§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
We have had a somewhat technical, but very interesting Debate on a subject which greatly interests many Members of this House, and their constituents in Yorkshire and parts of Lancashire. The only contribution I would make to that discussion would be that when Governments begin to interfere in markets they cause merchants a certain amount of trepidation, and very often interfere with the supply. I happen to be a wool merchant in a small way. The South American wool, which my firm buys, can come over to England or go to New York. Under the present conditions, with the Government in and out of the market, I candidly have been afraid to bring the wool here. Although I could have brought it here at the same cost, I have been obliged, owing to the uncertainty, to send it to New York. That condition must apply to a great many people, and cannot but be adverse to the wool manufacturers, because you have a less assortment of wool from which to buy.
I make no apologies to the House for rising principally to raise another subject, that is in connection with the submarine peril and the great menace which at present exists to our shipping, to our food supplies, and to other interests in this country. Yesterday we had the advantage of reading a very interesting Debate on this subject which occurred in another place. I am bound to say that the impression made upon my mind, after reading that Debate, and especially the speech of Lord Curzon, was that there was a minimising of the danger, which, I think, is dangerous to the country. Observe, for a moment, the treatment of the figures by Lord Curzon. He pointed out to the House of Lords that in the thirty months of this War there had been a diminution in the British registered tonnage of vessels over 1,600 tons register of only 5 or 6 per cent. When the country realises and when this House remembers that of the British ships over 1,600 tons register the great bulk are used for naval 867 and military purposes, and, further, when it is remembered that of the residue a large number is employed in local services abroad and are not available for bringing commodities to this country—such services as the coasting trade of Australia, New Zealand, South America, India and China—boats which are unsuited, even if they could be removed from those trades, for food ships, when they are deducted and the vessels used by the Army and the Navy for military and naval purposes are deducted, then we are left with the fact that of the residue it is not 5 or 6 per cent, of which we are short, but a very much larger percentage. I speak, of course, of the residue of ships available for merchandise and available for food, outside those used for purely naval and military purposes, that is for all the other requirements of the country. The percentage is very much greater than a diminution of 5 or 6 per cent. Indeed, that use of figures in the House of Lords is entirely misleading to the country and gives a wrong impression of the present conditions.
The losses by submarines and mines in the month of December have been published in the papers and have been put down at 400,000 tons. That, I understand, to be the gross registered tonnage. I believe that the figures in January were somewhat more than that. Lord Beresford, in another place, gave the figure of 105,000 tons of British tonnage which he said had been lost in the last seven days before he spoke. In order not to exaggerate this matter, let us not take Lord Charles Beresford's figure or the figures for January. Let us take the figures for December, which I believe are admitted—400,000. These are gross registered tons, and to that extent they convey a misleading idea, because gross registered tonnage does not represent the cargo-carrying capacity of a steamer. You must add to that something which may be taken arbitrarily at 40 per cent. Some steamers will carry 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, more, and some less than the 40 per cent, more, and in arriving at the 40 per cent. I am deducting the bunker space. I am taking only the cargo which she will carry. If we add to this 400,000 tons gross 40 per cent, you get a cargo-carrying capacity of 560,000 tons. If an equal rate of loss occurs over the whole year, you have a loss of tonnage of 6,720,000 tons carrying capacity. But that is not all, because every steamer makes more than 868 one voyage in a year. It may be said that steamers can make five voyages a year, but I take it at four and a half. A steamer that goes to New York will make more. A steamer that goes to Australia will make hardly as much, but taking one with another, four and a half voyages a year, I think, is not an unfair estimate. At four and a half voyages a year the loss of tonnage will equal 30,250,000 tons of cargo-carrying capacity per annum. That is a very different view of the subject from telling the country that in thirty months of war we have only lost 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, of our tonnage. On the basis of the other figures to which I have alluded, of course, the losses will be still greater. These last, it is true, are vessels of all nationalities, but, after all, does that make any difference to us? At present we are more dependent on neutral ships for bringing the commodities and merchandise we need than on our own vessels, the bulk of which are engaged in Government service.
Three remedies for this state of matters have been suggested. The first is the destruction of the submarines which cause this great loss and danger. It was with great satisfaction that the country read that steps are being taken to combat the evil, and that new devices have been adopted, which promise to give great success, and I join with the speaker in the House of Lords in congratulating those in charge of the matter at the Admiralty on the success they have so far achieved. I hope it will be still greater in the future than in the past; but I am afraid the Admiralty have not up till now always welcomed, with that avidity that one would like to have seen, the assistance of people who have come to them, or wish to come to them, with devices and new ideas for combatting this evil. I happen to know of one or two cases in which men, not people of no position, not people who have some wild idea in their heads, but people of repute, have gone to the Admiralty with well thought out schemes and ideas and have found weeks of delay before they could get the thing seriously taken up. In war-time, at any time during the past year, that such a thing should take place deserves inquiry. I hope it is not occurring at present, but I believe it has occurred.
These devices and new steps which are being taken are one way of dealing with the subject of destruction. Another way is the arming of cargo ships. I should like 869 to ask the representatives of the Admiralty why they have not given this matter of the arming of our cargo ships more attention at an earlier date. I understand that some ships have been armed for some time—certain picked vessels, mostly high-class vessels—but so scarce have the guns been that as soon the vessel got to Gibraltar, at a time when the Mediterranean was safer, and to Port Said more recently, the guns have been hustled off the ship as quickly as possible in order to be used for another vessel which was coming this way. Similarly, when ships have gone to a port in this country, to stay only for a week or ten days, so scarce have the guns been that the gun has been taken off one ship and put on to another, so that she may have a gun to go out with. That is a very good thing to do in an emergency, but why should there have been an emergency of that sort? Giving credit to the Admiralty for the foresight which they ought to possess, and the foreknowledge of what was doing in the way of building submarines in Germany, which they certainly possess if anyone does, they ought to have provided more guns for merchant ships at a much earlier date.
With regard to gunners, are there enough; and, moreover, what is the Admiralty doing to train more? It is one of the most highly important matters to have gunners. I heard of a steamer the other day, mounted with a gun, and a submarine rose in her neighbourhood and fired a shot which narrowly missed the bridge. It fired another which narrowly missed the gun on the stern. Then the gun got to work, fired a shot at the submarine which went ever so far beyond her, and then fired another which only went half-way to her, and then she dived without being struck. Of course, we cannot always hit the object we aim at even when the sea is calm, as it was on this occasion, but it points to the necessity of training the gunners. I hope the Admiralty is providing a sufficient supply of trained gunners for the ships they are now going to arm. We have been told publicly, although I do not know whether it is true or not that the Germans are now turning out three submarines a week. Many times the Admiralty has been asked how many submarines we are really destroying. So far as I know, we have never had a definite figure. I believe it is difficult to give a definite figure. It is quite possible to think you have sunk a submarine, when it dives, when in reality you have missed it altogether. It is also 870 possible that you have destroyed a submarine without knowing it. Consequently there would be a certain amount of guesswork as to the numbers; but there is no doubt the Admiralty has an idea how many have been destroyed—a pretty close approximation to the facts, no doubt. I should like to know, and I ask the Admiralty to tell us, are we destroying more than the Germans are building or fewer? Is the evil getting greater or have we mastered it and is it getting less?
There is another way of maintaining our food supplies beside the destruction of submarines, and that is keeping up the supply of tonnage and increasing it. There must, of course, be economy in the use of tonnage. I would call attention to these numerous expeditions which we have in the minor theatres of war, the expeditions in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Salonika. I should be the last person to attempt to pass judgment on the need for every one of these expeditions I should not feel myself competent to express an opinion on all four of them, but it is right to call attention to what it means in shipping. It means an immense number of vessels, far beyond what the ordinary man in the street realises. In connection with the comparatively small expedition to Mesopotamia, 430 ships in something like fifteen months entered the port of Basra; and not only is it the number of ships that take the troops for these expeditions, but it is the number of ships that are required to maintain supplies for the troops when they are there—the ammunition and food and the thousand and one things which an army nowadays requires. Then when you have got all these expeditions going, certain vessels are placed at the disposal of the military authorities for the use of the expedition. They are then lost to sight for all practical purposes, and lost to the country's needs, except in connection with that one expedition. They go off to these distant places, but as to looking after their dispatch, rapid unloading and rapid turning round and sending off on another voyage, I do not know whether the Shipping Controller is going to look after it or not. I asked the Leader of the House when the Bill for the creation of the office was first introduced, and I got a somewhat indefinite answer. I know of no result so far. I do not know what the dispatch is at Salonika, but I am told it is not very good. I do not know what it is in Egypt, but for 871 the last six months of 1916 the average delay of vessels at Basra was, in July, thirty days, and after six months it had improved to the extent that in December a ship was on average still twenty days in port. These vessels are not great Atlantic liners, but 3,000 tonners; and they do not go in and discharge cargo and load another afterwards. They take nothing out. This tonnage is urgently needed, but it is kept in ports by mismanagement and misuse. I do not know whether the Controller of Shipping is going to have any power in the matter or not. I am very much afraid he is not. It seems difficult that he should have in one way, because he has no representative out there; therefore, it is in the hands of the military who are in control of the expeditions. I hope it is no disservice to the Government to call attention to this matter so that they may be urged to do their best to improve the dispatch.
I should like to refer to the Shipping Controller, and one improvement which he has recently effected. There are delays, of course, not only where these expediditions go, but also in France and in this country. The delays in France have been abnormal and have been of very considerable length, and there has been a certain waste of our carrying capacity by that delay. I have no doubt that the matter has now received attention, and that what is possible is being done. I hope so. In England the dispatch is a good deal better, and the step I refer to, and on which I wish to congratulate the Department, is that they have appointed certain stevedores, men with experience of dispatching, discharging, and loading vessels, to advise and help them either in the Shipping Controller's office or in the Admiralty. Whenever there is a complaint of delay in dispatch it goes to the stevedore, who sees the people, goes if necessary to the spot, and tries to remedy the evil. It is a good move, and having often criticised the Transport Department of the Admiralty, I am glad to recognise it.
We speak of making the best use of our tonnage. Has full consideration been given to every way in which there might be a saving? We have great expeditions in Salonika, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Supplies of all sorts are required for those expeditions, and many of those supplies come from the United 872 States of America. What happens to-day? You buy, it may be, tinned meat in Oregon, or salmon from Alaska, or timber from the Pacific coast. This is sent across the Continent to New York which means great expense. Then it is shipped to Great Britain, and runs the risk of submarine attack. After it has come to Great Britain it is again shipped and again runs risk from submarines in going through the Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean in order to get to Mesopotamia or Salonika. Why could these supplies not be shipped in neutral ships from the Pacific coast direct to the place of destination. There are many neutral ships that would take that voyage which will not run the risk of crossing the Atlantic. Ships could be got under the American flag, or otherwise, to do that voyage, but the answer is, "We have not a whole cargo ready at one time." If that is the answer, all I can say is that the authorities might devise means of accumulating cargo. Moreover, there are many goods that you buy in the middle West which you could send to be shipped at San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver, instead of sending them to New York to be brought to this country, and then reshipped to the place of destination, thereby running the risk of the submarine danger twice. By going the other way, they would escape the danger. If you were to take a step of that sort, and it proved practicable, then you have this advantage that you get neutral shipping to do part of your work and you have your British shipping available to do the dangerous work which is absolutely essential in bringing food for this country from New York. There is another suggestion which I should like to make. You bring a great many things—such as oats from Chile, nitrate from Chile, and other commodities from South America—and you have a certain amount of difficulty in getting ships which are not requisitioned, and are not British, to come here because of the danger. You could get large numbers of neutral ships which would willingly carry these commodities to some neutral port—it may be Panama, some of the West Indian islands, or it may be New York. In that way you could use some of these neutral ships for that part of the voyage which is not dangerous, and which they would willingly undertake, and save British ships for the dangerous part of the voyage. Of course, 873 that would be expensive. It does not improve goods to be twice handled, but if we are to be in a state of rations of food in this country, we have to do many things which are not commercially profitable.
Another way of combating this evil is to build more ships. Are the vacant slips in this country all occupied? I am afraid that none but those inside the circle can answer this question. But the Admiralty can. I would like to ask the Admiralty what they are doing about slips that are occupied with vessels on which they are not allowing work to be done? There are, I understand, slips on which there are passenger vessels half built and other special types of vessels, and these, unless you are putting down new slips, are so much deadweight. They are blocking the way and taking up slips that might be used in building the kind of vessels which we now want. I would like to know what control the Shipping Controller has over labour in the shipyards, in the rolling mills where sheets and other parts of the vessel are produced, and in the engine builders' works. If the Shipping Controller has no control there, it seems to me that lie is in a very weak position. I understand that there is more labour in the shipbuilding yards just now than there was some time ago, after the beginning of the War. Although there is this increase there is considerable difficulty in the works where they build the engines and in the steel works where they provide the plates. If the Shipping Controller is in the position that I rather fear he is in, it seems to me that it is going to be something like this—he has got a works to build engines, but that works is under the control of the Admiralty, and is also doing work for the Ministry of Munitions. Then comes along the Shipping Controller, and he has a demand to make. The reply may be, "Oh, it is only for a merchant ship; it is only for a cargo vessel," and the game of grab goes on. The Admiralty, which always seems to get the best of it, says, "Oh, you must stop that work; you must go on with our work." The Minister of Munitions says something of the same sort, and unless the Shipping Controller has much more power than I think he has, he is going to find himself the last of the three. This is a very vital question, because if the Shipping Controller is going to be the last of the three, and if there is not going to be co- 874 operation, equal terms, and equal rights in this matter, then the country is going to be left in a very bad position as regards the supply of merchant tonnage to replace those ships which are being rapidly sunk.
We have read in the papers a good deal about standard ships. It is a very good move that the Government should have taken in hand the building of ships to replace those which have been sunk, at any rate to some extent. Of course, the circumstances are abnormal. I do not think I should stand here to advocate the Government building cargo ships in time of peace, but in time of war, and in the circumstances in which we are placed, and knowing that a private individual has no chance of getting anything done quickly, it is a good thing that the Government should come forward and order these ships. But in deciding to build standard ships on hard and fast lines is the Government really doing the most economical thing? There are many shipbuilders who have been in the habit of building tramp ships. They have got a model already of some successful ship they have built; they have the templates for the different parts of the ship, and they have the engine builders with whom they deal, who have built suitable engines for that ship—of a suitable size and fit, as it were. Then comes along the Government to this shipbuilder and says, "Build us two standard ships. Here is the design. You have to follow this design. These are the dimensions. You have to make your own models, your own templates and your own engines suitable for this ship." The result is not only greater cost but delay, and delay in this matter is very important. I believe that this standard ship idea has gone so far in some cases that shipbuilders have had to alter their yards in order to build them—shipyards which are already adapted for building successful ships of another size. No one would recommend that people should be allowed to build ships of a type which are not immediately required by the country, such as passenger ships, but I think there might be some latitude given to the successful tramp-ship builders to build to the models which they have hitherto built upon, which they have got in stock, so to speak, and which would save time and labour. It is said, I do not know whether it is correct, that the Government have decided to build something like fifty of these standard ships, and that they are to 875 be of 8,000 tons cargo capacity each. That represents 400,000 tons of cargo capacity. If I take the four and a half voyages a year which I previously took, and which would be a safe figure to take, these standard ships will carry 1,800,000 tons of cargo per annum. How inadequate that seems when one considers that it is less than one month's destruction by submarines! Not only is it less than one month's destruction, but none of these standard ships can possibly be ready before the autumn. July, I understand, is the earliest date that any of them can be delivered, and they will not be in work, the bulk of them, before the autumn.
In this connection I would like to ask the Admiralty—because the Shipping Controller was not in existence at the time—why this building of cargo ships was not begun much sooner, when they knew that a great many more submarines were being built in Germany. It seems to me that it would have been one of the ordinary precautions that people of foresight would have taken, to build ships sooner, in order to replace the losses. Is it too late to suggest that instead of fifty ships they should increase the order to one hundred ships? Is it unreasonable to suggest that? Even that number will not be equal to the past six weeks' destruction by submarines. While it would seem an impossible task, or at any rate a very extraordinary task, to go on building and building, in order to be sunk and be sunk, at the same time we do hope that while it is necessary to build and build in order to replace some of the ships that are sunk, the number that are being sunk is going to be diminished by the efforts of the Admiralty. That these new ships will be wanted is as clear as daylight. It is not only our ships that are being lost, but the ships of all the neutrals are, being lost, and the shipbuilding yards of other countries are now being, at any rate, delayed—Norway, for instance. It is true that in the United States shipbuilding has taken a tremendous start, and a great deal is being done there which we never dreamt of five years ago. Nevertheless, the whole of these new ships, if one hundred were put down instead of fifty, will be wanted, and it would not be a bad business proposition for the Government to put down double the present number of ships for our national need. In any case it is not a question 876 whether it is commercially profitable or not: it is a question of whether, if they do not do it, we shall be able to hold out m this country for want of food.
There is one thing, further, that we can do, and that is to restrict imports. Nobody welcomes that, least of all those who are accustomed to importing and exporting as their daily trade. But we are living in very abnormal times, and it does seem to me, as a merchant, and I say it seriously, that in addition to destroying enemy submarines, in addition to building ships, in addition to economising those we have got, we have got to restrict the imports of this country very drastically. It is a very serious matter, and we ought to look upon it as a very serious matter. At the same time I do not think there is any reason for us to be too pessimistic or too despondent. We can be consoled in this country that we have had a wonderful exhibition of bravery on the part of the crews of our merchant ships, and the country ought to recognise it. I would suggest to the Government that they ought to recognise it, and that there ought to be special rewards designed, and given, not by the shipowner to his employés, but by the Government of this country to those men who are running the risks night and day of their ships being destroyed by submarines and themselves drowned. It has not been a very luxurious life for the sailor at any time, and, under present circumstances, they deserve of the country something quite exceptional as a meed of our gratitude and tribute to their bravery. I said that we need not be too despondent. I am one of those who have confidence in British resource. British courage, and British staying power. I believe that while we recognise the danger—and I think we ought to do so—while we do not seek to minimise it, as I fear was done in another place, at the same time we can keep up our courage, and keep our hearts still strong and steadfast, confident that we will diminish and overcome this menace, that we have some means of counteracting it, and that we shall come through at the end on the right side.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
I fully associate myself with the last remarks of my hon. Friend, who has made such an able contribution to this Debate. We can subdue the submarine menace if drastic, resolute action can be taken, but that the submarine menace to-day is a perilous one was exemplified by the Chancellor 877 of the Exchequer on Monday, when he remarked that we were obliged to send coal to Italy across France in order to avoid the dangers of the German submarines and to save tonnage. Of course, saving the tonnage must be a very minor matter. That seems to me the most striking statement in this House since this Session began. Picture the congestion of the French railways, and then think of the coal having to be taken overland through France and through the Mont Cenis tunnel into Italy! I should have thought that the trains would burn almost as much coal as they would have taken. There is no doubt in my mind that the Germans have long been preparing this submarine campaign, and that it is upon it that they really rest their hopes. I want to ask a question—I do not know whether to ask the representative of the Admiralty or the right hon. Gentleman who is a member of the War Cabinet. Who really is responsible for this recrudescence of the submarine activity? The Admiralty—the German Admiralty. But who is responsible for not taking means to check it? That is the main point I want to know.
The Admiralty has had warning that the submarine menace would be commenced about this time. Over and over again we have seen such threats that the Germans were devoting the whole of their energy to submarine activity. I do not know whether it would be possible for me to quote here some warning as to the German submarines which appeared in the Press. I have them here, from the "Daily Mail." On 9th January:a firm at Schaffhausen has delivered to Germany 300 motors for submarines.Then, again, in another paper:Information received at Basle says that the German authorities have ordered the release from the front of all skilled mechanics, and they have been sent to ports where U-boats are being built feverishly.These warnings, I presume, have reached the Admiralty, and I should imagine that they would have had far earlier information than is contained in newspaper reports. To-day we have this submarine menace grown to such an extent that undoubtedly there is danger that the supplies to these shores may be very seriously curtailed. I think that we have rather gone off on the wrong track, and been talking a great deal about large and small Cabinets. I do not care much whether the Cabinet consists of five or twenty-five so long as it has the best naval and military 878 advisers and follows them. Twelve months ago I suggested to the Government that it was a national disaster that they were not employing the man who, I thought in my humility, was the greatest sailor-strategist to-day—that is Admiral Lord Fisher—I make no secret of it. But that suggestion of mine was reinforced by the Member for Dundee, and this gave the late First Lord of the Admiralty such a first-rate opportunity for oratorical display that Lord Fisher's merits were entirely obliterated.
I want to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down with regard to the distribution of our forces inflicting an enormous burden upon the shipping resources of the country. I remember saying last year that it was patent to everybody—and this was reinforced by others—that we were straining our shipping resources to far too great an extent by expeditions all over the world. There is no doubt about it to-day. What finer field for German submarine activities can there be than an Armada of transports going from this country all the way round Gibraltar down the Mediterranean to Salonika? I would like to ask—I do not know how much information can be given—what our troops are in Salonika for to-day? What are they doing? I do not want any information that would give away any military secret, but I was greatly interested some time ago in reading what the Germans think of Salonika. I may read a short quotation from the "Times" of 4th November, 1916, from the series of very remarkable articles by Mr. Curtin. He says:Austrian eyes have always been turned towards Salonika. Germans, however, are well satisfied with the Salonika position. They speak of it as the biggest internment camp, kept with no expense of feeding prisoners—the prisoners, of course, being the British, French, Italian and other troops there. They say that it is unhealthy like the Dardanelles, and they predict that it will eventually provide another Dardanelles catastrophe.I understand, too, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that our supplies to Salonika are to be sent across France. If that be so, there would be still greater congestion on the French railways, and a still further weakening, may be, of our power in the decisive theatre on the Western front.
I do not want to refer to Mesopotamia, but the other day I observed that I was noticed to be cheering my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exquer, because he adverted to the costly 879 character of these overseas expeditions. I was cheering him, and I wish that he had come over to this side of the House twelve months ago, and had protested against these very wasteful expeditions, which have never proved to have had anything like the value which they have cost this country, both in life and treasure. I bring home to our own people the extent Trade to be a little more frank, and tell us what is the extent of the submarine peril. How many ships have been sunk? I have a return here, published by the Board of Trade, giving the total number and net tonnage of British merchant shipping reported to the Board of Trade as lost between 4th August, 1914, and 31st October, 1915. That was a Government return, which showed exactly what was our loss. Why cannot we have such a return as that to-day? Why cannot we know exactly what tonnage has been sunk by German submarines? I see no reason why not. We get from the Germans themselves most extravagant estimates, I am perfectly certain. The Germans say that they have sunk 4,000,000 tons of shipping, British and neutral, since the War began. Let the Admiralty tell us frankly what is the amount of shipping that has been sunk. It cannot do any harm as regards Germany. Germany claims far more than has been sunk, I feel perfectly certain, but it will bring home to our own people the extent of this submarine peril, and will aid the Government to show our people that it is absolutely essential to restrict consumption.
My right hon. Friend agrees with me, but why does not he tell us frankly what has been the loss? As my hon. Friend who has just sat down stated, there is no use in attempting to minimise this danger by optimistic speeches in another place by one of the leaders of the War Cabinet. Listening to Lord Curzon, as I did, one would think that losses by German submarines had been perfectly insignificant. My right hon. Friend has given the figures. Lord Curzon said that before the War we had 3,800 vessels of over 1,600 tons with a total carrying capacity of 16,850,000 tons, and on 31st January, 1917, that was only reduced to 3,540 ships with the carrying capacity of 16,000,000 tons, or a net loss of 5 or 6 per cent. Anyone knows that figures like that are not an accurate representation of the facts, so why. I ask does the Government, in 880 another place, through one of its most influential spokesmen, tell us things which put a gloss over this danger that is overhanging the country? Germany claims to have sunk 4,000,000 tons of shipping, and, according to Lord Curzon's figures, it is only 850,000 tons. That is the net loss, of course. I know something about presenting figures. I was once on an agricultural Commission with the late Sir Robert Giffen, and I was asking him how I should get a certain figure, and he asked me, "What do you want to prove?" It seems to me that Lord Curzon in the House of Lords was trying to prove that our net loss had been not of anything like a serious character.
I ask again that the Admiralty shall tell us frankly and plainly what have been our losses. Up to now they have refused to do so. I said that they had a return made in October, 1915, and if this refusal that is made had been to screen their success I would be perfectly satisfied. But I am sorry to say I cannot help feeling that the refusal to publish these figures has been due rather to the failure on their part to hunt down the submarines. My hon. Friend opposite has talked about armed merchant ships. That, of course, is to the good. But it is a very big promise. Each merchant ship to be adequately protected against submarines must have two guns, and each gun has two gunners and something like fifty rounds of ammunition. According to the number of ships—3,500—the number of guns required would be 7,000, and the number of gunners 14,000, I and there would have to be 350,000 rounds of ammunition. But that would not protect a single neutral ship, upon which, after all, we depend for a large portion of our supplies. As to standardised ships, they would be all to the good, but, unless the submarines are destroyed, they would be merely more fodder for them. Then the question of labour comes in. My hon. Friend opposite dealt with it, but I only wish to mention it. We had the Secretary to the Shipping Controller, a few days ago, talking to us as to who had control of this labour. I would emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester, as to who is controlling the building of merchant ships. Is it the Admiralty, or is it the Shipping Control Department? If there is a dispute between the two, are the two to go to the War Cabinet to settle it? I presume 881 they will, but, after all, the War Cabinet cannot know everything, yet they will have to settle this matter. The Admiralty has established a new Labour Department at Horrex's Hotel under Mr. Macassey. What is he doing, and who is controlling the labour for the mercantile marine? Are these two gentlemen working hand-in-hand, or how are they working? These are really very practical questions, and I want to get an answer to them.
The true objective is the destruction of the German submarines. There can be nothing; more discouraging to German submarine commanders who are at home than to learn that their comrades have gone from them never to return. It has been stated by sceptics that the submarine menace cannot be overcome. I would suggest that there was once during the period of this War when it was overcome, and the Government themselves said so. Lord Milner presented a Report to the Government, I think about 15th September, and he at that time asked for a guarantee to the farmer of 45s. a quarter for wheat, as compared with 80s. to 90s. a quarter, which are the prices ruling today. The Government would not give the guarantee at that time because, they said, they had the submarine menace well in hand. What was the reason for that? It was the reason which I ventured to put forward last year, and which I put forward again, and that was the vigorous measures taken by Lord Fisher when he was First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. That is the real reason. I cannot conceive why the Government to-day do not use the services more fully of the greatest naval strategist of to-day. We are told, of course, that Sir John Jellicoe is head of the Admiralty. No man has a higher admiration of Sir John Jellicoe than I have, or a higher admiration of Sir Henry Jackson; but to compare either of these two men to Lord Fisher is like comparing Bethmann-Hollweg with Bismarck. These are my sincere convictions. The man really able to deal with the submarine menace is the man who dealt with it in 1915. Lord Fisher to-day is simply chairman of a Board of Inventions of research of chemistry.
As I walk up Whitehall and see Nelson's statue, I think to myself that even Lord Nelson's blink eye would blink with astonishment if he could be here and see our leading naval strategist relegated to the chairmanship of a chemist shop in Cock- 882 spur Street. Lord Fisher came back to the Admiralty in October, 1915, and immediately after he returned his advent was signalised by the battle of the Falkland Isles. The Kaiser claimed victory at the battle of Jutland, but he never claimed it in connection with the battle of the Falkland Isles. That is decisive. We have been threatened with the publication of the Dardanelles Report. I hope it will come out; we want it out. I trust that on Monday the Leader of the House will be able to give us the reply that this Report will be issued, and then we shall see that if Lord Fisher's advice had been followed the Dardanelles disaster would never have occurred. I know it is said that he is an old man, but Lord Barham was seventy-nine when selected. It is said that Lord Fisher's methods were not liked in the Navy. Lord Fisher's methods are the methods of victory. I have been told, too, that he is not a gentleman. You no not want a gentleman to fight Germans. I know that he is not the favourite of fashionable Society; fashionable ladies have no power over him. Therefore, I do earnestly press upon the Government that they should take advantage of this distinguished man's services. They can get him now on their own terms. In three months' time, when the people may be tightening their belts and experiencing a definite scarcity in the land, you may perhaps have to take him on his own terms. I have made these remarks, and they are what I said last year; I repeat them here to-day, and I firmly believe that the man to deal with the greatest peril now before the country is the man who with his great genius foresaw what the submarine menace would be. If I were to tell the House all that he has written, how he foresaw exactly what the submarines would do, it would astonish you. I place my views before the Government now, and I do say that the one man to save the situation, the one man who has shown vigour in dealing with it, is Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher.
§ Mr. STEWART
I agree with the hon. Baronet who brought this subject before the notice of the House, in a good deal of what he said. As to what my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench said about Lord Fisher I do not propose to express any opinion. I think in some quarters a rather pessimistic view has been taken of the question of submarines. I see by the papers this morning that 125 ships arrived 883 in France in one day; and my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Captain Sir Owen Phillips) quoted a return given in July, 1916, showing that we began the War, 31st July, with something over 20,000,000 tons, and that we had still over 20,000,000 tons on 31st July, notwithstanding losses up to that date. Although we may be hard up for ships, it ought to be borne in mind that the Americans and the Japanese are building ships so that there is reasonable hope of a further supply of merchant vessels. The East African campaign, too, is nearing its close, which will naturally release a number of ships. I do not think that the Admiralty are altogether without blame, because of the uneconomic use they have made of ships under their control. Ships go to ports like Gibraltar, laden with coal, and there may be six, eight, or ten of these vessels in their berths to supply the war vessels. The men-of-war take a certain amount of coal out of each ship, but vessels are not unloaded in rotation, so that they might come away to take in fresh cargo, but they are only partially unloaded, and some of them may be remaining at their berths with only two or three hundred tons of coal in their holds, and they are kept there for an indefinite period. Another instance where the Admiralty, I think, are to blame is in sending ships to Archangel late in the autumn when anyone who knows anything about shipping knows that there is a great deal of difficulty in getting through the ice. I know the case of a ship which has been kept in the ice for five months, the vessel deteriorating every day, and what happened to that vessel happened to a great many more ships. As to the armament of the mercantile marine, I noticed the other day the statement made that various ship captains were not doing their best to avoid the submarine danger by zig-zagging their vessels. That brought an emphatic and earnest reply from the Secretary of the Mercantile Marine Service Association resenting the accusation, and I venture to submit that statements of that sort could perfectly well be prevented by the Censor from appearing. We all know what has been done by the Royal Naval Reserve, and they are deserving of generous treatment, and not the Admiralty's niggardly treatment of dismissal without compensation, at a week's notice, if overtaken by ill-health.
There is a point in connection with this submarine menace which I should 884 like to press home. We do not know, and the public does not know, how many ships have successfully repelled submarine attacks. The owners of the vessels, full of gratitude to the officers for their gallant services, meet together in a private place, watches are presented, and complimentary words are spoken, but the public know nothing about it, and this silence is partly forced on the owners because of the fate which befel Captain Fryatt. And then there is the question of arming the ships. That certainly is one of the most easy ways of saving our vessels from this peril, and I would add my appeal to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) that the putting into effect of that method should not be delayed one day longer than is absolutely necessary.
Again, why should not the best possible use be made of all the deep-water ports and harbours on the Western coasts of Ireland and Scotland. At present our ships have to converge towards the channels to the north and south of Ireland to get to English ports. At the North of Ireland, where the Channel is only thirteen miles wide, it is easy for submarines to fill it up with mines, and we get unpleasant reminders of that as when a big steamer went down the other day. But we have, especially on the Irish coast, a number of very fine harbours, such as those of Galway and Sligo, and in Scotland you have Oban and other places, and although there may be some difficulties in the matter of transport by reason of the lack of sufficient railway accommodation, still much greater difficulties of this kind have been overcome during the present War. I do think the authorities might consider the desirability of making use of a greater number of these harbours for the dispatch and arrival of ships, because if the Germans found it necessary to watch every harbour from the Shetland Islands down to Finisterre they would discover that it was an almost overwhelming task.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman who will speak on behalf of the Admiralty to-night will give us some information as to the number of submarines we have put under. I think lie could make such a statement without giving any information of value to the Germans. We read such information in a Parisian paper, and we have it given in the House of Lords and elsewhere. Admiral Jellicoe only yesterday stated that there was no need for 885 him, as so many statements had been made outside, to make any statement on the subject, but I do think we should have one from the Admiralty. It would be an encouragement to our sea-going population to know that the sinkings are not all on one side, and it also would be an encouragement to the public, at a time when they are viewing the situation with very great anxiety.
§ Mr. HOLT
I want to say a few words regarding a question I put this afternoon upon the case of Captain Riepenhausen. I understand there is no dispute between the Admiralty and myself as to the facts. Captain Riepenhausen's mother was a Scotchwoman of purely British descent. His father was a Hanoverian who only missed by two months the privilege of being born a British subject. The father came to Scotland at the age of thirteen, and never had anything to do with Germany after that. The son is unable to speak, read, or write German. He has, as my right hon. Friend admits, an absolutely unblemished character. He is a man of very high professional attainment. He has been a very long time in the employment of my firm, and we have the greatest possible confidence in him. The right hon. Gentleman read the rule on the strength of which this captain may be required to give up his profession, for that is what, in effect, it amounts to.
I should like the House to realise how it is being done. The Admiralty, in order to enforce this, are using their War Risk Insurance scheme. I should explain that the Board of Trade established a scheme for insuring vessels against war risks, and, although in theory it is voluntary, in practice it is compulsory, because the Government will not insure a cargo unless the ship is insured, and if the captain has not the Board of Admiralty approval the ship cannot be insured under this scheme. The only plan the Admiralty have for enforcing the outrageous order quoted by the right hon. Gentleman is by using this Board of Trade scheme, drawn up, be it remembered, for the purposes of insurance, and by this means they put coercion on ship-owners. I think people should understand what is likely to happen when a Government is given extended powers in every conceivable walk of life. My right hon. Friend refused to tell me how many persons have been victimised by this rule.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I do not know.
§ Mr. HOLT
Obviously a good many have been. The rule was never drawn up simply to deal with one solitary case of a man of unblemished character. But what are going to be the consequences? So far as a large company like that with which I am associated is concerned, it does not matter very much. We may lose a certain number of good officers, but we can always get other people to replace them; on the terms we are enabled to offer, we can always get a good and sufficient staff. But people who are not in a position to offer as good terms to their servants must necessarily go short, because the scarcity of officers in the mercantile marine is now so great that vessels to-day, as a result of this rule, are sailing inefficiently manned. They are going through the submarine area with an inadequate number of officers, and are, as the result, being made easy victims of the Germans, simply because the right hon. Gentleman wishes to take care not to accept the services of a man whose father does not happen to have been born in the right place.
I know of another case—a Dane—a very good man, who has been driven out of the mercantile marine. Now this man's father was a captain in the British mercantile marine, and at one time he was contemplating being naturalised in this country. But in 1863 a war broke out between Denmark and Germany, and, being patriotic, he abandoned his project of becoming a naturalised Englishman, in order that he might return to his country and fight the Germans. Yet this man is to be disqualified from serving in the British mercantile marine because his father went to fight the Germans, and for no other reason! He has been driven out of the mercantile marine by this rule, and I think it is perfectly idiotic. Under the rule, as long as the man is a legitimate child it does not matter what his mother's antecedent history was, so long as she was a British subject at the time of the boy's birth. She may have had most horrible antecedents from the point of view, say, of being a German, but it is only the father whose birth really matters, and a person whose father's antecedents are unsatisfactory is the one who suffers under this rule.
887 Let me draw attention to some people whom this rule would exclude from public service if they came within its operation. In the first place, it would apply to two of the most successful generals in the British Army — Generals Botha and Smuts, neither of whom was born a British subject, and both of whom did their best to prevent themselves from becoming British subjects. I do not like to go into personalities, but there is an hon. Member of this House, the Member for Plymouth (Major Astor), whose father has just been made a Peer, and he certainly, if this rule applied to him, would be barred out from any sort of public service. There are hundreds of officers in the Army and Royal Navy who, I am sure, could not stand this test. I want to know how many members of the Government there are in the same position—a good many I should say. My right hon. Friend would not tell me whether this rule applies to the Royal Navy, but I venture to say that it does not; neither does it apply to the Army. And if persons with a certain form of ancestry may be trusted to sit on the Front Bench or to serve in the Navy or the Army, I certainly cannot understand why they should not be allowed to serve in the mercantile marine.
I say there is a motive behind this most ignoble campaign. I do not associate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty with it personally, but I say it is an ignoble anti-foreign Press campaign arising out of sheer jealousy of foreigners, and a desire to get their places. I want to protest against these attempts to prevent foreigners coining to this country and associating themselves with its life. Everybody knows dozens of men—largely Scandinavian—who have come to this country and assimilated themselves with its population and proved very great additions to our national strength. I remember a short time ago there was a Conservative Member in this House for the Borough of Stockton, Sir R. Ropner, a Scandinavian. He was highly respected by everybody, and, indeed, still is. That man, under this rule, would not be allowed to be employed in the mercantile marine, although his ships are requisitioned. The Admiralty would not allow him to be employed, but they would give his captains confidential instructions which they, as his servants, might disclose to him. The other day a very dis 888 tinguished painter was naturalised in this country. Does anyone suggest that this country has not benefited by bringing men of unblemished character into it? I say it is a monstrous attempt to deprive us at a time, when we want men to do our work—it is a monstrous attempt to prevent men of high character serving us as they would desire. I suppose, as the result of this rule, Captain Riepenhausen will be compelled to dig potatoes under our system of national service for a wage of 25s. a week.
I want next to refer shortly to the question which has been so admirably put before the House by preceding speakers. I am inclined to think that the submarine question has been allowed to assume a rather larger place in the whole shipping question than it, strictly speaking, deserves. Of course, it is a very serious matter, but it is only a serious matter because it comes on the top of a great many other things, and if it w ere a problem standing by itself it really would not be so serious a matter. In this connection I wish to express my appreciation of what my hon. Friend behind me has said with regard to the captains and crews of our merchant vessels. I know of no case of a person who has hesitated to face these very serious perils, and they deserve every form of praise, and I am sure they are receiving the gratitude of their fellow-countrymen. I think this peril has been somewhat magnified, and I think the Admiralty are largely responsible, no doubt inadvertently, for giving the public a wrong impression of what is going on. We have had published sometimes large batches of vessels that have been lost, and many vessels that have not been sunk by submarines are included in these lists. We are never told how many vessels have escaped. The public are never told, but as a matter of fact, at the worst of times, the total number destroyed by submarines has been very small compared with the total number that have got through safely. I think it is rather unfortunate that this peril should have been so much exaggerated in the public mind, because, although it is serious, we should get on much better with it if we did not make too much of it.
The two largest factors in the shipping difficulty are, first of all, the requirements of the naval and military authorities, and, secondly, the stoppage of shipbuilding, which has gone on now for two years, and I am going to take credit to 889 myself for having drawn the attention of the House to the serious results that would follow from the stoppage of shipbuilding just about two years ago. If you want ships, you have to think about them in a very practical way some time before you expect to get them. I hope the standard shipbuilding will be successful, and I have no doubt it will be a very good thing if the ships are in fact built, but we have heard a good deal about accelerating building, and I am sorry to say there has been very little more in it than talk. There has been very little acceleration actually accomplished, and I shall believe in the good work that is going to be done through the standard shipbuilding when I see a standard ship with steam up. I know of a ship that was launched last April that is not yet able to get steam up in her boilers, the reason being—it is a ship built on the East coast—that the Admiralty are taking off the engineers on the East Coast almost incessantly for the purpose of repairing warships. There is another very great difficulty about shipbuilding, and that is the supply of steel, which is very short indeed. I have had it in my power to get ships built out of this country in a British Colony, if we could have steel, but we are at once brought up by the fact that we cannot have the steel. The Munitions Department must be made to produce an adequate amount of steel for merchant shipbuilding, or you will get no results. In this connection, let me draw the attention of the Government to an aspect of this matter which I think will be more immediately productive even than shipbuilding, and that is the expediting of repairs. Anybody who knows the condition of our ports knows that it is almost impossible to get a ship repaired expeditiously, and it would be very much simpler to see that arrangements were made for expeditious repairs of all damaged ships, of which, in these days of submarines and mines, there are a great many. In that way I think we should get almost as much in the immediate future as we should get out of more expeditious shipbuilding.
I want to turn for a moment to the naval and military requirements, and to ask what is the position of the Shipping Controller in this matter? Is he in a position to say to the Admiralty, or to the War Office, "You cannot possibly have ships for this expedition "? Because if he is not, he will do no real good. What we 890 want is a person who can put a veto on military or naval expeditions being undertaken until he is satisfied that there is not going to be an undue strain put upon the other requirements of this country. I want to associate myself with what my right hon. Friend said with regard to the expedition to Salonika. It has been that expedition which from start to finish has been the prime cause of the shortage of merchant shipping, and in this respect I regard the expedition to Salonika as the lineal descendant of that to Gallipoli. It began with the expedition to Gallipoli, and it will go on so long as the expedition to Salonika continues. I should very much like to know whether we are getting anything like value out of this expedition. We are spending an awful lot, and are we getting any adequate return from a military point of view? There is another question I would ask about the Mediterranean. I think we should be given some idea as to the character of the battle fleets that are being maintained there. It is a matter of common knowledge that the enemy has not and can have I no vessels against us there, except submarines and the small Austrian Navy. We have got in the Mediterranean the French Fleet, the Italian Fleet, and, as we know from casual records in the papers, a considerable number of important British ships. We have got a fleet of large ships in the Mediterranean that, judging from the papers, at any rate, ought to be three or four times stronger than any conceivable enemy fleet there. All these ships are eating up an enormous quantity of coal, oil, fuel, and supplies. If we have got in the Mediterranean a large excess over the strength necessary to hold the Austrian Fleet in check, then we are injuring ourselves because we are eating up our supplies uselessly.
§ Mr. HOLT
What against? You do not want first-class battleships to convoy a transport. We must certainly have an adequate number of boats to deal with submarines, but have we got in the Mediterranean, with our Allies, a battle fleet which is vastly in excess of anything they can possibly be called upon to meet, because if we have there is a great loss going on there? We have suffered a very great loss of tonnage by reason of the fact that the Mediterranean has been for twelve months past practically closed to ordinary 891 commerce. The submarine danger in the Mediterranean has been allowed to get so acute that all shipping going to the East has been diverted round the Cape, causing a very great additional length of time to be spent on the voyage. If the Admiralty took some vigorous steps to make the Mediterranean reasonably and decently safe against submarines, that by itself would produce a very great alleviation of the tonnage position, because there would be a very great gain if we could send merchant ships through the Mediterranean instead of all round the Cape. By the bye, is the Cape route really safe? It is. I think, a matter of common knowledge that the Germans have laid mines round the Cape, and one ship I can say to my knowledge has been totally lost in consequence, and others damaged. And there may be more. Then again, why cannot the Admiralty give us some information about tins raider, this last raider that sank all those ships and has now apparently disappeared? Nobody has apparently heard anything about it for some time past. It would do much to restore public confidence if we could be told what the Admiralty know about that ship. Has she disappeared, has she got back to Germany, or has she been captured and sunk? It does not do anything to maintain public confidence if the public are prevented from knowing matters which are of considerable importance and if they I are to attempt to form a sound judgment on the state of affairs.
There is another matter that has been alluded to, and that is the question of labour at home. We are not getting our ships worked in our own docks as rapidly as we should because we have not got the labour to discharge them, and still more because we have not got railway trucks, or carts, or men necessary to take the goods away from the place where they are discharged. I have had letters from the Munitions Department begging us to bring more and more of certain products into this country at the very time that the products they want are lying in the sheds incapable of being moved on account of the lack of railway trucks. What is the last move that has taken place? The last move has been practically to stop the whole export trade of this country and demand that every ship shall be employed on the North Atlantic. That is a step which seems to me, from the exchange point of view, to be very serious indeed. 892 It is one that can only be explained on one of two grounds, either that the position of this country is much more serious than most of us believe it to be and that any of us can hope it to be, or that the grand War Cabinet have got into a funk and thoroughly lost their heads, and the latter I suspect and believe is the real and true explanation. We were talking just now about wool. What is the first result, as far as shipping is concerned, of the Government wool scheme? Every ship in Australia was held up for about a month while the Government examined the value of the wool. The wool was ready, but it was not allowed to be brought to this country till they had had a nice look at it to see what it was worth, and there has been a serious waste of tonnage due to that fact.
We have got to be economical if we are going to win this War, hut we have got to have economy practised in naval and military requirements. The War as well as other things has got to be conducted with frugality. Even the people who conduct the War cannot possibly have everything they want. They will have to decide not whether services are in themselves good, but whether they are the best services to which our resources can be put. If we are going to enter upon every enterprise that comes into the head of any person, which we are apparently doing, without regard to whether it is the very best use to which our resources can be put, we shall not be successful. The War is a trial of endurance. We are all of us, I think, ready to do our best and do our share to make a success of the War, but some of us are not quite so sure whether the Gentlemen responsible for the navigation of the ship of State have got the necessary skill and seamanship to get us through our troubles.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Before I come to the general debate, may I deal with the case upon which my hon. Friend feels obviously so strongly, the case of Captain Riepenhausen. My hon. Friend says our conduct in regard to that case has been perfectly idiotic, and that it is the result of an ignoble anti-foreign press campaign. I can assure him he is quite wrong. He absolved me of any participation in that, and I am quite sure he would absolve the First Lord, but we are, after all, responsible. These are the facts, and I can only rehearse them: Some time ago the Admiralty decided to restrict the issue of their confidential in- 893 structions to masters of merchant ships who were British subjects and were the sons of parents who, at the time of their birth, were themselves British subjects by birth or naturalisation. That is the rule adopted by the Board of Trade for the period of the War in the case of candidates for a master's certificate of proficiency. At Question Time, I said, and I now repeat, that the gentleman to whom my hon. Friend has referred does not meet these requirements. I do not dispute the claim repeated on his behalf of integrity and trustworthiness, but the only question is as to whether the principle which my right hon. Friend feels confident the House will recognise as sound and necessary should be set aside to meet the case of an individual case, however deserving. I am afraid I cannot add any comment whatever to that.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
In the public interest. I do not suppose that my assertion on the facts of the case will give any satisfaction to my hon. Friend, but what I have stated before quite clearly I can only repeat now.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Yes; but I do not understand why the Judge Advocate-General should not have the same rule applied to him.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It does not apply, but it applies in its terms practically, substantially, to the Royal Naval Air Service, though it does not apply to other naval officers. Except as regards entries since the war, it does not apply either in precise terms to the Civil officers of the Admiralty. The man's parents must have been English born or naturalised at the time of the candidate's entry.
As regards the general Debate, the First Lord, as I said at Question Time, has official business out of London, and I am sure no one will be more sorry than he to have missed this very interesting 894 Debate. But, as has been stated, a date has already been announced when the token Estimates for 1917–18 will be taken, next Wednesday, on the Motion "that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." There are on the Order Paper also Motions for that Debate dealing with this very question of the merchant tonnage. Therefore I may assure hon. Members that those who wish points to be covered which have been raised to-night will have an early opportunity of seeing their wishes realised. Earlier, however, this week, on Tuesday, in another place, statements were made, and reference has been made to the fact, that Lord Lytton, on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, and Lord Curzon replied to questions put by Lord Beresford. As regards Lord Curzon's figures, I think they have been misquoted. What Lord Curzon said was that "in thirty months of war the net loss from all causes in the British mercantile marine amounted to only 5 or 6 per cent, of the gross tonnage." My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. G. Lambert) may say that that is not the best way to state the case. He may say you ought to state the gross loss from war and submarine risks.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I did not challenge the correctness of the figures. I said they were not a correct index of the state of affairs at the present time.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot do better than bring into the examination of these divergent views the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Shipping who has all these figures in hand and of whom I know no one better able to deal with the question. As regards the questions put to me as to the Admiralty measures taken in various fields to deal with the situation with which we are now confronted, I do not think I can possibly do better—and I make no apology for it—than to quote the remarks of the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty, when he spoke on behalf of 895 the Board of Admiralty. I could not hope to put the facts of the case, in view of the public interest, more clearly:
"The Germans would be glad to have full and detailed answers to the questions the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) placed on the Paper. We intend that the Germans shall learn the answers in due time, but they will learn them by experience on the sea, and not by speeches that may be made in Parliament. I will give the Noble Lord as much information as it is possible to give. It is only right that the people should look to Parliament for enlightenment on these matters at a time when they feel so much and know so little. I can assure the Noble Lord that all the expedients which he suggested, and a great many others which are known to no one but the authorities concerned, are being employed at this moment for the purpose of preserving the seas as a highway for the merchant traffic of the world. But there is no one sovereign remedy for dealing with the subject, no one panacea which can be used to clear the seas of these pests. The danger is one which can only be met by the successful combination of a very great number of measures, and by the co-operation of all branches of the Service, and of the public themselves."
In the speech of the hon. Gentleman behind me, to which I listened with much pleasure, complaint was made of the delay in the examination of suggestions and expedients for dealing with the submarine menace of which the Admiralty, or whoever is responsible for these matters, was guilty. It was said that these matters were not attended to for a long space of time.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I did not say "a long space of time." I said "some time." I shall be very pleased to give instances to my right hon. Friend.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
No time more than absolutely necessary ought to be lost in examining any proposal for dealing with this matter, and I shall be very much obliged if my hon. Friend will give me the names of persons who have submitted suggestions and expedients which they thought useful for the purpose we have in view, and which have not been dealt with without unnecessary delay. I think I should also like to ask my right hon. 896 Friend the Member for Hexham for the details of ships waiting about for wool to which he referred to, and the matter shall be gone into.
With regard to the arming of merchant ships, the matter is certainly being proceeded with with as much expedition as is humanly possible. And we must bear in mind, as said, that guns needed trained gunners. Then there was the question of the misuse of tonnage. It has been suggested that much tonnage has been taken in connection with expeditions which ought never to be undertaken. That appears to be the view of two hon. Members.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot argue whether or not the expeditions ought to have been undertaken. All I can do, and all the Admiralty Transport Department can do, is to answer the criticisms of those who say that in carrying out the work resolved upon by higher authority we have been wasteful and uneconomical and have not done things as we ought to have done them. I would remind the House that I have on more than one occasion done my best to explain how infinitesimally small were the pre-war operations of the Transport Department compared with those which immediately confronted it at the outbreak of the War. As a matter of fact, in July, 1914, the Transport Department had centrally and locally in the ports fifty-five persons, a figure which has now reached the region of 1,000 persons. Many of these are working very long hours indeed. I would like to add this in relation to this particular criticism of uneconomical use of tonnage: that; it has been a great advantage to the Transport Department to have placed at its disposal, which it has had for a very long time past, the advice and assistance of Gentlemen like my right hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, and other shipowners, and I am very grateful to them for their work and for the benefit of their experience and great knowledge. On the Motion for the Vote of Credit this criticism on the wasteful use of tonnage was, I think, made. There is no doubt that it is inevitable that in warlike operations there should be a sharp contrast with the ordinary, calm and orderly proceedings of peace undertakings and commercial transactions. We have got to conduct our operations promptly. 897 We have got to make provision for ever-shifting naval and military requirements. It is quite impossible to forecast for any length of time ahead what the requirements may be. You have even to make provisions for contingencies which may never arise, and often do not. All that should be borne in mind. I do not deny that at the outbreak of the War the Transport Department may have made mistakes. Of course it did. But it is a very remarkable fact that in all these Debates and throughout the many criticisms we have never been charged with having left the Army or the Navy either wanting or waiting. No one has ever said that the demands of the naval or military authorities have not been met both thoroughly, promptly, and sufficiently.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
At the beginning of the War it was necessary, and it is still necessary, to keep in mind the fact that to an island population like ourselves it is essential that mercantile tonnage should be taken away as little as possible from its ordinary avocation. That is a consideration which has all along been of paramount importance. It was never more vital than it is to-day. In reply to the criticisms as to why we did not earlier take in hand the acceleration of merchant shipping, I may say that so far back as this time last year we put a Clause, as my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade will remember, into the amended Munitions Acts declaring that merchant shipping should come within the definition of munitions work; that merchant shipping should be treated as war work. Acceleration has been here achieved. I admit at once that much more must be accomplished. The matter is now in the hands of the Shipping Controller to help on acceleration of the tonnage to replace that which is sunk. I observe my hon. Friend thinks that twice as many standardised ships should be laid down?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That is a point to put to the Shipping Controller. It is felt that there might be greater elasticity in this matter, and perhaps that is true. As to the submarine menace generally. Now we stand confronted with the latest declaration of unrestricted savagery. I was very glad to hear once more the tributes that 898 have been paid in this Debate to the dauntless conduct during this War of the officers and men of the mercantile marine. There has been nothing finer in this War —a war crowded with deeds of heroism and gallantry on the part of the Army and Navy—than the quiet, unconcerned way in which the officers and men of the merchant service have gone about their ordinary avocation entirely undeterred by the hidden menace of the mine and the submarine. They will continue, despite the German threat, to go forth and to pursue their duty in the same way as they have in the past. We can never hope to repay them sufficiently for their dauntless valour and their intrepid conduct. "The sea hath its pearls"; none so priceless as the dauntless courage of the merchant seaman. There is no sacrifice that we can make, no matter how big it is, which is in any way commensurate with the sacrifice that these men are making. So far as we are concerned, our reply to the latest German declaration is that we shall redouble our efforts in every direction—quietly, calmly and with full determination—redouble the effort in every shipyard to accelerate new construction and repair; redouble the effort to secure the maximum output on the part of every employer and every man employed. To that end, re-doubled effort wherever at all possible in the direction of the better organisation of the shipyard and the greater mobility of shipyard labour so that we see to it that no skilled man at this moment is other than fully occupied; to that end more dilution and the absolute setting aside of all demarcation rules and of everything that in any way whatever contributes to keep output less than the possible maximum. Of course, it is of enormous advantage to us to have the benefit of the great knowledge of the Shipping Controller. As regards the Transport Department, the Director of Transport— this is a War Cabinet decision, of course, and perhaps I am not the authorised person to state it, but that does not matter in these times—will still receive the demands of the naval and military authorities with regard to transport, and instead of carrying them out direct he will carry them through the Shipping Controller. He will be, in a sense, if you like, under dual authority, but I say that good sense, common sense, and good will will set all theoretical difficulties aside.
Is the Shipping Controller to sanction the requisition of any vessels the Admiralty ask for?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Certainly. I imagine that if, under extreme provocation, he thought it was a requisition which ought not to be made, it would be taken to the War Cabinet, which is sitting continuously, I understand, and we need not anticipate difficulties in that matter. Do not let us prevent ourselves from going forward because of hypothetical difficulties. I think good sense will settle this, and although transport may appear theoretically to be under dual authority, I am convinced that all that can be solved. We have now entirely at our disposal the services of Mr. Macassey. He will, of course, work in the closest co-operation and goodwill with and the desire to assist the Shipping Controller. Already Mr. Macassey has done very valuable work in getting agreements with the workmen, and he is now in a position to do far more. With the cordial assistance and help of the naval representatives at the centre, and the naval authorities elsewhere, they can do a lot in the direction of making perfect the organisation in the way of increasing mobility, extending dilution, and generally increasing output.
§ Mr. KEATING
Will they have authority to deal with the supply of badges to workmen in the shipyards?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am not sure about that, but the hon. Member can put a question down, and we will see. What I feel is that each of us, riveter, caulker, driller, plater, shipwright, engineer, Labour leader, shipyard manager, Shipping Controller, or member of the Board of Admiralty will search his heart and conscience and see whether there is anything which he has not been doing which he might do—if all the contributory elements will pull together on the hope for all they are worth—a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull together—then I say we face the new situation with confidence.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
Before my right hon. Friend finishes, may I ask him to deal with the question of marine shipping casualties? Will he tell us whether the Admiralty will publish figures giving the loss of merchant ships requisitioned by the Admiralty, and merchant ships engaged 900 in ordinary commerce and also neutral commerce? Will he give that in continuation of a Return given by the Board of Trade on the 11th January, 1916?
§ Mr. G. STEWART
May I ask ii there is any chance of Royal Naval Reserve officers, compulsorily retired, receiving consideration?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The Royal Naval Reserve, or merchant officers who are engaged by us on transport work, are under a contract which is terminable at a week's notice. My hon. Friend's point is, I think, that they get the week's notice and the week's pay and we say, "We do not want you any more," and if ill they have no redress. It is a point under consideration, and if my hon. Friend will consult me shortly about it, I will tell him exactly what decision has been arrived at.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I wish to direct the attention of the House for a very short time to a subject of which I have given notice to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War. During the last week the matter connected with the raid that took place a short time ago upon a newspaper office has been the subject of a good many questions in this House, some put by myself and some put by other hon. Members on both sides of the House. This afternoon, when a statement was made by the Under-Secretary, he gave us the terms of reference to a Court of Inquiry he is about to set up, and he ended his short statement by saying that, as the matter is now sub judice, he would be unable to make any further comments on it. I do not think I can altogether leave the matter there. I hope my hon. Friend will not think I am treating him with any discourtesy, or attacking him in any improper way, if I ask him to listen to any remarks of mine; and, of course, it must rest with him whether he will say anything on the subject or not. I hope not to encroach on the ground which will necessarily be the subject of inquiry, but there are one or two matters preliminary to that inquiry to which I think the attention of my hon. Friend ought to be directed.
Now what is the event which gave rise to the questions in this House, which in their turn have given rise to this inquiry? They were rather a startling event—a raid 901 by the police on several premises. One of them was on a private room in the offices of the "Field" newspaper occupied by the editor, another on the premises of a, well-known firm of solicitors in London, and another on premises occupied by a private gentleman, I think in St. James's Street. In time of war that in itself might not be very surprising if followed up by some explanation. We heard of no charge. No one was brought before the magistrate or Police Court. There was no charge made against anybody. One of the gentlemen involved, the editor of the "Field" newspaper, immediately wrote a letter to the "Times," and he claimed that inquiry should be held, or that some charge should be made. That is a month ago, and up till the meeting of the House, and until the War Office were pressed by questions from both sides of the House, we never beard the slightest suggestion that there was going to be an inquiry, and no charge of any sort or kind was made, and I should have thought that in the absence of a charge, and a month having gone by and apparently no charge put forward by the authorities, at all events, we should have had some apology. If you raid a man's rooms, as I think you are entitled to do if you have the slightest suspicion that any improper work is going on, or that any compromising documents may be found, or to get evidence to assist a charge, you have a right to raid his rooms. But one of two things must follow. Either you get incriminating evidence, in which case a charge ought immediately to be made, or if nothing is found there, an apology ought to be made. In this case neither one nor the other thing took place. It is a little difficult for me to avoid altogether the matters which must necessarily be the subject of inquiry, although I am very anxious to do so. So far as I am aware, these raids were carried out at the instance of two officers in the War Office. Their names have already appeared in questions on the Order Paper which have not been answered. My hon. Friend has practically dealt with all the questions wholesale by saying on different occasions he was going to make a statement.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
I answered two out of three yesterday, and my statement to-day was an answer to the third.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
The only thing I want to mention now does not touch upon matters sub judice, but these raids were carried out by these two officers, Captain Stomm and Lieut. Somerset. I only mention those two officers because obviously they occupy positions of very great responsibility at the War Office, and as far as I can discover they had very wide powers indeed. Therefore, I think their conduct ought to be part of the inquiry.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Surely I am entitled to comment on the hon. Gentleman's answer, and I want to call attention to those answers. I asked whether the conduct of those two gentlemen would come within the scope of the inquiry. What I want to make sure of is—and it is a matter of great public interest—that these gentlemen occupying this extraordinary position and power are thoroughly competent to discharge their responsibilities. I hope that matter will be thoroughly gone into. When I asked my question the hon. Gentleman said that that would form part of the terms of reference, but he also stated:That their conduct is not by any means the most important part of the inquiry.I call attention to those words because, taken in conjunction with another answer which the hon. Gentleman gave when I asked whether the inventor of the explosive in question would be allowed to return to Paris for reasons I will mention in a moment, my hon. Friend said:Mr. Blanch will be permitted to proceed to Paris if and when the French Government officially request his presence in France, on giving a substantial undertaking that lie will return to this country to attend the inquiry and any further proceedings that may follow it."— [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 14th February, 1917, col. 617, Vol. XC.]I think it is quite fair for me to point out that these two answers taken together, one asserting that the conduct of these two officers is not the most important part of the inquiry, and the other that Mr. Blanch should be allowed to go to Paris on giving substantial security for his return, not merely for this inquiry, but for any proceedings that may follow it. I think that was a reflection on Mr. Blanch—
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think it was, and that is the only meaning to read into those words, that it cast discredit on Mr. 903 Blanch. Now Mr. Blanch was the person who first asked for the inquiry, and now by the terms in which my right Friend has answered these questions, he attempts to give the idea that these gentlemen are in some sense to be put upon their trial, and that there is some fear of them fleeing from justice, for he says they can only be allowed to go on giving substantial security that they will come back and answer criminal proceedings. I am not going to say that there may not be some ground for that, and I say openly that I know very little about Mr. Blanch. What I do say, however, is that if the War Office have now or had at any time any knowledge or evidence that Mr. Blanch is amenable to criminal proceedings—supposing they did bring out that he was a criminal in some form or a traitor—what was their duty? It was the duty of those officers who apparently knew the facts or thought they did, without the loss of an hour, to go to Sir Theodore Cook—a patriotic gentleman whom the Government have been actually employing, and whose name appeared in the List of Honours of the late Government—and they ought to have said to him, "Do you know with whom you are associating? May we put at your disposal our knowledge of this scoundrel Blanch?" They ought to have done that if they had any knowledge whatever that he was not to be trusted. If they had no such knowledge, if there is no evidence in the archives of the War Office showing Blanch to be a criminal, why is this public answer given on the eve of an inquiry, which is to silence everybody on this question for some months to come?
Why is this reflection put into the question? I press the point that this gentleman has a perfect right to go to France on his own business until this inquiry takes place and to come back to this country. I know that the answer of my hon. Friend, if he answers at all, may be that these gentlemen have been guilty of a breach of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. I think they have, but there are breaches and breaches. There are serious and there are trivial breaches, and I challenge my hon. Friend to give any reasons why this gentleman—let him have his substantial security if he likes—should not go to France, conduct his own business, and come back to answer this inquiry. I do not blame my hon. Friend in this particular, for I do not suppose he knows anything about the facts, and probably he 904 has not been taken into the confidence of Captain Stomm and Lieutenant Somerset. When Mr. Blanch come over here from Paris in January last he came over bearing a permit from the French War Office, of which he was careful enough to take a copy, knowing the procedure of the officers of the War Office, and I have that copy in my hand—Mr. Blanch has authority to come to London to take to the War Office certain articles mentioned. The moment his mission is terminated he must return to Paris in the early days of January.Now that is signed by the French Minister for War. Mr. Blanch went to Bedford Square to get this viséd by the French authorities, but he was stopped by the representative of our Intelligence Department. Mr. Blanch replied:I do not think yon would act in that way if yon knew the letters I carry.He showed them the original of this letter which I hold, and he has never seen it since. But for having taken this copy, probably it would have been denied that this document had any existence. I say this gentleman should be allowed, after that, even if there is no other request from the French War Office requiring him to report himself in Paris, to go without a moment's delay. He has been kept here day after day and week after week by Captain Stomm and Lieutenant Somerset, and it is time that he was allowed to go back without any further request from the French Government. I do not know-whether my hon. Friend can even now give me any information about the mysterious movements of the gentleman who left Paris three days ago bearing a letter from the French Prime Minister upon this case, and so far as the people in this country are concerned he has never been heard of since. We do not know what has become of him—whether he was stripped by our authorities at one of the ports, as Mr. Blanch was on one occasion when he was travelling with the private secretary of a distinguished French Deputy, or whatever other indignities this emissary of the French Prime Minister may have been subjected to. At all events I hope my hon. Friend will make inquiries, and, as he is anxious for a request to come from the French Government, that he will give facilities for this purpose instead of making difficulties.
There is one other thing which is very essential to the fairness of this inquiry. A large amount of the evidence which these gentlemen would wish to put before any impartial inquiry is in Paris. After the 905 treatment which they have received they know better than to bring those important documents to this country unless they have a free conduct for them, and I want to have an assurance, if Mr. Blanch goes to Paris and brings back documents which are essential for the fairness and fulness of this inquiry, that they will not be taken from him. It may possibly be right enough that they should be examined, but no papers should be taken away from his possession. He should be allowed not only to present them to the inquiry, but also to retain possession of them afterwards. At this raid they took away a number of documents more or less bearing on the case. I asked the other day whether any incriminating documents had ever been found, and the hon. Gentleman never answered. I think I am entitled, therefore, to assume that there were none. If there had been, he would surely have mentioned it. There are, however, a great number of documents bearing upon this case, and it is right that these gentlemen should have these documents returned to them in order to submit them to their lawyers who are preparing their case.
My hon. Friend told me this afternoon that the constitution of this Court would be such that it would not be possible, or he thought it would not be possible, to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. I am not prepared at the present moment to say that any great injustice would be done by a Court so constituted—I have not sufficient knowledge—but generally in all these cases I think those powers should reside in the Court. You never can tell when some particular fact or allegation may crop up, or when a witness may be unwilling to come without being subpœned. It may be the judge may hear of some document bearing on the case in the possession of somebody who will not bring it without a subpœna. Therefore, although I am not going to make any definite complaint on the part of any party interested, I do suggest that the Court should have all the powers which ordinarily reside in a judge trying a case of this sort, in order that there may be no heartburnings afterwards or any feeling that something which might have a bearing on the case was kept out of Court.
§ Colonel Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I desire to draw the attention of the House and of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War to the treatment of sick and wounded sol- 906 diers. We have been at war for nearly two and a half years, and by this time we ought to have arrived at absolute perfection in our system as regards the treatment of disabled soldiers. We ought now to have a complete system for the outpatient treatment of discharged soldiers, and we ought to have such a perfect hospital system that soldiers get everything that medical and surgical science can do for them. I want to make it plain that I do not wish to appear as a critic of the work of the Director-General of Medical Services. Nobody has got a greater admiration for him than I have, and it would be ungenerous on my part to adopt the attitude of a critic when I have been one of the patients who has passed through the hands of his staff. If there is a weak point in our system, it lies in the fact that there is a division of authority. Directly the soldier is discharged he is handed over to the Statutory Committee, and there is therefore great danger of the disabled soldier falling between two stools. That danger is all the greater from the fact that the Army authorities have complete control over all the doctors and the nurses, and the Statutory Committee have very small resources at their disposal.
I want to get a declaration from my hon. Friend that the Army authorities are prepared to do their very utmost in the perfection of their duties. Take, for instance, out-patient treatment. There is urgent necessity for a very good system of out-patient treatment for discharged soldiers. That necessity will continue for some two or three years after the War is over. Men who have suffered from dysentry, fever, malaria, and all the ills that this War has given rise to will need constant attendance afterwards, and there ought to be a complete system whereby every soldier, whether insured or not, is able to go not only to an ordinary practitioner, but, if necessary, to a specialist. That necessity will also arise with regard to soldiers who will need surgical treatment. The, Insurance Commissioners, I believe, were quite ready to undertake this kind of treatment, but the late Secretary of State for War said that the Army authorities were going to do everything that was necessary as regards not only the soldier be fore he was discharged, but after he was discharged. One hears rumours that they are going to allow every discharged soldier if he needs medical or surgical treatment to go to hospital. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that is 907 true or not? It is very important that those who are engaged in this work should know where they stand in the matter.
Again, with regard to hospitals, the country expects that everything that medical and surgical science can do for the soldier, shall be done. What I want to know is are the Army authorities ready and willing to undertake that obligation. As far as I have followed the question the late Minister of War was anxious that that should be done, and that the soldiers should be kept longer in hospital, and that they should not be discharged until they were really sound and fit to go and resume their ordinary avocations. But I understand that there has been some drawing back from that attitude, and so far as I can gather, all that the War Office is prepared to do now is to keep the soldier about three weeks longer in hospital, and that is coupled with the proviso if circumstances permit. What does that mean? That means that if there is a rush, the men who are in the hospital and who are by no means cured, will be discharged at the earliest possible moment. That, to my mind, is a very unsatisfactory state of things. I know that the Army authorities do have to make provision for great rushes of wounded men, and that they have to take every precaution to see that there is room for the freshly wounded, but my point is that it should not be beyond their resources to provide adequate accommodation both for the freshly wounded and for those recently convalescent, in order that they may get perfectly cured, although we are told that there is a great shortage of doctors. There is no doubt a great demand for medical practitioners and surgical men, too, but I am told by people who are in a position to know about this question, that there is not by any means a perfect distribution of the medical men at their disposal. One hears rumours, well authenticated rumours, that there are a great many square pegs in round holes, and of specialists taken away from the work they doing merely to perform routine duties. While there is a great shortage of doctors in this country for the military, it is said that for the last three or four months there have been doctors in France kicking their heels about with very little to do. I cannot see why a sort of flying corps of doctors is not organised to move about wherever they are most needed.
Here I should like to refer to what I cannot help regarding as a retrograde 908 and reactionary step which the War Office have taken. They have issued an Army Council Instruction abolishing all the trade schools and classes in our hospitals and auxiliary hospitals, and they have gone so far as to forbid people in charge of hospitals keeping poultry. If there is one thing of more value than another, it is technical training for the cure both of wounds and mental trouble. People used to rely on medico-therapy, but it is now being found that you can restore people very much better by technical training than by mechanical appliances. It has also been discovered that there is no better way to restore a man suffering from shell-shock and nervous disorders to health than to give him some useful occupation. Besides that, as everybody knows, men who are kept in hospital week after week find life not only tedious and irksome, but there is as well great danger of mental deterioration setting in. I cannot imagine any more enlightened idea than an attempt to give these men, something to do, and I think it is deplorable to find the Army authorities coining down and abolishing that altogether. If the Statutory Committee were able to organise a perfect system of training, there might be something to be said for this course, but nothing has yet been organised of that sort, and I think that the action of the Army authorities is very regrettable. I should like to say a word as to the treatment of those unfortunate men who are suffering from partial paralysis. Those men are mostly treated in what is known as King George's Hospital. Before it was turned into a hospital it was a great warehouse of the Stationery Department. I have no doubt it is an excellent hospital, but for long treatment of men who are bedridden, I cannot but think that it is a most unfortunate selection. There are no windows out of which the men can look, and there is no means of taking these unfortunate bedridden patients out to a garden to get the air and the sun. I think that on the whole they are very miserable, and though there is provision for bringing those men out to suitable places, nobody knows whose duty it is to take them away. I hope that my hon. Friend will represent to the War Office the necessity of taking those men away to a more suitable spot. They are not at all happy there and would much rather be in any other place. They ought to be in hospitals 909 near their own homes. They have not got very long to live, and the rest of their lives should be made as happy as possible.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I for one realise that the interest which my Noble Friend takes in all these questions concerning the disabled soldier and the wounded soldier is a very real and very lively interest, and if I cannot follow him and give him a satisfactory answer on all the points he raised to-night I feel sure that he will pardon me, With regard to the last point which he has raised as to the case of those men in King George's Hospital, I may say that their case is one which has caused a great deal of consideration in the minds of the authorities of the War Office. One cannot help having a great deal of sympathy for them. They are men, as my Noble Friend has said, who may not have long to live. He was rather unfair when he told us that we were using one hospital—a dull and dingy hospital—for the care of these men. As a matter of fact, King George's Hospital was before the War a large emporium. It may not have at the present moment any of the qualifications which a good hospital now has in wartime, but I must ask him to remember that this hospital is, so I am informed, used merely as a collecting hospital. Men come there from the front and wait there only so long—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not know about that. I am only speaking from the information which I obtained to-day after my Noble Friend gave me notice of his intention to raise this point. I am told that they are kept there only during the time while another place is being found for them.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
The difficulty is that there are no means of getting them away anywhere else. There is no place to which to send them.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That may be so or not. In any case, if my information is wrong, I shall certainly bring before the Director-General of Army Medical Services the observations my Noble Friend has made. As he himself confesses, the Director-General has deep sympathy with all means which are brought forward for the amelioration of the lot of the wounded soldier. His penultimate point was the point he raised at Question Time this afternoon. He feels aggrieved that the 910 instructions which have been issued, making the hospitals practically technical schools, have been altered to such an extent that except in very special hospitals no trade is taught to the wounded soldier who is about to be discharged. As I pointed out this afternoon, the question of hospital accommodation is a very difficult one. My Noble Friend knows that. I think I am right in saying that the view which the War Office is now taking of the problem is that we have never limited the number of hospitals, the number of doctors and nurses, and, in view of these facts, I think the primary object of a good hospital ought to be maintained—that is, to use every means to cure and to restore to health a man who is wounded, so that he may be discharged in order that room may be provided for the incoming patients who may at any time come in from the various theatres of war. My Noble Friend must remember that if we have not proceeded as far as he would like with that technical training, we have gone a great deal further than anybody at the beginning of this War ever thought we should go in our method of curative treatment. He knows very well that we have been enabled in some of these special hospitals to introduce this peculiar curative treatment with extraordinarily good effect. If the special hospitals can proceed with this curative treatment, we shall have gone a long way. It seems to me a problem altogether outside the Army Medical Service to deal with the technical training of a man fit to be discharged from hospital. It is there that the State should come in through another Department and take charge of that man. I cannot tell my Noble Friend as much as I should like of the definite programme before the Government at the present moment, but I can assure him that every possible consideration that humanity can suggest, and State welfare can devise, is being given to the problem which he has brought before the House to-night.
I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. E. McNeill). He has assured me that he meant no personal discourtesy when he raised this question in Debate to-night, after the observations which I made in the course of answers to questions this afternoon. I should have preferred that my hon. Friend had not dealt, as he has done, at such length with questions which will soon become the topics for judicial inquiry. I accept my hon. 911 Friend's assurance that he meant no discourtesy. At the same time I must express my personal regret, in the interests of the inquiry, in the interests of the facts which will be raised in the inquiry and of the persons concerned in the inquiry, that to-night he dealt at such length with questions which will have to come up for consideration before a judicial inquiry. I must say I was rather surprised to hear from him that he knows of a certain gentleman who was the accredited messenger from the French Prime Minister.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
He said he knew of the case, and the implication was that by some means or other the War Office authorities got rid of this man and that he has not yet been able to appear in London. That is the insinuation made. I ask my hon. Friend to be reasonable. Does he really mean to say that at the present time the War Office would spirit away the accredited messenger of the Prime Minister of our esteemed Ally, in order that he might not be able to come to London, because he had in his possession a document which related in some obscure way or other to a certain gentleman named Blanch in London?
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Gentleman is doing me an injustice. I did not suggest that he was spirited away. All I said was that, so far as information was available to me, if it were correct, it was that this gentleman left Paris three days ago and he has not arrived yet.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. Member was dealing with an assertion he himself made that documents had been taken away from Mr. Blanch and other men, and he then went on to say that this messenger of the French Ambassador had left Paris, and the imputation—I leave myself in the hands and recollection of the House—the implication clearly, to my mind, was that the War Office, for some obscure reason or other, had spirited away that State messenger.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If I am wrong I am perfectly ready to apologise. The hon. Member was very bitter because the War Office has kept back Mr. Blanch from visiting Paris. I may say here that the War Office have very 912 good reasons for keeping him from going to Paris. I gave my hon. Friend an assurance, in answer to a question yesterday, that if the French Embassy in any authentic way asked us to allow Mr. Blanch to visit Paris we should allow him to do so. I gave that because my hon. Friend had put down a question suggesting that the French Government were most anxious that Mr. Blanch should visit Paris.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I quoted to the hon. Member the permit requiring him to go back, which was taken away from him by the War Office.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I gave that answer in perfect good faith on the understanding that the statement which my hon. Friend put in his question, namely, that the French Government wished Mr. Blanch to go to Paris, was correct. I thought I was perfectly safe in giving him that answer.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I accepted the statement in the question coming from him as a fact, that the French Government were anxious to receive Mr. Blanch. Surely, if that is so, Mr. Blanch will not have any difficulty in going to Paris?
§ Mr. McNEILL
My point is that our Government, or at any rate the authorities at the Intelligence Department, have already evidence in their possession that the French Government wanted him, and, indeed, required him to go back. They take the document away and say, "Produce other ones."
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I assure the hon. Member that the answer I gave him in reply to his question yesterday, namely, that we have had no request of any sort from the French Government for the return of Mr. Blanch is true. I can tell him that again. It is true information.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Quite so. Let us see how it works out. An alien subject leaves France. He goes to an Allied country. For some reason or other, I will not say the police authorities, but the War 913 Office authorities, think that an alien subject should not go back. Then it is said that a request given by the French Government to that end is valid. Does my hon. Friend really suggest that?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
All I can say is that it is a most extraordinary proposition. The hon. Member is very anxious that the documents which Mr. Blanch may have if he goes to Paris may be respected. I can assure him those documents will be respected no more and no less than the documents of anyone concerned in this Inquiry—even the documents of a Member of Parliament. It would be quite impossible for me to give any further guarantee. With regard to the smaller point which the hon. Member raised, if I understood him aright, his friend for whom he is putting certain points to-night may be concerned in this inquiry. I do not think he would require any compulsion to attend. Has the hon. Member any ground at all that his friends, who ho knows are concerned in this inquiry—
§ Mr. MCNEILL
As the hon. Gentleman puts it in that way, my only friend in the matter is Sir Theodore Cook. I know very little about Mr. Blanch. My only connection in the matter is with Sir Theodore Cook. He is an old friend of mine for whom I have the greatest possible respect, and I know he is above suspicion. I have no doubt he will come before the inquiry and produce any evidence he can, but I do not know what evidence material to his case may possibly be at the War Office which will not be produced without a subpoena.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Sir Theodore Cook and his friends have asked for this inquiry. I am entitled to assume that Sir Theodore Cook will not need any compulsion to attend the inquiry. I can give the hon. Member the assurance in return that every document and every person in any Government Department concerned with this inquiry will be present at the inquiry.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have not, of course, considered that, but the request 914 appears to me to be a reasonable one. I think I can venture to say that the Government will see that that is done.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Will the hon. Gentle man say if there was any incriminating evidence found in these documents?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I can assure the hon. Member that I have not seen them and I do not know what is in them. Parliament has been sitting and I have had more than enough to do and I have not been able to see the documents. Consequently, I have only been able to obtain secondhand information, and I can assure him if I did know anything about the nature of the documents I would acquaint him with it, but I do not. I hope the hon. Member and everyone else interested in the inquiry will now pledge himself to obey the request which I made at the end of my statement to-day, that during the time these very difficult and personal points are sub judice no question will be asked about them in the House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have been in close consultation with the War Office authorities, and they are most anxious that the inquiry should begin at once. I think I am right in saying that the Minister of Munitions, who is also concerned, is most anxious that no time should be lost. As far as the Government is concerned there can be no reason why the inquiry should not take place at once.