscience he believes—
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am sorry to interrupt, my hon. Friend. If a conscientious objector who is an agreed conscientious objector—we cannot deal with those whom the tribunals have declined to admit are conscientious objectors—was given orders to. take part in combatant service, I should say that order would be ultra vires, and therefore need not be obeyed.
§ Mr. MORRELL
From that point that seems to me satisfactory, though what my right hon. Friend says now does not seem to be consistent with what he said yesterday. Of course I absolutely disagree with his interpretation of the words that it only applies to men whose conscientious objection is admitted. If that is so it narrows down, it seems to me, the assurance which was given. What the Attorney-General said was that under no circumstances will the death sentence be pronounced or carried out on persons who come in any way within the class of conscientious objectors. It seems to me that people come within the class of conscientious objectors who claim that they have a conscientious 2217 objection to taking part in military service, and I think my right hon. Friend will find that there will be a storm of indignation in the country if a man who claims to have conscientious objections is liable to be taken out and shot, after the assurance which has been given, for refusing to do actions of which his conscience disapproves. I have raised these points more by way of warning, for I do not believe that at present the Military Service Act is being carried out in the spirit in which it was intended by the House. I have raised them because I want to see the Act fairly administered. I do not want to see new divisions being made in this country. I am as anxious to see the War carried to a successful conclusion as anyone, but it is most unfortunate that there should be an impression, as there now is, that the military authorities are willing to disregard old legal traditions, legal rules, and legal forms—that they are willing to strain this Act to the utmost in order to drive every man, even men who are physically unfit, into the Army. That is an unfortunate position, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take steps to see that, as regards his own military representatives on the tribunals, the acts of which I complain are not repeated.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I am sure the Committee is very much pleased that this question has been brought before the House, and with the temperate way he has brought it. I believe the answers the right hon. Gentleman has given will go a very long way to remove misapprehension. After all, we must trust to the honesty and sense of fair play of the tribunals we have established. It is only within the last week or ten days that I read in the public Press proceedings in a trial before the High Court in this country in which personalities were interchanged between the judge and the lawyer in a way that was quite unprecedented in my experience, and perhaps surpassed those which may have occurred in these improvised tribunals. The questions I wish to refer to are the question of aviation and the question in relation to married men. In regard to aviation, I will not attempt to pile Pelion on Ossa by repeating arguments which have been very much better delivered than I could possibly deliver them, but it seems to me that as regards that question we are in the presence of an extremely serious situation, and that the strain which 2218 has been put upon that question has by no means transcended the necessities of the case. It certainly must be an occasion for very acute consideration on the part of the House and the Government, and, above all, the country, that in the early stages of the War, in the field, we appeared to have an ascendancy in aviation which we have lost. As early as July last, when I was at the front myself, and had the opportunity of seeing what was going on as a spectator with some privileges, it was then whispered about by those who had a right to know that Germany had a superiority over us in the navigation of the air, and particularly in rapid ascents and escape from attacks. Some time has elapsed since then, and we are now in the presence of this situation, that a tremendous air fleet can pass over the sea, which was our natural protection, and by hovering over our great cities and towns and the countryside are capable of dropping instruments of destruction. For the moment they may not attack military property, but we never can tell when they may strike military property, even the House of Commons itself or any of our great public institutions. Surely that imposes upon us the most serious consideration as to the way to meet the emergency. I do not say that the Government is not taking every step that they can take to meet the difficulty. That it is a serious and momentous difficulty is beyond dispute. I regret exceedingly that the Government does not see the necessity to establist a Department for the control of this particular arm of the Service. It has been a sort of annexe of two different arms of the Service. I think it has acquired a real importance that demands that it should have independent control. It seems to me very much that the time is not far distant when the battles that were previously fought on land and on the sea may be fought in the air, and may be decided in the air. I think the true way to meet an air fleet is by meeting it in the air, meeting it before it arrives over our great towns and our small villages, meeting it at the coast and thereby protecting the country in the earlier stages of the invasion.
The reason I wish to refer to the subject of the married men is not because it has not been sufficiently well stated, but because of the questions now agitating the country and causing real disturbance, that of the attested men is very prominent. The married men are very disturbed in 2219 their opinions and great public dissatisfaction has ensued in consequence. They may be right or they may be wrong—I think in the main the attested married men are right—but whether they are right or wrong the idea has got a very strong hold of the country that an injustice is being done to them. What the Government should direct itself to first and foremost in that connection is to remove the impression in every way in their power that any injustice is being done to the married men. How is that to be done? In order to consider that we must consider the pledge to the married men. I have read over the statement made by the Prime Minister. I do not restrict the subject to the pledge that was given by Lord Derby. I take, for instance, the statement that was made by the Prime Minister. I am not making any reproach whatever. I am dealing with it regretfully as it is. That pledge was not in general terms that single men will be taken first, and then if they do not come they will be dealt with in a sort of indefinite way. That is not really the statement at all, because, first, the Prime Minister re-stated what the difficulty was, and, considering his statement by the context, it is perfectly plain that what he put before the country was that there was no obligation on the married man, even if he had enlisted, to be called upon to serve until the single men had been dealt with. I will read one sentence of what he said on that occasion—I am told by Lord Derby,the Prime Minister says,that there is some doubt among married men who are now being asked to enlist"—The Committee will observe, "who are now being asked to enlist"—'that having enlisted or promised to enlist they may be called upon to serve while younger or unmarried men are holding back and not doing their duty. Let them at once disabuse themselves of that notion. So far as I am concerned I should certainly say that the obligation of the married man to serve ought not to be enforced, ought not to be binding upon him, unless and until the unmarried men are dealt with.Clearly that means that the single men will be called on first, and that the married men will not be called up for service until the single men have been called for service. The pledge here implies that the unmarried men are to be so dealt with as to be called to the Colours before any attested married man is called. That is the meaning that the Earl of Derby attached to it, and that is the meaning that he put before the people of this 2220 country. It was on those terms that the married men enlisted, and that pledge is not being kept. I fully recognise the difficulties of the Government with regard to it. They say now that there is need for the married men. I sympathise with them in their difficulty, that they want the married men to come forward now. If that is so let them say, "The pledge was given as you interpret it, but we ask you now in the interests of your country to come forward and serve with the Colours." The difficulty is not that the married men are not patriotically inclined. On the contrary, from what I know of the married men in the district in which I live they are all perfectly willing to come forward, but they object to being tricked. They think that a trick has been played upon them. The attested married men object to come forward on another ground. They say that a whole lot of mere slackers and shirkers are waiting to take their jobs, and, while single men are making £2, £3, and £4 per week working at munitions, they ask what obligation is there on the married men to go and fight the battles for the country and for the shirkers and slackers at a shilling a day. Under those circumstances I do think the Government must come forward and make a much more direct statement than they have made so far. There is no use in telling us that they are doing the best they can, that they are going back to recover lost ground, and that they made a great mistake about it in the beginning. That is not carrying out the obligation. I hope that they will be able to do that without injury to the Service, but they must go beyond that and take the position frankly before the country that these men who should have come forward, whom they undertook to bring forward, before the married men were required to come forward, are brought forward. We have these prolonged appeals before the tribunals, and unless they are facilitated and dispatched these appeals by single men may go on for a year. Some means ought to be found by which they can be rapidly determined, so that the single men will be bound to come forward and the married men be satisfied that the Government have done and will do their full duty. Married men who are not attested are not under the obligation to come forward, and they may be dealt with in another way, but we must recognise that they are not in the same position as married men who have attested. Whatever the necessities of the situation, we must deal with it as it is, 2221 and deal with it promptly, so that there may be justice done between married men and single men in the circumstances.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken read the pledge which was given by the Prime Minister. A day or two after that a hon. Gentleman on this side of the House asked a question of the Prime Minister in order to elucidate the matter still further. This was about the 4th or 5th of November. There then ensued a correspondence between Lord Derby and the Prime Minister, and Lord Derby's letter was dated 9th November. In that letter he made it very clear to everybody that the pledge which Lord Derby understood the Prime Minister to give related only to those single men not required for other services. Men who were the sole supporters of widowed mothers, and the men who were engaged on munitions were to be exempted from the obligation to military service. As to the residue of the unmarried men—that is to say, the men not required for other national purposes—if they did not come forward in sufficient numbers, then the Prime Minister pledged himself to use compulsion to bring them in before calling on the married men to serve. That is the plain pledge given by the Prime Minister, as interpreted by Lord Derby only this afternoon in another place.
The Prime Minister, in accepting the interpretation put upon the pledge by Lord Derby on 9th November, adopted that interpretation. One fact has emerged from this discussion. It is that the military value of the Compulsion Bill passed last January is nil, or practically nil. I think almost everyone agrees with that statement. Those of us on this side who objected to the Bill did so on the ground that it would not really help the military situation at all, because the 650,000 unmarried men spoken of in Lord Derby's Report did not exist in fact, and therefore it was idle to bring in a Compulsion Bill in order to conscript men who were not there to be conscripted.
What has happened since? The President of the Board of Education went down to Bristol, I think on the 27th January, and he made certain observations in that city. He wanted to justify 2222 the Military Service Act. The way he attempted to justify it was by pointing out that since 11th December, when Lord Derby's scheme ceased to operate, and the date on which he was speaking, the 27th January, I think, something like 120,000 unmarried men had either attested or enlisted. He was trying to justify the Bill by saying that it had forced 120,000 men into attesting or enlisting. Having made use of that figure in order to justify the Bill, then it is surely most unfair that the fact that very few single men remain should now be used in the contrary direction. We pointed out that this Bill was not necessary to get the unmarried men into the Army, and that if the pledge of the Prime Minister was to be carried out as interpreted by Lord Derby in his letter of the 9th November, that the number of unmarried men to be brought into the Army by the Bill would be infinitesimal. We were flouted; we were jeered at; we even went so far as to say, "Extend the Derby period for another month and you will get every unmarried man that you would get under the Bill." That request was refused, and the Bill was passed. I quite agree that once the Bill was passed it became the duty of every good citizen to see that it was carried out in the letter and in the spirit. We predicted that this Bill would not satisfy our Conscriptionist friends, and the speeches made this afternoon by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Captain Amery), by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Major Guest)., and by others have demonstrated that our prediction is absolutely verified. We made another prediction. We said that, so far from the country remaining in a state of unity and solidarity in which it was before the Bill was introduced, the very beginning of Conscription would create turmoil, confusion, bitterness, and anger. Who can say now, looking at what has happened, that that prediction has not been verified? You cannot go to any village, to any parish, almost to any house where you do not find suspicion and anger prevailing on account of that Bill.
There is one other matter. An hon. Friend behind has drawn attention to the question of military representatives, and I should like to refer to Carmarthen. I do not know who appoints them. I suppose it is the War Office. In three constituencies represented by Liberal Members, who were returned by a majority of 2223 nearly 10,000 voters at the last election, there is not a single military representative in any part of the county who is a Liberal. In one Division he happens to be the Conservative election agent. In another town the military representative is now the Conservative candidate for that very Division where he is acting in the capacity of military representative.
In another case in the same county the military representative is the ex-Conservative candidate. In Carmarthen a stranger has been imported. Let me quote a sentence from the report of the application of a theological student for exemption as a conscientious objector. In answer to a hypothetical question which ought never to have been put, the student invoked the name of Christ. This is what the military representative said: "He is not here to help you." Does my right hon. Friend approve of that? If he does not, is he going to have this man removed? There is another case in the same county. I saw a letter to-day from a member of the local tribunal objecting to the military representative sitting with the tribunal as one of themselves. This gentleman, a magistrate of the county, refused any longer to sit on the tribunal if the military representative remained. He was allowed to leave the the room, and the military representative continued to sit with the tribunal. This gentleman said he would not sit again 2224 as long as the military representative was acting not as counsel, as the Under-Secretary of State suggested, but as one of the judges, indeed, the dominant judge. I hope my right hon. Friend will see to this matter at once, as the local tribunals meet again next Friday, when I suppose the same procedure will be adopted.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I may inform my hon. Friend that I received his communication. I at once caused inquiry to be made, but it may be a day or two before I get a reply.
There were one or two other matters I wished to bring forward, but at this hour I will not detain the Committee.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Thursday).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One minute before Eleven o'clock.