HC Deb 14 February 1917 vol 90 cc717-35

I wish to direct the attention of the House for a very short time to what I consider to be a far more important subject than the one we have just been discussing, a subject which indeed is of vital importance and which lies at the root of the questions which occupy so large a space in our Debates in these days—I refer to the position of the mercantile marine. Questions have been addressed to the Government during the Debates which have taken place this Session, but up to the present only very inadequate answers have been given. In the House of Lords last night, however, we had a statement of considerable, importance on this subject, and I think it is only right that we here in the House of Commons should have an account of the situation and a statement of Government policy from one of the Ministers responsible.

I do not intend to ask my hon. Friend who represents the Shipping Controller any questions regarding the measures which are being adopted to deal with the submarine menace. Nobody would expect the Government to disclose the methods which they intend to apply. But we are satisfied to observe that those in the best position to speak are confident that the new methods of dealing with the submarines are likely to be attended with a considerable measure of success. There is one observation only I will make regarding this menace. It is that there has been too great a tendency on the part of the Government spokesmen to give figures tending to allay anxiety rather than to bring home to the public mind an accurate account of the facts as they are. I refer to one statement made by Lord Curzon in another place last night, in which he gave figures relating to the losses, not only by submarine but by other marine casualties since the beginning of the War, and he calculated that in respect of our ships whose tonnage exceeded 1,600 tons our losses amounted to only 6 per cent. I hold that, taking that basis of calculation, these figures tend to give a totally misleading account of the situation.

After all, there are many important ships under 1,600 tons which have a great value for the purpose of carrying cargo, and it is precisely those ships that have been most liable to submarine attacks. If you take exclusively ships exceeding 1,600 tons and calculate the loss percentage on the basis of those ships alone, the figure you arrive at is not one which gives a correct idea of our actual losses. The percentage should be taken in relation to all shipping actually available for civilian needs. In the same speech Lord Curzon indicated that at the present time only 25 per cent, of our shipping is available for that. Obviously 6 per cent, of the whole would represent 24 per cent. of the shipping actually available for the ordinary day-to-day needs of the nation, and I think that figure should have been the figure stated, because it brings home more truly the actual position.

The reference to the amount of shipping taken up exclusively for War Office and Admiralty purposes and for the purposes of our Allies leads me to put another question, and it is whether the new Government and the Shipping Controller have found it possible to obtain the release of any shipping which has hitherto been requisitioned for naval and military purposes. During the tenure of office of the late Government an announcement was made in this House that the former War Council had actually taken a decision to release, I think it was 200 ships from the service of the Army and Navy, so that they might be employed for commercial purposes. But it was indicated that that decision had never been carried out. I hope my hon. Friend will now be able to say that this is also the policy of the new Government. Further, I should like to know that it has not merely been adopted as a pious opinion, but that already some effect has been given to the resolution.

I am not going to ask any questions regarding the Salonika campaign. I believe our difficulties mainly arise at the present time from that campaign. If that campaign were not now going on there would not be any difficulty whatever in relation to the food supply of this country. But I think it is fair to ask whether the Government have found it possible to adopt any means for economising the use of tonnage in respect of that campaign. Also I think it is fair to ask whether it has been possible to effect any economy in the use of shipping for other naval and military purposes. There is no doubt that up till last month our shipping was being used uneconomically. I was told the other day of one ship which had been laid up in a French port for thirty days. I was told, too, of another vessel sent across the Atlantic to load steel at Philadelphia and then sent from there to Galveston to load hay. Surely, that was an uneconomical way of using the vessel. I was interested to read the statement made the other day by the hon. Member to the effect that a complete change of policy had been adopted by the Government, and that now the Shipping Controller was to have complete control of all ships which are requisitioned for naval and military purposes. I hope that this statement is accurate. I for one would certainly welcome such an announcement, because I believe that if all the shipping in the hands of the Army and Navy is put under the control of Sir Joseph Maclay we should have the best ground for believing there will be the greatest economy in the employment of it.

Yesterday in the House of Lords an announcement was made as to the measures which have been adopted, or are in contemplation, for an increase of cargo space by effecting changes in the vessels and making them available for more cargo. I wish to ask in regard to that whether the change in regard to cargo space is compulsory on all shipowners, whether it has already been applied, and if so, to how many vessels and in respect of how much tonnage is it in operation?

Then there is another question in which we are possibly still more interested, and that is the rate at which it will be possible to replace our losses. That involves an increase of shipbuilding. My hon. Friend made a general statement on this subject the other day, in which he told us that orders had been placed for standardised ships. But the most important thing in relation to this is not the placing of orders. We want to have some assurance that these orders can be expediti- ously carried out. They can only be expeditiously carried out if there is an increase in the number of men skilled in shipbuilding and in marine engineering, as well as an increase in material necessary for the construction of the vessels. I put a question whether men skilled in these trades have been released from the Army or whether efforts have been made to secure such skilled men in other ways? So far I have been unable to get any reply. But I have received letters which indicate that difficulties have been placed in the way of men skilled in these trades securing employment. I had a letter from a man in Kent, a skilled engineer with experience in the North, who had obtained exemption from military service at the instance of his present employers, ice manufacturers. He tells me he had appealed to them to release him because he had seen the appeals in the Press for men skilled in ship construction. He went to the local Labour Exchange, but was informed by the superintendent that skilled men were not now wanted as they were training men sufficiently fast, and those already skilled in marine engineering are not required at all. This man subsequently made an application to the Ministry of Munitions, and received a reply that there was at present no vacancy. When we hear despairing demands made for men skilled in engineering, is it not scandalous that such a thing as this should happen in connection with two public Departments?

I also had a letter with reference to a man taken into the Army. He was a skilled boiler-maker. He was placed in the Army Service Corps, and since being taken into the Army has only done one day's work at his trade. The worst feature of the case is that he has now received orders to be transferred to an Infantry battalion. Surely, when you have skilled men of that kind, and when at the same time you have appeals for such men, the obvious policy should be to release them at once from the Army. I am willing to place both these cases in the hands of my hon. Friend. They are indications that, however great may be the anxiety of the Department of the Shipping Controller and of the War Council in this matter, there are subordinate Departments of the Government which do not share that anxiety and which are, in fact, placing every obstacle they can in the way of carrying out measures so indispensable for our national security at the present time.


With the closing remarks of my hon. Friend who has just spoken I quite agree. It is most essential, if we are going to accelerate shipbuilding, that we should endeavour, as far as possible, to transfer a very large number of men to our shipbuilding yards. I was very much surprised to read the statement made by my hon. Friend who represents the Shipping Controller, that so many thousand tons had been added to our tonnage by our shipbuilding yards within recent times. I would like to point out it takes four or five months to build a ship and to bring it into use. I represent a shipbuilding town, and I know from conversations with our shipbuilders, that there is a great scarcity of labour. They are working as hard as they can upon merchant ships now, and it is most essential, in my opinion, if you are going to increase the production of tonnage, that you must try to find every available man, not only for shipbuilding but for your steel works that manufacture plates and angles and also for the engineering works which manufacture the marine engines. I do not altogether agree with the kind of speeches which are delivered here from time to time. I have never said so, but I have always thought that the speeches delivered here from time to time do create a certain alarm in the country and also encourage the Germans, to do what they are doing. I should like to state two very prominent facts to the House. It is a very remarkable thing that last year, with all our discouragements in regard to shipping, there were 65,000,000 tons of shipping came into and went out of this country. There was a reduction certainly of the tonnage in comparison with the pre-war year, but it is a very remarkable thing, and one that this nation ought to be proud of, that such an enormous amount of shipping came into and went out of the country last year. The other point I should like to mention is this, that last year we imported within 5,000,000 cwts. as much wheat as we did in 1913. We imported in 1913, 105,000,000 cwts., and last year we imported 100,000,000 cwts. of wheat. This gives an indication that there is not this great strain or the need for this great alarm which is now creating such a sensation in the country. If Germany is under the impression that we are starving, she is going to torpedo all the ships she can.


Cannot she do that in any case?


If we shout in this country more than is necessary, I am certain that Germany will continue to increase her activity in that direction, Another fact is this, that last year, although the price of goods certainly was very much higher on percentage, we imported and exported the largest quantity of goods in value. We imported and exported not less than £1,550,000,000 last year, the largest in value upon record in this country. I am sorry I am taking the positon of the hon. Member who is now in charge of the shipping control (Sir Leo Chiozza Money) because if he were a free Member he would most certainly cite these figures to the House—that is to say, that although there is need for activity on he part of this country in every department, on the other hand, I think we ought to inform the world at large and this counry that while this great activity is taking place in destroying our merchant ships we did carry last year an enormous amount of goods, and that in itself ought to give us some encouragement.


The task of eplying to my hon. Friends has been lightened for me in advance by the exceedingly important and interesting speeches that were delivered by Lord Curzon ad Lord Lytton in another place yesterday. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is inclined to be optimistic.


No; I am not optimistic.


Well, rather thought you put it that if I were still a free Member of this House I should not hesitate to put before it figures showing that we had last year, and indeed he might have said last month, imported into this country an enormous weight of commodities. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Pringle), on the other hand, thinks that the country should be put in full possession of what he feels to be the seriousness of the situation.


This year, not last year.


I am speaking both of last year and the present year. It seems to me that this is a matter in which it is exceedingly difficult so to maintain the balance as at one and the same time to counsel our people that they must be careful, that they must economise, that they must have regard to every article that they use that is imported, while, on the other hand, saying in the clearest possible terms that there is no cause for despair, no cause for alarm, or no cause for panic. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Controller of Shipping deems it to be his duty to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That is what we are endeavouring to do at the Ministry of Shipping day by day, and I can truly say hour by hour, from early morning till late at light. My hon. Friend behind me made some references to the speech of my Noble Friend Lord Curzon in another place yesterday, and I rather think his criticism of that speech was that my Noble Friend, in giing figures with regard to those ships of 1,600 tons and over only, was giving rather an optimistic view of the situation. On that point I am compelled to join issue with my hon. Friend. Unfortunately I have not with me here—I wish I had—the figures for the whole of our losses, or of the shipping of the British Empire, but I an assure him in general terms that if I had he would find that the proportion of losses was no greater, when one took account of all the ships, than when one tok account only of those ships to which lord Curzon specially referred. The citicism might, indeed, have been rather te other way, namely, that Lord Curzon, i giving these larger ships only, did other an injustice than a justice to the optimistic side of the case.

My hon. Friend also referred to a statement which was made by Lord Curzon, and I am glad he did so, to the effect that some 25 per cent, of our shipping, and hat alone, was engaged in the direct service of the people of this country. That statement has been rather misunderstood. The 75 per cent., I can assure my hon. Friend, includes very large portions indeed of service to this country, apart from naval and military service. I do not want to weary the House with figures, but if I name only one or two things which are included in the 75 per cent., the House will see that it is not true that three-fourths of our shipping are mortgaged to military and naval purposes only. For example, take such things as ore, wheat, and sugar, which are essential supplies for our population. These three things alone account for nearly 12 per cent, out of the 75 per cent, to which Lord Curzon referred. I do not want now to weary the House by giving every detail, but I will give them the general assurance that the 25 per cent, of shipping in the service of this country referred to what I call miscellaneous services, and in addition to this some of the other services of the ordinary population are included in the 75 per cent. If I have made that clear, I will pass on to some of the particular questions asked by my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle). He asked specifically if the Minister of Shipping had found it possible to release any vessels taken for naval or military purposes. If I were merely to say here that the number of vessels directly used for naval and military purposes had not decreased, that would not give a proper view of the economy that has been effected. I may assure my hon. Friend that economy has been effected, yet I cannot couple that statement with the further statement that a smaller number of vessels is now in the service of the Army and Navy, because, as the House well knows, this year of special effort must necessarily mortgage a very considerable portion of our shipping in connection with these special efforts which are being made, as everybody in this House is well aware. But while that is true, it is also true that economy has been effected; and economy will proceed. I will, if I may, pass at once to the central question that was asked by my hon. Friend, as to whether the Controller of Shipping has any real, effective, and complete control over the mercantile marine tonnage, and the answer to that is almost without qualification in the affirmative. I say almost without qualification, because necessarily for military purposes ships must be handed to the military or naval authorities.


Dual control?


Yes; but we are in actual control of those ships. That is to say, they are used with our knowledge, and, as it were, if I may call it, with our consent. Of course, it is a matter of good will between the different Departments, and that good will. I am happy to say, exists, and will continue to exist, and as long as it does exist there cannot be any real difficulty with regard to what I may call the connecting link between the Ministry of Shipping on the one hand and the Admiralty on the other. The Minister of Shipping knows that certain ships are being used, for example, as colliers, and he has power, and indeed authority, to satisfy himself that those colliers are being properly used, but there, of course, his authority ends. The Admiralty alone can in actual employment use these colliers. I hope I have made that point clear. My hon. Friend referred to the Salonika Expedition. I am sure he will not expect me on this occasion to debate the pros and cons of that Expedition, but, as has been stated, I think in both Houses, arrangements have been made to utilise more land transport in connection with the Salonika Expedition. From that factor we expect some results, but it is quite impossible for me now to state in more precise terms what those results will be.

Of course, as the House is aware, when the Ministry of Shipping was formed, my right hon. Friend the Controller found existing a considerable number of bodies, committees, and so on, which had been framed, and very properly framed, by the late Government in order to deal with different phases of this great problem. All these threads are being drawn together under the Ministry of Shipping, and I hope it will be true to say that in a very short space of time we shall have drawn them together, and that we shall then be able to grapple with the whole problem with a proper organisation. We have been handicapped in this matter, because we have been worse housed, if that is possible, than any other Ministry of the Government. We are not so fortunate as to possess a gilded hotel. Nevertheless, we do hope now that within a few days we shall take up our residence in a modest and unassuming building which is not inappropriately situated, where water used to run, in St. James' Park.


Can the hon. Gentleman say if Mr. Macassey will be under the Shipping Controller?

8.0 p.m.


As I explained in the House, the other day, Mr. Lynden Macassey, of whose services I cannot speak too highly, is primarily under the Admiralty, but there is a connecting link between his organisation and the Ministry of Shipping, and that connecting link, I hope, will be completely forged within the next few days. I pass from that to a matter of smaller detail. My hon. Friend referred to the question of shelter-decks. Of course nothing has been done in this connection, which is new. That is to say, before the existence of a Shipping Controller any shipowner could utilise the space afforded by a sheltered deck for cargo purposes, and if he did so he could claim an alteration of his load line, but, after consultation with the various experts—and they were freely and properly consulted in this matter— it was decided to make compulsory the use of these spaces, not in all cases, but in every appropriate case. It is compulsory, but if any shipowner thinks it inadvisable, for technical reasons, his case will be considered on its merits. I hope this will satisfy my hon Friends on this occasion.


Will the hon. Gentleman make this a little more clear?


I will endeavour to repeat it is general terms. The matter is compulsory, but in regard to any particular vessel a shipowner thinks it inadvisable for technical reasons, then that case will receive consideration on its merits. That is what I am authorised to say. I have dealt with the general control of shipping. I will pass to the question of shipping construction. I have already made one or two brief statements in the House on this subject. I can do very little more than repeat what I have already said, but I should like to point this out, that while our programme of new construction is, it is true to say, a large one, if it is not larger than it is that is a matter of congratulation to the House for this reason. A very large amount of tonnage is already under construction, and I should like in this connection, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the ex-President of the Board of Trade—and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Shipping Controller would like me to do so—to pay a tribute to the work he did in that connection before he left office. That is to say, we found a considerable amount of new construction proceeding. The larger that amount, the smaller of course our immediate new programme. We are accelerating every suitable vessel by every means in our power, and we are retarding the construction of any vessel which does not, in our opinion, well serve the national interests at this time. For example, your passenger liner is put back, while your tramp is put forward. If we have been able to accelerate the acceleration which was already in progress when we came into office, it is because my right hon Friend the Shipping Controller has nothing else to think of, whereas my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) had many other things to think of as well. Surely, therefore, there is something to be said for the formation of a Ministry of Shipping, if it has to be said. Now, with regard to new construction, it is true to say that a considerable programme is now actually in progress. A very large amount of tonnage has actually been ordered.

With regard to labour, I will clear, if I may, one misapprehension. I have noticed that many things have been said of late. There appears to be a conception abroad that there is less labour now in shipyards than there was at the end of 1914. That is completely illusory. The loss of labour in shipyards, as in engine works and steel works, occurred in the early months of the War, because we asked for volunteers, and what naturally took place was that the best men first came forward, so that we lost in those early months of the War in shipyards and other essential industries men who can never be wholly replaced. But there have been released from the Colours a number of them—not all of them; I wish that were possible—and we have added others, so that at the moment, the House will be interested to know, the official estimate is that there are 14,000 more men now working in our shipyards than when war broke out. So it is quite an illusion to say, as I have seen it said so often in some organs of the Press, that so many men have been withdrawn from shipyards when they ought to have been employed on essential work. As my hon. Friend pointed out, not only labour, but material was concerned in this all-important matter. Of course there are limitations, but everything is being done that can possibly be done to make good.

I hope in these brief remarks I have said enough to satisfy my hon. Friends that the work is going on, but, as I said at the beginning, while we hope for the best, we are prepared for the worst. I do not think I ought to sit down without in this connection paying a tremendous tribute to the men of the mercantile marine. Day by day, as the anecdotes reach one from the High Seas, where the enemy advertise premeditated crimes, one is filled with increasing admiration for the men who are now suffering so many tribulations on our ships. May I just relate to the House the latest story that has reached me? It was told me only this afternoon. It is the case of the "Vedamore." She was sunk a few days ago by the enemy. Only twenty-four of the crew were saved out of forty. The saved members of the crew, as is so often the case in these stories, had to take to open boats in bitter weather. Many of them had hardly a rag upon their backs, and they were exposed in these open boats for ten hours. On landing they came to London. What did they do? The first thing they did was to go to the offices of the owners and engage to go to sea again —to go back to the dangers. What they felt was that they must get back to sea at once. That is a story which rejoices one's heart to tell, and it is a fair sample of what is now happening from month to month, week to week, and day to day in connection with the mercantile marine. So far as the men are concerned the policy of terrorism has entirely failed. As for the problem in general, I will not at this moment be tempted to try a prophecy. It may be we shall have to face—we probably shall have to face—new dangers. All we can do is to exert the maximum effort. If we do that we shall feel that whatever happens we shall have nothing with which to reproach ourselves.


I am sure the whole House must have listened with satisfaction to the statement of the hon. Member, and everybody must feel touched profoundly and moved to admiration by the story he told us of the bravery of our mercantile seamen. As the Debate seems likely to come to an end earlier than was expected, I venture to add a few words on the subject of the alien which was under discussion about an hour ago, when I had not the opportunity of adding a few remarks to the discussion. I want to put in a plea here to-night on behalf of the alien enemies in our great City of London, especially who are alien enemies only in name. A large number of young English women who had married German men, at the outbreak of war suddenly found themselves become enemies to their own country, out of which they have never been. They found themselves associated with an enemy land which they had never entered, and not one word of its language were they able to speak; but yet bearing alien names and branded as alien enemies, they have been suffering, though English women, for two and a half years the restrictions and the hardships of the alien enemies within our gates. Tender children, unable to understand the conditions of life under which they live, are branded as alien enemies and help to swell the numbers of 20,000 or more in this city who are represented by the hon. Member for Brentford as being a danger to this country.

I wish to bring to the notice of the House the very hard conditions under which these women are placed, who are English by birth, in language, in sympathy and in everything except technical nationality in name. They have exhausted in most cases all their property, and they are living on a feeble and insufficient pittance, which comes to them through the Poor Law officers. They are not only branded as aliens, but they are branded as paupers. One or two of my lady friends are at the present time visiting these women and children in London. I hear most pitiable and harassing stories of their lot. There was a case recited to me of a young and attractive but uncultured woman who was in dire poverty. She has two young children. The guardians allow her 12s. 6d. a week. If she goes out to any employment and earns 5s., 10s., or 15s. per week, a corresponding amount is deducted by the guardians, the object, of course, being to keep this young woman in a condition, and on a level, of life which I think cruel and heartless in the extreme. I am glad to say that the President of the Local Government Board is considering these cases. I believe that the sense of chivalry which still exists in this country for our own women and children—for they are that—will prevail. Nothing in technical law or legal status can deprive them of being British in the whole of their nature, sympathy, and sentiment. I feel sure that that sense of chivalry to which I have just referred will support the Local Government Board if in its wisdom, and after taking counsel with the Treasury, it is enabled to increase the allowance of these suffering people.

I am pleased to see the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General in their places. Their presence leads me to add a few words on friendly aliens. We have a very large number of friendly aliens, Russian Jews especially, in the East End of London. They number between 20,000 and 30,000. Legislation, it is stated, is contemplated, and certainly applications to the Law Courts are being made with the view to the deportation of these people to their own country. The law, as it is laid down at present, is that an order for deportation may be made under the Defence of the Realm Act and the Aliens-Restriction Order, but in that Order it cannot be specified that the deportee must go to any particular country. Assume that I am a Russian Jew, and that the Government, for some reason or another, wants me to depart from this country. Alien Russian Jew though I may be, I have a perfect right to choose to go to the United States or to France, and the Government has absolutely no right against my will to send me back to Russia. There are a great number of Russian subjects at the present time in our midst. Most of them are engaged in trades of national importance. Many thousands are making uniforms and clothing for our troops. The great wood-working industry of the East End of London, which makes the most of the packing cases for the ammunition and stores which go to the front, is almost entirely in the hands of Jews, mostly Russian Jews. To interfere with this would be a very unfortunate thing. Yet the "hue-and-cry" has gone out against aliens of all kinds, and I am afraid the popular clamour is endangering their position and is endangering really the very excellent service which they are rendering to the State.

I want very earnestly to plead with the Government for an agreement on this subject with the Russian Government. I ask the Government very earnestly not to deport these Russian Jews back to Russia. Certainly let them be asked to undertake national service here. Let any powers that the Russian Government can depute to the British Government for their subjects here be taken so that the services of these men may be utilised to the full. I would, however, warn the Government, I would implore the Government, not to proceed with the policy of endeavouring to deport these Russian Jews back to Russia. There are shipping difficulties in the way. It is not a practical policy. I am told that there are several thousand prisoners in Germany who might be brought home if shipping were available. If there is a difficulty then in bringing 4,000 men across the North Sea, how are you going to take 20,000 or 30,000 men from London not only across the North Sea, but across the White Sea to Archangel—a very much more serious matter so far as shipping is concerned? The real fact of the matter is this, that the majority of Russian subjects in the East End of London and in Leeds, Salford, and Manchester are mostly employed in useful occupations of national value. Most of them are Russian Jews, to a large extent from Poland. They have fled here from Belgium, France, and Holland, because their homes were in danger of desolation by the enemy. They have since been desolated or occupied by the enemy. Therefore it does seem wrong to send back to their own country men who have been forced here by the hardest circumstances of the War and to whom, when they came, we opened our arms to welcome.

Moreover, it must not be denied that at the present time the position of any Jewish person in Russia is one of serious menace and difficulty. I have not a word to say against the high-minded and leading men in the Russian Government or the enlightened, liberal and just-minded men who are so numerous in the upper and ruling classes of that country. Neither have I a word to say against the mass or I the working people who are generous and I tolerant, like all the poor, and ready to put up with one another. There are certain sections of Russian society, and especially the lower officials of the governmental police, who have for more than a generation made it an habitual practice to persecute, plunder, rob, and actually threaten the Jews with death and suffering. This is a very serious matter which has been constantly referred to in this House. I will go back to 1905, when the Aliens Act was before the House, when Amendments wore actually introduced into the Aliens Bill to meet the case of the persecuted Russian Jew. One Member who was prominent on that occasion pressing for an Amendment which was introduced was the late Prime Minister the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). Another Member who spoke with great eloquence and feeling upon this subject was the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), and they both pressed for the extension of the Aliens Bill in the direction that the particular case of the persecuted Russian Jew should be so included that they might come to those shores and not be in danger of being deported again either to their own country or elsewhere.

It is significant that the Government, in response to this appeal, inserted an Amendment in the Bill which made a special exemption from the Aliens Act of any immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on reli- gious or political ground or offences of a political character involving imprisonment or danger to life or limb on account of religious belief. Those words were actually inserted in the Aliens Act, and they entirely and exactly cover the case of the great majority of the Russian Jews now in the East End. More than 90 per cent, of those Jews have come here as the victims of persecution, and because they have been in danger of actual injury to life or limb. But the matter did not rest there. Following on that there was an outbreak of what was known as pogroms. If any hon. Member will look at "The Times" of 9th November, 1905. he will find a very spirited and noble protest there against the outrages on Jews in Russia, not only by Lord Rothschild, but by Sir Samuel Montagu, the father of the late Minister of Munitions. In the course of that protest these Gentlemen wrote: The Jews have Again become the victims of outrages to which there is probably no parallel. Savagery has characterised the attitude of the ferocious mobs who have been excited by official protectors of life and property to perpetrate their work of murder and mutilation. A few days afterwards expressions of sympathy were sent by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, who was then the Member for WestBirmingham, and from the Prime Minister, who is now the Foreign Secretary of this country, in which the right hon. Gentle man said: Speaking for the Government—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

How docs the hon. Member connect all this with the Vote of Credit. It seems to me that it is purely historical in the first place, and, secondly, it is not connected with any action taken on the Vote of Credit.


I have endeavoured to show that an announcement was made yesterday that an agreement is in course of consideration at the present moment by the Government with the Russian Government upon action that is to be taken with regard to these Russian Jews now in our midst, and in connection with this it is the development of the policy which was repeatedly announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. Herbert Samuel) that he proposed to deport those Russian Jews of military age who were unwilling to enlist in our Army back to Russia. I am trying to show that it is not only impracticable to do so because of the lack of ships, but it would be unjust because it would be against the express policy of Ministers who are now in power.


But did the hon. Member not himself say that it would require an alteration of the law?


On the contrary, I said it would only require the agreement of the Government which they are now considering, and which it is proposed to enter into with the Russian Government.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)

Surely the hon. Member said in terms, and quite rightly, that under the decisions of the Courts, as the law stands, these persons cannot be deported to Russia. The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and a change of the law is quite necessary.


Is the Government going to sit down under that declaration of the law?


That is quite another matter.


That is not the point. The hon. Member said that what he desired was an alteration of the law to make it possible to carry out the policy which he proposes. The time to discuss that matter is when legislation is proposed, and not upon a Vote of Credit which is concerned with the administration of the present law.


This matter is really very complicated by the fact that the Government have actually deported a considerable number to Russia, in spite of their protest, but it is only one or two men in a dozen who can appeal to the Courts. As a matter of fact a number of men have actually been deported, whereas only in the case of one Gentleman, who was not a Russian but a French Jew, has an action been taken, and that is the case which is now under decision. It does not, however, really affect the question what the law is now, but what the Government is actually doing, and repeatedly doing, under their Orders in Council. They have in scores of cases sent these men back to Russia. It is not a question of what might happen in the case of a man who has £30 or £40 with which to appeal, but what is actually happening in the case of scores of men who have not the power of appeal. I think I have shown how the case stands, and I hope you will allow me to bring my remarks to a close as quickly as I can.


The subject is out of order and cannot be pursued.


I will not say anything more on this subject, except that the Government is now considering an agreement with the Russian Government on the subject of the treatment of aliens in this country. I want to call the attention of the House to a fact which is perhaps not very well known. It is that our gallant French Allies have just considered this matter in the Chamber of Deputies. Only this month the whole question of what action should be taken in connection with the alien friends in France who had not joined the French Army was debated at considerable length, and by a majority of 325 against 124, the proposal to compel friendly aliens of military age into service, either in France or in any other country, was defeated. That has been done in the French Parliament by a majority of nearly three to one. The subject is of longer standing in France than here, and the question is more acute there, because the French people have given of their young men something like, I think, one in five of the male population, while we have only given one in every six or seven. Therefore, the claim of the French to enlist every possible man within their gates is far more pressing than in our case. I hope, in view of the decision of the French Chamber, that before the British Government makes any agreement with Russia it will find out the attitude and the reason for the attitude of the French Government. The British people and the French people are the two great democratic peoples and Governments of Europe, and in a matter like this, and in all matters of great national policy, our object ought to be to stand side by side and march step by step with the great French people. This Parliament would do well, in a matter like this, and our Government would do well to follow the lead of the French Government and the French Parliament. I hope I have put ray points so clearly as to justify the attitude I have taken up. I have no doubt that the Attorney-General, whom I thank very much for the attention which he has given to my few remarks, will have very considerable influence in the drawing up of any agreement that is made with the Russian Government, and I venture to hope, in view of his kind attention, that my observations will have, at any rate, some slight consideration when the matter is dealt with.

Question put, and agreed to.