§ SUPPLEMENTARY VOTE OF CREDIT, 1916–17— £200,000,000.
§ VOTE OF CREDIT, 1917–18—£350,000,000.
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW rose ——
§ Major GODFREY COLLINS
I desire to ask a ruling as to whether the Government is entitled to ask the House to pass large 313 separate Votes of Credit for two separate years in one day, especially when the amounts exceed all previous sums? In the second place, I desire to ask whether it is in agreement with the established practice of this House, and the guiding principles of our financial system, that the expenditure for the year should be provided by money voted during the year, and in that year alone, and that unexpended balances at the end of the financial year should be applied to Exchequer balances?
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is nothing contrary to the procedure of the House or its practice in what is now being done. It is only following the procedure of the House at this period of the year, to provide both for the close of the current financial year and a certain amount for the beginning of the new financial year. Of course, the extent of the provision is not a matter for me, and not a matter which can properly be discussed on a point of Order. On the second point of the hon. Member, as to the money proposed to be voted for the balance of the current financial year, there is no departure from the established rule, that a balance unexpended on the 31st March should be returned to the Treasury. There is no carrying over of this Vote more than there is in our ordinary Votes in Supply at the termination of the financial year.
§ Major COLLINS
On the first point, that the precedent of previous years is being followed, surely the precedent is very different, because the sum under discussion this afternoon far exceeds the amount voted in previous years. On that point I would desire to know whether, in view of the changed circumstances, the precedent made last year should guide our practice this year?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a question of amount and degree, which the hon. Member can discuss in. Committee. It is not a point of Order upon which the Chairman can rule.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I beg to move, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £200,000,000, 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 314 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."
As hon. Members will see, the course which the Government propose to adopt to-day is that which was followed not only last year, but in the preceding year. We propose to ask the House to discuss together the two Votes. First, there is the final Vote of Credit for the current financial year. This must be carried, and the Consolidated Fund Bill passed through the House in order to enable us to get on with the work of the country. It is quite true that as regards the first Vote of Credit for next year there is no necessity for taking it now, but there, are some reasons which make it desirable to do it now. There is a great deal of financial business before the end of this month, and I cannot see any inconvenience in adopting the course proposed. I think my hon. Friend is mistaken in saying that these amounts are larger than was the case last year. I have not got the figures before me, but I think they are about the same. If the House will allow us to adopt this course, what I intend to say will be confined very much to an examination of the finance of the current year. I think it might be convenient to say at once what is necessary about the Vote for the following year. The amount of the Vote of Credit is £350,000,000, and the Vote of Credit last year I understood was for a smaller sum, £300,000,000, but as the expenditure is heavier now than a year ago the Vote of Credit for next year, to which the Government are asking the Committee to agree, will only carry on for the length of time of the Vote proposed last year— approximately, till the end of May.
We come to the finance of the present year. Perhaps you will remember that the last Vote of Credit, moved on 14th December, was for £400,000,000. It was estimated that it would last till 24th February. On Saturday last the figures showed that there is an unexpected balance of £76,000,000, which will carry us on till 23rd February. In moving the last Vote 315 of Credit I gave an estimate, furnished by my advisers, that an addition of £200,000,000 would be required to complete the Votes of Credit for the whole of this year, and if the House votes the £200,000,000 now, that will bring the total of Votes of Credit for the present year up to the enormous sum of £1,950,000,000. The House will remember that when I moved the last Vote of Credit I called attention to the fact that this sum exceeds the estimate made by my right hon. Friend in his Budget Statement by no less than £350,000,000. An estimate at a time like this must only be a guess; it cannot at all be regarded in the same way as estimates in ordinary years are regarded. It has been pointed out, I think, on every occasion when a Vote of Credit has been taken during the past year, that the increase is due to two causes: It is due to the additional expenditure on munitions and to the additional advances to our Allies and the Dominions. I am sure there is no one in the House who will not recognise the necessity for the increased expenditure under both those heads. As regards munitions, I should like the House to realise not only how great the increasing expenditure is, but how great the results of that increased expenditure are. If we take the expenditure on the Army, Navy, and munitions together—it has never been thought desirable to give separate figures—if they are taken together, I think the House will see, by comparing the average expenditure in the first days of the current financial year with the expenditure in the sixty-three days which has just elapsed, how great is the increase of expenditure on munitions. The average expenditure for the first fifty days of the current year on the three Services was £2,980,000; the average for the sixty-three days which have just elapsed is £4,020,000. That is an increase of over £1,000,000 in the average daily expenditure.
As regards the Navy, the expenditure has been constant, and as regards the Army, there must necessarily be some increase. But I am glad to say the increase has not been at all in proportion to the increase of the number of troops made available in the field. How great that increase is the House knows. I remember the late Prime Minister, in a speech on the Address last year, pointed out that, as compared with the Expedi- 316 tionary Force which we sent to the front at the beginning of the War, the number of British troops actually employed at the front in the various theatres had increased tenfold. Since then the increase, leaving out of account troops at home in the garrsion towns, the increase in the number actually engaged on the different fronts is fourteen times as great as it was at the time when war broke out. The bulk of the expenditure is on munitions, but I am glad to say, as the House knows, that the increase in the supply of munitions and in the quality of the munitions is much greater than is represented even by the increased expenditure. I am provided with figures showing the difference between the supply at one period and another, and if I were at liberty to give them I am sure that, with all its knowledge of the extent to which the supply of munitions has been increased, the House would be astonished. It is an increase which is going on all the time. It is as marked now, as compared with six months ago, as it was art any previous time. Perhaps I may be permitted, without giving away anything that ought to be kept secret, to state that, looking at different kinds of shell ammunition, I find the smallest increase, as compared with the average in the first year of the War, is twenty-eight times what it was then, and in many of the branches it is a much larger increase than is represented even by that figure.
As I have said, there is no one who doubts the necessity of that expenditure. If we look back to the early days of the War and remember the position in which our troops were during the winter 1914–15, when they were constantly called upon to-face an overwhelming superiority of materiel that was met with a courage and steadfastness which enabled them to hold their ground. Now the conditions have changed. We have not only, as we believe, and think we have reason to believe, a superior quality of man for man against our enemies, but we have superior equipment. The result of that is shown constantly by the raids, an account of one of which is in the papers to-day, where we have obtained results in comparison with our own losses which would have been absolutely impossible six months ago, and which give us reason to hope that when more important work has to be done the results will be satisfactory to ourselves and our Allies. The second cause of the increased expenditure is our advances to the Allies and Dominions. 317 My right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister, who was in the habit of moving these Votes, has made the claim many times—he made it again in a speech the other day—that this country had no selfish motive in going into this War. I think I may make another claim—that during the whole of the War the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the advances to our Allies, have considered one thing only, not whether we grudged it, but whether or not it would be in the general interest, and we could afford to give them the advances that were necessary to help the general cause. It is obvious that, apart from the great advantage our enemies had in having prepared for war, and chosen their own time for plunging the world into war, they have this other advantage, that, thanks to the dominant position occupied by Germany, there has been a central control of the whole of the forces of our enemies such as has been quite impossible in regard to the Allies.
But ever since the War began our Government—the late Government as well as the present—and the Governments of the Allies, have made efforts to improve co-ordination, they have tried to prevent different countries under different Commands from feeling that they were carrying on separate campaigns, and have tried to treat the whole War as one front, and centralise all our powers in the best way to help the cause as a whole. One method by which that more complete co-ordination has been secured has been by frequent conferences.
Since the House rose four or five conferences have taken place, and I think they have had good results. Twice French Ministers have come to London, and on one occasion they were accompanied by General Nivelle, the new Commander-in-Chief of the French Forces, and our Commander-in-Chief was also present, and I am sure that the general result of that Conference was to increase, if possible, the spirit of comradeship and desire to work together, which is an absolute necessity if our forces on the Western front are to secure the best results. In addition to this Conference of French Ministers there was a Conference at Borne, and I am inclined to think that that was one of the most useful which has been held since the War took place. I should like to tell the House what was attempted at it and what was achieved. I do not think any one of the Allied Governments 318 has been in a position to hear the subject of Greece discussed, either privately or in a legislative assembly, without some feeling of misgiving. It has been a difficult question, and the difficulty has been to a considerable extent due to the fact that there were so many different Powers trying to deal with the same problem. At Borne that problem was tackled. In addition to the Italian, French and British Ministers, General Sarrail, the Commander-in-Chief of the French troops at Salonika, was present. The result was that all these Allied Powers came to a definite decision as to the policy it was to adopt towards Greece. The object of that, which has been persistently carried out since, was quite plain. It was to prevent, if possible, our forces running the risk of being attacked from behind by the Greeks if an invasion took place by the Germans and the Bulgarians. I can only say that the proposals which were then made to secure that object have nearly all been carried out, and our commanders, both British and French, do not now think there is anything like the same danger from that cause which there was even a few weeks ago.
Arrangements were made to try to get some of the supplies to the Salonika forces overland to Italy, To some extent steps have already been taken in that direction, and one of them is that, in addition to the supplies to Salonika, a large quantity of coal which we promised to give to Italy is now going overland through France. In that way we not only save a certain amount of tonnage, but we avoid the risk of submarines that would arise by sending the stores through the Mediterranean. The quantity, of course, is not as large as we would wish, but, undoubtedly there is something being done in that way, and I believe more will be done. There was one further advantage from that Conference. There seemed to us to be a lack of co-ordination in the use of the naval powers of the Allies. That was discussed at the Conference at Rome, and, as a result, it was arranged that there should be a purely Naval Conference in London. That Conference has taken place, with the result that there has been really more co-ordination, especially in the Mediterranean, than was possible before, and I believe that the naval forces of the Allies have been better utilised in consequence. The only other Conference is that in Russia, at which the representatives of the French and British 319 Governments are present now. The object was to see in what way it was possible for the Allies to help the Russians in the preparations for the offensive of this year. I do not know. We have not yet had a report, but I am not in a position to say to what extent it has been successful, but I have no doubt it has been. But it was well worth while for both British Ministers and soldiers to go there, with the object of trying to secure this co-ordination. I come now to an examination of the figures of this Vote. The plan has been adopted in moving Votes of Credit of giving the House some idea of the extent of the increase in the expenditure which has taken place—in the daily average. I have here a table dividing the financial year into five periods corresponding with the five Votes which have been agreed to. The first period was one of fifty days. During that period our expenditure was £4,820,000 per day. In the next period it was £5,050,000; in the third period £5,070,000; in the fourth period £5,710,000 per day; and for the present period of sixty-three days there is an increase on that figure, bringing it to £5,790,000. As regards this increase, as compared with previous periods, it is not due to additional advances either to our Allies or Dominions. The advances to our Allies are less than in the previous period, and, as was the case when I last addressed the House, the demands of the Dominions have been much less than the average of the year. They are still finding it possible to finance their own requirements largely out of their own resources.
The House will wish to know where this increase comes in. It is partly due to the increase of expenditure on munitions, which, of course, is always going on. But it is due to another cause. In moving the last Vote of Credit I mentioned that, as compared with the previous period, the amount spent on food and miscellaneous items was less. But I pointed out at the same time that that could not be regarded as a stoppage of expenditure: it was merely a question of bookkeeping entries. There are many other reasons, which I am sure the House will understand. There has been a great increase in miscellaneous expenditure, the daily average of which has grown, comparing the last sixty-three days with the preceding period of sixty-three days, by no less a sum than £190,000. Of course, that is largely spent on food, 320 for which the Government will get back the value later on. It is only a bookkeeping entry. It is for that reason my advisers in the Treasury have reason to believe that the expenditure for the remaining days of the financial year will not be so great, and that the sum of £200,000,000, which I am now asking the House to vote, will be sufficient to carry us to the end of this financial year.
It has always been the custom, in moving these Votes of Credit—although the House is familiar with the figures—to give the total sum from the beginning of the War, which has been voted in this House, in the different Votes. For the first year of the War, 1914–15, the amount voted was £362,000.000; for the second year, 1915–16, it was £1,420,000,000; and in the third year, as I have pointed out, it reached the enormous sum of £1,950,000,000, making the total Votes of Credit, since the outbreak of the War, £3,732,000,000. But, as I have pointed out, even that figure does not represent the total expenditure in governing the country. There is other expenditure as well. I had an estimate made, and according to that estimate the total expenditure for the current financial year will be about £2,140,000.000, and the total expenditure since the beginning of the year reaches the colossal figure of £4,200,000,000.
There is another set of figures which I do not think as yet have been given to the House, but which some of the Members would like to have, and that is as to the position at which the National Debt will stand at the end of the current financial year. The estimate is that at the end of the financial year the total debt will be between £3,800,000,000 and £3,900,000,000. How much of that is advances? It has never yet been given to the House in one figure, but the figures have been given in such a way that anyone who added them together could arrive at the exact amount. I think, therefore, there is no harm in stating directly how much we estimate that the advances to the Allies and Dominions will be. It will be something approximating to £890,000,000 by the end of the financial year. When the War is won the great bulk of these advances will, we hope, not be a burden upon the United Kingdom. In estimating, not only our power at the beginning of the War, but what our position after the War will be, we have to take into account the fact 321 that this large item of our expenditure is not likely to fall on the National Exchequer.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes, everything. The estimate is that between £3,800,000,000 and £3,900,000,000 will be the amount of the National Debt, and if we deduct the advances to Allies and the Dominions—which we hope will not be a permanent burden on the British Exchequer—the total amount of the debt will be, approximately, £3,000,000,000.
The problem for us is, how we shall be able—we and our Allies—to bear the financial burden in order to see the War to a successful conclusion. I should like in this connection, as the Loan which has been issued by the Government comes to a conclusion on Friday this week, to say a word or two about it. In the first place, it is my belief that in issuing the Loan at this time I have only done what my right hon. Friend who preceded me intended to do had he continued to fill the office I now hold. When it became necessary that there should be a Loan it seemed to me equally necessary that it should be a success, not only in order to show, on the one hand, the determination of the people of this country to see the War to a conclusion, but, on the other hand, to show our ability to see it to a conclusion as far as our finances are concerned. Of course, anyone who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduces a loan, would not like that it should be a failure. But there is something far more important than that, and I can say for myself, if the Loan had not succeeded I should certainly not have thought it my fault that it failed. In the same way I should like to say that any Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a very foolish person who took to himself credit for a success which was due to the patriotism and determination of the country.
Success, to my mind, will depend on two things: It will depend not only on the amount of money which comes in, but on the widespread character of the applications that are made. I do not know to what extent it will be a success. As my right hon. Friend knows, we can never tell how much will come in until the last day of the 322 Loan. I do not know whether it will be the success I should like to see it, but I can say now that the number of applications will certainly be greater than have ever been made before, and I believe the amount of money paid in by the general public will also be greater than has ever been the case in any previous Loans.
I should like, if I may, to consider our financial position from the point of view of how we shall stand after we have won the War. I remember, in moving the Vote of Credit on the last occasion, I made a statement which seemed to me pretty obvious, that our expenditure was on such a scale that it was quite clear this country could not go on indefinitely bearing the financial burden. I see that that statement was interpreted in America as meaning that a British Chancellor of the Exchequer had recognised that we could not go on. That was very far from being the case. I am perfectly sure of this, that we in this country will be able to bear the financial strain longer than our enemies, and it will not be from that cause if we are forced to make a peace which we should think disastrous to the honour and position of this country. I should like the House to consider also what the burden is going to be after the War is over. How long the War will last I do not know; nobody knows. To what extent the debt will increase, no one can say; but it is fair to look at the position now, and this is the position:
My right hon. Friend who preceded me (Mr. McKenna) has raised in additional taxation during the War a sum of £300,000,000 for the current financial year, and—I believe I am not giving away any secrets—that estimate will be exceeded when the final returns are received. Just consider what that means. The country is bearing that additional burden in time of war. If it were necessary—that will depend upon the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Government which holds power when the War is over—if it were necessary to keep up taxation during peace at the same level as at present, even after making allowance for the Excess Profits Tax, which must come to an end with the end of the War, if it were necessary to keep up taxation at that scale, then, taking into account all the burdens that will fall upon the British taxpayer, I am right in saying that we should have the means of meeting the interest and Sinking Fund, so as to wipe the whole of it away in the course of a 323 comparatively short time. I do not wish to be too optimistic. We know what a terrible burden this means, not only for us, but for those who come after, but we believe it is a burden which we were bound to bear and which we have got to see through, and we do not need to make it worse in our minds than it is.
Look at it from another point of view. We were engaged in a similar struggle, a very similar struggle, more than a hundred years ago. When that struggle ended with the Battle of Waterloo the amount of indebtedness of this country was over £800,000,000. At that time the estimated income of the country was £250,000,000. The income to-day before the War was ten times as great as it was at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. Again, if we look at the financial position of this country, if we consider not only our trade and commerce but the close ties which bind the whole British Empire together, then it is certain that we and our children will be in a far better position to bear a much heavier burden than this War is likely to throw on us than our forefathers and our fathers were to bear the burden which was left to them. I do not intend to say anything about the general question. I have tried to give a general view of the financial situation. All that I would say before sitting down is to repeat a statement which has been made already. We have a very difficult road in front of us as a nation. There are many sacrifices which this country has not made yet. Indeed, up till now, as a nation, compared with what has been undergone by our Allies, we have borne comparatively small sacrifices, except the greatest of all, the loss of life. We may have greater sacrifices still to bear, but neither on the ground of finance nor on the ground of courage or the determination of our people will there be any going back until the end to which we have set ourselves has been reached.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The House, I am sure, has listened with the same interest that I have to the speech of my right hon. Friend. He has spoken with courage and confidence of the progress of the War and of Great Britain's financial ability to meet all its charges. The topic is a familiar one to me. For my part, I would like to say that I share to the full my right hon. Friend's confidence as to the future. In his opening observations he referred to the 324 cordial relations which exist at the present time between the Allies. In this respect the present Government is enjoying precisely the same experience as was enjoyed by its predecessor of 1915 and its predecessor of 1914. I do not suppose that in the history of the world there ever has been a case in which so many Allies have fought together on the same side and have maintained throughout the perfect cordiality of relationship which has existed between the Allies in the present War. My right hon. Friend referred to the amount of the present two Votes and spoke of them as following upon customary lines. I think he was mistaken. If my memory is right, the largest amount that has even been asked for at one time, whether by one Vote of Credit or two Votes of Credit—the number of Votes of Credit that is asked at the same time is immaterial—but the largest amount that has ever been asked for at one time has been £400,000,000, and £400,000,000 has only been asked in contemplation of a Parliamentary Recess. Never has this House been asked to vote so large a sum at the beginning of a Session, when there will be every facility at the expiration of one month, two months, or three months to come again to Parliament for a new Vote. I am speaking from memory, but I believe I am right in saying that it has only been in anticipation of a Recess that so large a Vote as £400,000,000 has been taken. Certainly at this time last year nothing like this sum was asked for. I think the total, figure asked for was something under £350,000,000, an amount which would last for some period between two and two and a-half months. The practice heretofore has been when Parliament is sitting to give Parliament an opporunity, at least every two and a-half months, to review the expenditure out of a Vote of Credit. We are now, for the first time, at the beginning of a Session, asked to vote for a sum of money which will last for upwards of three and a half months. My right hon. Friend will agree with me that a Government must always be supposed to intend the results of its actions. In asking for the first time for such a large amount as this, the Government must be intending one of two things, either that this House should not review the expenditure during the coming months—at any rate until the month of June—or they must be intending. 325 that the money provided by the House now should last over what may prove to be a Parliamentary Recess.
§ Mr. McKENNA
An hon. Friend opposite says, "Or an election." I would suggest to the Government, not in the least in the spirit of criticism, that if this sum of money is now asked for with the object of carrying over the period of an election, I think the House of Commons ought to be told so. This House, I am sure, will not in any quarter put forward any plea that the life of the House should be extended. It would be unbecoming the House of Commons or its Members for them to ask for an extension of life beyond the period allowed by law. If the Government resolve that it is in the interests of the country that there should be no renewal of the life of this Parliament, the House of Commons will accept that resolution without demur. I feel confident of that. It is not our business as Members of the House of Commons to extend our own life. If, on the other hand, the Government come to the conclusion that it is not in the public interest that the nation should be distracted by a General Election, and if, with the object of avoiding such a distraction, such an expenditure of time, of money, of energy, of labour, of materials, they come to the conclusion that it is not desirable that there should be this waste, and they themselves ask Parliament to extend its life, then I think the case would be quite different; but certainly, for myself, I would never for a moment urge any plea which would lead to an extension of my life as a Member of Parliament without a national object which was necessary to be attained on the authority of those responsible for the government of the country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I felt sure my right hon. Friend's memory was wrong. The facts are that on the 21st February last year my right hon. Friend moved two Votes of Credit, one for £120,000,000 to end that financial year, and the other for £300,000,000, and those two Votes together were intended to enable the business of the country to be carried on for precisely the same time as the Votes I am now asking for, and I may say to my right hon. Friend that in fixing on that amount I was thinking only of the precedent of last year, and the question of whether or not there should be an election never entered my mind.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am extremely glad to hear what my right hon. Friend has said, because I am sure he will agree with me that if the Government do not propose to ask Parliament to extend its life, the House should be told at the earliest moment. My memory was mistaken upon the point, and I readily accept the statement put forward by my right hon. Friend. Now, Sir, the total amount of the Votes of Credit for the year comes to £1,950,000,000. That is £350,000,000 in excess of the estimate formed by the Treasury last March or April. Could my right hon. Friend tell me, out of the total increase of £350,000,000, how much is due to an increase of advances to Allies and Dominions? My impression is that it is larger than in the explanation given, which is not quite clear.
§ Mr. McKENNA
There is another figure I should like my right hon. Friend to verify. He told us that the National Debt up to 31st March, 1917, would stand at between £3,800,000,000, and £3,900,000,000, and that the estimated advances to the Allies and Dominions at that time would be £890,000,000. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that that figure of £890,000,000 is right? I am under the impression that the figure of these advances will, on 31st March, stand at a very considerably higher amount.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Total advances. I referred only to the estimate stated by me in my Budget speech last year of the amount which had been advanced in the preceding year, and was estimated to be advanced in the coming year. That estimate has been exceeded. I may be mistaken, as a few minutes ago, but if my memory is right the total is—is the figure right?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I believe the figures that I gave are right; my right hon. Friend beside me thinks they are right.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Then the increase this year in the advances to the Allies and the Dominions together cannot be as much as appeared would probably be the case when I left office. I would like my right hon. Friend, if he can at any time, give the House some figures which I believe would 327 be of great interest. It is impossible to ask for exact figures, but I know a calculation could be made which would give the Committee some general idea as to the relative cost of a division of the Army whether it is employed in France or Salonika, or in Mesopotamia.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Well, when at home we presume the divisions at some time or another are going to one of the theatres of war. We are all agreed with my right hon. Friend that neither in men nor money must we spare anything within our power; that we must use all our resources, to the last man or the last shilling. Deep, however, as is our purse, it is not bottomless. It is essential for us to examine with care what me we are making of our resources. If we find, taking it only in money, that the cost of the long-distance campaigns is far greater than that of our fightng in France and Flanders, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—and the only idea I have in doing it is to strengthen his hands as representing the Treasury, and for no other reason—that care should be taken to insist that the value of the long-distance campaigns is in every instance examined and probed. If it is found beyond our resources to continue or to extend them, they should be cut down to the narrowest limits. We have Imperial responsibilities. We have political relationships and duties of all kinds which have compelled these campaigns. Perhaps we cannot help ourselves, but I feel sure, in respect to some of them at any rate, that if the Government had a free hand they would abandon them. They cannot do so. That does not get rid of the duty of taking care that they are not extended one inch beyond the absolute necessities of the case. When you come to other aspects of these campaigns, and the drain upon our shipping, the loss of our shipping, the sickness of our men, and the drain upon us in every respect is considered, I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me that our effective manpower can be far better and more easily used in those campaigns which are near to us than in those which are at so great a distance. When we fight the enemy we may seek the enemy three thousand miles away on the shores of Greece. When we arrive there we shall find that our destination is very little further from the Central Powers than if they had to meet us a hundred miles from home.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have said there are many campaigns that we cannot avoid. I am only speaking now of the necessity of limiting these campaigns to the utmost of the Government's power. Our difficulties—the Government's difficulties—in these respects I know as well as my right hon. Friend are extremely great, and I am sure it is not a question for recrimination, or for saying, "Why was this or the other done?" What we have to consider is what we are going to do now. I know enough, having been in the Government, to know that we should take the greatest care to avoid, so far as we can, being plunged deeper and deeper into these long-distance campaigns which exhaust us out of all proportion to the exhaustion which we impose upon the enemy. In relation to one of these campaigns—that in Mesopotamia—I am sure the Committee would wish to express their appreciation of the work recently done by the War Office. That campaign caused so much anxiety in this House that a Commission was appointed to examine into its origin and progress. There were undoubtedly grave troubles, both in respect to the supply service and the hospital service. I am told to-day that since the administration of these supplies was handed over to the Quartermaster-General here, so far from there being any complaint, the transport, supply, and hospital services are as well done as in any campaign in the whole history of the world. That is a great record, of which the War Office may justly be proud. As this question has been again and again raised in this House, and caused adverse criticism of the War Office at the time, surely the House now would wish to thank the War Office for the admirable work they have done.
This is no occasion upon which to go into the general financial situation of the country. My right hon. Friend referred to the total of our revenue, and the prospect he had, if we continued war taxation after peace, of having a sufficient amount of money to meet the whole cost of our I ordinary peace expenditure with a margin ample enough to provide a Sinking Fund for our debt which would pay off the debt in a comparatively short period of time. There are two qualifications to that hope expressed by my right hon. Friend. One is that that figure of the National Debt should not increase to too large an 329 amount, and the other is that the cost of our ordinary expenditure should be maintained at a not more extravagant level than that at which it stood before the War, Here, again, I know the difficulties of the Government in war. I do not in the least wish to criticise any action taken by the Government in making what they believe to be necessary appointments for the efficient conduct of the War. It is not in the very slightest degree in the spirit of criticism if I refer to one or two of those appointments. I hope I may be mistaken in my view. I should certainly readily admit that I was mistaken if it were so shown. But I cannot help thinking that the appointment of several of these controllers to different branches of our activities implies a real misunderstanding of the art of government. A controller is put in charge of a particular function. He is called the controller of man-power, or of food, or of shipping—that is to say, it is implied that he has to have the absolute power of direction and control in those particular functions—the supply and distribution of food, and provision of men for the Army and National Service, the building and the use of shipping. It is assumed when a controller is appointed in these particular businesses that you can cut off each of these businesses from the rest of the social organisation, that you can have a unit standing all by itself relating to food, and that tile controller can then control that food, or that you can have a unit supplying man-power and that the controller can control the man-power. You cannot, however, separate food from the other functions which are in existence, from the supply of man-power, or the building or use of shipping. The moment you try to set up a controller of food—whose task is one which deserves the sympathy of everyone of us—you find that his work inevitably runs across and cuts right across the work of the President of the Board of Agriculture.
I am not going into the familiar case of potatoes, but similar cases must arise over the whole field of the controller's work. The same applies to the controller of man-power. He cannot take men from businesses and put them into the Army, or take them from one business and put them into another, without having regard to the whole field of work at the Board of Agriculture and the Treasury. You cannot take men, or pretend to draft men—he does not pretend, and he has my heartiest sympathy, and I speak with the greatest 330 respect of him—he cannot himself draft men about and act as if he were isolated. He is a member of a big organisation. That is why our own Government in its own form, disregarded and neglected now, grew up out of the necessities of the case to meet the conditions of our national life. We had our Departments. There was the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, the Treasury. Each Department, manifold in its activities, with the heads of Departments all united in a central Department. No one Department was ever entirely separate from its neighbours in its organisation and functions. Each Department was, in the Cabinet, brought into one unit with other Departments. All that has gone. The notion of the organisation and separation of functions and the collection together of the Departments under one head, all that has gone! We have got these various Controllers, each with his own particular area and field of work, each assuming that ho is independent of and can act separately from the others, whereas in fact we all know that every Department, every function of our life and our clergies are not isolated and separate, but are necessarily part of the great social organisation of the State. The setting up of these various new Departments with their new functions is costly. The Votes of Credit will have to bear in the coming year a very considerable additional charge for many parts of Government which, once brought into existence, are bound to continue in peace. Therefore my right hon. Friend, when he makes his estimate as to what he will be able to do on the present scale of taxation, will, I am sure, look with considerable anxiety at the rapid rise in the permanent civil expenditure, and will not be unfriendly, at any rate, towards those who desire to help him by keeping down, so far as can be done, permanent expenditure in this country. There is one form of expenditure in which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh is particularly interested—an expenditure which we shall all welcome, and which, undoubtedly, is going to be extremely heavy. Even that can be borne, because, after all, that will not last for ever, and the charge of the War can be borne; but both will be borne the more easily if we have due regard to economy in our permanent expenditure.
§ Major G. COLLINS
In the latter part of his speech the light hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the cost of 331 troops we maintain in Salonika and France, and he desired to ask the Government certain questions on that point. I well recollect many times during the last eighteen months many hon. Members on this side of the House asking and pressing for information on that very point. Time and again we urged on these benches that the Expeditionary policy of the Government should be reviewed. I am afraid we got very little assistance from members of the late Government on that point; and, if I may be permitted further to state, on the general question of the War, so far as the policy which the late Government initiated and developed during the last thirty months, neither the House of Commons nor the country will submit to much criticism from the old against the new. Before the Vote of Credit was moved this afternoon I rose on a point of order to ask whether it was in accordance with the constitutional practice that these two large Votes should be voted on one day. My object in doing so was to direct attention to the stupendous figure which we are discussing this afternoon, and by some means or other endeavour to concentrate the attention of the House and the country on the very large sums which at present are being spent. During the past two years I have time and again spoken and argued against the expenditure of the late Government, and I am anxious that the present Government should not, in my opinion, fall into the error committed by the past Government of mistaking in many ways lavish expenditure for efficiency. I anticipate that the new Government, in view of the large calls on the national credit, and, in addition, the continued and ever-growing appeals to the public to economise, will review, and, if necessary, modify these far-reaching questions of policy, and not only so, but breathe and infuse a spirit of economy into each Department of the State. It will be a difficult task for this new Government to do, but I am convinced that it can be done, and only if the present Government are determined it will be done.
How can the House of Commons, let alone control or check the financial side of the War, when not only are details of expenditure, but all summary of expenditure hidden from view, and in addition it is asked one afternoon to pass a Vote of £550,000,000? It may be impossible in time of war for the House of Commons, 332 as at present constituted, to control in detail expenditure. Is it not, therefore, all the more necessary that the Government should exercise the greatest caution in asking for this stupendous Vote of Credit, and take a Committee of the House, perhaps, into its confidence, and place the larger issue before them? I think the voting of this large sum of money is a direct incentive to extravagance. The possession of large sums of money always develops that spirit, and the point I put to the new Government is this: Would directors of a business firm—and I use this analogy as the Government in many spheres include business men place at the disposal of their managers this large credit to enable them to continue on the same lavish scale their expenditure of the past? Financial endurance and the power of finance will be a more determining factor in the War than it has been during the last thirty months, and by finance I mean the employment by the Government of men and women, and the consumption by the Government of commodities, whether it be in the use of ships or in the consumption of any kind of stores for our Army and Navy. In this connection I would like to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of certain words he used some months ago on this point. He said:We cannot go on indefinitely at this rate of expenditure, but we can continue for a longer period than our enemies.In the past we have often underrated the staying power of our enemy. Time and again during the last thirty months we thought our enemy in certain theatres of war was not so strong as he ultimately turned out to be. Have we any assurance that the same mistake may not be made in finance as in military operations? I press that point of view, in view of the record of the past, upon the attention of the Government. My object in trying to stop these two large Votes of Credit being taken today was to give the new Government further time to consider their Expeditionary and other policy. During the short time they have been in office, for various reasons, their time has been much occupied and their attention has been directed to other matters, and I was hopeful that, between now and the end of the financial year, certain large questions of policy might be reviewed and modified in the light of events. That is the main reason why I brought forward the subject at Question Time to-day.
333 The subject of Mesopotamia, has been referred to by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, having recently returned from that country, I may be permitted, from the experience gained on the spot—although, naturally, I do not intend to make a single observation about any matter which came under my official notice—to draw the attention of the Government to a striking fact. Before doing so, may I remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the words ho used in the House last week?—If mistakes are made, we as a nation know how to repair them. That has been done here.The position to-day in Mesopotamia is a striking testimony of the advantage which accrues from the employment of new men with active brains and vigorous constitutions. I shall not enumerate the numerous reasons which enabled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use those striking words, but one reason, however, I may mention, and that is a psychological reason—the determination of a new set of men to improve on the work of their predecessors. Will the Government apply that principle to affairs at home? The application of this principle is saving the lives of men on the plains of Mesopotamia this afternoon, and I appeal to the Government in view of past decisions, which, in the light of subsequent events, have boon a failure, to review those decisions, and to apply new minds, fresh outlook and vigorous constitutions to problems which day by day come before them. So far as I can understand, the late Government were overthrown because the country, in its wisdom or otherwise, thought the War had not been waged in an efficient manner. Will the Government value efficiency above and beyond all personal and other considerations? So long, and only so long, as they continue to follow that policy will they command and deserve the confidence of the nation as a whole. Undoubtedly that has been their policy in many spheres of administration. Whether the services of the best brains in the Civil Service are being used to the utmost by the Government is a matter well worthy of consideration. The point I desire to put before the new Government is this: Will they employ men in political, military, and naval spheres not for who they are, but for what they are? The issues are too great and the consequences are too momentous to allow any influences whatever to divert the directing brains of the Government from employing any but the very 334 best men that the country can produce. Perhaps I have spoken a little strongly on some of these points, because I feel strongly, but I speak as a strong supporter of the new Government, convinced as I am that some change was needed, and I hope that the new Government will continue to develop the same spirit which has animated them with a fresh outlook and a clear determination to prosecute this War to a successful determination.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
We have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer most interesting speeches, but there was one feature of the greatest importance which they only touched very slightly upon, and that is the all-important question as to whether every possible effort is being made to secure that the people of this country get some approach to value for their money in the enormous expenditure which is now-being made. We have had from time to time various Committees appointed for the purpose of investigation, and of striving, if possible, to prevent the waste of money. We had such a Committee appointed in connection with the Army and the Navy and the Civil Service and another for the Ministry of Munitions I think the House is entitled to know the result of the efforts made by these different Committees in the matter of effecting economy, and getting for us better value for our money. Neither on the 14th of December last, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer moved his first Vote of Credit, or to-day, has the right hon. Gentleman given the House any information whatsoever on this most important question. I think the enormous financial strain of the War at present, and the still greater strain that confronts us in the near future, is an aspect of the question which deserves more consideration.
I believe that untold millions of money have been needlessly wasted in the course of the last two and a-half years. You have only to refer to the last Report of the Public Accounts Committee presented to this House, and you will see point after point dealing with the waste of money that has been going on, especially in connection with the Army and the Admiralty. They say that more specific powers of control over rates of wages and the prices of materials should have been taken; they tell us that ships were sometimes ordered and placed under construction before any agreement had 335 been arrived at as to the price to be paid for them. They say that the Ministry of Munitions effected considerable reductions in the cost of various shells after they got into working order, but that the Army and Navy were very slow to follow the example thus set them. They made contracts, not upon the basis of ascertaining the cost at which manufacturers could produce, but upon what they thought on the advice of professionals would be a fair price. In the case of the Ministry of Munitions, they got the cost prices from the various manufacturers and succeeded in getting a very substantial reduction.
I do not think we could have a more authoritative body than the Public Accounts Committee on this subject, and they actually tell us that in connection with the Army and Navy, no steps were taken to break down rings for keeping up prices, which they knew to exist; they also tell us that in the buying of stores and other goods there was far too limited competition for orders and that contracts were given out to erect plant and promises made of financial help to contractors before the terms of the agreement were actually settled. As a matter of fact, they did not begin to wake up until June. 1915. In February, 1916, they were given, under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, power to requisition the output of any factory at a fair price, and I should like to know how far this power has been exercised. The Committee also say that the sum being paid by the Army for billeting men was much too high, and that the Army Council decided in June, 1915, that the rate for billeting hundreds of thousands of men all over the country was to be reduced, and yet the War Office took nine months after the Army Council passed that resolution before they brought about the reduced payment for billeting men, and they say that the higher rate resulted in a large and quite unnecessary expenditure of money. I am raising these questions to draw from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government some statement that this condition of things and this waste of money is not being allowed to go on.
Take the case of our shipping. We have now commandeered the greater part of the mercantile marine of the country. Long ago we urged, over and over again, in this House, that the best shipping experts should be put into control and given the handling of our shipping. Some 336 Committees were appointed, and I was gravely disappointed to find that since the present Government came into office—and this Government made a special feature of bringing in business men to conduct affairs on business lines—they have actually dissolved an Advisory Committee of shipping experts. We have now a huge amount of tonnage to manage, and instead of requiring fewer experts to advise and assist us, we need a much larger number; and yet I find that one of our Advisory Committees was dissolved, and only the remnant of one other Committee remains to-day to advise the Shipping Controller. With regard to Sir Joseph Maclay, I do not think a better man could have been found in the United Kindgom to fill that position, and he is, with the assistance of three shipowners, doing magnificent work. The task they have in, their hands is so gigantic that they ought not to have dissolved the other Committee of shipping experts, although I am bound to say that they tell me on raising the question that one or two of them are to be put into some other Departments, and that they are still giving us their assistance. I rejoice to think that we have in the Shipping Controller a man who means to control. For a time the Admiralty Transport Department was kept separate from the other shipping, but I am glad to know now that that Department is to be separated from the Admiralty and is to be joined with the other Department of Shipping under the absolute control of Sir Joseph Maclay. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Who told you that?"] That is the arrangement at the present moment, and I do not think any hon. Member is entitled to ask who told me. I say that is the arrangement to-day, and I welcome it most heartily, and I believe that under this one control we shall get out of the mercantile marine an increased carrying power, and we all know how important that is when our ships are being sent under by submarines, and how urgently we need increased stocks of foodstuffs in this country.
I submit that there is no question more vital at the present moment than that of having our mercantile marine handled and managed in a way that will enable it to carry the maximum amount of cargo, in order to bring an abundance of foodstuffs to this country. Why the Government have not prohibited the importation of everything into this country which is not required for the prosecution of the War, or the life of the people, heaven only 337 knows A great many things are now being brought here that are not absolutely necessary, and the cargo space they occupy would be infinitely better occupied by food supplies. We have heard some huge figures to-night. We have been told that this £550,000,000 brings the total Votes of Credit up to £4,082,000,000. We know that the deficit in the two years ending the 31st March next was £2,545,000,000, and now we have to add £550,000,000 more. We also hear that the deficit for the two years ending the 31st March is estimated at £2,895,000,000. Those are stupendous figures. Unfortunately, we do not raise that by long-dated loans, and we have depended far too much on short borrowings, but to-day our short-dated borrowings amount to at least half the deficit of £2,895,000,000.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the War Loan, but in view of the fact that we have still this huge amount of short-dated borrowings to the end of the current year, unless we get £1,000,000,000 of new money in connection with this War Loan, when we have regard to the fact that still to-day, unfortunately, there appears to be unconverted £800,000,000 of short-dated Treasury Bills—we do not know how the Exchequer Bonds stand—we cannot afford to begin piling up the debt of this country almost immediately. Therefore, unless we are to be compelled to have a further War Loan within the next few months, and that probably of a compulsory character, it is absolutely necessary that the people of this country should understand distinctly that the needs of the nation to-day demand a minimum of £1,000,000,000 of new money. Look at the conversions. We had no less than £900,000,000 of Four and a Half per Cent., £494,000,000 of Exchequer Bonds, and £1,100,000,000 of Treasury Bills when the Loan was issued, a total of £2,492,000,000 of convertible securities. The figures stagger us. It is perfectly certain that the whole of them will not be converted, but in all probability two-thirds, £1,600,000,000, will be converted. That will leave us in the unsatisfactory position of still being saddled with a huge amount of short-dated borrowings, and I only regret that my light hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had not issued the great War Loan a year ago instead of his successor issuing it to-day. I admired my right hon. Friend for the splendid way in which he tackled all the financial ques- 338 tions that arose, but this was certainly one of his blunders. The Germans have not made that blunder. They have issuéd practically all long-dated loans, and the day of reckoning for them will not come for many years.
Whilst I make these criticisms, I think that the financial strength of the country has been shown to be enormous, but our wealth is not unlimited, and the Government will be well advised if they conserve our financial resources by making every possible effort to get us value for our money by cutting off and down unwise expenditure. The first step would be to discharge half the employés in all those wonderful offices that have been created in London. I am perfectly certain that the half of them who are best qualified could do all the work that is necessary and more. I have gone from public Department after public Department practically ever since the War began, and I have heard on all hands that they multiply officials and employés in all these different Departments to such an extent that they have not half enough work to do, and do not do half as much as they could if they were properly controlled and organised. It is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to control and supervise national expenditure in every Department of the State. That has been allowed to go by the board. Every Department—the Army, the Navy, and the Ministry of Munitions—has been spending just as it pleased. Whilst I know that the circumstances do not enable that close oversight and supervision that is possible in peace, yet I think it is a great mistake to throw it overboard altogether. Partial supervision is infinitely better than none, and I believe we have in the present Chancellor of the Exchequer a Gentleman qualified to do a very great deal in that way. Before my right hon. Friend came into the House I was venturing to say that it was the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this great Empire to supervise and control the expenditure of every public Department. I know that is a task beyond the ability of even the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I would beg of him to exercise all possible control and supervision over each Department of the State as regards its spending in order if possible that we may get for the people of this country better value for their money, and at the same time conserve the financial resources of the nation so that, 339 at any rate, it will not be through lack of money that we fail to achieve the victory we are determined to win.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
We have listened this afternoon to a financial statement which has been quite accurately described by the hon. Baronet who has just sat down as both colossal and staggering. I do not understand why the Government has not resorted to compulsion so far as money is concerned. I do not understand why the laws of supply and demand are left to operate freely upon the money market, whilst they are wiped out so far as the labour market is concerned. I feel perfectly certain if, some months ago, the Government had taken stock of the property resources of this country and had devised some scheme, say, like the Death Duties, the basis of which is pretty well known from the annual reports of the Inland Revenue Commissioners, and had taken by compulsion the property of individuals in precisely the same way as they have taken the lives of those individuals, the financial position would not have been so bad as it threatens to become. I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentelman did not mean that cursory comparison that he made between the conditions at the end of the French War to be thorough. A more comparison between the relation of public expenditure and national income is of course, the mere beginning of an examination. I venture to say that anyone who wishes to come to just conclusions on this point must take into account the complete sociological and industrial conditions of the country, and in particular compare the total cost of government in this country after the Battle of Waterloo and the cost of government this year or next year, when the War comes to an end. The point will require a much more thorough examination than the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon.
The problem that is going to face this country is the problem of debt. After the Battle of Waterloo, at the finish of the French War, every writer on political economy and sociology in this country pointed out the fact that the industrial development of the country was being enormously hampered on account of that debt of something short of £900,000,000. For three-quarters of a, century every Radical agitator hammered in this point: The cost of the French War was so great to this country that they proposed the 340 repudiation of the National Debt as the only way out of the difficulty. I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman, and those who stand for property in this country, will not lightly face an agitation during the next twenty-five or fifty years of the same kind as their representatives three-quarters of a century ago had to face as the result of the National Debt which the French War imposed upon us. I would therefore venture to suggest to hon. and right hon. Members opposite, if they are going to judge of the condition of affairs now compared with those that Pitt and his successors in office left behind them, that they will find that the comparison is much more serious than that made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon.
I did not rise, however, to pursue the financial Debate. There is the question of the policy of war as well as the finance of war, and the two cannot be separated from each other. We have got to try and take an all-round view of the situation. I do not resist for a single moment, either in my heart or with my lips, the statement that the War has got to be finished. These words beg questions, and during the last two years there has been a coinage of phrasing in this country that is absolutely meaningless, because it is so indefinite—"Finish," "Victory," and so on. Surely the time has come when, in view of the tremendous sacrifices that this country is bearing, and is prepared to bear, if necessary, without a grumble and without any withholding, I this House at any rate, whatever may be true of the great crowds outside that are to be kept at boiling point in order that their enthusiasm and determination may not slack, should calmly and sanely consider the whole policy that is behind the War, or is likely to come from it, and what is the best way to secure the real victory which we all desire.
The other day the War entered upon a new phase, and all its horrors were magnified tenfold. Killing became murder. The German Note regarding the submarine policy is a Note which proclaims that all humanitarian considerations must be put upon the scrap-heap, in order to hit your enemy as hard as you possibly can. After that Note war has become unapologetic barbarism. The most primitive instincts, the most primitive methods of brute beasts meeting each other in the forest and trying the one to kill the other, are now the rule, or the 341 lack of rule, and the lawlessness of Europe. It is very hard, in view of that Note, to have any thoughts except those of killing the enemy. But somebody has got to live after it is all over. The moment that the War ceases Europe has to face the problem of peace, and the problem of peace has never yet been faced by Europe m such a way as to solve it successfully. The great trouble has been this: After every war, the French War, the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, and so on, the peoples of Europe have been absolutely unprepared to consider upon what conditions they are going to live m times of peace. Therefore you had your Napoleonic War heralded by precisely the same phraseology that we hear time after time from that box from which Government representatives address this House, great phrases about "the liberation of small States," about "a League of Nations to enforce peace," and so on Those are not twentieth-century phrases; those phrases were born at the beginning of the nineteeth century. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education can probably trace them to even a more hoary ancestry. You fought the Crimean War for precisely the same purpose, and when the time came for us to make peace, the Plenipotentiaries sat down round a table with all the moral phrases in their mouths that we have been using as political and patriotic coinage during the last two and a half years. I say nothing against those things. I never have done. It will be a bad day for England when our political thoughts are not properly expressed. These diplomatists, however, in spite of their phrases, could not make peace. But what I do feel is that what Ministers are somewhat responsible for is this, they ought to make their phrases a little bit more definite and a little bit more precise, because if this War, even though you can put your soliders on to the streets of Berlin, is not going to end precisely as all other wars have ended, then the peoples of Germany-Austria on the one hand, and France and Great Britain in particular on the other, will require to have some conception of what the international problem of peace is, and it is not enough for them to simply give Ministers blank cheques to go on fighting, and fighting, and fighting, until their enemy lays down its arms and says,
"We have got enough."
One of the most melancholy circumstances of to-day is this, that peoples have got no chance of understanding each other. 342 We get our newspapers carefully selecting Germans news. I challenge anybody who has got the advantage of reading, say, French newspapers which publish German news, as I do from day to day, and of seeing the translations that we get in our English newspapers and who has then compared the two, whether they really do not wonder whether they have been reading the same accounts. We are paying too much for carrying on this particular policy of simply keeping enthusiasm at boiling point. I do not believe that the people of this country are so miserable that you have got to keep their enthusiasm to boiling point by misleading them and keeping them ignorant. I believe that the people of this country upon the sane, calm merits of this War will give you the same results that you imagine you can get only from misleading them as to the state of things in Germany and elsewhere. With a view to the future and with a desire to make Europe really a home of liberty and of peace, it is absolutely essential that this War should be conducted in such a way that the nations will accept what has happened and begin, for the first time in the history of Europe, a peace by consent of the peoples that have been hitherto at war. I should like to impress upon the House that if this War does not conclude with a full knowledge in the minds of the peoples as to its causes, as to what it is for, as to how it is to end, so that they may begin peace in such a way that they are really laying the foundations of that peace to make this the last of war, then this War will not achieve that end. People tell me that you can only do one thing at a time. I say that it is absurd and nonsensical and pernicious if you concentrate your attention upon merely one side of the problem and throw into the unheeded background all the other aspects of it, all the co-related aspects, all that is going to happen ten years from now, and if your actions of today have no relation to the responsibilities and duties of to-morrow. Though it is very hard to say it, you are then simply sacrificing lives in vain by not taking a sufficiently far view and a sufficiently wide and co-related view. That is all we have ever said in spite of the malignant things and lying about us since the War broke out. All we have ever said, end all we have ever appealed to the people of this country to do, was to take a wide and properly related view of the responsibilities in this War, and to see to is, that it was going to be the last of the 343 wars, and that if they believed in that they would require to adopt new methods from any hitherto adopted.
Another thing I should like to say is this. I was very much surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) the other day say in a casual sentence, and I do not want to put more importance into it than I am sure he himself meant to put, that he had nothing new to report on the military situation. Anyone who has followed the military situation, so far as he can with the meagre information available, must see a complete revolution in that military situation. I do not want to blame this Government for that for which it is not blameworthy, but there were certain members of it in the late Government, and they must bear their share of that responsibility. It is undoubtedly true that until quite recently the key of the situation was in the West. I remember perfectly well the first year of this War every military critic who knew his business was emphasising to this country that the critical battlefield was in the West. Ah, yes, but if the Government had backed up that with diplomacy, that would have been all right. There is not the least doubt about it that if the military policy of this country, backed up by diplomatic policy, had confined the War to the West the War would have been over by now. But that was not what they did. It they had the issues would not have been so involved, and you would not have had Gallipoli and certain other unfortunate examples. It was not merely that those were dear in themselves, but they misled your policy, widened the scope of the War, and led you into the position you are in to-day, in which the West is not the critical position of the War. It has become the East. That is the new military situation.
Because, what has happened? The Germans are beaten in the West—absolutely beaten. It is only a question of driving them out; and I doubt very much if, when you start your spring campaign, you will find very many of them there at all—very much. If they are going to shorten their lines, as they certainly ought on the West, and are to attack you in the East, where the diplomatic and military policy has developed so favourably to them, then, I think, you will discover you have got into a new phase of the War which will be far more troublesome than any phase you have hitherto 344 had to face. But if you are fighting merely for Belgium and France, and if by your diplomacy you had prevented the middle East and whole of the Balkans becoming part and parcel as they now are of the German Empire, at any rate, in political influence, if you had prevented the development of that pan-German idea so well expounded in Naumann's book on "Middle Europe," you could easily have prevented it by diplomatic policy, or if when Serbia was threatened you had done what the present First Lord of the Admiralty urged you so much to do at the time, and about which he gave up his position in the Cabinet, then that would have prevented the extension of the War, and the extension of the issues of the War, and the making more and more complicated the problems of the War, and would have enabled you to have fought it in the West and to have shortened it, and to have I saved thousands of lives and millions of money in consequence. That is all gone. To-day the situation is that the Germans in occupation of the East and the Balkans have, as a matter of fact, got their influence over Middle Europe, and it is very hard—I do not want to discuss the thing further—to see how they are going to be dislodged except by negotiations. I am afraid we have got to take rational views, calm views of these things. Certainly I believe this House will agree with me in this, that if negotiations can do it, it should be done that way—and by negotiations I do not suggest that the Foreign Secretary should address a Note to Berlin, but I mean simply that diplomacy should use the opportunities which it now has got and that it should keep on defining its position, expounding its position, removing misunderstandings, and that as a matter of fact our Foreign Office should show the same activity which our Army in the field is showing. And one of the great weaknesses of this country has been since the War broke out that whilst our Army has been exceedingly active and exceedingly successful our diplomatists have been exceedingly placid and quiet and not very successful in the operations they have undertaken. The question is, What is to be the Europe of the future? I do not mean the military position; I mean the political one. I come back to the point I made first of all, and I emphasise that war is not merely a military affair, but war is also a political affair. As Clausewitz lays down so clearly in his 345 great book on war, the results of war are political, and unless we are bending our energies and turning our attention to the political aftermath of the War, then we are not in a position to use the opportunities a successful war presents to us. Are we to go gambling, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) said we ought to, so far as Gallipoli and such expeditions are concerned? I say it is the absolute duty of this House to see to it that not a single soldier's life is going to be sacrificed in vain. I refer to those men whose magnificent courage has only been equalled by their good humour and whose capacity to undergo sacrifices must have harried the hearts of all right-thinking men who have read of the trials and difficulties through which those men have come, and I say that those who sit comfortably at home enjoying all the privileges of home life have the responsibility of seeing to it that those men are not unnecessarily exposed to danger or to risk, and that we ought to do everything we possibly can in support of them.
Then there is the question of money. Business men know perfectly well that after this War is over the industrial condition of this country is going to be very critical. We are not merely going to compete with Germany. If we were it would be perfectly simple, as she, with us, will be pretty far down on the road of bankruptcy. But we have got to compete with neutrals and with America in particular, and America is piling up colossal resources and capital which will be spent immediately peace comes for the purpose of maintaining the markets she has got and of extending them in every possible way. Therefore it is necessary for us to take the two sides of the ledger, the loss and the gain. Now I am one of those who never resisted the argument that this War ought to result—and in fact I may say it must result, if we are wise and if the nations of Europe are wise—in a complete removal of those conditions from which wars in previous generations have come. If this is not going to be the last War, then this War is going to be a failure. If this War is not going to leave Europe in such a frame of mind that we can steadily reduce the cost of armaments upon the taxpayers, then this War has not brought the results which millions of men who accepted it believed it would bring. Therefore, never having resisted that at all, always having been quite prepared to do what is necessary in order to 346 bring about that end, at the same I have doubted very much whether the means adopted were going to secure that end. Take, for instance, one cry, "A fight to a finish." If that is inevitable, it must be done. There need be no quibble about that. I am not trying to evade that issue. If the fight to a military finish is absolutely necessary in order to secure the political and moral results which we have put before us as the end of this War, then we cannot help it; it must be done. But I do not believe it is. It is there we part company, not in our phrases about fights to finishes and so on. This country has never been without victory. This country was on the right side so far as victory is concerned at the end of the French wars. We were victorious in the Crimean War, but although we were victorious in the Crimean War and fought that War for all the moral issues for which we are now fighting this War, as we are told, the result of the Crimean War was five further European wars, and that was considered a war which was to end war.
You get the best illustration of how little related political victory is to military victory in the Franco-German War. There the Germans took possession of the enemy's capital. The German Staff found its headquarters in the Royal headquarters of the French nation. France could not lift a little finger in her own self-defence when the Germans had done with her from a military point of view. The peace that was imposed upon France was really an imposed peace. There never was a vanquished nation so dejected. What was the result? A patched-up peace, a premature peace. The results in terms of actual effect, of substantial and real effect were, because of this military situation, precisely everything that those who disagree with us in the attitude we have taken imagine is associated with those things that they call a patched-up peace, and so on, and which, having been called a patched-up peace, nine people out of ten never take the trouble to think out at all. You have related to that kind of military victory, the effect of a patched-up peace far more intimately than you have them related to other kinds of military victory, like the victory of Germany over Austria, when, because Germany wanted to win the friendship of Austria, she refused to carry the war to the military extremity that her military leaders wanted her to do. Those are considerations which this House of Commons ought to take into 347 account. If we read our histories more than we read our newspapers our patriotism might not express itself quite in the smug and flambuoyant literary forms it takes, but it would be far more a tribute on the part of men who are not fighting themselves to those magnificent fellows who have gone into khaki and who have laid down their lives for the nation and for us. The way to show our gratitude to these men is not to shout at them or with them, but to think as statesmen, as honestly and as stubbornly as we can.
From that point of view, perhaps, the Committee will allow me if I intrude a few sentences upon the Note the Allies sent to President Wilson the other day. We are all fighting to establish guarantees of peace. I cannot understand why that Note cannot have a full discussion in this House. What are we here for? They will not allow some of us to sit on Committees to help them. They will not allow us to contribute any experience we may have had. They will not allow us to help them by, quite as honestly as themselves, putting all the intelligence we have into a common pool. We may be absolutely wrong, but, with all due deference to the eighty right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are entitled to sit on the Treasury Bench or on the corresponding bench in another place, when we take into account their records during the last two years, at any rate, to put it very mildly, they ought not to close the door aganist discussion. Take this Allied Note. I think we ought to consider it. This House ought to understand the policy which the Government is pursuing, because it is a policy which does not commit us for this year only, but a policy which is going to commit us for generations. When I spoke in this House somewhere about last May I said that Belgium ought to be restored and reparation made. I withdraw nothing of that; I think so still. I also said that France should be restored. I think so still. But since then the tide has run far and fast and has carried us a great way. Ask the men who volunteered, say, when Lord Derby started his campaign, what they were fighting for? Liberty, Belgium, small nationalities and no conquests to benefit ourselves! The issues have changed. They may have changed by necessity. Ministers may come and say, "We could not help ourselves." You ought to have thought of that two years ago.
348 Let us take the new issues. There are two points on the Continent of Europe which I venture to say that this Empire ought not willingly to surrender to the possession of a great Power. One is Belgium and the other is Constantinople. You simply have to look at the map to see that, if this Empire is going to rest in security, you must not allow a large European Power to take possession of Belgium, and you ought not to allow it to take possession of Constantinople. I rather like to avoid prophesying, but I venture to say that if I live for ten years after this War ends, and if a great Power has taken absolute possession of Constantinople and has fortified it and the Dardanelles, this country will be busy with an attempt to solve tile problem of Imperial communication in a form which it has never had to face before. Your only reply is to make Egypt a fortified station. You could not afford to do other. The whole circumstances of the case would be such that militarism would be more necessary for Imperial defence than ever it was before. You cannot simply throw away the future in order to grasp the advantage of the present and then leave the future to look after itself. That is what is being done by Constantinople being given over to another great Power at the present time. This House ought to know why the old policy of this country, namely, the internationalisation of Constantinople and the Dardanelles has been departed from. The Prime Minister in his constituency the other day said that he was carrying out Mr. Gladstone's policy. It is nothing of the kind. He applied the expressionBag and baggageas though he was under the impression that Mr. Gladstone meant that to apply to Turkey in Europe. If the right hon. Gentleman had only referred to the pamphlet in which that expression was used, he would have seen that it only applied to Turkey in Bulgaria. His other I references to Mr. Gladstone's policy were as mistaken as that particular one. The fact of the matter is that the interests of this country—I use the word "country" in its wider Imperial sense—the interests of this Empire are wrapped up in Constantinople being an international port and the Dardanelles being an international waterway. Surely it is so grave, and it is fraught with so many consequences if this change should take place, that even it we had more confidence in Ministers than we have, Ministers 349 ought to have given some opportunity to the country to say what its views were before it departed from its traditional policy.
I want to refer to another part of the matter. This Note deals with the Balkan problem. One does not like to use the word "amateur," but again if you take the Note, then take a map and read the Note in the light of the map—a good racial map—the Note is either meaningless or very mischievous. What is to hinder this Government from saying that it insists upon the whole Balkan difficulty being referred to an authoritative international tribunal, with instructions that that tribunal will follow, as far as possible, historical, racial, and religious lines in settling its lines of demarcation? If that were thought satisfactory, it could be done. I know perfectly well that it may not solve the problem, but it will solve the problem with more promise of peace to Europe than by anyone trying to solve the Balkan entanglement in the position of victor and vanquished. I should like to have a vision of the future of Europe ten years after the Czech-Slovak kingdom has been established, say, in that very interesting corner surrounded by Poland and Austria, with a great many Germans alongside of it, and so on. If you are going to solve the problem, it is no use doing it with your heels; you have to do it with your head. It is a perfectly simple thing for any Power in Europe to fight a war like this, and then say, "It suits us that Bohemia shall become this and Moravia shall become that." What happens? The result is the day after you make your settlement it is challenged in the names of millions of people without doubt. We want this War to end war. We want this War to settle the Balkan problem. The Balkan problem may be, of course, in itself very difficult. We have to set up such an international committee as I suggest—nothing else will do it so well—while if that international commission were kept alive, at any rate nominally, so that its further services could be used from time to time as further developments cropped up, then in the end, and not a very long end, you could solve the Balkan problem, at any rate to this extent—that it would not be a menace to the peace of Europe. There is no guarantee in the Allied Note of anything of the kind. You settle it either on military or on political lines, in view of the 350 situation in which you find yourselves to-day, and in view of that only. No sooner are you out of the situation, no sooner are you faced with a new Europe, than you discover and your children will discover that you have handed over to them precisely the same problems that your fathers and grandfathers handed over to you.
Then there is the final question. I think we ought to know when it is going to end. There the Note is. It was officially issued. But since it was issued the Secretary of State for the Colonies has been adding further items. Are other English Ministers going to add to it? Is it something that is infinite in itself and capable of a variety of extensions? I doubt very much if we have yet appreciated the tremendous difficulties of making a peace which is going to be final, and I think this House ought to pay more attention to these problems, whilst it votes its money and renews its declarations that we are going to fight to a finish, and so on. It is not quite worthy of this House to use such words as "finish" in an indefinite way. We ought to understand exactly what we mean. To me "finish" means the gaining of those political ends which you want as the result of the War. To me "finish" is the securing of the maximum political result from the minimum military effort, although that minimum may be a very big one. If the House does not do that, if we simply gamble the future of Europe and throw away the prospect and the guarantees of the future of Europe, in view of the position in which we are now, do not let us delude ourselves that we are fighting the last of the wars, because we are only fighting one of many which are still to come. If, on the other hand, the bravery and self-sacrifice of our troops are backed up by some democratic thinking on our part, the people thinking and acting as well as their Government, then it may be that before long negotiations, explanations, the removal of misunderstandings will end this War; and, when this War is ended, people will accept the peace, and it will never be broken again.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
I should like to deal with the subject which has been initiated by my hon. Friend. During the Recess there have been a series of speeches by the Prime Minister, by the Leader of the House, and by the Leader of the Liberal party dealing with the terms of peace. It is on this subject in particular that I 351 wish to make a few observations. All three statesmen repudiated the doctrine that this War was to end in a peace without victory, and they insisted that it must end in a victorious peace. But what is a victorious peace? I will take the definition given by the Leader of the Liberal party because that, I think, was the simplest and the shortest. The Leader of the Liberal party, speaking to his constituents at Ladybank, said a victorious peace was one which had in it some prospect of endurance, because it furnished us with solid safeguards against the revival of the ambitions which had wrought this devastating havoc. If that is what a victorious peace means, I am fully in agreement, but how is such a peace to be attained? Suppose that the Allies continue this War until they are able to dictate their own peace. Suppose they can make on the map of the world every alteration upon which their hearts are set. Will that give us a prospect of endurance? Will that give us solid safeguards? We are to have solid safeguards against the ambition of Germany, but Germany is not going to be the last ambitious Power in the world. All the nations, let us say, have got their various territories. How are they going to be sure that they can retain them when they have got them? Only by building up armies, navies, and armaments more powerful than those of their neighbours. But immediately this begins, the very security of the one becomes the menace of the other, and your prospects of endurance and your solid safeguards are worth not one scrap more than before the War began. We shall only obtain these prospects of endurance when the nations make up their mind that they will not depend for their security upon themselves but upon the collective force of mankind, organised in a league of nations.
I know people are still apt to be amused at the idea of a league of nations, but it is the only thing which offers us any chance of security. Every other conceivable policy which can be suggested leads us straight back to the absolute certainty of war. Since we last discussed this subject at the end of last Session my hopes at present are not so high as they were. I think we have to acknowledge that in the intervening weeks the facts have gone against us, but out of it all, at any rate, one fact emerges—that every first-class Power in the world 352 has now stated that out of this War it hopes to create a league of nations. The league of nations has, during the last few weeks, become the official policy of the Allied combination, and that being so, I think I am justified in asking the House to take seriously into consideration what are the only terms of peace which can give the league of nations the slightest prospect of ever being brought to birth. In a Debate at the end of last Session the Leader of the House, replying to such views as I have expressed, asked the House to realise what we are fighting for, and went on to say that we are not fighting for territory. I heard that statement with the most profound relief, but before the end of the vacation the Colonial Secretary, speaking, as he said, with full knowledge and authority, told us that the struggle for the German colonies has not been in vain, because let no man think that they will ever return to German rule. I find it very difficult to reconcile these statements, and I want to know where we are. It indicates that there is somewhere or another a certain cleavage of view. This is the question which one must put to oneself. Do we agree that the peace which ends this War should be one which gives a fair trial to the idea of the league of nations? People speak as if that was a question which only mattered after peace was concluded, but it is a question, the answer to which will determine the whole view of what the terms of peace ought to be. On this question we are divided from each other by a fundamental cleavage of opinion.
This is one view of the terms of peace. This country and its Allies are to gratify various Imperial desires—one in Constantinople, others in Dalmatia, Africa, and the Colonies in the Pacific. Meanwhile—I do not think I am exaggerating in this—the Central Empires are to be held down. They are to be penned in behind a hostile tariff barrier. They are to be cut off from European markets by an Allied combination. They are to be cut off, as far as may be, from overseas markets by being deprived of their Colonial possessions. That is one view. It is the popular view at the moment. But before any hon. Member allows such a view to obtain entrance to his mind, I would ask him to take into account that such a peace as that means that you abandon all hope of a league of nations, and that you make up your mind, so far as you have any influence, that the children of mankind 353 shall have before them the sure and certain fate that they will suffer again all the blood and grief and mutilation from which, if we were only to learn our lesson, the world could now pass out for ever. We cannot have a league of nations unless there is one condition, that during its early years it should be accompanied by some sort of general measure of good will. We cannot have it both ways. If we are hankering after German colonies, Paris Conferences and Imperialistic ambitions, we cannot get good will, and to say that we believe in a league of nations is a snare and a delusion. In every speech I read the same question and I hear the repetition of the same refrain, "Are the sons of the nations who have laid down their lives to have laid them down in vain?" If this is to be the kind of peace for which you mean them to have laid down their lives, then the answer is yes, they will, indeed, have laid them down in vain, for such a peace will mean that millions are being slaughtered now in order that millions more may be slaughtered in years to come.
If the peace which is to come is to lay the foundation of a fresh international order—and that is what we say in our Note to the United States—then it must look forward to a new future for mankind, and it must cast behind it the established patterns which have been loved by diplomatists in the past. Whatever other terms it imposes, it must finally leave the Central Empires with the same legitimate lights as we claim for ourselves. The object of a righteous war is surely to sweep away grievances and not to create them. It must then leave the Central Empires with possessions overseas, with the right to develop the uneconomically developed lands such as before the War they had in Asia Minor, and with freedom from proposals for commercial boycott, such as are contained in the resolutions of the Paris Conference. I notice that in almost every speech Ministers tell us that this War cannot end until it has finally destroyed the spirit of Prussian militarism, and that no peace can be concluded which does not do that. The question I ask is, What kind of peace is most likely to do it? It must be a peace which, on the one hand, places an absolute veto upon the Imperialistic ambitions of the Prussian military caste. So far I agree, but that is not enough. If the Allies substitute for the Imperialistic ambitions of Prussia a series of Imperial- 354 istic ambitions of their own, then the militarism which they have destroyed with the one hand they will be recreating with the other. Prussian militarism will begin to die, and will only begin to die, on the day that it ceases to retain its hold upon the minds of the German people. That day will come when they are convinced that it is not for them that essential protection and defence which it had always claimed to be. The peace that will convince them of that is surely the peace that will show them that they have nothing to fear from the ambitions of rival Powers, and that they will obtain all the legitimate rights to which they have any claim. With that sort of peace Prussian militarism will fall, because it will be subdued by the only force which can permanently kill it—that is, it will be destroyed from within.
My hon. Friend who spoke before me pointed out that it is difficult to speak upon this subject when the mind of the nation is full of the latest breach by the Central Powers of the public law. I shall deal in a moment with reparation and punishment for those breaches. Surely the object which we have in view is to prevent these crimes from being committed in the future. How can that be effected? Only by laying down a code of international law and creating an instrument which we can rely upon to enforce that code. That is the only way. The only instrument which has any chance of doing that is a league of nations. If we are going to insist upon, and to impose into the terms of peace, conditions which imperil that league of nations before it is born, then we are perpetuating into the future the very crimes of which we now complain. I spoke of reparation and punishment. The Leader of the House has told us that this nation will never make peace until it can secure reparation. I agree with that. The proposals for reparation are included in the Allied Note to the United States. With those proposals we are in full agreement, but that is not where the difference between us and the Government lies. The difference is this, the War is entering upon a second phase, and a number of new issues are emerging which have nothing to do with reparation or restitution or guarantees. Constantinople, Dalmatia, Togoland, Cameroons, and so on. If we are going to fight for those objects, then it may well prolong this War for months, and lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives. What we say is that, for objects such as these, the Government has not 355 obtained and never could have obtained the consent of the nation. For a war for such purposes as these, the silent masses of the people did not put it into the power of the Government to send to the slaughter their husbands and their sons. Therefore, what I particularly ask is that the Government should let it be known, on their own behalf, and should take the lead in letting it be known on behalf of the whole of the Allied combination, that as soon as we can obtain the purposes for which we first entered this War we are opposed to fighting for any Imperial extensions of our original programme.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I have listened to the speech of the lion. Gentleman (Mr. Lees Smith) with some surprise. He seems to think that it is now, in the thirtieth month of the War, our duty to change our policy, and to see if we cannot kill the Germans and German militarism by kindness. I believe that we shall win this War, and that it is necessary to go on until we have some definite victory over the Germans. Think what would be the position at the present time if we made peace. The German Emperor would be on top, and in Germany and the nations round about he would be a demi-god, while the position of Germany in its militarism would be established for all time by reason of this War. The education of the children in Germany would be solely devoted to glorying in this War. It would become one of the fetishes of German history for all time, and it would be taught that it was more glorious than the Seven Years' War carried on by Frederick the Great. If, at the present time, when the German morale, is giving way, we are not going to apply our full force, we shall be giving away the whole position for which we have been fighting for the last two and a half years—the destruction of Prussian militarism. That is my answer to those people who think that we ought to make peace without victory. I quite agree that the sacrifice of life involved in going on with the War may be terrible. Everybody knows what it means to go forward with the great spring offensive. But we have something worth fighting for This is the first war in the whole history of England that has been really worth fighting for, because we are up against something which is utterly damnable, and which is utterly opposed to Christianity, and to all the best traditions of English history. When we are fighting in such a 356 War as this, let us be prepared to make our sacrifices, and not withdraw when we find that the enemy are rather stronger than we expected them to be. It is when we have got our backs to the wall that the English race fight best. We are in a difficult position. They are destroying our mercantile marine. Our Allies are not so rich, or so populous as they were. The losses have been terrible, but it is under conditions such as these that the English people will come out on top. They will prove true to themselves and their history, and will carry on the War until we get that victory which shall give us a permanent peace, not by leaving the Germans without any chance of expansion, not by enslaving the Germans as they would enslave other people, but by that peace which the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Balfour) outlined in his Note to the President the other day, and such as was outlined in that noble speech of the President to the American people.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I entirely agree with what the hon. and gallant Member has just said with reference to the previous speech. So far as I can make out, the hon. Member (Mr. Lees Smith) desires that Germany should escape punishment for her transgressions and crimes. If he founded his league of nations on such ideas it would be impossible for the league of nations to succeed. A league of nations surely would at once start to punish the transgressor by every means in its power, not only for the time being by war but in the future time of peace as well. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) with the greatest interest. It was a very eloquent speech, and I wish he could use his powers of oratory throughout the country in a better cause. He seems to advocate an ideal settlement of his own in which England is to pursue the policy of the lone hand. We are not to satisfy the territorial cravings of any one of our Allies, or to satisfy the Russian demands in regard to Constantinople. I have no doubt that if we pursued an ideal settlement from the point of view of England alone, we should desire that the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus should be unfortified and be in the hands of some small neutral Powers, or under International control. We should wish to do the same with regard to the entrance to the Baltic and the entrance to the Scheldt, but it is impossible, if you are to have Allies, to 357 adopt such counsels of protection in war. The hon. Member for Leicester pleaded strongly for taking long views. People who take long views in war and speculate on the fifth act are apt to perish in the first. I myself before this War broke out, when I was urging in Parliament preparation for war, constantly demanded that long views should be taken. In peacetime you can take long views. In war it is very difficult and often dangerous to do so. The lion. Member for Leicester found fault with the Government because they did not resort to compulsion in connection with this Loan. I am glad they did not. Iris argument was that you compel men to serve in the Army, therefore why not compel men in regard to loans? My answer is we did not resort to compulsion until voluntaryism had failed, and we will not resort to compulsory loans until voluntary loans have failed. The Government look to this Loan to be a success. It would not be a success if it was raised by compulsion. If it is a voluntary Loan and is a success it, will do more to encourage our friends and impress neutrals, and what is most important of all, impress the enemy, than anything else we can do. That is why I am glad they have resorted to a voluntary and not a compulsory Loan.
The hon. Member painted a most dismal picture of the future of this country in regard to finance. I prefer to adopt the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who told us that if we retain our existing system of taxation it would very soon re-establish the credit of the country after the War is over. But I may put another consideration before the Committee. It has generally been reckoned that the savings of the people are up to £400,000,000 per annum, that is to say; reckoning the future population of this country at 40,000,000, the savings would be £10 per head. Taking all these various Votes of Credit and adding them together, including the new ones, the total expenditure is £102 per head of the population. Therefore, the expenditure in respect of the total Votes of Credit amounts to ten years of the savings of the people. But even that is not quite a true statement, because we have to take away from that the loans that we have made to our Allies and the Dominions which will be repaid to us if we win the War—and they amount to one-fifth of the total Votes of Credit. Therefore, deducting one-fifth, we see that the total of the Votes of Credit amounts to eight years' savings of the people. That 358 is a sum which could soon be wiped out, and it shows that though the burden is very great the back which bears it is also broad.
There are other considerations which we ought to bring to bear. There is certain to be an indemnity after this War. There is the indemnity for our shipping. But, putting that aside, there is the indemnity to Belgium and France. That indemnity would largely be spent on orders in this country, and we have as an asset for the expenditure of the War the great factories that we have established for munitions which, if we are not at war, will be able to be devoted entirely to productive purposes which will help largely in satisfying the wants of building up a regenerated Belgium and restoring the desolated territories of France. Again, the money spent on war is not entirely thrown into the sea. It circulates. The Government is like a great wheel—it draws the money out of the pockets of the people and then it throws it back to other pockets. They may not be the same pockets. We have no room for small jealousies during war-time. Then those additions to the Empire to which the hon. Member referred—very considerable additions—wisely used and administered, will help to pay off a great deal of the National Debt.
While on the subject of paying off the National Debt I may refer to those years of increasing armaments prior to the South African War. During the thirteen years from 1886 to 1899 we paid £107,000,000 off the National Debt, in spite of the rising expenditure on Armies and Navies. If we win this War, I venture to say that the years which succeed this War will be years of decreasing—greatly decreasing—armaments, and we will pay off a very considerable sum indeed of the National Debt. The result will be that the credit of the country will go up and up, and when the time comes to pay off this Loan in 1945 we can well conceive that it can be paid off by a 3 per cent, loan in substitution for the 5 per cent. loan. That is the point of view of the ordinary man. We are happy in having had successive Chancellors of the Exchequer who are masters of their business, and in having one, a businesslike man, now at the Exchequer, who can be trusted to wield the finances of the country with great ability which has been conspicuous in all his work as a Cabinet Minister. Had it been otherwise we might have been in the sad position the hon. Member for Leicester 359 pictured, the sad position which led up largely in the case of France to the French Revolutionary War, when Voltaire said the King wanted a financier, and sent for a dancer to run the finances of the country.
We are more fortunate to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the period of the Battle of Waterloo. It is true that the sums involved to-day are colossal, but they seemed colossal to our ancestors in those days. If we compare our expenditure with the expenditure before the Battle of Waterloo, say for 1814, which was the maximum expenditure of the French Revolutionary War, we find that we spent in the year 1814 a sum which would only have paid for twelve days of the present War. The biggest expenditure of the Crimean War was in 1856, and that would only have paid for nine days of this War. I have looked up what Lord Chesterfield wrote to his sons in reference to the expenditure for the year 1759, the great year of the Seven Years' War. He said:The estimates for the expenses of the year 1759 are made up. I have seen them, and what do you think they amount to? No less than £l2,300,000 a most incredible sum and yet already subscribed and even more offered. The unanimity of the House of Commons in voting such a sum and such forces, both by sea and land, is not the less astonishing. Tins is Mr. Pitt's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.The compliment which he then rendered the House of Commons of having so readily granted large sums is similar in kind to that of Lord Macauley, who said that the House of Commons, even when most parsimoniously inclined has ever been generous to profusion when the interests of the Navy are concerned. I think that that statement is absolutely correct, for the House of Commons has never refused to vote money for the armaments of the country either in peace or war. The nearest case on record which I can trace was when the House of Commons at first refused to pay for the Dutch Guards which William III. brought over, but subsequently agreed to do so.
There are one or two other subjects to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred. He mentioned Greece, and led us to believe that the generals are satisfied with the position there. I would like to know from Ministers whether there are any followers of M. Venizelos still in prison; whether the men who have enrolled in M. Venizelos' army are being armed; and I would like to know, in regard to the dispersion of the Reservists, whether 360 those Reservists have been really dispersed or whether they can be called together in guerilla bands. Then I am informed, in regard to the transport of the Greek Army, that before the day came for transporting them large numbers were sent on leave with their arms, that those men were not among the men transported, and that the excuse was given to the Allies that the regiments are depleted because of the desertions to M. Venizelos.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the co-ordination conference that was held in regard to the Navy, particularly in reference to the Mediterranean. I do hope that that conference will result in some measure of success. Even in regard to the U-boat campaign the want of co-ordination was very marked. There are no fewer than six separate authorities in the Mediterranean—the Gibraltar Command, the Malta Command, the Patrol Commands, the French Admiral in charge of Naval Affairs, and the Italian Admiral in charge of the Adriatic—and even the communication between the different forces is not very good. One hopes for much from the Submarine Committee which the First Lord of the Admiralty has formed, but I do hope that he will insist on young officers being in charge of patrol areas, and most of all I hope that he will favour this House with a statement as to the progress of the measures which we have taken against German submarine warfare. I do so because it is not only this country which requires to be reassured, but neutrals. I have seen it stated in the papers that this country is blockaded. This country is not blockaded. Steamers are going in and out every day, and the casualties are not large, but the people who are blockaded by their own action are the neutrals, and it is necessary that the First Lord of the Admiralty should make as soon as possible a reassuring statement in regard to the German submarine campaign. I will not say more about that at present.
In reference to our blockade, the system of blockade which has been favoured by the Foreign Office has resulted in the accumulation of enormous stores in warehouses in Denmark and Holland. Those stores are a temptation to a German army at any moment to invade Holland and Denmark for the purpose of seizing them. I think that we ought to have our measures prepared before hand to counter any scheme for the invasion of those weak 361 neutral countries. The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in terms of depreciation to long-distance campaigns. He is quite right as to the expense. The demand on our shipping made by the Salonika campaign is very considerable I believe that it runs into seven figures. But in putting forward those views he is putting forward views which are very easy to put forward in this country, fighting on behalf of a policy which satisfies itself alone. We cannot do that. We have to satisfy our Allies, and our Allies attach the greatest importance to the Salonika campaign, and I do not think that we can withdraw from it. I would like, in couclusion, to emphasise what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the necessity for this Loan to be a success. Both the General Commanding our Forces in France and Admiral Sir David Beatty, commanding the Grand Fleet, sent telegrams urging the people to subscribe to the Loan. They have done so, because they know that if the Loan is a great and popular one it will not merely be a financial success but a political and military success. It will make the going easier for our Army and easier for our Navy. It will be like a message written right across the dome of heaven, conveying the hope of spring to our friends and Allies, and gripping with the winter of discontent and despair the hearts, minds, and bodies of our enemies.
§ Major NEWMAN
The lion, and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down told us how Lord Chesterfield wrote (1759.) to his son about the expenditure of twelve millions on the war as marvellous, but the expenditure in the present War is something like £3,000,000,000, an amount that no one can possibly grasp. Yet I am certain that while men outside the House do not grasp its extent, what they do grasp is that the money is wanted, and they are willing to find it cheerfully All they ask is that it shall be employed in the best way possible, and that there shall be no waste that can by any means be avoided. Of course, I recognise that there must be waste in war-time. There is the waste of human life, and money is wasted as well. At the same time, there are directions in which we do see waste going on, and I think attention ought to be drawn to it, and that, where possible, it should be stopped. In my humble opinion there is at the present moment an enormous waste of money on the employment up and down 362 the country, and in London especially, of swarms of bureaucrats. In every Government office, big or little, we see men who receive pay, and nobody knows why or how it is that they are engaged. The suggestion or calculation has been made that putting aside those who are serving in our military forces, one out of every three of our male population is a bureaucrat; and, indeed, when we look round, we have got to confess that there seems to be a certain amount of truth in such a statement as that. It applies from the highest to the lowest.
For instance, I understand that the Prime Minister has establised a sort of intelligence department or secretariat in his back garden whose function or duty it is to convey to him, if I may so put it, thought waves from the outside public. I understand that these officials have been so employed for the past few weeks, their duties being to act as a sort of go-between betwixt the public and the Prime Minister. That is only one of the instances which I could cite. Again, we have the First Commissioner of Works with a Committee to help him, going about at night and chalking with a broad arrow big houses, clubs, and hotels, to house, perhaps, some Chairman of a small Commission who wants some sort of comfort or a place for himself and for his assistants—a hoard of bureaucrats. Anyway, we know that what the First Commissioner of Works and his Committee are doing must involve a large amount of expenditure to the State. The Government cannot take great hotels, big houses and clubs, and cannot employ hosts of bureaucrats, without inflicting upon the country enormous extra expenditure. It may be that a certain amount of this work is necessary, but, at any rate, in the view of the outside public, the thing has gone too far, and the man-in-the-street is beginning to say that these bureaucrats are rats who are eating us out of hearth and home. I ask the Government not to employ too many of these people, and only where there is really necessity to do so. There is one point on which the general public is very observant, and it is that they require to be perfectly certain that those who legislate for them in both Houses of Parliament, the big mandarins and the lesser mandarins, are practising what they preach—that is to say, that when they preach economy they themselves should observe economy. A rather curious communication was sent to me the other day by a Constituent of mine. It 363 enclosed an enormous poster, one of those big posters that are being used to advertise the War Loan. There was also enclosed a cutting from a big daily newspaper, giving an account of a very fashionable wedding in a fashionable quarter of London. There is a long list of the names of the people who attended the function. When I received the cutting I looked with a certain amount of trepidation to see whether my wife had been there, and had been contravening the regulations of the Food Controller by eating wedding cake, sandwiches, and so on.
I looked very closely at the account of the wedding, and I discovered that the reason this cutting had been sent to me was that a nobleman, one of the lesser mandarins, occupying a position in the Lord Chamberlain's Office, was entertaining the guests. In contradistinction to that social function there was this huge poster inviting men and women to sit down and think how much cash they could put into the War Loan now and how much during the next twelve months. It also called upon them to wear old clothes and old dresses, and to put the money saved into the War Loan. Then I looked at the newspaper account of the wedding, and saw that the place was decorated with Japanese; chrysanthemums, palms, and choice plants. There was a page who wore a Cavalier suit and a hat trimmed with whit? feathers. The bride wore a garment of satin, and the train was cut in a certain way. The bridesmaids certainly did not go in munition dresses, but wore ivory satin dresses, the skirts of which were covered with gold embroidered lace, with bunches of roses attached. I have not cited these particulars in any spirit of malice, nor do I wish to call public attention to this particular nobleman, but I do submit that this sort of thing causes a bad impression when the man in the street reads accounts of such functions as that to which I have referred, and receives perhaps an urgent appeal to put his money in the War Loan, to save his money by wearing old clothes. He turns away and says, "What humbug it all is. Why should I economise? Why should my wife pinch herself and make one dress do for two years instead of one when these people spend so much on their satins and silks?" It may appear to the House that these are small points—I am glad to see in his place the First Commissioner of Works (Sir Alfred Mond), who.
364 with his band, has been white-chalking certain buildings in London—these may be small points, but they are observed by the public as a whole. After all, we want voluntary thrift, not compulsory thrift; we do not want the ration system if it is possible to avoid it; we want the voluntary system, and we want voluntary Loans. If we are to keep to the voluntary plan, then those who have to lead must at any rate practice what they preach, and practise it severely.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made, an interesting contribution to the Debate, but lie will pardon me if I refer to the previous powerful and suggestive speech made by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), who asked why the Government had not adopted the policy of a forced Loan. I can understand the hon. Member taking exception to forced labour and Conscription, but because there has been Conscription I do not think that, from the argumentative point of view, he is justified in asking that there should be a forced Loan. I think his analogy breaks down, because if you have a forced Loan so much damage would be caused to our credit that there would be no advantage in the policy; in fact, quite the contrary. But the hon. Member lightly dismissed the subject by saying that there ought to be a forced Loan. I think he does not quite understand the immense damage that would be done to our credit if we adopted that suggestion. What would be the effect at once if we adopted such a policy? In the first place, it would be an advertisement to the world of our inability in matters of finance. It would not help us in finance. You do not carry on wars by money so-much as by credit, and if you have a forced Loan you damage your credit—you cripple your credit. If you have a forced Loan on the securities which institutions possess, and they are all compelled at the same time to come into the market to sell and there are no buyers, it is obvious there will be depreciation in the value of those securities to the extent of millions of pounds, and therefore such a policy would defeat the very object which the hon. Member no doubt had in view when he suggested its adoption. Institutions and banks would be unable to liquidate their securities, and, as I have said, they would be depreciated to the extent of millions of pounds. That certainly would be disadvantageous both to the State and to the 365 country, and I therefore earnestly hope that that solution of the problem will be put on one side.
On the question of the Loan, I beg to say a few words in view or the presence of the First Commissioner of Works. But in the first place, I should like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the more or less partial success which, he says, has already attended the Loan, and I also congratulate him on his action in emphasising particularly the advantages of refunding the Floating Debt. But, while I rejoice in the success of the Loan as far as it has gone, I think some of the speeches made, and more particularly one by the First Commissioner of Works (Sir A. Mond), are not an advantage to the Government and not calculated to assist their policy, but are more likely to defeat the object which they have in view. In the particular speech to which I wish to refer the First Commissioner of Works went down to his constituents and, speaking of the Loan, said it was a wonderful security, which was bound to appreciate and could not possibly depreciate. That is more or less nonsense. You cannot have such a security as that, and if the hon. Gentleman has discovered one he must be a wonderful man. But when a man in his position makes such a statement, and it is reported solemnly in the Press, I think it is very undesirable. It is an argument which is obviously unsound. You cannot have a security certain to appreciate and impossible to depreciate. I think, also, banking authorities might well take exception to his references to the Sinking Fund. But I do not propose to go into these details now. I may possibly do so on another occasion—on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) in his exceedingly powerful speech, made reference to our responsibility for the determination of the War. But, before dealing with that, I should like to refer to what was said by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had stated that our revenue derived from taxation would easily enable us to pay the interest on these Loans after peace had been declared. I think we are bound to examine a statement of that kind. Say we have raised a revenue of £500,000,000 by taxation; does the right hon. Gentleman wish us to infer from his remarks that that swollen revenue, which is, in its nature, an outcome of ex- 366 cessive Loan expenditure, can be taken as the basis on which to found his statement that, if peace returns, we shall have no difficulty in paying the huge interest on this Loan and the principal as well. It is not to the advantage of Parliament to make sanguine statements of this nature, statements which cannot be borne out by facts, and which, on analysis, can be shown to be absurd. It is evident if we have raised in one year £2,000,000,000, and the total cost of this War since the beginning has reached something like £4,000,000,000, this huge expenditure is responsible to a large extent for the swollen revenue for the time being, and to base your future estimates of revenue on a swollen revenue brought about by this excessive expenditure is ludicrous and calculated to deceive the House of Commons. When we remember that in peace times our Budget was under £200,000,000, and if we take the debt of £4,000,000,000 at 5 per cent., it will be realised that, in order to discharge the interest alone, we shall require to raise £200,000,000, without making any provision for other national expenditure on the Army, Navy, Education, and so forth. If we look at these figures, we may begin to appreciate the financial position at which we have arrived and the enormous burden we shall have to shoulder after peace has come.
The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, rather supported the point raised by the hon. Member for Greenock (Major G. Collins) as to the enormous amount we were now being asked for, £550,000,000. I think the point is an important one. I agree that at the beginning of a new Session we ought not to be called upon to vote such an enormous amount. It would he quite easy for the Government to come again to this House for a further Credit. When this House lightly passes those enormous sums, the natural tendency is to produce greater waste than if you keep a tighter hand on supplies by passing Credits for smaller amounts at closer intervals of time. The Government have shown some of the faults which were supposed to attach to their predecessors. They have not benefited by the criticisms which were offered to the action of their predecessors in these matters. They are not doing what might have been expected of those who were setting up a new regime with a view to securing a more efficient method of departmental and other management. The asking for 367 such large sums is calculated to give the impression that there does not exist that spirit of economy and the desire for efficiency which we should all like to see. Some reference also was made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to the enormous increase in the number of new appointments. Of course, we recognise that war necessitates new Civil servants and probably new departments, but I think we are entitled to ask that greater care should be exercised in the creation of these new posts.
We are also entitled to ask, when these huge Credits are demanded, what are the credentials of the Government which is asking for these huge sums. We are given to understand that the responsibility for the Government is now vested in a body of five persons. I think it was Mr. Gladstone who once stated that the Cabinet was responsible for what was said by any Member of the Cabinet. We have seen speeches made lately by the Secretary for the Colonies and others, and I wish to ask, are we to assume that these men have been reduced to the positions of Under-Secretaries, and that they are not supposed to represent the views of the Cabinet? Is it the case that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when he issues a dispatch does so on his own authority, and that the Cabinet is not responsible. We recently had a speech from the Secretary of State for the Colonies who disposed of the German Colonies by saying, apparently with some degree of responsibility, representing as he did the Overseas Dominions, that no Germany Colony would be returned to Germany. Apparently the Prime Minister has thrown him over, and that would seem to confirm my statement that the only body responsible for this House is this Cabinet of five. I think we are entitled to have an authoritative statement from some member of this Cabinet on the point.
I should like also to join with my hon. Friends in protesting against the abstention more or less of the Prime Minister from the work of this House. We are told he is engaged in more important work, but I fail entirely to see how he can reconcile that statement with his duty, which is to be present in this House and to hear what Members have to say. Members are supposed to represent the constituencies of the country. They have been sent here by the constituencies, and if the right hon. Gentleman is to carry on 368 the Government of the country in a proper way, it is essential he should look upon the House of Commons as more or less a mirror of the rest of the country. I hope we shall have some authoritative statement, and I suggest we are entitled to one on this subject from the head of the Government. I say that with all respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the lucidity of his statements. I do not take any objection to his method of speech, or to his description of the financial position, but if the Prime Minister can find time to give interviews to American journalists overriding statements made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, surely he also can find time to attend this House and give us the survey of the War and the financial position to which we are entitled.
I have touched on the interview which the right hon. Gentleman gave a few days ago, in which he endeavoured to draw an analogy between this country to-day and America in the days of Mr. Lincoln, and in which he claimed that we to-day in this country are fighting the same battle as Americans were called upon to fight by Mr. Lincoln. He drew an analogy between the two periods. I entirely fail to see where the analogy is to be found between this country and the position of America in the Civil War. The Civil War in America was fought for the principle of the abolition of slavery and tin-maintenance of the Union, and the South could not subscribe to it, and therefore the war had to go on to a finish until it was finally accomplished; but can anyone suggest that the present War is a complete analogy with the Civil War in America? As I understand it, the primary object with which we entered the War was to carry out our solemn treaty obligations with regard to Belgium.
No doubt many hon. Members have observed the latest dispatch of the German Government, in which they advertise to the world their new form of outrage. Still the dispatch did state specifically that they never intended to annex Belgium, so that to that extent we have achieved one of the main objects with which we entered the War. Having achieved that, we now have a new outline of terms in the Allies' Note and to suggest that that Note, which has many admirable conditions embodied in it—I do not take exception to many of them, for many of 369 them I have tried in former days to fight for—such as better treatment of the Armenians, and I hope a solution of the Balkan problem—but to suggest that that is an analogy with the Civil War in America is to my mind very absurd. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) in his most powerful speech suggested the possibility of the solution of the problem of Constantinople by the appointment of an international commission for the internationalisation of the Straits and of the Dardanelles. These and many other problems contained in the Allies' Note, to my mind, are surely susceptible of amicable settlement. I think even the members of the Government who may be present will agree with me that they have in many ways been misinterpreted in Germany. They have been interpreted to mean the complete break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I do not know whether they really mean that, and one would like to have a statement from the Prime Minister himself. When we are asked to vote £550,000,000 we are entitled to have a much more definite definition of policy from the Government, whatever our political opinions may be.
I think it is not in consonance with the high traditions of this Assembly that new methods of government should be suddenly introduced, and that Cabinet government should be abolished, and that then we should be calmly asked to vote £550,000,000 without knowing where we are or what our policy is. I say that a calm study of that Allied Note leads one to a conviction that it may be interpreted in a much more temperate and modified form than that put upon it by Germany itself. If that is so, and if a statement by the Prime Minister will smooth the path of our aims, it is possible that we can meet the legitimate demand for a conference or a discussion with the object of coming to some clearer idea of what are the aims and objects of the War; then surely it is the bounden duty of this or any Government to make that apparent to the House and to the country. I feel that, while I never would descend from my original view, that this War in its inception was a just War, and have supported it as such, there should be no reflection on our patriotism when we begin to doubt whether the War is now being carried on with the same objects as those with which we entered it. Having regard to our financial position, and to the barbarous and deplorable state to which Europe has been 370 reduced by the present methods of war, when we also must recognise that we have very grave doubts as to our being able to starve Germany, and certainly very grave doubts as to whether she may be able to starve us, and when we know that we have lost 4,000,000 tons of shipping since the beginning of the War, and some 400,000 tons in the month of December, and that this barbaric method is being proceeded with still, we are bound to recognise that this deporable state of things exists.
If further sacrifices are called for from this country, I submit that we should have a much more definite definition of the policy for which we stand. Many of us have enjoyed some of the joys and suffered some of the sorrows of life, but when we know that our young men are still coming forward and being slaughtered, and likely to be decimated in further offensives, I say that that throws a responsibility upon us. These young men are the material with which we have to reconstruct and rebuild this Empire. Our industries in the future will require the energy and the virile strength of our young men, and if statesmanship is bankrupt and we can offer no solution but this interminable slaughter, if we can offer nothing but vague and general terms, then this House has failed in its great office, and I cannot believe that that is so, and I hope that there are many in this House who, while subscribing to and supporting the War in its original aim, will demand and insist upon some more definite idea of the policy for which we stand before we still further vote these large sums of money.
§ Mr. LYNCH
In the third year of the War we are disposing of hundreds of millions of pounds, and these great amounts, which only a few years, or even months, ago would have seemed stupendous, are passed as matters of course in a listless House—listless, not careless as with men assured of victory, possessing full confidence in their leaders, but listless as of men who are drifting and who know not where they are drifting. On several occasions before I have spoken on this subject, and I have even uttered prophecies, and one of the quondam great men of government at that time replied by saying that prophecy was the most gratuitous form of error, quoting George Eliot. I have had the curiosity to examine the case, and I believe that most of these great men of government read literature not to form their minds in serious meditation, but simply 371 to find taking phrases to fling at their opponents, but there is a test of prophecy; that is the outcome in reality, and unfortunately the prophecies, which I have altered from time to time for the last two and a half years, have in course of time become verified. I find, so far from having overstated the case, there was no occasion in which I was not well within the mark. Now we have to face a situation without issue, at least in so far as any illumination will come from the Front Bench opposite.
Before entering, however, into the quick of the matter, I will pause for one moment to consider the intervention of the United States and to utter a short invocation to America. I remember the first time I touched upon American soil, and saw in that land of freedom the glorious Stars-find-Stripes floating over my head, I had a feeling of intense enthusiasm and joy comparable only to that which the most devoted and patriotic American may feel; that emblem of liberty, that flag, brought to my mind all the historic recollections of battles for freedom, associated with so many romantic incidents, and opening up a great vista of what was possible in human civilisation.
I will venture to say that the recent proposal of the great President of the United States is not really one of the most remarkable utterances of any President who ever occupied the position, but within its scope it is the most momentous and the greatest declaration ever uttered by a statesman since the history of man began. There, for the first time in history, we have had not merely a boldly projected idea, but a clear line of demarcation and a definite plan which, if fully followed by the civilised Powers of Europe, would at length eliminate warfare, with all its attendants of stupidities and horrors. When one considers the fatuous, almost impossible, or criminal ideas, which have led great nations, surely it is not too much to hope or to expect that this great, alluring, triumphant vision enthralling the souls of men should enable them to liberate themselves from these fantoms of the Middle Ages and those abominable traditions which enslave their minds today! I have another reason for speaking of America at this time, because, although the entry of America into this War is not decided, I believe it is almost inevitable, and I believe that with the entry of America the victory of the Allies 372 will be secured. There is no one in this House, probably no man in this Island, who has a higher opinion than I, not merely of the great resources of America, but of the great capacity of her sons, of their wonderful activity and capacity, never better shown than in case of need. Those immense resources and that energy, ability, and devotion on the side of the Allies must necessarily turn the scale. Above all, America is destined never to be beaten!
Even with the entry of America, I believe the War will be long. I believe that with the immense help of America on our side, if this War is to be fought out to a conclusion which will realise the hopes or even the declarations given from day to day by our great statesman, we must look forward to another two, or even three, years of hard fighting. Without the entry of America I would not care to utter any prophecy, realising a phrase of the Duke of Wellington that it would be too serious.
Whenever I have looked on the map of the world, where the Allies are fighting, I see dazzling bravery on the part of the men, and I see an almost incomprehensible want of capacity on the part of their leaders. I see incoherence, hesitation, vacillation, the lapses from any masculine virtue or any clear thinking which should distinguish great leaders, and the abominable faults into which weak men drift, rather than by sins of commission.
Mesopatamia, Salonika, even the Western front, are, as I say, but for the dazzling bravery of the soldiers, terms of reproach of the higher command. I have said again and again there is conspicuously lacking in the higher counsels of this nation what I would call—what I insist upon—so as to drive the lesson home—the engineering type of mind. I will not be departing from order if I dwell for a moment upon this point, and utter parables so as afterwards to make the appropriate moral. How does an engineer tackle a great problem, one which he must carry out definitely to a successful issue? How does he carry out a definite purpose which must stand before all men in its graphic reality? He examines what he has to accomplish, he considers what his structure has to do—what weights it will have to carry—what stresses will be brought to bear upon the different parts from all those loads and from the winds of heaven, and so forth, which strike upon 373 it; upon that basis he calculates keeping in mind the strength of his materials and so determining the appropriate sizes of all the different parts. Having made those calculations, there is a time when this practical analysis narrows itself down to a starting point, and from that he begins to undertake the synthetic process. From that standpoint he proceeds in a regular orderly fashion, step by step, without hesitation and without doubt, till the structure is finished.
What is the Government way of building a bridge? They design it, not with the brain of an engineer, but in the style of a Lord Chancellor; they construct fantastic parts which have no relation whatever to the loads or stresses which it will have to bear; and if a man of thought or judgment criticise that structure, they frown upon him, and set all their papers to play—to work—denouncing him or ridiculing him, meanwhile lauding to the skies the great architects who have produced the plan. They say, in effect that it is impossible that the bridge should break down, because it has been designed by a Chancellor, because the opening ceremony has been graced with the patronage of a man with a Garter, because it has been christened by a lady related to a peer, and because the bridge is called Albert the Good—perhaps nowadays more appropriately George the Great. If the matter is expressed in this fashion it seems ridiculous, ridiculous enough, I hope, to strike with force. Translate the moral point by point to the greater and mightier work which the Allies have before them, and hon. Members will find that the parallel stands as to the futilities of their methods, their plans, or their v ant of plan.
There is an old Latin proverb which says it is allowable sometimes to take lessons from the enemy. The Germans, it appears to me, Whenever they have been face to face with a difficult problem, have set to work the best brains in their nation to think out a plan; and when the case has been doubtful, they have thought out two or more alternate plans, so that when the case has been determined definitely in one sense or another, the plan is there, worked out in minute detail, so that the mighty machine may be put to work. It was on that basis that they conquered Roumania. What conquest in the Balkans have the Allies to present in place of that? Has there been any thinking out of any definite coherent plan on their part? Many 374 months ago I asked in this House that a "Thinking Department" should be set up. It was treated then by the Prime Minister and most of his subservient papers as a kind of Parliamentary joke. It is a joke, certainly, which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and the squandering of thousands of millions of pounds. Yet it should not be impossible to have that Thinking Department. Not only details, but, in the first place, all the great lines of the conception of this mighty engineering task which is before the Allies should be thought out in systematic, co-ordinated, well-organised form, every detail affecting the problem being taken into consideration, so that in the end a plan would be drawn up which for the very reason and the manner of its conception and the style in which it has been worked out must necessarily be the optimum plan. That plan the Allies should proceed to realise step by step. Instead of that, no sign of such a plan has ever appeared to me either in their speeches even, or in their operations. We have to consider ill-conceived plans, ill-carried out plans, not holding together in their own parts, and utterly incoherent when related to others.
Let me ask for one moment what is the Army at Salonika doing? What is its object there? What great function does it fulfil? Was it there to prevent the Germans inarching into Roumania? Was it there to cause a diversion by an attack on Sofia? Was it to join hands with the great Russian force or the great Roumanian Army? Was it there in any capacity whatever destined to break up or hamper the great plans of Hindenburg or Mackensen? No; it remained there as a silent spectator, and as an offset to that great conquest of a kingdom we are treated to some inconsequential operations in Monastir. I used to wonder why the Germans did not suddenly wheel round and attack that Army in Salonika. A reason, possibly correct, has been given to me by a British diplomatist. He said: "Why should the Germans attack the Allied Army in Salonika? It is the best concentration camp which they possess! In their concentration camps in Germany they have unarmed prisoners. At Salonika they have thousands of armed men; but their help to the winning of the War is as futile as unarmed prisoners in Germany." Does not that itself give a measure of the brain-work of the General Staff? Are men who have initiated that plan, who are 375 content to carry it out, the men likely to win this War? In the whole history of the world, have we ever known of men who vacillated and hesitated to triumph? No.
It is said by those who recognise these facts that the Chief of Staff is opposed to the Salonika campaign If he is opposed to the Salonika compaign, why does he allow it to continue? I am one of those who believe in the Salonika campaign, because to abandon Salonika means to abandon Serbia. To abandon Serbia means to abandon one of the most gallant and heroic of all our Allies, and to abandon that Ally would mean to add to disaster a disgrace which would never be wiped out in history. No sane man can be in favour of the Salonika campaign in the way it has been conceived and carried out. I say it is a reproach to the General Staff, and one which simply damns their judgment. The argument is the same in Mesopotamia.
Then we have the bright spot of the West, and those men who are in favour of abandoning the Salonika campaign give their reason that we must concentrate in the West. We must abandon the Salonika campaign; we must abandon Serbia; we must abandon the hope of cutting off the Germans at Constantinople; abandon the hope of baffling their dream of Berlin to Bagdad, and abandon the defence of the Suez Canal, because there is no argument in favour with those who desire the abandonment of Salonika which does not apply with equal force to the defence of the Suez Canal.
Let us, however, examine the Western Front for a moment. We are told that General Haig is one of the greatest generals in history. When I proposed some months ago that he should be recalled T received, amongst various anonymous communications, a letter of abuse from a young officer who told me it was the current opinion amongst all his comrades—young officers—that General Haig combined all the best qualities of Marlborough, Wellington and Napoleon. [A Laugh.] I do not laugh at that; it may be so. I am not judging him by a comparison with those men but in comparison with the task which you set before him; and I say that his methods, his plans, his operations, his success, and therefore his brain power are totally inadequate to the successful carrying of that task; and that being so, I say he should be recalled. I am less distressed at receiving those 376 letters of abuse because when on a former occasion I demanded the recall of Sir John French I remember the consternation was even greater and the abuse higher; but one of the very arguments this young officer used to persuade me that I was wrong in attacking, as he called it. Sir Douglas Haig, was that: "You have no conception of the muddle which was left him by his predecessor and of the amount of time necessary for him to set things right."
But General Haig has been in command now for the best part of a year. What is his actual accomplishment? We all remember when the Germans were marching on Verdun. When with that wonderful tenacity for which we must, give them credit, and with their determined smashing power, they were getting nearer and nearer that great historic citadel all the papers of the Allies laughed and said it was a bad enterprise; and I must say that the outcome has justified that conclusion, because the Germans in their attempt to capture Verdun, which failed, must have lost over half a million men. If, however, they had gained Verdun, perhaps that would have justified such a colossal loss, but Verdun trembled in the balance, and it was only saved by a marvellous display of valour—the genius of valour—on the part of the French troops.
But if Verdun was such a diabolical failure, what are we to say about our corresponding move on the Western front? In those operations of a year, in the great thrust on the Somme, from first to last there has been a prodigious expenditure of life, and for what gain? Did Lille tremble in the balance, or Maubeuge, or Antwerp? We were told of a number of marvellous victories, which put us in possession of a number of little villages, while names like Bapaume, which were unknown before the War, began to shine like mountain peaks. The entire result was only a total gain of about eight miles in depth, with absolutely no strategic advantages. In the carrying out of these details General Haig may have displayed the very-highest pitch of military knowledge and skill in the handling of the troops and inspiring them, and those are all great qualities not so much in the supreme leader as in the capable lieutenant—qualities to be found not in Caesar, but in Titus Labienus, not in Napoleon, but in Murat or Ney.
A man who having that problem before him who could so grossly miscalculate or, 377 worse still, not having miscalcuated, could with his calculations staring him in the face show for such a result such a prodigious expenditure of life, I say that that man is unfit for the post which he occupies. Why is he not recalled? Here one comes to a point of human pyschology. I hear again and again in society, and even in this House, that the great public schools of this country do not cultivate brains, but they produce character. This would be a doubtful proposition even if it were true. What has been the great fault in the conduct of this War? Lack of character in our great public men. During the regime which has just been replaced I was tempted to come down here, like Diogenes, with a lantern in my hand locking for a man! Now the man on whom the salvation of the country is staked is, not a public school man, and I hope this may be found an advantage. I have introduced this story of the lack of character in order to enforce it. Why is General Haig still in his position, after manifesting his incapacity, I do not say his absolute incapacity, but at any rate his incapacity in face of the enormous problem set him? Because no man in the Government has the moral courage or grit to say what he thinks, to propose to replace General Haig and put another man in his place. I say that the failure of General Haig redounds to the failure of Lord Derby, who, although he may be a good second-rate man in the piping times of peace, has shown himself incapable of the high post which he now fills and on which so much depends. He should be replaced.
Let me come higher. There is no man in the Kingdom, no even the Prime Minister, who, if he lacks the courage to look facts in the face, and if it be the moral strength and grit and masculine qualities to proceed to action, but will prove a failure in his present position. These facts seem extraordinary in face of the somewhat flabby condition to which we are reduced in our moral fibre. But there was a time in the history of the world when such advice would have been acted upon at once. In the old revolutionary days of France, when she was in a more dangerous position than the Allies are now, there came forward a young man, St. Just, who, having had a glorious career, ended his life in a still more glorious martyrdom, the Saint of the Republic. With but little previous experience, he was sent to the front, and, inspired by devotion to the 378 greatness of his country, he replaced one incompetent general after another, and cut off the heads of corrupt contractors. He was a rude surgeon, but he saved France. After all these abundant displays of incapacity and failure, we are still drifting into the third year of the War, and we have made no progress beyond the condition of things that existed in the first two months of the War. Is there no fault anywhere? How long is that to continue? If it has taken General Haig a year in the supreme command of all the resources of this Kingdom and all our Dominions to advance eight miles, how long will it take him to reconquer Liége, Maubeuge, to cross the Rhine, and to retake Antwerp. Am I talking words of folly, or putting before the clear and simple lines of a problem that will have to be worked out to its reality? That will not be possible with the atmosphere of hypocrisy and pretence which is the breath of the air in which we live officially. If it has taken General Haig twelve months to advance eight or ten miles with the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men, how long, by a single proposition, will it take him to reach Berlin? Is not the very statement of the proposition the answer to it? Does it not make it absolutely certain and inevitable that there is no chance of victory within the time prescribed by the Allies themselves on the Western front?
I will touch for a moment on the question of the Navy. At the beginning of the War the Navy was in a much higher degree of efficiency than the Army. Again you have the spectacle—the wonderful bravery of the sailors not having diminished in any way since the glorious days of Nelson himself. I believe there was greater efficiency in the higher command, but are you content even with the-Navy to-day, not judging by the difficulties, but by the results? From day to day we read of these appalling losses by the submarine campaign—ten boats one day, twelve another, huge liners and small trawlers. What have we on the other side of the balance to comfort us? A boasting speech of some admiral who tells us, "Do not worry about submarines." Do not worry about submarines when the life of this nation depends upon sustenance from overseas! Do not worry about submarines when every sign of increasing pressure is becoming more and more evident, not merely to the thinker, but to the man who cannot 379 escape, or the woman who cannot escape from it in following out her little domestic economy. The price of every article is going up. Some articles it is impossible to obtain. During the last few months the War has been brought home nearer and nearer to us as a dire reality, and yet we are assured that we are marching from victory to victory. What would be the state of this nation if, instead of marching from victory to victory we were drifting into defeat
Is there nothing in this to give you cause for thought or to make you examine your methods and plans? Is there nothing in this to make you put to yourself the question—to which an answer must be given and given honestly—Is it all right with the higher command even there? It seems to me that one great advantage Nelson had was that he was not numerically superior to the enemy, and not being numerically superior he was forced to make a demand upon his own genius and on the fighting qualities of his sailors. It appears to me—and it is inevitable that it must appear to the whole world after two and a half years of fighting—that the Navy has been deluded by the same fault as has deluded the Government—its desire to play a safe game and not to face responsibility. These are very serious matters. Is there a way out of it all'? I believe there is, but I do not believe that the Government has taken it. At the very beginning of this War I was one of those in this House who pointed out the need for a great air fleet. Had I been in a position at that time to make my own suggestions and my own ideas actual and real, the Allies would not now have reports of successful raids here and there, or even the names of great, heroes, both on the English and French side stated, like that of Gaynemer and others; they would have a new arm—one hundred thousand aeroplanes dominating the air as the British Navy dominated the seas in the days of Nelson At the beginning of this war the Allies had ninety chances out of a hundred of victory, but by the fatuity of these great statesmen and these men of judgment step by step I have seen those chances disappearing, and now I would be afraid to say how many of these ninety chances are left.
It is no use whimpering about the barbarity of the Germans. We have known that, and known it since the first. We 380 ought to have known it since 1870 when, by the same influences as dominate England to-day, the mind and strength of England was thrown on the side of the Germans. It is no use whimpering about that. If the Germans win it is they who will write history and mould civilisation. We are now face to face with a crisis in the world's history just as great and just as decisive as that which faced Rome in its struggle against Carthage, and history will decide which is Rome and which is Carthage. Men must throw aside all cant and humbug and falsehood, and, above all things, look the truth in the face. Having seen what is the proper thing to do, they must march resolutely and determinedly on to its accomplishment. When the present Prime Minister acceded to power my hopes began to expand, but so far those hopes have not been fulfilled. It may not be his fault. I believe it would have been impossible for Napoleon Bonaparte himself to have succeeded if he had not had a free hand and if in his ideas and plans he had not had the power of immediate realisation. If political wire-pulling still continues in operation it may baffle the intentions of the Prime Minister, and may finally mean disaster and ruin. On the other hand, it may be that his mind is not great enough for the accomplishment that is desired. It may be that his qualities, though brilliant and showy, are not sufficiently balanced, that he is not great enough to organise victory, and that he has not enough of that great engineering mind which I set forth as a type. It may be that there is too much of the Gambetta, not enough of the organiser of victory. It may be that he too will have to give way to another. Above all, let us look at realities, and let us cast aside every other consideration but that of a desire and an absolute determination to win. Let us from this hour, if no plan now exists, insist upon the best brains in all the camps of the Allies being given the supreme command even if the representative of an Ally was to command British troops, and let us work out a definite and co-ordinate plan which has victory stamped upon it from the very beginning. However long may be the struggle and however bitter may be the fight, let us begin at the beginning of that plan and work it out step by step with the full assurance that when it is completed it will mean victory for the Allies.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
; I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. In the first place, I do not think it wise to criticise the Commander-in-Chief as incapable. If it is found that the Commander-in-Chief is incapable, let those responsible for appointing him remove him. The continual changing of a commander, either of a company, a battalion, a regiment, or an army, must lower the morale of the troops. They say to themselves, "The Government are losing confidence in our Commander. How can we put our trust in him?" I am fully in agreement with the argument that if a man is incapable he ought to be removed, but we ought to have him proved incapable. The hon. Member suggested that a general belonging to another nation should, if necessary, be appointed to the supreme command. Again I say, the men would lose confidence entirely not only in themselves, but in their command, and, instead of helping victory, we should be practically asking for defeat. I cannot therefore subscribe to the argument which the hon. Member has used.
I agree that we should -get the best brains, and we are endeavouring to get the best brains possible. I believe the Army Council and those responsible for the appointment of those in command are ignoring to a large extent the men in the New Armies and in the Territorial Force. I could give one or two instances where the men of the New Army have performed work in half the time in which old soldiers used to perform it. I say that if we have men in the New Army capable of taking any of the higher commands, those men ought to be encouraged to the utmost possible extent. I should like to join with the hon. Member who spoke last in paying a tribute to the courage and endurance of our men. There is not the least doubt about the fact that the men of the Army have come up to the highest expectations that any of us formed. I notice that this Vote of Credit is to be used for the purpose of providing for the general Navy and Army Services, in so far as Parliament has not made provision, and for the conduct of naval and 382 military operations. I desire to draw attention to one or two little matters of detail, as it is well now and again to come down out of the clouds and consider what is practical. The Army to-day is not like the Army in normal times. The men who compose it are quite a different class of men, and that is a fact which should not be lost sight of. A very large number of men joined the Royal Engineers, passed a trade test, and were accepted to do the work of engineers. Some of them were found afterwards to be medically unfit, and they were drafted into what are called "work battalions" and "working parties." They are doing the same kind of work they would be doing if they had remained in the Engineers, and very often they work alongside engineers. Those men, instead of getting engineers' pay, have in some instances received 2d. per hour in addition to the 1s. per day. I am receiving a very large number of letters informing me that the 2d. has been knocked off altogether, and that they have been reduced to the ordinary Army pay of 1s. per day. Not only is that so, but some of the officers profess to have found that under the Regulations these men were not entitled to the 2d. per hour working pay, and they have been called upon to refund the amount they have so received.
I have a letter here which tells me that the writer and a whole lot of his comrades in a working battalion are only receiving 1s. per week, while the rest has been deducted to pay the debt they are told they owe. If these men are under the Regulations entitled to working pay at all, in addition to their ordinary Army pay, the instructions to officers on the point should be so clear that the biggest dunce in the Army cannot misunderstand. And there arc dunces in the Army, I have brought cases before the War Office in which it has been found that the officer has misunderstood the Regulations. If the men, by a mistake of the commanding officer, have been receiving pay they are not entitled to, I say it is most unfair that 6s. should be stopped from their Army pay per week to pay back the amount overdrawn. But I understand they are entitled to so much working pay when they are working at certain trades, and that being so, I ask for an inquiry to find out whether they are so entitled or not. Let the men have justice, and they will do their work a great deal better if they are justly dealt with, whether at home or in the 383 Army. I ask those on the Treasury Bench to convey these points to the proper quarter. At the Crystal Palace there is, I understand, a naval flying school. The men there have been told that they must buy quite a large number of tools out of their own money, and some of those tools are never used. For instance, each of them has been instructed that he must buy an adze, of which very few are used. They are told that if they do not buy the tools they are going to be punished. If men are working at these depots for a low rate of wage, it is the duty of the Government to find the tools they require. On the declaration of peace these men will revert to their ordinary callings, and the tools will be of no use to them. I appeal to the Government to make inquiry into these matters and to issue instructions in such a way that officers and men will understand what they mean. Then, again, I find that men in some cases when they ask the officer in command for a statement of accounts cannot get any reply. It ought to be an easy matter to keep a record, showing what each man's account is and what he is in debt for. I remember a case before Christmas which I brought to the notice of the authorities, where a man was said to be in debt about £7 11s. I received a statement of accounts from the Paymaster, and instead of being in debt to that amount, he was in credit to the extent of nearly £19. We have got men in the Army capable of keeping books in the elementary manner required, with one column indicating what is drawn and another the amount of debt. If you wish to have contentment in the Army and confidence in superior officers, you must make the men feel that they are fairly, justly, and equitably dealt with. Therefore, I do ask that these matters be brought to the notice of the Army authorities.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I would not have intervened, but for the speech of the hon. Member opposite. After, all we are on the question of a Vote of Credit, and the speeches to which I have listened from the other side were not calculated to encourage the House to pass this necessary Vote. Some of the speeches, particularly that of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald), would, I am perfectly certain, have delighted the German Reichstag, if addressed to that 384 body. What always strikes me about these gentlemen, these pessimists, is this. They have never given a hand's toil to help the War; they have never helped recruiting, and, for some reason or other, they tell us that something ought to be done. They cannot tell us, or give us any indication of what they would do. They talk of a general plan, and general rigmarole of fault-finding, which anybody could indulge in in the exigencies of a War like that in which we are engaged. The hon. Member for Leicester referred to Waterloo. What is the use of comparing Waterloo, where the total English Force was 18,000 men, with the present War? He also talked of the Crimea, where we never had more than 50,000 men. What is the use of comparing that with a war in which millions are engaged? I quite believe—I have said so before in this House—that as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. T. Wilson) said, there is a great deal of unnecessary expenditure; but we are helpless. What can we do? According to the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch), everything is wrong. Our diplomacy is wrong——
§ Mr. HENDERSON
My hon. Friend (Mr. King) whom I challenged over his diplomacy, said I did not understand what it was, and thought it was time to claim a Count.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Have they any right in this Committee to talk of diplomacy which is not confined to this Government, but is the joint diplomacy of the whole of the Allies I How do they know what has passed? What is their object? It is just a fault-finding suggestion. One hon. Member said that our strategy is all wrong. How does he know? What do hon. Members know about strategy?
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
The hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) has just indicated his opinion that the Debate should not continue. I would point out that it is not proper at any time to continue the Debate with these disorderly interruptions.
I am just intimating to the hon. Member that his interruptions of the hon. Member now in possession of the Committee were not in order in any event, and I added also that I gathered from the fact that the hon. Member called a count that he thought it was time the proceedings of the Committee should come to an end.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
My hon. Friend is evidently a little uneasy about his own part in this matter, because I do not think that he has given any assistance to the country in any degree to help them in their great trouble and trial. Instead of finding fault, carping, and making suggestions of wrong here and inefficiency there and generally finding fault, he ought to give a little assistance to his country to help them through in whatever way he can. If his conscience will not allow him to do that he, and the rest of them, should hold their peace. That is the view that most people take. I chiefly rose to ask something about this Vote of Credit. Its terms are very wide. It says
"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 Commu- 386 nications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and re-sale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Belief 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."
I want an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that no part of this money shall be used for anything which may lead to assist a propaganda, which is at present being strongly urged before the country by certain Members of this House, in pamphlets and circulars calling for subscriptions, and so forth. I refer to the proposed State purchase of the liquor trade. It has been suggested that such a large measure as that would require to be dealt with by a separate Bill, but the suggestion has also been made—I have seen it reported—that the Government were thinking of making some arrangement with the brewers and others similar to the arrangement made with the railway companies. The arrangement made with the railway companies was that the Government guaranteed the dividend for the year 1913. I strongly object to any such arrangement being entered into with the liquor trade out of any of this money, because I believe that would be the first step which would involve the ultimate carrying out of this very stupid proposal to buy out the liquor trade. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer's assurance that no part of this money will be used in that direction. If my hon. Friend who represents the Treasury can give me that assurance I shall be satisfied, but otherwise I shall oppose any such payment or grant.
§ Mr. FIELD
I do not know whether this question of prohibition is actually before the House or not. If it is, it will certainly require a good deal of discussion from the various points of view held by those more or less interested in the business. I wish to say a word or two on the question of food production. If my readings of the Regulations of the Department of Agriculture in Ireland is correct, we have really no compulsory powers for the acquisition of land. If that is so it will be impossible to expect an adequate supply of land for the number of persons who are applying for it in the St. Patrick's Division and in the urban district of Black-rock. We are supposed to be a United Kingdom and to have equal laws, and if the intention of the Government is to 387 utilise the food producing qualities of Ireland to the fullest extent, surely it is their business to give us at least equal facilities to those which are granted in England, I protest against any inequality of treatment. There are various other points on the subject of food production which I could bring before the House, but I am more interested, particularly as a member of the Food Production Committee and as representing St. Patrick's Division and the Urban Council of Blackrock, in the question of the land. Twenty-two years ago I seconded a motion moved by Colonel Nolan asking for the extension to Ireland of all facilities for the acquisition of land for agricultural purposes, similar to those which exist in England. That Motion was passed nemine contradicente. For the last twenty-two years I have been asking questions every Session about the extension to Ireland of the Allotments Act, and I have always received from the. Front Bench one of those evasive replies which really mean nothing.
The hon. Member is quite right in his supposition that that is beyond the scope of the Vote.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I desire to make one observation arising out of the remark of the hon. Member (Mr. Henderson) in connection with the purchase of property belonging to the licensed trade. I understand that some portion of the previous Vote, and I believe of this, will be devoted to the purchase of licensed property at Carlisle. I am informed that the Government has forwarded, for the purchase of a brewery and property attaching to it at Carlisle, a cheque for a very large amount. They have done it in rather a subtle way. The Treasury sent the cheque to the owner of the property or his representative on the conditions that War Loan should be purchased with it, and I am informed that that in fact is being done. The Treasury should make some explanation upon this subject. The Control Board acting as a Government Committee has undertaken large liabilities. We have never had any explanation how those liabilities are to be financed. But this Vote of Credit undoubtedly enables it to be done out of 388 money which is to be devoted to the purposes of the War. There is quite a long story about the purchase of this property at Carlisle which will at some time or another be brought to the attention of the House. I think the Treasury should state definitely that it is not going to devote any sums of money out of this Vote of Credit for the War Loan, or cheques in the Treasury to be converted into War Loan, to the purchase of licensed property without obtaining the approval of the House for the policy which has been adopted in Carlisle and which it is suggested should be extended generally throughout the country. This is not the time nor the occasion to discuss that policy, but these dealings behind the' back of the House should not take place, and there ought to be full and frank statement as to the financial position of the Control Board, and whether they are drawing from the public purse or spending only the money which they have earned in carrying on the licensed trade which they have undertaken, and the statement should be presented in the form of a properly made up account
One other remark I wish to make. Great attention should undoubtedly be paid to due economy in the expenditure of the money which is now being voted. There is no one in the country who has paid any attention to the expenditure of public money who is not convinced that there is a colossal amount of waste in every direction. The right hon Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) has no doubt heard many complaints made of the unlimited number of buildings which are being erected and taken over to form Government offices. Of course, directly these buildings are taken over they have to be, filled with persons, salaries have to be paid, and enormous Departments are being established in every direction, nominally for the purposes of the War. But anyone who has had to conduct business knows that the more people you have nominally organising the more they get in each other's way, and they are reduced to an interminable circle corresponding with each other, and no one can settle anything. That is the kind of process which is taking place in many directions. I will endeavour to bring on a future occasion some instances of a flagrant waste and extravagance taking place in various Departments. The Government will really have to address itself to this question of supervising the expenditure which they 389 are asking the country to make and to give some assurance that the vast extravagance which is taking place, owing to the hurry with which many of these arrangements are made, shall cease.
§ Mr. KING
It is with great reluctance that I intervene in the Debate. I should not speak at all at so late an hour if I did not see opposite my hon. Friend (Mr. Henderson). I listened to his speech with great interest, and I attempted to obtain for him a larger audience than the five Members who were present when he began his address. Apparently he did not appreciate my effort on his behalf, and if I may now offer my sincere tribute of sympathy, admiration and thanks I should like to do so. His speech was so modest, and he is so very modest that he actually resented a larger audience listening to him. But I found the hon. Member's modesty marked by certain inconsistencies. He taunted me, very unjustly, with having done nothing to help this War. I thought that I had been doing a great deal for a long time, but my modesty is like his own—it does not appear to everybody how much I am doing. Let me point out his inconsistency. He objected to any carping fault-finding, or opposition of any kind to the Government, but at the same time he said that if this Vote contained any money to be devoted towards a scheme for doing away with the drink traffic he would oppose it.
§ Mr. KING
Those were the hon. Member's own words. He can read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow and he will find that I am right. I do not know whether or not the hon. Member is a supporter of the Prime Minister. Nobody knows who supports the Prime Minister at the present time; there are many different opinions about that. The Prime Minister said not long ago that we had got three enemies: Germany, Austria, and drink, and the greatest of these three is drink. That being the case, at this late hour, more than two years after the Prime Minister used those words, if he is willing to take in hand this enemy of the drink, I am ready to support him. The hon. Member, however, says that" if one penny of this Vote of Credit is going for any drink policy, he will have nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. KING
They are either going to purchase or to confiscate. Those are the only two policies if we are to deal with the drink trade. Confiscation does not want any money, purchase does. Therefore, it is only by using money that you can deal with this drink traffic. If the hon. Member had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Rutland (Colonel Gretton) it would have been quite apparent to him what was happening. The hon. Member for Rutland distinctly repudiated the form in which payment is now being made for buying up the drink traffic for the State, at Carlisle. The modesty of the hon. Member extended so far that he went outside to blush, and did not wait to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Rutland, who knows a great deal more about this subject than he does. The Debate has been marked by several features. First of all we had a very uninteresting and perfunctory speech by the Leader of the House. Here was a great occasion, on which he might have utilised his ability, an occasion when no less than £550,000,000 sterling are being provided for the greatest War, at the most critical time of the War's history, and the right hon. Gentleman gave us a speech which we could have got out of the White Paper which was sent round with the Orders, with a few deductions from the figures therein given. That is all he gave us, and he went away shortly afterwards. Since then there have been criticisms, eloquent speeches, and very fruitful suggestions for the carrying on of the War, but no first-class Minister of the Crown has been here. For a large part of this Debate two Junior Lords of the Treasury—very junior lords, estimable, amiable, pleasant, agreeable gentlemen no doubt—I am always pleased to meet-them at any time—have been here: but I would like to see some of their superior colleagues upon the Treasury Bench upon a great occasion like this. We have only had one short and perfunctory speech from the Leader of the House, and not a single word from any other Minister. They have not thought it worth while to be here.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
I have been here most of the time.
§ Mr. KING
Yes. You have been away. I do not begrudge the hon. Gentleman his dinner. No one deserves a better dinner, and I am certain that there are very few who are more pleasant dining companions, but he should leave someone responsible to answer the criticisms which have been made during his absence. The speech of the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) was one of the ablest speeches I have ever heard from a very able man. It is so easy in these days for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to ignore argument. It is very simple to go away when speeches are being made which they do not like to hear. Nothing is more easy. It is not worthy of the traditions of this House, and not worthy of an occasion like this, when a Vote of £550,000,000 is being asked for, that we should have one short speech from the Treasury Bench, and not a word in reply to the many criticisms which have been made. As hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have been dining, I propose to give them a short résumé of the Debate.
§ Mr. KING
I am aware of the rules of order, and am anxious to avoid anything like repetition. I shall only give the names of the hon. Members who spoke, and indicate, if I may be allowed, the different items which they brought up, and answer them so far as I am able to do so. I would like to call attention to the fact that we have had speeches from three supporters of the Government—not members who are independent and have got views of their own, like myself, but Members who always support the Government on every possible occasion. I do not suppose for the life of them they would give a vote against the Government. The hon. Member for Barnsley——
§ Sir J. WALTON
I object entirely to the hon. Member assuming that he is a more independent Member than I am.
§ Mr. KING
We had a speech from the hon. Member, and speeches from the hon. Member for Enfield (Major Newman) and the hon. Member for Rutland (Colonel Gretton), all calling attention to the extraordinary number of new offices that are being opened in clubs, hotels, and other buildings all over this part of London. Those offices are being filled with clerks and all the rest of it, and those hon. Members ask what is the cost, what is the good, what is the result, and what work is being done that could not be done with the far smaller machinery. Those are the kind of questions which have been asked three times in my hearing, and we have no answer attempted from any of the eight Gentlemen now occupying the Treasury Bench. Either they have no answer, or it may be that the answer they would like to give is so ridiculous and inadequate that they do not give it. We have had criticisms and suggestions of what one might call an official or technical character, and large questions of policy raised. We had a very remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Leicester. In one way he gave the greatest speech to-night, because he looked beyond the War to the questions that will arise after the War in connection with and in relation to the great questions of our future as a nation and a race. That is a very large subject, and that was the speech of a man who is, I believe, in large measure a statesman. He brought up one of those great questions, the future of Constantinople. Many hon. Members will remember that one of the cardinal doctrines of our policy has always been that we would defend Constantinople against the Russians. I remember in my boyhood singing a song:We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do.We've got the men, we've got the ships, we've got the money too.We've prove it oft before; again we'll prove it true,The Russians shall not have Con-stan-ti-no-ple.That certainly did represent one of the fundamental ideas of the politics of John Bull—that the Russians should not have Constantinople. I do not know whether they were right, but I am perfectly certain that if any great change in our past policy is to come in, and if now this country is to go on fighting after we have gained all we want for ourselves, after we have got all the German colonies, after we have turned the Germans out of France and Belgium, 393 until the Russians get Constantinople, then I say that the British people ought to be consulted, that a policy like that ought not to be settled in hugger-mugger, even at a Conference in Rome or Petrograd, and then be kept away from the discussion of the British House of Commons. I thank the hon. Member for Leicester for having brought this subject before the House tonight. I think that he did public service. Why, then, have we the row of Ministers not one of whom knows anything about it, or has any idea of getting up to answer his speech? We have got a conspiracy of silence on that bench. It is not to their credit. It is either because they are cowards or because they are ignorant, or, possibly, every man is leaving to his neighbour the duty which he should take upon himself. I do not know. The whole position on the Treasury Bench suggests lack of co-ordination, lack of control, and the same confusion exists there as exists between the Board of Agriculture and the Food Controller, and between each one of them and the War Office. They are all treading on one anothers' toes, and they never make any progress.
There are one or two things which may be referred to conveniently, and possibly some Member of the Treasury Bench may collect his thoughts, and sum up his courage and conclude this Debate with a worthy speech, which will set all our anxieties on these questions at rest. One of the few things which the Leader of the House told us in the course of his speech this evening was that there had been a Conference in Rome, and he told us that three things had been settled. The first was a united policy about Greece. I was perfectly amazed that that should be heralded, as a great achievement. We have had the Greek question before us for eighteen months, and I remember myself and the hon. Member for West Clare speaking on the subject fourteen months ago, when the question was already an old one, saying that there should be some clear and definite policy, but no progress was made in that direction, and the result is to-day, after shifting and shuffling, changes of policy, changes of French commanders, ultimatums and blockades, and all the rest of it, the position in Greece to-day is lamentable. The Greek Government addressed to the President of the United States a reply in answer to his Note. Why is that reply not allowed to be published in the English papers? I think I know. I can only say that it is 394 a perfectly shameful thing for our Government that when a neutral Government, friendly with us from the first, with which we ought to be friendly now, sent a Note to the President of the United States, our people are afraid to allow it to be published in their Press. Then we come here to-day, and listen to the Leader of the House telling us of the great achievements of success which have been realised. They have at last had a conference at Rome about Greece, and they have decided how they are going to manage. Because for months and months we have been pointing out that something of this kind should be done, we are told by Members like the hon. Member for West Aberdeen that we have been carping, and doing nothing to help on the War. If we had been listened to, and something had been done on the lines which many Members of the House advocated on those occasions, we should not be in the lamentable position in which we are to-day in respect of our policy.
Another matter which the Loader of the House told us had been settled was that we were actually going to supply coal to Italy, and take it over the railways of' France. If anything has been said in the course of the Debate here today that would cause joy in the Reichstag, it was this statement, that the British, instead of sending their coal round by sea to Italy, are transporting it by the railways of France. What does that mean? That at a time like this, when Italy is in the deadliest need of coal, when I am told that coal in Italy is something like £20 a ton—
§ Mr. KING
Put it at that, but I believe that if I were in Rome at present, and wanted to get warm, I should have to pay more than £10 a ton. That is what I am told. But at a time like this, with the railways of France overloaded, you are taking the opportunity of sending coal to Italy over the railways of France, instead of round by sea. Why? If there ever was a greater confession of the success of the German submarine policy than that, then I do not know it.
§ Mr. KING
Why not rub it in? If a man says a foolish thing, or if I were to say a foolish thing, the hon Member for Aberdeen would be the first to rub it in. If the Leader of the House says an idiotic thing, I venture to say that I have a little right to rub it in. That is the sort of thing which the Leader of the House openly boasts about here. It is nothing less than waste, waste of our resources, to send coal across the rails in France to Italy. Of course, that is just the way we are met at the War Office. I suppose there never was a time when there was more public money wasted than is going on at the present time. It is not only waste of money, but what terrifies and depresses me is the waste of men, the waste of men's lives, the waste of men's ability, the putting men of ability, genius and skill in the wrong place, and then saying that it is all for the good of the War. I propose to give one or two cases to which I wish to call the attention of the Front Bench. One of the best known watchmakers and chronometer makers—I know the man well; he is a skilled chronometer maker, being under forty years of age—was summoned before the Tribunal. He put up no great fight against going, and although his employer asked that he should be retained, yet, being a patriotic man, he was ready to serve and he was sent away. He was a man making £4 10s. a week, a man of the highest skill as a watchmaker, yet he was sent to the North of England and for six months he has been breaking stones and shovelling about on military roads.
The employer of this watchmaker and chronometer maker, being unable to keep his contract for supplying chronometers to the Navy, tried to get the man back, and when he comes back, after the hard and severe work he has been doing, his hands will be so hard as to be useless for the skilled, delicate, and technical work for which he is needed, and probably it will be six months before the man really again becomes the skilled workman he was before. The Navy is in need of chronometers, yet you are depriving an essential industry of its best workers, and you have hindered this man from earning his skilled and honourable living. Yet you call that winning the War. I could give instance after instance, but here is one the case of a man engaged in an essential trade, who was taken from his business some time ago 396 and sent away by the tribunal. The employer tried to get a substitute for him to take up his position in this particular trade. After going about from office to office, and after a great deal of correspondence and red tape, this very man was brought back as his own substitute. After six weeks of wasted time, wasted money, a great deal of correspondence, the man was brought back to his old work. A ridiculous, wasteful operation, the like of which is, no doubt, going on now The real fact of the matter is that the War Office have been allowed far too much of their own way in the managament, of this great business. They ought to realise that we are fighting, not only with the Army, but with all the resources of our Empire, and that skilled industries, skilled trades, shipping, agriculture, and a thousand and one departments of national life have to be carried on. If they are not carried on, and if they are not co-ordinated and made to help one another, we may be getting a very big Army, but we are not going to win the War. The Military Service Acts, which were passed a little over a year ago, and which we were told on the highest authority would give us all the men that are required to obtain victory, are an absolute failure and fraud. They have not given us all the men we require to obtain victory. We are no nearer victory to-day than we were a year ago. I admit that we are nearer the end, but the actual period of definite decision and a certain victory is no more present to our sight to-day than it was a year ago. Why is it that the promises and plans of the War Office are always being falsified? It is for this reason, I believe, that this House has far too readily given up its rights and independence, and that the Government has far too readily given way to the purely military minded men in the War Office. Instead of considering the question of national life all round, the requirements of the War Office are considered, and its insatiable appetite is attempted to be supplied. Let me remind the Under-Secretary for War, who may answer the various points made in the course of the Debate that there is realty a great deal of dissatisfaction in the country with the Military Service Acts. If the country could go back upon those Acts to-day it would. Their unpopularity is undoubted. The people accepted them as one of the terrible things to which they 397 have to submit, with the suffering, dangers, wounds, and deaths involved. But the country to-day realises that the Military Service Act3 are a complete failure. They have not given us victory in France, and, moreover, they have been extremely badly and unjustly administered. One man has been able to get exemption on the ground of conscientious objection, perhaps because he had influential friends. Yes, that is so. I am told that not less than three Gentlemen who sat recently on the Treasury Bench have bad complete exemption given in cases of their sons as conscientious objectors.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That will not do; I must ask my hon. Friend to tell the House the names. This is a very serious imputation to make against right hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Gentlemen says that three colleagues of mine on this bench have, by influence——
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Have, by influence, got release for their sons because they are conscientious objectors. I must ask my hon. Friend to tell the Committee the names of the right hon. Gentlemen.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to tell me whether these 398 three right hon. Gentlemen are present colleagues of mine or are they not?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. Gentleman said pointedly that these three right hon. Gentlemen were colleagues of mine. It is a serious imputation against colleagues of mine on this bench, and I must ask him to withdraw it.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. Friend will forgive me if I ask if the three right right hon. Gentlemen were in the last Government?
§ Mr. KING
I think this is all rather useless. I have withdrawn everything I said. I cannot go any further. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Henderson) said just now it was "very nice to rub it in." I think the hon. Gentleman opposite is quite entitled to "rub" it in if he likes, but he has done it quite enough. I was saying that the Military Service Act has been extremely badly administered. We were told, for instance, when it was passed, that people with special business or private financial obligations would not be taken. But that has been disregarded again and again. We were told that people known as one-man business men ——
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a question as to the action of the tribunals; it does not come up on the present occasion.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it not in order to criticise the machinery for recruiting men for the Army on a Vote of Credit which provides for the upkeep of the Army?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Not as far as it is a matter of legislation passed by this House which is being administered by a civil authority.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
But there are military representatives who are associated with the tribunals which administer the law, and is it not in accordance with the rules of order to criticise the action of those military representatives in so far as they are associated with the tribunals?
§ Mr. KING
I at once bow to your ruling. I quite understand the reasons on which 399 you based it. It is quite obvious it is not in order here to discuss the tribunals. But I do suggest that when the tribunals are sending only sons of widows into the Army in direct and flagrant defiance of the pledge given by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith) that it would be a scandal to allow such things to continue, and that the War Office ought to have issued instructions to the tribunals—clear and explicit—to carry out the pledge which had been given in the course of Debate by the right hon. Gentleman. That is just what the War Office will not do. The War Office or the Government are absolutely afraid of the military men in Whitehall.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I must correct my bop. Friend again. The War Office does not is3ue instructions to the tribunals, which are under the Local Government Board.
§ Mr. KING
That is the worst of it; both the War Office and the Local Government Board are afraid of these military authorities. The War Office ought to have said to the Local Government Board: "We have men enough. We can only use what we have wastefully. We cannot employ them. You are sending in a great many men medically unfit. We do not want any more." If the War Office had said that to the Local Government Board that body would have issued instructions accordingly, and you would not have had these men sent, thereby creating a feeling of bitter injustice. Yes, it is a feeling of bitter injustice. During the last Recess I went down into my Constituency, and when I ventured to bring up this matter of men being sent into the Army who are medically unfit, everyone I spoke to was able to give me half a dozen or more such cases. They do feel the injustice and the great cruelty of it. These men have mothers and fathers and brothers. Wives do not mind their men being sent if they feel they are strong enough to make good soldiers and to stand trench warfare, thereby helping to win the victory. But when they see them come back in a few weeks, or it may be a few days, and hear they are in hospital or discharged without having done any military service, what do people say? They say, "You have made fools of us!" That is what the War Office is doing in the country to-day. It is making fools of the people, and it is not winning the War.
400 There are many points in this connection I should like to touch upon. I will take two more. I will refer first to the way in which the War Office is treating the agricultural question. For years to come there will be a shortage of food. The crop in 1918, unless the harvests are unexpectedly good, will bring about a condition of affairs at least as bad as obtains in 1917. There may, in fact, be a greater food shortage in 1918 than in 1917. In order to avoid that it is most essential to get our country as quickly and as skil-fully under cultivation as possible, and yet look at the way the War Office is treating the agricultural problem. It says that it wants 30,000, or really 60,000, men from the land, and that it is going to send in place of these skilled men C 3 men. Some of these C 3 men are, I know, men who have been able to work on the land, some of them at hard physical labour, but a great number of them are men of sedentary employment—piano tuners is a case that is well known—and there are a great number of elderly clerks, who have never done any outdoor work in their life, in C 3. Are you really going to take the men off the land and put C 3 men, elderly clerks, of delicate constitution, in their places, and expect a good harvest? It only shows how absolutely foolish the War Office is.
If I am using strong words about the War Office let mo remind the hon. Member opposite whom I see smiling what is the language which the Prime Minister used a few months ago in this House? The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in speaking of the way in which the War Office had treated Ireland spoke of the ineptitudes and malignities of the War Office. That was when he was Secretary of State for War himself. Out of the mouth of the Secretary of State for War surely the War Office might judge, and if the present Prime Minister accuses the War Office of malignities and ineptitudes in connection with the great recruiting field of Ireland I think I am entitled to say that the War Office has been absolutely foolish in the way it has treated recruiting in England. I should like to say a few Higher Command. I must admit that in words now upon the question of the the course of this Debate one speech—that of the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch)—made upon me really a profound impression. I am very sorry indeed that no Member of the Government ventured a reply to it. I know it was made 401 in a small House, but if there had been a large House, so powerful was that speech that the House would have felt that if a Member of the Government did not spring to the box to give an immediate and, as far as he could, an effective reply, there was no reply, that could be made, and I believe myself that the hon. Member for West Clare, in pointing out that we were more lacking in brain power in the Army than in man power, that it was lack of brains in our leadership, not of muscles, courage, discipline and skill in our men, that was baffling us of the victory, when an hon. Member like the hon. Member for West Clare, whose patriotism and enthusiasm are simply unbounded, makes an argument like that it ought to be answered. And let me remind the Committee that if there is one man in the House who has a right to speak upon what should be the qualifications of the Higher Command, it is the hon. Member for West Clare.
I can say in his absence what I would not say in his presence—namely, that he is the one Member of the House who has been a member of a headquarters staff. He actually was in the Boer War a member of the headquarters staff.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
There is at least another hon. and gallant Gentleman in this House who was and is now a member of a headquarters staff.
§ Mr. KING
I am very glad indeed that that is so. I think my statement is quite correct that the hon. Member for West Clare has had practical experience of this question that possibly one other Member of the House has had also. What really is the fact?
The fact undoubtedly is that we retain our Generals far too long in the higher commands. The hon. Member for West-houghton attempted, with courage, I must say, an answer to the hon. Member for West Clare, seeing that no member of the Government attempted to reply; and the Government should remember the adequate and yeoman defence which, a few minutes ago, was put up by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. His argument was that it would be unfortunate for an Army if it were to feel that its Generals were being continually changed. He apparently did not know that at the present time there have been a great number of changes made in the Divisional Generals in France. 402 Quite a sheaf of them, quite a number of Brigadier-Generals have been changed. It is, I believe, right to change them; but go on until you get right to the top. It is a very serious matter indeed. One daily paper has now taken up this question, and is pointing out, in a series of very remarkable articles, the fact that we have far more men than the Germans on the Western Front, that our men, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said, are, man for man, far better trained and equipped than the Germans, and have far greater spirit and courage, and that in regard to equipment and munition—big guns especially—we far excel the Germans. Why, then, is our advance so slow? Why is it that only over a small section, eight miles or so, of front that we have really made any advance at all for two years? It is because the brains of the Army are so deficient. It is because we have practically no generals at all. I see that the one military man, who, I think, has distinguished himself both as a critic and a prophet in this War beyond everybody else, Mr. H. G. Wells, in a series of very remarkable articles, has been pointing out that the one thing which is keeping in from complete and overwhelming victory, and the one thing without which we never can obtain victory, is the lack of brains. In the men we have enough courage, spirit, discipline, training. If we do not have the brains in the higher command all these other things are wasted. There is a well-known story—it has been in the paper again and again—of someone asking General Petain what lie thought of our generals. He has only been a general for a very short time.
Is it in order for an hon. Member to state what are the criticisms of our friendly Allies on our own general officers? As a matter of public policy is it right that such a recital should take place in this House?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think the-point is one of Order with which the Chairman should deal, but I think the hon. Member should be very careful in what he says on the matter.
§ Mr. KING
When a story is allowed to appear in an article which has been censored by the War Office. I think really the War Office might be allowed to hear it across the floor of the House, but as they are so sensitive and so afraid of what the Censor has passed, I will spare them. 403 But now let me tell you what our friends and, I hope, our new Allies the Americans think of our higher command. One very great American writer says:Well, the English generals, after all, are still at school. I don't know when they are going to leave school.What does that mean? It means that you have got in the Army men of the old type, old traditions, unintellectual, good fellows, men pleasant and agreeable no doubt, men whose personal qualities endear them to the soldiers, but they are not the stuff of which great generals are made, and until you get move brains and more intelligence into the higher commands on all fronts you will not get the victory you desire. I am reminded when I see the right hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch) opposite of the story of Gallipoli, because he is on the Gallipoli Royal Commission. [An HON. MEMBER: "Dardanelles!"] Well, the Dardanelles and Gallipoli are nearly adjoining. Why was it that when a question was to-day whether the Dardanelles Commission's Report was going to be published soon, the Government were unable to answer it? Because they cannot for the life of them make up their minds whether they ought "to allow a Report to come out which will show the failing's of our generals, and so they are hesitating whether they will publish it, and face the music, or, relying upon as little, as possible being said, or attention given to it at the present time, continue to suppress the truth. And it is all just this: They have put the wrong men in command to start with, they have got the wrong men in command, and now they are trying to shield them. If you want the country at the end of this War to feel nothing but dissatisfaction and disgust with the War Office, I believe you are on the right way to do it.
I do not like to detain the House much longer, but I am just going to hint at an argument which I shall, perhaps, develop later. I want to suggest that the arguments which have been used here tonight, and the argument used on Wednesday last by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) on Salonika, and the attacks that have been made on the Salonika policy should be faced here. A very powerful and cogent argument was put forward by the hon. Member opposite on Wednesday last as to the absurdity and the ridiculous position in the Balkans at the Salonika position, and it has been put forward 404 again here to-night by at least two hon. Members. I will not elaborate it again, but I do say that argument ought to receive an answer. I know what hon. Members on the Treasury Bench think. They think that if great speeches like those of the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch), the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), and the hon. Member for Barnsley (Sir J.Walton)—really great speeches and weighty arguments—are ignored, and nobody pays any attention, it is the best policy. Consequently, the Prime Minister absents himself entirely from the House, and he has not been in the House this Session. The Leader of the House comes in, makes a short perfunctory speech, listens to some of his colleagues on the Front Opposition Bench, and then retires, and he has not been here half the time of this Debate, which has lasted about six hours. It is very easy for the Under-Secretary for War to sit on the Treasury Bench and smile and try to pin me down when I make a slip, which I at once apologised for and withdrew, but he cannot answer my arguments. The hon. Member is a man of great ability, but even if you give a most excellent advocate the rottenest of cases he cannot bamboozle the most foolish of juries. That is the case with the hon. Member opposite. He has a good temper, patience, and ability, but when he is connected with such a lot of men whom their own chief has declared to be guilty of ineptitudes and malignities he had much better sit quietly and make no reply at all.
The House does not, as a rule, attach undue importance to what the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King) says, but he is usually so humorous and entertaining that they do not notice some times that he very often puts, purposely or inadvertently a little poison into the cup. To-night he has made a charge which will be reported in all the news papers all over England, and it is not sufficient that it should be simply with drawn, because sooner or later it must be disproved. The fact that it was suggested that the hon. Member knows of three sons of three Members either of this Government, or the late Government, who have got their sons off as conscientious objectors——
I put it to the hon. Member as a test whether there was any truth in it, would he say that he knew who they were, although he need not tell us the names, and as he would not answer that question the House and the country will -draw their inference from that. I hope there is not a word of truth in it, and I do not believe there is a word of truth in it. I should not have intervened to-night but for the fact that the hon. Member for Somerset had made a charge of that description, so discreditable to the persons concerned and because I did not consider it sufficient for the hon. Member to withdraw it. I refrain from answering some of the things the hon. Member said, and his criticisms upon the Higher Command are worth about as much as the other charge he has made. His ideas of foreign policy and his criticisms of Italy and our policy with regard to Greece are also worth about as much as the other charge, and we can afford to pass them by. The hon. Member attacks the Leader of the Government for his statement about Greece, but apparently he does not know that the serious difficulties arose between this country and Italy last year upon the question of coal, that the whole of Italy's coal used to come from Germany, and therefore it had to come from this country. The Italian manufactories would be stopped and so would the War as far as Italy is concerned but for our coal supply, and therefore we had to give Italy a special privilege in regard to coal which is absolutely essential to keep Italian industries and munition factories going in order to keep the Italian Army in a position to fight at the front.
The hon. Member criticised the agreement which the Allies came to with Italy the other day with regard to what should be the policy towards Greece. We had a policy, possibly the same policy as the hon. Member pressed upon the Government to adopt; but the hon. Member must remember that we were not the only party to that policy. There were Italy, Russia, and France, and to get them all to agree when I suppose they had previously differed was a deed of which the Prime Minister might well be proud, and it will undoubtedly have a most important effect upon the war. We may dismiss the rest of the hon. Member's criticisms—the Debate has lasted six hours, and he has taken nearly one whole hour, which might well have been spared the House—if one may judge from those three samples.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not desire to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House in his contemptuous references to my hon. Friend the Member for North Somersetshire (Mr. King.) It seems to me to be a very strange thing that of all the criticisms contained in the speech of my hon. Friend many of them relating to very serious aspects of the War, the only part which was singled out, either by him or the representative of the Government on the Treasury Bench, was the single allusion to certain Cabinet Ministers either in this or the late Government. But it is not only in reference to the speech of my hon. Friend that I desire to make a few observations. We had a long Debate this afternoon, and whatever we may think of the speech of my hon. Friend opposite I think that everybody who has followed any part of the Debate will agree that there have been very valuable speeches made on very important aspects of national policy. We had in the early part of the Debate a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Major G. Collins) largely on finance, and then upon the same subject he was followed by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton). Other speeches were made on other subjects, notably one by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, another by the senior Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald), and another by the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Lees Smith). Nearly every one of those speeches deserved a reply from the Government, and the fact that no attempt has been made to reply is simply another indication of the contemptuous treatment which the present Government mean consistently to extend to the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset referred to a matter of criticism which was made in this House on Wednesday last in regard to the Salonika Expedition. I understand that criticism was reinforced to-night not only by unofficial Members, the hon. Member for North Somerset and the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) but by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is a very significant matter. I do not know how far the late Chancellor of the the Exchequer was responsible for the Salonika policy. If he was, then to the extent to which he was responsible there is obviously a tu quoque answer to him; but no such answer is possible against men who have neither lot nor part in the action of the late Government. We all know 407 that it is a fact that the present Government has banned any reference to the Salonika Expedition. It is a known fact, it has not been denied, I think. I have been informed by credible authority that that is the case.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am quite prepared to accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he is unaware of it; but that is the information I have. I made the statement on Wednesday, when I was not contradicted, and in view of the failure to contradict by any Member of the Government, I was entitled to adhere to that statement. I know of references to this expedition which have been excised from articles in the Press. I think, in view of those things, we should hear in this House, which apparently is the only place where this military adventure can be subjected to criticism, and we should insist upon an answer from the Government. In the old days of the last Government, many of the critics were not so sensitive as to what should be said. I remember that during the most critical months of the Dardanelles Expedition my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) had no hesitation whatever then in calling upon the Government to state what their policy was, and to give an answer regarding that disastrous undertaking. But because other people occupy the Front Bench that is no reason why other hon. Members should not seek for satisfaction regarding a military adventure which is likely to bring even more disasters.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I should like, so far as I can, to correct a misprehension on the part of the hon. Member. Particular references to the Salonika Expedition may have been excused, but, as I said, I am perfectly certain that no such instruction as the hon. Member has mentioned, that there should be no reference, would have been given without my knowledge, and I have absolutely no knowledge of such an instruction.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I quite accept what my right hon. Friend has said. I believe he has no knowledge whatever of the instruction, but I must say simply what has come to my knowledge, and that is that a general instruction has been issued by the Press Bureau to the Press, stating that there should be no discussion of the Salonika Expedition. It is not from one 408 source I have received that information; and if my right hon. Friend desires I shall put a question on the Paper to elicit the truth. But, as on a former occasion, I made the suggestion, and it then passed unchallenged, I assumed that I was correct in making that statement. However, that, of course, is not the essential point. Whatever discussion is allowed we certainly know that no discussion has taken place in the Press since the article in the "Daily Mail," in January. Obviously, the House is the only place where we can have this matter dealt with, and we wish to have satisfaction on three points. We want to know first, what military objects are being attained by this expedition? We wish to know whether it is a defensive or an aggressive expedition, and it is very important we should know. We want to know if it is a defensive expedition, whether the force there is not far too large for defensive purposes. On the other hand, if it is not defensive but aggressive, We want to know whether there are sufficient men to attain any objective. We also desire to know what the political objects of the expedition are? It has been said over and over again by various people that the sole object of the Salonika Expedition is to attain certain political results. What are these political results? At the present time it is not clear that any political results can be achieved except results affecting the fate of some Ministries in other countries. The more important aspect of this expedition is the economic aspect. We know that there is a large force at Salonika which, in the main, is a British force. I will not attempt to go into the figures in this matter, but I think the figures are fairly well known. We know, in a general way, how many tons of shipping are removed from ordinary commercial work for the purpose of each man that is landed at Salonika. We know these things, and, knowing them, we can also calculate the loss to the available mercantile tonnage of this country by that expedition. Here is the situation. We have an expedition in regard to which nobody on the Treasury Bench will explain either the military or the political results which are to be achieved, and we know that, owing to this expedition, men, women, and children in this country are likely to go short of food in the course of this summer. That is the situation. Were these men not at Salonika there would be no shortage of mercantile tonnage. It is 409 quite true that we might still have the submarine menace, but there would be still a sufficient margin of tonnage available to prevent either a shortage of food or a shortage in supplies of munitions in this country. It is quite obvious to anybody who has any knowledge of the magnitude of the expedition that the loss of tonnage is sufficiently large to bring about the results which I have mentioned. You are weakening the power of this country to carry on the War to an extent far in excess of any military or political result which even by the widest stretch of imagination could possibly be achieved. That scorns to me to be the Salonika situation in a nutshell. That is not only my view. I know that private Members are pooh-poohed in reference to the matter. I remember in the month of March, nearly twelve months ago, making a speech on the subject very similar to what I am making to-day, when some Gentleman in Khaki suggested that I ought to be on the General Staff, and I was able to remind him that the General Staff took the same military view of this expedition as I did myself. That is an open secret.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Had the hon. Gentleman been told about it, it is probable he would have modified his views about the higher command.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That raises the question of the relative authority which should be allowed to purely military men and to the political direction in the case of warlike measures. If that matter is taken into consideration it can be understood very well that men may accept decisions which are contrary to their military judgment, as has been done constantly by both sides in this War. I am not going to confine myself to the particular question of Salonika. It is not the only aspect of our shipping trouble which, I think, gives rise to anxiety. A number of questions were also put on Wednesday in regard to the shipping matter, some by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith), others by private Members, which up to the present have received no answer. There was, indeed, a private notice question addressed to the Shipping Controller, I think, on Thursday, but the answer only gave us the most 410 vague generalities. My hon. Friend (Sir J. Walton) gave us information to-day which was of a more startling character than has yet come from any Minister on the Treasury Bench. He told us that the decision had been taken by the War Cabinet, that the whole authority in relation to the requisitioning of ships, both for the Army and for the Navy, was now transferred from the Admiralty to the Shipping Controller. I should like to ask if that is the case? We are entitled to an answer on this important matter of Government policy. It ought not to be announced to the House by a private Member, but it ought to come from some responsible Minister. I should certainly welcome the news. I think it would be an immense improvement in the actual interest that a practical shipowner of the knowledge, experience, and capacity of Sir Joseph Maclay should, instead of amateur Civil servants, have charge of the requisitioning and employment of our ships for military and naval purposes. I hope that we shall have an authoritative statement upon that question.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I should like to make an appeal to my hon. Friend to allow the Vote to be taken before Eleven o'clock. Since the outbreak of the War there has been no occasion when the Vote has taken more than one night. The Government therefore had no reason to anticipate that there would be any necessity to have a sufficient number of men to make it possible to move the Closure. I would remind my hon. Friend also that every suggestion which he is making now can be debated again on Wednesday on the Report stage of the Vote, and on Thursday on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Every one of the points he has raised can be answered then. I would remind him also that of course it is in his power, from the fact that the Government have taken no precautions, assuming the House was willing to give the same facilities as it has given in the past—to do a much greater injury to the Government in the prosecution of the War than would be done by voting against the Vote of Credit, by preventing the Vote of Credit from being taken to-night.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is an appeal addressed to me on an assumption which was quite unwarranted. I have given no indication whatever that I intended to talk out the Vote.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I hope my hon. Friend will not think that what I said in-plied that he had that intention. I was looking at the clock. There are only six minutes, and I appeal to him to allow us to have the Vote.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman might have given me the benefit of the doubt before I had shown my wicked intention. I know all the arts of obstruction in this House, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Gulland) will agree that I have I never talked out a Vote yet, whichever Government might be in power, and it is rather a weak way of taking it out of the Government for the time being. But the reason I have risen to put all these points is that many of these points have been put and we have had no answer from anyone. It is true we had one or two answers from the Leader of the House, and I am very much indebted to him, but what I want to know before the Debate closes is, shall we get an answer on Wednesday?
It is no good to tell me that we shall have an opportunity of discussion later. What is the use of discussion if the Government will not answer? That is not discussion. It is simply allowing a certain number of Members to carry on ineffective monologues. Are the Government going to reply? There are a few minutes left.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Certainly the Government will endeavour to reply to any questions such as those that have been put to me by my hon. Friend, where we think a reply can be given without endangering the public service.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am greatly indebted to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. I thank him for the assurance he has given. If he does not reply on Wednesday I will return to the charge. I shall expect him 412 to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. In view of that I shall certainly resume my seat.