§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
The Vote which I am about to propose is the fourth presented to the House of Commons for the service of the financial year 1916–17. Previous Votes of this year have been on 21st February—£300,000,000; 23rd May—£300,000,000; 24th July—£450,000,000. If the Committee agree to the Vote which is now submitted—namely, £300,000,000—the total for the current financial year will amount to £1,350,000,000. Perhaps it may be convenient, as on previous occasions, that I should at the outset summarise the total numbers and amounts of the Votes of Credit taken since the outbreak of the War. For the financial year 1915–16 six Votes were taken, amounting in the aggregate to £1,420,000,000. In the current year, if the House assents to the present Vote, we shall have had four Votes, amounting, as I have said, to £1,350,000,000. The result is that the aggregate since the outbreak of the War, sanctioned by thirteen Votes, amounts to £3,132,000,000. It is difficult, of course, to grasp the meaning of such a stupendous total, but it may perhaps make its significance clearer if the Committee is told that, since the outbreak of the War, Parliament has been asked to vote in Votes of Credit alone, without taking into account peace expenditure or debt charges, a sum which is rather more than the aggregate of the national expenditure for the twenty years which preceded the War—the years 1894 to 1913, a 96 period which included the South African War. One of the greatest of our political writers and thinkers, Edmund Burke, under conditions less strenuous and exacting than these, used words in his "Observations on the Late State of the Nation," which seem to be not inappropriate to-day. He said, speaking of the attack of some critic of the Administration of the day:He sees nothing but the burden. I can perceive the burden as well as he, but I cannot avoid contemplating also the strength that supports it. From this I draw the most comfortable assurance of the future vigour and the ample resources of this great country.When I moved the last Vote of Credit, on 24th July, I stated to the House the average rate of expenditure from Votes of Credit was then, approximately, £5,000,000 a day, but on the figures which I then gave the Government did not feel justified in assuming that the daily expenditure from Votes of Credit in the immediate figure would be less than that figure. On this basis it was anticipated that the Vote of Credit then proposed for £450,000,000 would last till the end of October. I will now tell the Committee what has actually happened since. By that Vote on 24th July, as appears from the figures I have already given, the House of Commons raised the total agreed to for the current year to £1,050,000,000. Up to Saturday last, 7th October, which is the end of the last day of the last completed week, the expenditure chargeable against the Vote of Credit under all heads amounted, approximately, to £949,500,000. Accordingly, at the beginning of the present week, there was still in hand out of the Supplies voted by Parliament £100,500,000, a sum which, according to our present calculations, will suffice to carry on the public services to the 27th of 97 this month of October. So that the forecast I made in July has proved to be almost exactly correct.
The Committee will like some information as to details. In my statement on 24th July I analysed the expenditure out of the Votes of Credit for the current financial year, and I compared the figures for the period 1st April to 20th May, fifty days, with those for the period 21st May to 22nd July, sixty-three days, as well as the aggregate for the two periods, 113 days. I will not go back upon those figures, but I will remind the Committee of what the aggregate was for the 113 days of the current financial year. During those 113 days Navy, Army, and Munitions accounted for £379,000,000; loans to Allies and Dominions, £157,000,000; food supplies, railways, and other miscellaneous items, £23,000,000, making a total of £559,000,000. We have now to deal with the time which has since elapsed from 23rd July to 7th October, that is 77 days. During that time the expenditure under the corresponding heads has been: Navy, Army, and Munitions, £284,500,000; loans to Allies and Dominions, £96,000,000; food supplies, railways, and so forth, £10,000,000, making a total of £390,500,000 for the 77 days. It follows that, taking the whole period from the 1st April to 7th October, 190 days, the expenditure on Navy, Army, and Munitions amounts to £663,500,000; loans to Allies and Dominions, £253,000,000; food supplies and miscellaneous items, £33,000,000—an aggregate of £949,500,000. We will call it, roughly, £950,000,000.
Perhaps it would be convenient, as before, to reduce those figures to daily averages. As I said in my last statement, the average daily expenditure out of the Vote of Credit for the first 113 days of the year was about £4,920,000. In the 77 days which have since elapsed, the average expenditure has risen slightly, and amounts to £5,070,000 per day. The average for the whole period of 190 days works out almost exactly at £5,000,000 a day. Let us see how these daily averages arrange themselves as among the different items. The Navy, Army, and Munitions at that time were costing us approximately £3,600,000 a day, which includes £220,000 a day over normal peace expenditure for those Services. For the seventy-seven days which have since passed the average has only slightly increased. The Navy, Army, and Munitions expenditure has been £3,690,000 per day. The expendi- 98 ture on the Navy has been practically constant throughout. The expenditure upon the Army shows a slight falling off, and the expenditure on munitions, as was anticipated, has somewhat increased. The next item—a very important one—is that of loans to Allies and Dominions, which I may remind the House for the whole period from the 1st of April to the 7th of October amounts to £253,000,000. In this respect, I ought to tell the House, experience shows that we are exceeding the Budget estimate. If this item goes on at its present rate £450,000,000, which was the sum the Chancellor of the Exchequer put down under that head in his Budget estimate, will be very substantially exceeded. I should like to say here that there is no part of our expenditure in these Votes of Credit which is of more importance to the Allied cause than that which falls under this head. We have no selfish interest in the matter. We are not profiting by it. Some people think we are, but we are not. We are supplying what nobody else could supply. We are supplying credits, the means of obtaining the necessities of war, in America and elsewhere, to our comrades in arms, which, if we did not make this provision, would be absolutely unprocurable by them. Although the Committee will observe that the expenditure under this head is growing beyond the careful estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, given as lately as the time of his Budget, it is an expenditure which I do not regret, and which I do not think they will regret, and which I am perfectly sure this House will not ask the Government to curtail. I do not want to deal with miscellaneous items, but the experience of the period under review can be summarised in this way: Navy expenditure stationary; a slight reduction in Army expenditure, which may be temporary—as far as we can foresee the period covered by this Vote of Credit, we do not anticipate any very great expansion of expenditure under that head—a substantial increase on munitions, but, considering the enormous part the artillery of the Allies has played, and is playing, I believe everyone will agree that that expenditure is well warranted. So much for the past.
Coming to the Vote now before the House the sum we propose to ask for is £300,000,000, and I think after what I have stated everyone will agree that we should not be safe in assuming that the 99 daily expenditure in the near future will be less than £5,000,000. The old Vote of Credit, as I explained, is likely to be exhausted about 27th October. On a daily basis of £5,000,000 a Vote for £300,000,000 will be sufficient to carry on the public services for the purposes of the War apart from any unexpected development for sixty days, that is to say, till Christmas. In other respects the Vote of Credit follows the precedent of all previous Votes with one exception, namely, that it makes provision for additional allowances already announced, which the Government have agreed to grant to old age pensioners who are suffering special hardships due to the high price of food and other conditions arising out of the War. I think I have now dealt with the financial aspect of the matter, but I think the Committee will be glad to have from the Government what I propose very briefly to give, namely, a general survey from the information supplied to me by the General Staff of the progress of the War since the last Vote of Credit was sanctioned. This will necessarily be of a somewhat cursory character. I will begin with what we call the secondary period.
In Mesopotamia the hot weather of the past month has hampered active operations, but substantial progress has been made in the improvement of our rail and river communications. The health of the troops has also greatly improved. General Maude assumed the command of the forces in Mesopotamia on the 28th of August, and his most recent reports indicate that real headway is being made in overcoming the difficulties which have hitherto hampered our operations in this theatre. In Egypt the chief event of importance has been a Turkish attack on our forces at the Katia oasis on 3rd August, which resulted in the complete defeat of the Turks with a loss of 3,164 prisoners and four guns. In spite of the great heat, our troops pursued the defeated enemy, forcing him to evacuate the Katia district and to fall back for a distance of 20 miles to the east of it. This success has gone far to remove the danger of an attack on the Canal, and has impaired Turkish prestige in Syria and Arabia. The weather has not allowed of any extended operations since, but steady progress has been and is being made with the railway from the Suez Canal to Katia.
100 On the Western fronts of Egypt the Senoussi has been reduced to impotence and this, combined with the successful operations undertaken by the Sirdar of Darfur, has put an effectual check upon the Turco-German intrigue in Western Egypt and the Soudan. At Salonika the Allied forces, having received considerable reinforcements of Italian and Russian troops, assumed the offensive early in September, with the object of combining their action with that of the Russians and Roumanians in Transylvania and in the Dobrudja. This offensive has met with a considerable measure of success. On the right flank, the British troops have established themselves on the left bank of the Struma, where they have captured several Bulgarian positions and have repulsed repeated counter-attacks, inflicting heavy loss on the enemy. On the left flank, the French, Russians and Serbians have defeated the Bulgarians, taken Fiorina, driven the enemy from the frontier heights, and are now within some eight miles of the important town of Monastic Our operations in that sphere have thus not only entailed heavy losses on the enemy, but by preventing him transferring troops from Macedonia to reinforce those engaged in the Dobrudja, have rendered valuable assistance to our Allies.
In East Africa our troops under the command of General Smuts have, in the course of a skilfully conducted but most arduous campaign, driven the enemy south of the Central Railway, which is entirely in our hands, and we have occupied the whole coast-line. The enemy's forces have been separated and compelled to retire in divergent directions, and are unable to conduct combined operations. The main enemy force has been driven into the lower Rufigi Delta, an extremely unhealthy area, where it is likely to lose heavily by sickness. In these operations—it is a source of the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to His Majesty's Government, as I am sure it will be to this House and to the whole of the country—we have gratefully to acknowledge the assistance rendered by the Belgian troops. They have been admirably led; they have fought with the greatest vigour and courage, and by their ably conducted advance from Lake Tanganyika and from Ruanda they have been able to effect the capture of the important centre of Tabora, on the Central Railway. I am sure that we shall all wish to acknowledge gratefully the most effective 101 co-operation of our Belgian Allies. The difficulty of the country, the advent of the rains, and the necessity of organising our forces may entail some delay before the enemy is completely disposed of. All the most valuable parts of the Colony, together with the main communications, are in our hands, and its complete conquest, in the view of our military advisers, is only a matter of time. We have employed in these operations native troops from Gold Coast, British East Africa, and the Cape—I am sure my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) will be glad to know that; he has always been a strong advocate of it—with marked success, and we are now raising more, in addition to considerable contingents of coloured labourers. We shall thus be less dependent upon white troops, who are not so well adapted for operations in an unhealthy tropical climate.
I now come, last, to the Western theatre, where the combined British and French offensive began on July 1st. By the end of July our forces had established themselves on the ridge between Thiepval and Combles, which formed our immediate objective. During August we gradually and methodically extended these gains and improved our positions with a view to preparing for a further advance. During the early part of September we completed the occupation of the ridge by the capture of Ginchy and Guillemont, which prepared the way for a general attack on the 15th September. By this attack we carried our lines further on the northern slopes of the ridge and on to the lower ground beyond, capturing the villages of Flers, Martinpuich, and Courcelette. A further advance on the 25th and 26th gave us Combles (which we captured in conjunction with the French), Morval, Lesbœufs, Guendecourt, and the strongly fortified position of Thiepval. Since then we have made further progress at various points, and quite lately have captured the villages of Le Sars and Eaucourt l'Abbaye. By these operations we have advanced a distance of some seven miles on a front of nine miles, taking in succession a series of very strongly defended lines, two of which the enemy had spent nearly two years in strengthening by every means in his power. The most noticeable features of these operations are the steady progress made, and the fact, a most important fact, that in no case have the enemy's counterattacks succeeded in driving us from any 102 position we have captured. Our artillery has obtained a great superiority over that of the enemy, and our aircraft has gained complete mastery in the air. The immediate and already realised results of our offensive have been to compel the enemy practically to abandon the attack on Verdun, and to leave on the Western front large forces which were destined for operations in the East. We have thus rendered valuable assistance to cur Allies in the East as well as to the French. In addition to these results, the enemy has suffered very heavy losses, which will prove a severe strain on his resources, while his continued retirement, for it is continued, has an injurious effect upon his morale and the prestige of German arms. What we have got to do there is to steadily and continuously press on. The Committee will be interested to know that the total captures of the Allies on the Somme are 60,474 prisoners, 304 guns, and 1,030 machine guns. The British shares of these captures is 28,050 prisoners, 121 guns, and 397 machine guns. Sir Douglas Haig, in reviewing these operations the other day, summarised his opinion of them in this way. He said:All arms and all services have proved fully equal to the test, and the ability of our New Armies, of all arms, and from all parts of the Empire, not only to drive the enemy from the strongest entrenchments by assault, but to maintain the offensive under the most difficult conditions for many months, has been placed beyond all question.I have confined this rapid survey to the theatres in which our own Armies are engaged. In the West we are working in close contact and daily co-operation, literally shoulder to shoulder, with the gallant and invincible Army of France. But we watch day by day with sympathetic interest and pride the magnificent contribution of valour, of tenacity, of strategic skill, which is being made to the common cause of the Allies in more distant fields by Russia and by Italy. There is, as I have said before, complete intimacy and mutual confidence between the General Staffs of the four Powers, with the resulting co-ordination of purpose and of effort. I spoke of the four Powers. But our gratitude is equally due and is equally warm to the smaller States which have recognised that both interest and duty call upon them to play their part in a struggle upon which their whole future hangs. Belgium, Serbia, and now Roumania, whose King and people, in defiance of a thousand calls to a pusillanimous and self-regarding neutrality, have joined our cause, are spilling their bestblood on behalf of the threatened 103 independence of small nationalities. I wish I could add Greece—Greece, with her imperishable record of stubborn and victorious resistance to the inrush of barbarism and tyranny—Greece, of whose fortunes and whose liberties we have been for the best part of a century the staunch protectors and trustees. I can only say that even now, wisely guided and governed, Greece may yet take a worthy part on the side to which she is committed by all that is great and glorious in the traditions of her past. Do not let us forget, too, our ancient Ally, the oldest Ally we have in the world, the kingdom of Portugal, who has from the very first been staunch to her alliance with us and to the cause of the Triple Entente, and has rendered most conspicuous and glorious service.
In my judgment, and in the judgment of His Majesty's Government, this is not a moment—I think it follows from the survey I have given—for faint hearts, faltering purpose or wavering counsel. War is, as we now know too well, a terrible and wasteful thing, justified only by the greatness of its cause. That greatness is measured not merely by the costliness of the sacrifices which a nation is ready to incur, but more by the worthiness of the ends for which those sacrifices are poured out. The strain which the War imposes on ourselves and our Allies, the hardships which we freely admit it involves on some of those who are not directly concerned in the struggle, the upheaval of trade, the devastation of territory, the loss of irreplaceable lives—this long and sombre procession of cruelty and suffering, lighted up as it is by deathless examples of heroism and chivalry, cannot be allowed to end in some patched-up, precarious, dishonouring compromise, masquerading under the name of Peace. No one desires to prolong for a single unnecessary day the tragic spectacle of bloodshed and destruction, but we owe it to those who have given their lives for us, the flower of our youth, the hope and promise of our future, that their supreme sacrifice shall not have been in vain. The ends of the Allies are well known; they have been frequently and precisely stated. They are not selfish ends, they are not vindictive ends, but they require that there shall be adequate reparation for the past and adequate security for the future. On their achievement we in this country honestly believe depends the best hopes of humanity. For 104 them we have given—we are giving, we are ready, still to give—what we value most, what we can least afford to give. We give it without stint, without regret, but only as the price by which the world will purchase and surely hold in the years to come protection for the weak, supremacy of right over force, free development under equal conditions, and each in accordance with its own genius, of all the States, great or small, which build up the family of civilised mankind.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £300,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1917, for General Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against, risk, the financing of the purchase and resale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all Expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I have no intention of making a speech going into the details of the matters which have just been put before us by the Prime Minister, but I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without expressing on my own behalf the feeling, which I am sure the whole Committee will re-echo, of deep sympathy and affection which we felt towards the Prime Minister in the circumstances in which he has had to make his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Many Members of this House, unfortunately, have lost, in the supreme sacrifice for their country, those who were near and dear to them; but none of us ever forget for a moment that the Prime Minister at the time of his sorrow is carrying the burden of the suffering of his country in a War for the very existence of the Empire that he and we love so much. For my own part, I had a professional acquaintance with the late Raymond Asquith, and I can assure the Committee that there was no 105 man in the profession which he had joined who, in such a short time, had won the admiration of all those with whom he came in contact. No one who had ever met him professionally could doubt that he would fulfil the highest possible aspirations of those who had watched his early, great and unparalleled university career. That such a man as he had stepped out at the earliest moment in response to the call of his country showed an example that the whole nation might well follow. Our hearts to-day, as they have in the past, go out in warmest sympathy to the Prime Minister and to his relatives.
I desire to say that we all feel great pride in the announcement that the Prime Minister has made and that we have read from time to time as to the conduct of our troops at the front in' Flanders and in France. These operations have demonstrated that we need have no fear whatever for the valour, the courage, the persistence, and the success of our New Armies. They have been tried against the best German trained troops, and they have been found superior. We have also heard with great satisfaction of the operations in other theatres of war. I wish we could have had a little more—perhaps we shall before the Debate is over—as to what is going on in Mesopotamia. We hear very little about Mesopotamia, except those harassing and anxious letters which all of us get from time to time, which seem to me to indicate that there is still much room for improvement in the way in which our troops are being dealt with. I am bound to say that for my own part, following as well as I can the operations in the Balkans, there seems to be some ground for anxiety on our part. I am, of course, glad and thankful, as the Prime Minister himself said, that the Roumanians have come in. Yes, Sir, but those who are watching events must have considerable anxiety as to whether the Germans have not as their policy the crushing of the Roumanians. That, in my opinion, would be a great disaster. To have the consolidated Balkan States under the heels of the Germans and in their possession at a time when peace proposals may be put forward would seem to me to add great difficulties to the acceptance for a moment of any of the proposals that may be made. I think it is right that this country should turn its attention to the fact, which is now patent and has been patent for a long time, that the aggression of the German Govern- 106 ment is not directed merely towards Europe, but is also directed towards the Balkans, with a view to ultimate aggression in the East, where we are so deeply concerned. That is a matter which ought never to be left out of consideration for a moment in considering the various operations which we are driven to undertake.
The reason I go into that is this: We have had the progressive operations on the Some going on since the 1st July. I think the Prime Minister said that as a result of the three months' operations we have won 7 miles on a front of 9. We all know we have won that after great gallantry, but also at considerable cost, and there is no use shutting our eyes to that fact, because it is a fact patent from day to day and patent to the whole world. Let us reflect what that means. We are going on—as the Prime Minister has told us, and as the Secretary of State for War in his very admirable interview with the American Press told us the other day—we are going on with a fight to a finish. What that may mean no man can tell; but, counting the cost of what we have done in the three months and the progress we have made, and allowing, of course, for the operations as a whole—the relief of Verdun, the help that we have given to Italy, and the help that we have given to Russia—and also allowing for the demoralisation to a certain extent of the German troops, it is no use concealing either from ourselves or from the country that we have still before us a Herculean task in bringing about the ultimate victory which the whole nation is determined that we shall gain.
The reason I go in any detail into that is because I want to ask the Secretary of State for War, if he speaks in this Debate, can be give us the necessary assurances about the reserve of our man power? That is the most vital question at the present moment in the whole conduct of this War. I do not want to go back upon old controversies, but I cannot but feel, in the present position in which we find ourselves—that of pushing on with success—that it is a great pity we had not those reserves prepared and trained long before the date at which we went in for Compulsory Service in this country. If changes have to be made—my own impression is that changes will have to be made—in the procuring of further mail power to carry this contest to the end, for Heaven's sake let us have it in time, and let us not again during this War at 107 any period have it said that we would have to contemplate the stoppage of any operation that is necessary by reason of our not having in time procured for ourselves the necessary number of men in reserve. I am not going at this moment into the question of the reserve power in Ireland. That is a question that will have to be raised and seriously debated, and before long. There is no man in this country who gives adherence to the policy laid down by the Prime Minister and to that laid down by the Secretary of State for War who does not know and realise that we must be prepared to make far more sacrifices than we have done hitherto, and to put the country and the country's trade necessarily to far greater inconvenience than either we or anybody else has suffered in the past. Therefore I should be glad if we could have assurances upon this point.
I do not know whether it is in order to refer to the necessity of the raising of this money for this Vote of Credit, but I am perfectly certain that the raising of the money, although a secondary point, is a matter that requires the very gravest consideration, and I am not at all sure, from what I have heard from those with whom I have mixed, who understand these things a great deal better than I possibly can do, that the recent announcement is not open to very grave criticism, which, however, I will not pursue at the present moment. The whole House has listened to the final passages of the Prime Minister's speech with the very greatest satisfaction. I believe his speech will ring with new and real energy through the country tomorrow, for I believe with him that every sacrifice we make in the trenches is a clear call from the trenches to us to do more and more. More and more we will do, and we welcome every statement made by the Government which shows that as the battle advances they are more and more determined and are increasingly energetic in letting the Germans know that nothing that can happen or that can be done will ever divert us from the goal that we have placed before us.
§ Mr. WARDLE
No one can have listened to the speech of the Prime Minister to-day, in the circumstances under which it had to be made, without feeling the profoundest sympathy with him. I desire to say, on behalf of myself and Friends, that we share in the view which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) has stated, 108 that the sympathy of the whole House and the whole nation goes out to the Prime Minister. I have listened to the clear, straight, ringing message which the Prime Minister has given to the House, to the nation, and to the world with the profoundest satisfaction. It is true that not all of my colleagues are at one, but, speaking for the majority of my party and for the majority of people in the country, the Government has our support in the fullest possible measure in the carrying on of this War to a final and successful conclusion, and there is not one of the objects which the Prime Minister has set out to-day with which we are not in the heartiest and completest sympathy. There may be some slight difference with regard to methods, but with regard to the objects themselves there is not the slightest difference of opinion. I think it is only right that on occasions like this we should have the whole burden, as regards cost in money, cost in life, and cost in treasure set before us. It is well for us that we shall be called upon to face that burden. The Prime Minister has given us an outline of what the burden in money has been. None of us can tell; the time perhaps never will come when the whole tale of the burden upon the hearts and lives of people can be told; but certainly whatever that burden may be, I believe that the cost, however great, must be borne because the cause for which that cost is borne is worthy both of this House and of the people for all time, and it is because of that that, speaking for the majority of my party, we shall support this Vote of Credit, and shall lend to the Government our heartiest support in carrying on the War. There can be no doubt that the traditional freedom and liberty of the past are reflected in the conduct and valour of our soldiers at the front to-day. It is because we are a free country and have built upon that tradition that our soldiers have proved their worth, as they have done during the present campaign, and that is a fact which ought to be borne in mind. I should like to pay my testimony to that valour, and I believe the country realises it to the full.
When we come to details with regard to some of the matters raised in this Vote of Credit, there are one or two criticisms which I shall be compelled to pass. I am glad to see that there is provision made 109 for the extension of old age pensions. It is long overdue. It ought to have been done some time ago. There is one point upon which we are not quite sure, and I should like anyone who speaks on behalf of the Government to make this quite clear. We want to be assured that in the case of the person who is getting 5s., or whose income is less than the amount necessary to bring it up in the case of a single person to 13s., the extra 2s. 6d. will be automatic, and in the case of the old married people the increase will be automatic also. If that is made clear I think we shall welcome the announcement that has been made to-day, though in our opinion it is rather late. We are not quite clear either as to when these alterations become operative, and we should like that also to be stated clearly and fully. We should be glad also if it could be made retrospective to some date not far distant.
I want to turn to the question of manpower. While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is our business now to make provision for the reserves which are necessary, I think we shall have to face that question, and face it as a whole and not in part. The whole question of the provision of man-power, and provision for this War, is not only one of provision for the Army, but for all the services which the State requires at present, and we must not lose sight of that exceedingly important fact. It is not a mere question of trade. If it was, I should be with the right hon. Gentleman at once in saying that trade must take a second place, as indeed it must take a second place in any case to the winning of this War. But it is a question of how we are to carry on the War from all these standpoints, including the provision of the money, and we must take them all into consideration. I am certain that during the past few months the arrangements that have been made with regard to the releasing of men for the Army have not all been of the best possible kind. Steps which might have been taken to release those who ought to have been released have not been taken, and steps which ought to have been taken to retain men who ought to be retained have not been taken. It is important that the right men should be taken and not the wrong men, and that we should not take men into the Army simply to bring them out again, as has too often had to be done in the past. I 110 hope the new arrangements which the Government is making will be much better than those they have had in operation in the past", and that the right men will be taken, and that the selection will not be made on any haphazard system, as has been the case in the past.
I should like to refer to the case of the conscientious objector. I have no sympathy with the conscientious objector as such, but the House has passed, in the Military Service Act, a provision with regard to the conscientious objector, and I honestly believe that it is not being properly carried out, and as it is an Act of Parliament, and as it was the general sense of the House that such a provision should be made, it is absolute folly on the part of the Government and the military authorities to carry on any system of persecution or any system by which they are attempting to get out of men what they never can get out of them under these conditions. Therefore, I hope this whole problem will receive once again the consideration of the Government, and that they will see if they cannot settle it in a much more sensible and rational fashion than they are doing at present. With regard to the particular cases, many of which have been very widely advertised, I will not go into them. They demand separate, special, and detailed inquiry. If the facts are as stated in some of these cases, undoubtedly there is someone very seriously to blame, and someone ought to be brought to book. But these matters ought to be inquired into separately. With regard to the whole question of conscientious objectors, I believe more time has been wasted and more efforts put into a wrong direction than would have been the case if ordinary commonsense methods had been used to put the problem of getting men for the Army who were not conscientious objectors on a better plane altogether. After all, while I am not in sympathy with these men from the point of view of their refusal to serve, I hope that, as the traditional upholders of liberty in this country, and as the Government is fighting, I believe, for the liberty of the whole of the people of Europe and of the world to live in the way they desire, free from tyranny by outside influences, they ought, in this, matter at any rate, to give it their most serious consideration, and see if they cannot solve this small but difficult problem in a much better fashion than they have done in the past.
111 I felt when the Prime Minister was finishing what I think will rank as one of the most remarkable speeches that has ever been delivered in the history of this House, that it would be better if we could have waited and simply gone home and thought about his speech.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I think the House and the country and the world at large is deeply indebted to the Prime Minister for the clear, lucid, and moving statement with which he introduced this Vote. If I attempt to criticise the policy of the Government, or anything in connection with this Vote, my remarks will be tendered with a feeling of the deepest sympathy towards the Prime Minister in the great loss which he has sustained. That loss is also shared by many others. There is hardly a household in this country in which sorrow is not felt through the loss of some loved one.
Before we agree to this Vote—I shall not oppose it, but I shall support it—I think we are entitled to know something of the-policy of the Government and something as to the expenditure of this money. The policy of the Government in the past has been most unfortunate. It reminds one of a weak stream, finding its feeble way towards its objective, and avoiding every obstruction, until at last it loses itself in a morass and never extricates itself. I want to see the policy of the Government like that of a mountain stream, which pushes aside every obstacle in its successful effort to reach its objective. The Prime Minister has told us, so far as he is concerned, on more than one occasion, that the sword will not be sheathed until we have attained certain objects. I accept the Prime Minister's statement so far as it goes. I accept the statement which he made to-day, which goes still further, and which we all endorse; but we want to be assured that the policy of the Government as a whole, the policy of the Cabinet, is as sound as that of the Prime Minister. We have seen the Cabinet, like the elm tree, shedding its limbs. One limb that was shed was a sound, solid limb, while other limbs might perhaps be like the limbs which the elm sheds, not quite so sound. I would like to know, and the country would like to know, that the policy of the Government as a whole is as determined, as firm, and as sound as that which the Prime Minister has expressed to-day. We are also entitled to know that this money which is 112 going to be raised is not going to be extravagantly wasted as we have seen money wasted in the past that has been raised by Loans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has sufficient difficulty to raise money, and I am sure; he will sympathise with me when I say that he should insist, as we shall insist, upon seeing that the money is spent properly, and that we obtain the fullest value for it. We cannot have any more scandals, such as the War contracts scandals, the Pimlico clothing scandal, and the horrible wastage of tonnage which I have mentioned so frequently in this House, but which I do not propose to enter upon now. We have the right to know that the money will be properly and economically expended. Extravagance at a time like this I look upon as a crime.
We have also to consider at a time like this our resources. We have to take stock of our resources of men and money. The greatest consideration at the present moment, and the greatest requirement of the Army is men. We cannot either clothe, arm, or feed these men without money, and to produce money, which does not fall like manna from Heaven, but has to be made, we require men to make it. We require unlimited supplies of munitions, and these can only be produced by men. The whole thing works round in a vicious circle: men, munitions, and money, dependent and interdependent upon each other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must know well that, although our exports are very well kept up so far as values are concerned, they are not kept up so far as volume is concerned. We have a great diminution in the volume of exports from this country. We cannot, as I have said, produce the money without the men, and we cannot produce the money without trade, industry, and commerce. Up to the present time we have been sweeping up men from every possible direction, and wastefully sweeping them up. We are taking men from our mercantile marines, sea-going officers, and engineers and sailors, who are in the trenches, whilst we have to employ the scourings of neutral nations as crews for our ships. At the present time some of our transports are manned with American niggers. At the present time the building trade of this country is completely suspended. No building operations can go on, because they are short of materials, short of steel work, and so on, which is wanted by the Ministry of Munitions. The reason is that we are short of men 113 to produce the material. You cannot obtain a hundredweight of steel or iron without a permit from the Ministry of Munitions or the Foreign Office or the Admiralty, and that is owing to the shortage of men.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has got to raise this money. I do not propose at the present moment to enter upon the question as to the ways and means of getting the money, but the right hon. Gentleman has indicated that he is offering 6 per cent. interest. I suppose he would not offer 6 per cent. interest if he could obtain it for a lower interest. To those people who subscribed to the earlier Loans—the 3½ per Cent. and the 4½ per Cent. Loans and the 5 per Cent. Exchequer Bonds—this fresh issue will, I am afraid, come as a great disappointment. On every hoarding in the country you will see placards calling upon people to subscribe as an act of patriotism, and many have done so. Some are poor widows, humble artisans, and others, and they have subscribed to these 3½ per Cent. Loans and the 5 per Cent. Exchequer Bonds. I am not talking of the subscriptions of the millionaire, but the subscriptions of the working classes of this country as well as all classes, and I think a great many of them will find, as they have found, that the values of their securities have been greatly depreciated. Many of us who had American securities have parted with them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at a loss, so that our credit might be maintained in America and the exchange 'might be improved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his character of Claude Duval—I say it with all kindness—has raided every roost, and he has lately indicated his intention to commandeer Argentine securities. Not only do we require them for collateral security, but for the purpose of exchange. The Argentine Exchange has gone against us. We are buying large quantities of food in the nature of wheat, etc., from the Argentine. In the past we have paid for these things with coal. The export of coal from this country to the Argentine is now stopped. It is only occasionally that a licence is granted for a small cargo of coal to the Argentine. The Argentine have, therefore, to get their supplies of coal elsewhere, and they are getting their coal from America. Ships are directed by the Government to go to America to carry that coal down to the Argentine. I would point out that once a market is lost it is 114 very difficult, if not impossible, to regain it. The Argentine at one time depended exclusively upon, and would take nothing else, but South Wales coal. Now it has become educated up to the American coal, and it is not likely to go back to South Wales coal. It all arises through shortage of men. We have not miners to work and get the coal for export.
At the present time we are suffering from a shortage of ships, through not having sufficient men or material to build fresh merchant ships. The reason is that' the Admiralty, quite rightly, require all the men they can get for naval vessels for our protection and the protection of our commerce. The Ministry of Munitions want all the men and all the materials they can get for their purposes, and rightly so. The fact remains that the mercantile marine is left without a proper production of ships to make up for the wastage. It will surprise the House when I tell them that since the beginning of the War until recently—not up to the present day, but until recently—after allowing for all the new tonnage which has been built, which is not much, we are 4,000,000 tons of gross tonnage to the bad. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Who says "No"? We are. Strange to say, one of our Allies has added to their tonnage. We have been most generous with our merchant tonnage in connection with the War and in supplying our Allies, and it is right that we should protest against extravagant waste of shipping, which means extravagant waste of money. I have digressed a little in connection with that, and now I come back to the question of men, because, after all, it is a question of men. We are short of men. The Army must be maintained. The wastage must be made good. Drafts must be sent out. Where must the men be got? We have been raking them in all directions. We have raided many Departments, while many Departments are unraided, and none worse in this respect than Government Departments. I am all in favour of raking up the young unmarried men from everywhere they can be got, and especially the shirking sons of farmers. I am utterly opposed to the raising of the age limit to forty-five. Men after thirty-five years of age are not much use in the trenches in winter time. Their hearts may be good enough, but their bodies are not good enough. It is a waste of material to take them. We have got to consider that a man of over 115 forty, if he is engaged in trade or commerce, is a man of some intelligence, some experience, and some use to the nation. The man of forty to forty five is a more valuable man in the country, from the industrial and commercial point of view, than the man of eighteen or twenty, and it would be an absolute waste of material to increase the age limit.
The question then comes, where are the men to be obtained? I hope to point out where they can be obtained. We cannot go on depleting our manhood from our industrial and commercial occupations, because we depend upon money to carry on the War. I do not propose to traverse the figures that the Prime Minister has given to-day. He has told us the huge sums which we have to supply to our Allies as well as the large sums we have to expend on our own requirements. I am not objecting to it. We have got to do it. It is part of the game we are playing, and we have got to play the game to the end; but it is essential that we should study the situation and use judgment. We want more men. Where are we to get them? I am not going to say one word about the 250,000 or the 500,000 men of military age and fighting material who are in Ireland.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Then we will say 100,000, or whatever figure is right. I am not going to be drawn into a discussion upon that contentious question, and to which I understand a day is to be devoted. There are a great many men in Ireland who ask that the Military Service Act should be applied to Ireland, and there are many who are opposed to it; therefore I will not raise the Irish question. I would point out, however, that we have an unlimited reservoir of the finest fighting material in the world who do not require compulsion, and that does not require a Military Service Act to bring them into the fighting line. They are only too anxious to volunteer to fight for King and country. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Where are they?"] Out of India alone, out of the fighting races of India, I am assured by an Indian of high position and great authority that we could raise 16,000,000 of fighting men, without speaking of Bengal or 'any of those places. But I am not referring to India, because I know the difficulties in regard to caste and so on. We have a great field in Africa.
116 Why we should not employ more coloured troops I cannot understand. It is simply prejudice. In the United States, where they have the coloured question in its. most active and acute form, we find that some of the finest cavalry regiments are made up of negro soldiers. At the present moment we employ coloured troops. We employ Maoris. We employ regiments from the West Indies made up of men who are negroes. We employ men from West Africa. We have millions of the finest fighting material in the world among the Basutos, the Zulus, the Matabeles and others. The French are employing coloured Colonial troops to the fullest possible extent. We are only employing a small number. Why should we not employ coloured troops? They are fellow-subjects of ours. They enjoy all the privileges of the British flag and all the privileges of freedom, and they are fit to fight for freedom. If we were beaten now and crushed under the heel of the Germans, what would become of these coloured peoples?
In this connection I may mention that on Monday evening I received by the same post two communications of extraordinarily extreme divergence of views. One comes from Pretoria in South Africa. I will read an extract. Referring to a letter of mine advocating the employment of coloured troops which appeared in the Press, the writer says:Here you have a responsible and most reliable man giving the real truth. That is the Bishop of Pretoria. This is what the Bishop says. Speaking last night the Bishop of Pretoria said that nothing would please him better than to see a division of natives raised here in South Africa, and he believed that they would be as fine a body of fighting men under white officers as they would find anywhere in the whole world. These fine races of men were in danger of being spoiled owing to the disgusting example often set them by white people … Our boys in German East Africa are being shot down by German trained blacks. Why don't we employ them also? The Prussian Guard" would not stand up to a second Zulu charge.I call the attention of the House to a postcard emanating from Switzerland from a person who veils his identity under the nom de plume of "An Englishman." The writing is in German character. I cannot read the communication as the language is so filthy that it is impossible for decent ears to hear it. But I will try to give you the contents without the adjectives, as I do not wish to shock the sensibilities of any hon. Members.Sir, you suggest in the 'Daily Mail' of 25th September to bring millions of negro soldiers to overrun Europe and to slaughter decent white people. You are nothing but a so-and-so and a so-and-so. to make such a vile proposal. What is wanted now is a call to the mob in London to rush the blooming House of 117 Commons and to cut the blooming throats of all you so-and-so s of politicians who made the war and profit by it. If ever I come within reach of you I will do so-and-so to you.Perhaps if the gentleman did come within reach of me he might go away with a different opinion. However, there we have the employment by the Germans of black troops, and I think that that is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the use of black troops by us. The French Senegalese, who are full-blooded negroes, have done well, equally as well as some of the lighter coloured troops. That is one great field from which we can get an unlimited supply that would enable us to use our own men here at home for the purpose of producing money by keeping on our trade and commerce, the money that we require to carry on the War, the money that we require for the separation allowances, and the money that unfortunately we require for pensions.
We find responsible men drawn away from their business and from their wives and large families and sent into the trenches, and we have a terrible waste. We have on the other side of the water, I understand, 200,000 men who are unfit for military services, and very large numbers of men in this country who are unfit for military purposes. But they are kept in khaki for the purpose of swelling the paper Army. Let us have real men, even if not white men, men who will fight. I think that my suggestion to have coloured men will appeal to the conscientious objector who objects to fight himself. I do not suppose that he will object to Zulus fighting for him. Then again we have in this country our own valuable married men whom we are taking while we are allowing young unmarried shirkers to escape. We have in the country many men of military age of Allied nationalities. Go into the hairdressers', the restaurants, the clubs, and other places, and you see any number of these men of Belgian, Italian, and Russian nationality. We have a large number of Russians in this country, political refugees who have fled from injustice and sought asylum and freedom in this country. It would be unfair to send them back to Russia. But why should we not have a foreign legion and allow these men to enlist in that foreign legion? France for many years has had a foreign legion. The men who enlist in that legion are not Frenchmen. They are Alsatians, Germans, Englishmen, Americans, Russians, men of all nationalities. And there is not a finer fighting force in the world 118 than the French foreign legion. Why should we not have the same thing to make use of those men who no doubt would be willing to fight under such auspices as those, though they are unwilling to be sent back to Russia?
There are many ways in which we could raise men. The matter only requires consideration and courage. There has been too much fear on the part of the Government, fear to do this, that and the other thing. They were afraid to offend Germany before the War. I could criticise the Government at length, but I do not propose to do so, on its want of preparedness and its want of vision. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee has told us in the "Sunday Pictorial," the wise men who knew everything have been wrong, and the foolish men who did not know anything have been right, the Government being the wise men who were proved to be wrong, and we who were certain that the war was coming, years before it came, and called for preparation being the foolish ones who have been proved to be right. I do not propose to follow the course of the Government through its blunders, mistakes, and mismanagement, its want of preparation of all kinds, its shortage of rifles and machine-guns, of big guns and of shells, or through the disastrous Dardanelles and Mesopotamian Expeditions, and all those matters as a result of which money was squandered and lives were needlessly thrown away. Therefore, without occupying the time of the House further, I call upon the Government to find the men we want among our coloured fellow-subjects.
§ Sir MAURICE LEVY
After the encouraging speech of the Prime Minister, possibly it may seem ungracious to criticise in any way any of the work which has been performed by the War Office. But I think that recent revelations in reference to the Army Clothing Department—to use a comprehensive term—justify me in raising this question. I feel that while the country is prepared to vote everything that may be necessary to carry on this War to a successful conclusion, we are quite justified in asking the Financial Secretary to give an assurance that steps shall be taken at once to make impossible in future a repetition of such scandals as those which have been recently revealed. I think that the Secretary of State knows full well that if the Munitions Department had been left in the hands in which it was during the early days of the War, we to-day should not be 119 in that proud military position in which we are at present. I have felt that so long as there was any doubt as to the result of the termination of the War I would not say a word publicly in any way criticising the action of anyone associated with the War Office. But now that the question of the termination of the War has, in my judgment, gone far beyond any range of doubt, I think that everyone will admit that after the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon, which would bring a message to cheer the hearts of every subject of this Empire and of every subject in the Allied States, we must feel to-day that we are perfectly sure as to what will be the termination of the War.
My appeal is that the spending Departments of this country shall be placed in the hands of men of business experience. We are justified, in making that demand, in impressing on the Committee and the country what has happened in the past. Perhaps I may give a little of my experience of the War Office. One would imagine that when war broke out the first thing that the Quartermaster-General's Department would have done would have been to put itself in touch with the manufacturers of every commodity which would be required for the purposes of the Army. But this was not done. Take, for instance, what happened with regard to motor cars. Some man strolled into the War Office and evidently suggested to someone in authority that motor cars would be required. That man was empowered, I believe, to go and buy motor cars, which produced for him, not from the manufacturers, but from the middleman, a commission of something like £40,000. The matter came into Court, and he was rewarded, I believe, as a compromise £20,000. If the heads of the Government spending Departments had been business men the manufacturers of the commodities required would have been approached directly by the War Office. But no. The War Office always has appeared to be suspicious of people in business who are old established and have a high reputation. They preferred, for some reason or other unknown to me, to go to people of mushroom growth. What happened? A contract was given out for 16,000 razors, which were paid for, and only 7,000 were delivered. That particular contract is interesting for this reason; Before a firm can get on the con- 120 tractors' register of the War Office he has to go through certain formalities which, very rightly, have to be fulfilled. Bankers' references must be given, and the premises where the goods are manufactured are supposed to be inspected by an officer of the War Office. This contract for razors was given to a firm which did not exist, and what I want to know is who was the inspector who gave his favourable report upon this firm which did not exist, which was paid for 16,000 razors and only delivered 7,000, which they bought? I have told the War Office already that it is useless to imagine that, because they have prosecuted two or three men who are receiving two or three pounds a week, they have rooted out the corruption which exists, and I have also said that they must get to the top of the tree and find out who are the men who are responsible in regard to these contracts.
I should like an answer to a question in regard to another case. A certain firm at Walsall was ruined because they refused to bribe; and it was perfectly clear that no commercial firm would allow itself to be ruined without making some communication to the highest authoity. I want to know to whom such communications were made and what has been done with them. These communications ought to be discovered, and the people concerned, no matter how high their position, ought to be removed. Let me come to another question, namely, that of clothing. It was a very big thing undoubtedly to clothe the British Army so suddenly, but it was a very easy task for the manufacturers to discharge if they had been given the opportunity. Let me read to the House of Commons an extract from a letter which was sent on 10th August by one of the largest and most respected firms in this country:We can make speedily any military clothing that may be required. Please understand that we do not wish to make any profit out of any goods we may supply to the War Office, and we should therefore be glad to charge cost price for any goods supplied. We have plenty of trade for the time being but would gladly, at any moment, put approximately, I thousand of our staff on to work for the Government if desired.That letter was written on the 10th August, 1914, six days after the War broke out. One would have imagined that the War Office would have made some inquiry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, dear no!"] They did not even reply to the letter. The firm was never put on the list of contractors for many months. One would have thought that when offers were made to the War Office they would have 121 sent to the Board of Trade for a list of people engaged in this particular industry, and would have asked, approximately, what was their production and what their capabilities. They did not do that. Instead, I suppose, some man strolled along and called at the War Office and he got a contract for a mililion suits at 23s. each and a million overcoats at 30s. each. The firm could not possibly itself have completed the order for two or three years; therefore, the contract was sub-let and sub-let, with the result that every time it was sub-let for a second or third time it meant a further reduction of the wages of the people who were employed on these contracts. That is not the worst of the matter. Having given this order, the War Office bound themselves not to give a similar order for two months, so that not only did they place themselves in the hands of this firm, who could not themselves complete the order, but they went a step further and tied their hands for two months in order to give these people a free run and see what they could do. That was early in August.
Things became very bad, and in November, 1914, I was asked, with one or two others, to see the Director of Contracts and the Quartermaster-General. The difficulties of the situation were explained to us, and it was stated that Lord Kitchener was very anxious about the clothing of the Army. I told the Director of Contracts that the Government had been in a difficulty where there was no necessity. I said, "If you will honestly tell the trade what you require you can have it within a very few weeks." He said "Tell me what to do." I replied, "Call the clothing manufacturers together; tell them what you want from them, and you shall have it." He said, "Can you guarantee that" I answered," I think I can. If you will address a meeting of the manufacturers and tell them what you want, I think I can promise that you shall have what you require." He asked, "How soon can they have a meeting? I said, "You can get together all the manufacturers of the country in forty-eight hours." The thing was settled. In forty-eight hours it was arranged that the whole of the manufacturers of the country should, for a period, put aside two-thirds of their output for the War Office, with the result that within three months the War Office had as much clothing as they desired. [An HON. 122 MEMBER: "At what prices?"] I will tell you that. It was suggested that there should be a flat rate, so that no one should make exorbitant profits. We said, "If you like, we will suggest to you what should be the price for every article. The Government supply materials and to invoice them to the manufacturers, who then, invoice the completed garments to the War Office at the invoiced prices." The Director of Contracts approved of the suggestion, and I think that within two or three days we had agreed, upon a price list. We saved the country on the prices of the special contract something like £190,000. That is not the whole of the circumstances connected with this unfortunate question. When this price list was fixed the contractors made suits at the flat rate of 21s. 3d. as against 23s. under the contract to which I have referred, and overcoats, at 28s. flat rate, as against 30s. for overcoats under the special contract. A saving was effected for the country of £105,000 on the overcoats and £87,500 on the suits. Without attempting to ascertain what were the capabilities of this country to supply the clothing, large orders were placed in America and Canada. Let me tell you the prices.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
Was that before the interview with the Director of Contracts?
§ Sir M. LEVY
I am not quite sure on that point—I think it was before. I am. the last person to blame in any shape the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who has shown the utmost kindness, and has endeavoured in every way to meet the views I have expressed, or the new Director of Contracts who is saving the nation millions. Without, as I have observed, endeavouring to ascertain what was the capacity of this country, someone was sent to America and Canada and he gave an order for 1,200,000 suits at 29s. 5d., as against our flat rate of 21s. 3d. He also ordered 828,000 overcoats at 31s., plus the high cost of freight to Great Britain, as against our flat rate of 28s. That was a transaction which cost this country £604,000 more than it would have cost if a business man had been at the head of the spending Department when the War broke out.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member's point of Order is largely a good point. This Vote of Credit is for the future of the War, and does not entitle us to go too far back. But I take it that we are having only the exordium of the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I presume he intends to make some proposal to the Committee regarding the future?
§ Sir M. LEVY
That is so, Sir. My point is that in the past we have not had business men spending the taxpayers' money, and, to justify my statement and my request that there shall be business men at the head of our spending Departments, I have gone into these facts and figures and into the mistakes which have been made in the past. On these contracts alone we could have saved the country between £800,000 and £900,000. They are really comparatively small orders, after all—a million suits and a milion overcoats for the British Army. Let me refer to a further reason which justifies my demand for business men. In December, 1914, the Quartermaster-General wrote and asked us to see him with three other manufacturers, one of whom was the Member for North Leeds. He said the organisation had broken down, and asked "whether we would advise what he should do. We said, "Yes." We visited the various depots, and we found, I think I am justified in saying, a state of things discreditable to the officers responsible for carrying out the work of the Department. Chaos and confusion reigned everywhere. No one in the Department appeared to have any knowledge as to what he "was to do, and if he had he did not know how to do it. We made a report to the Quartermaster-General, and this is part of what we said to him:We are unanimously of opinion that the shortage of clothing is due mainly, if not entirely, to the accumulation of materials and the unreasonable delays in dealing with same; the lack of foresight in store keeping and the failure to realise that the methods and activity which may suffice for times of peace are not adequate to meet the exigencies of war-time.The Quartermaster-General asked what we would suggest, and proposed to us that he should set up a Committee to try and create something like order out of chaos and confusion. General Sir John Steevens was appointed chairman of that Committee. Colonel Langhorne, Captain 124 Balfour, a business man, who has done splendid service at Pimlico, was also on the Committee, and Mr. Mackinney, a very able official lent by the county council, and Colonel Knaggs, who, I think, was secretary to Sir John Steevens, was appointed secretary to the Committee, which also included the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Barran) and myself. In a very few weeks we were able to produce some state of order out of the chaos which was then existing. But from the very first we were met with the hostility of the military men at Pimlico, no doubt because they realised that if we once got business men in control of those establishments their very lucrative and comfortable positions would be jeopardised. My opinion throughout has been that those men have been endeavouring to entrench themselves deeply throughout this War, realising that after the War is over we shall have other questions of greater magnitude to deal with. Therefore they feel that if, for the time being, they can maintain their positions, which they are endeavouring to do at all costs, then they are safe for the future. I say the time has come when the revelations which we have seen justify us in saying that incompetent military men are not the right men to have at the heads of great business concerns. We went on for a time, and we did the best we could. We formulated schemes which I am sure saved the country many thousands of pounds, but we were always up against one particular barrier, which was the military element, which was determined not to move unless compelled by force. On 4th February I informed the Quartermaster-General of the difficulty of improving matters and of what appeared to be the hostility of the military heads at the efforts we were making. The Quartermaster-General agreed that this hostility should be minimised, and it was for a time. But after we had got all the depots into what one may call running business order, and when the military men saw that we had cleared up their mess, they felt that we had given them a foundation which would enable them to continue, and they did not want us any longer. The Member for North Leeds and myself made a report from which I take the following few sentences:We think it right now to draw your attention to the general question of organisation, since we consider that it was largely lack of appreciation of requirements and defective organisation which led to the original difficulty 125 in the department which deals with the inspection of materials and clothing and we consider a reorganisation is necessary, and better methods, better machinery and a more effective control.This question of inspection is one of very material importance, because after all at that lies the root of a great deal of the evil. The question of inspection opens the door to corruption, and when the door of corruption is open there is no telling how far it will spread. Therefore, in my judgment, instead of having a military man at the head of the inspection who knows practically nothing of the articles he is supposed to inspect, you want a man of sound business knowledge who will gather round him experts in every industry from which the Government has to buy. We have people there supposed to be the head of the Inspecting Department but no inspecting, and they had to engage men, some of them competent and some of them most incompetent. I saw a few days ago an advertisement in the provincial newspapers asking for viewers of the hosiery trade to come from different parts of the country, and they were to be paid the magnificent sum of 36s. per week, with 7s. war bonus. I contend that no business man would expect to get an honest viewer to work at 36s. per week in London. It is not a living wage. It is a starvation wage, and so long as the Government adopt such methods, then I say they are not going to remove the corruption from the midst of their departments. We went further and said:We consider there should be a closer connection with both the Inspection Department and the department of the Director of Contracts, so that the latter department may have more complete and accurate statistical information as to the manner in which former contracts have been fulfilled.The Director of Contracts, when placing contracts, should have the fullest knowledge as to the manner in which contracts given by his Department were carried out. At present the information was scant, and was not under his own direct control, and he had to get it from some other person. We argued and believed that no system would be satisfactory which did not combine in close coordination those two Departments. The military men in the Quartermaster-General's Department think that the inspection must be entirely in their own hands. A greater fallacy could not exist. They do not do any inspecting themselves; they merely exercise control, or should exercise control, but as a matter of fact they have failed during the whole 126 of this War. The Director of Contracts should have the fullest knowledge, and be closely associated with the inspection for this reason. There was the recent instance of the man who was paying a ½d. per pair to the viewer to pass bad trousers, and he had, I believe, only 100 rejected out of 20,000. The Report from the Inspection Department in that case would be particularly favourable. I consider, therefore, I am justified in saying that there should be co-ordination. We further said:We think in the management of the Royal Army Clothing Department it would be desirable to have associated with the officer in command, with full administrative powers in the departments entrusted to him, a civilian of wide experience of business organisation and a thorough knowledge of business methods, who should be directly responsible to the Quartermaster-General's department. Looking at the experiences of the past and the working of the departments at the present time, we are convinced that some cooperation on these or similar lines is essential to the efficient and economical management of contract work.That Report was made in May, 1915. We saw the Quartermaster-General on many occasions, and he admitted that our Report was on the right lines, and that he would act upon it. Sir John Steevens made a reply to our Report, the sum and substance of which is a comprehensive excuse for the failure and breakdown, while frankly admitting the gravamen of our charge. He admitted our charges, but the whole excuse was: "We are at war, and therefore you must be somewhat patient and lenient with mistakes." Surely the object of the War Office is to be in an efficient state when it is called upon to fulfil its obligations to the country. It is no excuse to say, We have failed, and the organisation has broken down because we are at war. We know that in peace the strain is not great, but the idea of a War Office is to be prepared for emergency, and I say that the Quartermaster-General's Department was not prepared for emergency and should not be allowed to continue as it has been. As I have said, in May of 1915 we met the Quartermaster-General on two or three occasions, and he said that our Reports should practically be put into operation. That was in May of 1915. From that date until the change occurred in the Secretaryship of State for War nothing whatever was done. The Financial Secretary I know endeavoured to get the changes suggested in our Report given effect to, but I suppose he found the same as we always found, that the military power in the War Office was too great to permit of any change. I have 127 hope and faith now that the civil powers are going to prevail in matters not of a military nature but of a strictly business character. It is in the interests of this country that they should prevail, and I earnestly hope that that will be the case before, many weeks have passed.
As a set off to our Report, and as. what one might call, some method of short circuiting us, the Quartermaster-General set up a new Committee to consider our Report and to consider the general organisation. That Committee consisted of several military men and there were two Members of the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Hull (Mr. Ferens), the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. E. Jardine), and there were also on it Mr. Mackinney, the officer lent by the county council, Mr. E. R. Debenham, and Colonel Wedgwood, who is connected with one of the big railway companies. After the first meeting Mr. Mackinney and Colonel Wedgwood were withdrawn. We had this Committee to examine and scrutinise our Report and to make a further Report upon it. A Report was made by the Debenham Committee, and, while their Report probably was not as drastic as ours, yet it practically confirmed all that we had said, although they saw Pimlico and all the other depots after we had redeemed them from the chaos and confusion in which we found them. Their Report was issued on the 15th December, 1915. They made, I think, seventeen recommendations, nine of which were on the lines of those that I have read to the House, and they said it was essential that effect should be given to those nine particular changes at the earliest possible moment. From that day until a week or two ago nothing was done in reference to that Report. It has never been issued to the House of Commons, and no action was taken upon it. I understand that now some action has been taken.
I want to impress upon the Secretary of State and the Financial Secretary that they must not be satisfied with changing one or two individuals, but they must see that the whole of the spending Department is put under the control of a man who has proved himself a good, sound, business man, and who must have a free hand to remove from the various depots the military men who, in my judgment, 128 are useless, and who would be found useless when any business man examined into their work. I could tell of the waste of money that was going on when we went in to organise; I could tell of the great difficulties we experienced; I could tell that premises were taken where thousands of pounds had to be handled, where thousands of pieces of material had to be examined, and where they had not such a thing as a machine or piece of machinery of any kind or class. That had been going on for three or four months, and the excuse was, "Oh, we are at war!" I think that, without using extravagant language in any shape of form, I have made out a real case for the overhauling of the Quartermaster-General's spending department. If the revelations which could be made to this House were made I think there would not be a single Member who would not agree with me. I hope and trust that what I have said will carry some weight with the Secretary of State and the Financial Secretary. They have around them to-day in their Contracts Department some very clever men. Let them get equally clever men to take control of the other Departments. If they will do that they will save the country millions of pounds, they will put their spending Departments upon a business basis, and they will make themselves practically immune in the future from bribery and corruption.
§ Mr. HOLT
I believe that this Vote of Credit will be passed unanimously as other Votes of Credit have been passed, because the House and the country are, I am quite satisfied, unanimous in their determination to prosecute this War to that successful conclusion which shall enable us to obtain the objects for which we embarked upon the War. I do not believe that there is now, or has ever been, any difference of opinion in the country as to the necessity of securing the objects with which we commenced the War. We have differed as to the method of obtaining those objects; we have criticised in detail the methods adopted by the Government: but we have none of us at any time failed in the desire or determination to secure those objects. The most eloquent speech and peroration delivered by the Prime Minister to-day—with whose deep personal sorrow I, too, would desire to express my sympathy—can only confirm the House in their desire and determination. What are those objects which we are determined to 129 secure? They were set out by the Prime Minister in his speech at the Guildhall on 9th November, 1914:We shall never sheath the sword, which we have not lightly drawn, until Belgium has recovered in full measure all, and more than all, she has sacrificed; until France is adequately secured against the menace of aggression; until the rest of the smaller nationalities of Europe are placed upon an unassailable foundation, and until the military domination of Prussia is wholly and finally destroyed.At a later date the Prime Minister included Serbia with Belgium, but that does not affect the question. I understood the Prime Minister in his peroration to-day to reaffirm that position. I thought he added nothing to it, just as he took nothing from it. But the other day there was published in the Press an interview with the Secretary of State for War. That interview was described recently by the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) as a very admirable one. Many of us think that interview anything but admirable, and it is for that reason I have ventured to trespass upon the attention of the Committee. In the first place, one cannot help wondering how it came about that the Secretary of State for War gave that interview at all. The doctrine of the solidarity of the Cabinet is a most admirable one, but I do not understand that to mean that any and every member of the Cabinet is to undertake the duties of any or all of his colleagues—particularly in this case, when the duties of the particular Department really concerned with the subject matter of the interview are in the hands of two Noble Lords who, I believe, in the opinion not only of this House but of the whole country, are singularly fitted, both by ability and by discretion, to carry on the duties of their office properly. I believe that our foreign affairs are safe in the hands of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, and might, perhaps, with advantage, be left to their exclusive management and control. But that is a small matter comparatively. I find fault with my right hon. Friend for the character of the language used in that interview. The Secretary of State for War is described in the paper asa man who looks at you and talks more like an American business man than any other Englishman in public life. He was now speaking real United States.I did not know that that was the language they learnt at Carnarvon, but we live and learn. Are we all very anxious that at a moment of great and supreme crisis our statesmen should be looking and talking like typical American business men? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I have met 130 with a great many business men, but I certainly should not have thought that their methods or language were recalled to me by the character of that interview. It seemed to me rather more reminiscent of a gentleman carrying on the publicity department in an establishment where they relied quite as much upon advertisement as upon the intrinsic value of the wares they sold. What is the language of which many of us complain? It is the references to the British soldier fighting in this War in the terms of a sporting animal: He was "a game dog."
§ Mr. HOLT
I do say so. Another simile used was that we are to fight to a finish—"to a knock-out." I should like to remind the House of what the Home Secretary wrote some time ago on the subject of war.The cheering crowds in a time of war, lining the streets while the troops, bands playing, colours flying, march through on their way to embark; the hot excitement of the packed audiences in the music halls shouting the choruses of patriotic songs … all this is not merely the zeal of a nation sternly determined to uphold its rights abroad; it is not merely the expression of a people's gratitude to those who are ready to risk everything in their country's service. If we are candid, we are bound to confess that this spirit is not so different from that which led all Rome on a feast-day to flock to the Coliseum and sit crowding to see the gladiatorial shows. It is the thrilling joy of watching a game at which men's lives are at stake.I confess that the simile which the right hon. Gentleman used is strongly reminiscent of the spirit which the Home Secretary so wisely condemns. Further, he said—Time is the least vital factor.Is time of no importance when you are spending five million and seventy thousand pounds per diem? Is time of no importance to any of us when we see the appalling toll of life? When misery is falling on countless households every day, when every day there are more and more homes clouded with sorrow, can anybody really tell us that time is not a vital factor, that time is not a serious factor? Our soldiers did not go into this War in the character of sporting dogs or of gladiators. They went into it, I believe, as Christian warriors, fighting for a great and sacred cause. They thought to accomplish the greatest possible objects—the objects set out in the passage I have already read from the speech of the Prime Minister— 131 objects comprising the interests of justice and the highest interests of European civilisation. They went into this war in the firm conviction that by war, and by war alone, was it possible to attain the objects which we have set before us. It was in no spirit of sport. It was in the spirit of accomplishing by the only means possible a very sacred duty. War is a hateful way, and it is a way that ought not to be persisted in five minutes longer than is necessary. I would remind the Committee of the language used by the Colonial Secretary on 15th November last:Does anyone suppose that we would not, every one of us, jump at the earliest opportunity of ending the War, provided we could do it in a way that is consistent with the honour and safety of the country?
§ Mr. HOLT
That, I am glad to know, is the sentiment of the Secretary of State for War. I believe it is the sentiment of all of us, and it is because there are in that interview terms which appear to be in contradiction to that sentiment that I have brought this matter to the attention of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Germans were squealing—I assume for peace. I am not quite sure that that is very accurate or that the expression is in very good taste. If they are squealing for peace, why taunt them about it? Surely there is nothing in the world that we could hope for better than that the Germans should be squealing for peace. It is the very condition to which it is the object of war to reduce your enemies. If you have them in that, for us, happy condition, so far from taunting then: about it, let us at once, if we can, take steps to accept their disinclination to go on. We are fighting, we are told, to a finish. Yes, but what is the finish? Surely the finish has come, or will come, when our enemy is ready to concede to us the objects for which we entered upon the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "IS he? "] If you are going to fight in the prize ring surely the finish has come when your opponent is ready to concede to you the prize.
§ Mr. HOLT
Do I understand there are hon. Members who believe that if they had an opponent in a prize fight, and that that man was ready to concede to them the prize for which they were contending, that they would not be satisfied until they 132 had knocked him senseless? No, Sir, a fight to a finish surely means a fight till we are able to obtain the objects for which we entered up in the War—that is, the prize for which we are fighting! I have set out in the Prime Minister's words what are those objects. The more material and definite objects are pretty plain. The last object is this: until the military domination of Prussia is wholly and finally destroyed. I subscribe to that, but I want to know how you are going to crush Prussianism—at what stage Prussian militarism is to be considered to be crushed? Surely Prussian militarism will have been crushed when the German Emperor has been made to see that it does not pay, when the Germans have discovered that by the use of military force, by the brutal use of armed force, they are unable to obtain that which in justice is not theirs? I may add that I think they must also be made to realise that without recourse to force they will obtain from the rest of Europe and from the rest of the world what in justice and fairness ought to be theirs. If peace were made to-morrow what would the Prussian militaryists, on the terms of conceding the objects for which we commenced the War, have to show for their labours? Nothing but a bloody record of failure. In addition, and as part of the conditions of peace, Germany should be made to assent to a League of Peace among the nations, a League of Peace comprising all nations, allies, enemies and neutrals. Surely then Prussian militarism would be as effectually crushed as anyone could desire to see.
We desire peace as soon as we can get it consistently with attaining our objects. I hope for a definite assurance that no one wants to go any further; that anyone else has any desire to go on after we have succeeded in obtaining our objects after they are assured to us. We started the War with the noblest aims with which any nation, I believe, ever embarked on a war. The Prime Minister told us to-day that we started it without a single selfish thought. Let us be very careful that in the prosecution of this War we do not allow our objects to degenerate. Let us be careful to see to it that the high and noble standard with which we embarked on this horrible contest will not be departed from. I hope that we are, and shall be, ready to welcome anyone, whether in the Old World or in the New World, who can come to us with a message of peace, and can show us that it 133 is possible to attain those objects which we believed—and at this moment still believes—war was the only possible instrument to obtain them, by peaceful methods and by peaceful diplomacy. If it is possible at any time to obtain the great objects for which sacrifice has been made in that way, then I hope that we may make it clear to all that we have no wish whatever to continue the War from motives less worthy than those with which we began it.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would just, first of all, say a word or two on what fell from my hon. Friend (Sir M. Levy). He has taken a very useful and very laborious part in trying to improve conditions in the Army Clothing Department, and the War Office and the country owe to him, and those who acted with him—two or three Members of this House and other people—a considerable debt of gratitude for the great trouble they took in looking into the matter and putting a good many things right. He is right in what he has communicated to the House. The organisation there was by no means satisfactory. There has unfortunately been, as a result, a judicial investigation conducted in the Courts, when some very, very severe observations were made by one of His Majesty's judges. As a result very largely of the Report of two Committees of Inquiry and the work of my hon. Friends who are in the House, a very complete change has been made in the Department. We have placed a new head in that particular branch of the Department, a very able business man, and he is entering upon the matter with great zeal. It is too early to communicate the result. It will take some time to put the matter right. But I have no doubt that in a very short time I shall be able to tell the House that that very important branch of the War Office has been placed upon a footing which will be satisfactory to every business man in this country. I am bound, however, in reply to one observation that fell from my hon. Friend in relation to the Department of the Quartermaster-General to say this much: It is a very difficult Department; it is a Department which had to improvise, largely upon a very narrow foundation, a huge enterprise, a gigantic enterprise, the spending of scores, if not, I am not sure, hundreds of millions in the course of the year, where at the beginning of the Department was Only spending a few millions. Any Department under those conditions would be 134 liable to make some mistakes. At the same time I think it will be admitted that never in any war has the Army been better fed, better clothed, or better looked after. I think it is right, when there is criticism passed upon part of the Quartermaster-General's Department, that that should be stated publicly in this House. I think it is right that I should also say that since he has taken over the administration of affairs in Mesopotamia that there has already been considerable improvement, and that has been largely due to the energy and impetus which he has given to the organisation there.
§ Sir M. LEVY
I did not wish to make the slightest imputation upon the Quartermaster-General. I say he is an extraordinarily able man, and has done his work exceptionally well; but he is up against other men in his Department who are totally incompetent and who frustrate his efforts.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am very glad to hear that, to have extracted that—perhaps I should not say "extracted," because the hon. Gentleman has volunteered the statement in a very proper spirit. I now come to another speech, not quite so serviceable. I refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt). I confess that the first part of his speech was absolutely inconsistent with the latter part of it. The hon. Gentleman approved of the declaration of the Prime Minister. Then he ends with something which is absolutely inconsistent with the whole proposition with which he begins his speech. If I may say so, I think the second part of his speech was the more sincere. I think it indicates the real mind and purpose with which the hon. Gentleman has made his speech here to-day. His objection to my interview is not its language, not even, perhaps—although there might be something in that fact—that I said it. What he objects to is that the whole pith and purport of that interview was that we are not going to give in until we have crushed Prussianism. I should like to know—I will come to the language in a moment or two—what it is to which he objects? My declaration was that we should tolerate no intervention until the Prussian military despotism is broken beyond repair. What was the declaration of the Prime Minister? That we shall not make peace until the military domination of Prussia is wholly and entirely destroyed. I say it must be broken beyond repair. The Prime Minister says it must 135 be wholly destroyed. What is the difference between the two? I simply elaborated—I am coming to the language in a minute—in my own way the declaration which had been made by the Prime Minister, not once, or twice, or three times, but repeatedly, and by the French' Prime Minister a few weeks before in a great speech delivered in the French Chamber. I can very well leave it with the thrilling peroration delivered to-day by the Prime Minister. That is a complete and authoritative answer to all those who have been trying to sow and spread disaffection and to suggest that I made this declaration without consulting my colleagues and that I was speaking only for myself. That is the answer to what is spread by correspondents who pretend they have got it from my colleagues. Do not believe it! It is a pure invention of theirs. I cannot believe my colleagues would tell correspondents what they have never said in the Cabinet, or in the War Office. Now I come to the language.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The interview was not a speech. It was not a letter. It was an interview. An interview is a public report of a private conversation. I do not know how my hon. Friend talks to his friends in private. Surely he does not address his acquaintances in private as he does this assembly? If he does, God help his friends! So much for the language. I come to the third point, which I think probably is the real objection taken by my hon. Friend. He considers the policy is wrong. But the policy is that of the Prime Minister, declared over and over again. I only repeat it in almost the very words he used. The policy has been proclaimed time after time. I proclaimed no new policy. The objection is that it was done by me. It ought not to have been done by me! True, I am a Cabinet Minister, and a Cabinet Minister is entitled, even outside his Department, to talk about the policy of the Government. It is the first time I have heard it laid down that a Cabinet Minister, when he speaks, has never to make a speech which is not strictly and sternly departmental. I am to talk about the Department of the Quartermaster-General. I am to talk about how they make breeches in Pimlico. My hon. Friend behind me made a very eloquent speech upon that topic. That I may speak upon, but I am never to travel outside my own Department. May I suggest to my hon. 136 Friend that, after all, the matter has something to do with my Department—whether or not there is going to be intervention and pourparlers to arrest the fight at the moment when we are gripping the enemy. It is much more a military matter than it is a diplomatic matter. It is essentially a military matter. Any intervention now would be a triumph for Germany! A military triumph! A war triumph! Intervention would have been for us a military disaster. Has the Secretary of State for War no right to express an opinion upon a thing which would be a military disaster? That is what I did, and I do not withdraw a single syllable. It was essential. I could tell the hon. Member how timely it was. I can tell the hon. Member it was not merely the expression of my own opinion, but the expression of the opinion of the Cabinet, of the War Committee, and of our military advisers. It was the opinion of every ally. I can understand men who conscientiously object to all wars. I can understand men who say you will never redeem humanity except by passive endurance of every evil. I can understand men, even—although I do not appreciate the strength of their arguments—who say they do not approve of this particular war. That is not my view, but I can understand it, and it requires courage to say so. But what I cannot understand, what I cannot appreciate, what I cannot respect, is when men preface their speeches by saying they believe in the war, they believe in its origin, they believe in its objects and its cause, and during the time the enemy were in the ascendant never said a word about peace; but the moment our gallant troops are climbing through endurance and suffering up the path of ascendancy begin to howl with the enemy.
§ Colonel NORTON GRIFFITHS
I must admit that the right hon. Gentleman's speech has completely taken out of my head everything I wanted to say, because it moved one so much, and I am sure as it moved me it will move every man in the country. Comparing the right hon. Gentleman's speech and the eloquent words of the Prime Minister with those we heard from the hon. Member who has been criticising, I do not think there can be any doubt whatever as to the country's opinion. My object in rising was, first of all, to add my little token of appreciation and joy at the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon. Compare it with 137 the speech of Lord Bryce in Birmingham recently. Lord Bryce is looked upon, I think, by most people in this country as a very eminent statesman—at any rate, he is so considered by a large number. Anyhow, we will let it go at this, that whatever he says is well read and considered, and I can assure this House that after that speech there was great anxiety throughout the country. I have numerous letters from my friends at the front also expressing anxiety as to whether or not on that occasion he was the mouthpiece—and we all know that if you want to spread a belief or a doctrine you have got to employ people to make it known gradually throughout the country—I say there was widespread anxiety as to whether or not Lord Bryce on that occasion was voicing the opinion of the Cabinet or anyone in the Cabinet. I do not think it is an exaggeration in the slightest degree to say that a large number of people in this country have been fearful lest at some critical moment some compromise or some peace terms might be arranged behind the scenes, and in passing from that subject I would ask the Government to indicate to the House whether or not it is their intention, in view of the repeatedly changing atmosphere at all fronts, to call at this juncture our leading Dominion statesmen to a conference to discuss many points which must inevitably arise in connection with any peace which will, of course, come about in due course.
The question is constantly being asked, will peace come this year? I was staying quite recently with a friend, a man of great business ability, who was absolutely assured peace would come this year. Having served in a humble capacity for eighteen months, I only say that if anyone to-day feels sure that even one year from now we are going to have peace he is the greatest optimist. If you give a year as the minimum, and possibly two years as the maximum, you are getting somewhere near the real position. There is no getting away from the fact that we have been turning out munitions and turning out guns, and a large number of munitions and guns have had to go to our Allies. Even if the Secretary of State for War or any other man of authority told me to-day that we had enough guns at the front, I should say we have not yet by a very large number, but we are getting them very quickly. Reverting again to Lord Bryce's statement, whether we agree or not with the policy of friendship and trading after 138 the war, or whatever the line he might wish to take, this is not the moment, when our soldiers are fighting bitter battles day by day, for our statesmen, or anyone who has the interests of our country at heart, to go about advocating friendship after the War. Let us fight as clean-fighting men. The hon. Member for Hexham referred to the prize-ring. Whoever heard of two men contesting a fight arguing in the middle what they were going to do after they had finished their battle? The same thing applies to this in many ways, and it is reproduced and misrepresented in the German papers that we are anxious for peace just when we are reaching our zenith and full strength, and when, no doubt, overwhelming victory, with caution and care, is within our grasp.
I want to turn to the question of manpower. I think there is no doubt whatever we all agree that more men are absolutely necessary to maintain the existing units in the field. With a view of testing the question I suggested the raising of a brigade of men of forty-one to forty-five years of age. The answer which I had unofficially from the War Office was no doubt a very sensible and wise answer. They could not agree to the raising of any more units, which in turn would have to be maintained and would require more men to keep them in the field, until provision has been made for the maintenance and upkeep in full strength of the units now in the field. There is no doubt whatever that if the Government do not take immediate action and settle the way in which to get more men we shall be face to face again with a similar position to that with which we were faced when the Government were forced to bring in the Military Service Bill. I do submit that it would be nothing short of an outrage if the Government were to raise the age limit before they had taken every available man up to the age of twenty-five. I do press also that the first essential thing to do is to provide for the debadging and cancellation of exemption certificates to all men up to the age of twenty-five. I know the Government have wisely appointed a Committee to deal with this manpower question which is so urgent, but the country looks to the Government, and not to the Committee, and whatever the recommendations of that Committee may be, composed as it is of eminent men, I do press upon the Government the urgency of this question. Having made it my business 139 during the last few weeks to go over England, I know the feeling in the country is very strong. In the fifteen hundred letters I had from those willing to volunteer to go into a brigade of men from forty-one to forty-five, as a result not of a big Press campaign but of one single notice, a great number of men drew attention to the fact that they are willing to serve and would volunteer, but there is no doubt that the feeling in their part of the world, and indeed throughout the country, is that all men up to the age of twenty-five should be debadged. The country really does sincerely wish to see any possibility of favouritism done away with, and to see every man up to the age of twenty-five toe the line and do his duty by going out and helping in his turn to replace others, it may be, who may get worn out. I do most earnestly ask the Secretary of State for War to bear that in mind in any deliberation, because it is no doubt the public feeling throughout the country. In a very short time the Germans will have another 600,000 men partially trained. That is about their number per annum who come of age. I do not know what our number is, but it will be interesting to hear that. We want a decision now, and we want it quickly, and if we were to adopt the policy of the cancellation of exemptions up to the age of twenty-five and debadging commencing from the 1st of November, in order to replace those who are worn-out men and who have done their bit in the trenches, you would not dislocate the trade of the country in any way, and you would get a large number of men available. This would ease the anxiety which is felt in many quarters as to the prospects of the Army.
I will now deal with the question of manpower. With regard to the question of the natives, we have heard that there are millions and millions of black subjects available for this War. I have spent seventeen years of my life in Africa and I have been through two campaigns there. I have raised units there and I have been in command of quite a considerable number, but I do not want the House or the country to run away with the idea that there are millions of these men available or that you can get any very large numbers of natives together to fight for this country. There are only two or three tribes in Africa who can be relied upon, such as the Zulus, the Matabeles, or the 140 Basutos, and one or two other minor tribes. If you managed to raise a division from those men it is about as much as you could do. I know that you could get a large number of natives who would come over and willingly work in order to release a great number of other men, and this might be done upon an understanding with the trade unions that the natives should go back directly after the War. In this way the natives could help to maintain to the fullest capacity the output of this country, and we should be able to continue the War without getting into deep water from a financial point of view. Of the seventeen years I spent in Africa, I spent five of those years in Northern Rhodesia and some years in West Africa, and there are very few parts of that country that I have not been in. In West Africa you have some excellent seafaring men of a magnificent type. On the Gold Coast you have a lot of good miners but very few real fighting men. That seems to be the true position from the native point of view as regards Africa.
If in the future natives are thought of in connection with raising a fighting unit, I think the Government would be wise if they secured the services of at least three men who have had personal experience with the natives and who know their language. I hope the Secretary for War will realise the importance of this point. It is suggested that a lot of natives might be brought over from the mines, but I hope we shall not send out anyone from this country to get them, as it would be far better to communicate with such companies as De Beers, who would be able to choose the best kind of men for our purpose. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Chinese?"] I do not think it is fully realised that the Ministry of Munitions are sheltering a good many men. I am convinced that there is not as complete co-ordination between the Minister of Munitions and the War Office as there should be. Of course I have no inside information, and I rely upon what I gather in the country. I will give an example of what I complain about. It is the case of a man of the age of twenty-eight, who is single. His master was approached by the military representatives, who desired to get more men, and this employer was asked to give up some of his young men. It was found that this particular young man could be spared, and he was told to join. He asked for exemption at the local tribunal, but they dismissed his request. He then went 141 to the Appeal Tribunal and they dismissed his appeal. I maintain that that man ought to have been taken there and then for service, but under the existing Regulations he was permitted to wander off and he got another job on munitions, and I can give the name of the firm, if necessary.
I do not know. That man was a hawking greengrocer. I could give other cases showing that the tribunals are being laughed at and are considered a joke, and the military representative is considered to be of no use at all. I do think it is important that the Ministry of Munitions and the Admiralty should look closely into this matter with a view of seeing how many men up to the age of twenty-five can be spared. I think they might pick out from the controlled works and a number of other works a large number of men up to the age of twenty-five who could be replaced by Christmas. I know that we have now a. substitution scheme, and no doubt some definite plan will be applied.
I submit that the military representatives throughout the country have been held up to ridicule and the good work of the tribunals has been considerably hampered by allowing such men as I have mentioned to escape and laugh at them. With regard to the Irish position, I am not now going into the question whether or not Irishmen ought to serve, but I want to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the circular issued recently in Ireland to provide navvies and general labourers for Rosyth at a minimum rate of 8d. per hour for an average week of fifty-nine hours. It states that overtime is paid to the men so employed who may qualify for higher positions; that good lodgings are available, with a concert hall, music, dancing, picture palaces, etc., for the exclusive use of the workers. It further states that the men so engaged are granted badges exempting them from military service and there are a lot of other points. I want to object to that circular, and I want the President of the Board of Trade to state whether it was issued with his knowledge 142 and consent. It is of very great importance. Personally, I have no objection to going over to Ireland and getting men over forty to come over here and work here and to paying them and housing them well; but I have a decided objection, and I am sure that a large number of people in this country have an objection, to young, able-bodied men in any country—Ireland, Scotland, or Wales—being taken for employment, while we are taking the young men of the same age in this country to do the work in the trenches. It is a matter which requires the attention of the Government, for, indeed, a good deal of feeling exists in connection with it throughout the country. In conclusion, I would again earnestly urge that an early date should be given for a discussion of the man-power question, so that we may not find our battalions in the field again short by two or three hundred men.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
As one who does not trouble the House very often or speak at any great length, I think I am justified in intervening in this Debate for two reasons. First of all, I want to express my very hearty appreciation and my very strong approval of the two very admirable speeches which have been delivered today by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War, and which will undoubtedly pass down into history as very remarkable and very necessary speeches. The speech of the Prime Minister touched and thrilled every Member of the House. If it did not, it ought to have done. I asked myself whether there was a single Member of this House who would charge the Prime Minister with the slightest degree of insincerity in the expressions to which he gave utterance. I am sure that everyone felt that he was speaking from a sense of the highest responsibility and with a desire to put the facts before the country in such a way as to strengthen the patriotism and the feeling of the people for the complete prosecution of this War. That was my impression as the result of the speech, and the fact that he was delivering it under such very trying circumstances seemed to me to strengthen it.
I now come to the speech of the Secretary of State for War and the charges made against him. I saw on a conspicuous placard of a so-called Labour organ the words, "That Wicked Interview." I was so struck by the placard that I thought I would see whether or not 143 there was any wickedness, and whether I could discover in what it consisted, but I think it will be agreed by the readers of that organ that it was an egregious failure on the part of the writer to prove the wickedness of that interview. I speak as a representative and as a responsible (leader of Labour in this country, and that is my firm opinion. The language employed in that interview is the language that the great mass of the working classes of this country enjoy and really relish. It is free, brotherly, and bright, and goes to the root of the matter in a few words, expressing what I believe is the real opinion of the Cabinet. I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State for War that he did express the feelings of his brethren in the Cabinet. I believe they are brethren, and it is to be hoped that during this great and terrible crisis through which we are passing they will remain brethren. Nothing, in my opinion, but a Coalition Government would meet the situation. I hope it will continue, and that the spirit that has been created in the country by the existence of this Coalition Government will remain long after the War is over. That, I think, is the feeling of the average thinking citizen. I shall do my best, at any rate, to cultivate that feeling both now and hereafter. I will never be a party to allowing party prejudice and partisanship to stand before the vital interests of my country. I cannot understand the position of those, men who claim to represent the working-class interests of this country and who have done nothing to help their country in this crisis. I cannot understand what their answer will be when the men come back in peace time, or when the woman who has lost her son, or it may be her husband or her father, asks them, "What did you do for the War?" But that is their business From the first I have claimed that it was the duty of the working classes and of every other class to subordinate everything to the supreme interest of winning this War.
It is the duty of all sections and all parties to unite in a time of their country's suffering and distress. There is nothing more vital to us as a people, and there is nothing that ought to claim our attention so seriously as the human interest of saving life and preventing suffering. The Prime Minister's speech this afternoon would have been made more complete if he had alluded to the fact that there are vast 144 numbers of people who do not yet realise that we are at war, who are still spending lavishly of their resources which may ultimately be very vitally needed, who do not seem to care whether the War is long or short, and who seem to be callous and indifferent about these matters. Something should be said from high quarters as to this kind of extravagant living at a time like the present. All classes are more or less affected. The Prime Minister, in his review of the position, brought before us the question of food prices. If there is one question which is agitating the great mass of the working people of the country—for, after all, the bottom dog must suffer most in this matter—it is whether the Government could not at an earlier stage have taken this matter into their serious consideration. They have done something that everybody will welcome in the establishment of a controlling power over wheat and some other commodities. The public will rejoice at the fact that the Government are really alive to this matter at last.
I am very proud of the fact that the first speech I made in this House was to move an Amendment in the early part of 1915 to the Government position with regard to the cost of food. I then pointed out that unless the Government did take action to control food prices in some way or other there would be no option but for us, as responsible trade union leaders, to ask our members to seek some advance in wages to meet the new condition of things. The answer of the President of the Board of Trade at that time seemed to be that our tonnage had become so circumscribed, and was so essentially necessary for the transport of troops and other things, that it had a very decided influence on the action of the Government and of his Department in particular. I do think it is the duty of the Government to take every measure possible to put into operation some controlling power over those unpatriotic employers of labour who wish to exploit their country at a time like the present. I do not want to make either general or individual charges, and I do not claim that my own class is exempt from that kind of thing, but I do say that it is the Government's clear and emphatic duty to protect the people's food from profiteering and exploitation. I hope everybody in the House is agreed upon that. I do not intend to detain the House, but I did feel that I would like to offer my meed of acknowledgment of the extraordinary and very stirring and thrilling remarks of 145 the Prime Minister, and I also wished to say with all that it may mean that I fully endorse the remarks made in his interview by the Secretary of State for War
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I am bound to say that I think the Secretary of State for War has underestimated the extent of the alarm and doubt which his interview has created among moderate men. I have got many moderate friends who do not agree with me about this War, and I have met literally dozens since that interview who have expressed alarm at the attitude of the War Secretary. Of course, large sections of the population were bound to welcome an intransigeant attitude like that, but that is not the attitude of large masses of the population in England. The idea of an indefinite continuance of the War has not entered into their minds. They have entered into it for definite objects which they understand and which they want continually stated, and they are anxious that the War should stop at once if those objects are attained. It is not everybody who is blind to the real meaning of that abominable phrase "A war of attrition." They know that the rubbing away is not only on one side. It was all very well when the attrition was all on the other side at the time of Verdun, when the principal attrition was hundreds of thousands of Germans; but part of the attrition now is hundreds of thousands of British men. I do not know what the casualties have been in the last three months. I hope we shall be told. I am going to ask. I think we ought to know. I think it is our right to know, whether they are small as I am told by some people or large as the lists themselves show. The casualties, as published in the "Times," were over 300,000 for these last three months only a week ago. They cannot now be far short of half a million. If so, let us know. I do not think anyone in this House doubts—I certainly do not—that in a long or short time, by going on with these casualties at that rate the Germans can be driven back. But opinions differ as to the time it will take. The sanguine Welsh temperament may think that the Germans may be driven out of France in a few months, but other temperaments think it may be not months, but years, that it may involve not half a million casualties, but 3,000,000 British casualties.
With these possibilities to my mind the supreme question for this House is, are we to take it on the word of Governments that reasonable peace is not obtainable now, 146 although those Governments make no effort clearly to define what they want, or to discover if their enemies are ready to meet them. This is where, the importance of the right hon. Gentleman's interview comes in. It looks as though he personally wants to block the one easy channel of communication which our enemies have, if they are beginning to be ready to accept our terms. What else does it mean? The right hon. Gentleman said:There is no end of the War in sight. Any step at this time by the United States, the Vatican, or any other neutral, in the direction of peace would be construed by England as an unneutral pro-German move.Those words are to be found at the beginning of the great interview the report of which, I understand, was accepted by the Minister for War. I have one thing to say about that, and it is this. We in Great Britain are to-day fighting because we are regarders of treaties, and defenders of international decisions, because we say Germany ought to have appealed to The Hague Tribunal at the beginning of this war. Who disagrees with that? Let me read one of the decisions of the second Hague Conference.
The contracting Powers deem it expedient that one or more Powers—strangers to the dispute—should, on their own initiative and as far as circumstances may allow, offer their good offices or mediation to the States at variance.Powers strangers to the dispute have the right to offer good offices or mediation even during the course of hostilities.The exercise of this right can never be regarded by either of the parties to the dispute as an unfriendly act.That is the international agreement. It does not tally with the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. I feel sure of this, that the chief difficulty among moderate men in our country is not as to the principal objects for the obtaining of which we must necessarily go on until we get them, but as to whether there is any chance of these objects being obtainable now or in the near future. As to that there is a difference of opinion. Some make the dogmatic assertion that our principal objects cannot be obtained now. Others with equal dogmatism say the opposite. This morning I parted again with an old and valued friend who was going back to the trenches. He has been there for eighteen months, and by a long way he is the only officer who originally went out with the battalion The battalion went in once with 700 men. It came back with 200. Again it went in with 400, and it came back with sixty. My friend said to me, regretfully, "I do not see the end of the War. The Germans will not give in." I 147 said to him, "Suppose we knew that the Germans would retire from Belgium, and give an indemnity, that they would leave France and perhaps give back some of Lorraine, that they would give Serbia back its independence? What then?" He replied, "Of course we shall have got all we want, but I do not think they will do so." That is the real question at issue. Is there or is there not any chance of getting these sort of terms? I do not dogmatically assert that they can be obtained now, but I do say we do not know that they cannot be obtained, and if the Government is going to block the way to mediation, we shall never know until months after they could have been obtained.
I do not know what the attitude of Germany is, but there are things which we do know about it. In the first place, there is not a neutral who comes back from Germany who does not tell us the same story—that the Germans are utterly sick of the war, that sorrow, disillusion, misery, discomfort, and, though not to the extent, perhaps, which is believed here, actual want are the general state of the German population. The second thing is that the German Government has twice declared its readiness to negotiate, although I agree it has not indicated upon what terms. Still, that is a factor. The third is that there is in Germany to-day going on a furious political controversy. On the one side are the Jingoes and annexationists, the party who are still under the delusion that they may be able to make it a war of conquest, and if their ideals prevail, of course peace is out of the question. On the other hand, there is a large and increasingly—even in these days of the suppression of opinion in Germany—vocal party of anti-annexationists. There is an anti-annexation petition in favour of peace being signed by hundreds of thousands of the working classes throughout Germany. The anti-annexationists are asking for a definite repudiation of the annexation policy by the German Chancellor. They have not yet got that definite repudiation. The German Chancellor is a politician, and has all his people to think of, the Jingoes as well as the anti-annexationists. But there is every reason to think that the tendency of the German Chancellor is against this war being made a war of conquest for Germany. The leader of the Social-Democratic Party in Germany, 148 Mr. Scheidemann—a party which is bigger than any Socialist or Labour Party in England—is a man who supports the war in his country in the same sense as the leader of the Labour Party supports it here. What does he say? He has claimed that the German Chancellor is against annexation, and the German Chancellor has not denied it. In a speech he made only the other day to a great Socialist Congress, he said:We approve of the Chancellor's declaration of his readiness for peace. We do not approve of his obscurities, which he evidently considers diplomatic. The German Government ought to declare that Germany's power of resistance is unbounded, but that Germany will not think of putting up any humbling or humiliating terms of peace. The peace movement in the enemy countries would be strengthened if the Chancellor declared that Germany desired peace, but not annexation.That is the policy of the Socialist party in Germany, of the minority as well as of the majority, and it is being supported by the enormous mass of the German population. I say if it becomes clear that the Chancellor of Germany is on the side of the anti-annexationists, it is then clear that the German militarists are beaten, and it is becoming to be clear that we have got our ends. That is a proposition which we ought to consider. But I do not like the position of things created by the Minister's hostility to mediation by which it will become difficult, if the Chancellor comes down on the side of the anti-annexationists, for him to be able to get at England, and let us know the War can end. The Socialist leader in Germany used these words:We do not approve of the obscurities of our Government, which they evidently think diplomatic.Some of us do not approve of the obscurities of our Government. We know some of the policy of our Government, but we do not know all of it. Are we quite certain that the Allies are not continuing this War for the purposes of annexation? What commitments have we entered into as a country in regard to Constantinople? Have we got to continue this War until Russia is in possession of Constantinople? That policy might or might not commend itself to the British people if the pros and cons of it were considered, but if it was accepted it would be a curious commentary on history The House of Commons has a right to know whether, before this War is finished, we have to go in for a policy of conquest—the policy of the conquest of Constantinople, which has nothing to do with self-government, nationality, or racial independence 149 The other thing I want to say with regard to the attitude of the Government is this, and it is another matter intimately connected with the right hon. Gentleman's outburst against mediation. In May last a speech was delivered by President Wilson of the United States. It was one of the most remarkable epoch-making speeches ever delivered by an American President, because it foreshadowed a complete departure in American policy. The great policy of Americans hitherto in regard to foreign affairs has been what is known as the Monroe Doctrine.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The Monroe Doctrine amounts to this: It says to Europe, "You keep your hands off America, North and South, and we in America will leave Europe to itself." That is the recognised corollary in American politics of the other side of the Monroe Doctrine. When people criticise the United States for not coming into this War they should remember it has hitherto been a cardinal point of American policy to keep out of all our entanglements. On the 27th May President Wilson made this remarkable speech. I do not apologise for reading some of it to the Committee, for the reason that the only part of it which was quoted and discussed in Great Britain was the part of it which was a misquotation—I am not going into it—of a very small and unessential part of what he said. This is the gist, the important part, of President Wilson's declaration:It is right that I, as spokesman of our Government, should attempt to give expression to what I believe to be the thought and purpose of the people of the United States in this vital matter—That is the War—We are not mere disconnected lookers-on. The longer the War lasts the more deeply do we become concerned that it should be brought to an end, and the world be permitted to resume its. normal life and course again. And when it does come to an end we shall be as much concerned as the nations at war to see peace assume an aspect of permanence, give promise of days from which the anxiety of uncertainty shall be lifted, bring some assurance that peace and war shall always hereafter be reckoned part of the common interest of mankind. We are participants, whether we would or not, in the life of the world. The interests of all the nations are our own also. We are partners with the rest. What affects mankind is inevitably our affair, as well as the affair of the nations of Europe and Asia.…I would remind the Committee that that is a change in the whole attitude of American 150 politics. There is a great deal more that is interesting in the speech, but I will only read the essential thing.If it should ever be our privilege to suggest or initiate a movement for peace among the nations now at war, I am sure that the people of the United States would wish their Government to move along these lines: First, such a settlement with regard to their own immediate interests as the belligerents may agree upon. We have nothing material of any kind to ask for ourselves, and are quite aware that we are not in any sense or degree parties to the present quarrel. Our interest is only in peace and its future guarantees. Second, a universal association of the nations to maintain the inviolate security of the highway of the seas for the common and unhindered use of all the nations of the world, and to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty covenants or without warning and full submission of the causes to the opinion of the world—a virtual guarantee of territorial integrity and political independence. I come here only to avow a creed and to give expression to the confidence I feel that the world is even now upon the eve of a great consummation, when some common force will be brought into existence which shall safeguard right as the first and most fundamental interest of all peoples and all Governments, when coercion shall be summoned, not to the service of political ambitions or selfish hostility, but to the service of a common order, a common justice, and a common peace.What strikes me in reading that is how very like it is to the words with which the Prime Minister ended his peroration today. I deeply regret that when President Wilson made that declaration no notice of any sort was taken of it by our Government, although it squares with the highest ideals of our Government. I wish they had made a public declaration of their gladness that America was wishing to come into that co-operation of nations, of which the Prime Minister has spoken, instead of this almost direct intimation to America that it is not wanted. That is where I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has made a mistake.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I cannot allow that statement to pass. I must correct the statement made by my hon. Friend. There were two incorrect statements made by him. The first is that no notice was taken by any statesman of any proposition of that kind from America. As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a declaration of the same kind, because he called my attention to it—it was a declaration of a similar kind in an American paper a very short time ago. I do not say that President Wilson's speech was a response to that, but the first statement of that kind came from my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It is rather important that there should be no inaccurate statement on that point. 151 It was Lord Grey who anticipated that statement. The second point is that there is a great difference between an intervention of the Allies to secure that after the War there should be an international tribunal or combination to enforce peace throughout the world, and an intervention at a moment which does not suit us.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Very well! Of all people in this House, I do not want to quarrel with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. If our Government accepts that hope for mankind from President Wilson, well and good, I welcome it, and America will welcome it, because after all it is the hope of the world. We quarrelling nations shall hardly be able to settle this thing among ourselves without some other force coming in to help us. We all believe that the highest hope for mankind is that out of the terror of this War there may come co-operation. That will be so much easier if we call in America to help us. That is all I ask. If the Government have signified, or are willing to signify to America their pleasure at this great departure in policy on the part of America, well and good; it is one great thing gained. If the right hon. Gentleman's declaration has not in a sense been directed against any attempt at settling the War and bringing the parties together by America, well and good. Perhaps it will not have done so much harm. I am the last man in the world to quarrel with the tone and temper of his utterances. I have been on his side, quarrelling with the Tories, in the causes he has defended. I do not care about the tone and temper of the right hon. Gentleman's utterances. I do not mind if you like to call them vulgarities, because, after all, the question is whether he is right or wrong. In this case I think he made a mistake in giving an impression to the world that he did not want the mediation of other nations. If he wants it, well and good.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I should like to offer one or two observations with regard to the speech to which the Committee has just listened. The hon. Member (Mr. Trevelyan), in the earlier part of his speech, seemed to make two assumptions, to both of which I listened with a great deal of surprise. He stated that he was about to give the views of moderate men, and I understood him to identify himself with that moderate opinion.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
No, I only said that I knew there was a large mass of moderate opinion which did not approve of that interview.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am very glad to hear that the hon. Member does not wish to identify himself with that moderate opinion, because I do not think the majority of the Committee would be able to accept that standpoint of the hon. Member. I should like to know how the hon. Member is in a position to say that there is a large body of moderate opinion which he has expressed in his speech to the Committee; and, secondly, I should like to know how he is in a position to state, as he did, that there are large masses of people in this country who hold the views he has just expressed? All the evidence, so far as I know, that is available to any of us points entirely in the opposite direction. I do not believe there is any large mass of opinion which would agree with the observations the hon. Member has just made. I could not help suspecting that the noticeable vehemence of the hon. Member's speech must be due to the consciousness of his own isolation in this respect. I do not know whether the hon. Member himself is one of those who have got themselves into difficulties with their constituencies.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It is certainly noticeable that more than one Member of this House whom we usually associate as agreeing with the hon. Member, so far from expressing a large mass of opinion, either moderate or extreme, is so much isolated that he cannot command the majority of his constituents. We can therefore put entirely on one side the idea that the opinions just expressed represent the opinion of a large mass in the country. We all recognise the sincerity and the honesty of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but let us also recognise that that sincerity and honesty we recognise in him stands very isolated in the country, and from the point of view of its bearing upon the policy of the Government or the country we can safely disregard it altogether. The hon. Member in discussing with considerable vehemence whether His Majesty's Government at the present time ought in some way or other to invite declarations from our enemies with regard to terms of peace, laid great stress upon the fact, or alleged fact, that there is a 153 powerful party in Germany at present supporting what he calls anti-annexationist views. Whether that is true or not, is it really of any very great importance or concern to us? The question whether Germany has an anti-annexationist party or not has very little to do with the question. Does anybody suppose that this country is going to be content to end this War, after all the sacrifices that have been made, merely upon a non-annexationist policy on the part of Germany Nobody thinks for a moment that either this country or any one of the Allies with whom we are fighting would consent to make peace on any such terms. Our enemies must recognise that the burden which they have to bear is infinitely greater than anything that can be expressed by anti-annexation before there is the slightest chance of our coming to terms and arranging peace.
The hon. Member went on to give, as an example of matters that would have to be decided, the fate of Constantinople, and he asked the Government whether or not we were to continue this War until the fate of Constantinople had been decided in a certain way. I must say that that struck me with some surprise, coming from the hon. Member. One can remember a time when the policy with regard to Constantinople was expressed in the phraseBag and baggage—a phrase that had considerable popularity on the Liberal Benches. I should have thought that the hon. Member would have been one who would have paid great respect to that phrase and would have been ready, as a representative of a younger generation of Liberals, to support that historic policy. But the hon. Member to-day comes out as a friend and defender of the Turk.
§ Mr. McNEILL
He cannot get rid of the obvious inference of his language by a mere shake of his head. He says it has nothing to do with nationality. Apparently it has nothing to do with British policy, whether the Turk is allowed to remain in Constantinople or whether the policy of Russia is to find fulfilment at the end of this great war and the Slav is to take the place of the Ottoman and the Cross to take the place of the Crescent. All these are causes which leave the hon. Member cold. I could not help wondering whether this extraordinary desertion of a historic faith is to be explained by the 154 fact that the Turk at present happens to be our enemy. The hon. Member, a loyal member of his party, as he has taken care to explain to his right hon. Friend, would never have thought of deserting the bag and baggage policy in the years when, for reasons of State policy, England and Turkey happened to be in alliance' or in friendship; but at the moment when Turkey and England happen to be at war, then he finds occasion to discover a friendship with the Ottoman Empire which never suggested itself to his mind under other circumstances, and he practically says that we have no concern with the fate of Constantinople, and suggests, if his speech means anything, that we ought to allow Turkey to remain there. I differ in toto not only from the propositions but from the whole tone and temper of the hon. Member's speech. I differ and have always differed from him. I have in the past almost always differed from his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George), but I must say that if there has been anything in the public life of the right hon. Gentleman opposite which won my admiration and respect it was that interview. I feel convinced that among the many services which he has rendered to the country since this War commenced, this is sufficient in my opinion, as an opponent in political principle to the right hon. Gentleman, to wipe out from my mind all the evil things he has done in the past and to induce me to look indulgently on all the evil things I have no doubt he will do in the future. I think nothing he has done, among his many services, is so great as the service that he has performed at this critical juncture of the War in warning off the neutral nations of the world from interfering at present. Such interference is a matter which this country will not tolerate. After all the sacrifices which have been made it would be the most fatal surrender that could possibly be made by this country. I listened with the greatest possible gratification to the concluding part of the Prime Minister's speech, in which he entirely endorsed the point of view which the Secretary of State for War put forward in that interview, and has made it perfectly clear to all the world—I think it is very important at this time that it should be made quite clear—first of all, that we are not going to conclude peace upon patched-up and compromising terms, and, secondly, that we are not going to tolerate the interference of any neutral, however powerful or however much we may respect her. There are only two 155 possible alternatives for ending such a war as this. One is a compromising, patched-up peace, the second is prosecution until the moment when there is a victor and a vanquished. In the wars of 1866 and 1870 there was a victor and a vanquished. In each case the vanquished enemy had to come to the victor and say, "We can fight no longer; what terms of peace are you willing to grant? "We must fight our enemies until they in similar fashion come to us, not whining in roundabout terms through neutral journalists or neutral Kings or neutral Presidents, but sending their direct message to our Government, "We have fought until we can fight no longer. We are obliged to sue for terms. What terms are you willing to grant us?" When we have reached that stage it will be time enough to consider such matters as the hon. Member has suggested. Whether or not Constantinople is to go to Russia or remain with Turkey, and all those other matters of detail which will be arranged, I hope, between the Allied Powers without the interference and without the help of any outside Power whatever. When that time comes I hope we shall have sufficient power and sufficient wisdom to make a peace which will be moderate in view of all the circumstances which have gone before and which shall be decisive in the sense of securing peace for the future, but that, until that moment comes, we shall not listen to any insidious voices, such as that of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to make one appeal to the Secretary for War which I have made before on several occasions, and that is that the time has arrived when the Government should take into their favourable consideration some financial aid to the Volunteer Training Corps. Some of us for some years past have taken a very deep interest in the Volunteers, and last year in response to appeals which were made from time to time, the Government recognised the Volunteer Training Corps and brought them within the Act of 1863. At present I find, especially in the North-Eastern District, which is within the War zone, and where at any time we may get very serious raids, or indeed something more serious—
London is really not within the danger zone the same as we are 156 on the North-East coast. You have not had bombardment from ships in London yet. We feel that it is essential that we should raise a very large number of Volunteers. Three weeks last Sunday I attended a very large inspection of our local battalion, and I found an officer of the Regular Army making a very strong appeal to the crowd to come forward and join. Last week we had a very strenuous campaign, inviting recruits from all the factories and works. I addressed a very large meeting last Monday night, in which we made very strong appeals for men to join. These men are in receipt of wages of from 30s. to £2, £3 or £4 a week, and they put this question: "If we join the Volunteer Training Corps, are we responsible for finding the outfit?" and we were, under the circumstances, compelled to say "Yea" to that question. I think it is a disgrace that a rich country like this, asking volunteers to come forward in their thousands, not only to work during the day, but to give their time at night to undertake training duties, should ask them to buy their own outfit and to equip themselves with arms. I believe we could raise an Army for Home defence up to anything from 600,000 to 800,000 men if the Government will come forward and say they are prepared to assist them financially. I appeal on behalf especially of the Volunteers in the North of England that the Government now should make a sympathetic reply and say they are prepared to give that financial aid which is so much needed.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will say one word in response to what has fallen from my hon. Friend. I agree that his statement of facts is absolutely accurate as far as my knowledge extends. This I can tell him: There is an increasing appreciation in the War Office of the value of this new force and the uses to which it can be put. It is considering now very carefully the best method of reorganising it, and my hon. Friend may depend upon it that whatever scheme may be evolved as the result of consultation amongst the military authorities, it will be one which will redress all the obvious grievances to which he has alluded, and which I think will not merely give satisfaction to those who are so patriotically giving up their time now to drill and preparing to assist their country against possible danger, but also a sense of satisfaction, strength, and confidence to the whole country. It is not desirable to go beyond that at present, 157 because it is under consideration; and when I use the words "under consideration," I am not using them in an official sense. I am using them in the sense that I think my hon. Friend will feel absolutely satisfied that in a very short time there will be a change which will meet all the criticisms which he has so usefully addressed.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to add my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the encouragement he has given to the Volunteer Force. I have been associated with it a great deal, especially the Volunteers in my own county, and I am sure the words he has addressed to us will be thoroughly appreciated by Volunteers throughout England and Scotland. These men are doing splendid service for their country. I have every hope that what has now been said will bear good fruit, and will result in a large increase in the numbers who have now enlisted. I should like to add a word or two to what has been said by my hon. Friends (Mr. Houston and Colonel Norton-Griffiths) on the advantage of increasing our man-power by the enlistment of natives abroad. I was delighted to hear what the Prime Minister said of the employment of troops from all parts of Africa which has been going on in East Africa, and if we are to keep the races under us thoroughly loyal to us, we must allow them to take their part in all our wars. Nothing makes them so loyal as sharing in the shedding of blood in the service of the Empire. In every Colony that we have our men ought to be encouraged to enlist, and we should give them an opportunity of fighting for us in every way we can. We have magnificent men in the Haussas in West Africa and in various tribes in East and South Africa, and I see no reason why they should not be enlisted under their own officers, men who have lived with them for years, and who would be proud of the opportunity to serve with us either in East Africa or Mesopotamia, or wherever their services may be required. We have trained Soudanese troops with great success, and the same can be done with other African races. A great deal more can be done also in raising men in India. I believe very large numbers of Irregulars could be raised in India, who do not require so many British officers as Regular troops do, and these men should be trained to take their place in keeping the peace in India, while the Regular troops are employed outside. I trust that 158 what has been said on this subject will receive the due consideration of the Government.
§ Major NEWMAN
I agree with what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman that tine urgent question is the question of man-power. I am perfectly convinced that the country is looking to the House of Commons to see how we are going to deal with that question. Above all, they want to see how we are going to get to the Colours the vast number of men of military age who at the present time might be with the Colours but are in Government factories and Government offices. I know that the problem of the man under the umbrella is not a problem we have got to deal with alone. In Germany, France, and other countries the Government have equally got to face and deal with the question of the man under an umbrella. Neutrals who have been in Germany tell us that the question is urgent there. In France these men are being hunted out of the shelter of the French Government factory and the French Government office. Considering the really marvellous response we had in voluntary recruiting in the early days of the War, and the cheerful way in which the country took the Military Service Act, with its compulsion, I think the Government have shown not very great skill up to the present time in the way they have dealt with the question of the men in the munition factories or the Government offices. They could have handled them a great deal more skilfully. I do not know who was responsible for it, but some member of the Government Bench invented the expression "combing out"—a most unfortunate expression. Think what it means? Eighteen months ago, or even a year ago, we were patting the munition worker on the back and telling him he was doing as good work and as valuable work as the man in the trenches. We had posters up showing a soldier going to the front in the act of shaking hands with a man who had a pickaxe over his back. I dare say a great many young fellows who went into munition factories believed that by working in munition factories and Government offices, where they were earning £3 a week or more, they were doing just as good work for the country as the man in the trench with his 1s. a day. Then we got the expression "combing out," and these young men are told that they are to be combed out as you comb ticks 159 out of a fleece, and as quickly as possible. That puts the man's back up, and the result is that these men of military age who would have come forward if asked in another way to do so are sticking on, and mean to stick there for all they know.
What the Government appear to forget, and what a great many of these men of military age in Government offices or controlled factories forget, is that at this present crisis in our country's history the State have first call on the services of every man of military age. If that man can be of better value in the trenches, if he is physically fit for active service at the front, and his place is in the firing line, then to the firing line he ought to go with the least possible delay. Surely it should be equally as easy for a man to be transferred from the bench and the workshop to the trench as for a man in the firing line who may be invalided or disabled to come back from the firing line and find work at once, without any difficulty, in the workshop. That is what we ought to aim at. I am perfectly convinced that in Germany there would be no difficulty about that at all. There men are sent from the Government office to the firing line and sent back if they cannot do their work in the firing line. That is what we want here. How are we going to get that done? How are we going to make it as easy as possible for these men of military age in the controlled factories and in the Government offices to be got out of their present positions, if necessary, and sent to join the forces in the field? To my mind there is one way, and one easy way, and it is this: Why is not an Order made by the Government that a fortnight after some fixed date every single man of military age who is at present in a Government office or a controlled factory shall be, that day fortnight, automatically enrolled in Army Reserve B, if he is still in that employment? Then he would be in the Army Reserve. He could be medically examined, and the authorities could find out whether he was fit to go to the front or not. There could be conference, if necessary, between the War Office and the munition authorities as to what men should be actually taken and what men should be left. At any rate, every man who worked in that factory or in that Government office would be in the Army Reserve B, and would have his marching orders without any difficulty, 160 and we should not have what we have now, the long delay of combing out, the appeal to the tribunal, the friction, the inconvenience, and the inevitable hardship here and there. I do not think that the Government, certainly I do not think that the War Office, realise the enormous percentage of single men who are at present in these controlled factories or offices under the umbrella.
It is an extraordinary thing, but the average unmarried man, apparently, at the beginning of the War crowded into the factory, whereas the married man went into the New Army. If the average Member of Parliament had to do as I did for a good many months, for about a year and a half, see to the pay of several hundreds of men in the New Army once a week, they would be astonished at the extraordinary percentage of married men. It was certainly something like 70 per cent. in the case I have referred to. I do not know why that was so. Perhaps the married man wanted to get away from married life, whereas the single man wanted the shelter of the factory so that he could be longer with his young lady. The other day I had to do in a small way with the combing out of a factory, and I found that in that particular factory there were 680 men employed. Of that number 650 were of military age, and all but 100 were single men. That is a proportion which would be unthinkable in any battalion of the British Army at the present moment. The feeling of the country on this subject is very great. I have had letter after letter from my Constituents, and I have seen article after article in the daily Press upon it. I admit that combing out is now proceeding, but it is proceeding very slowly, and in the combing out a deal too much is left to the discretion of the employer or very often to the discretion of the foreman. The result is that, at any rate in several controlled establishments of which I have particular knowledge, the ones who are being got in the combing-out process are not the single men but the married men. Thereby a great feeling of hardship is being created, and the general public are going about saying that the Prime Minister's pledge that the single men should go first is being violated in a great many of these controlled establishments. That is a thing we have got to look to. If combing out is to be done we have got to get the best military 161 material in the process. We must get men under thirty years, if possible, or, better still, under twenty-five. When we have got these men out then, if necessary, take the married men, but do not take the married man first simply because, perhaps, he has not given a tip to the foreman, while you leave the unmarried man behind. This is a problem which the War Office, the Ministry of Munitions, and the Government generally have to tackle. It is a nettle which they will have to grasp, and the more quickly they grasp it and settle a very thorny question the better the country will be pleased.
Resolution agreed to; to be reported tomorrow (Thursday); Committee to sit again To-morrow.